I can’t keep up. As a theologian, ethicist and apologist, I am expected to keep close watch on changing cultural trends and contemporary challenges to the Christian faith. Thoughtfully, creatively, and responsibly applying scripture to the ideological and moral movements of our time is a critical part of the theologian’s task to help God’s people be faithful to Jesus and witness well to a world who desperately needs Him.
However, that enterprise requires not only knowing scripture well but also knowing culture well. And I can’t keep up. The accelerating cultural transformations occurring in my lifetime are nothing short of astonishing. I am especially overwhelmed by the pace at which new ideas, trends, and changes are flooding the public square through the ever-open outlets of media and internet. I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle who took a short nap, only to wake up and find that life had passed him by.
I once thought email was something new, exciting, and useful only to find it hopelessly passé and archaic in my kids’ generation. Instead, there’s Facebook, Skype, SnapChat, Instagram, Twitter, Hangouts, ChatON, and a rapidly growing host of other social media outlets I’ve never even heard of, all enabling us to stay connected with everyone and everything considered new and exciting.
And with all that is currently happening in our virtual social arenas, who has time to pause and consider the meaning and significance of the past, let alone the present? In fact, a new philosophy called “presentism” (first coined in 1923) has grown up and matured in this media-saturated environment. According to presentism, all that truly matters and all that’s really “real” is what’s happening right now in the present. Everything else is relatively unimportant and insubstantial.
Is it any wonder we are less and less inclined to study subjects like history, philosophy, and classic art and literature? We are so consumed with keeping up with the present, we have lost interest in and think we have no time for the past. We have become afraid of being laughed at, excluded, of falling behind everyone else in the unending rush to know about the now.
So, how do I keep up? I’m convinced this is the wrong question. In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis reminds us that, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.” Thus, the better question is, “How do I become an increasingly faithful Christ-follower and effective witness to those around me? How do I stay connected to the eternal God who forever holds the past, present, and future in His wise and loving hands?” Only then will “keeping up” no longer have first place in my life. Instead, faithfulness to the One who created and stands both in and out of time is all that really matters, for He puts everything and everyone else into proper perspective.
God alone can empower me to choose wisely concerning how much—or how little—I “keep up” on contemporary social media, fashion, celebrities, news, sports teams, gadgets, and the rapidly changing ideological engines that mold and drive them on. But I am no longer compelled to be “up to date” simply for the sake of being relevant. By remaining in close fellowship with God, He reveals how best to navigate the contemporary in light of not only the past and the present, but also the magnificent future He has planned for all who seek to love and serve Him now and for all eternity.