Tradition navigating transformation

reading Alasdair MacIntyre in search of mirrors and windows for reformed theology


  • Heinrich Niehaus Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa



tradition, transformation, integrity, openness, holiness, catholicity, Alasdair MacIntyre, Reformed, virtue


A tradition concept that does not sufficiently reckon with the problem of transformation, opens itself to two opposite dangers: the loss of openness through refusing any change; and the loss of integrity through surrendering assertibility to relativism. This article examines Alasdair MacIntyre’s tradition concept and brings it into conversation with a selection of Reformed scholars, hoping to instil, by its integration, a philosophical robustness in in the Reformed tradition’s thinking about tradition per se and its transformation, so that both integrity and catholicity might be maintained. This article ultimately argues for a congruence between MacIntyre’s tradition concept and the Reformed dictum ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est secundum verbum Dei and shows that the vitality of the tradition is not tied to an absence of argumentation, but rather to the presence of its virtues in these disputations. This may potentially alleviate anxieties in the South African Reformed churches about current arguments and transformations, and help guard against losses of integrity and openness, holiness and catholicity.