Below is a powerful quote from Scot McKnight’s book, “The Blue Parakeet.”
Those who read the Bible through tradition always see the traditional way of reading the Bible. This approach is nearly incapable of renewal and adaption.
What do we mean then by traditionalism? There are about six steps in this approach, and it occurs in every church and denomination I’ve been around. Rest assured, traditionalism occurs everywhere. You might way it’s human nature. Here are the six steps, leading to traditionalism:
Step 1: We read the Bible
Step 2: We confront a current issue and we make a decision about an issue – like baptizing infants or adults – or we frame ‘what we believe’ into a confession, a creed, or a doctrinal statement.
Step 3: We fossilize our decision and it becomes a tradition. (Somewhere around here we become absolutely convinced our tradition is a perfect interpretation of the Bible.)
Step 4: We are bound to our tradition forever.
Step 5: We are bound to read the Bible through our tradition. (Somewhere around here we become convinced that God’s Spirit led us to our tradition and that it is nothing less than an accurate God-prompted, don’t-question-it unfolding in history of what God’s Word says.)
Step 6: Those who question our tradition are suspect or, worse yet, kicked out of our church. (Somewhere around here we become ineffective in our world and become increasingly cantankerous about how the youth are wandering away from the faith.)
The Bible itself points us away from traditionalism. The biblical authors and the early fathers didn’t fossilize traditions. Instead – and here we come to a major moment in this book – they went back to the Bible so they could come forward into the present. They did not go back to stay there (the “retrieve-it-all” tendency); they didn’t dismiss the Bible easily (the “retrieve-only-the-essense” approach); and they didn’t fossilize their discernments (traditionalism). Instead, each one went back to the Bible, to God’s Word, so they could come forward into their own day in their own ways. This explains the variety of expressions from Genesis to Revelation; it alone explains how Peter and Paul could preach and preach and hardlgy quote a word of Jesus. It wasn’t because they didn’t know the words of Jesus. No, it was because they knew them so well they could renew Jesus’ message in their day in their own ways- as God’s Spirit prompted them.
I believe it is important to live within the Great Tradition and to interpret the Bible alongside that Great Tradition, but I also believe it has become nearly impossible for fossilization and traditionalism not to creep in. Is there a third way, a way that both returns to retrieve and also respects the Great Tradition? I believe there is, and it is the way of ongoing and constant renewal that returns, retrieves, and renews by reading the Bible with the Great Tradition.