Â Â Â Â With the final songs of Jubilee still ringing in my ears, I must sit down and write this Exchange article. Although some of the emotions of our incredible time together will have faded by the time you read this, I trust that the Spirit’s work is even more evident now than during the hoopla of the conference.
Â Â Â What reflection might I share having talked (sometimes intensely and intimately) with so many of your students? As head of the Jubilee fan club, how might I offer not-too-biased insight or encouragement? Perhaps a few random thoughts:
1 What a treat to have students ask for books on their majors or for use in “double-study.” It is a reformational bookseller’s dream-come-true to actually sell books on art, politics, engineering and history.
Day to day in Dallastown rarely sees such discussions and even at CCO staff training times, fewer of those kinds of resources are purchased than I would expect. So tell the kids that we’re grateful, not just for the sales, but for the quality of their purchases. Times like these leave us humbled and blessed and reminds me what a good job you all are doing mentoring these young disciples.
2 You may not be surprised to know that, nonetheless, books about personal growth, dating, devotionals and such were our biggest sellers. Each year I struggle with how much of that sort of stuff to bring. (If they spend their limited cash on a book on dating or self-esteem, they won’t buy that more daunting book on biology.)
3 More complex is my evaluation of our obvious interest in spiritual formation: it is a great, great joy introducing some-one to Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Don Postema, Richard Foster or other mas-ters of the interior life. Anyone who has taken our CCO worldview class knows, though, that (we believe that) the Bible rejects dualisms such as “inner vs. outer,” “contemplative vs. active,” “prayer vs. politics.” If all of life is spiritual (Romans 12:1-2), then the effort to read a book on communications theory or narrative psychology or postmodern literary criticism (or, yes, books which discern godly norms for dating and personal growth) is just as spiritual as reading books from that category we call “spirituality.”
Â Â Â Celeste Shroeder’s two books begin to get at this, as does Parker Palmer’s The Active Life, or see the chapter called “Praying the Ordinary” in Foster’s marvelous book Prayer. The sacredness of the ordinary and mundane is a subtle theme running throughout much contemporary formation literature (just reflect on the titles of the devotional collections by L’Engle and Buechner: Glimpses of Grace and Listen to Your Life). Still, it is for those of us in the Reformed tradition, I think, to make these subtle, holistic leanings explicit. Remember Zechariah 14:20-21. Look up footnote 27 on p. 195 of Transforming Vision (which exposes the dualism of some classic devotional literature such as Imitation of Christ). Pick up Howard Rice’s thoughtful book Reformed Spirituality. Or, read any of Eugene Peterson’s fine books, such as A Long Obedience in the Same Direction or Where Your Treasure Is or his great new collection of letters. Further, pick up The Message and read Peterson’s introductions to each book of the New Testament: they are so earthy! Our obvious interest in spirituality does not have to work against a creation-fall-redemption-consumation world-view, nor is it inconsistent to sell books about prayer at Jubilee. But if we are not careful (that is, biblically-wise and attentive to these matters) we can easily slip into some kind of sophisticated neo-dualism. Oh, we affirm that Christ is Lord of every sphere of life, but then spend most of our energies exploring our “inner” disposition to the exclusion of becoming culture-formers, prophets and agents of Kingdom restoration. Remember Graham Kendrick’s praise song James Ward taught us, which opens with the line, “I want to be a history maker”? Our praying piety, devotional life and interest in “spiritual formation” books may equip and empower us to do that, or it could backfire…
4 Perhaps we can read (and pray!) our way out of this approaching “new dualism.” Reread with your students (or for yourself, if you haven’t) One-Sided Christianity by Ron Sider, which explicitly rejects dualism and posits instead a full-orbed view of the Kingdom of God. His easier Genuine Christianity gets at that nicely, too, and still throbs with a holistic Kingdom vision.
Â Â Â Intentionally encourage students (or at least our own adult accountability groups and area directors) to spend a few months with us doing cultural critique. Perhaps you could get one of the books which are collections of Chuck Colson’s brief radio addresses (such as Burden of Truth) or subscribe to the monthly publication of the “Breakpoint” radio show (or look them up on the Web!). Maybe you should dig in to a serious book of social criticism like Bob Wauzzinski’s manuscript on technology or the very important Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission, written by Vinoth Ramachandra. The author is from Sri Lanka and is a leader in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students; he has given us a very lively and profound explanation of the false gods of modernity. What a book! Os Guinness’s little book against the marketing of the mega-churches, Dining With the Devil, even if a bit unfair to the likes of Willow Creek, is an absolutely essential guide to the drift of our modern age. (It is, in my estimation, a must-read!) Of course you will recall how passionately I feel about Walsh’s Subversive Christianity or the little booklet Who Turned Out the Lights? (I was surprised I didn’t sell any at Jubilee.) Getting our minds stretched through the discipline of serious study, coupled with a prayerful seeking of Holy Spirited discernment about the “spirit of the age,” may prevent us from falling into any quasi-dualistic pietism.
5 Kuyper. Yes, I know, he lived 100 years ago. And students really don’t know what we mean when we say “Kuyperian.” But let’s face it, via Pete Steen and the post-WWII Dutch immigration to North America which led to the creation of Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies, Kuyper really is the great-grand-daddy of Jubilee!
It was exactly 100 years ago that Kuyper gave his famous Stone Lectures at Princeton, where he explored the concepts of Calvinism as a world-and-life view. (The book of those lectures is still in print today and includes dense chapters on science, art, politics and his ideas of “sphere sovereignty,” that is, that every sphere of life has its own unique creational ordinances which need to be opened up in their own particular ways.) Kuyper, as you recall from staff training, founded the first independent Protestant University, a Christian political party and a daily newspaper; he also helped organize a massive cultural reformation largely inspired by a revival of Reformed churches. His recently reissued devotional, Near Unto God, is a subtle yet powerful exploration of worldviewish spirituality and illustrates how authentic piety can equip us to be culturally transformational. (“I want to be a history maker…”)
Â Â Â Although I did not seem to find the right time or space to do so, I truly wanted to announce at Jubilee that we had shipped (from the publisher directly to the Hilton to be among the first in the nation to receive) two brand new Kuyper books, published, in fact, to commemorate the centennial of the Stone Lectures.
Â Â Â The two new books are keepers; CCO staff should buy and cherish them as serious works of great importance. Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism by Peter Heslam is a nearly 300-page biography and assessment of the importance of Kuyper’s famous 1898 trip to the U.S. It wonderfully explores the modern implications of his call for a Christian world-view and shows how influential his stream of thought has become. (He ought to have mentioned the CCO.) Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, edited by James Bratt, is a collection of previously untranslated pieces by Abe himself. It includes amazing insights, seen to be all the more amazing upon realizing when they were written. (For instance, there is a sermon against imperialism in South Africa, written in 1900!) Here we see newspaper editorials, political speeches and sermons critiquing both liberalism and the overly-pietistic holiness movement; we hear his farewell address upon being kicked out of the Dutch National Church, his own narrative of his conversion and an early (1989) critique of evolutionary naturalism. This is deep, rich stuff, from a man who has left a deep, rich imprint on much of recent Calvinist thought.
Â Â Â It should be clear that although our CCO roots are solidly in the soil of American evangelicalism, we have in many ways been nurtured by a particular type of water and sunshine. Out of the mixed soil of American pietism and evangelicalism, we have been cultivated by these Dutch Reformational Kuyperians. To have new Kuyper books is a special privilege indeed and their use will allow us to continue to grow faithfully in the tradition into which God has, in His merciful sovereignty, planted us.