Monday, April 4, 2011

New Ideas

Every year when I teach Christian Heritage at Baylor (Church history and Theology), I always have students who are shocked that some aspect of their progressive church worship that they thought was new and innovative was actually practiced by this or that person in Church history.  Take the small group phenomenon over that past 20 years or so.  Well, sorry guys, John Wesley beat you to the punch on that one with his "classes" in the early Methodist church.

What about loud, free, raucous worship so often practiced in the charismatic movement, sorry, not new either.  Try the camp meetings of the first and second great awakenings in America.

So, here is a good rule of thumb I think:

If you ever think you have a new good idea, search for it in history.  It is not that new ideas don’t exist.  New ideas come about all the time.  But, new good ideas are very rare.  If you think you have a good idea that is new, chances are you can find someone somewhere that has had it before.  If it is truly new, it is probably not truly good, and if it is truly good, it is probably not truly new.

Unfortunately this goes for dissertations as well.


  1. I conquer with your rule of thumb, new good ideas are rare. Good ideas however I believe only became good because people throughout history worked to remove their flaws and kinks. Christianity is a good example of this. It is a very good thing that the majority of its flaws were worked out. It makes it much safer and easier to be and become a follower and believer today.

  2. Alicia HarringtonApril 10, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    Good ideas need time to develop and work out their flaws. For instance, many movements such as women's rights and anti-slavery did not develop overnight, but instead over a long time period. In addition, several people contributed to these movements which corresponds to the idea that a truly great idea has been thought up by somebody before you.

  3. I have to agree and slightly disagree with your comment. Don't get me wrong I think it is a good analysis, but I don't always think that a new idea isn't always good.

    Sure there are many things that people think are new and noteworthy that turn up in the history pages, but new ideas don't have to be good for all. (not to sound isolated or disputatious in personal ideals or anything)

    I think that if you have a new idea, it can be good for the general public or even for just yourself. An idea that you follow for a soul purpose makes the leadership workers of today in businesses and other work forces.

    So whether it is a new methodology in how you work or carry out your days, it doesn't have to benefit all people. It makes it more unique and special in its own.

  4. I agree that new good ideas are rare. However, I think that the topic of how new ideas often turn into new good ideas once they have been tried, modified, and tried again, etc. should be brought into the discussion for your rule of thumb. The new good ideas that were thought of back then had to be worked over to become what was recorded in history. Even the new good ideas today are more often than not the product of someone's idea that has been worked over several times to become a finished product. For example, paper was made of papyrus that had been smashed together and pressed, animal skin, carved stone, etc... until it became what it is today. A consistent thickness, color, consistency, and size. It started out as a new idea, and eventually turned into a good idea.

  5. I have to agree and disagree with your comment as well. I agree new good ideas are very rare and that most ideas have already existed from the past, but I think the ideas from the past help form better ideas. I think people tend to take ideas from the past, learn from the past mistakes, and turn the idea into something better. Ideas start out new, but most don't become a new good idea until they are modified from those who take the time to work out the flaws.

  6. If this is the case, who do you think is the historical equivalent of Rob Bell?

  7. I have to agree it is very rare to have a new good idea, one of my favorite things about any subject but especially history is making connections with earlier times and today. The more i look at history there really never is an original idea. Everything from democracy which was first tried out by the Ancient Greek, to almost all disney movies today are remakes of originals. While I agree that it is very rare to have a good new idea that does not mean that i believe that things can not be improved. Something may not be original or truly new but they can be modified and made better which in many cases allows for better ways of living and experiencing what God has for us in this World

  8. Andrea SifuentesMay 9, 2011 at 1:22 AM

    I Agree with Nikki that most of the ideas people come up with may not be new but since they are tweaked and improved they come out to be even better ideas. I also believe that all ideas have the possibility of being good ones and even if someone has thought about it before it is still considered a new idea because whoever may have thought about it before has not taken action to actually making it a good idea. An example would be a series of books my brother reads, The Adventures of Captain Underpants. I'm sure many kids have thought of a super hero running around in their underwear but thought it was a dumb idea. It was not until the author actually did something about his idea and became famous for it.