The author (Ph.D., Drew) is professor of theology and historical studies at Denver Seminary and the founder of Credo Consulting, a theological consulting firm. His own theological identification, both institutionally and personally, is evangelical and reformed.
I was first attracted to this book as a possible text for a course I teach on Catholic and Protestant Theology. In teaching this course over the years, it has been difficult to locate a text that deals adequately and substantially with the diversity that is Protestantism. While I can’t yet say how my students will respond to the text since I am using the book in the current semester, my own response is positive.
The book’s 10 chapters include an introduction, followed by chapters on 8 theological traditions, with a concluding chapter on Christian hospitality as a model for ecumenical relations. The 8 theological traditions treated are roughly in the chronological order of their historical emergence: Lutheran, Anabaptist, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist, Wesleyan, Dispensational, and Pentecostal. Buschart believes these traditions provide “orienting landmarks on the Protestant Christian landscape” (17). One obvious question is why he has included Dispensationalism, which in itself has not produced any specific denomination, though it is a prominent theology in a number of evangelical denominations. Buschart believes that because Dispensationalism is such a comprehensive approach to interpreting the Bible and has been widely influential through independent Bible churches, books, mass media, and Bible schools and seminaries, it should not be “left behind.” (his bon mot, p. 21).
The approach to each tradition is threefold: historical, methodological, and doctrinal. The historical section provides information on the origins and developments of the tradition. The methodological section explores the approach to theology that is taken within the tradition, notably the sources of theology and the hermeneutical approach to Scripture. The doctrinal section focuses on two doctrines that especially illustrate the distinctive character of a tradition (such as believers’ baptism in Baptists or speaking in tongues in Pentecostalism). Buschart makes no attempt to critique any of the traditions but rather allows each to explain itself, utilizing source material from persons within the tradition.
One of the difficulties in treating the theological beliefs of a tradition is sorting through the diversity that emerges over time. Buschart’s way of treating this problem is to focus on the “classical expressions” of the theological tradition, that is, those that extend back to the origins of the tradition and substantively represent the understanding of that community, even when the “classical expression” might not be the majority view today. So, for example, the classical Baptist principle of separation of church and state is more representative of that tradition than the practice of some contemporary Baptists whose activities in the public square would imply a very different perspective.
In his concluding chapter on theological hospitality, the author notes that in order to accommodate a wide range of beliefs, some churches have reduced their doctrinal statements to a minimum. Unity can’t be achieved, he believes, by eliminating differences or avoiding theological commitment. But he does believe that in an era of diversity, it is possible to take a “both/and” view in which one stands in a particular tradition but also stands with others outside that tradition (pp. 257-58). ) He argues that the unity among Christians is an ontological one—Christians are one body in Christ. However, Christianity is also marked by historic particularity, and that implies boundaries, or “identifying characteristics that distinguish one Christian tradition from another” (259). The “trajectory toward unity will be manifest not in the eradication of all differences, diversity and boundaries, but in a grace-full reach and embrace from an incarnationally particular location amidst diversity” (261).
Exploring Protestant Traditions could serve as a text for those of us who teach courses on Protestantism, or for that matter, anyone who is simply interested in learning about various Protestant traditions. The older Handbook of Denominations in the United States (now in its 12th edition) is a handy almanac for a quick and brief survey of a particular denomination, but does not provide the more in depth information found in Buschart’s book. Moreover, Exploring Protestant Traditions has the advantage of focusing on theological traditions and not simply denominations, which gives a more complete picture of the complexity of the unity and diversity within a theological family. While the jury is still out as to how my students will respond to this book, I give it two thumbs up.