The Past is a Gift

The Protestant sensibility can ask this question of those who find tradition of immense importance: “How can you trust something that changes?” The contrast here is between tradition and scripture. Prescinding from the question of the role of tradition in producing the texts of scripture, and the way in which tradition determined which books would be included, and the way that not all Christian traditions agree on the composition of scripture, let’s give the point. Tradition changes in a way that say, the scriptures these days do not. The problem that must be addressed, however, is that it is tradition (amongst other things) that allows me to read and understand scripture itself. What sense would Scripture make if I had not previously been taught to read and understand the scriptures in the/a tradition of the church? The faith is always handed on through the scriptures with teaching. Now, I don’t treat the tradition I have become familiar with in the same way as I do Scripture, (this is presumably the ‘trust’ issue mentioned above) but the two are very clearly related.

The point of a living tradition is that it can and does change. A faithful, living tradition of necessity changes. Familiarity with the tradition of the church makes clear the continuity and differences in reading the scriptures over time and in different contexts. The question still remains as to how this relationship between scripture, tradition and ourselves is to be understood and lived, and how we are to remain faithful to the revelation of God in Christ through our use of scripture. However, although we defer to scripture in a way that we do not defer to the tradition it is impossible to have a faithful relationship to scripture without the/a tradition. If we acknowledge these observations our relationship to tradition becomes a little more circumspect, and this for everybody, protestant, catholic, liberal, etc.

And on a personal note, I find the great figures of the Christian tradition worthy of the honour of listening carefully to them. Their voice is not the voice of scripture, but I think that in their lives they each forgot more about faith, God, prayer, being human, etc., than I will ever know! These voices, individually and rolled into a living tradition, remains one of the great gifts in my life.

Warren

Tags: hermeneutics | scripture | tradition |