Wednesday, October 26, 2016
I invented the internet. . .
Tradition bears no promise of infallibility but neither does that promise accede to those who sit alone with the Word and start from scratch as if no Christian had sat at the feet of Scripture, no council debated those who disagreed with Scripture, and no wisdom to be gained by at least listening to the saints who went before. It may seem odd for a Lutheran to say this but it should not be. Luther did not translate the Scriptures from a vacuum but used as many resources as he could lay his hands on to consider how to render the Word of the Lord in German. His preaching on the texts and his lectures on various books and topics are framed by more than his own inner voice. Yet it has become fashionable to forget that.
Consider some quotes from names old and new:
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” —Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 1.
“Tradition is the fruit of the Spirit’s teaching activity from the ages as God’s people have sought understanding of Scripture. It is not infallible, but neither is it negligible, and we impoverish ourselves if we disregard it.” —J.I. Packer, “Upholding the Unity of Scripture Today,” JETS 25 (1982): 414
“The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider ‘communion of saints’ down through the age.” —Michael Horton, “What Still Keeps Us Apart?”
It is the height of arrogance to believe that your own erudition and intellect alone unpack the Scriptures. When we speak of tradition, we speak neither of tyranny of those who went before or the isolation of those who came after but of a common perspective before the Word in which we are neither obligated by nor offended by the well worn paths of those who went before us. We are, instead, instructed.
"The nice thing about the well-worn paths is that they are, well, well-worn. The footprints of thousands of adventurers have crushed the brambles and smoothed out the treacherous bumps. Doctrines that have been refined over centuries, whatever their weaknesses, at least usually have the strength of having gained remarkable clarity (at least, for those patient enough to examine them) and having weathered the barrage of centuries worth of objections, becoming ever more refined through the process. Brand-new doctrines, like brand-new trails, don’t have this advantage. Indeed, they are often hard to make out at all, so that anyone trying to follow in the footsteps of the trailblazer is likely to miss the new path entirely and wander off a cliff. This is not to discourage the important work of trailblazing (whether in mountaineering or in theology); simply to note that any trailblazer needs to recognize that he has a lot of work to do (more than he can probably do single-handed) before he is ready to advertise his trail to the public and say, “Come and follow me!” (Brad Littlejohn)
The Scriptures are not virgin soil or untamed wilderness through which we must chart a new way. Others have gone before us. We walk in their paths and even when we depart from their guidance, we do so as those who have been instructed and not because we are enamored with novelty. We often forget this. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever and the Word of God endures forever are both statements to reminds that Scripture does not speak with forked tongue nor does it change its mind. We may have gotten it wrong in the past but if we follow the well worn path of those who went before, we are less likely to get it wrong. Scripture is a catholic book in this regard and those who would open it must by nature be catholic in perspective or they will surely fall victims of their own insularity or diverge from the Truth for the sake of a novelty that is error.
This is one of the reasons why I so appreciate the Augsburg principle -- catholic doctrine and practice vs novelty and individuality. Our Confessions really do have hermeneutical help for the exegete.