The following is a guest column by Thomas Howard, associate professor of English, Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts.

You sometimes hear an exchange that goes something like this: “What we need is a clean sweep. We’ve got to jettison the whole thing and start over. It’s all gone wrong.” And the anxious rejoinder, “No, no! That would be fatal. It’s not that we need something new: we’ve got to go back to our origins and reassert the old. The problem is precisely that we’ve gotten away from the original thing.”

That, in a thousand variations, is what we run up against in all our affairs—domestic, political, ethical, personal. The new vs. the old. Which way do we go in order to get out of the present deadlock? We can fancy the quarrels that go on in the back rooms of Marxism, with the Albanians complaining that the Chinese are revisionist, and the Chinese insisting that the Cubans have diluted things, and the Cubans sure that the Russians have sold their souls for a mess of decadent pottage. Or again, in the Vatican, with the Curia plumping for a return to the twelfth-century authority of the Supreme Pontiff, vs. some Dutch theologian urging collegiality. Or, closer to home, in the evangelistic enterprise, with one person calling for a brand-new message and style if we are going to get a hearing at all from this generation, and another arguing that the old tactics and vocabulary of John the Baptist or Jonathan Edwards are the astringent remedy that this age needs.

And of course we find the same thing in the secrets of our own being: Am I to move off dead center here by briskly seizing and espousing the new and the innovative? Or am I to revive the ancient, proven, solid verities that I have let slip? Which way?

If we look at ...

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