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


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John Howard Yoder on Authority and Tradition

A blog I read fairly often has been posting quotes from Yoder’s essay on tradition, they’re worth sharing here, plus you might as well check out INHABITATIO DEI.

“We are not talking about ‘the authority of tradition’ as if tradition were a settled reality and we were then to figure out how it works. We are asking how, within the maelstrom of the traditioning process, we can keep our bearings and distinguish between the way the stream should be going and side channels that eddy but lead nowhere. Can we do this by some criterion beyond ourselves? The peculiarity of the term ‘tradition’ is that it points to that criterion beyond itself to which it claims to be a witness. We are therefore doing no violence to the claim of tradition when we test it by its fidelity to that origin. A witness is not being dishonored when we test his fidelity as an interpreter of the events to which he testifies. That is his dignity as witness; he wants to be tested for that.???

–John Howard Yoder, “The Authority of Tradition???, in The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame: UNDP, 1984), 77-78. From here.

Continue reading John Howard Yoder on Authority and Tradition