A Review Article Retrieving The Tradition And Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer For Suspicious Protestants -- By: John H. Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 09:2 (Spring 2000)
Article: A Review Article Retrieving The Tradition And Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer For Suspicious Protestants
Author: John H. Armstrong


A Review Article
Retrieving The Tradition And Renewing Evangelicalism:
A Primer For Suspicious Protestants

John H. Armstrong

D. H. Williams, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1999). 243 pages, paper, $16.00

When I first picked up this book I did what most readers do: I read the publisher’s comments on the back cover. Then I was prompted to ask a simple question: What happens when a professor of patristics and historical theology at a Roman Catholic university (Loyola University of Chicago) who is himself a Baptist, writes a book on how Tradition (Williams makes a clear distinction between Tradition and traditions as we shall see) can renew modern evangelicalism? My answer, after reading Dan Williams’s remarkably good book, is that you have an important work that evangelical pastors and church leaders desperately need at this moment. If church leaders would wrestle with Williams’s basic thesis I feel certain they would profit immensely and lead the church more effectively. Let me explain why I believe this is so.

Evangelical scholars are increasingly seeking to mine the resources of early church life and thought. This recent surge of interest in the writings of early church fathers has not yet filtered down into the awareness of most evangelical church members and the everyday leadership patterns of most “believers’ church” congregations. The suspicion that such study inevitably leads to something Roman

Catholic has kept most of us from these vital resources, thus from the church’s holy Tradition. Our loss is great, and without recovery there cannot be a deep and powerful renewal in the evangelical church. Williams guides us through the steps to the recovery that is needed and assures us, against the way many of us were taught church history, that the Tradition of the holy catholic church is vitally important for the renewal of our congregations.

Evangelicalism has been, as Williams reminds us in his prologue (quoting from Winthrop Hudson), more of “a mood and an emphasis than a theological system” (3). He adds, “And for this reason, evangelicals have tended to be identified by how they act and by what they choose rather than what they believe” (3). Put simply, we have placed our stress upon a few issues here and there. Occasionally we actually adopt a doctrinal issue that is deemed relevant for the moment (e.g., personal experience, inerrancy, the church vs. the world, etc.). We are far too trendy. We are easily moved by the spirit of the times. Williams is in agreement with a number of evangelical critics (including this reviewer) who see social and cultural factors as the predominant shapers of evangelical activity ...

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