What is "Traditional" any ways?

A poster on facebook raises some interesting questions about the meaning of “traditional.” Historical theology is central to the GAE, especially in studying the doctrine of monogenesis. What I propose in the book is not a revision of traditional understanding of Adam and Eve, but a recovery of traditional views.

Some people object to this, using instead a misnomered definition of “traditional” instead.

“The “traditional” view, according to many conservative American Christians, is not what the patristics or other “enlightened,” educated, nuanced historic Christian thinkers envisioned…We should, however, understand that this view is relatively new and its formulation was a direct response critical scholarship, certain discoveries in archaeology, and the theory of evolution in the mid to late 19th century. That tradition is what people in this country think of when they think of Adam and Eve.”

That might be true. But this understanding of"traditional" is not really traditional, as it is not derived from historical theology in the Church. There seems to be two approaches to this mislabeling of views:

  1. Accept a colloquial and misnomered definition of “traditional” even though it isn’t even the traditional view.

  2. Reclaim and recover a historically grounded definition and understanding of “traditional.”

Someone taking the first approach would agree with Ken Ham that his position is “traditional.” Someone taking the second approach would dispute him in this, explaining instead the actual traditional positions of the Church over the last couple thousand years.

I take the second approach, because I think (actual) Church tradition is important. Understanding the actual traditional view is part of how I left YEC so many years ago.

What do approach do you think is best? Why?


I think the problem is that many evangelicals do not have a clear framework in which to understand what “Church tradition” is. Many evangelicals emphasize only the Bible, sometimes to the point that we should be able to glean all important truths directly from the text itself without any reference to tradition and history significantly affecting their hermeneutics. This is why people often talk about the “plain meaning” of the text.

In contrast, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and confessional Protestants (Lutheran or Reformed) tend to have a more clearly defined idea of how to approach tradition and historical theology. This is important as tradition is not always unified on various theological issues, especially secondary ones. For example, Gregory of Nyssa believed in the eventual universal salvation of all humankind. Does that mean that universalism is also a “traditional” view? We want to be “historically grounded”, but there are several available lenses with which to interpret that history.

What is your approach to tradition, especially on a second-order issue like this?


Well, you’ve read one version of the book, and the section on monogenesis and polygenesis is a great example of how I navigate that question. The final version of the book (have you seen it yet?) includes a whole new chapter explaining how I think about this question too. :slight_smile:

From the OP,

Traditional, it seems obvious to me, has to be recovered in some way from historical theology. I mean to engage in that long conversation of theology, stretching back decades, centuries, and millennia, not dismissing the concerns of those that hold the testimony of the Church in history.

This is what a historian wrote on facebook:

I think your definition #2 is on target, and frankly to my mind is hardly even open to debate. With all due respect to YEC positions, while they are certainly represented through the tradition the idea that Genesis represents a scientific account and all of the assumptions surrounding that are incredibly new, indeed taking off only in the 1940’s and later. Not even William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Trial was young earth. If one mentioned the term “creationist” in the 19th century, for example, it would conjure images of a debate about whether the soul is created at conception directly by God, or whether it was passed down by the parents (traducianism), not creation vs. evolution. Indeed, in the 19th century the hullabaloo over Darwin (itself very misrepresented and misunderstood) was more about whether it demanded an ontologically naturalistic understanding such as that of Huxley, or whether it was an account of God’s providential action in the world (which even through varying editions of the Origin was Darwin’s opinion). I think that your position is absolutely going to be a retrieval rather than a revision of the tradition, which is a broad church so to speak.


I agree traditional is not a accurate descrition of conclusions in these matters. i guess there once, after christ, a single conclusion but there have been many since.

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