If you haven’t heard of Arvo Pärt, then I suggest you stop reading right now and look him up and take time to listen. The first piece that I heard was Spiegel Im Spiegel which immediately caught my attention by its simplicity and beauty. Now, I am an armchair Classical music enthusiast who tends to stick with the Four B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Brubeck (I guess it’s supposed to be three, but some throw Brubeck in there for good measure). Pärt’s music was foreign to my listening ears, so I took it upon myself to find out more about this Estonian-born composer. I stumbled upon this article at the NPR Classical website which had an interesting take upon Pärt’s style evinced in the title: Arvo Pärt’s Timeless Twist on Tradition. The idea that tradition can change seems to be at odds with our (Evangelical) normal (prejudiced) understanding of tradition as static and unchanging. Unfortunately, the concept of tradition is a little more complicated than that. Yves Congar in his book The Meaning of Tradition distinguishes between the multiple aspects of tradition: the content, the action, and the subjects (the one giving and the one receiving)–note: it has been a while since I’ve read the book and I don’t have it on had so that may not be the exact wording. Jaroslav Pelikan appeals to the unavoidability of tradition in his book The Vindication of Tradition in which he shows that (to take a phrase from his interview with Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith) the only alternative to tradition is bad tradition. With that in mind, it seems necessary for this generation of evangelical’s to articulate a mature understanding of tradition. Can they, like Arvo Pärt, produce a timeless twist on tradition? Some are trying (i.e., D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism). Mark S. Medley in his article “Stewards, Interrogators, and Inventors: Towards a Practice of Tradition,” (Pro Ecclesia 18.1) attempts to construct a method of engaging tradition that goes beyond just asserting the need to do so (as is often the case). A. T. B. McGowan in his book The Divine Authenticity of Scripture: Retrieving an Evangelical Heritage provides four principles for engaging tradition:
First, tradition is vital and must be recognized as an integral part of being the church. We are not the first Christians and we cannot pretend that with an open Bible we can ignore all those who have gone ahead of us in the faith. Second, tradition must never stand alongside Scripture as a parallel source of authority, nor as an inclusive concept that includes Scripture. The Voice of God the Holy Spirit speaking in and through the Scriptures must be our final authority. Third, tradition in the evangelical sense must always mean a recognition of the biblical, theological and ecclesiastical decisions made by those who have gone before us in the faith and the importance of these decisions for our self-understanding. Fourth, tradition must always be subject to review and reformation, in the light of God continuing to speak to us by his Spirit through the Word. In short, our evangelical theology of tradition must guard the authority of the voice of God speaking in Scripture and yet at the same time take seriously the concept of tradition as the collective voice of the church through the ages (p. 185).
I think this is a good place to start for those who have been reared to despise the concept of tradition (something rampant in American culture). While this is not my main area of study, I think it will come up again and again and I hope to do further study on the subject in the future, namely defining and engaging tradition in light of the Trinity.