Scripture and Tradition

The curiously titled Concise Reformed Dogmatics by J. van Genderen and W.H. Velema has become a favorite of mine.  (I say curiously titled because it weighs in at 922 pages – though it does have some 2000 fewer pages than Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics!)  I was rereading some portions of his chapter on Holy Scripture and appreciated how he described the proper relationship between Scripture and tradition:

[T]he canonization of Scripture implies that the church drew a clear and pure line of demarcation between the time of the apostles and the era of the church.  The fixing of the canon implied that in the future other traditions, not documented by the apostles, would not be made normative.  It may be added that this also implies that varying traditions must be assessed against the norm of Holy Scripture.

…………………….

Nevertheless, the confession of the sufficiency of Scripture does not imply that all traditions must be considered useless.  The churches of the Reformation also recognize elements of tradition.  But these are not norms for faith and life, although they can be expressions of faith, ways in which people portray their response to the Word of God.  In this sense traditions are both useful and necessary.  We agree with Bavinck that tradition is the means by which all the treasures and possessions of our ancestors are transmitted to the present and future (cf. R.D., 1:492-94).  There is indeed a variegated Reformed tradition.  There is tradition in our confession, in our worship service, in preaching, in theology, in devotional literature that is nurtured by Scripture.  But we may never absolutize this tradition, no matter how familiar and dear to us.  The stream of tradition must always lead us back to the source that is normative: Holy Scripture.  Traditions become dangerous whenever they are translated from forms into norms.  That can happen with established opinions as well as modern provocative views.

Pgs. 104-105

My only nuance would be to speak of this in terms of fallible “normed” norms (tradition) and the infallible “norming” norm (scripture).  Tradition does have a normative quality, but only subordinately so; it has a ministerial role rather than a magisterial one.

______________________________
Rev. R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

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7 comments on “Scripture and Tradition

  1. […] Scripture and Tradition (reformedreader.wordpress.com) the confession of the sufficiency of Scripture does not imply that all traditions must be considered useless.  The churches of the Reformation also recognize elements of tradition.  But these are not norms for faith and life, although they can be expressions of faith, ways in which people portray their response to the Word of God.  In this sense traditions are both useful and necessary.  We agree with Bavinck that tradition is the means by which all the treasures and possessions of our ancestors are transmitted to the present and future (cf. R.D., 1:492-94).  There is indeed a variegated Reformed tradition.  There is tradition in our confession, in our worship service, in preaching, in theology, in devotional literature that is nurtured by Scripture. […]

  2. Nevada says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I’ve coveted that book for some time. Just looking through it in the past, I was struck by how wise it seemed (very Bavinckish). So I’ve taken the plunge and ordered it. If anyone is interested, Reformation Heritage Books has it on sale for $24.80 (regularly $59.99).

  3. Jen says:

    Oh you Dutchmen–looking for good theology, but only if you can get a good deal!

  4. wmprins2009 says:

    Dear Andrew,
    Praise the Lord for your valuable blog – I benefit greatly from your publications!

    In 1992, when the Dogmatics was first published in the Netherlands, I had been waiting a long time till it was finally published! It is definitely my favorite systematic theology. In my view it takes the best from Bavinck (and many others) while avoiding his philosophical speculations, and thoroughly interacts with especially Dutch and German theologians. What is largely lacking is interaction with British/American theology. I was slightly surprised and disappointed because it is not that they are unaware of their works. As for the discussions of unbiblical viewpoints of obscure Dutch and German theologians, do make the effort to read those sections too, as it is not so much those names that are worth noting but their ideas. You will be better equipped when similar ideas germinate in other places — there is nothing new under the sun but the evil one has gathered many dress-up clothes over the centuries, and old costumes mesmerize in new places.
    My aim is to read the Dogmatics once a year and I love van Genderen’s economy of words, accuracy, and prudence. He was a John Calvin on the pulpit, not the most lively preacher but incredibly sharp, simple and concise. He even looked like him…
    Velema, however, was a very compassionate, pastoral and powerful preacher. He is still alive (83 now). He is probably the pastor who has had the most influence on my life. Whenever I return to the Netherlands I try to visit him (I am a missionary in Cambodia). Both professors (and some others) were members of my home congregation and I benefited immensely from their ministry. I have always admired them for keeping a low profile in the local church. I guess they preferred to air their views in writing rather than speak up in the congregation. For those who can read Dutch, here is a recent interview with Velema: http://www.dewekker.com/artikel-248-interview-met-prof-dr-wh-velema-
    The third professor from my home church (and from the CGK seminary in Apeldoorn) that I think we do well to investigate is Professor W. van ’t Spijker. Some of his works have been translated into English and German. The joke among his theological students was that whenever he abbreviated dates (e.g., ’66 or ’17), they sometimes wondered which century he was talking about. The safest thing, however, was to assume it was the 16th Century (as he pretty much lived there)…

    Many blessings,
    Wim

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