We live in perilous times, when many of the Christian foundations of our society and nation are being knocked away. Indeed, to those of us who are of riper years, the world today is a strange place, scarcely recognizable from the world of our childhood. Consequently we preach the gospel to a generation with new and unfamiliar preconceptions. 1 Chronicles 12:32
In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read of some ‘men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do’. We cannot ignore the times in which we live, however alien and unfriendly they may feel. God has put us here to serve him, in this place and this generation. We are not to look back to the past—neither our past, not the distant past—and wish that we were serving God there. ‘Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.’ (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Or in the blunt language of the NIV, ‘Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such a question.’
So if we want to be wise, what questions should we be asking? We should be looking to understand the mindset of this generation, which has rejected not just Christian truth but the concept of absolute truth altogether. The way we present the gospel to them will be different from that of our predecessors—the same message, but packaged in a way that thoroughly secularized people can understand. One very obvious thing that we must do, in both preaching and personal witnessing, is to assume that those to whom we speak have no knowledge whatever of spiritual things.
Again, we should be alive to the particular makeup of our congregations or mission-fields. For example, what is the class-structure of our area? Are there foreigners, or adherents of non-Christian religions? How can we best relate to the actual people actually before us?
Again, and this is really the concern of this issue, we should be aware of the currents of thought and action in the world around us. How do we preach the gospel if men and women are convinced that any straight talking about religion is divisive or offensive? And how will we preach the gospel if the public authorities try to regulate us out of existence?
These are real questions, questions not for yesterday’s church, but for today and tomorrow. Our prayer is that by raising some of these issues now, we will help you to understand the times, and get a clearer view of what the church of God ought to do.