Monday, January 19, 2009
Book Review: Exploring Protestant Traditions
Exploring Protestant Traditions, An Invitation to Theological Hospitality
W. David Buschart, IVP, 2006
This book was an excellent read: one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. Buschart examines 8 main denominations: Lutheran, Anabaptist, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist, Wesleyan, Dispensational and Pentecostal.
I like his approach to the presentation of the various traditions. He begins each discussion by telling a story of the denomination, whether about a church he attended, a liturgical act he encountered or an experience he had with them. I find that very interesting as he draws us into his discussions. He introduces us into what the tradition is about.
Then he proceeds to give the context, approach and theology of each of the traditions.
The context is given in their historical and ecclesiastical background. It is very illuminating as he tells the story of how each of them began. It provides us with a footing to begin to understand the denominations, though I wished he had not only concluded on the American side of the history but provide a more a global view of them as well.
The approach is viewed from each of their theological and hermeneutical method. He closes each discussion with a general feel of their theology, particularly their characteristic beliefs. This is where we can identify what makes the traditions.
Albeit with only an average of 20 pages per denomination, he was able to provide excellent historical and theological summaries of them. I can now say that I am beginning to have a fair understanding of these traditions. While there are limitations, Buschart managed to highlight their main theological tenets that make them what they are.
As I read, I discovered much about each of the traditions.
Lutheran: A Gospel of Grace
I noticed from my reading that in comparison to the other denominations, the Lutherans are very much a confessional and creedal denomination. Buschart summarises them with the gospel of grace being the heart of their belief and practice of tradition. From faith to life, the Christian gospel is a message of grace.
Anabaptist: Faith for Radical Community
I was not familiar with this denomination until I read that the Brethren churches are offshoots of the Anabaptist. They did not accept baptism without a personal commitment and therefore most of them underwent a re-baptism even though they have been through baby baptism under the Catholic tradition. Anabaptist's hermeneutics were the hermeneutics of the church. The read the Bible together, interpreted it together and formulated comprehensive statements of faith. They paid particular attention to the Gospels and New Testament. They followed Christ in service to the world.
Reformed: To the Glory of God and God Alone
To the reformed, God is a sovereign God. God is great, God is good and theology is ultimately and finally about God. All men are to acknowledge and submit to him. He is the great I am. God is the subject of the verb.
Anglican: Spirit of a Via Media
My discovery of the Anglican tradition was what surprised me the most among all the others. I had not realise that I know almost nothing about this denomination. I attended a Anglican kindergarten when I was a kid but only one Anglican service more than 20 years ago. I assumed I knew enough about them. Wesley was a Anglican himself and it never occured to me that I should learn more about them. I discovered that the Anglican is a tradition of the via media, the "middle way". From the time it started until today, they have sought to articulate theological beliefs that strikes a middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestanism, not by formulating some sort of theological synthesis or hybrid but by embracing ambiguity and inclusion. And their theology is more of a theology of liturgy.
Baptist: Freedom for Immediacy
Baptists are generally a non-creedal people but they cared about theology. The believer is free to interpret the bible apart from the binding prescriptions of a creed, church and state. They are guided by the Holy Spirit and the bible itself. The local congregation is free to oversee its own affairs.
Wesleyan: Grace-full Holiness and Holy Wholeness
Being a Methodist myself and after attending Methodism lectures some months back, I began to understand why I think the way I think. Buschart summarised it perfectly, "Wesleyan Christians go out into nothing less than the entire world, their 'parish', with nothing less than their practical divinity - a message of grace-full holiness. All people need to be saved, by God's grace all people can be saved, and this salvation can be wholly holy."
Dispensational: Rightly Divinding the Scriptures
This denomination is new to me - I had thought they were a cult, but not so. There are many renowned scholars from this group of people, like Dwight Pentecost, Craig A. Blaising and Darrell Bock. The Dispensationalists according to Herbert Bateman, "is a tradition driven by a desire to be scriptural and a recognition that infallibility is what the text - not its interpreters - possesses." Buschart summarised that "through reverent and methodical study of the Bible, Dispensationalists seek to discern God's plan for the ages as revealed in the Scriptures." The most distinctive characteristic of the denomination is their view on the characters and distinctions between the nation of Israel and the church.
Pentecostal: The Spirit of Continuity
I grew with the Pentecostals - in a sense where while I still attend Methodist services, I am surrounded by the Pentecostals during my school days , where the Holy Spirit must be experienced, evidenced by the speaking of tongues. They firmly believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever and the experiences of the early church, as recorded in the book of Acts, provided patterns for us in all ages.
Buschart rightfully closes the discussion with a look into Christian Hospitality, that is we must come to position where we disagree, we disagree in love and in acceptance - to take on a "both/and" approach to unity and diversity within Christianity. It is ironic that most Christians agree that existentially and experientially, the church is diverse and divided, but will you not agree with me that in this age, the boundaries that separate the division may slowly be disintegrating. Not entirely for sure, there are still areas we could not reconcile, but the boundaries may be blurring in some. And where they are not, we are still one Church, with one Head, Jesus Christ, our Saviour, our King and our Lord.