Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Teenage Culture

One of the things you notice when you spend a little while in the early chapters of Proverbs is how much the wisdom literature emphasises listening and learning.  Here is the opening part of Proverbs 2:

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding...
What we're dealing with here is tradition - the handing one of wisdom from one generation to the next.   And in fact, tradition is a clear theme throughout Scripture.  Consider the emphasis in Deuteronomy on the transmission of Israel's story and law, for example, or the apostle Paul handing on the gospel to younger co-workers (and expecting them in turn to do the same).  In the post-apostolic period, this theme of tradition is continued and developed, as the churches seek to ensure that what is being passed on is what they received from the apostles.

Now, there can be no doubt that the idea of tradition can go to seed.  In general terms, it can lead to some sort of gerontocracy, or a setup where there can be no questioning whatsoever of 'received wisdom'.  In the church, Roman Catholicism in many ways represents the notion of tradition gone to seed.  But tradition is nonetheless a basically sound, Biblical concept.  It is based on the idea that something has been received which must be passed on, and the clearest example is of course the witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  These events took place once, in a particular place, in the midst of particular people - and without tradition, they would remain absolutely closed to the whole of the rest of humanity.  What the apostles received, they had to pass on.

By contrast, our culture is youth culture.  We must be continually reinventing the wheel.  We know that nothing that has gone before is of any value, except perhaps as a dark backdrop to illustrate our own dazzling brilliance.  It's like the whole culture is one big teenager, who knows for sure that his parents know nothing at all, who knows that they don't understand what it's like to be the astonishing, unique individual that I am, who is sure that a bright future lies just over the horizon if we can only wrest control away from the deadening hand of the past generation.  In this sort of culture, tradition represents the great evil - the extension of the past into the future, the refusal to give us the blank canvas which our genius surely deserves.

Can I suggest that the church needs to work harder at being counter-culture in this regard?

1 comment:

  1. "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you..."