Saturday, March 31, 2012

Truth or Tradition?

A friend of mine asked me to look at an article entitled "Did God Really Forsake Jesus on the Cross" on the Truth or Tradition web site.  Here is part of my response:
(and, btw, the answer is no)

Although I wouldn't have made the case [that God did not forsake Jesus on the Cross] in exactly the same way, basically what the author presents is the traditional way to understand what Jesus meant when he uttered those words.  That is, traditionally, when you wanted to indicate a psalm, you mentioned the first line or a prominent line of the psalm (e.g. "Blessed is the man" is psalm one, etc.), so the Gospel writers were indicating the psalm Jesus was praying on the cross.  Ironically, the "tradition" that the author is trying to debunk here is not a tradition at all.  It is a recent teaching that has entered the western church.

However, I find the overall tone of the web site somewhat disturbing.  I looked around at some of the other articles.  Certainly Jesus said that we should not substitute the commands of God for the traditions of men; but St. Paul also said that the churches were to follow the tradition they were taught (1 Cor. 11:2 and 1 Thes 2:15).  While some traditions are certainly "of men" and set aside the commands of God, St. Paul tells the early churches that they are to follow the traditions they have been taught.  Unfortunately, the premise of the website seems to be that no traditions can be true or that truth cannot be embodied in traditions.  This is a faulty premise because even the Bible on which they base their arguments is the product of tradition and their exegetical method is also traditional (that is, it is something they were taught, something handed down by the previous generation).

I think foundational to accepting Christ is accepting that others, while not perfect, have gone before us; and accepting Christ means accepting that we must be taught by them (that is, accepting Christ, both Head and Body).  I am not saying that the fourth century--or any century--got everything right.  But I am saying that we in the twenty-first century are not in a very good position to evaluate their interpretation of the Revelation.  

Think about it.  Although they lived three to five hundred years after the Incarnation, they spoke the same language that the scriptures were written in and the world had not changed very much culturally and technologically in those centuries.  Fifth century Constantinople was certainly a different world from first century Palestine (although many of the theologians of the forth and fifth centuries were Antiochian and Alexandrian, cultures very similar to Palestine), but that world was not nearly as different from New Testament times as twenty-first century North America.

There had been no Muslim conquest, no Crusades, no major splits in the Church, no Renaissance, no Scholasticism, no Reformation, no Enlightenment, no scientific revolution, no Romantic Movement, no industrial revolution, no Modernism (or Fundamentalist reaction), no sexual revolution, no Postmodernism, no fracturing of the western Church into thousands of factions who use nothing but their own interpretation of the Bible (written in a language they don't speak) to justify their splitting from one another.  Really, we are in no position to judge those who went before us. 
Nevertheless, that is not to say that everyone before us got everything  right.  C.S. Lewis, I believe, said that every generation is blind to it's own heresies.  And the Orthodox Church teaches that no human being or institution is infallible.  However, it takes the whole tradition to discern (by the Grace of the Holy Spirit) the verity of any part.  Moreover, there are many merely cultural matters that may morph with time and setting--but again, discerning what is essential requires deep respect for the whole Tradition.

I wonder if those who use their late-modern logic and Dispensational or other recent Protestant assumptions to wield the Bible against those who went before them ever stop to consider this:  the same Holy Spirit who used those "pagan influenced" men of the fourth and fifth centuries to identify, collect and preserve the writings that became the Bible, could not also have helped them interpret it too?  After all, the process of identifying which writings should be included in the Bible was by no means straight-forward (See  "A High View of Scripture?: The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon" by TWU professor and Evangelical scholar, Craig D. Allert).  You get the feeling reading the articles on the Truth or Tradition web site that the authors assume that no one (at least no one that was really very smart) had ever read the Bible before them.

No comments: