Tradition as Family Legacy

The Church is a strange and wonderful family with wise patriarchs and matriarchs; grandpas who inspire us a guide us like Desmond Tutu, Walter Brueggemann, and N.T. Wright; parents like Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, and Phyllis Tickle who know us and want the best for us; brilliant siblings and cousins like Julie Clawson, Andrew Root, Rob Bell, and even Tony Jones. We remember lost loved ones like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. and we try to live up to their legacy. It's a loving family, a family worth the investment...

But as with any family we've also got some crazy uncles like Mark Driscoll who always manage to embarrass everybody. We've got some stern fathers who, though they've got good things to say, have a hard time understanding their kids (dare I list John Piper in this category?). We've got brothers and sisters who just can't quite find their way. We've got relatives who did some pretty bad things in their time. We've got a kind of alcoholism in our blood--think of chauvinism, racism, and violence. We've got some pretty dark stains on our family legacy.

It's important that we remember that while we've got a loving family, a wise family, we've also got a dysfunctional and embarrassing family. Just like with any family, there's something else that holds us together, otherwise we'd likely not even be friends. This is a great testimony to the church, in fact. We, at least many of us, have got no good reason to be together other than our connection in Jesus Christ. This is what is meant by "tradition" in that great quadrilateral of Christian theological reflection. When we articulate or reflect on the language of faith about God, we don't go into it alone but we take our family and the blood which binds us into the conversation. Theological reflection is not an individual reflection, it's the reflection of a family about their true matriarch, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and about the real legacy of their life together... even with the crazy uncles. "Tradition," in Christian theology is about family. It's about bearing in our identity, the identity of others. "Tradition" in the theological process is about doing theology as a member of a family, not merely as an individual.