Treasures New and Old : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
It’s a common phenomena. At one time or another we have all probably done it. We read a book. We attend a conference. We listen to a podcast. We watch a TED talk. Then, we feel compelled to share and teach others what we have just learned. Moreover, we don’t merely teach and share… we evangelize on the basis of our newly acquired knowledge. Even our vocabulary changes. Having attended a conference on systemic racism, every third sentence starts with a comment about “white privilege”. Listening to a really great podcast about the place of women in the Church, our conversation is peppered with references to “patriarchy”. Having read a book on Christians and their relationship to government, we now refer to governmental structures as “empire”.
Admittedly, this phenomenon is born out of enthusiasm. It is similar to what we commonly refer to as the “zeal of the convert”. This is also something that most of us have witnessed for ourselves. A friend becomes a Roman Catholic. We rejoice with him or her in their new found faith. Suddenly, however, we witness our friend becoming “more Catholic than the Pope”! They consider the Mass said in English to be tainted by Protestant ideas. They will only attend a Latin Mass, preferably with all of the pre-Vatican II ceremonial. Not content with simply invoking the saints, they inform you about their special devotion to saints whose names you have never heard. The minutiae of Roman Catholic faith and practice becomes their specialty.
This, of course, is not limited to Roman Catholic converts. It extends to Lutherans, the Orthodox, Methodists, Evangelicals of varying stripes, Calvinists and, yes, to Anglicans as well. Happily, most (but by no means not all) grow out of this initial zeal. In time, most will moderate and begin to integrate their pre-conversion experiences and learning into their new found faith. This is not suggesting any diminution of their faith. Instead, they seem to have understood on a personal basis that, “…every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old”. I believe such integration is essential. Indeed, it is a part of who I am.
I started my faith journey as an evangelical. I have worked with and around Congregationalists, Confessional Lutherans, Orthodox and Roman Catholics. I have even read a good bit of Calvin and Calvinist theologians, although I felt little attraction to that tradition. I believe that all of these experiences and all of these influences make me a better Anglican. Let me explain.
It is a common mistake to regard the Anglican 39 Articles as a confession of faith, similar in some way to the Book of Concord or the Westminster Confession. In actuality, the 39 Articles are a guide to the manner in which Anglicans are to “do theology”. It is interesting that Anglicans often refer to themselves as the via media, or “the middle way”. It is also of interest that the term via media appears nowhere in the 39 Articles or The Book of Common Prayer. Moreover, the meaning of the term has changed through the centuries. Originally, Anglicans considered themselves a “middle way” between the Calvinists and the Lutherans, or as a “middle way” between Roman Catholicism and the continental Reformers. Yet others, however, regard it as the “via media based upon the sound triumvirate of scripture, reason and tradition”. By the nineteenth century, Anglo-Catholics regarded Anglicanism as the via media between all Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
Now, while this is the background, it misses the point. I think the via media is about integration of new and sometimes divergent views. The 39 Articles place the truths of the Reformation, newly discovered on the continent and in England, and places those truths within the context of history (tradition), scripture and reason, while carefully avoiding over defining those truths. They include and integrate many influences – Rome, Lutherans, Calvinists and, of course, Anglicans. The articles incorporate much more than they reject. They are not primarily caught up with defining exactitude of belief (outside of the Creeds). As Elizabeth I commented, she did not desire a “window into men’s souls”. It is the incorporation and integration of the “new” with the “old” and, occasionally, the divergent, that is the hallmark of the way in which the 39 Articles inform us as how to do theology.
As I indicated in the beginning of this article, we are often confronted with new knowledge and experiences. The temptation is to turn such knowledge, or experiences, into our new “hobby horse” assailing all and sundry with our newly acquired acumen. Too often, we teach before we learn. Indeed, I know many pastors and teachers that I could literally trace their trajectory as they moved from one new enthusiasm, to the next, and to the next… To really do theology, we might consider taking that new enthusiasm and consider how we might integrate it into something larger, something more vital. How does it relate to Scripture? How does is relate to history and tradition? Does it make sense? If not, why not? This may mean waiting and studying a bit before sharing your next “new thing”. Yet, it might also lead you to discover more than you might imagine… treasures new and old.