Tradition—For Evangelicals Only

Tradition: Old and New, by F. F. Bruce (Zondervan, 1971, 184 pp., paperback, $2.95), is reviewed by J. Ramsey Michaels, professor of New Testament and early Christian literature, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Most of what is said in this book has been said before, but it is gratifying to hear it from someone to whom evangelicals will listen. Professor Bruce undertook this study because he had been “increasingly impressed over the years by the prevalence of tradition in churches and religious movements which believed themselves to be free from its influence.” Though he draws illustrations from his own experiences among the Plymouth Brethren, much of what he says is true of evangelicals generally. Few Christians put less emphasis on tradition than they, yet few groups are more influenced by it. All too often “what the Bible teaches” comes to refer to one’s own interpretation (i.e. tradition), while “the traditions of men” becomes a useful label with which to dismiss other points of view. To say this is not to single out anyone for special blame, but only to admit that we all share in the human condition, with its shortcomings.

What is the answer to the problem? Should we cast off our traditions, muster all our historical and exegetical acumen, and find out “what the Bible really teaches”? Or should we acknowledge frankly our indebtedness to tradition and seek to use it positively as a link between biblical times and today, all the while testing it in light of our growing knowledge of Scripture? Though the professional scholar may pursue the first alternative, the Church cannot deny its tradition without denying its own existence in history. Nothing is gained ...

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