hey’re everywhere, those reminders of the “good ol’ days.” You can’t drive to the office or the shopping center without seeing them: Chrysler PT Cruisers, Volkswagen Beetles, Chevrolet HHRs. These cars recall simpler days when anyone with a few hundred bucks could buy a used car that, with a few simple tools, could provide years of reliable (and cheap) service.
But that’s where the similarity ends. Beneath these vehicles’ retro exteriors lie every kind of technological advance, everything from computer-monitored fuel injection systems to satellite radio receivers to automated braking systems to front and side airbags; these vehicles have it all.
They’re safer than previous generations of automobiles, more fuel efficient, and more in tune with today’s creature comforts (think air-conditioning, cup holders, and GPS systems). Plus, in many cases when you see ads for these products they’re accompanied by the soundtrack of Boomers’ life experience—Rock and Roll.
You have to hand it to the marketers of these automobiles: they know how to tap into the nostalgia of the buying public and still provide a vehicle that’s as modern as this morning’s newspaper.
There’s something appealing about being tied to the past while enjoying the benefits and innovations of the present. We Adventists could, if we wished, anchor ourselves to a time in the past when life was simpler and Bible truths were grounded in a few standard proof texts, and refuse to go beyond that. We could steadfastly resist any new interpretations of the Bible, even those based on new linguistic or archaeological discoveries. After all, if our old-time religion was good enough for Paul and Silas (Grandma and Grandpa, James, Ellen, and Uriah), shouldn’t it be good enough for us, as well?
Well, yes, and no. Christianity is founded on certain basic unchangeable statements of faith: A God of love who is at the same time loving, just, and merciful; a Savior who died and was resurrected to rescue us from both the penalty and the power of sin; the Holy Spirit who guides us in our continuing search for truth until at last we are rescued from this sin-plagued earth by Jesus’ return.
Beyond that, Christians throughout the ages have developed doctrines about creation, revelation, relationships, health, lifestyle, prophecy, you name it. But every generation has to interpret the Bible from the standpoint of the present. Institutions that in the past might have been defended by biblical practice (polygamy; slavery; age, race, and gender discrimination) are now, in our spiritually enlightened age, incompatible with the principles of the gospel. We can’t depend solely on interpretations from the past to form today’s theology and practice.
To assume the attitude of seekers does not mean to ignore or minimize our understandings of the past. It simply means that as we grow in our understanding of biblical truth, so must we adjust the way we present the truths we emphasize to our fellow travelers. In an age of biblical illiteracy, when high school students think Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife, we have to interpret the everlasting gospel in ways that touch our neighbors where they live. Typically, that means living the values Christ lived.
Back in 1963 my parents bought a Volkswagen Beetle. It was the car in which I learned how to drive. When I went to college my sister got it, and she drove it through college, nursing school, and medical school. Then it came back to my family, and our kids learned to drive in it. By the time we moved to Maryland, we got stares whenever we drove it. It didn’t have power brakes, power steering, power anything. The heater hadn’t worked in years, nor the horn. In a pinch it got us where we had to go, but there were faster, safer ways to get there.
The car is still in our family (my sister recently had it refurbished; see photo). It looks sharp and it runs well, but other than being a collector’s item, it’s not a very practical means of transportation in 2007.
For the same reason, we constantly have to ask ourselves, Am I getting closer to God’s ideal? Am I becoming more like Jesus? And is the vehicle taking me there the best available? If it is, drive on. If it isn’t, trade up.
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of
Adventist Review and
Adventist World. In his local church he helps lead out in Earliteen Sabbath school and chairs the Administrative Church Board