Tradition and Innovation
Shortly after arriving at TCF, Michael Gulker suggested that I consider attending the Foundations of Christian Leadership program hosted by Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. This program focuses on the idea of traditioned innovation, which, as the name suggests, has to do with innovating within existing institutions. When I first heard the term “traditioned innovation,” I couldn’t help but think of aggiornamento, an Italian word meaning “a bringing up to date.” The word was used by Pope John XXIII, and is most often associated with the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). A rival group reacted against aggiornamento, pushing instead for ressourcement, by which they meant a return to the sources. If the first group’s future orientation emphasized innovation, the second group looked to the past and emphasized tradition. Howard E. Root, who was an Anglican observer at the Council, appropriated this distinction in his 1972 Bampton Lectures, speaking of two kinds of radicalism, one forward-looking and the other backward-looking. In his lectures “The Limits of Radicalism,” Root addressed radicalism and tradition, and more specifically, the death of God theology that had grown from the seeds of 1960s Cambridge radicalism. Root’s concern was that these radicals were obsessed with change, evincing a perpetual anxiety for the future. Root, who was himself a one-time Cambridge radical, wished to distance himself from this particular variety of radicalism, and so advocated a radicalism rooted in tradition. Drawing upon his experience at the Second Vatican Council, Root was practicing traditioned innovation. Why is this history important? Because it offers a backdrop for navigating our current context, one in which we face a host of wicked problems requiring a Root-styled, backward-looking radicalism. Root understood that radicalism (i.e., innovation) is necessary, but that it must be carefully distinguished from reductionism. Theological integrity (i.e., tradition) must be maintained. And yet, in maintaining tradition, we must not treat theology as a “museum subject.” Theology, after all, is not “a subject in the past tense” (Root, “The Limits of Radicalism,” Lecture 2). This led Root, in his final lecture, to conclude: “The limits of radicalism are those which end not in chaos but in the breaking of fresh ground. Let the voices speak. Let the contestants push to those limits they find for themselves. In the end, theology is not its own master. Tradition is not an overlord or a censor. It is there. What will last will last. What will fall away will fall away. Method will unfold itself in the exploration” (Root, “The Limits of Radicalism,” Lecture 8). For Root, the exploration unfolded in a number of interesting contexts, but most relevant here is his participation as a member of the first phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Now in its third phase (2011–present), ARCIC is working through issues related to “fundamental questions regarding the ‘Church as Communion – Local and Universal’, and ‘How in communion the Local and Universal Church comes to discern right ethical teaching’.” (IARCCUM) Unlike the earlier phases that were concerned with comparing beliefs or finding common sources, this third phase – influenced by the Receptive Ecumenism project – is seeking to change the question from “What do the other traditions first need to learn from us?” to “What do we need to learn from them?” They are, in other words, seeking to innovate what was in Root’s time an innovation. TCF is in many respects similar to this exercise in church learning. Standing in a long tradition of intra-Church dialogue, then, we are committed to facilitating dialogue on divisive topics and approaching differing perspectives as Christ-given opportunities to build community, expand knowledge, and deepen faith. Our innovation is a unique combination of conversations that might be represented as follows: Wicked Problems + Christian Virtues = Conflict as Opportunity Making progress on these wicked problems requires a willingness to enter into relationships, risking vulnerability, and refusing competition. It requires, in other words, that we practice the Christian virtues of love, hospitality, patience, etc. The dialogue need not be feared. It can be faced. We can, with God’s help, put hope in practice.