Things from of Old

 In Books, Community, Conference, Culture, Duty, Faith, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, People, Uncategorized

Part of the appeal of Rod Dreher’s book, The Benedict Option, is his invitation to a time before the modern world conspired to eliminate the continuity of more tight-knit communities with shared beliefs. Instead, what we have today is what Zygmunt Bauman calls “liquid modernity” to describe a way of life in which change is so rapid that no social institutions have time to solidify. The most successful people nowadays are flexible and rootless; they can live anywhere and believe anything. The ancient ways are irrelevant.

I thought about that this week while preparing to teach on Psalm 78: “I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old – things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation.” That’s quite a change from liquid modernity wherein nothing is fixed and the old is simply obsolete and useless. Why would anyone want to hear about the things of old? What could our ancestors possibly know about the world in which we live? More than we imagine.

Then there is the question of the difference between what is hidden and what is secret. This is not about mysteries denied ordinary people. It is not special knowledge or dark arts and rituals. Instead, these are things that have been heard and known in the past but have sometimes been lost or intentionally hidden.

Both hiding the truth and hiding from the truth has been a pattern of mankind from the very beginning. Adam and Eve hiding from God. Cain hiding Abel’s death. There is even one instance in Israel’s history when the Book of the Law had been tucked away so well it was lost completely for generations. When uncovered by Josiah the covenant that had been long forgotten was renewed. That which had once been heard and known was rediscovered.

I think that is what the writer of the Psalm is saying here. He is about to tell us things already known but we have tried to hide them because they are uncomfortable. We want to make up our own stories about ourselves and our history that will be less restraining and give us permission we cannot get otherwise. We don’t want to face the truth or pass the truth on to the next generation. It’s better to rewrite it for ourselves and allow them to do the same. In Scott Peck’s  “People of the Lie” he writes that unhealthy families have a lie they pass on from one generation to the next. They may not even be able to articulate it but it shapes them because they spend their lives hiding or avoiding something that is unpleasant to face. So the psalmist says, “we will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation…” That does not sit well with people who want their history to be scrubbed and rewritten – or hidden.

Ironically, we have not concealed that truth as much as we have hidden it in plain sight. More than 100 million Bibles are printed every year, and the average American Christian owns nine Bibles. Yet, a Gallup survey found that fewer than half of Americans can name the first book of the Bible. Only 30 percent of people owning Bibles know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and 12 percent of Christians believe that Noah was married to Joan of Arc. Half of graduating high school seniors thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. The things of old are on every book shelf but hidden in such a way that we don’t notice.

That’s why it is encouraging to hear about initiatives like the Bible Literacy Project and their textbook “The Bible and Its Influence” that supports the academic study of the Bible and is now taught in more than 625 public high schools in 43 states. More than 125,000 students have been through the course.

This year the American Bible Society announced its plans for the Faith & Liberty Discovery Center in Philadelphia that will explore the relationship between faith and liberty in America. As well, the Museum of the Bible will open in the fall of this year with 430,000 square feet dedicated to exploring the history and impact of the Bible. Since the 2008 launch of YouVersion, more than 275 million people around the world have installed the app. With 1,492 versions in 1,074 languages it has become the most popular Bible program for mobile phones.

It may well be we are living in liquid modernity with institutions and their foundations never becoming solid or even melting away, but I believe it is also a time of opportunity or a “Josiah moment” to rediscover and “utter hidden things, things from of old – things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.”

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    Tom Conway

    Great word Fred!
    I don’t know how we can keep a Biblical perspective on life if we are not regularly in the Word of God.
    What ABS and Museum of the Bible are doing is so exciting.
    May we all aspire to “have our delight in the law of the Lord and in His law meditate on it day and night.”

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    Pat Murdock

    Thanks for the good word Fred! Our past inspires our present and the future that lies before us.


    If we don’t know where we’ve come from, and what our freedoms are rooted in, then our lives as individuals and as a nation will drift.

    God’s Word redeems and liberates us to make a Kingdom impact in the present, and for all of eternity.

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    As usual a challenging read with strong exhortation and for me even admonition. Scripture makes clear to us two things last forever: the Word of God and the souls of men. I am grateful I live in a day where so many (like those great organizations you mentioned) are calling us to reconsider how precious and life giving God’s Word is; and also reminding us of the great privilege it is that we have such access to it. The flow of resources to work lifting up God’s Word is very exciting.

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    Drew Anderson

    Fred ,the drift you write about is serious and deep. Bible literacy is fundamental. The projects you mention are very encouraging. We have also been losing our understanding of and appreciation for our important history and civic culture. Graham Allison who was the first Dean of the JFK School of Government and still teaches at Harvard told a sad tale recently on the radio. He said he had given a lecture to new student in his class on the topic of the Cold War. Presumably, this was a class full of top students like Harvard selects. A student came up and said the presentation was interesting, but unfortunately wasn’t relevant. Allison asked why. He was informed in a straightforward manner that anything that happened before the student’s high school years was considered irrelevant in today’s world. This is a scary attitude. Allison , I hope, helps that student understand what is wrong with that opinion as his class progresses. As C S Lewis said, The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”

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