Tradition: It’s not an anchor to weigh you down but a sail to move you forward

St Paul iconSource: Patheos Press Blog

By Peter Enns

I came across this blog post, now over 3 years old, while meandering through the internet this morning. The point is made so succinctly  and expresses so well my own thinking, I wanted to post it to see what you think.

The author is Fr. Ted Bobosh, a priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church, Dayton, OH (Orthodox Church in America). He has degrees from the Ohio State University, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Fordham University, and was for 12 years an adjunct professor at the University of Dayton, Religious Studies Department.

The title of the post is “Tradition: The Ship of Salvation’s Sail Not Its Anchor.” Bobosh makes a point that is vital for adherents to any Christian tradition.

Tradition, like Scripture, is not made holy by being carved into stone, but rather by being interpreted within a community, by being the heart of the community’s relationship to God and the world.  Tradition is thus alive and constantly relating to the world, not written in stone and frozen in some past understanding.

His basis for this claim is how the New Testament writers transformed their own tradition–what we call the Old Testament. Paul use of the Old Testament, for example, shows how tradition is “dynamic, creative, vivifying and renewing and keeps people focused on the goal – where God is leading us to, not the past and where we were.”

Bobosh cites New Testament scholar Sylvia C. Keesmaat, and I can’t resist reproducing the entire quote.

When a tradition is handed on unchanged it loses its potency and has little meaning for the present. Some would go so far as to say that an unchanged tradition is dead, it has been killed…a vibrant tradition must be not only a conserving (conservative) force, but also an innovative one. The past tradition needs to be revivified for a new cultural and historical context….The only hope for survival lies in a tradition’s ability to provide a fresh word of hope in a new situation…this dynamic can be described as the interpretation of tradition; what gives a tradition its life is an effective interpretation for a new time and context. The success or failure of such interpretation (or re-interpretation) can result in either the life-giving continuation of the tradition, or its lifeless end… In addition, in a situation of crisis, fraught with uncertainty, entrenchment seems a safe path to walk… To those in the Galatian community, who would revert to the tradition unchanged, Paul emphasizes that this tradition must not be merely mimicked. It cannot be simply passed on unchanged, the community in Galatia needs to hear the word of God’s radically new thing, of God’s revelation in Jesus, of the end of order. For this community Paul ‘defines and defends the radically new in terms drawn from the old’… That is why abandoning the tradition is not an option for him. However, that importance is evident partly in the ability of the tradition to provide a fresh word of hope for a new situation…. He transforms tradition so that it continues in the living world. 

Expecting the Bible to maintain the type of precisionistic, propositional, consistency–that all of Scripture speaks with one voice as required in some conservative Protestant views of Scripture (i.e., inerrancy, etc.)–fails to embrace Scripture’s own necessary dynamic quality, a quality the New Testament authors were so diligent in expressing.

A very new thing happened in the Gospel that previous iterations of God’s word were not able to grasp–namely a messiah who was executed by the Romans rather than defeating them and then raised from the dead. The tradition had to be transformed to account for this.

To miss this dynamic sells not only the Bible short, but the Gospel and God himself.

At least that’s what I think.


 

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