Brett Wells on Tradition and Scripture

The following is a conversation started by my friend Bret (http://bretwells.blogspot.com/) about a debate I posted between myself and Steve Rudd (see http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2005/06/debate-on-tradition-and-scriptural.html). Both Steve and Brett are from the Church of Christ, but, as you will shortly see... they are very, very different:

=== FROM BRET ===


So I read your debate with Steven Rudd. I have several comments.

1) I didn't see a place on your blogspot to leave comments...I may have just missed it, you may intentionally have left it off. In either case, I'm commenting this way, you may feel free to use any and all comments on your blog (even though it will undoubtedly get me on the "heretic" list - it was only a matter of time anyway.)

2) In your original post you said, "All of this is tradition influencing how you understand and use Scripture, and I have no problem with tradition per se. I would challenge whether or not your tradition is the best tradition, since it is only about two centuries old, and mainly comes from the United States. I would say your tradition is narrow and sectarian; it does not adequately deal with the whole scope of Scripture; and it is not in agreement with the universal Church through the ages across the world. Yet, deciding who's tradition is more valid is not why I am sending this..."

My response would be as follows. It is incredibly arrogant, presumptuous and foolish for anyone to claim that their particular tradition is "the best" - how does one define best? Its like asking "what's the best chess move?" The concept of "best" is situational and a matter of perspective. So, in that regard, I agree with your dismissal of Restoration circles as the "best."

However, I disagree that this tradition is narrow and sectarian. Unfortunately, our tradition, like all others, is riddled with narrow, sectarian individuals who have purported their views as the ultimate arbiter of truth. However, I appeal to anyone listening to simply place these individuals in the same files as those of your own tradition whom you wish had never figured out how to mass communicate.

The basis of the Restoration tradition, as you know Nate, is extremely idealistic and perhaps a bit naïve. The desire to restore the "pristine" faith of the 1st century Church has proven to be much more difficult than Stone or the Campbells believed. And yet the original spirit - one of inclusivity rather than exclusivity - is something I still believe in strongly. There is an implicit desire among these churches to take a step back and reevaluate the scene playing out in Christendom. The constant splitting, reforming, resplitting, etc that arose in the 17th century and following created great division among the Body of Christ. In reading "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery" one gets the impression that this group of individuals, foundational in creating the movement known as the Restoration, were indeed idealistic, naïve, and hopeful. http://www.bible.acu.edu/stone-campbell/Etexts/lastwill.html

Perhaps what they sought, like such as endeavors as socialism, looks somewhat good on paper but is without any chance of sustainable life among humanity. I hope not. I also hope that this statement represents not the final realization of that which we seek but rather a first step.

I see the Restoration churches as having something of great value to add to the greater Christian conversation. I see this in our desire to be people led by the Word of God; people zealous for Christian community; people desperately seeking to discover what it means to live faithfully for Christ in this world. Do I see this as a contrast to what other Christian denominations have sought / are seeking? Not usually. However, a conversation of one voice is a not a conversation...its a monologue and those can get quite boring.

I personally am not so sure that idealism and naivety are such bad things for someone to hold on to these days. True, our tradition in name is only a couple hundred years old, but I would like to contest that our Tradition exists separately from the past 2000 years of Church history. I hope that an alternative viewpoint of the Restoration churches as one of the voices seated around the table of Christianity - with a long history stemming from the same fathers as the rest seated at the table.

I personally am not so sure that idealism and naivety are such bad things for someone to hold on to these days. True, our tradition in name is only a couple hundred years old, but I would like to contest that our Tradition exists separately from the past 2000 years of Church history. I hope that an alternative viewpoint of the Restoration churches as one of the voices seated around the table of Christianity - with a long history stemming from the same fathers as the rest seated at the table.

[From a later email] I'm not going to rewrite it here but I was actually saying that I do not see our heritage as only 200 years old because it grew out of the last 2000 years, just as the other Christian traditions. Ours came in response to a specific need that was recognized and in light of that, still has (I believe) a prophetic word to speak regarding the issue. We are intimately connected whether we want to be or not.

=== MY COMMENT ===

Bret got me here. He is RIGHT that the Stone-Campbell tradition is not merely 200 years old, but is part of the continuous 2000 year history of Christ's Church wrestling with what it means to live the Gospel and follow Christ. I over-stated the case in my debate with Steve. Although, to be honest, Steve and Bret seem to have two TOTALLY different conceptions of how Restorationist tradition fits into the whole panorama of what God has done in His Church through the Ages. Let me explain:

Steve sees Restorationist tradition as a radical break with everything that has gone before, and is utterly (or willfully) oblivious to any continuity that his tradition has with the larger Christian Church. If one sees the Restoration movement in this light, then it truly is only 200 years old, because in discussing the issue with Steve it is clear that he will not recognize anything outside of his myopic interpretation of Church history. He follows the line of thought that "The Church was pure in the NT, and fell into a dark chasm for 1800 years until Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell rescued us... anything good that happened in the Church in those 1800 years is merely because someone happened to be lucky enough to realize what Stone and Campbell would figure out".

Bret, on the other hand, sees the Restoration movement as a unique and vibrant tradition (small t) that is rooted in, and grows organically out of the great Tradition (big T) of the universal Church. This is exactly how I feel about my own Anglicanism. When one views it from Bret's perspective, he is certainly right. There is no discontinuity, but rather a new instrument (or should I say voice?) is added to the symphony of theology and piety played from the notes of Scripture and conducted by Christ. Sure, the Restoration movement misses some notes (we all have our pet heresies, don't we?) but my own Anglicanism has its own share of missed notes (anyone been to New Hampshire lately?)

=== BACK TO BRET ===

3) As for you dialogue with Steven Rudd...dang it. Dang it, dang it, dang it. I wish that I could just dismiss this guy as an anomaly, but I can't completely. I do believe that he, and others like him, are very genuinely interested in maintaining the purity of the Church in a very impure society. I believe that in his mind he is a protector of the Faith. Unfortunately, your description of his apologetics as "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" is way too accurate.

Honestly, I am not a good one to give a ready defense to your probing questions because I don't fully buy the anti-Tradition rhetoric myself. Nor do I buy the anti-denomination, anti-ordination, anti-everything else rhetoric. If you are interested, perhaps I could provide musings on these issues, but since we've talked about these at length recently I will await your request.

I know that I have not done justice to the well thought out replies of brother Rudd...but hey, I'm just a 25 year-old youth minister, what do I know?

Grace and peace,


=== ME AGAIN ===

I would like to add that I bear NO ill will toward Steve. I pray abundant blessing upon him and his family and his Church. Steve is a Fundamentalist, and as much as I may not want to admit it: We need Fundamentalists, dang it! They are the "Keepers of the Faith", and they serve a very important function of drawing folks like us back to the middle. A Church that kicks out its "fundamentalist wing" and denies the validity of ultra-conservative piety and theology is a Church that is truly closed minded.

I firmly believe that the most open-minded and liberal denominations are the ones that allow for a genuine fundamentalist piety and a genuine revolutionary piety to co-exist together and to debate one another without rejecting one another as followers of Christ and brothers and sisters. And I do not mean that liberals should keep the "fundies" around to remind them of how far they have evolved, or that the "fundies" should keep the "libs" around so that they can pray self-righteously like the Pharisee "Lord, I thank you that I am not like that man!" (cf. Luke 18.11). Rather, I think that "libs" and "fundies" sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron.

Look, if Jesus' original crew of disciples can have a tax-collector (i.e. conspirator with the Roman government to keep the Jews under the Roman military boot) and a zealot (i.e. terrorist dedicated to killing as many Romans and Roman sympathizers as possible) who both live "in one accord" (cf. Mat 10; Acts 1.14), then we should be able to bridge our ideological, political, and even theological divides and be "of one accord" in Christ.

Like I have said in another essay: Liberals need Evangelicals need Charismatics need Catholics need Liberals (et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum).

Furthermore, I think the process of growth and development in Christ REQUIRES times of both severe fundamentalism and extreme liberalism. For me, once I accepted Christ, I went through an extreme throw-out-all-my-secular-CDs-and-only-read-the-Bible fundamentalist phase... and you know what? It was gooood for me! I needed a sharp break with the world I was living in. I needed to step back, see things from a radically different perspective, so I could later step back in and engage the world from a Christocentric perspective.

Likewise, I have gone through many phases of deeply questioning certain aspects of my Christian faith. What is the best way to understand Scripture? What is the best way to understand Christ? What can I learn by looking at things from a radically different perspective? I find that as I go through life with Christ, I learn to understand the same death-defeating-God-man in new and fresh ways. And I go "fundy" on my new view for a while until I really "get it", and then I question it and look at it again. There is a never-ending tension between fundamentalism and revisionism in my own walk with Christ, and I do not see why this should not be played out and writ large in the Body of Christ in general.

Is life in Christ about purity, pat answers, and set formulas, or about engaging the world, growth, and change? Yes... to both. And we need both sides to remind us of that.

1 comment:

Bret Wells said...

As I read your post I realized that I was more harsh in my words concerning Brother Rudd than I should have been. Please forgive me.

The ability to remain in conversation with someone is perhaps a wonderful example of God's grace. I don't believe that it is in our nature to tolerate those who adamantly disagree with us. However you are right in saying that we NEED to keep the lines of communication open.

My difficulty in responding patiently to your conversation with Steve was not so much a reaction against his theology. I understand it, even if I don't fully agree with it. His is one of the vocal voices in my "immediate family" spiritually - a family which I love dearly. My frustration is more in the mindset of defensiveness and superiority that many of us fall into.

I know that I am often guilty of this myself, (as perhaps I was in my response concerning Steve) but it is entirely too easy to refuse to honestly question our beliefs and to instead attack the character of potential conversation partners. This is the danger associated with the stance "scripture interprets itself." If that is true in the way it is often used, then it is indeed an either/or situation when two people disagree on what the Bible says on an issue. Either I'm right or you are...and to be honest, I'm going to assume that I'm right.

One of my mentors growing up used to tell me, "Bret, the truth has nothing to fear from being exposed to the light."

I hope that both between and within our different faith traditions we can begin to operate from a general assumption of trust regarding one another's desire to follow Jesus faithfully.

This does not mean we refuse to hold one another accountable, but rather that we do so in love, recognizing that our understanding of God's pure, unchanging Truth may in fact be limited and still in the process of growing.

This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.