Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants

Article excerpt

Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants. By D. H. Williams. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999. ix + 243 pp. $16.00 (paper).

It's dangerous to review a book of historical theology that confirms your most deeply held beliefs as it forcefully corrects the beliefs of others that you have long held to be misguided and erroneous. Smugness should be the First Deadly Sin of the book reviewer. With that confession, this sinner highly recommends Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism as a clear defense and impassioned advocacy of Tradition in the Church, especially in conversation with Evangelical or Free Church denominations that have rejected and even vilified Church Tradition in favor of a supposedly "Biblebased" theology, liturgy, and ecclesiology.

Williams, a Baptist pastor and professor of patristics and historical theology at Loyola University of Chicago, bravely tells Evangelical Protestants that most of their historians, theologians, and pastors, in ignoring the patristic and conciliar foundations of the Church (Tradition with a capital "T"), have built their own increasingly splintered (p. 208) churches on precariously shifting sands (p. 217). To counter this mistake, the author proposes that Evangelicals "integrate the serious study of patristics . . . into current theological reflections of evangelicalism" (p. 4) and urges that "the path of renewal for evangelicalism must happen through an intentional recovery of its catholic roots in the church's early spirituality and theology" (p. 16).

Williams' call for a recovery of the Church's catholic traditions by Evangelicals is not prompted by mere nostalgia but by a sincere concern that modern Protestantism has replaced "the tyranny of the [Roman Catholic] magisterium with the tyranny of individualism" (p. 201) and that "the traditionless and noncredal approach...lacks the centripetal force" necessary to ward off its "tendency toward fragmentation" (p. 208). He places Tradition in opposition to "a kind of religion that is so infatuated with contemporization and self-fulfillment" that it is "tantamount to spiritual idolatry" (p. 216). Without referring to it, therefore, Williams is seated firmly on the venerable three-legged Anglican stool of scripture, tradition, and reason. …