Sunday, August 03, 2008

New versus Old

A week ago, we discussed why bigger doesn't always mean better. I thought it might be interesting to explore another misconception noted in John Piper's address to INSIGHT graduates - that new is better than old.

If not excusable, it is at least understandable that we might trip over this. After all, as card carrying members of the digital age, haven't we been conditioned to equate "new" with "improved"? In this Web 2.0 world of blogs, social networks and iPhones, there's always a new version of something waiting to be unveiled. And, let's face it - we just like new and least most of us do.

Yet, the idea that new is necessarily better is a notion we should actively resist. Sure, the latest iPhone is probably better and cheaper than the prior model but when it comes to the really important things, new isn't typically better. Things that really matter in life, things of eternal value, are by definition, timeless and old.

Have you fallen into the "new is better than old" trap? I wouldn't blame you at all but here are a few points to consider as you take inventory of your life -

What you read - Do you take the time plumb the wisdom of old classic books instead of the latest bestseller? C.S. Lewis had this to say about the benefits of reading old books:

"It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between...Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

Practical advice - When it comes to advice, is new, novel advice really better than old, trusted and proven? When you're making critical decisions on your job or your personal life, where do you go for trusted, pragmatic advice? What's the best source of wisdom when you need insight on how to run your business or how to raise a family? Unfortunately, many Christians wouldn't think to look to Scripture before they checked out the latest business blog or parenting seminar. While they might affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, at a functional level, they deny its sufficiency for practical living. We are so easily seduced by the latest insights by the congnoscenti of our day, aren't we? But how do those insights compare to God's revealed wisdom found in the Bible?

Proven paths - I'm all for innovation and creativity but I'm also in favor of not reinventing the wheel. This means honoring time tested institutions and practices. For instance, it's become popular to deconstruct the traditional institutions of marriage and church, noting their many, apparent failings. But these institutions aren't just cultural innovations, they were established and set apart by God and hence, holy. Dismantling or redefining these instutions isn't just fruitless, it's foolhardy.

In some other areas, these proven paths aren't quite as significant but the notion that we should pay attention to them is still applicable. At work, instead of perfecting the latest career enhancing techniques, perhaps we could focus on old fashioned values of hard work, integrity and accountability. These values may seem antiquated but they actually might work in your favor.

What do you think? Are you, like me, often captivated by the "new and shiny" instead of focusing on old, timeless truths?


L.L. Barkat said...

That's one of my favorite Lewis quotes. And I like old things. I live in an old house; I like the way the walls seem to "speak," and the way I feel connected to time past when I run my feet over these smooth floorboards. I like old people; I like their stories and their humor and their wisdom (not always the case with older people, but definitely a potential set of characteristics). I like old furniture. I like the sun and moon (old, old!). I really like God. Though I don't know how you classify a timeless being... old or new?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Great post! You say alot here. Many thoughts went through my mind as I read it.

I agree essentially with what you say. I will say that alot can be said around it about this and that. Alot.

But I agree we need to do well with the tried and true. But even with the tried and true, we need to keep endeavoring to view all through the lens of Scripture. But often that results in simply verifying the essence of what others have said before.

To critique tradition can be good, yet tradition itself is not the culprit necessarily at all.

So many things here, I can't remember being so stimulated by a post, not even over at "Jesus Creed," though probably over there I have been jsut as much.

One problem I have with older books and writers, quite often, with some exception in their writings, is the style with which they write. To get the substance one has to take pains to get used to the style at times. It's always well worth it, but not always easy- at least hasn't been always easy for me. Hence I've thrown in the towel at times only to realize my mistake later. I now see this better. But it is a gift when current writers can help us see the beauty and value of older writers. I know John Piper himself has done this kind of thing in his writings.

But yes, the new is not better. But remember, as well, that like the pilgrims said, we need to be open to ever reforming so as to live more in accord with God's revealed truth from his word.

Not to take away a bit from anything you've said here. Just from thoughts I have on it.

Every Square Inch said...

LL - how wise you are to appreciate the old. I love how you describe your old house. I do like old people as well - especially since I hope to be one some day. :-)

Ted - actually I view evaluating the "tried and true" against the standard of scripture as valuing truly old, timeless truth over the "less old" traditions of men.

But I also think that we need to be humble, respectful of the long standing traditions of the Christian faith - centuries of tradition doesn't secure infallibility but it should probably give us pause to consider an opposing view. I just look at it as the humble approach - if I stand in the corridor of time with thousands who preceded me with a different view, my starting point isn't that the problem is with them but perhaps more likely, with me.

What do you think?

Craver Vii said...

I'm glad you brough this up. Several members of my small group are interested in church history. We think we would do better for ourselves (the church in general) today by a better understanding of the first few centuries of Christian biographies, history, doctrines, councils, creeds, etc.

New is way cool, specially for something like the smell of a car's interior. But I'm not too keen on new stuff when it comes from the pulpit. For that, gimme good o'l tried and true!

Every Square Inch said...

Craver - yes, I agree. I used to dismiss church history and tradition. I think I've come around to appreciate the value of what those who preceded us can teach us.

Real Live Preacher said...

Will Durant said that 95% of all new ideas will not work as well as old ideas. And so rushing to follow everything new is not going to benefit you. BUT, not being open to new idea will prevent you from embracing the ones that work. AND further, he felt the crucible of conservative scrutiny was the natural selection process for new ideas.

Every Square Inch said...

RLP - I like what you shared - "the crucible of conservative scrutiny was the natural selection process for new ideas"

That it seems,is a wise and mature view to take about new ideas and the wisdom of having critical review