The National Association of Evangelicals was formed in 1942, and built into the mandate of such an Association was a distinct way of understanding what it meant to be an evangelical and Christian.
Such an organizational vision (and those who defended it) formed what can be called the Evangelical Sanhedrin. Those who dared to differ with such a vision were not granted a seat with the elders of the tribe. Needless to say, the meaning of ‘evangelical’ has varied since 1942 (as it did before 1942), but there are tendencies that are still held with utmost tenacity. The Sanhedrin, like threatened yaks, will circle round one another if their agenda is questioned. But, does the evangelical Sanhedrin adequately, faithfully or comprehensively reflect the fullness of the Great Christian Tradition?
There has been an ongoing challenge to define the meaning of evangelical in the last few years, and this has held the attention of many. The meaning of evangelical, once defined and settled upon, by the Sanhedrin, has faced two types of problems: the gap between ideals and reality and a solid critique of the very definition of evangelical. There have been those who see themselves as standing firmly and faithfully within the evangelical tradition, but they argue that such a tradition has serious inconsistencies between ideals and reality. This can be seen, for example, in the way those like Jim Wallis, Ron Sider and Tony Campolo have questioned the way many evangelicals have selectively interpreted and applied the Bible to larger economic, social, political, ecological and war/peace issues. Wallis, Sider and Campolo have never really called into question many of the core principles of the evangelical vision---they have merely highlighted the obvious gap and chasm between an evangelical commitment to the authority of the Bible and the selective use of it. We can see this approach at work, a few decades ago, in Richard Quebedeaux’s The Young Evangelicals: The Story of the Emergence of a New Generation of Evangelicals (1974) or a more updated version of the same approach in Robert Webber’s The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World (2002). The same approach can be found in John Stackhouse’s Evangelical Landscapes: Facing Critical Issues of the Day (2002)--- Quebedeaux, Webber and Stackhouse have accepted, for the most part, the basic building blocks of the evangelical worldview and paradigm---each were/are nudging, in their own unique ways, such a tribe to be more consistent. There has emerged, though, in the last few years, a much deeper and more serious assault on the evangelical family—this has often come from those who were born and matured within the tribe. The fuller probes and serious questioning from this more postmodern group often go straight to the core, centre and jugular vein of the evangelical ethos. This paper will examine and touch on the latter approach to the Sanhedrin rather than the former approach. We can certainly see, though, in a more literary way this critique emerging in Franky Schaeffer’s novel, Portofino (1992), or, in a more incisive and telling way, Wayne Northey’s novel, Chrysalis Crucible (2007).
The challenge that has emerged, therefore, in the last few years from within the reformed-evangelical family has dared to doubt the underlying vision and building blocks of the Sanhedrin. The leadership of the clan has been weighed and found wanting. What are some of the positions of the Sanhedrin and how have they been weighed and found wanting? Each of these issues are like trailheads, that if followed, walk the interested into questions about the nature God, God’s immanence and engagement with the world, the relationship of humanity and nature to God, faith and the larger social, ecological and political questions and that which lies behind the beyond . There are ten issues I will briefly touch on in this missive that will highlight disturbing challenges to the Sanhedrin.
First, the issue of the atonement has been one of the solidest stones in the foundation of the Reformed and Evangelical clan. Evangelicals have tended to hitch their notion of the atonement to the reformed tradition with its penal/juridical idea of the atonement. The way Calvin and Luther read and interpreted Augustine and Paul has dominated the day. Even though Luther and Calvin had their serious differences with the Roman Catholic tradition, there is a strong strand in Roman Catholic thought that has many an affinity with Luther-Calvin and the penal theory of the atonement. Has the historic church, though, equated `Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human` with the penal theory of the atonement? Most within the reformed-evangelical tribe assume this is the undeniable truth. The publication of Hans Boersma`s Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition (2004) makes a strong case for alternate reads of the atonement. There are, in fact, as Boersma makes abundantly clear, five views of the atonement in the historic church: recapitulation, moral influence, christus victor, penal theory and deification. The reformed-evangelical Sanhedrin has shrunk the mystery of the creedal tradition of the atonement to a confessional one dimensional perspective, then marginalized those who differ with such a perspective. Violence, Hospitality and the Cross was a plough to soil book that deconstructed the reformed-evangelical attachment to a limited notion of the atonement. The publication of Stricken by God? NonViolent Identification and the Victory of Christ (2007) went much further than Boersma. Many of the authors in Stricken by God? took the position, for the most part, that the penal theory of the atonement raised serious questions about the very nature of God and why He came to earth. The task of Boersma was to argue that the historic church had five notions of the atonement, and each had a certain validity and limitation. Most of the authors in Stricken by God? vigorously argued that the penal theory had more problems than validity. The publication of Doug Frank`s A Gentler God: Breaking Free of the Almighty in the Company of the Human Jesus (2010), once again, called into question the reformed-evangelical commitment to the juridical notion of the atonement. There can be no doubt that Boersma, Frank and many of the authors of Stricken by God? have a strong and long pedigree in the reformed-evangelical ethos, and most would argue that their more complex and nuanced read of the atonement is much closer to the Bible and the Great Tradition of the historic church than the more limited approach of Luther-Calvin and significant commitments by those in the reformed and evangelical traditions. So, this is not a case of the rather worn and thin liberal-conservative clash. This is much more about different ways of interpreting the Bible that don`t quite mesh with the reformed-evangelical Sanhedrin. Indeed, such a leadership has been weighed and found wanting by Boersma, Frank and the many authors of Stricken by God?
Second, there has been within the reformed-evangelical clan a commitment to a notion that those who reject Jesus Christ in this life will either suffer eternal torment or be annihilated. Such an exclusivist position stands at stark and compelling odds with the idea of universal salvation. The publication of Thomas Talbott`s The Inescapable Love of God (1999), and equally important Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (2003), has walked the extra mile to highlight Talbott`s meticulous exegetical, historic, philosophic and theological arguments for universalism and reasons for opposition to such a position.
Most within the reformed-evangelical Sanhedrin differ and beg to differ strongly with Talbott, but there is no doubt that Talbott is garnering more support each year. Universal Salvation? The Current Debate is a festschrift of sorts to Talbott who was raised within the womb of the evangelical family. Those who dare to raise the flag of universal salvation are often shunned and banned from the Sanhedrin as heterodox and heretical, but cracks are appearing from many places. Can the idea of universalism be found in the Bible and the Tradition? Many would argue that this is a stretching of the truth to untruth— it`s a good hearted but soft headed position. But, in the early church both Origen and Gregory of Nyssa leaned in such a direction. We can see, for example, C.S. Lewis grappling with this issue in The Great Divorce. Lewis had a high admiration for George Macdonald, and Macdonald had universalist tendencies. The Great Divorce begins with a quote from Macdonald, and Macdonald plays a significant role in the missive. Needless to say, those who even for a moment entertain universalist thoughts are likely to face the ire of significant thinkers in the Christian tradition, but most within the reformed-evangelical clan turn their backs in haste when the discussion is approached. The upcoming release of the film in the autumn of 2012, Hellbound?, by Kevin Miller will also raise this issue to a challenging level. Talbott and those who have heeded his universalist challenge cannot be ignored. Few have responded to Talbott on Talbott’s demanding terms.
Third, the reformed-evangelical tradition has tended to have a high notion of God’s sovereignty, and this particular commitment often means notions of omnipotence and omniscience--- predestination,election and double election often appear within such a clan. Human choice has limited options, humans are by nature enmeshed in original sin or total depravity, and, so the story goes, only God in Christ can rescue those floundering and drowning in sin. God knows the choices humans will make, and worse case scenario, some are ordained to heaven and some to hell. Is God omniscient, though, and is his mercy wider, grander and fuller than many within the reformed-evangelical Sanhedrin are willing to concede? The most important theologian who has courageously raised questions about the sovereignty-election-limited grace position was Clark Pinnock. Pinnock was a bona fide reformed-evangelical for many years. My wife and I were in a house group with Clark/Dorothy Pinnock in the 1980s. I remember reading Pinnock’s, The Scripture Principle, when it was published, and I realized Pinnock was on a path that would, in time, collide with the elders of the clan. Clark emerged in the 1990s with his vision of the wideness of God’s mercy and open theism. The Sanhedrin did not know what to do with one of their own. He seemed to have betrayed the clan. He had such promise, but the paths taken were outside the pale. Pinnock argued his case from the Bible, so the battle for the Bible became more a battle about whose interpretation of the Bible and whose theology should dominate and why. I had taken courses with J.I. Packer when at Regent College from 1979-1981, and the Packer-Pinnock differences were legendary. Packer, like Carl Henry, were very much elders in the reformed-evangelical Sanhedrin, and to differ with them on Luther-Calvin-Augustine-Paul was to, put it simply, misinterpret Paul-Augustine-Luther-Calvin and distort the Christian tradition. Henry gave the graduating charge from Regent College when I was leaving in 1981. I remember, at the time, having my doubts about his agenda. Pinnock had taught at Regent in the mid- 1970s, but his call to open theism and the wideness of God’s in the last twenty years did not sit well with the Sanhedrin. Pinnock’s story is well told in Barry Callen’s Clark Pinnock: Journey Toward Renewal (2000). Does God have a preordained plan for the life of individuals, communites and nations, and are some chosen and others rejected? Does God actually harden the hearts of some then punish them for having hard hearts? Needless to say, this does not seem very merciful or just. Or, is the human journey with God more about prevenient and common grace pervading all things, but God responding to the uncertain nature of human choices? History often seems to be more about human choices rather than Divine intervention. Where was the Good and gracious God at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust and the many wars, earthquakes, famines and diseases that have wreaked havoc with the human journey? There is God’s grace and there are human choices, and the mystery and consequences of such a reality does not often fit into tidy formulas and confessional straightjackets. Packer and Pinnock----a Puritan read of God’s sovereignty, omniscience and human obedience or Pinnock and God’s grace and the unpredictable nature of human response---which and why? Donald Drayton, like Pinnock, has also questioned the way the reformed agenda has come to define and dominate the understanding of what it means to be evangelical. Drayton has done a great deal of research on Wesleyanism, Holiness Movements and Pentecostalism---none of these traditions (each seeing themselves as evangelical) fit nicely into the reformed mould---in fact, Pelaguis and Arminius loom large as enemies of Augustine and Calvin, and the reformed clan has cast their lot with Calvin and a certain read of Augustine. Dayton has lived much of his life on the edges of the reformed-evangelical clan for the simple he has dared to question the way many evangelicals have reduced the meaning of the term to a reformed agenda. It is significant that the festschrift for Dayton was called From the Margins (2007). Dayton, like Pinnock, would claim to be true to the Bible, but both men would argue the reformed way of interpreting the Bible is fraught with problems. The Sanhedrin, though, is convinced the authority of the Bible and their interpretation of the Bible are one and the same. The turn by the reformed-evangelical Sanhedrin to the wideness of God’s mercy-open theism position has been well articulated by John Piper and friends in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (2003)--- J.I.Packer, the reigning elder of the Neo-Puritan revival, wrote a supportive few words to the book. J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought (2009) makes it abundantly clear that there is a reformed-evangelical tradition that Packer has shaped and guided in his life. Those who differ with such a position, like Pinnock and Dayton, are not likely to receive a warm welcome. There is no doubt, though, Pinnock, Sanders, Boyd and Dayton (for other reasons) see themselves as longing to broaden the meaning of what means to be a reformed and evangelical Christian---the Sanhedrin does not have ears for such a challenge---weighed and wanting is the charge.
Fourth, the battle for the Bible has dominated much of the reformed-evangelical debate with the liberals, but this has obscured the fact that the battle for the interpretation for the Bible is what has divided many within the reformed-evangelical family. How is the Bible to be interpreted? The publication of Eric Seibert’s Disturbing Divine Behaviour: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (2009) goes straight to the core of the dilemma in the Hebrew canon. God often appears more like a blend of Zeus and Achilles, Jupiter and Athena than the God of justice, mercy, kindness and peace. The commands of God to destroy men, women and children in Deuteronomy are classic texts of theocratic genocide. How can this warrior god be equated with the father of Jesus Christ? Simone Weil and George Grant, for example, see in the Old Testament god a being who is more immoral will than sheer goodness. There are, of course, mixed images of God in the Old Testament, some more troubling and disturbing than others. It is quite understandable, for those who read the Hebrew canon with an honest soul, why the more sensitive Gnostics in the 1st-4thcenturies pitted the violent god of the Old Testament against the more peacemaking and nonviolent life of Jesus Christ who chose to suffer violence than inflict it on others. Those who hold faithfully to an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible must face these troubling questions and not flinch from them. Many within the reformed-evangelical tradition who take the Bible with utmost seriousness are confronted with disturbing texts of both God in the Old Testament and gruesome images of Hell in the New Testament. How does all this square with a God of long suffering patience and compassion who would rather suffer than bring suffering on others? Often, unfortunately, these hard and uncomfortable images of God are simply ignored or justified in a way that is not justifiable. The recent publication of Compassionate Eschatology: The Future as Friend (2011) dares to read the Bible and interpretive views of God in the Bible that often run counter to the more standard approach of the reigning reformed-evangelical power elite. The Sanhedrin has been weighed and found wanting. A read of Disturbing Divine Behaviour and Compassionate Eschatology are but primers on a larger topic that will not go away. There is a generation of honest seekers and questers that will not be content with canned answers and clichés of either a crude or subtle variety.
Fifth, the last few centuries have both witnessed intense clashes within and between protestant denominations at the level of confessional culture wars. Each tribe and clan claims that their interpretation of the Bible is best summed up in their precise and exact confession, but each and all differ on what such an interpretation might be and mean. The need to clarify in a clear and distinct way the truths of God and the Bible has had a tendency to ignore the fact that much of what we claim to know is more about mystery than certainty. The fact that much of the protestant tradition and significant aspects of the Roman Catholic confessional tradition have hitched their future to rational clarity and exact definitions has meant that the deeper mystical, contemplative and meditative aspects of the faith journey have been marginalized. The onslaught and deconstruction of rationalism as a way of knowing and being has undermined the scholastic Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, and this has not pleased the guardians of rational theology. The Sanhedrin is fighting for its life to reclaim confessional lost ground in an age when the greater mystery and depth of the Creedal tradition of the Patristic era is being pitted against the more confessional era of the 16th century and afterwards. The creedal, mystical and contemplative way of knowing and being is much more about unity and concord in Christ and the body of Christ, whereas a more rational and confessional approach has tended to create all sorts of denominational and divisive culture wars that have done more to fragment the church than unite it. The postmodern critique of a more modern ‘logocentric’ way of knowing has dared to interrogate and doubt the attachment of many reformed and evangelical types to an excessive form of reason as the dominant means of interpreting and solidifying ways of doing apologetics and interpreting the faith journey—the ethos and approach of, for example, Alvin Plantinga does not hold the stage in the way it once did. This does not mean that the heart and pietism are the answer, though. The mystical, meditative and contemplative way goes much deeper than head or heart, rationalism or pietism. The more classical and noetic way of knowing is what has drawn many to the ancient faith—Heidegger’s children are maturing.
Sixth, There has been a tendency within significant levels of the evangelical Sanhedrin to too tightly and narrowly define the meaning of evangelical--the answers are too compact, the clan too homogenous, the tent too small for some. The postmodern paradigm has raised the larger questions of pluralistic reads and interpretations of the faith journey—this notion has not appealed to those in the Sanhedrin: Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era (2000) by Stanley Grenz has dared to raise the dander of the Sanhedrin. Those who begin down the post theological, postmodern and pluralist path often find themselves, so the argument goes, in the slough of relativism. Many within the Sanhedrin are fighting back to defend and further define the modern confessional project against those like Grenz and tribe. As I mentioned above, there is a thriving Neo-Puritan renaissance that fears that their tradition is being undermined, and they are fighting back with growing intensity and vengeance. The Packer-Piper-Keller-Driscoll leadership is but the tip of a much larger iceberg. The Gospel Coalition is fighting back with much commitment.
Seventh, the dialogue and debate that has taken place within the last 500 years in the reformed and evangelical tribes (the latter being a child of the former) has been, for the most part, central to defining and understanding the modern religious project in the west. The fact that within such a modern project Christianity has divided and split into multiple factions cannot be simply reduced to the inevitable tensions between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives have fought, split, divided and turned on one another in the name of theological and exegetical purity as often as liberals and conservatives have turned on one another. Most postmodern forms of Christianity recognize this tragic fact, doubt those who claim to speak the final word about Christ and the Church but are caught on the horns of a troubling dilemma. It is one thing to, rightly so, question the modern project, but in doubting many of the questions and conclusions of modernity, three paths can be taken--further fragmentation down the postmodern emerging church direction, a reassertion of the modern reformed paradigm or a turn to the classical and Patristic approach to Christianity. The Reformed and Evangelical Sanhedrin is being besieged from two sides: Classical Christianity and Postmodern Christianity--the attempt to defend the modern protestant project is emerging with much intensity. The postmodern project, in many ways, furthers and continues the modern fragmentary agenda and in this sense is neither radical nor revolutionary (as many like to think). Those who have the insight to see this often make the turn to the Classical tradition in a more substantive manner. There is more, though, to the classical vision than a mere generous orthodoxy that goes, in a superficial and selective way, cherry picking from the Fathers of the church. There is, in fact, a much deeper critique of the larger western project coming from those outside such a continuum. It is from this older and deeper way of knowing and being that both the older western Sanhedrin and the more modern reformed-evangelical is being brought to the dock. We can see this more challenging critique coming to the west from someone like Philip Sherrard in his classic missive, The Greek East and the Latin West: A Study in the Christian Tradition (1959). This timely classic cut to the core of the Achilles’ heel in the West, and it is significant that the best known Canadian public intellectual, George Grant, was held and convinced by Sherrard’s incisive arguments. It is true that Sherrard might have too simply generalized the Latin West, but he does point to some oft neglected realities. The East has often been much more able to live with the mystery of Divine Love, whereas the West has a tendency to crave answers and clarify how God operates in time and history. Sherrard has taken a surgical knife to the issue, and cut to raw and tender places that separate West and East---he sees in the contentious ‘filioque clause’ the deeper differences between the more mystery, mystical leaning East and the more rational and need to know tendencies of the West. The need to know, then shape and make the world, via making and willing, by what we know tends to typify the west. Such generalizations can be simplistic to some degree, but they do point to tendencies. The Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, although differing on much, do share much in common when compared with the Eastern Orthodox views of faith and theology. It is significant to note that Sherrard was one of the three main contributors to bringing to the fore the Philokalia for the West. The Philokalia is, without much doubt, the supreme work of Orthodox ascetic and mystical theology—the West has nothing comparable to such a sacred and comprehensive compendium---why is this the case? The journey into the wisdom tradition of the Philokalia walks the reader into a world of spirituality that is most transformative. Many within the Sanhedrin are not quite sure what to make of those who are now turning to Orthodoxy as their north star. The decision a few decades ago by many within the Campus Crusade clan to Orthodoxy is well recounted by Peter Gilquist in Becoming Orthodox.
Eighth, I lived at L’Abri in Switzerland from 1973-1974 with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Those were years I recall with much fondness, although I had, even then, my doubts about their synthesis of reformed and evangelical thought. I was more than impressed, though, with the publication of Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (1970). Schaeffer was very much ahead of his time when it came to seeing some reasons for the ecological crises and potential ways beyond it. There were few within the evangelical tribe in 1970 who saw the ecological crises and responded to it in the way Schaeffer did. There have been those within the reformed and evangelical clan that have gone beyond Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man such as Earthkeeping in the 90s: Stewardship of Creation (1980) by Loren Wilkinson, but both Schaeffer and Wilkinson don’t go far enough in their questioning of how the western project has contributed to our ecological crises at a more significant level. The deeper bores into the structure of our ecological crises has a great deal to do with science and the scientific way of knowing and being. This way of knowing, within the classical tradition, was both a lower and subordinate way of being (logic, inductive and deductive) and the application of science was always secondary to wisdom. It is this wisdom way of knowing that contained and controlled the scientific impulse with its will to know and will to violate and remake the very thing known. The assault on the earth and the shock felt by the abuse of the physical world by the uncontrolled union of science and technology has a great deal to do with a shift in how we know what we know and what we do with what we know. This turn in the corner of western and world history was ably tracked and traced, at a deeper level, by Philip Sherrard in The Rape of Man and Nature (1987). Many books have been written on the increasing commitment to science as a dominant way of being in the last few centuries and the impact this has had in theology, philosophy and Biblical exegesis, but the consequences of such a way has done much to destroy the ecological home in which we live, move and have our being. The evangelical tradition, until recently, has not really addressed the environmental crises, and when it has done so, the role the reformed-evangelical tribe has played in contributing to such an overload on the earth—saving souls, missions and born again experiences have tended to take priority. The Sanhedrin has tended to become more alert and aware of this problem in the last few decades, and those with a commitment to earth keeping, in many ways, like Wallis, Sider and Campolo, are merely calling the tribe to be faithful, consistent and truer to the Bible which they claim is their authority. There are those, though, that deny there is a problem, but, for the most part, they tend to be more part of the conservative and populist evangelical tribe---the moderate centre is more thoughtful on this issue. The fact, though, that many in the reformed and evangelical clan have decided right of centre political leanings (and the impact of such tendencies for climate change-global warming) is a worrisome reality.
Nine, God talk is fraught with many difficulties, but there is always the danger of confusing ideas and metaphors with reality. This is why the historic church has tended to see theological language as an analogy of being (analogia entis). All language about God is not God, but such language acts as a pointer to the presence of God. There is abstract knowledge about God such as God is merciful, just, forgiving, love, compassion, long suffering etc. and there are many metaphors of God such as father, mother, lion, lamb, rock, tower, shepherd, judge, king, lover, warrior, door, light, darkness etc.---the images drawn from the personal, animate and inanimate worlds are plenty. The key thing to note here is this---all language about God is but a relative pointer to God----all language affirms yet denies—this is why theology uses the language, in the West, of the vita positiva and vita negativa and in the East the cataphatic and apophatic ways. When language about God is confused with the presence of God, idolatry is afoot and when any image or metaphor is absolutized, idolatry reigns again. This is why much care must be taken about using the name of God to defend tribal interests—this is what it means to take God’s name in vain---sadly so, this is what the Sanhedrin often does----God’s name is on the lips of many, God is defended by many, but the real presence of God is much more elusive. The church has called this tendency to freeze certain images of God ‘anthropomorphism’-----reducing God to an image (form) of man rather than the image being an ikon that self destructs in the presence of the God of Love. There is a tension, of course, between silence and waiting and speaking, defining and acting.
The vita activa of the West has tended to err on the latter, and if a reversal of such a reality is going to occur, a turn to the vita contemplativa is a categorical imperative. There is a quite a fear, though, amongst many reformed and evangelical types about the contemplative, meditative and mystical way of knowing----historic, systematic and dogmatic theology have trumped contemplative and mystical theology—this has not always been the way of the church. The unio mystica and the corpus Christi are in need of a recall to unite the people of God again to a higher calling. This is why the call to the ‘Great Tradition’ has such an appeal yet also has dangers.
Ten, the fact that Christian protestant modernity has been schismatic, and the equally problematic fact that postmodern emerging congregations are even more schismatic means that a counter response has emerged in the last few years. If Christianity is merely about the perpetuation of fragmentation and division, then what has it truly to offer? Modernity and Postmodernity are central to the problem of divided Christianity rather than part of the solution. The turn, therefore, by many to the sources (ad fontes) of the Classical forms of Christianity has become a vibrant and lively approach to retrieving the lost vision of Christian unity and concord. The sad and tragic reality that so few know much about the Great Tradition of Christianity makes them vulnerable to any sort of silly reads of Christ, Christianity and Christendom. This more conciliar turn has been initiated by members, to their credit, of the Sanhedrin, by there are questions to be asked about how the Fathers of the Patristic era are being interpreted. There has, obviously, been this turn within the Roman Catholic tradition to the Fathers for many a decade, and Hans Boersma has tracked and traced this wisely and insightfully in Nouvelle Theologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery. The journey back to the motherlode of the Classical period of Christian history was on the move, though, before Boersma made the turn to the 19th and 20th centuries ressourcement movement. The publication of Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward A Common Mission (edited by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus---J.I. Packer was involved) was a positive breakthrough book----centuries of rancor and suspicion between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics were being overcome. Then came Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics & Orthodox in Dialogue (1997)-----the net was now widening, and this was for the good. Many of the more ancient-future faith evangelicals saw the writing on the wall. The Orthodox were deeply grounded and rooted in the Fathers, Roman Catholics were mining the gold---surely Evangelicals should see what could be found in such time tried wisdom. The emergence of ‘Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church’s Future’ has now furthered the process. The false and distorted notion that Roman Catholics are about Tradition and Protestants are committed to the Bible began to wither and fall as the more serious approach to Bible-Tradition were studied in more honesty and depth. The publication of Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (2005) steadily moved this process of turning to the bedrock foundations of the faith further along. It is important to note that the Sanhedrin has approved such a transition, but questions do need to be asked. The dilemma, when the turn is made to the Great Tradition, is this: whose version or whose interpretation of the Great Tradition will be the accepted one and why? This is the same problem Protestants faced when confronted with the authority of the Bible: whose interpretation and application will win the day and why? The problem of interpretation is, indeed, the problem. Does this mean, therefore, we are checkmated with multiple interpretations with no authority to arbitrate between diverse and at odds interpretations of the Bible or the Great Tradition?
The turn to the Great Tradition by significant leaders of the Reformed and Evangelical Sanhedrin should be lauded and supported at an initial level—schism, ongoing fragmentation, caricatures and suspicion between those within the Great Tradition does need to be mended and healed. Such an approach, although opposed by many traditionalists within the Tradition, is a needful good. It is necessary although sufficient for a fuller read and application of the Great Tradition. The problem, as I see it, with many of the Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, Reformed and Orthodox that are, in their cautious way, attempting to heal the breach within the Great Tradition is this: some are making such a move in a pietist way that ignores the more ascetic and prophetic visionary view of the church that most of the Fathers (East and West) held high or the Fathers are yoked to a right of centre political read that supports, often, hawkish, capitalist and imperial policies. When the Fathers of the church are used in this way, they merely become playthings for the worst form of western imperialism----this becomes just another form of the Constantinian synthesis, and must be avoided. A read of Conrad Noel’s Socialism in Church History, Clive Barrett’s To The Fathers they shall go: Wealth and Poverty in Early Christian Thought or Kenneth Leech’s Subversive Orthodoxy: Traditional Faith & Radical Commitment hike down different paths from which the Fathers can be read just as Ronald Musto’s The Catholic Peace Tradition and Hildo Bos/Jim Forest’s For the Peace from Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism. In short, there is an alternate read of The Great Tradition within the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions that is neither pietist nor an uncritical servant of political power, economic capitalism or militarism and the worship of Mars. Sadly so, when the Sanhedrin often turns to the Great Tradition, such a turn is done in a selective and ideological manner that mutes, sanitizes and domesticates the Mothers and Fathers of the historic church.
The time has come to wind down and end this missive on the Sanhedrin. I have listed 10 areas in which the dominant Reformed and Evangelical Sanhedrin has come to define an understanding and read of the Christian faith. There is, also, an emerging critique of the Sanhedrin that is coming from those who know how the family lives, moves and has its being. The next few years will, without doubt, see a further clashing and colliding between these worldviews and interpretations of Christianity----how such differences of interpretations of the faith journey will be handled will, partially, shape and define significant aspects of Christianity in the west and beyond. We do desperately need, by way of a brief conclusion, those who have an irenical vision of the faith journey, like Erasmus of the 16th century, to transcend the tribalism of our age and ethos. Yes, for sure, to the Mothers/Fathers of the Great Tradition we should go, but how we interpret and apply such wisdom and insight will determine the path we will go. Indeed, the Reformed and Evangelical tribe has been weighed and found wanting.