Response

My thanks to John Bolt and Jeffrey Sajdak for responding to my friendly nudge in “Reformed Intramurals: What Neo-Calvinists Get Wrong.” In addition, my gratitude to Nicholas Wolterstorff for his gracious reply in the February issue of Perspectives.

Perhaps I should not be surprised, but I am a little disappointed, that the response to my nudge, at least Bolt’s reply, was more political than theological. Bolt heard me to say that my “real and deep disaffection is not so much with North American neo-Calvinism as it is with the Religious Right and the appropriation of Abraham Kuyper by contemporary evangelicals.” While I am no supporter of the Religious Right, honestly my hope had been to coax discussions of ecclesiology, eschatology, and Christology. Instead it was my offhanded remarks about the Christian Right that drew Bolt’s attention.

I appreciate Bolt’s desire for “a thoughtful discussion about marriage, family and poverty, immigration, crucial life issues, war, and peace.” I encourage Perspectives readers to accept his invitation. I like talking politics as much as the next person, but generally believe that if we Christians are not overtly theological in that discussion, we don’t have much of interest or import to add. In other words, discussions of ecclesiology, eschatology, and Christology are not genteel amusement for a rainy afternoon, but will have much to say about our understandings of poverty, sexuality, war, and peace.

I had hoped to be heard saying that the church has its own unique and intrinsic value, while neo-Calvinists are prone to an “instrumentalist ecclesiology” where the church becomes an “interest group” in liberal democracies or a place to fuel individuals to “go out to change the real world.”

I had hoped to be heard saying that it is more vital for Christians to be eagerly watching for minute and surprising signs of the Kingdom of God among us (Jesus was so intent on training us in this skill, continually asking: “To what shall I compare the Kingdom…”) than it is for us to be sifting the past for ruins and relics of common grace.

I had hoped to be heard saying that Jesus Christ is the keystone, the starting point for Christian theology and should not be circumscribed by creation. Nicholas Wolterstorff alluded to Barth’s aphorism on the Christ-creation nexus–that covenant is the internal basis of creation and creation is the external basis of covenant. I couldn’t agree more and would have quoted Barth myself, had I not feared revealing my true colors too easily. My story of the theatre (drawing upon Calvin’s use of the “theatre of God’s glory” as a metaphor for creation) and “the fixer” was inspired by Barth’s statement.

I thank my colleague Jeffrey Sajdak for his adding a fourth act to my story, the consummation in Christ. I, of course, affirm that Jesus Christ “is seated at the right hand of the Father and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” I am, however, a little slower to jump to consummation than Sajdak is because I am concerned that to do so causes us to image Christ too much as the pantocrator, the dour judge pulling strings and pushing levers in the heavens. No doubt majestic images are a part of our picture of Christ, but my aim is to look longer and harder at the dusty peasant, the homeless carpenter, the executed itinerant. To me, the fact that after more than 2,000 years we Christians still claim that this lowly figure is the image of the invisible God, the consummate artist for whom the entire theatre was made–well, I find this startling, thrilling, and nothing short of miraculous.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is co-pastor of Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, and adjunct professor of religion at Central College.