Last month I drafted something up for a friend; my best shot at trying to express how a resurrected two-book worldview could enliven and renew the church. I don’t know if I fully captured all that I’m dreaming of, but here’s what I wrote;
Jesus is speaking throughout creation: what if we listened?
A proposal for renewal in the Christian Reformed Church of North America:
“I think I see what you are doing. I’ve spent my entire life connecting the Jesus of the New Testament to the Jesus of the Old Testament. You are connecting the Jesus of the New Testament to the resurrected Jesus today.” Dr. Sidney Greidanus, Old Testament and Preaching Professor emeritus, Calvin Seminary, in response to my talk about the vision of New Hope CRC in Calgary, at the CRC sesquicentennial conference at Calvin College, 2007
What if the Christian Reformed Church is meant to be a church that connects the Jesus of the bible to the resurrected Jesus today? What if our calling is to tie what he said then to what he’s saying now?
In the CRC, we’ve always believed in a God who reveals himself through two books; the bible and creation (Belgic Confession Art. 2). We hold a very high view of the Holy Spirit; that it authors all truth (Calvin), moves in commonly gracious ways (Kuyper), and holds the entire cosmos together. We have a very big view of God’s providence and sovereignty, that not a hair can fall from our heads apart from his will (Q and A #1). Historically, our denomination has had the theological imagination to creatively engage a God who reveals himself through history, speaks through general revelation, and whose nature is reflected in and through his image bearing human beings.
What would happen if the CRC acted on what we say we believe?
We believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead and that he breathed his eye opening, ear clearing Spirit upon us. We believe that all things were made through him (John 1:1-3), are held together in him (Col. 1:15-23) and, even now, are being made new by him (Rev. 21:5). We believe that Jesus is now enthroned, seated at the right hand of God, and is the ruler over all things. Our view of the Lordship of Jesus Christ is cosmic in its proportions; and it impacts everything.
Because of this way of viewing the world, we can watch a powerfully redemptive Academy Award winning movie like Crash and know that its truth was authored by his Spirit, as though the film were a parable. We can experience the ecstasy of victory at an NFL playoff game, and understand that the splendour of that moment is a foretaste of a communal glory we’ll one day know perfectly. We can observe the scientific world as it builds a Large Hadron Collider, and see this huge science experiment as a kind of icon, revealing the mind of the Jesus who created the universe in the first place. We can take note of how an accountant feels about the just-rightness of financial reconciliation, of how a mechanic experiences the satisfaction of automotive restoration, or of how an entrepreneur takes ‘aha’ delight in creating something out of nothing, and know that it’s the Spirit of Jesus Christ who has sponsored the truth and goodness inherent in these created things.
More than that; in all of these commonly gracious creational places, we can experience the real time, right now, personal, revelatory presence of Jesus Christ.
Jesus created the CRC church the way he did; with its unique creation embracing, providential and sovereign worldview. What if he did this so that we could lead the Church in recognizing that he is revealing himself everywhere?
Sometimes I wonder if this is exactly what he’s doing at New Hope CRC here in Calgary. Commenting on our church’s two book vision (via a book endorsement), former Calvin Seminary president, Neal Plantinga, wrote, “Its center is a bright, bold vision of a God who is speaking to us everywhere, every day, through every sense. Van Sloten’s cry of the heart is just this: in God’s name, pay attention!”
I think now is the time for the CRC to stand up and say, “Pay attention!”
And I think this cry needs to come from all of our pulpits; the seminary offering a whole new set of courses exploring creational exegesis, theology and preaching, church pastors actively reading and preaching both of God’s revelatory books, our academic institutions continuing to do what they already do but, for the first time ever, seeing their graduates enthusiastically participate in the church as co-exegetes in the preacherhood of all believers (engineering grads helping write engineering sermons, science grads developing science discipleship courses, artists leading the worship arts), denominational agencies retooling all that they do; Home Missions, Back to God, CRWRC, Faith Alive, World Missions, helping churches engage a God who’s already out there, moving and speaking in the world.
What if this is the idea around which both established and new churches can come?
Not some abstract theological construct or worldview, but the here and now belief that Jesus really does mean for us to know and experience him in all things – at work, in the theatre, on the field, in the lab, in our relationships – all the time! Imagine a church filled with people whose every moment is attuned to the presence and glory of God. This would be attractive. This would be meaningful. This would grow God’s church.
Increasingly, I am convinced that God has always meant for his follows to know him via the reading of both of his books. I think these books are meant to co-illumine one another – shine light on each other - creation saying what only creation can uniquely say alongside the bible saying what only the bible can uniquely say. I believe that we can only know God fully when we engage the whole counsel of his revelation. If the new earth is going to be a place where we know God in all things – including our work, relationships, and in city living (Is. 65:17-25, Rev. 22) - then I think we ought to be actively living into, and preparing for, that day now.
This way of engaging God’s world will bring a new humility to the church (as we learn to listen and follow, instead of dictate and prescribe), along with a powerful sense of cultural relevance. Imagine CRC churches everywhere donning the spectacles of the scriptures (Calvin), coming alongside an unbelieving world and pointing out God’s creational presence and truth in all things, showing that the beauty, meaning, significance and truth that is so inspiring in creation has a Maker, an Author and a Redeemer.
Over the past few decades the CRC has tried to become an outreaching church via the implementation of many non-indigenous, ‘evangelical’ methodologies. And it hasn’t worked. Our Reformed identity has faded, the denomination’s numbers have dropped and our young adults are disappearing fast. Gaps have grown between church plants, established churches and the seminary.
I think one of the reasons this is happening is that our way of reaching out to the world is not commensurate with who we are. It doesn’t leave enough room for how sovereign our view of God is. Reading and responding to what the Sprit of Jesus Christ is already speaking and doing in the world – does!
The Holy Spirit is already moving in powerfully missional ways throughout God’s world. We already have the theology to see and engage these holy movements. What we need to do now is actively engage and live into what we already believe.