This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2005 vol. 162 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Interrupting Tradition: An Essay on Christian Faith in a Postmodern ContextWm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids June 30, 2003
Boene is professor of fundamental theology in the Faculty of Theology, Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium. This work, originally written in Dutch, encourages theologians today “to engage yet again in theology’s age-old project of fides quaerens intellectum, ‘faith seeking understanding’ ” (p. 1). This is particularly important today since, in his view, “an ever-increasing gulf exists between contemporary culture and the Christian faith” (p. 6, italics his). How can the church pass on the Christian faith to the next generation? How does postmodernity impact this task? How should the church respond to contemporary culture? Does church history provide any insights into how to do this? Boene is a Roman Catholic theologian and a Western European. Does he have anything to teach American Protestant evangelicals? This reviewer believes he does.
In the first part of the book Boene briefly explains the value of tradition as a means of passing on to the next generation the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. He concludes, “There is no Christian faith or Christian community outside the framework of the Christian tradition” (p. 20). Boene criticizes two common attempts the contemporary church has used. In the pluralistic context of postmodernity some Christians have attempted to adopt an approach in which the claims of Christianity are seen in contrast to science and philosophy. Others have employed a modernizing approach which seeks points of context with the claims of modernity. “Both positions are at fault because they each adhere to only one single pole of the relationship with tradition” (p. 49, italics his). He proposes a method that he calls “open narrative.” In this approach the Christian tradition “is both conscious of its own historicity, contingency and particularity, and perceives of its own meaning and truth claims in relation to the claims of other narratives” (p. 61). In short this approach recognizes the continuity in the Christian tradition without rejecting the insights of science, philosophy, and other disciplines.
In the second part Boene shows how the development of the Christian tradition occurred in the context of heresies and other deviations from orthodoxy. His claim that “in the history of tradition there is not continuity without discontinuity” (p. 103) seems accurate. When he calls for dialogue with other views in order to clarify and articulate Christian truth, this points to the need to contextualize the truth of Christianity in contemporary cultures.
In the third part Boene provides his approach to recontextualizing the Christian tradition in a pluralistic postmodern world. “Every context gives rise to new opportunities to recontextualize the Christian faith, in spite of the dangers that such a process must involve. Our so-called postmodern context is no less such an opportunity” (p. 162).
Most evangelicals will find Boene’s approach too sympathetic toward the possibility of salvation outside the Christian tradition, too appreciative of the value of interreligious dialogue in pursuit of truth, and too limited in its connection to biblical exegesis. Yet one can affirm Boene’s commitment to the Christian tradition, his appreciation of the value of science and other disciplines as a means of understanding the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and his passion to communicate the truth of Christianity in contemporary culture. Boene’s critical evaluation of contemporary culture is helpful as is his assessment of several inadequate “modern” Christian responses. Reading this book provides a more global perspective on the theological task and introduces readers to the vast non-English literature on the subject. Although the cost of the book and its “non-American” context likely limit its influence, those who desire to relate the gospel and Christianity in a variety of cultures would be well served by this book. It must be read with discernment and care, but a number of Boene’s insights are worth the effort.
—Glenn R. Kreider