Here is a brief excerpt from the paper I gave with David Buschart last week in New Orleans, “Looking Back, Moving Forward: Retrieval as Theological Method.” (I also heard some great jazz at The Preservation Hall)
Our interest in the paper was to suggest that “retrieval” is a particular mode of theological reasoning in which its practitioners believe the future of the church hangs in some sense not on our ability to innovate but in our capacity to retrieve something from her past.
Those who pursue retrieval recognize and embrace the fact that the history of Christianity, of the church, and of theology consists of both change and continuity. This may seem obvious, not in need of stating, but recognition of this “both-and” is fundamental to retrieval.
Change is a universal and patently obvious characteristic of historical existence. Thus, the modern era and our own time – whether one regards it as modern, post-modern or hyper-modern – is not alone in seeing an inextricable connection between “history” and “change.” It is one of the necessary parts of this “both-and” – both continuity and change. The modern era can, however, be challenged for its almost myopic preoccupation with change and newness – indeed, dis-continuity? – to the virtual exclusion of continuity. And, this is a challenge posed by the method of retrieval.
Retrieval does not deny the fact of change. It does, however, challenge the modern tendency to presume that change is (always) good, as well as the accompanying tendency to emphasize change to the virtual neglect of continuity…
Paths of retrieval embrace this connection between “what has gone before” – that is, that which is retrieved – and “what comes after” – that is, retrieval is undertaken in order to contribute to Christian thought and life today and tomorrow. In so doing, those who employ retrieval acknowledge continuity, whether or not this specific term is employed. Thus, for example, writing about contemporary liturgical retrieval, Paul Gavrilyuk observes, “Repetition is at the very core of liturgical action. It is healthier for liturgical life to develop by gradual evolution, not by revolution.” Pursuing evolution, rather than revolution, is but one example of the ways in which retrieval can give continuity its due.