Venturing Out into the Past
Sometimes evangelicals view church history as though our main tradition is the last five hundred years—that’s Protestant history. Then you might make a second, more tentative step into the previous fifteen hundred years of church history.
With that, it’s sort of like Protestant theology is the castle that you live in. These are the people that you see everyday, and then occasionally, you might lower the drawbridge and go out and explore in the forest surrounding the castle, and engage with the theology of the early church or the medieval church.
All of Church History
One of the things that has encouraged me to adopt a more inclusive attitude toward church history is the way the Reformers thought of church history. They didn’t think of themselves as starting a new tradition. They not only drew from the early church, but they cast their whole effort of reforming the church in terms of going back to the purity of the early church.
All two thousand years of church history can be your theological community.
At one point Calvin said, “All we’re trying to do is go back to the purity of the fourth century.” So I think being a Protestant doesn’t mean you have to only view one portion of church history as your tradition and reject the others. I think what it means is that you have Scripture over you as your authority for all of church history, including Protestant church history. But all two thousand years of church history can be your theological community, and you can draw from the entire tradition.
Gavin Ortlund is the author of Theological Retrieval: Why We Need Our Past to Have a Future.
Theological retrieval is a way to draw attention to things that you were assuming that you didn’t even know that you assumed.
When Bavinck lived in the early twentieth century, he believed there was “a disharmony between our thinking and feeling, between our willing and acting” and “a discord between religion and culture, between science and life.”