Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church

(I read this book earlier in the year, but posted a review elsewhere. I'm reposting this partly as part of my agenda on this blog, partly in preparation for an upcoming review here)

D.H. Williams' book appeals best to those who are already somewhere close to his camp, evangelicals who identify with things like paleo-orthodoxy, ancient-future, etc..

As someone somewhere over near that camp, it's a very welcome book, the first of a number of books in a series entitled Evangelical Ressourcement, aimed at bringing some of the riches of tradition to bear on the contemporary, evangelical, church.

Williams lays out a strong and extensive case for the importance and value of tradition. The book has 5 main chapters.

The first deals with "Conversion and Construction". Williams deals with how in the early church people were converted, and the body of teaching and faith they dealt with was not a nicely printed leather-bound 'bible', but a body of teachings handed-down, with limits and principles and some scriptures, in a word a 'tradition'. he explores the nature of early tradition, how it emerged and was constructed as a real entity aimed at guaranteeing the church's memory.

The second chapter deals with the early church as canonical, in which Williams makes a case that not all 'traditions' are 'Tradition', and that the apostolic and patristic eras really do function canonically - as a standard of judgment, for later developments. He lays out how that tradition interacts within itself to define orthodoxy, and how it is received in later history.

The third chapter, deals with the thorny question evangelicals always need to face down - whether tradition and scripture are separate sources of authority. Protestantism has generally defined itself on the answer that scripture alone has authority. Williams builds a strong and persuasive answer that the patristic and medieval church never thought of the two as separate streams of authority or teaching at all, but tradition as rooted in, flowing out of, and ensuring right-reading, of the scriptures. Williams warns of the dangers of hyper-individualism in approaching the scriptures, and of sola scriptura becoming nuda scriptura.

The fourth chapter deals with an equally 'evangelical'-prompted question, and explores in short-form the doctrine of justification in the fathers, and how that fits with a reformed protestant perspective.
The fifth chapter highlights a number of the types of sources of the early fathers, really as a very mini-introduction to what sort of texts they produced and why and some samples.

Overall, Williams' book is an exhortation, more than an introduction. It's aimed at persuading readers, and particularly pastors and theologians of evangelical stock, of their need to, and the value of, re-engaging with the tradition of the church, particularly the normative traditions of the early church fathers, especially if they are not to wander and drift astray in the contemporary days. It's a fine book and a good read. 3 stars

Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church's Future)

No comments: