The future of traditions

I heard Stephen Fowl (Loyola University) present a paper at the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting entitled, “Effective-History and the cultivation of Wise Interpreters.”

In interacting with Hans-Georg Gadamer and Alisdair MacIntyre he asserted (I’m paraphrasing based on my notes): traditions may decline when the arguments used to sustain them are too diffuse for a single tradition to exist.


I can’t remember whether this observation came from Gadamer, MacIntyre, or Fowl himself. However, it struck be as quite apropos to our current moment in the mainline churches. I am convinced that we will soon, if we have not yet, reached a position where our sustaining (defining) arguments are now too diffuse to really be a single tradition–presbyterianism, anglicanism, etc. We can only now only refer to presbyterianisms, anglicanisms. These rival versions of the same tradition are sometimes expressed in parallel denominations, sometimes in the same.

Assuming this assessment is accurate. The question becomes: how can we evaluate whether it is better to remain a single, broad tradition or differentiate?

If Gadamer/MacIntyre/Fowl are to be believed there will come a time when this decision is made for us by the incoherency of our rival arguments that define/shape/form us as a tradition become so broad/diffuse/disparate that they are not recognizable to others in the same tradition as true.

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