“The swashbuckling confidence of writers such as Pinnock and Wenham – a confidence not unfairly reprobated by Carson as ‘intemperate’ – is only rarely to be found.” – Colin Sedgwick
Part of this apparent “swashbuckling” is, frankly, the use of such terms as “traditionalist”. While in your typical evangelical circles, there will be hardly any eyebrows raised over the use of that term, in Reformed circles, it’s tantamount to being accused of Romanism. Why? Because of the “three-legged stool” of Roman authority. Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium (or the Church, or Papal authority). Essentially, this title seems to convey that we are putting tradition above, or at least equal to, Scripture. At varying places, either the “leg” of Roman tradition or magisterial declarations are, in fact, put over Scripture; that’s sort of the point of most of the Protestant objections to Romanism! Yet, interminably (especially after a 3 hour stretch of listening to 3 conditionalists speak on the subject of Hell) we hear them calling us “traditionalists”. I really shouldn’t even have to say this – but as a Reformed guy, this really tends to get my dander up, in short order.
As someone Reformed, we believe anything we believe on the basis of Sola Scriptura. If, like a good Protestant, they’d like to admit that the proper use of “tradition” in Scripture is “that which was taught by the apostles, and is recorded for us in Scripture”, sure, I’d love to be called a traditionalist. Mostly, because that would mean they admit I’m right. However, they quite obviously don’t intend to concede the debate to us. Thus, the pejorative term “traditionalist”. I don’t believe in the doctrine of Hell as put forth in the Scripture, recorded in our confessions, and that I teach my children in their catechism, because of tradition. Not unless they’re willing to admit that this is what is taught in the Scriptures, at least. In that sense, sure! 2 Thessalonians 3:6 tells us of the proper sense of “tradition” – “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.” The tradition there is “paradosis” – the “giving over of instruction.” Likewise, we see a similar instruction given in 1 Cor 11:2 – “Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.” In both cases, it is tradition given over to them by the apostles – the same who wrote the Scripture we’re examining. Scripturally, properly held tradition is Biblical, and is passed along by Biblical teachers, from God’s Word.
Scripture also tells us of the tradition which is not proper; In Matthew 15:3 – “And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” Here, we see Christ rebuking the Pharisees who are rebuking Him out of their tradition. In Col 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Paul is warning against captivity to deception, in accordance with the traditions of whom? Of men. To be quite honest with you, it rather chaps my hide to hear them glibly throwing out “traditionalist” as they wax eloquently on about something Scripture expressly forbids – and advancing a sort of traditionalism of their own – because I’m not going to admit that they’re getting what they teach out of Scripture. Why do I say that it’s traditionalism? It’s not very hard to figure out.
What were the principal theological distinctives of the Sadducees? For one, the denial of the resurrection of the dead. Sure, they denied the whole enchilada – not just the eternal punishment of the dead (in any meaningful sense – I have yet to see any meaningful sense of “punishment” and “eternal” in concert given by any conditionalist proponent) – but why not blame the Sadducees for the “tradition” of the conditionalists, at least partially, since we get accused of holding to tradition in lieu of Scripture? I mean, we get blamed for getting our belief in the “natural immortality of the soul” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) from Platonic idealism, so why not? For that matter, why don’t we blame their position (and the physicalists along with them, for good measure!) on the Epicureans? If we get stuck with Plato’s idealism, we may as well stick them with Epicurean materialism, and call it a raw deal all around!
In short – I don’t really think that the conditionalists got their stuff from Epicurus. Actually, I highly doubt that that there’s been an especially large amount of study into Epicurus (or historical philosophy, on the whole, frankly) on the part of those who make these sorts of claims, given the reactions I was hearing to (gasp!) the use of syllogisms. But if we’re going to play the silly blame game, Epicurus looks mighty tempting to use. So, just think it over. If conditionalists are going to lay down a term like “traditionalist,” there are consequences to doing so – such as leaving themselves open to charges of ad hominem, retortion using the same line of argument towards their own position, or, not least, the fact that they (in the upcoming debate, at least) are the one making the positive case, and should be making that case, not engaging in drive-by, unsubstantiated assertions by way of the terminology employed to address their opponents. It’s purely pejorative, unhelpfully so, and just serves to make their job harder. Some folks might be willing to accept the term. I’m not one of them.