A friend recently shared with me these words from German theologian Helmut Thielicke:
“The gospel must be preached afresh and told in new ways to every generation, since every generation has its own unique questions. The gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence.”
Please note that Thielicke does not say that the gospel message itself needs to be changed, watered down, or made more palatable for a new generation. He is saying that if we are to communicate the gospel effectively to people of a new time and culture, then we must be willing to answer the questions generated in that environment, use the images and metaphors that are understood by the people to whom we are speaking, and speak in such a way that we can be understood. The core message is the same, but the way it is presented varies.
This is one reason that those of us who are communicators of the gospel should be students of our culture. Although contemporary culture may not be as “God haunted” as it once was, people still have existential and theological questions that may be addressed by the gospel. These questions include (but are not limited to): “Why am I here?” “Is there a meaning and purpose to life?” “How am I to relate to those around me?” “What is my responsibility to and for others?” “Is community necessary and what forms the basis for a generative community?” “What is our relationship to the created order?”
Good literature, poetry, art, and music are ageless and speak to all generations despite significant changes in values and perspective. Even more enduring is the message of God’s love and desire for relationship with humankind. The “old, old story” is certainly worthy of a new hearing, and we must use the best skills at our disposal to assure that it is properly presented.