The General Social Survey’s latest research discovered that in 2018, 33.6% of young people (18–34 years of age) indicated no religious preference—a number that has more than tripled since 1988 (10.9%).General Social Survey, accessed August 7, 2019, https://gssdataexplorer.norc.org/trends/Religion%20&%20Spirituality?
measure=relig_rec This research makes it difficult to deny the reality that we live in a rapidly changing world. Turn on the television or scroll through social media and you will notice changes throughout our culture. Truth, ethics, morality, science, philosophy, politics, and religion are just a few examples of quickly evolving issues.
The reality for preachers of the gospel is that we live in a culture that is pushing for change, tolerance, and acceptance. “How can we proclaim God’s unchanging truth in a changing world” is a question every pastor, and Christian, must consider. In this article, I offer three reflections to consider in an attempt to answer this question.
God is Unchanging
Theologians refer to this concept as “the immutability of God.” It is the Christian doctrine that teaches God is unchanging in His character and nature. To put it another way, who God was in biblical times is who God is today. The Scriptures are filled with examples of God’s immutability: “I the LORD do not change” (Mal 3:6, ESV); God “does not change like shifting shadows” (Jas 1:17, CSB); and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8, ESV). Our God remains constant because He is unchanging.
Since God is unchanging in His character and nature, He is also unchanging in His will, purpose, and actions. God has revealed Himself fully in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1–2) as revealed in Scripture. And since God has given us His Word (2 Tim 3:16–17), it bears the same character, nature, will, purpose, and intent of God Himself. Therefore, His Word is unchanging in intent and purpose. The truth of the Scriptures is eternally true regardless of societal norms and preferences.
God’s Word is the foundation upon which we confidently proclaim truth to a constantly changing world. No matter the time, culture, worldview, or political agenda, God’s Word is relevant because it is timeless. As we stand to preach each week, we can trust in the eternal truth of God’s Word without wavering.
Transformation vs. Translation
The challenge for the preacher to communicate God’s eternal truth in a changing culture is a matter of contextualization. Millard J. Erickson explores the ideas of “transformation” vs. “translation” in order to contextualize the biblical message to today’s world.Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 76–80. Transformation is being “prepared to make rather serious changes in the content of the message in order to relate it to the modern world.”Ibid., 75. Translation, however, is an “attempt to say what the Bible would say if it were being written to us in our present situation.”Ibid., 77. It is essential that contextualization occur, but the approach of the transformer and the translator is drastically different.
We are not called to “transform” the message of God’s Word because no modification or updating is needed. We are called to understand God’s Word in its original context, and then “translate” its message in such a way for our people to understand. God’s Word still speaks to our people today, but it is the task of the preacher to bring the message from the biblical world to the people of the modern world.
Finding Our Voice
Many voices speak into and influence our culture today. James Emery White argues that, biblically, there are three influential voices: the prophetic, the evangelistic, and the heretic.James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017), 92. Building off the principles from John Stott’s book, Preaching Between Two Worlds, White urges us to find our “voice” in order to engage today’s culture. Specifically, he calls us to utilize both the prophetic and the evangelistic voice.
The prophetic voice is “an admonishing one, a ‘thou shalt not,’ a clarion call to turn to God and get right with God.”Ibid. This is the voice that proclaims the truth of God’s Word as it speaks to issues in today’s culture. It is a voice that stands firm and steadfast on the truth of God’s Word. As we proclaim God’s unchanging Word in today’s culture, we must hold fast to its truth and appeal earnestly to those whom we preach to get right with God.
The evangelistic voice is “focused on calling people to a relationship with Christ as Forgiver and Leader.”Ibid. Take, for example, Paul addressing the men of Athens in the Areopagus (Acts 17). Paul addressed their sin of pagan worship and tells them of the one true God (17:23–28—the prophetic voice), but he also warns them “now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent” (17:30—the evangelistic voice). As we preach, we, too, must call people to repent of sin and confess Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9-10).
God’s eternal truth is increasingly becoming more unpopular. There is a temptation for preachers to alter or ignore God’s truth in order to be liked and accepted by our listeners. Remember, we are not called to please man, but to serve Christ (Gal 1:10). Paul warned Timothy there would be a time where people would not endure sound teaching (1 Tim 4:3). His admonition for Timothy is ours today: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (4:2). Regardless of the shifting cultural tides, we must preach the Word!
Ryan Casey is the Student Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton, Illinois, and an M.Div. student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||General Social Survey, accessed August 7, 2019, https://gssdataexplorer.norc.org/trends/Religion%20&%20Spirituality?|
|2.||↑||Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 76–80.|
|5.||↑||James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017), 92.|