Being a Reformer is Hard Work

This post from the Touchstone blog gets it right by stressing the need for intellectual humility when seeking change in government, the church, and society. Responding to David Brooks article, which responds to the YouTube “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video, Margarita Mooney emphasizes that new ideas of value are hardly ever born in isolation. Rather, the greatest reformers were indebted to traditions that formed the intellectual paradigm for their ideas. Martin Luther is an example of one who drew from early church tradition to form his ideas on the primacy of Scripture. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. drew his ideas from church history as well as the examples of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi.

Here is a taste:

Tradition is hardly a word we hear anymore. When it is evoked, it is often used negatively. Many people distrust institutions that symbolize traditions, such as the government and religion. The free market—which can be considered a tradition in that it refers to a set of  principles on which our economy is based—has also come under fire. Change Washington, Occupy Wall Street, and give me Jesus without the church may be catchy phrases, but Brooks’s column leads us to ask: with what will you replace those traditions?


Although many critiques of government, markets, and religion may be right on, Brooks poses a challenge, which I paraphrase as: If you don’t like the tradition you see, look around for another tradition to which you would give authority. If you try to reform what you don’t like without knowing much about alternatives, you probably won’t persuade anyone to join you.

Brooks and Mooney offer solid advice to anyone seeking to transform institutions. When it comes to transforming American Christian culture, we already have a vast store of wealth within the church’s tradition, both Catholic and Protestant. We who live in the twenty-first century eschew that tradition at our peril. We are more in danger of falling into heresy when we throw off tradition than we are of saving what we think is the essence of true Christianity. After all, who cares what I think in isolation anyway?

3 responses to “Being a Reformer is Hard Work

  1. John, Christ is Risen! Thanks for writing this. I completely agree with your conclusion.You wrote, "[We have] a vast store of wealth within the church's tradition, both Catholic and Protestant." I would just add… don't forget about the Orthodox! 🙂 The traditional, Orthodox Christian liturgy is an absolute treasure from early Christianity. I wish Luther would've known more about the Eastern Orthodox. Had he, I believe he might not have tossed so much orthodox baby out with the bathwater of Catholic abuses. The reformation in which Luther was instrumental emphasized Scripture as primary in authority. However, in many ways I think the Reformation unfortunately pulled the rug out from under the Scripture. After all, it was the early holy traditions that allowed the church to even define the canon of Scripture in the first place. So early holy tradition is what was "underlying" Scripture in large part. Secondly, the holy Apostles taught followers of the Way to hold to the traditions they had taught them, whether by word of mouth or by Scripture (2 Thess 2:15, 1 Cor 11:2). Those traditions, as understood by the orthodox, ironically seem to place more emphasis on Scripture than even the "prima Scriptura," Protestant Christian traditions I've experienced. For instance, the amount of actual Scripture I hear read, prayed, chanted, and sung each Sunday at the orthodox divine liturgy is more that was publicly read over the course of a couple months (if not longer) at the Sunday services of the "prima Scriptura" churches I've attended. It seems "prima Scriptura" started a new tradition that turned into "prima pastors preaching about Scripture."In Christ,Jason Davisacts420.com

  2. PS I meant to write, "…at the orthodox divine liturgy is more tha[n] was publicly read over the course of a couple months…"

  3. Jason, I'm so glad you wrote this. After I posted this, I thought, "I didn't mention anything about the Orthodox tradition!" Seriously! Thanks for the reminder! jdw

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