Monday 28 May 2007

New series: encounters with tradition

Understanding the function of tradition remains a central task for theology today – and ecumenical progress requires an ever deeper understanding not only of one’s own tradition, but also of the internal “grammar” of other Christian traditions. But this is by no means easy. Indeed, as Gerhard Ebeling once remarked, relatively few Christians have ever had to made a real choice between traditions – in most cases, one’s own tradition simply maintains its own powerful self-evidentness in contrast to all other traditions.

Ebeling’s observation highlights the complex difficulties surrounding ecumenical understanding: if I have never encountered (say) the Roman Catholic tradition as a genuine possibility for faith, and so have never had to choose between this possibility and the possibility of my own tradition, then I’ve not yet really begun to understand the Roman Catholic tradition at all.

For this reason, we can learn a lot from people who have made a transition from one Christian tradition to another. Such people have experienced tradition itself – they have encountered both the non-self-evidentness of their own tradition, and the attractiveness and coherence of another tradition. So if we listen to the stories of people who have made such ecclesial transitions, it’s possible that the function of tradition will become a little more translucent, a little more thinkable.

With that in mind, we’re starting a new series here at F&T, entitled “Encounters with Tradition.” The series will feature guest-posts from several people who have made a transition from one Christian tradition to another – from Protestant to Catholic, from Baptist to Anglican, from evangelical to post-evangelical, and so on.

Perhaps these stories of diverse “encounters with tradition” will help us all to encounter our own (and other) traditions in a fresh way.


Jon said...

I used to HATE onions... But now I like them... Once I tried them I dug them...

I catch your drift Ben... I catch your drift.

Incidentally, at home I attend a Baptist church but in St Andrews I attend the Free Church of Scotland. Although it's not your average Free Church of Scotland!

Anonymous said...

I look forward to this series immensely.

Another way we begin to understand the traditioning process is when we meet people from a different "strand" of our own tradition--a different sub-tradition, so to speak. We go along thinking, "Methodists are thus and so and do such and what," and then we meet a Methodist from a different part of the globe and they have never seen such and what, never mind done it.

As we encounter these different sub-traditions, as we come to a more "global" view of our own tradition, we are better prepared to understand other traditions, I think. So, on the group blog, Mainstream Baptists (, in which I sometimes contribute in addition to my own blog, I have just begun a series "global Baptists," to try to broaden the view of some of my fellows about their own tradition. (For instance, did you know that Russian Baptists and Ukrainian Baptists actually have bishops??)

βασίλης ψύλλης said...

the concept "tradition" implies a community with a basic common experience and a common response to that experience, that is a political life
so, there is not question of "choosing" a tradition, but of being "politically" (that is really-in experience) active in any alive tradition.
to be more factual:
the fact that i am (by birth) a "Greek-Orthodox" Christian does not make me more or less Christian than a Roman-Catholic or a Protestant
what makes me Christian is who much able i am in my tradition to make Christ's double commandment of love alive in my (and my community's) life.
there is nothing to separates me from my fellow Christian of another "tradition" apart from our different community-political expression in everyday life
but this belongs to the realm of "shaken" (Heb. 12:27-29) and we all together are looking for the "unshaken" light and life of Christ

Ben Myers said...

Yes, Vassilip, you're right: in general, there can be no question of "choosing" a tradition (any more than one chooses one's language or nationality!). In spite of that, though, I think we can understand other Christian traditions only to the extent that we encounter them as genuine possibilities -- that is, as Christian traditions. And to encounter another tradition in this way will always involve an element of decision, since to encounter a tradition as a Christian tradition is precisely to hear in that tradition a summons to faith in Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Sounds fascinating! I am looking forward to this, as someone who did choose a different Christian tradition than the one I grew up in.

LoieJ said...

This should be interesting. I'm firmly in my own tradition, but I've encountered a number of people who have moved several times and "chosen" a new church rather than just stayed with what they had in the past. These people often see themselves as "Christian" first rather than calling themselves by a denomination name.

The choir director at my church grew up in another tradition, but our church was a compromise for her marriage. After attending a funeral back in her old tradition, which wasn't liturgical, she remarked that now she realized that she was a Lutheran because she appreciated participating in the services rather than just being there.

Unfortunately, I've heard people of one tradition say something like, "Well, there are "some Christians" in the _____ church." ie the opposite of Ben Meyer's comments. And even worse things are said about some denominations. We might not agree with some expressions of a tradition, but if the core beliefs are love of God and Christ, then I think it is wrong to elevate one's own denomination by putting another one down.

Rory Shiner said...

As an Anglo-Baptist (or Banglican), I'm all ears.

Anonymous said...

As one who has transitioned from one tradition to another. I think you've come up with an interesting concept. I know a turning point for me, was when I went outside of my own tradition, to learn about the others. Reading the sources first hand and not as they were filtered -- and often mischaracterized -- by the tradition I was then in.

If you want to learn about another faith tradition, you've got to step out of your own, to do it honestly.


Anonymous said...

There’s another sort of transition that happens – as in my case. Honestly, I was perfectly happy in my Protestant tradition….going along thinking all those dreadful things about Catholics that some (not all) Protestants do, and then it seems God intervened, knowing I would not be open-minded or listen to rational discourse.

I was walking down the hall at work, thinking about whatever task was at hand, and suddenly I stopped completely in my tracks, filled with the experience of ‘knowing that the sacraments of the Catholic Church were true’ (and not knowing what a sacrament was, either), and with an overwhelming desire to go to Mass (never having been before, and no Catholics in the family).

So the next day I was at Mass, not understanding anything I was seeing or hearing. …I did become Catholic, and now find I defend both Protestants and Catholics to whomever is bashing the other. I agree first hand that promotion of one denomination over another is a human contribution, not a divine one.

It’s traditional, liturgical, and especially linguistic differences that seem to perpetuate misunderstandings. More than that, there’s the simple sociology of group cohesion principles up through the theories of memetics that suggest there are very strong forces at work to keep people inside their own groups and keep them – more importantly - from looking at other faiths.

I’ll be interested to read stories of those who consciously sought out to learn of other faiths.

LoieJ said...

I've enjoyed "mixed" Bible study groups for two reasons: 1) they weren't "taught" by a pastor (which can be just one view presented.) and 2) people bring slightly different interpretations of various Bible verses to the table. It opens the mind!

Deb said...

I moved from one tradition to another - not really a deliberate choice so much as an accident of circumstance. In both traditions I heard (hear) a summons to faith in Jesus Christ. Have always been a defender of both traditions where they are defensible and a mediator where they are not. I have always considered (and not as cynically as you may think) that established power structures and external interests are the real enemy of the ecumenical movement - though it appears to me looking on that the ecumenical movement is poorly defined.

And as far as the tradition maintaining "its own pwerful self-evidentness in contrast to all other traditions" - well, maybe once you've moved through a couple that doesn't happen any more.

Anonymous said...

"[T]hey have encountered both the non-self-evidentness of their own tradition, and the attractiveness and coherence of another tradition."

Such a great way of putting it! I'm going to use this wording, from now on, to describe my own journey, which has taken me from the Roman Catholicism of my childhood, through the fundamentalism and evangelicalism of my college and seminary years, to my current flirtations with ecumenism and Anglo-Catholicism.

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