3 Articles on TRADITIONED INNOVATION FROM DUKE UNIVERSITY “FAITH AND LEADERSHIP”
A way of thinking and being that holds the past and future in tension, not in opposition, is crucial to the growth and vitality of Christian institutions. L. Gregory Jones explains the phrase he coined.
Monday, January 19, 2009
The church is stuck in a war between “We’ve always done it that way” and “The future is about leading change.”
Consider worship. In response to those ritual fundamentalists who insisted that nothing (especially music) change, innovators created “contemporary” worship services. But those services became so unfamiliar that people now long for opportunities to sing the “old familiar” contemporary songs, such as “Lord, I Lift your Name on High.”
In businesses and other organizations, including Christian ones, the traditionalists are so stuck in their ways that they drive reasonable people toward change for its own sake. People obsessed with change create such chaos that reasonable people long for some form of stability. And so the pendulum swings between traditionalist strategies and innovative ones, causing organizations and leaders, people and cultures, to suffer.
It is a return to Christian thinking that offers the best way forward.
A colleague and friend who studies social entrepreneurship helped me come to this conclusion. He wondered why, over the course of the last couple of centuries in America, the best socially entrepreneurial organizations had consistently been faith-based, especially if they developed significant scale and scope. He had in mind organizations such as Goodwill, Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity. He was thinking of faith-based hospitals, schools and, more recently, hospice organizations. Only in the last 25 years, he noted, had social entrepreneurship become relatively secular. What has happened in the church?
His question got me reading about social entrepreneurship, a relatively new area of scholarship and study in business schools. Amid a lot of ideas that had Christian resonance, I was struck by an emerging debate about “newness.” Can an existing organization do social entrepreneurship, or does it always require a new structure? It seemed to be a misplaced debate to me -- after all, Christian organizations and churches have long engaged in innovation within our existing structures. We have typically called it bearing witness to the Holy Spirit, the One who is “making all things new.”
Christian leaders are called to a particular type of social entrepreneurship -- one that does not force us to choose preserving tradition or leading change, but thinking about them together. We are called to “traditioned innovation” as a pattern of thinking, bearing witness to the Holy Spirit who is conforming us to Christ. I asked a New Testament scholar what came to mind when he heard that phrase. He said, “The New Testament. Indeed, the whole of Scripture.” The best way to interpret the book of Acts, or Paul’s account of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians, is a process of discernment rooted in traditioned innovation. How do we integrate the transformative work of Christ into our ongoing identity as the people of God rooted in biblical Israel’s calling?
In our thinking as well as our living, we are oriented toward our end, our telos: bearing witness to the reign of God. That is what compels innovation. But our end is also our beginning, because we are called to bear witness to the redemptive work of Christ who is the Word that created the world. We are the carriers of that which has gone before us so we can bear witness faithfully to the future.
Tradition is fundamentally different from traditionalism. Jaroslav Pelikan, in “The Vindication of Tradition,” characterized the difference when he wrote, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” People who bear a tradition are called to be relentlessly innovative in ways that preserve the life-giving character of the tradition.
We need not rely only on patterns within Scripture, or even the practices of the church, however, to appreciate the significance of traditioned innovation as a way of thinking. Biologists such as Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, in their “The Plausibility of Life,” have compellingly argued that organisms must preserve significant features of their processes while changing others. A great surprise of modern biology, they suggest, has been how important conservation is to the process of adaptive change.
So also with institutions. We do not need radical change. The task of transformative leadership is not simply to “lead change.” Transformative leaders know what to preserve as well as what to change. We need to conserve wisdom even as we explore risk-taking mission and service. Too much change creates chaos. Transformative change, rooted in tradition and the preservation of wisdom, cultivates the adaptive work that is crucial to the ongoing vitality and growth of any organism, Christian institutions included.
Sometimes that will mean we innovate within existing institutions; at other times we will allow some forms to die so that other ones can rise up in their place. And at still other times we will give birth to new forms to address challenges and opportunities. But even our most dramatic transformations ought to be tethered to our most life-giving past.
There are few things we have “always” done in any particular way, and there are even fewer things that we want “always” to change. Perhaps we can do better than a cease-fire in these culture wars. Instead, transformative leaders should adopt traditioned innovation as a pattern of thinking that will help cultivate thriving communities. It would be a welcome change.
by: L. Gregory Jones
Dean, Duke Divinity School
Understanding the New Testament requires grounding in the tradition of the Old Testament. The book of Leviticus and the Sermon on the Mount illustrate that the New is the fulfillment of the Old, writes C. Kavin Rowe.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Few ideas are more incorrect in popular Christian thinking than the belief that the New Testament essentially renders the Old Testament unnecessary. To be sure, it’s not usually said straight out like this. But one nevertheless can see it clearly in the common idea that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different from the God of the New (wrath vs. grace), or in vague charges of legalism slung at those who try to obey some of the Old Testament commandments, or -- most prominently -- in the overall failure of Christian churches to read and preach from the Old Testament on a regular basis.
In a way, these problems are understandable. Reading the Old Testament is hard work for Christians. And many leaders have much else on their plate. Still, it is literally inconceivable that the New Testament can be well understood without the Old, or that Christians could develop the depth of theological leadership we need without understanding the most basic relation between the Old and New Testaments. The New depends upon the theological traditions of the Old for its innovation. The innovation, that is to say, is not against its preceding tradition but is a fulfillment of that tradition -- even as it reorganizes the tradition’s theological purpose around the person of Jesus Christ.
Of the manifold ways in which we could show how traditioned innovation names well the relation of the Old and New Testaments, we will focus on only two: the book of Leviticus and the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.
First, Leviticus: Contrary to our initial impressions of an overly precise or even burdensome legal code, the book of Leviticus is at its heart missionary theology. It displays the intricate patterns of life that constitute the Jewish people, that mark them off from the non-Jews and, therefore, allow them to witness by their practices to their election by the God of Israel. Leviticus was, in short, a gift from God to shape the Jews into his people.
To realize that Leviticus was the fundament of Jewish practice and not casuistic prattle -- as so many Christians now cannot help but to take it -- is to become astonished at the almost complete absence of these kind of legal regulations in the New Testament, most especially those concerning the sacrificial cult (such as the different kinds of sacrifices we need to make, when to make them, with what animals and for what sins). Indeed, with the exception of the theology of Hebrews, and aside from a few oblique references to sacrifice, the entire sacrificial cult is missing from the pages of the New Testament. On one level, of course, the New Testament authors simply assumed the importance of the Temple and its practices, as did Jesus himself (think, for example, of the beginning and end of the Gospel of Luke where there is a marked emphasis on the Jerusalem Temple). On another level, however, Jesus’ death is interpreted as the “once for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10), thereby implying that the entire cult was in a sense oriented toward this one death. Sin offerings no longer are necessary because, as the Gospel of John puts it, Jesus is the Lamb whose death takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
On the face of it, there is nothing in the intricacies of Leviticus, or anywhere else in the vast sprawl of the Old Testament, that could prepare for this. It is, quite simply, new.
Moreover, in Pauline theology and elsewhere in the New Testament (such as the book of Acts), the practice of the Law (Torah) no longer constitutes the primary socio-political or cultural boundary marker between Jews and non-Jews. Rather, being a disciple of Jesus Christ -- which of course entails joining the community that takes his name -- is the requisite criterion that now marks the people of God. Thus, in a twofold and profound sense, Jesus radically exceeds the Old Testament’s immediate theological range envisioned by the practice of Torah.
And yet the New Testament also claims that Jesus fulfills the Law and that there is no fundamental break with Jewish tradition. The transformation of Torah hence is tied more deeply to a unity in the purpose of God: to create a people who would be the light to the nations and thereby provoke them to worship the one true God. The same divine purpose that was at work in the giving of Leviticus has crystallized in Jesus. He is, as Luke formulates it both in his Gospel and in Acts, the light to the Gentiles. In Jesus Christ and the community that is gathered around its devotion to him, the moment for which Torah was given and exists has arrived. Jesus Christ, as Paul says, is the telos of the Law (Romans 10:4). In this case, drastic innovation discloses the inner logic and fullness of tradition.
Second, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): It is often thought that the six antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount provide examples of Jesus’ opposition to the Jewish law. In this common reading, “You have heard it said” is the tradition from which Jesus’ innovative “But I say to you” cleanly breaks. But this is simply false. It was not against the Law to require more than the Law itself required. In fact, nothing Jesus says runs contrary to the Torah in its written or oral traditions. What then is he doing? Matthew tells us explicitly just prior to the antitheses: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The antitheses, then, actually are instances of fulfillment of the Law.
Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is paradigmatic for thinking about the link between a living tradition and the innovation necessary to keep it alive. Jesus discerned that the existing tradition (“you have heard it said”) was insufficient to the task at hand; the time had changed and the tradition as it presently stood no longer resulted in the formation of “righteous” people (“righteous/ness” is shorthand in Matthew for a life of discipleship in the kingdom; 5:20). What was needed in this new time -- the “Kingdom of Heaven” in Matthean parlance -- was a move into a more radical mode of life. Only so could the tradition stay in step with the telos to which it was oriented: thus “fulfillment” in Matthew means the way in which Jesus innovatively and faithfully extends Jewish tradition to accord with the change of the times -- the advent of the Kingdom of Heaven.
By being both innovative and faithful to tradition, we follow the pattern of the creating and redeeming God of Scripture, writes C. Kavin Rowe.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Churches, schools, businesses, families -- all areas of human life -- face the question of how to live toward the future in light of the past. Leaders will live out their answer to this question by the way they conceive of the world. Inevitably some will say “everything must change” and others, that “things ought to be done as they always have been.” But neither is a real or even desirable option, for the world in which these pronouncements make sense does not exist.
Considered theologically, the future and the past belong together, tradition and innovation hand in hand. Traditioned innovation is a way of thinking and living that points toward the future in light of the past, a habit of being that requires both a deep fidelity to the tradition that has borne us to the present and a radical openness to the innovations that will carry us forward. Traditioned innovation names an inner-biblical way of thinking theologically about the texture of human life in the context of God’s gracious and redemptive self-disclosure.
The Bible is a vast, sprawling book replete with countless winding trails. Navigating its story is best done with a compass whose points are creation, fall, election, redemption and consummation -- the theological framework in which traditioned innovation gets its meaning.
Creation: Creation is the original innovation. God begins the world’s life out of nothing. Creation is thus the moment of givenness, that which provides the “tradition” upon which all human innovation is founded and dependent -- the giving of life by God. We cannot make ourselves. In the face of modern claims to self-autonomy, self-made people, radical freedom from limits and the like, the book of Genesis lays bare the fact that we are always preceded. All human endeavors enter the world in a context of a fundamentally prior reality. In this sense, failure to attend to the traditions that come before us and shape us is a failure to acknowledge the depth of our dependency as created beings.
The flight from givenness inevitably involves wreckage because it wipes away an essential feature of what it means to be human. The attempt at “pure innovation,” the doing away with all tradition, is ultimately an inhuman and impossible endeavor, one that shapes its practitioners and victims alike into something far less than human beings were created to be. Pure innovation simultaneously negates the givenness that underwrites human existence as such -- the fact that we are here at all, rather than not -- and the ethical demand of this givenness: the need to recognize our historically and materially deep ties to all created life. From first to last, human beings are tradition-dependent.
Fall: The narrative in Genesis of the fall powerfully illustrates that the givenness of creation is no longer simply good. It has become fractured by our refusal to acknowledge our ultimate dependency on the world God made and our attempt to become self-made creatures -- as the Bible puts it, “to know as God knows.” Recognizing the destruction that occurs when we deny our embeddedness in created life should cause us to be wary of attempts to dispense with everything in the past (regardless of the particular shape or kind of institution). “Everything” cannot change. We cannot rid ourselves of the world.
And yet, the fall also points directly to the necessity of innovation. Tradition is no longer sufficiently sustaining in itself. We cannot simply declare, in imitation of God’s view of original creation, “this is good.” And, therefore, we cannot fully rest. We must toil and move on. The character of fallen creation forces us to improvise, to try to move again within the goodness of God’s originating purpose. Innovation thus becomes a necessary way of life in a world of sin and shortcoming, of brokenness and the need for new life. Adam and Eve must make their way outside the garden.
Election: The election of Abraham illustrates paradigmatically how God responds to the way we have marred the goodness of the gift. Instead of destroying his creation, we can see God’s overarching response in the Old Testament in the calling of a people whose vocation is at once to embody the enduring goodness of the gift and to testify to the universal need for redemption. God does not, that is, simply scrap the world and make it all over again. Rather, God innovates. He responds to the brokenness of the world with a creative, new act -- indeed, one that could not, at least on the face of it, have been anticipated from the primeval history in Genesis.
This divine pattern of innovation on the basis of tradition is repeated throughout the Old Testament, perhaps most apparently in the giving of the Torah (Law). The Torah is the defining feature of Israel’s life. Israel would be indistinguishable from the nations without it. But this does not mean that the Law was seen as a static deposit of rules -- a kind of inflexible, unworkable and ultimately unlivable way of life. To the contrary, the mere existence of the book of Deuteronomy -- the name literally means the “second law” -- presses the point that to know the Law rightly is to grasp its fecundity for new situations. The Torah is living tradition. As even the author of Lamentations might have put it, the Law is not only tradition from of old. It is also new every morning.
Redemption: To think about redemption in the biblical sense is to see that this divine pattern of “newness without completely throwing away the old” culminates in Jesus Christ. According to the New Testament, God recreates the world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Those who live in the pattern of life made possible by this death and resurrection participate most fully in the newness of the world. Whoever is in Christ, says Paul, is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Christ, that is, the innovation of God is at its peak. In Christ, he remakes the foundations of human life in the very midst of the ongoing, long-running and everyday traditions of the world.
Yet the discontinuity -- the creation of a new world -- includes, rather than excludes, a continuity with what preceded Jesus. The Law and the Prophets testify to the coming of the Christ, even as that coming itself provides a new foundation on which the life promised by the Law and Prophets ultimately depends. Christ is not the “end (telos) of the Law” (Romans 10:4) in the sense of terminating it or displacing its reality, but is instead the deepest purpose or goal (telos) of the Law, that toward which it points or strives. In short, new creation does not abrogate the old but takes it up inside the new and in so doing remakes it. Tradition literally is made new on the basis of God’s innovation.
Focusing on redemption thus discloses a productive tension that marks all life until the end. To remain in what is already known of the tradition is to refuse the priority of new creation; and yet, that which is new includes the old. Radical innovation? Yes. Radical continuity with tradition? Yes.
Consummation: Consummation points to the hope that creation and redemption will finally coincide, that the world’s traditions will, as it were, catch up with the reality of a cosmos remade -- that God’s founding innovation and tradition will be one with his most radical innovation in Jesus Christ.
Thinking about traditioned innovation in light of the hope of consummation shows that tradition and innovation are not finally two different ways of being in the world. They are instead a helpful way to speak about the fundamental manner in which the Triune God graciously relates to the world he made and to which, in the face of its profound brokenness, he remains everlastingly committed -- anew. We cannot think, therefore, that tradition and innovation are opposites. In the Bible, tradition and innovation are realities of our common human life, inseparable aspects of participating in the world God made and is redeeming. Tradition and innovation go together in the divine purpose that leads toward the final restoration of God’s good creation.
To the extent that we both remain faithful to tradition and innovate -- even radically -- we will follow the pattern of the creating and redeeming God of Scripture, and will, therefore, flourish. This is not to say that the flourishing of human life will be apparent immediately to us in the present. After all, flourishing in the biblical sense is frequently counterintuitive. Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert, Moses never made it to the promised land and Jesus was killed -- to take only a few striking examples. But it is to say that the underlying and ultimate purpose to which our lives will be oriented will be in harmony with the work of the God of the Bible.