Friday, April 1, 2011


Gerald McDormott, in this First Things article, makes some interesting observations about the place of Church Tradition in modern Protestantism. It's a long article with a lot to think about and interact with but essentially he's noting a conflict within Evangelicalism about our relationship with Church Tradition. The "Meliorists" (E.g. Olson etc) wish to revise tradition while the "Traditionalists" (E.g. Carson etc) hold we might need to adjust our approach to Church Tradition. For the Meliorists, 'sempa reforma' means that everything is up for grabs except the bible, all tradition is open to revision.  For the Traditionalist it's more of a matter of emphasis; Augustine's doctrine of Grace over his doctrine of Church, but not the question of should we follow Augustine or not.

This debate has hermeneutical consequences.  The Meliorists, says McDormott, see Scripture as functional, communicating God's words. Often the Meliorist position is characterized by emphasising the place of experience in communicating theology, yet McDormott's response is a good one.
"In these ways and others, Vanhoozer shows in a post-foundationalist way that experience and doctrine are intrinsically tied up in one another, and that the Bible’s words (not just concepts) are given by God just as He gives them afresh every time they are read or preached. The Meliorists’ exaltation of experience over doctrine is a false dichotomy, and their dissociation of revelation from biblical words slights God’s work of revelation in history."
In the next paragraph it's fascinating to see, for a journal that's been heavily influenced from the other side of the Tiber, an almost Protestant view of Sola Scriptura affirmed!
"Traditionists also affirm sola scriptura, but in a manner that is really prima scriptura: Scripture is primary, but the Great Tradition is the authoritative guide to its interpretation."
McDormott, who favours the 'Traditionists' concludes by predicting that the gap between the two groups will only widen.

[Still from Fiddler on the Roof, © 1971 United Artists]