It has taken me a long time to see the full pattern of the tradition. I think it was something like this: first, the tradition operated with a unique dialectic of affirmation, negation, and redemptive activity. On the reality within which we find ourselves and which we ourselves are and have made, I was taught to pronounce a differentiated yes and no: a firm yes to God’s creation as such, but a differentiated yes and no to the way in which the potentials of creation have been realized in culture, society, and self.
And I was taught, in response to this discriminating judgment, to proceed to act redemptively, out of the conviction that we are called by God to promote what is good and oppose what is bad, and to do so as well as we can; as an old Puritan saying has it, “God loveth adverbs.” The affirmation of what is good in creation, society, culture, and self was undergirded by a deep sacramental consciousness: the goodness surrounding us is God’s favor to us, God’s blessing, God’s grace. Culture is the result of the spirit of God brooding over human endeavors.
The tradition also operated with a holistic understanding of sin and its effects, of faith, and of redemption. By no means was everything in society, culture, and personal existence seen as evil; much, as I have just remarked, was apprehended as good. The holistic view of sin and its effects instead took the form of resisting all attempts to draw lines between some area of human existence where sin has an effect and some area where it does not…
Corresponding to this holistic view of sin and its effect is, then, a holistic view as to the scope of genuine faith. Faith is not an addendum to our existence, a theological virtue, one among others. The faith to which we are called is the fundamental energizer of our lives.
Authentic faith transforms us; it leads us to sell all and follow the Lord. The idea is not, once again, that everything in the life of the believer is different. The idea is rather that no dimension of life is closed off to the transforming power of the Spirit—since no dimension of life is closed off to the ravages of sin. But faith, in turn, is only one component in God’s program of redemption. The scope of divine redemption is not just the saving of lost souls but the renewal of life—and more even than that: the renewal of all creation. Redemption is for flourishing.
Third, the tradition operated with the conviction that the Scriptures are a guide not just to salvation but to our walk in the world—to the fundamental character of our walk. They provide us with a “world and life view.” This theme of the comprehensiveness of the biblical message for our walk in this world matches, of course, the holistic view of sin and of faith.
The grace of God that shapes one’s life came to me in the form of induction into this tradition. That induction into tradition should be an instrument of grace is a claim deeply alien to modernity. Tradition is usually seen as a burden, not grace. But so it was in my case.
-Nicholas Wolterstorff in Finding God at Harvard, p. 154-155.