Traditions of Spirituality - Lesson 4

What’s All the Hubbub about the Great Tradition?

In this lesson, you explore the Great Tradition of spirituality, examining its origins, development, and various manifestations across diverse religious and cultural contexts. The document delves into the core principles, practices, and beliefs that have shaped the tradition, offering a deep understanding of how spirituality has evolved over time. By examining the connections between various spiritual traditions and their influence on contemporary beliefs, you gain valuable insights into the nature of spiritual growth and transformation. As you delve further, you'll uncover the importance of personal experience in the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and the role of tradition in guiding individuals on their spiritual journeys.

Don Davis
Traditions of Spirituality
Lesson 4
Watching Now
What’s All the Hubbub about the Great Tradition?

Ch391-04: What's All the Hubbub About the Great Tradition?

I. Introduction to the Great Tradition

A. Definition and Background

B. Importance in Christian Spirituality

II. Origins and Development of the Great Tradition

A. Early Church Fathers

B. Medieval Mystics

C. Reformation and Beyond

III. Key Components of the Great Tradition

A. Prayer and Contemplation

1. The Jesus Prayer

2. Centering Prayer

B. Scripture and Spiritual Reading

1. Lectio Divina

2. Meditative Reading

C. Asceticism and Fasting

1. Self-Denial

2. Embracing Suffering

D. Community and Spiritual Direction

1. Monasticism

2. Accountability and Guidance

IV. Challenges and Critiques of the Great Tradition

A. Potential for Legalism and Works-Based Spirituality

B. Balancing Personal and Communal Elements

C. Integrating the Great Tradition into Contemporary Christianity

V. The Ongoing Significance of the Great Tradition

A. Renewed Interest and Practice

B. Contributions to Spiritual Growth and Formation

C. The Great Tradition as a Rich Resource for Christians Today

  • By studying this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of early Christian spirituality in the Apostolic Age, its development, key figures, and historical context.challenging cultural context.
  • Gain insights into the Medieval Church and Reformation, exploring the interplay between religious traditions, key figures, theological debates, and socio-political dynamics that transformed spirituality.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of modernity and post-modernity, their impact on spirituality and religious practice, and the challenges and opportunities they present for the church today.
  • Gain deep insights into the Great Tradition of spirituality, its evolution, core principles, and the connections between diverse spiritual practices as you explore this lesson from Dr. Don Davis.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of shared spirituality, its historical and cultural development, key concepts, practices, and beliefs, and how it can guide a meaningful spiritual life.
  • By studying this lesson, you learn the importance of shared spirituality in church plant movements, its role in building trust and spiritual growth, and practical strategies for implementing and sustaining such movements while overcoming challenges.
  • In this lesson, you gain an understanding of the Great Tradition, its historical context, and key components, ultimately learning how to apply these principles to your spiritual growth and Christian community.

Dr. Davis emphasizes the ways in which evangelical Protestants, especially those who are only loosely connected to a particular Church tradition, can be renewed and revived through a retrieval of the Great Tradition. Of great interest in this class are the elements, purposes, and ramifications of sharing a distinct spirituality grounded in that Tradition, and what the impact this sharing can have on our individual, family, and congregational lives.

Guys, I appreciate so much your willingness to come and to be harangued over such broad periods of time. I like I said, just the methodology of this course is somewhat suspect because we don't have enough time to really go in to all of this. For you to disagree with all of my sort of assertions on the nature of the apostolic age, ancient church, you know, the medieval church and the Reformation, modernity and postmodernity. So we don't get a chance to really, you know, sink our teeth into these sort of things. But if but if. But if our study means anything, again, if you would turn on page 119 of your binder. If my a very crude and apologetic sort of rendering of church history has any bearing whatsoever. It was meant to give us a sort of a broad swath of what has taken place. Now we are we I want to come full, full circle and now dialog about the meaning of this history for us both in our personal lives and our churches and in our mission and everything that we do from now on is really a genuine attempt for us to have a conversation about what is the meaning of this for our lives, not just what is the the the reality of it, but what is the meaning of it if you look again at this. What is striking again is that from from the great racism in 1054 and the division between the Roman and Orthodox Church, at least Christianity in the West has been a splintering of of greater and greater and greater fragmentation. I mean, I'm not sure if you guys know, but there are there are tens of thousands of Protestant sects or or different ways of understanding Protestantism.

Just to sort of put this in a context. I don't know if you guys know that at the First Crowns conference, we invited, as I mentioned, we had a conference in Los Angeles that we co-hosted with the church on the way. It was actually at their venue with Jack Hayford, who is on our board. And we at that meeting, we wanted to make a general call to the church, the evangelical church at large, to really be open to the possibility of planning new churches among the urban poor. We were sort of giving the vision that here is this great field and in fact, it's one it could very well be the greatest field in the history of mission. Our little 300 or, you know, 230, whatever staff will never do the job in 30 some plus years. We're only in 11 cities. We could use all our staff in any given city. It's impossible for us to win if we don't share the love. It's just too big. And so we invited all these denominational heads and everyone to come. Well, it was well attended to. Keith and Jack Hayford invited only denominational presidents, and of those who came, a number of them. There were there were it was really it was a real swath of Protestant diversity. It really was. What struck me is that how many forms of Baptists there were. I just don't know if you guys realize how many distinct groups there are that that sort of plug themselves of in somewhere in this. This. This, this thing. See what is really what is really significant, guys. And this is it, if you will. By the way, this is a timeline written from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. You can see how the Orthodox Church continues in the line of the one, the Holy Apostolic Church.

Nothing has changed moving forward in the name of Jesus. You can see how the how they did that. But but I thought this was significant for our purposes, because it shows that in the history of the church, in a real sense, Protestantism is a twig on the branch of reaction of the Western Roman Catholic Church. Now, most Protestants that I know act as if that doesn't matter. As a matter of fact, most of us were sort of trained that we are to go directly back. We we have our Bible and we are to go directly back from the from from from our Bible all the way back to the apostles. And we sort of jump over history as if it has no bearing whatsoever. I'm saying that there would be no Bible if there wasn't the church. I'm saying that every Christian in here is only a Christian by virtue of their participation in the great tradition. Not one of you believes saving faith. That was not that you did not get handed down by tradition. Is that Is that a wrong statement? Don't all of us believe that Jesus? Why is Jesus not Jeremiah? Jesus of Nazareth is the Lord right? How do we know that this person is in fact the Lord of all? The apostles told us, How do we know that, guys? There were many, many books that claim to be apostolic at the time of of the gathering of the New Testament. The book you have was the tradition of the church of that period. So it didn't like fall out of the sky. Christians have to decide that this is the word of God. And for us, this is final. And so the most elemental parts of our faith don't begin in sin.

It's in England here. They really are rooted down here. And this is what I want to talk about. This period from the time of Christ to essentially 451 and the Council of Coulson, then we will we will mention this and we will break then and I'll just leave that on and maybe it'll. For my benefit. We will break in 1145 and have a very tasty lunch. I hope that you all brought your 1575 for that. It's included. I hope it's included, you know. So we will meet until 1145. I think the caterer is already here. Is that correct? So while I need to hasten so we can we can eat and then we will have a few sessions after lunch and we will call our our elements to a close. On page 73 of your book is the beginning of session four of this workshop. And the title was Church Matters. And Going Back to the Future, what's all the hubbub about the great tradition? I think that essentially what I want to make for the rest of our time together is that regardless of the tradition that you are, as a matter of fact, it may be helpful for us to know if you associate with the tradition. Would you just simply tell us what that is? If you associate with the tradition, you would say that I am informed by my spirituality, my doctrine, my practice is informed by Baptists, whatever. Then why don't you say what that is and say it loud enough so we can all hear? That Baptist Roman Catholic. A very powerful. Presbyterian. Lutheran. Pentecostal. Mennonite. You see, the Mennonites always kind of slow. They don't want they don't want to just come on out and say, Mennonite, you know, they're just some passive groups.

That's a great joke. That's good past Mennonite. Free. Free tradition. Street. That's a new denomination. I'm aware. I'm not aware of the street denomination. How many would associate themselves with no tradition of any kind. Raise your hands high. By choice. Now. By choice. Leave it up. If you say I am an independent person. The independent tradition. Well, what I want to really talk about now is I'd like you to use the rest of our time together in some ways, trying to make sense of what you believe over against what we have been talking about in church history. I am. I am here to say that in light of the post postmodernity and the emergence of the church in it, I am going to argue that what we think about tradition may very well be the most important thing for for our church lives now, as a matter of fact. I'm going to go so far as to say that a tradition less Christianity. No, don't make no mistake. I believe that an independent Baptist congregation by itself can have a tradition. Do you hear what I'm saying? I'm not saying I believe that wherever believers gather, we can have a tradition, you know? As a matter of fact, I even think that those who purport to be of no tradition are part of the tradition of no tradition. Amen. We have we have been a part of the tradition of no tradition for some time now, thankful to God that we are without and will forever more be tradition. I imagine that's a great tradition. You sort of never know if you're in or out of that tradition, huh? Ya'll are still so hard. Maybe after you eat you'll be kinder to me. You'll smile more and relate.

Well, on page 73, there's a quote from Webber that we're just going to introduce this idea. That's all we're going to do, and then we're going to take a break and eat and we'll come back and we'll finish our sessions after that. The permanent tension in the poetics of Liturgy Liturgy is simply a fancy word for worship order. The way we worship is between the necessity of local cultural molds of perception, expression and interpretation, and the common culture of Christian faith in life. Now, this is a part sentence. I have to unpack it. He says that real worship is always a combination between who the folks are locally and how they understand themselves with the great tradition. It's the local folk and the great tradition. If you're not connected to the great tradition, you're not Christian. You don't have a right to just make up things you don't. If you are going to preach, your God should be a Triune God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who made all things out of nothing. Who died and rose the third day. And you didn't invent that. That has been around for a long time. So that's what Weber sees. All worship, every place that is worshiping is this combination between what the folks are expressing locally and there, their understanding of the great tradition and how those two connect. Only by maintaining this tension. He says can we assert specifically Christian life, faith in life over against the assumptions of much postmodern and technological culture. Though, though each subculture has its own integrity, there is a manner of celebration. Which is it? Which is Christian? No matter what your tradition is, there's got to be some in it that a Christian can recognize. Yes, there I am.

I don't care if it's Lutheran or Baptist or Catholic or whatever. A Christian should say, Yes, it is Christian. It stems from the particular claims of the mystery of Christ in the Lord's Supper. That's what the passage of mystery means. There is a way of enacting the rites, which is ultimately the human perception of what God is has done in creation and in Jesus Christ. That's a powerful thing. He's saying, no matter where Christians meet storefront mega-church Jumbotron, little cell group, church, all the forms community church, when when Christians meet, there's something there that's true of all of them. We've got to find out what that core is, he said. There. This has been referred to by Jay Leno and others as the passing of human and Christ, a manner enacted in particular cultural languages. Of that evidence, both reserve and openness, respect and simplicity, confident joy and true spontaneity. This brother is saying there really is no way to understand what God is doing except that we have something of the new and something of the old in everything, and that is Christian. So this this means that we have to. This is very important for all of us, especially those of us who call ourselves Christian. And even more important, for those of us who are reproducing Christianity somewhere. If you are like a church planner or a missionary or an evangelist or doing work, you have to say, Now what is it in what I say and do that is as old as the Earth. When it comes to what God has been doing and what is new and local and fresh and spontaneous, the people right here on this street can understand it. And he's saying that tension never goes away.

So this is very important. This is what the rest of our time is going to be talking about. And what I want to say, guys, we need to really define where we stand, the three levels. I'm going to say that there are three levels of Christian authority and that everything that we do from here on out in our study sort of goes on the basis of that. And in order to really make sense of this, guys, we have to be committed to our to knowing that we have blind spots. Now, I know it's not up, but it's in your page. And your page is a quote that I'd like to read. Some of it, if you would follow along with me is by Tony Lane. He says, Why on earth read about a hundred or so figures from the past? Why not confine our reading to the present? Why people read With whom? Why read people with whom we might not agree? He says we need to read about the past in order to understand the present. People without a grasp of history are like a man without a memory. Many of the current beliefs in our society are properly grasped only when we see how they emerge. A knowledge of history will help us understand better both ourselves and those with whom we might disagree. We also need to read about the past in order to escape the press. Every generation has its blind spots in its hobby horses, and ours is certainly no exception. By studying the thought of past generations, we can be challenged where our views are defective and help to see our own ideas in a proper perspective. We do not need an excessive degree of humility to recognize that our own grasp of truth might be less than perfect, and it is possible to learn from those with a different perspective.

Well, guys, I believe this with all my heart and what I am going to do for the rest of our time today, it was going to be saying that all Christians everywhere. It's a big statement. It may not sound humble, but every Christian, every church, every Christian organization that purports to be Christian has to in some way contact three distinct levels of Christian tradition, and they vary in significance. The one that we all agree on is the canonical tradition. It is a holy scripture. Let's make sure that our dear friends, with all due respect to my reading of of of Catholic history and Orthodox history. I do believe that the Protestant Reformation brought a tremendous corrective to what was really an error. They made it plain that all of our faith, the faith of our of our Lord Jesus, is rooted in Scripture and must always be based on and defended from Scripture. That is just. And so I qualify everything I say about tradition on that. The first incontrovertible level of Christian authority, the Christianity that is worth reproducing in urban America, must be rooted in the canonical tradition. It will always need biblical people in the Bible has to begin. It's the where we begin. It doesn't begin with charismatic gifts or methodologies or mythological principles or any sort of any of that. It begins with what is testified regarding Christ in the Scripture. Guys, this is where we're going to have to talk about, because I believe the next two are equally valid. But I do believe that the great tradition takes precedence even over our own specific tradition. I am going to I want to say that the Vincent of Lawrence was was a person who who has been credited with saying this statement that sort of sums up what the great tradition is.

The great tradition is what Christians have believed everywhere, always and by everybody. Now, that is a wonderful way of talking about the great tradition in Gaza when I am suggesting what I am going to suggest for the rest of our time, especially after lunch, is that the great tradition is the way back to our future. I am going to ask you as a Christian, to really consider what it means, given the canonical tradition for us to go back and to find out what Christians before the traditions began, before the split and the reformations and all of that, to see if there is a common root that we can really identify in that is therefore worthy of imitation and really replication. I'm going to say, because of the great diversity within the traditions that we have and we don't do this, the chances are nil to none that we'll be able to find something that we will we will agree on. At the bottom of page 73 is the definition I wish that you could memorize. It is Webber's definition of the great tradition. It's sometimes called the classical tradition. It's short, he said. Is it is the broad outline of Christian belief and practice developed from the scriptures between the time of Christ in the middle of the fifth century. That's an important thing. It's developed from the scriptures. Nothing in the first five centuries. It goes on critiqued. It's very important. Don't think that. I'm just saying that everything that the father said and the apologist said and the theologian said we should agree with, I absolutely disagree with that. I am Protestant in principle. If it does not align with the canonical scriptures, it has no business for us to look at. I don't care where it came from, it means nothing to me.

It has no authority in our assemblies if it cannot be proven. But given that if it can be shown from the scriptures, at least we should think about on page 74 guys, you should know that there is a tradition that is affirmed by Protestant theologians from ancient and modern. I gave you three quotes by John Calvin, who points to the creeds of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, and the fathers of which which have spiritual prudence. He really, honestly, the reformers. Luther and Calvin and Swing Lee did not want to just throw away the the the the apostolic fathers, the apologists and the theologians. In this sense, they dramatically were different from the Anabaptist leaders. Mental Simon's after after lunch. We're going to come and talk about that. There's a very significant error that Middle Simon's made to me because he was not listening, frankly, to the tradition. Dear friends, I don't have a right. I think I know as much Bible as anybody in this room. I have advanced degrees in the Bible. I can study it in the original. But, dear friends, I don't have a right to just come up with my own views on what the Bible say. With all due respect, I can't extradite myself into being my own authority. I can't. What if I interfere? I'll say this right before we break. Do you guys know who Carlton Pearson is? Carlton Pearson is a black fellow, very, very popular and frankly, was leader of a huge evangelical Pentecostal church of 10,000 members plus. He also is a fantastic gospel singer. I mean, he's got some killer albums. You know, he was just sort of brother. He was just well known, handsome, huge church. He was a protege of Oral Roberts and a deep Pentecostal and deeply evangelical.

Well, not too long ago, he actually, in his own meditation and study, came up with some opinions about the possibility of Hale. As a matter of fact, he came to a judgment that the Orthodox teaching regarding Hale, whatever you conceive that to be, did not exist. And he began to teach this as an evangelical from its pulpit in this megachurch, and he started teaching this. This is this made PBS news. This is this big. And, you know, Oral Roberts wrote him and said, dear brother, you can't be teaching that. You know, how can you just start teaching all of these things? I know. He said, I don't I don't feel good about God just consigning millions or 700 million Buddhas, over a billion Islamic people. There are hundreds of millions and millions of Hindus. You're going to just tell me that God is good, that these people are going, No, they're not going to. I don't believe in hell and everything. I mean, he just went on like that. Their friends, his elders kicked him out of the church. He he lost quite literally within a little bit of time. He lost all support. He was completely thrown out. I mean, Carlton Pearson was a and these were just ordinary Christians. Now, why wouldn't they let a brilliant communicator, a fine Christian evangelical person, stay in a pulpit that is an event of an independent church when in fact all he did was say, I don't see how God can send everyone to hell. They were Christians, I would argue. And you have no right to innovate on just what you think or what the Bible teaches. You don't. Dear friends, go into any of your settings. Let all the world impact staff right and start teaching things other than affirmation of faith.

I mean, really, honestly, just go ahead and sort of assert things that are not there. God is not trying. Just, you know, the T.D. Jakes is bordering just bordering on a sort of a model theistic understanding of God, a moralistic view of God. I'm just saying that just because you're popular and wonderful and will like doesn't mean you get to change what Christians have believed our whole life. So this is very important. This is absolutely important to those of us who are training leaders for the city. We are not beginning with your quiet time in the in working to the great movements of the earth. Come on, now. We need some more than that. We need to be rooted in something. Dear friends, I am convinced that this is one of the most important things for us. Thomas Oden and Philip Scharf all these great guys, they they acknowledge that there is a core dogma and a central faith that the church has had from the beginning that we have never disagreed with. Now, you know, what I was tempted to do is to give each of you a blank sheet of paper and then have you write everything you know to be in the great tradition. Do you think you could do that? Could you write as best as you could? What you think? Christians have always believed everywhere by all of them. What is it? Is it a thick list? A small list? It's a it's a small list. The Nicene Creed is it gives you a clue. You should make, you know, you should start blinking. But there is a core that Christians have always held to rob. This is really important for restored. It's important that we anchor ourselves in something that is so old, so ancient that no Christian of goodwill on earth would ever disagree with it.

Dear friends, this is really important. And candidly, I am convinced that this needs to not only be in the form of doctrine. It needs to be in form of our worship and our practice. And I will stop here so you can go wash your hands and eat that wonderful free lunch that we have. Time. Time? Oh, yeah. I will pray. I will pray. Okay. Does that give somebody a you know. Father. What can I say about my friends? Except that we are in an amazing way. We are part of the great tradition of Jesus of Nazareth. I really do believe that us here, we believe what Christians have believed from the beginning, and we are part of that. And we're we're about to sort of find out where we are on the map. Lord, I pray that you would give us grace as we continue our conversations. But before that, give us a great lunch and good, good fellowship and dialog. Lord, thank you for your mercy. Thank you for feeding our souls through Jesus of Nazareth. Now nourish our bodies and give us, give us grace and make the rest of this very short day profitable in your name. Amen.