Rhetoric, Tradition, & Theology

Today I was reading through a post by Rebecca Merrill Groothius.  She is one of the leading proponents of “biblical Feminism,” which is another way to say that she is a egalitarian when it comes to spiritual authority.  I say biblical because she makes her appeal primarily through what she calls a proper and consistent interpretation of the relevant Biblical data.

Her post i have been combing through earlier today is called “Strange Bedfellows: Strategies Shared by Darwinists and Traditionalists.”  She points out how Darwinists and traditionalists use the same rhetorical strategies to advance, and more often than not, demonize/marginalize the opposing view.  While there are many different tactics she addresses, i will only mention one here.

 1.   The first device employed she calls an appeal to authority.  These people simply try to win the argument by appealing to an authority that everyone in the debate accepts, then makes a blanket statement about what that authority asserts.  And since they are the experts, or the orthodoxy’s priests, as Groothius’ calls them, no one wants to question their assertion.  In fact, to do so renders one a heretic or unscientific.  But Groothius’ point, which is a good one i think, is that no one in the ID-Evolution debate or the Traditional-Egalitarian debate is calling the authority into question.  Rather, the interpretation by the “guardians” of the authority are what the dissenters take issue with.

This point is very significant and reveals one of my main issues with the use of tradition in doing theology or Biblical exegesis.  Let me assert that i do believe in the great value of tradition.  In fact, my reading of the church fathers has done me a world of good in this regard.  I actually have enjoyed much of what they said (including Augustine Chris!), and even when i disagreed i found myself engaged and challenged by the depth of thought and genuine love and respect for God and His word.

The problem for me occurs when the father’s interpretations of God’s word is characterized as completely accurate regarding God’s word.  The two seem to be held in equal esteem by some segments of Christianity.  To question traditional interpretations of the Bible is to question the bible itself.  I would agree with proponents of traditionalism who say that we must have some very strong reasons for going against classical Christianity, but no one who says this gives any criteria for how much is enough.  This leads me to believe that all we are doing is giving the idea that the father’s could be wrong lip-service. 

My hope is that we honor tradition but be genuinely open to new possibilities.  Tradition can be a real source of strength and set healthy boundaries for us to prevent us from going astray.  I pray that it will do so for me.  However, i also earnestly desire that the comforting walls of safety they provide don’t become our prison.

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