Monday, October 31, 2016

Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism #bookreview

The Book

Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants
D.H. Williams

This is the second in a series of books recommended by a colleague centered around a discussion on Sola Scriptura and it's validity as a protestant argument. While an older work (published in 1999), it still holds an important conversation around several pertinent questions of tradition and the Church's catholicity.

The Review

As another scholarly piece, the text is not readily accessible. That is, if you are not familiar with Patristics or any Church history, you may get a little lost. Sadly, D.H. Williams is keenly aware of the fact that most Protestants, particularly Free Church Protestants are out of touch with the history of the church. He apologizes right away for all the historical discussion he must have in order to prove his points and advises unfamiliar readers to catch up on the topic.

Once critique I have at this point is the lack of supplemental material to help with the historical part of his argument. There is a lot of text when a chart or timeline could have provided a nice visual to go with the sentences and paragraphs explaining the flow from the Apostles to the Church Fathers. He argues that, historically speaking, the Church Fathers arose sequentially and naturally from the Apostolic age. A chronology could have illustrated this point powerfully and elegantly.

In addition to a seamless transition from the Apostles to the Church Fathers, Williams argues against the notion of Constantinian corruption, explains the place of councils and creeds and discussed how Luther and the Reformers protected Patristics as a guide to Orthodoxy.

However, William's main point centers around the fact that Scripture does not live in isolation. We have Sacred Scripture because Church Tradition venerated and preserved it. Conversely, whatever was proposed as Church Tradition was first measured by Sacred Scripture as part of acceptance. The two go hand-in-hand and could not be separated.

Tradition (capital T) is different than tradition (lower case t), which can also be called mere custom. Scripture itself refers to the Traditions that were being "passed down". In fact, the term "passed down", Williams points out, is a form of the word translated "tradition". Hence, Tradition refers to how the Church interprets and hands down doctrine from generation to generation. In other words: Jesus teaches the Apostles who pass the teaching on to the next generation of believers who encounter challenges to the faith and draw from the teaching to answer said challenges. Doctrine is synonymous with Tradition in the sense that it is the extraction and communication of a coherent system of belief based on the Bible.

Without Tradition, doctrines of the Church must be re-formed and re-argued while heretical beliefs will need to be re-refuted. Things that are settled in orthodox teaching will be up for grabs once again. I close this out with the following quote from the text:
Whereas Scripture does indeed define the center of gravity of the true faith, it does not set the limits of its reading or knowledge. The Reformers' appeal to scriptural sufficiency was crafted on the assumption that the Bible was the book on the church's faith. That faith of the church, New Testament and patristic, was seen as contiguous with the biblical narrative, so that the only proper way to read the Bible was within the framework of the church's teaching and practice. (Williams, 200)

The Conclusion

I would argue that everyone reads the Bible within the framework of a "tradition." Whatever you grew up being taught, that's the tradition that you will hold. Unfortunately, when the tradition once grew up with turns out to be a- or even un-historical, you begin to undermine the entirety of Christendom. D.H. Williams believes that reading scripture through the framework of the Church Fathers is the historical path to orthodoxy which has been unnecessarily undermined by some in Free Church traditions.

Note: He is not arguing for a return to Rome. He looks to a pre-Roman catholic (Little 'C') Church (though he concedes that this church eventually became the Roman Catholic Church). He cites early church sources all the way to Luther, Calvin and beyond as groups that looked to the Fathers for a framework to the reading and interpretation of scripture.

If this review piques your interest, go read the whole book. It is a bit dense but not very long (243 pages including index). I recommend it to anyone interested in church history and biblical interpretation.
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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