More Yoder on Faithfulness and Tradition

I’ve been working through a number of John Howard Yoder’s texts in the last week, reading what he had to say about ecumenicism and tradition within the “Radical Free-Church.” Here are a few quotes that really stood out to me from his essay in The Priestly Kingdom called, “The Authority of Tradition.” One thing I really liked about this essay is his refusal to accept that all tradition is always good, or that every rendering and interpretation of our common texts and the “founding event” is correct. He suggests that tradition is important, and that if it’s going to have any use in our contemporary pluralistic atmosphere, there needs to be a discussion about infidelity to our common tradition, and denounce innovations that are unfaithful even as we express what fidelity to the founding event will look like. 

“Far from being an ongoing growth like a tree (or a family tree), the wholesome growth of a tradition is like a vine: a story of constant interruption of organic growth in favor of pruning and a new chance for roots. This renewed appeal to origins is not primitivism, nor an effort to recapture some pristine purity. It is rather a “looping back,??? a glance over the shoulder to enable a midcourse correction, a rediscovery of something from the past whose pertinence was not seen before, because only a new question or challenge enables us to see it speaking to us…??? page 69

 

“One way the same old data [in this case tradition and Scripture] yields new information is that we bring to it another set of questions, just as the natural sciences find more facts in the same plant or animal beofre their present intrsutments were developed. A new question permits the old event to respond in ways that ealier patterns of question had not made self evident or perhaps hidden.”  page 70 

“So the issue – if there be a genuine issue – is not tradition versus Scripture, nor Scripture versus some one fragment of the rest of tradition, nor (as Montreal said) the scriptural fraction of tradition versus some other one of many traditions. The issue is (as Jesus said it) the traditions of men versus the commandment of God [That is faithfulness versus irresponsible renderings within all traditions (69)]. That rough word of Jesus introduces seriousness that ecumenical politeness had hidden. Not all varieties of vision – or of ethics – can fit together within a tolerant pluralism. What we need is tools to identify and denounce error, while welcoming variety and celebrating complementarity.” page 76

 

“We reconstruct by critiquing and by remembering.??? page 79

 

Also see here for one another quote I borrowed from Halden’s blog.

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

2 thoughts on “More Yoder on Faithfulness and Tradition”

  1. Thanks for posting these quotations. The first quotation hits on something from your previous post regarding the Evangelical manifesto. In the comments there, you write:

    “I see [Evangelicalism] as a modern attempt to break away from tradition, place complete authority within a foundationalist reading of the Scriptures, and lose all distinctives in the name of the Gospel.”

    Can you show how this quotation from Yoder relates to or is distinct from what you say:

    “This renewed appeal to origins is not primitivism, nor an effort to recapture some pristine purity. It is rather a ‘looping back,’ a glance over the shoulder to enable a midcourse correction, a rediscovery of something from the past whose pertinence was not seen before, because only a new question or challenge enables us to see it speaking to us…???

    I share a concern that Evangelicalism’s appeal to Scripture can at times seem to say nothing happened in the Church between Acts 2 and the 19th century (or perhaps between Acts 2 and Wittenberg in the 16th century). In its better moments and among its more thoughtful speakers, I would imagine Evangelicalism’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture is reminiscent of Yoder’s appeal to origins. Of course this appeal to origins is itself open to interpretations and traditions of interpretations, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

  2. Hi Tyler, Thanks for reading.
    Yes, this is definitely related. Yoder’s reading of Scripture, as I understand it, has at least two components that are appropriate here. First, he argues in this essay that it cannot be scripture vs. tradition because tradition is the “microscope” of which we read Scripture. But he also stresses that even though they are connected this way they still need to be seen as distinct. That is for Yoder Scripture is meaningful and authoritative on its own, but we always access that authority through some other authority. Second, Yoder places heavy emphasis on the Incarnation and the NT as formative for the church – carefully suggesting that not all Scripture holds equal weight when it comes to the practice of the church. This statement doesn’t do his nuancing justice, but I know you know what I mean.

    In my understanding, Yoder is not a foundationalist in the way that I understand Evangelicalism to be foundational – that we can get back to the Scriptures in an unmediated, untraditioned way.

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