It’s common in the United States to hear about how the bottom dropped out in cutlure in the 1960s, “the Psychedelic 60s” when all became relative. And the 1920s, “the Roaring 20s” are compared to it, the United States temporarily pulled out of that moral ditch by the Great Depression and World War 2. People wish for the good old, “innocent” days of the 1950s.
We might wish it was as simple as all of that. Surely the seeds of what happened were planted in the American soil long before either the 1960s or the 1920s, for that matter. At least we might imagine that Post-Modernism was a reaction to the real problems of Modernism, and romanticism was a reaction to rationalism. And on top of that, we always have the serpent of the garden saying, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3)
I would like to point a finger toward what is commonly called a cultural Christianity, which passed for the real thing. A time when nearly everyone went to church. And when people more or less understood and could express or at least would acknowledge as truth, basics of the gospel: that the Ten Commandments are a basis for understanding right and wrong, that we are all sinners, that Christ died for our sins.
Of course that’s good, to acknowledge and even take for granted certain truth, what we can call, moral foundations, and even spiritual foundations along with that. What undermined that is the passing for Christianity of a cultural version which was a far cry from the vision presented in the Final, New Testament. While at the same time granting full well that churches right from the start have always experienced messiness and difficulty. And granted, there was plenty of good in the days before moral relativism became more or less the rule of the day in the universities.
The difference is most simply understood, I think, in that what happened in the paradigm shift, was in part simply another different form of the work of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Before we had slavery, not to mention other forms of evil and violence. Change was needed. And the fact of the matter is that we have witnessed the fall and destruction of one idol of humanity after another.
Like so many matters, it is all more complicated than this. One needs to remember the letters to the seven churches in Revelation (2-3) when considering the decline of the church in the west, including America, now.
It is good to think and pray about what has happened and the result. The world has come crashing in upon us, which again for the nation of America is not at all anything new. We are a nation of immigrants. And the field of the world is now right in our neighborhoods. We no longer have the “safe” neighborhoods of the past, when pretty much all the same folks lived in the same neighborhoods, which of course itself is far from innocent and complete good.
All of this to say that rather than the empty, and actually mistaken cry for the good, old days (as Ecclesiastes points out to us), we need to accept where we’re at now with all of the good and bad in that. Nothing new, but just a different form today of challenges and opportunities, advantages and disadvantages we might say.
We don’t do ourselves or anyone else a favor to want to go back to some mythical past, as if there was once some golden age which with insight and effort we could find and make viable again. Life simply doesn’t work that way.
What we in Jesus need to return to again and again is the gospel itself and how that is worked out in and through us in the churches, whatever church tradition we may be. We need to become more and more grounded in that, and in nothing less than that. While at the same time appreciating and praying for the good of the nation of which we are a part.
Life is dynamic and fluid, not static and set. And that’s good, because we believe that Jesus somehow even now is Lord over all, somehow the church being in that reality (Ephesians 1). God being at work in the world by the Spirit, but all of this either directly through or in relation to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. A good news which is always changing us more and more into conformity to God’s will in Jesus, and meant ultimately to change the world.