I have grown used to Christians making generalizations lamenting the present state of life in the world, assuming a moral degradation from some idealized standard, and suggesting that such is a clear harbinger of the End of the World.
I have grown used to it. I just don’t get it. Earlier this year I read Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century and if ever an era revealed End-of-the-World colors, it was the 14th century. But we are still here.
My patience wears thin, though, when the idealized standard is localized to something like the 1950s and some historic event (“…when they took prayer out of our schools…”) or another is erected as the watershed moment. Yes, THOSE 1950s when my black friends endured dental work without anesthesia and Colin Powell, later so distinguished, would drive through the south having to turn his wife into the woods to relieve herself, as they were unable to find a restroom she was free to use.
There never has been a golden age. We might even want to argue that things are so much better today than they have been at any time in the past.
But that is not my purpose. My purpose is for us to look critically at any and every era and train ourselves to see God’s providential hand of grace through it all.
In the following quote, John Frame is critiquing those critical assessments which judge contemporary life as defective because they have departed from a high and therefore pure standard. His comments are applicable as well to any effort to locate a pure golden standard anywhere in history and outside the hope of the Gospel.
So the problem is not history; the problem is sin. Culture is bad today, but Sodom and Gomorrah were probably not any better, nor were Tyre, Sidon, Ninevah, Babylon, Rome, Capernaum, or Bethsaida.
Popular culture is bad, but high culture is too. Beethoven was a devotee of the secularism of the French Revolution, Wagner of German mythology, and their music makes a powerful case for these false worldviews.. The problems of high culture go back a long way. It is not that high culture has been infected by popular culture; if anything, the reverse is true. And folk culture has always had alongside its humble virtues a lot of bawdy tales, class warfare, ignorant populism, and disrespect for the holy.
It is always wrong to try to single out one element of culture as pure, even relatively pure, and blame all of society’s ills on some other element. That is almost always self-serving: we like what we like and we want to blame the evils of life on the culture we dislike. But perhaps we need to have a more biblical view of sin. Sin is not limited to one segment of society or one segment of culture. It pervades everything. And whatever good there is comes from God’s common and special grace.
– The Doctrine of the Christian Life, Page 887.