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Truth and Tradition

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series

"Preserving the Truth in our Worship"

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I have argued thus far that successful preservation of the truth necessitates that what is preserved is the doctrinal affirmations and the proper imagination of such affirmations, and I have suggested that the primary way in which this imaginative aspect is persevered is through conserving the Bible’s aesthetic forms in our worship.

Culture and Imagination

To speak of art forms is to speak of culture, so what I am suggesting is the preservation of certain cultural forms as essential to the preservation of truth. Such an assertion that some cultural expressions are better than others may sound elitist until we remember that culture is never created in a vacuum. Culture, according to Roger Scruton, is “a shared spiritual force which is manifest in all the customs, beliefs and practices of a people”; it is “a demonstration of a belief system.”1 This follows closely T. S. Elliot’s classic argument that “no culture can appear or develop except in relation to a religion.”2  Cultural forms are nurtured in value systems as ways of expressing those values. In terms of our current discussion, art forms are products of human imagination intended to propagate that particular imagination. Mark Snoeberger explains the difference between a culture nurtured by Christian imagination and one formed by pagan values: “There are two worldviews among humans, the Christian worldview (which produces Christian culture) and the non-Christian (pagan) worldview (which produces pagan culture).”3

All cultural forms are built upon what has come before; no one creates culture ex nihilo. No one “invents” cultural expressions, artistic forms, rituals, liturgies, customs, languages, or styles out of nothing. Every human being builds upon what has come before him, and we call what has come before “tradition.” Tradition is not a bad thing; it is inevitable.

A cultural expression is like a building. No one has even built a house without first receiving instruction from someone else. This instruction may have come in the form of an apprenticeship, a blueprint, a textbook, or at very least an observation of a house itself. But no one decides one day to build a house without having ever been told how a house works or at least discovering himself how a house works from studying a completed house. Tradition is that blueprint from which culture emerges.

After we have come to understand a given tradition, we may do one of three things with it: 1) We may simply continue to use the tradition; 2) We may nurture and further cultivate the tradition; or 3) We may reject the tradition altogether and create something completely different. But even with the latter, we have begun with a tradition in the creation of something new.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Roger Scruton, Modern Culture (New York: Continuum, 2005), 1, 286. []
  2. T. S. Elliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1949), 100. []
  3. Mark A. Snoeberger, “Noetic Sin, Neutrality, and Contextualization How Culture Receives the Gospel,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 9, no. (2004): 349. Snoeberger is basically summarizing the presuppositionalist definition of worldview as articulated by Greg Bahnsen. []

2 Responses to Truth and Tradition

  1. Regarding the so-called cultural elitism– in my experience, at least, everyone, in practice, ranks cultural expressions. Certain genres of movies (which, in part are identified by sharing use of particular techniques) are generally regarded as "lower". And no one (or very few) look to fast food (most certainly the expression of a value) of as any sort of culinary excellence. But when it comes to church . . .

  2. Yes we see levels of preference and ranks of pleasure, but do we ever attempt to equate those rankings of cultural expressions with morality in realms other than in church?

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