success stories

Posted April 6, 2004

Book: Living on the Borders: What the Church Can Learn From Ethnic Immigrant Cultures
Authors: Mark Griffin and Theron Walker
Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI, pp.207

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The church, like many ethnic immigrants, has been thrown into the “melting pot” that is America. To some this melting pot is a place where different cultures and races merge to form an integrated society, but Mark Griffin and Theron Walker argue that it’s a place where communal traditions are traded in for consumer choices. The result is a homogeneous culture of consumption.

As fellow ingredients of this melting pot, Christians have much to learn from ethnic immigrants about what it means to be outsiders. Bringing to light the work of some of America’s finest first and second-generation immigrant writers, the authors show that life on the boarders of the ghetto and the culture of consumption promises freedom, peace and justice.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Resurgence of Tradition

In recent years, even as the “Teflon God” has grown in popularity, a growing number of philosophers, scientists, and theologians have asked deeply critical questions of what modernity has taken as “self-revealed” truth. “Give me where to stand, and I will move the earth,” said Archimedes. These intellectuals have argued in one way or another that there is no place to stand where objective, universal knowledge can be had. Post-modernism, ironically perhaps — and often in spite of itself — has unbound tradition.

Jarosalv Pelikan’s 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, “The Vindication of Tradition,” is an elegant argument. Pelikan is a historian of Christian theology. He begins his lecture with a reflection on Fiddler on the Roof. The musical, he says, illustrates one reason why the task of teaching has become increasingly difficult. Students are not schooled in the intellectual tradition of our culture. They are the product of a “tradition” that disavows tradition; but it is meaningless to teach them to disavow a tradition they know nothing of. Ironically, the rediscovery of tradition has happened among the unlikeliest of groups — secular academics:

“These past several decades may have been a period during which the home, the community, the school, and the church have all declined gravely in their ability (or willingness) to transmit one or another constituent element of the tradition. But those very same years have also been a period in which humanistic scholarship in various fields has been rediscovering “tradition.”

. . .The concept of tradition is an essential navigational tool. We keep our bearings in life by telling stories of our origins, by going back to the beginning and mining those foundational tales for today. When traditions do not grow and respond to circumstances, they become the stuff of taboo and superstition. Living traditions, Christianity included, do either change or die. If, however, they cut loose from the past to change into something utterly different, if their adherents accept another “paradigm” such as “experiential expressivism” for Christianity, they are like an uprooted tree, cut off from their life source, doomed.

Tradition should be understood as a kind of vine. As it grows, it must be looped back and tied into the primary vines. For Christians, the choice is not between Scripture and tradition or between the hoary past and the rational present. The choice is between faithful and unfaithful traditioning. They must continually ask themselves, Does this change bear fruit of righteousness? Does this change honor “the commandment of God” or the “traditions of men?”

Traditions must be taken on by each new generation to remain living; they must be passed on. Disciples of any tradition must truly inherit the wealth of their ancestors. They must own and invest and risk and pass on. As Goethe wrote, “What you have as heritage, take now as task; for thus you will make it your own!” Irenaeus said of the faith, “We do preserve, and it always, by the Spirit of God, renews its youth.” Or, as Newbigin writes to a Christian audience:

But if the parents and teachers are wise, they know that their work is not truly done until the child has reached the point where he or she can say, “Now I see for myself. Now I know the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”

Table of Contents:

1. Of triumphs without fiestas

2. Tradition

3. Of hyphens and burned bridges

4. Traditional communities and the Church as Communion

5. Galilee meets Aztlan

6. Of fiestas and Eucharistic animals