Monday, August 10, 2009

Mercersburg Theologians, Part 4

In my last post, I assessed the Mercersburg theologians’ critique of the SCM. In this, my last post in this series, I will discuss Nevin and Schaff’s relevance for contemporary Protestantism, and in particular, the SCM.

Some contemporary evangelical or free church theologians see Nevin and Schaff as a model for Protestants seeking a historically informed faith. For example, D.H. Williams, an American Baptist and patristic scholar at Baylor University, says

One should not have to leave evangelicalism or a believers’ church setting to be nourished by the substantial resources available in ancient (or patristic) Christianity. The great model for this understanding was and is Philip Schaff, whose scholarly work of the last century in producing translations of the primary texts of church history, the early church especially, is a sufficient demonstration that any oxymoron between Protestantism and the whole of the church’s history is artificially self-imposed.[1]

Some contemporary members of all three streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement have come to the hold a similar regard for the importance of engaging the church’s tradition. Therefore, whether these Stone-Campbell theologians are influenced by Nevin and Schaff, they provide an effective response to the criticisms of the Mercersburg theologians.[2]

Such engagement with church tradition has been modeled by four past presidents of the North American Patristics Society from the Stone-Campbell heritage—Everett Ferguson (Churches of Christ), Frederick W. Norris (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ), William Tabbernee (Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]), and Paul Blowers (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ).[3]

In the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, Paul Blowers argues that a way the Stone-Campbell Movement can move forward into postmodernity is through the further development of a historical consciousness and critical engagement with the tradition of the church.[4] Blowers uses British Church of Christ theologian William Robinson as an example. Robinson, a representative in the Faith and Order Movement, “repudiated pure restorationism, devoid of a sense of the guiding role (and authority) of the church and the ecumenical Christian tradition of the early centuries.”[5]

While Robinson did not hold either the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed as a test of fellowship, he saw the creeds as “time-tested witnesses to the faith of the historic church, which might be used liturgically and instructionally.”[6] Following Robinson, Blowers does not call upon Stone-Campbellites to uncritically embrace practices from the ancient and medieval church, but to humbly expand their perspectives of the catholic and global church as people rooted in the Stone-Campbell heritage.[7] In addition, Frederick Norris has worked to create common understanding between conservative Protestants, like those in the Christian Churches, and Roman Catholics. Norris seeks to communicate the gospel message as a “free-church catholic” who encourages Christians to use the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as “a standard of reference” and to understand the interdependence of the Bible and Tradition.[8]

In the Churches of Christ, Leonard Allen critiques “the illusion” of the early leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement that they “they had escaped tradition.”[9] Allen argues that as confidence in the Enlightenment project continues to fade, the Stone-Campbell Movement must develop an awareness that it has a tradition, is part of the Christian tradition, and needs to embrace the church’s “Great Tradition,” which includes the ecumenical creeds of the early church.[10] Allen notes that links with the past help people develop and maintain their identity. So he condemns “historyleessness” and calls on Christians to critically engage with and appropriate the past.[11] Also, much like Schaff and Nevin, Allen calls on the Stone-Campbell Movement to maintain a high emphasis on baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “channels of divine life and grace” centered in a “proper trinitarian theology.”[12] Other scholars from the Churches of Christ agree with Allen. For example, Keith Huey says, “As we move past the hundredth anniversary of our statistical separation from the Disciples of Christ, we can scarcely maintain the anti-traditional myths that largely explained (and justified) our original existence.”[13]

In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Newell Williams argues “that the Movement has an example of identifying ourselves with the Great Tradition of the church in the work of no less a restorationist than Alexander Campbell.”[14] Eugene Boring, in his Diciples and the Bible, praises biblical scholars, such as Leander Keck and Fred Craddock, who offer a theological reading of the biblical text. Boring encourages a critical yet catholic form of scholarship that is centered on the church and avoids sectarianism, while at the same time standing within a responsible Disciples tradition. This scholarship includes biblical authority and tradition, an ecumenical perspective, and a “rule of faith” or creed as a baptismal confession, aid to worship, catechesis, and mission, as well as a hermeneutical guide. He proposes the Disciples’ creed be a drama in the five acts of, “Creation,” “Covenant,” “Christ,” “Church,” and “Consummation.”[15]

The critiques of Nevin and Schaff can thus, in light of these examples within the contemporary Stone-Campbell Movement, help the Movement avoid sectarian or restorationist extremes that ignore catholicity and the need for an understanding of the Movement’s place within the Christian Tradition. If Nevin and Schaff had interacted with a movement who interpreted the Declaration and Address with a greater appreciation of Tradition, like in the work of William Robinson, who was “ecumenically conscientious of the need to search for the consensus fidelium from within the whole historical spectrum of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy,” it would have been more difficult to make such substantive critiques.[16]

[1] D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church’s Future, ed. D.H. Williams (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 12.

[2] Blowers, “Restoring the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,” 381.

[3] Paul M. Blowers, “Fathers of the Church, Appeal to the,” In The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, Ed., Douglas A. Foster, et al (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 333 and “Dr. Paul Blowers Gives Patristics Society Presidential Address.” Accessed 6 Aug 2009.

[4] Paul M. Blowers, “Engaging Tradition as an Imperative for the Stone-Campbell Churches: A Response to Leonard Allen’s ‘The Future of the Restoration Movement,’” Leaven 14 (2006): 178–184.

[5] Blowers, “Engaging Tradition,” 183.

[6] Ibid., “Engaging Tradition,” 183. See also Blowers, “Creeds and Confessions,” 255.

[7] Ibid, 184.

[8] Frederick W. Norris, The Apostolic Faith: Protestants and Roman Catholics (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), vii, 38, 40–41, 45–59, 157–158 and Blowers, “Creeds and Confessions,” 255.

[9] C. Leonard Allen, “The Future of the Restoration Movement,” Leaven 14 (2006): 160.

[10] Ibid., 160–163.

[11] C. Leonard Allen, The Cruciform Church: Becoming a Cross-Shaped People in a Secular World, 2nd ed. (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1990), 4–15.

[12] Allen, “The Future of the Restoration Movement,” 164.

[13] Keith Huey, “The Future of the Churches of Christ: Applying Leonard Allen’s Essay,” Leaven 14 (2006): 169–170.

[14] Williams, 177.

[15] Boring, Disciples and the Bible, 406–407, 413, 418–450. Blowers, Creeds and Confessions, 256.

[16] Blowers, “Restoring the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,” 379, 381.

No comments:

Post a Comment