Reading through a couple of chapters in Jim Belcher’s Deep Church, the question of how to deal with tradition came up. Belcher rightly reminds his reader that the issue of tradition starts with the very definition of „tradition.“ Low-church theology, starting from the 16th century, put an emphasis on breaking with tradition. „No creed but Jesus“ became a battle cry to abandon the high church’s vast amount of tradition. In the same vain, reformist movements have continued ever since.
However, in their low-church point-of-view, tradition came to be regarded mainly as the elements of the immediate past. Discarding the ways of their direct predecessors, theologians presented new, „tradition-free“ views – which, ironically, became traditions later rejected by others in turn. Non-traditionalism became the hallmark of a new individualism, of generational emancipation. Each generations rejection of their parents‘ views was presented almost as a sign of maturity.
Of course, not only the bad things were discarded. Many babies were thrown out with the bath water as new views „replaced“ the old ways, without anybody realizing that little was actually accomplished beyond a repetition of the same circle. Rejection followed tradition followed rejection followed tradition .
What is needed to break the circle is a new(?) or at least a revised view of tradition. More in vein with high-church theology, tradition has to be seen as a contiguous flow continuing throughout church history-which is, after all, the continuing history of the community of the Spirit. At the center of this flow, a consistent core can be found. You might call it „the Gospel“, a „Rule of Faith“, or, as Belcher does, the „Great Tradition.“ This core is what makes Christian theologies of all times „Christian“ and what defines the center of a centered-set theology.
Even though it remains the task of each generation to continue the flow and to re-examine, critique and contextualize the tradition inherited from their fathers, the core is not something to be reinvented ever again. Here, the challenge to the theologian is to call upon the „Great Tradition“, to extract the core and to live up to it.