Monday, February 27, 2012

Letting God be God - a brief review

In calling myself a Christian I voluntarily place myself within a group of roughly 2.1 billion people who constitute the largest single religion in the world.  But Christianity is not one monolithic and cohesive religion.  In the 2000 years since Jesus lived those people who became his followers have divided and sub-divided many times.  The three major groups within Christianity are Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, and each of them has sub-groups.  As a Protestant Christian I am in the tradition that is known as Reformed.  This is the religious tradition that David Cornick briefly surveys in Letting God be God.

The person whose work was the catalyst for a Reformed understanding of theology was John Calvin.  Calvin, along with Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, were the three dominant theologians of the Protestant Reformation.  They were united in their commitment to bring the church back to the Bible as the first and foremost revelation of God to his people.  They believed that the Bible taught that salvation in Christ was God’s gracious gift, received by faith.  But their thinking diverged on topics of relatively lesser importance, such as the way each of them understood the Lord’s Supper.  Their theological legacy continues today in the Reformed, Lutheran and Baptist traditions of Christianity.  Cornick’s book is an exploration of several of the ways the Reformed tradition is distinctive from other forms of Christian belief.

Cornick first gives a brief history of the development of Reformed theology, including a discussion of other early theologians within the tradition, and the tradition’s development and use of confessions as a means articulating its beliefs.  He notes that being Reformed does not mean adhering firmly to a designated framework of beliefs, where all Reformed Christians live and breathe within rigid theological boundaries.  There are a number of ways to organize and state beliefs that are accepted by differing denominations of the Reformed tradition, including the Heidleberg and Westminster (Larger and Shorter) Catechisms, and the Belgic, Westminster, and Second Helvetic Confessions. 

Rather than using what is popularly understood as the “five points” framework of the Canons of Dort as the overarching form for Reformed theology Cornick uses the model of a relational understanding between God and his people.  In turn his chapters describe “a speaking God and a listening people,” “a choosing God and a chosen people,” “a Holy God and a worldly people,” and “a loving God and a catholic people.”  In using a relational understanding Cornick emphasizes the way in which Reformed theology embraces God as God, a God who calls people to be his own, nourishing them on his word, and sending them to serve him in the world. 

The book’s title is what first drew my attention to it.  The idea of “Letting God be God” is something that I have gradually learned in my own spiritual journey, an idea that I continually find my self praying for as the best way to live my life.  If God is truly God, and I believe he is, then I most certainly am not.  But being human, even one who has received God’s precious grace in my life, I continually struggle against God.  This is the essence of sin, i.e. choosing to live according to my own will rather than the will of God. 

In Reformed theology I find that God is sovereign, and it is to his glory that I should live my life.  I find a theology that both nourishes me deeply, encouraging and challenging me to live faithfully in the world.  Cornick writes, “Reformed spirituality, with its grounding in the sovereignty and providential love of God, invites believers to see themselves as players in the ‘theater of God’s glory’, to allow God’s story to continue in them.” (106) 

No church or denomination is perfect, Reformed or otherwise, but in its confessions and persistent drive to ground theology and the life that flows from it according to the truth of Gods word, I feel very comfortable placing myself in a long line of people who have called themselves Reformed.  Cornick has written a book which, along with others such as On Being Reformed by I. John Hesselink and What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul, can help people seeking their place within the Christian church learn if the Reformed tradition is the place where God is calling them.  

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