Crux Spring 2011

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Spring 2011 Vol.47, No.1

A Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion published by Regent College

A Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion published by Regent College

EDITORIAL BOARD Editor Associate Editor Managing Editor/Designer Design/Layout Artist Literary Editor Book Review Editor Poetry Editor Editorial board

Julie Lane Gay Bethany Murphy Dal Schindell Rosi Petkova James I. Packer Bill Reimer Luci Shaw The Regent College Faculty

CRUX, a journal of Christian thought and opinion, seeks to expound the basic tenets of the Christian faith and to demonstrate that Christian truth is relevant to the whole of life. Its particular concern is to relate the teachings of Scripture to a broad spectrum of academic, social, and professional areas of interest, to integrate them, and to apply the insights gained to corporate and personal Christian life and witness. Founded in 1962 by the Toronto Graduate Christian Fellowship and subsequently published by a group of Christian faculty members associated with Scarborough College in the University of Toronto, CRUX has been published since 1979 by the Faculty and Alumni of Regent College, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Views expressed in CRUX should be regarded as the personal opinions of the individual authors rather than as reflecting the official opinions or policies of Regent College. Articles appearing in this journal are abstracted and indexed in Religious and Theological Abstracts, Old Testament Abstracts, New Testament Abstracts, and Religion Index One. This periodical is indexed in the ATLA Religion Database, published by the American Theological Library Association, 250 S. Wacker Drive, 16th Floor, Chicago, IL 60606. E-mail: <>, website: <>. Subscriptions: CAD/USD$26 for one year, CAD/USD$49 for two years, and CAD/USD$72 for three years. CAD/USD$7 for single copies. (For Canadian subscribers, please add the applicable HST/GST to the total amount.) Payments by credit cards or cheques are accepted. Cheques should be made out to Regent College. All editorial correspondence, notices of change of subscription address, and financial contributions to help defray the cost of publication should be sent to: CRUX Circulation Department Regent College 5800 University Boulevard Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 2E4 Books for review should be sent to: CRUX Book Review Editor Regent College 5800 University Boulevard Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 2E4

ISSN 0011-2186


CRUX Spring 2011,Vol. 47, No.1

A Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion published by Regent College

Articles Aging as a Stage of the Heroic Pilgrimage of Faith: Some Literary and Theological Lenses for “Re-Visioning” Age Maxine Hancock . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Calvin’s Institutes: Primer for Spiritual Formation Julie Canlis. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 The Two Books Metaphor: A Critique and a Caution Marty Folsom. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 The Two Books Metaphor: A Response Loren Wilkinson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

Poetry Parcels Lance Odegard. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Planting a Garden Lance Odegard. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Book Reviews Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension by Julie Canlis, reviewed by Richard R. Topping. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, reviewed by Jon Furst . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Advertise in CRUX. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47


Cover Illustration: Gardener’s Prayer by James B. Janknegt (1995). The garden is such a rich metaphor for life. “Having kids was like having a garden,” says Lance Odegaard in his poem. We watch how the seeds of faith, planted in our youth, mature into wisdom and an ever stronger desire for a deeper union and communion with Christ, argues Maxine Hancock in her cover article about aging. And we look to nature, alongside Scripture, for a more complete understanding of God (as in the “Two Books Metaphor” exchange between Marty Folsom and Loren Wilkinson). Please note that the painting has been flipped horizontally for the purposes of this publication, with the permission of the artist.

Aging as a Stage of the Heroic Pilgrimage of Faith: Some Literary and Theological Lenses for “Re-Visioning” Age Maxine Hancock

Maxine Hancock is Professor Emerita of Interdisciplinary Studies and Spiritual Theology at Regent College. Author’s Note: The following article is based on an “Under the Green Roof” lecture given June 10, 2009. I wish to acknowledge the resources of the Houston-Packer Collection of Puritan Works in the Special Collections of the John Richard Allison Library, Regent College, and especially the help of librarian Audrey Williams in the primary research underlying this study.


s part of a culture with a rapidly ex p a nd i n g s e g me nt o f t he population entering the category of “the aged,” many of us are discovering the complexities of growing old in a culture of youth. We instinctively reject many of the compensations offered by our culture as amounting to a trivialization of a substantial period of lives: the futile pursuit of youth, the grasping after entertainment and diversion, the walling-off of the old in gated and rule-ridden communities. As Christians, we can rightfully assume that the years after sixty-five are intended to have some intrinsic meaning for ourselves, as well as for our communities, and for our culture as a whole. If, unlike many in our hedonistic and materialist culture, we resist firmly the idea that the years after involvement in work and family-rearing represent merely life’s ticket stub—with the ticket already handed in and the show over—we shall have to find resources which grant us a new vision of aging. The outcome of our thinking matters to those who, like me, are considering the years after retirement. It matters with some considerable urgency in the light of the prolonged lifespan granted to us by good health care, excellent nutrition, and the mercies of lifestyles bounded by moral and social constraints that have ruled out a range of life-shortening choices. What should we ask God for, and how should we view our responsibilities and purpose now, as we enter the years that some have called “the third age,” a span which, given good

health, could amount to a final one-third of our lives? It matters, too, for the large cohort of “baby boomers” who, just behind us, are reflecting on the meaning of their own parents’ final years and the time that lies ahead of them, the years between mid-life and the grave. And it matters for the young people, who need positive role models and visions to give them hope as they move through life, and ways of imagining old age that enable faithful ministry. We need to draw deep on the biblical resources of a realistic view of our human and embodied condition in order to face the final stages of life unflinchingly and realistically, and yet maintain hope.1 There is no point in imagining old age, especially in its last years, to be easy; nor should we expect that many of us will have a lot of “golden years.” From what I have observed, what lies ahead is more like a rock-climbing expedition, straight up a rock face, and then a slipping and sliding down through the shale on the other side to the place of our “crossing over.” We need also to inhabit fully the “good news” we proclaim in the resurrection of our Lord, so that we can live hopefully toward a horizon beyond our “mere mortality.” Only so will we be able to both find the strength and creativity by which to live this stage of life as part of a Christian vision in which all of life is lived under God’s providence; in which all of human life has been conferred with the dignity of bearing the image of God; in which the whole span of our lives can be seen to have purpose and meaning. 2

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In this broad introduction to a very large discussion, I want to consider some ways in which we can re-frame the discussion about aging from the current utilitarian models (which focus negatively on health-care costs and the economic and social burden of the elderly to taxpayers and families), to a fuller Christian understanding of the meaning of aging in our own lives and the meaning of the aged to our communal lives. In order to do this, I propose first to look at some literature from the second half of the seventeenth century that demonstrates how the non-conformist writers Richard Ba xter, T homa s Brook s, a nd Joh n Bunyan gave representation to Christian approaches to old age, challenging many of the stereotypes in their contemporary popular culture.2 I then plan to turn to some twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers who give us positive representations of aging, lived out by characters within a modern setting. I will conclude with a brief coda on some theological and biblical “frames” we might use in proposing richer understandings of aging as part of the lifelong pilgrimage of faith.

patient endurance of which John Milton speaks in Sonnet XIX, “On His Blindness”: God doth not need Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his State Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed And post o’er Land and Ocean with out rest: They also serve who only stand and wait.3 One of the ways aging and the aged are represented by these seventeenth-century writers is by way of direct i nju nction. Such d i re ct instructions for “the Aged (and Weak)” are written by the prolific nonconformist pastor Richard Baxter in A Christian Directory (1673).4 With the copiousness typical of his pastoral style, Baxter lays out fifteen specific directions. Let me here summarize and condense his directions, adding some comments from my own twenty-first-century point of view.

We need to draw deep on the biblical resources of a realistic view of our human and embodied condition in order to face the final stages of life unflinchingly and realistically, and yet maintain hope.

Some Seventeenth-Century Puritan Reflections on Aging Seventeenth-century Puritan writers— who so faithfully laid out both maps for the stages of the Christian journey and detailed instructions for the life of holiness—recast not only the journey of the young, but also of the aging, placing all of life within the heroic pilgrimage of faith. Their writings, implicitly if not always explicitly, connect old age to the rest of the spiritual pilgrimage, as a God-intended period for his purposes of transformation into the likeness of Christ, and as a time for blessing the generations that follow. While these practical theologians represent old age as comprising meaningful years not to be wasted, they do not necessarily posit them as “activist” years. The idea of the “Christian heroic” includes the meaningfulness of non-doing; of learning simply to be; of waiting; of the kind of

Direct. I. The old and weak [should] be accurate in examining the state of their souls, and making their calling and election sure.… Ask counsel, therefore, of some able, faithful minister or friend, and set yourselves diligently to try your title to eternal life, and to cast up your accounts, and see how all things stand between God and you … and if you should find yourselves in an unrenewed state … lament your sin, and fly to Christ, and set your hearts on God, as your felicity.

Comment: Much has been made of Puritan introspection in modern criticism. While 3

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the practice of self-examination may have sometimes become a morbid anxiety or a narcissistic self-fixation, when conducted with the help of a discerning pastor and in the light of Scripture, it could, and most often did, lead to a confident assurance of salvation based on a spiritual apprehension of atonement and reconciliation to God through the finished work of Christ. 5 This injunction presupposes that the “old” or “weak” have been trained in methods of self-examination and have access to a “faithful minister” or “godly friend.” It presupposes, then, that the old are embedded in community and, in particular, in a congregation of believers.

Baxter’s appropriation, the supernatural life of Christ is the Root to which the Christian “retires,” age thus becoming a time for simplifying and clarifying beliefs and for living in union with Christ. As we shall see, Bunyan also depicts the final stage of Christian maturity, reached by a cohort of aged Christians, as being lived in joyful union and communion with Christ. Direct. IV. Let the ancient mercies and experiences of God’s love, through all your lives, be still before you, and fresh upon your minds, that they may kindle your love and thankfulness to God, and may feed your own delight and comfort, and help you the easier to submit to future weaknesses and death.… If a traveller delight to talk of his travels, and a soldier or seaman upon his adventures, how sweet should it be to a Christian to peruse all the conduct of mercy through his life.… Yea, such thankful reviews of ancient mercies, will force an ingenuous soul to a quieter submission to infirmities, sufferings, and death; and make us say as … old Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”

Direct. II. Cast back your eyes upon the sins of all your life, … and though all be forgiven, … yet must it be still before your eyes, both to keep you humble and continue the exercise of that repentance, and drive you to Christ, and make you thankful.… Comment: The reviewing of past and forgiven sins seems to me a rather dubious exercise, especially given old age paranoia and anxiety.6 Baxter might better have encouraged the aged Christians to refuse the voice of the accuser in the words of Romans 8:28–39 or Isaiah 43:25. In Baxter’s defence, however, one could offer Paul’s example of repeatedly recalling that he had once persecuted the church (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:9–10; Phil. 3:6; Gal. 1:13).

Comment: In this very rich passage, Baxter describes (a) the importance of life-narrative to memory and identity, (b) the importance of gratitude, and (c) the Christian heroic. The first two of these themes are in constant discussion in considerations of what attitudes and elements are important in a “good old age” or “dying well.”8 The third of these themes is ripe for full recuperation into our vocabulary of aging.

Direct. III. Cleave closer now to Christ than ever.… Now your natural life decayeth, it is time to retire to him that is your Root, and to look to the “life that is hid with Christ in God,” Col. 3:4; and to him … whose office it is to receive the departing souls of true believers.

Direct. V. Draw forth the treasure of wisdom and experience, which you have been so long in laying up, to instruct the ignorant, and warn the unexperienced and ungodly that are about you. Tell them … how God recovered you; and how the Spirit wrought upon your souls: tell them

Comment: Here Baxter explores, from a Christian perspective, the ancient classical analogy of sap returning to the root of the tree as a picture of aging.7 Whereas in the classical analogy, the “naturalness” of death is the point, in 4

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what comforts you have found in God; what safety and sweetness in a holy life; how sweet the holy Scriptures have been to you; how prayers have prevailed, how the promises of God have been fulfilled; and what mercies and great deliverances you have had. Tell them how good you have found God; and how bad you have found sin; and how vain you have found the world.… God hath made this the duty of the aged, that the “father should tell the wonders of his works and mercies to their children, that the ages to come may praise the Lord,” Deut. 4:10; Ps. 78:4–6.

those who will hold in memory what we were before our final decline. Direct. VII. Especially it belongeth to you, to repress the heats, and dividing, contentious, and censorious disposition of the younger sorts of professors of godliness. They are in the heat of their blood, and want the knowledge and experience of the aged to guide their zeal.… They never saw the issue of errors, and sects, and parties, and what divisions and contentions tend to, as you have done. And therefore, it belongeth to your gravity and experience to call them unto unity, charity, and peace, and to keep them from proving firebrands in the church.

The aged as a tempering voice in a contentious community adds a particular significance to C o m m e n t : T he a ge d a s a temp er i n g voic e i n a their ongoing contentious community adds a particular significance to incorporation their ongoing incorporation into the discussions and into the affairs of the congregation. discussions and Direct. VIII. You must live in the greatest contempt affairs of the of earthly things, and least entangle yourselves in the congregation. love or needless troubles of

Co mm e n t : A s w it h t he pre ce di n g directive, this presupposes that the aged have clear memories and the willingness and ability to narrate chronologically and teleologically— something that might have more easily been assumed of seventeenth-century nonconformists, who were encouraged to narrate, orally and in writing, the dealings of God with their souls, than of the aged in modern and postmodern cultures. It also presupposes an audience—that is, someone who wants to hear the stories of the old—implying the degree to which the aged are still vitally connected to and valued by their congregation and community.9 Direct. VI. The aged must be examples of wisdom, gravity, and holiness unto the younger.… It may well be expected that nothing but savoury, wise, and holy, come from your mouths; and nothing unbeseeming wisdom and godliness, be seen in your lives.

the world: you are like to need it and use it but a little while; a little may serve one that is so near his journey’s end.… It is a sign of the bewitching power of the world … to see the aged usually as covetous as the young; and men that are going out of the world, to love it as fondly, and scrape for it as eagerly, as if they never looked to leave it.

Comment: Again, a level self-control is mandated which is not always available to the very old, especially those who experience senile dementia. The “must” lays a kind of obligation that has to be waived when the mind fails in senescence. “Wisdom, gravity and holiness” may all fail us—what we can hope for is understanding and love—and

Comm ent : T his “bewitching power of the world” seems to have been a common pastoral concern among the nonconformists. The historic reality was that “persecution, social pressure and the inducements of advantage were steadily 5

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robbing the nonconformists of their rich and prominent members. Those who could not be moved, whose loyalty was proof against the thread of imprisonment and the danger of ruin, were simple people, occupying humble places in society and of little account in the eyes of the great.”10 At the end of both first and second parts of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan shows a pilgrim having an encounter with temptation in the form of “Mistress Bubble” (Part One) and an “enchantress” (Part Two). These feminine vice figures recapitulate all the temptations of Vanity Fair but with a sensual seductiveness t hat nea rly sways t he p i l g r i m s . C l e a r l y, t h e seventeenth-century pastors, as practical theologians, saw our fallen minds to be still susceptible to the seductions of materialism and social advantage, especially if those temptations were presented in a sexualized environment or m a n ner —wh ich ver y nearly describes much of the advertising aimed at mid-life and older consumers.

tired, much as does singing the old hymn, “Work for the Night is Coming.” But, even if only as an antidote to the image of the old as being unable to do anything except be entertained and cared for, it would be bracing to see more of the old making meaningful contributions to a household or community unit. One of my dearest friends, now ninety-three, still bakes her brown buns and cinnamon rolls every Saturday, sharing them with family, friends, and her church family. There is still a living memory in many families of not-too-distant days when old people became part of the households of younger generations of the family, for whom they kept gardens, helped with meal-making, rocked babies, and entertained little ones with games and stories. Without turning to Waltonesque fantasy, we might consider— both as the aging and as those who care about the aging—how to encourage meaningful rather than merely timepassing activity.

Without turning to Waltonesque fantasy, we might consider— both as the aging and as those who care about the aging—how to encourage meaningful rather than merely time-passing activity.

Direct. X. When the decay of your strength, or memory, or parts, doth make you unable to read, or pray, or meditate by yourselves, so much or so well as heretofore, make the more use of the more lively gifts and help of others. Be the more in hearing others, and in joining with them in prayer; that their memory, and zeal, and utterance may help to lift you up and carry you on.

Direct. IX. You should highly esteem every minute of your time.… Time is a most precious commodity to all; but especially to them that have but little more.… Though you cannot do your worldly businesses as heretofore, yet you have a variety of holy exercises to be employed in; bodily ease may beseem you, but idleness is worse in you than in any.

Comment: Here the clear presupposition is that the old person, now pictured as deep into senescence, was still a part of the worshipping community—whether that was the weekly gathering of believers or the daily prayers of a gathered household. Perhaps, also, members of the congregation took the church to the infirm old members of the congregation (in the form of visiting, offering community, relating a recent sermon, etc.).11

Comment: There is an activism implied here against which I feel the need to protest, at least a little. While in general it is probably best to have something meaningful to do as long as that is possible, the idea that one should be busy every minute, even in old age, makes me

Direct. XI. Take not a decay of nature … for a decay of grace. Though your memory, and utter6

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ance, and fervour of affection, abate as your natural heat abateth, yet be not discouraged; but remember, that you may for all this grow in grace. If you do but grow in holy wisdom and judgment, and a higher esteem of God and holiness, and a greater disesteem of all the vanities of the world, and a firmer resolution to cleave to God and trust on Christ, and never to turn to the world and sin; this is your growth in grace.

God calleth you to in your age and weakness, and in which you must serve and honour him in the conclusion of your labour. When … active obedience hath not opportunity to exercise itself … it is then as acceptable to God that you honour him by patient suffering. And therefore it is a great error of them that wish for the death of all that are impotent, decrepit, and bedrid, as if they were utterly unserviceable to God. I tell you, it is no small service that they may do, not only by their prayers, and their secret love to God, but by being examples of faith, and patience, and heavenly-mindedness, and confidence and joy in God.… Grudge not then if God will thus employ you.

Comment: Baxter here most clearly sets out the kind of spiritual growth that can be expected in “heroic” old age. He gives four areas in which the old can experience significant growth: (a) in wisdom and judgment, (b) in a heightened sense of God and of holiness, (c) in a deepened distaste for worldly distractions, and (d) in a renewed determination to “cleave to God and trust on Christ.” Direct. XII. Be patient under all the infirmities and inconveniencies of old age. Be not discontented at them, repine not, nor grow peevish and froward to those about you. This is a common temptation which the aged should carefully resist.… Bless God for the days of youth, and strength, and health, and ease which you have had already! And grudge not that corruptible flesh decayeth.

Comment: With this injunction, Baxter gets to what, to my mind, is the most important point he makes: the concept of the Christian heroic as “passive obedience.” In his final injunctions, he envisions the very aged in senescence as still engaged in the heroic Christian journey of life, called to be faithful to the end.

Comment: By naming what he sees to be common temptations (greed and preoccupation with financial affairs and the temptation to idleness, indifference, and withdrawal from fellowship, and here, the temptation to complain), Baxter is arming his Christian “warfarers” against “the wiles of the devil” (cf. Eph. 6:11) and implicitly reminding them that these temptations are “common” both in the sense of being frequently experienced and in the sense of being mutually experienced by many in the same situation (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13).

Baxter here most clearly sets out the kind of spiritual growth that can be expected in “ heroic” old age: (a) in wisdom and judgment, (b) in a heightened sense of God and of holiness, (c) in a deepened distaste for worldly distractions, and (d) in a renewed determination to “cleave to God and trust on Christ.”

Direct. XIV. Let your thoughts of death, and preparations for it, be as serious as if death were just at hand. Though all your life be little enough to prepare for death, and it be a work that should be done as soon as you have the use of reason, yet age and weakness call louder to you, presently to prepare

Direct. XIII. Understand well that passive obedience is that which 7

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without delay. Do therefore all that you would fain find done, when your last sickness cometh.

many sermons, to persuade a sinner to a holy life. I know that this is not easily attained; but a thing so sweet and profitable to yourselves, and so useful to the good of others, and so much tending to the honour of God, should be laboured after with all your diligence: and then you may expect God’s blessing on your labours.…

Comment: In the seventeenth century, with its repeated visitations of bubonic plague and much shorter life expectancy, preachers spoke of death. But when was the last time you heard (or preached) a sermon on “preparing for your death?” Our attempts to avoid what is the painful thought of our own dissolution robs us of the company of each other in necessary preparation. God’s children can be unflinching as they face death—or flinching, perhaps, but unafraid and willing to speak truth to each other.

When was the last time you heard (or preached) a sermon on “preparing for your death?” Our attempts to Direct. XV. Live in the expectation of your avoid what is the joyful change, as becometh one is so near to heaven, painful thought that and looketh to live with Christ for ever. Let all the of our own high and glorious things, dissolution robs which faith apprehendeth, now show their power us of the company in the love, and joy, and longings of your soul. of each other There is nothing in which the weak and aged can in necessary more honour Christ and do good to others, than in preparation. joyful expectation of their

Comment: Like the fine preacher he is, Baxter saves his trumpet call to joyful, holy living for the last of his directives. The hope that sustains and calls us forward throughout the Christian life—of being like Christ, united with Christ, and finally, to be eternally in the presence of the one who gave himself for us—should become ever more the horizon of our thoughts as death approaches. This is not just a message for Easter, but for every day, and especially for “the aged (and weak).” A n o t h e r s e v e n t e e n t h- c e n t u r y nonconformist writer, Thomas Brooks (1608–1680), a popular preacher and writer in his day largely forgotten today, wrote a little book titled Apples of Gold for Young Men and Women: And a Crown of Glory for Old Men and Women.12 Here we find an entirely positive spin on aging. In Brooks’s first chapter, he argues that it is important to become a disciple in one’s youth for a number of reasons, of which the twelfth and clinching one is, “Because else they will never attain to the honour of being Old Disciples” (55). In chapter 2, he presents a list of reasons why “it is a very great honour to be an Old Disciple”: 1. All men will honour an Old Disciple, Prov 16:3. 2. God usually reveals himself most to Old Disciples, Old Saints— e.g., Abraham—who had an old friendship with God … [and also] Simeon & Anna. 3. An Old Christian, an Old Disciple, hath got the Art of serving God. 4. An Old Disciple, an Old Christian, is rich in spiritual experiences.

change, and an earnest desire to be with Christ. This will do much to convince unbelievers, that the promises are true, and that heaven is real, and that a holy life is indeed the best, which hath so happy an end. When they see you highest in your joys, at the time when others are deepest in distress; and when you rejoice as one that is entering upon his happiness, when all the happiness of the ungodly is at an end; this will do more than 8

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5. An Old Disciple is firm and fix’d in his resolutions. 6. An Old Disciple is prepared for death. 7. An Old Disciple shall have great reward in Heaven. [56–79] Brooks’s work suggests a position of honour within the church for the old who have experienced a long friendship with God, and have acquired a rich store of spiritual experiences. W herea s Ba xter gives “directives,” Brooks gives us a “character,” a quickly drawn picture of a Christian in late life. This glimpse into the old, and the attitudes toward the old, in the nonconformist congregations to which Brooks, like Baxter and John Bunyan (1628–1688), ministered, is much more fully realized in Bunyan’s great allegory of the church, The Pilgrim’s Progress: The Second Part (1684).13 While the better-known first part of The Pilgrim’s Progress is written from the point of view of a young Christian, the second part bears the stamp of the author’s now being an experienced Puritan pastor, who sees the whole church, spanning several generations, on a communal pilgrimage. While at the end of the first part the Christian pilgrims are seen as men dying in the prime of their lives, there is a clear implication of aging in the second part, at the conclusion of which a cohort of aged pilgrims are called, one by one, to cross over the River Death. As people clearly beloved and esteemed by those who are bidding them farewell, these old people are characterized in a way which is highly individualized; each one is known by his or her name that represents a salient virtue or dominant characteristic, as well as by the story of his or her individual call and journey of obedience: Christiana and Great-heart and Valiant-for-Truth and Mr. Honest and Mr. Stand-fast represent Christians who have arrived at old age with spiritual maturity, having long exercised leadership in the congregation. Mr. Ready-to-Halt and Mr. Despondencie represent the weaker members of the

congregation. While still varying in mental and spiritual capacity as they have throughout the journey, each “old disciple” is cherished and valued within an intergenerational community. While the old live in “eager expectation of their change” (to borrow Baxter’s phrase), they also live in a loving and supportive intergenerational c o m m u n it y. B e u l a h Land is not only a place of the mature individual Christian’s experience of union with Christ. It is also a picture of a city experiencing shalom, analogous to the vision offered by the prophet Zechariah (8:3–5), where the old and the young mutually bless each other:

The hope that sustains and calls us forward throughout the Christian life— of being like Christ, united In this place [i.e., Land of Beulah], the Children of with Christ, the Town would go into the Kings Gardens and and finally, to gather Nose-gaies for the be eternally in Pilgrims, and bring them to them with much affecthe presence of tion.… With these the Pilgrims Chambers were the one who gave perfumed, while they stayed here; and with himself for us— these were their Bodys anointed to prepare them should become to go over the River when ever more the the time appointed was come. [283] horizon of our Regardless of mental or spiritual limitations, each thoughts as death pilgrim is equally lovingly approaches. called and claimed by the King’s messenger. Here, for example, is how Mr. Feebleminded is summoned:

The Post sounded his horn at his Chamber Door. Then he came in and told him, saying, “I am come to tell thee that the Master has need of thee, and that in very little time thou must behold his Face in 9

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Brightness.” Then Mr. Feeble-Mind called for his Friends, and told them what Errand had been brought unto him.… Then he said, “Since I have nothing to bequeath to any, to what purpose should I make a Will? As for my feeble Mind, that I will leave behind me, for I shall have no need of that in the place whither I go; nor is it worth bestowing upon the poorest Pilgrim.…” The day being come, in which he was to depart; he entered the River.… His last Words were, Hold out Faith and Patience. So he went over to the other Side. [286]

even celebrated together. Each leaves a spiritual legacy as a blessing to those they leave behind. (For example, Mr. Readyto-Halt “desired Mr. Valiant to make his Will. And because he had nothing to bequeath to them that should survive him, but his Crutches, and his good Wishes, therefore thus he said, These Crutches, I bequeath to my Son that shall tread in my Steps with an hundred warm Wishes that he may prove better then I have done” [286].) They accompany one another to the River’s edge—at Christiana’s death, “the Road was full of People to see her take her Journey” (285)—the fear of being isolated or alone in death obviously much less for people so embedded in community. This allegorical picture of the godly old in joyful communion with their Lord, in intergenerational community, and in good company with each other surely represents a kind of desiderata. Perhaps we could ask ourselves as Christian communities how nearly are we enabling our old people to approximate the experience of “Beulah Land” or shalom in our cultural context. And we could examine our own goals and attitudes to ask how different a genuinely Christian experience of old age might be from the frantic grasping after fun or things our culture offers as its prizes. In Bunyan’s allegorical picture, as in Baxter’s and Brooks’s more analytic approaches to old age, there is no emphasis on preserving youth; instead, there is an emphasis on community, on intergenerational fellowship and the transmission of the faith, and on providing loving companionship to the edge of the River Death.

We could examine our own goals and attitudes to ask how different a The cohort of “old disciples” are shown in “godly genuinely conversation” about what they have come through, Christian what they still have to face, and the reward and experience of rest they are looking forold age might be ward to: how were their Ears from the frantic nowButfilled with heavenly Noises, and their Eyes grasping after delighted with Celestial fun or things our Visions! In this place there was a culture offers as Record kept of the Names of them that had been its prizes. Pilgrims of old, and a His-

tory of all the famous Acts that they had done. It was here also much discoursed how the River to some had had its flowings, and what ebbings it has had while others have gone over. It has been in a manner dry for some, while it has overflowed its Banks for others. [283]

Contemporary Literary Lenses Eric Erikson’s influential description of sequential developmental stages in the formation of human identity concludes with a developmental task for late life: “integrity” versus “despair.” Of this developmental challenge or task, Erikson writes:

In the context of this degree of mutual encouragement and meditation on both the past providence of God and the glory yet to come, the “invitations” or summons to come home are eagerly received and

[Integrity] is the ego’s assurance of its proclivity for order and mean10

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ing—an emotional integration faithful to the image-bearers of the past and ready to take, and eventually to renounce, leadership in the present. It is the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle and of the people who have become significant to it as something that had to be and that, by necessity, permitted of no substitutions. It thus means a new and different love of one’s parents … and an acceptance of the fact that one’s life is one’s own responsibility.... A meaningful old age, then, preceding a possible terminal senility, serves the need for that integrated heritage which gives indispensable perspective to the life cycle. Strength here takes the form of that detached yet active concern with life bounded by death, which we call wisdom.14

is his wife. The novel flashes back by way of Vincent’s memories to fill in his life story and Ellen’s as we await Vincent’s quiet decision to return home to his wife, and, finally, for his re-entry—transformed by his patient love—into her room, bringing with and within him the very presence of Christ. In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson re-visits the old Puritan habit of leaving a spiritual legacy.16 In this novel, John Ames, an old minister aware of his impending death, writes a long letter about life and love and Christian faith to his young son— celebrating earth and its loveliness, marriage and the joys of family, Word and sacrament, and offering as clear a statement as any in modern literature of the sustaining hope of eternal life. As John Ames faces his own death, he still has to do battle with temptation of jealousy and envy, even while settling his heart in an attitude of hopeful resignation to the will of God. Among the poets of the twentieth century, T.S. Eliot stands out for the persistence with which he probes the question of how meaning can be made of life in the face of mortality. An early poem, “Gerontion,” describes the old person no one wants to become, the old person who has neither meaningful exploits to recall (“Here I am, an old man in a dry month, / Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain. I was neither at the hot gates / Nor fought in the warm rain …”), nor hope for the future (“I am an old man, / A dull head among windy spaces,” he says at the end of the first stanza, and ends the poem, “an old man, driven by the Trades to a sleepy corner”).17 Later, in “A Song for Simeon,” the poet gives us another old man, one who has “kept faith and fast, provided for the

Among the poets of the twentieth century, T.S. Eliot stands out for the persistence with which he probes the question of how meaning can be made of life in the face of mortality.

Can we find examples in contemporary literature which model meaningfulness along the lines depicted by Baxter, Brooks, and Bunyan? Let me briefly name two novels and one major poetic corpus in which we find representations of the aged who find integrity instead of despair, and model, in terms our own culture can grasp, the “Christian heroic” journey being pursued in faithfulness to its earthly end. Mary Gordon’s The Other Side begins with a senile wife angrily knocking her eighty-eight-year-old husband “heavily to the floor.” His leg is broken, and “Vincent McNamara thought it was the end of everything. As things turned out, it was not.”15 The rest of the novel recapitulates the lives of the couple, Vincent and Ellen, who have been married for sixty-six years; Ellen, profane and godless, is the centre of attention. Off to one side, by reason of his broken leg, is Vincent, the moral centre of the book. In a nursing home situation, he is cared for lovingly and well. He longs to stay where he is, in a quiet room, rather than return to face the unhappy family and the cursing, angry, dying woman who 11

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poor,” who can say, “there went never any rejected from my door.” But even this old man “has eighty years and no to-morrow,” and despite having held the infant Saviour in his arms, says wearily, “I am tired with my own life and lives of those after me, / I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me. / Let thy servant depart, / Having seen thy salvation.”18 While there is a progression here, from the empty monologic rant of “Gerontion” to the implied dialogue of the soul and God in “A Song for Simeon,” Simeon expresses a life-weariness; while he sees a hope for the world in the infant he has just blessed, he seems to have no personal hope apart from a requested peace as he awaits and even embraces death. It awaits T.S. Eliot’s fuller experience of conversion for us to hear him say, with a kind of confidence he has lacked earlier: As we grow older The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated Of dead and living. Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment . . . . . . . . . . Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter. Old men ought to be explorers Here and there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion . . . . . . . . . In my end is my beginning.19

we do not waste the old people in our congregations and communities, or our own old age, in the trivialization and overmedicalization of aging that holds sway in our culture. Following are some of the ways in which we can cast this “re-visioning” of old age (all will bear much further thought and development): A s a p r ivil ege p rovid ed by God ’s providence: not everyone gets there, and those who do should give thanks for old age, as I heard a ninety-four-year-old woman do in our small rural Nova Scotian congregation a few Sundays ago. (She added, with a little chuckle, “I guess I can say that. I’m the oldest person here.”) As a period of significant challenge: the two basic biblical metaphors for the Christian life continue to apply—the old are “wayfarers” and “warfarers” still (see, for example, 1 Pet. 2:11). There are sins and temptations that intensify with old age, and these need to be noted and avoided. There are also opportunities for spiritual growth that can be identified and encouraged. As a time of both realization and hope: there is, of course, “the blessed hope” of our finally being “with Christ, which is far better,” but there is also the hope of entering in this life into a period of substantial “rest” in a deep union and communion with Christ. As a time to be lived in community: far from being cut off from community by way of infirmity, the old need more than ever to be knit into community—or for community to be knit around them. The biblical picture of a culture experiencing sh a l o m i s of a n i ntergener ation a l community (see, for example, Zech. 8:3–5 and Jer. 31:11–13). As a period of ascesis: the deprivations and sufferings of old age can be placed within a spiritual context—not that we do not seek to alleviate them, but that we understand that loneliness, solitude, and silence, together with pain, loss, and humiliation, can be offered up as a kind of prayer. Entering into Christ’s passion

Some Biblical and Theological Lenses for Further Exploration Whether through sermon or allegory, story or poetry, we need to hear voices that recapture something that has been lost: meaning, dignity, distinctness, life lived in community—mapping the challenges and changes that we can expect so that 12

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through patient suffering has long been taught as a Christian virtue. As a personal eschaton: the old question that used to be asked a good deal in the churches of my childhood was, “Do you think Christians will go through the tribulation? ” My answer now, having watched my parents suffer through their final years, is, “Yes, if they live long enough.” In the natural decline of old age, many will go through “great tribulation” before they pass over into the presence of the Lord they love, or, to keep the language eschatological, before Jesus fulfills his promise to them, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

humanism brought with it a devaluation of aging and the aged, based in the pessimism of classical literature. On classical attitudes to age, see Helen Small, “The Platonic Threshold,” in The Long Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 22–52. A well-known expression of this pessimistic view lies behind Jaques’s cynical monologue in Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players …,” which ends: “Last scene of all, / That ends this strange eventful history, / Is second childishness and mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing” (II.vii.ll.163–66). John Barclay argues that from the New Testament times forward, there is an impulse in Christianity that resists ageism. On this, see John M. G. Barclay, “There Is Neither Old Nor Young? Early Christianity and Ancient Ideologies of Age,” New Testament Studies 53 (2007): 225–41. A renewed embrace of the Bible in the sixteenth century led to a re-valuing of “ordinary life,” in all of its stages. On this, see Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 44–52. 3 Jo h n Mi lt o n, C o m p l e t e Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1957), 168. 4 Richard Baxter, “Directions for the Aged (And Weak),” A Christian Directory, in The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter in Twenty-Three Volumes, vol. 4, ed. Rev. William Orme (London: James Duncan, 1830), sec. 8, ch. 29, 396–403. 5 See, for example, Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), esp. 4–5. But contra Iser, see Michael Davies, Graceful Reading: Theology and Narrative in the Works of John Bunyan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), esp. the introduction and chapter 1, 1–16. 6 For a fictional example of a woman whose past sins become an old-age obsession, see George Mackay Brown, Greenvoe (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976). 7 See Helen Small, The Long Life, 7–8; for a fuller use of this analogy, see Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae: or, Mr. Richard Baxter’s Narrative of the Most Memorable Passages of His Life and Times, ed. Matthew Sylvester, Folio (London, 1696), 126. 8 On memory and identity through a unifying narrative, see for foundational discussions: Erik Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York:

The old question that used to be asked a good deal in the churches of my childhood was, “Do you think Christians will go through the tribulation?” My answer now, having watched my parents suffer through their final years, is, “Yes, if they live long enough.”

Conclusion Having briefly looked at aging and old age through some literary and theological lenses, the question we are left with is quite simple: How shall we live into the extended old age that improved health and fitness is likely to present to many of us? Do we have the courage to accept the challenge of T.S. Eliot—to be explorers, moving onward into a deeper union and communion with Christ as we age? With such considerations as those we have opened up in this article to guide our thinking about age—our own aging and that of others—we can say to each other, “Take courage. Press on. And when your body or mind does fail, know that you will still be known, loved, companioned, and blessed. Rest, then, in the sure knowledge that the purpose for which each of us was created and redeemed will be fulfilled; and know that in life and in death, we are the Lord’s.” Endnotes

1 I aver that Christians should be able to talk about death and dying without either fear or denial (cf. Hebrews 2:5–18). But see Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1973), who argues that all of Western culture is built on the necessary repression of the fear of death. See also Jacques Choron, Death and Western Thought (New York and London: Collier Books and Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1963). 2 The Renaissance rediscovery of classical 13

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Norton, 1968), 139–41; Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 204–25. On memory, narrative, and gratitude, see Margaret Visser, The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), 234–300. 9 On the Puritan encouragement to narrate one’s story, see Owen Watkins, The Puritan Experience (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), passim. On the nonconformist congregation as community, see G.R. Cragg, Puritanism in the Period of the Great Persecution, 1660–1688 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957), esp. 156–93. 10 Ibid., 193. 11 In Nova Scotia, where there is a deep-rooted ethos of caring for the old in family and community, I hear people asking each other the question: “Who’s tending for So-and-So?” It is a question we should ask within our congregations, with a clear sense of somebody accountably “tending for” each of our elderly members. 12 Thomas Brooks, Apples of Gold for Young

Men and Women: And a Crown of Glory for Old Men and Women OR The happiness of being good betimes, And the honour of being an Old Disciple, 11th ed. (London, for John Hancock, 1674). All parenthetical page references are to this edition. Original capitalization has been slightly altered for consistency. 13 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Second Part (1684), ed. James Blanton Wharey and Roger Sharrock (1960; repr. with corrections, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967). All marginal page references are to this edition. 14 Erik H. Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: Norton, 1968), 139–40. 15 Mary Gordon’s The Other Side (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), 3–5. 16 Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2004). 17 T.S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909–1950 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1971), 21–23. 18 Ibid., 69–70. 19 Ibid., “Four Quartets: East Coker, V,” 128–29.



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Parcels Lance Odegard Those rare moments, when the tiny words of children align and connect, gathering steam, traversing along the many miles of back-breaking track you’ve laid come rumbling into the station with letters from afar, sometimes even a gift. These unannounced arrivals cause whole townships to swell with dreams of glimmering progress. We were eating our frozen yogurt In the food court on a daddy-daughter date When she said, Papa I think I’m going to cry. Oh, are you sad? No. People cry when they’re sad or happy. So then you’re really happy? She nodded. I waited for what I already knew was coming, Looking around to see if there’d be anyone to overhear this— Anyone else on the station platform to marvel with me over The luck of such a grand delivery. Her eyes brimming with tears, shining like headlights lifted toward me and then just over me, I’m just so happy— I’ve never seen such big TVs before. A delivery made, A puff of steam, A freight train on its way. The lone man on the platform trying to account for a mix-up in parcels. Lance Odegard (MCS, Regent College) lives in East Vancouver with his wife Aimee, raising their three kids, writing poems and stories, and pastoring with the Artisan community.


Calvin’s Institutes: Primer for Spiritual Formation Julie Canlis

Julie Canlis won the Templeton Award for Theological Promise in 2007 for her recently published work, Calvin’s Ladder, which won a 2011 Christianity Today Award of Merit. She is a part-time lecturer and teaches Sunday school at a Church of Scotland parish where her husband, Matt, is minister. Together, they are raising four young children. Editor’s Note: This article will appear as a chapter in Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, forthcoming). Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers, www.

The gospel is a doctrine not of the tongue but of life. It is … received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds a seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart. Calvin, Institutes, III.6.41

was everything. This was the centre from which Calvin worked, and it is the centre for all of his theological projects. And this, not incidentally, is the only place where Calvin believed the transformation of our hearts and lives could occur—in an ongoing encounter with Jesus the Christ. An encounter with Jesus was not something one could label and date (as Calvin himself refused to label and date his own conversion), then to be put on display in one’s spiritual archives.6 From Calvin’s perspective, it was a new way of living and being, and its shape was sonship. “Adoption … is not the cause merely of a partial salvation, but bestows salvation entire.”7 Calvin’s theology, for all its clarity and polemic usefulness, loses its centre when it is pulled away from sonship—both the Sonship of Jesus and, consequently, our own adoptive sonship. 8 If we are going to read Calvin’s theology as it was intended, for spiritual formation,9 then it must begin here, with Calvin’s grasp of the transformative impact of sonship.


hen it came to life on earth, Calvin wa s a realist. In fact, he was something of a pessimist.2 His mother had died when he was three. His undemonstrative father died little more than a decade later, excommunicated from the church. His teenage years brought on chronic headaches, indigestion, and asthma that never left him. His experience of life was as one “lost in a labyrinth,”3 with fear so palpable that he writes, “I wanted to die to be rid of those fears.”4 But this cloud of fragility and loneliness was not without its silver lining. Calvin, intellectual genius that he was, understood from early on that religion was not only for the mind but also for the heart. For Calvin, the gift of the gospel was not in correct doctrine but in its ability to penetrate to the heart and emotions—indeed, even to transform them. Modest about his conversion, 5 we know little of how the self-disciplined, introverted young man was converted— but, one thing we do know is that he was converted to Christ. Not to reform-minded thinking. Not to humanist methods of biblical scholarship. Not to more “authentic” eucharistic practices. But to Jesus Christ himself. And this, for Calvin,

Calvin’s Institutes: Primer for Spiritual Formation Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is not where many would turn for his understanding of spiritual formation. Its later polemical and dogmatic additions belie its origins as a small catechetical handbook (following exactly the program of Luther’s Lesser Catechism), intent on shaping persecuted Christians for right belief and living. Yet over all the years that it grew (from six chapters to eighty) 16

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order now set forth.”10 Scripture does not reveal God’s nature but instead reveals God’s disposition—his “benevolence” toward us, as Calvin would say. All through the Old Testament we have the story of God’s benevolent pursuit of humanity, a pursuit culminating in Christ and his cross. So even as Calvin uses the Trinity as a structuring tool, it is not an abstract framework but God triunely relating to us.11 The Trinity is not an organizing principle for spectators. It is profoundly personal, making a claim on the reader’s life. In the gospel, Calvin says, we have the “heart of Christ opened”12 to us, which is the revelation of the heart of the Triune God. Demonstrated even by the way he organizes the Institutes, Calvin declares: all must begin with the Trinity. Before we even enter into the words on the first page, the Trinity gives shape to Calvin’s understanding of where we have come from and where we are going. The Institutes shimmers with this unstated presence of a trinitarian, personal God who is above, before, ahead of, behind, and all around us—loving us, calling us, breathing life into our beings. The Institutes follows the steady pursuit of (Book I) God the Father, who creates us for love and fellowship, and who incarnates the Word as (Book II) Jesus the true Son, who has come to redeem us from sin and show us what this fellowship is really like. The Spirit (Book III) continues this wooing, building the life of Jesus the Son into our broken lives so that we can truly be God’s children who, as the church (Book IV), live a familial life responding to this Triune God of grace. Here we begin to see that for Calvin, the Trinity is not merely a test of orthodoxy, or a mathematical conundrum that we must

and that it matured (from 1536 to 1559), Calvin’s original purpose never wavered. His desire was that it give believers not only a right understanding of the gospel, but that it “pass into daily living, and so transform us” (III.6.4). The “systematic” Calvin who was later to be admired is more of an anachronism, for he viewed doctrine not as the communication of beliefs about God but as a personal experience of the gospel. It must not be forgotten that Calvin was first and foremost a pastor who was intent on forming a people for and by union with Christ. The Institutes gives forth wonderful gems when subjected to intense analysis; but, like the Scriptures, there are elusive diamonds that can only be found when an entire book is read in one sitting. I’ll never forget the experience of reading the book of Revelation straight through, when I saw the forest for the first time, rather than the trees. There are themes and nuances in Calvin’s Institutes which may be hindered by intense analysis and scrutiny, where one does not breathe in the book as a whole, but only in fits and spurts. And perhaps for this reason the Institutes is rarely consulted for spiritual formation. Although it is obvious that I have never read the Institutes in a day, let alone a week (and not just because I have young children!), I would encourage its broad perusal for the nurturing of our interior lives. Calvin, at least, would approve.

The Institutes shimmers with this unstated presence of a trinitarian, personal God who is above, before, ahead of, behind, and all around us—loving us, calling us, breathing life into our beings.

Spiritual Formation: The Trinitarian Context What a detailed analysis of the Institutes often overlooks is the structure of the work—a structure that gives crucial clues for Calvin’s vision of the spiritual life. He toyed with how to configure the Institutes for over two decades, until at last, he arranged it into four books, loosely conceived as the Father, the Son, the Spirit, and the church. Of this final structure, he writes, “although I did not regret the labor spent, I was never satisfied until the work had been arranged in the 17

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attend to the gospel’s eternally personal nature through our own devotional life. We must attend to it. But unless we rest in God’s personalizing of us, we will try and “personalize” our faith through our own intensity and emotions. Often, the “personalness” of the gospel is secured through second-rate means, such as gratitude for salvation, or an individual sense of God’s presence, or a missional call. These are wonderful things, but they are false securities. On the contrary, the only thing that can guarantee the personal nature of our faith is God’s own personhood. Funnily enough, the quest to “personalize” our faith usually ends in its depersonalization, because we begin to focus inordinately on ourselves. Calvin chides, “it is not very sound theology to confine a man’s thoughts so much to himself … for we are born first of all for God, and not for ourselves.”15 Framing our whole existence around the personalness of God—as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— is what ensures that our “spirituality” (or “piety”) remains personal. And it is in this personal, relational manner that we are led “in” to the Institutes.

believe by faith. Instead, the Trinity is to be entered into. It is the lived experience of the Christian life. The Trinity is our clue and access to spiritual formation as both its means and end. T he Tr i nit y provided more t ha n ju st a ha ndy organizational pattern for Calvin’s theological primer; it e n s u r e d it s p e r s o n a l nature. Thus far, Luther had pioneered the catechism as a way for people to “own” their faith, to lure theology out of the cathedral and into their daily living and practice. (For exa mple, t he 1549 Catechism of the Church of England begins with the question, “what is your name?” suggesting that catechisms have very much to do with the personalization of the faith).13 Yet, over the years that he laboured over the Institutes, Calvin began to move away from Luther’s catechetical structure to a trinitarian structure.14 Though we do not know all the reasons why, I’d like to suggest that in doing so, Calvin provided a more sure foundation for making one’s faith personal. For catechisms (and other helpful spiritual practices) do not secure the personal nature of our faith. God does. T he d o ct r i ne o f t he Trinity is a way of reminding us that everything God does is personal, because God is three persons, who can only be received in a personal way. It is not we who make the gospel personal; rather, it is God who is eternally personal— who is himself a communion of love— who offers his gospel to us. I don’t want to risk misunderstanding here: we can

Often, the “personalness” of the gospel is secured through second-rate means, such as gratitude for salvation, or an individual sense of God’s presence, or a missional call. These are wonderful things, but they are false securities. On the contrary, the only thing that can guarantee the personal nature of our faith is God’s own personhood.

Being Spiritually Formed by Union with Christ Calvin sets the stage for the Institutes with a trinitarian shape to reality, and an understanding of God and his “personalness”—his life of communion— that sets the agenda. But for Calvin, there is only one entrance to the spiritual life, and that is Jesus. He is our entry point. All contact with God, all gifts from God, all prayer, all peace, all ministry, all holiness comes to us through and in the person of Jesus. Why? Because Calvin believes this has always been the “nature” of things. This is the trinitarian way God works. God doesn’t do things at a distance. He is personal, and all aspects of our Christian faith are—at their core—encounter with him. This is no less the case for us as it was for Adam and Eve who enjoyed all the benefits of God because, even there in the 18

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story of redemption.) Calvin is convinced that there is so much that God desires to give to humanity, but now what God wants to give will take on a Christ-shape. It will take on the characteristics of Jesus himself: his humanity, his obedience, and—above all—his relationship with the Father.18 It is this that God desires to give fallen humanity. And it is for this that Christ walks the earth—breaking the power of sin, disease, and destruction—so that it can become ours. “Christ has [no] thing, which may not be applied to our benefit.”19 Every event in Jesus’s life was lived with the self-conscious intent that humanity be able to draw from it and be made new by it.20 So how do we get in on these hard-won benefits? How do we experience Jesus’s salvation, in all its fullness and with all its gifts? Calvin’s solution is simple: we get Jesus himself. We get Jesus “adorned” with all his gifts.21 Book III is devoted entirely to this question:

garden, Christ was the “mediator” or the “midpoint” between God and themselves.16 He is the one in whom we are given all the things of God and—most centrally to Calvin’s thought—God himself. A big task of being spiritually formed is to begin to recognize this possibility for Christ-encounter all around us. Spiritual formation in the Institutes does not revolve around set spiritual practices. Nor does it begin with an understanding of grace and the gifts that God longs to give us. These gifts have a face—Jesus. This world we have entered is a Christ-saturated world. All “spirituality” we have is encounter with Christ. Calvin wouldn’t have us become sentimental about this. Instead, he simply would have us honour the nearness of Christ in and around us. He would have us recognize that everything we do, as a consequence, is worship. (Calvin is infamous for his iconoclastic leanings, but it is imperative that we understand that Calvin was not against statues and physical representations of God in and of themselves. No, he hated the fact that they compromised God’s nearness. He hated the fact that people, believing God to be far off, felt that they could approach the saints and their images with better luck than a distant God.) Calvin desired that people understand the Jesus-saturated elements of our reality17 and how every aspect of our lived life is God’s hand outstretched to us in communion. If Book I of the Institutes is concerned wit h Ch r i st a s t he “midp oi nt” or “mediator” of all creation, Book II is concerned to show how, after the Fall, Jesus becomes the mediator in a new way. Calvin’s writings can be seen as one great lament for what humanity could have been, but it is a mistake to ever pull Calvin’s virulent language about sin away from what he believed was its true context—the fact that our sin has been provided for in the cross. (For this reason, Calvin refuses to talk about the effects of the Fall under Book I of the Institutes on “Creation,” but waits until Book II and the

Spiritual formation in the Institutes does not revolve around set spiritual practices. Nor does it begin with an understanding of grace and the gifts that God We must now examine longs to give us. this question: How do These gifts have we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed a face—Jesus. on his only-begotten Son—not for Christ’s own All “spirituality” private use, but that he we have is might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must encounter with understand that as long as Christ remains outside of Christ. us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called “our Head.”


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something else than Christ himself.” 24 So take note: whenever any aspect of Calvin’s theology becomes separated from Christ, we risk misunderstanding all of his theology. Calvin’s theology is better seen as radiating out from a centre (a person, no less!) than as a linear progression of events (or—worse—as a horticultural mnemonic … in the genus tulipa) that threaten to break Calvin’s emphasis on the intimate, the personal, the relational.25

… We also, in turn, are said to be “engrafted into him” … for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. (III.1.1) Calvin is anything but vague. We are not to imitate Jesus. We are not to consent intellectually to Jesus. We are not to receive the gifts of Jesus, as if they could in some way be “imputed” to us apart from him.22 We are to “grow into one body” with him. We are to undergo, what Calvin terms a few chapters later, “that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union” (III.11.10). This is Calvin’s vision for the spiritual life and all that it includes: “mystical union” with Christ. Calvin makes clear that the death and resurrection of Christ are not simply things that happened to Christ in the past. Nor can we imitate them now. We, through the Spirit, participate in his death and his resurrection (II.16.8).23 All of t he bles si ngs of salvation are only offered to us via communion. God has structured our salvation such that ever ything of which we have need can only be had in union with Christ. God does not partition his gifts to us piecemeal—justification, sanctification, peace, wisdom—but they come only as we are in communion with the one who is their source: Jesus. Union with Christ provides a clever defense against the gifts becoming separated from the giver, the work of Christ from the person of Christ, lest we become like those of whom Calvin scornfully says, “they sought in Christ

In “union with Christ,” Jesus’s Father becomes our Father, we become children, and we enter the family dynamic. We move from being orphans to suddenly sitting around a table, eating the family food, being included in the Father’s legacy, and getting in on everything in this family economy.

Being Spiritually Formed by Our Adoption What makes Calvin’s theology of union unusual is that for all its “mystical” aspect (mystical being Calvin’s own term), it is completely anchored in the humanity of Jesus. It is not union with an undifferentiated God, some inarticulate joining of human and divine. Union with God takes the shape of Christ: we are joined, by the Spirit, to Jesus who in turn opens up to us his earthly relationship to his Father.26 For Calvin, God becoming our Father is perhaps the best summary of the gospel: “[Paul] proves that our salvation consists in having God as our Father. It is for children, that inheritance is appointed[;] … we shall partake of it in common with the only-begotten Son of God.”27 In “union with Christ,” Jesus’s Father becomes our Father, we become children, and we enter the family dynamic. We move from being orphans to suddenly sitting around a table, eating the family food, being included in the Father’s legacy, and getting in on everything in this family economy. Calvin, like other Reformers, revelled in the christological, but I believe his theology is better known as filial. In nearly every possible way, and at every critical theological juncture, Calvin paints the Christian life in familial terms, as children with their loving Father. Through the years, Calvin’s soteriology has sometimes been understood in a limited way, solely having to do with justification and the event of Christ on the cross. My suspicion 20

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is that Calvin’s scuttle with Osiander is largely to blame for our Reformed emphasis on justification to the exclusion (or downgrading) of adoption. Osiander was a f lamboyant and controversial contemporary of Calvin, who locked horns with Calvin over what it meant to be in union with Christ. Fearing Osiander’s focus on union unaccompanied by an appropriate role for the cross, Reformed theology has often compensated by limiting union to the cross—the method by which we are saved.28 With this move, however, we are no longer asking the questions that Calvin was asking; instead we are left with questions about how we are saved, from what we are saved, and what we should do now that we have received this salvation. They tend to be the questions that quench rather than nourish spiritual formation because they are stunted. Calvin’s questions always centred around God (not ourselves, or even our salvation) and the glory of God. His questions are not stunted because they open up to a reality much larger than themselves, which cannot be accessed with a (frankly consumerist) how-canI-get-salvation mentality or a (primarily f u nct io n a l) w h at-s ho u ld-I- d o -now mentality. Instead, Calvin’s questions took their cues from God’s inexplicable desire to bring us into his trinitarian fullness, by way of Jesus’s truly human life.29 It is when we look at how Calvin uses adoption that we find him to communicate not only the miracle of our justification but that for which we have been saved … the miracle of our having become children of God.30 Calvin is quite explicit that we have been saved not only from sin, but for a life of trust, joy, intimacy, and holiness as God’s own children. Adoption is Calvin’s answer both to Osiander’s non-trinitarian union and to the sometimes-limited “union” that the Reformed tradition has embraced throughout various stages of its history. The remarkable thing is that Calvin sees Jesus’s earthly experience as the Son—his life of obedience and

intimacy with his Father—as being offered to us through the Spirit. This is no family metaphor … “no matter of figures,” Calvin argues.31 Instead, it is the reality into which we, unsuspectingly, have been inserted. It is in Calvin’s analysis of Christ’s baptism narrative that this comes across with striking force. When God rends the sky and thunders his blessing over Jesus— calling him beloved—Calvin reminds us that this is not a private and personal emotion God felt for his only-begotten Son. This was God’s declaration of our belovedness as well. “It was rather the design of Christ to lay, as it were, in our bosom, a sure pledge of God’s love toward us.”32 The declaration of belovedness at the baptism was a declaration for us, who are in Christ. It is the “pledge of our adoption,” whereby we may “boldly call God himself our Father.”33 Christ received this tender title “beloved” not for himself alone but for all of us who would be engrafted into him. Calvin exegetes the passage “this is my beloved Son” thus: “from him [the Father’s love] then pours itself upon us, just as Paul teaches: ‘We receive grace in the beloved’” (III.2.32). In all this, Calvin’s point is not that the Father reluctantly loves us only because we are hidden behind Jesus. The point is that God has a trinitarian, personal way of doing things. He refuses to give us gifts in which he himself is not personally involved. “Such is the determination of God,” writes Calvin, “not to communicate himself, or his gifts to men, otherwise than by his Son.”34 We really are loved, because of the one, saving will of the Triune God—the Father effecting, the Son ordering, and the Spirit empowering (I.13.18). God’s Fatherhood is made available to us in Christ, the Son.

The Spirit’s work is to make God’s Fatherhood concrete. There is nothing more concrete than the Sonship of Jesus, so it is to this that the Spirit unites us and makes a living reality within us.


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The Spirit’s work is to make God’s Fatherhood concrete. There is nothing more concrete than the Sonship of Jesus, so it is to this that the Spirit unites us and makes a living reality within us.35 Without the Spirit, God is no more than a kindly, fatherly figure. With and by the Spirit, we are engrafted into the Son who shares his Father with us. To be sure, Calvin notes, only Christ has the right to the title of “Son,” yet “he communicates this honor to us by adoption, when we are engrafted into his body.”36 This is the concrete foundation of our adoption. Therefore God both calls himself our Father and would have us so address him. By the great sweetness of this name he frees us from all distrust, since no greater feeling of love can be found elsewhere than in the Father. Therefore he could not attest his own boundless love toward us with any surer proof than the fact that we are called “children of God” (III.20.37). Spiritual formation, as radiating from the Institutes, is the ongoing task of uncovering the reality of our adoption. Calvin challenges us to situate ourselves squarely in the love of God—the concrete love of Father, Son, and Spirit—and to allow that to transform all our notions about ourselves. It is the radical orientation of our interior lives to the love of God and forcing ourselves to stay there until we really, truly believe it. God’s love can only be understood when we realize that his love is not an abstract force (or sentimental platitude!) but is located in the rich life shared between Father, Son, and Spirit. It is this life of divine communion that defines “love” and is the very life into which we have been adopted. Calvin knew that believing this reality about God and his fatherly love was the hardest task of a child. Why is this? Because the effect of Adam’s sin, Calvin summarizes, is that “no one now experiences God as Father” (I.2.1). Our assumption that God wants something from us, rather than to be with us, is a mark that our emotions have not yet come under

the transformation from slaves to children. Given Calvin’s own acquaintance with anxiety, it should come as no surprise that his interpretation of the Fall involves a fall into fear. The tragedy of Adam, at least in Calvin’s estimation, was that in place of love, now was terror (II.12.1). God comes to us as a father, but we now misinterpret those very things “by which he would draw us to himself.” Instead, “regarding him as adverse to us, we, in our turn, flee from his presence.”37 One of Calvin’s main grievances against Rome was the fact that priests used fear as a weapon, with “long sermons about the fear of God,” making the people “flee from him and terribly afraid before his face.”38 For Calvin, this amounted to nothing other than a living hell, “since there is no more terrifying agony than to tremble from fear and uncertainty.”39 If our sinful predisposition is fear of God, marked by servile obedience that attempts to pacify him (rather than love him, trust him, and enjoy fellowship with him), faith is its opposite: “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us” (III.2.7). Faith, though, finds its strength not in our zeal, but in the fact that it joins us to Christ the Son.40 Calvin was no stranger to fear. He knew the fragility of abandonment. He knew how difficult it is to trust and “dare call upon him as Father” (III.20.14). And so he understood that the Spirit’s most difficult work in our lives is to persuade us to act like children, to trust and pray like children, to delight in God’s Fatherhood, and to receive this good news in the depths of our being. But the narrowness of our hearts cannot comprehend God’s boundless favour, nor only is Christ the pledge and guarantee of our adoption, but he gives the Spirit as witness to us of the same adoption, through whom with free and full voice we may cry, Abba, Father (III.20.37). Our identity as children of God is not something of which we can convince ourselves. It is the jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit, “without whom,” says Calvin, “we 22

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cannot taste either the fatherly favor of God or the beneficence of Christ” (III.1.2). In fact, Calvin notes that we are so slow to believe that the Spirit must place the very words that the Son prayed into our fearful mouths: Abba, as a child to its father. Calvin knew that this was such a supernatural revelation, that it could only happen through the Spirit over and over again. Before the Spirit ever empowers our doing, he first confirms our being. Calvin reminds us that of all the titles in the New Testament, he is “first” called the Spirit of adoption (III.1.3) who “alone can witness to our spirit that we are children of God” (III.2.39). This is the Spirit’s ministry to us. It is an identity-forming ministry, calling us to trust in God’s fatherly goodness and allowing us to cease from perfectionism and performance. Our confidence is in our status as children, not in our perfection or even in the intensity (or lack) of our emotions. Christian freedom thus comes not as a command, but as a benefit of sonship; it is a “spiritual thing. Its whole force consists in quieting frightened consciences before God” (III.19.9). Calvin’s first and foremost emphasis is on the work of the Spirit to open our hearts and minds to look away from what we are in ourselves, to who we are in Jesus the Son, as sons and daughters. His primary role is spiritual formation—Spirit-ually forming us to live as children of God. Only then does Calvin speak of the Holy Spirit’s second work of bearing fruit in our lives, and even so, this is subsumed under sonship, as its evidence. Traditional disciplines in the Christian life are the fruit of participating in this Father-child relationship and, as such, we have tremendous freedom. “To sum up,” writes Calvin,

sure of their tasks. But sons, who are more generously and candidly treated by their fathers, do not hesitate to offer them incomplete and half-done and even defective works, trusting that their obedience and readiness of mind will be accepted by their fathers, even though they have not quite achieved what their fathers intended. Such children ought we to be, firmly trusting that our services will be approved by our most merciful Father, however small, rude, and imperfect these may be…. And we need this assurance in no slight degree, for without it we attempt everything in vain. For God considers that he is revered by no work of ours unless we truly do it in reverence toward him. But how can this be done amidst all this dread, where one doubts whether God is offended or honored by our works? (III.19.5)

The Holy Spirit ushers us into adoption, not workaholism; the Spirit tells us not so much what to do, but who we are. In an era where we are inclined to limit the Spirit to a The Holy Spirit ushers us into adoption, not workaholism; the Spirit tells power, enabling us not so much what to do, our tasks, we but who we are. In an era where we are inclined to limit need to allow the Spirit to a power, enabling our tasks, we need to allow Calvin to reCalvin to re-form our notions of our Christian identity. And form our notions when it is time for work (as Calvin has room aplenty for of our Christian such minor tasks as changing identity. society ), it is not as those 41

who are under the “rigor of the law” but as those who “hear themselves called with fatherly gentleness” who can “cheerfully and with great eagerness answer” (III.19.5). Our adoption in Christ cannot be reduced to a mere “legal status” with

Those bound by the yoke of the law are like servants assigned certain tasks for each day by their masters. These servants think they have accomplished nothing, and dare not appear before their masters unless they have fulfilled the exact mea23

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his sons.” Calvin shocks us by likening the Christian who only accepts God as Father, but not the church as Mother, to one whose parents have been divorced. This person has “put asunder what God hath joined together” (IV.1.1, echoing Mark 10:9). So while the lonely individual has no place in Calvin’s spirituality, neither— and this is more to the point—does the pious “child of God” who contemplates her Father in isolation. The Christian no longer has an identity in isolation. She simply doesn’t exist. One can discern a great many things from the prepositions that Calvin uses, especially how he employs the little Pauline phrase “in Christ.” Paul often tosses it into a sentence where one would least expect it, or where a “normal” reading would leave it out. Every time Calvin came across one of Paul’s phrases such as “in Christ,” he knew he was standing on holy ground … particularly as many of his contemporaries could read the sentence without even realizing that that little phrase altered everything.43 For Calvin, that phrase signals an altered identity.44 Not a religious platitude, this phrase required a new self-understanding in which Paul no longer considered himself as individual. He could no longer separate his identity from his being “in Christ” or, indeed, from those who join together forming Christ’s body. Calvin picks up on this and declares that “our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God” (I.1.1), thereby insisting that the self can only be understood in its relation to God.45 Calvin presses this further and (particularly in his commentaries) fights for prepositions that maintain the Christian’s position as participating in Christ, rather than accomplishing things “for” Christ or “on behalf of” Christ or even “by” Christ.46 Once again, we find Calvin waging war on using Christ for our own ends—whether it be using Christ for the purpose of “my salvation” or for “my ministry” or, indeed, for “my spiritual identity.” Our identity is ultimately found in union with Christ and is realized by becoming part of his corporate body. In

God. Calvin opens up for us its rich and astoundingly fruitful implications as a new set of relations into which we have entered. This is not for the faint of heart. In an era of “doing”— of activism, of busyness, of measurable ministry—“being” can be one’s personal hell. It is the hard task of laying tasks aside in order to contemplate and receive the words, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Only when we hear that word can our tasks have any meaning at all. Spiritual formation is all about entering this Father-Son relationship, about living out the truth of our adoption. It is formation as relation.

Our identity is discovered only as it is relinquished, and it is to be sought in its proper place (which is the Spirit’s domain). Our uniqueness is not achieved by Being Spiritually Formed by Church “staying true” to the Book IV of the Institutes ourselves, but as articulates what it is to be a family, with God as our we acknowledge Father and “the Church as Mother.” Just as union that there is One our with Christ is anchored in humanity, so Calvin who is better than Christ’s anchors our spiritual growth in concrete, human things. we are at guarding Far from being an add-on to the spiritual life, the church our uniqueness. is the nurturer, the maternal The more we environment where we are brought into fellowship and, discover our t herefore, i nto mat u r it y Although Zwingli’s identity as being (IV.1.1). individualistic ideas have seeped into contemporary “ in Christ,” Refor med thinking, it is imperative to understand the more our that, for Calvin, the church uniqueness is was essential. The singular Christian is the immature secured. C h r i stia n. T he i s olate d 42

Christian is the apostate Christian. For the church is the very one “into whose bosom God is pleased to gather


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a sense, the frantic quest to “discover” one’s self is over. Instead, we are put in a posture of receiving our selves. To seize one’s “unique” identity, particularly one’s Christian identity, is death to our identity: it is found only in the reality— mystical and corporate—of our being “in Christ.” This indeed is confusing for those of us in the twenty-first century who experience “increasing difficulty … in translating Paul’s imagery of incorporation into another person”47 into language meaningful within our individualistic notions of the self. Our identity is discovered only as it is relinquished, and it is to be sought in its proper place (which is the Spirit’s domain). Our uniqueness is not achieved by “staying true” to ourselves, but as we acknowledge that there is One who is better than we are at guarding our uniqueness. The more we discover our identity as being “in Christ,” the more our uniqueness is secured. And this, of course, is the Spirit’s work—maintaining our identity as persons-in-Christ, ministering to us as the “Spirit of adoption” who works this identity deeper and deeper into the church’s consciousness. S pi r it u a l fo r m at io n r e q u i r e s a cultivated awareness of our being “in Christ.” Like breathing, it is the almost unconscious environment in which we live; it requires attentiveness lest we forget the source of our life and health. Our being “in Christ” is a new relation that requires our participation: “Surely this is so: We ought not to separate Christ from ourselves or ourselves from him. Rather we ought to hold fast bravely with both hands to that fellowship by which he has bound himself to us” (III.2.24). Being in “union with Christ” does not mean that we will necessarily live out the truth of this corporate identity (as the primal sin of individualism still holds sway over many of our lives). It is an ongoing task to remain attentive and not forget who we are in him and in his church. We need, as Calvin says, to not only “hold fast bravely” to his commitment to us, but also prayerfully

to ask him to teach us more of what this means. “It remains for us to seek in him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him” (III.20.1). We need to become what we already are! This is the journey of a lifetime. “But what? It is only an entrance! We must march further in it…. So, then, it is not all to have entered, but we must follow further, until we are fully united to Jesus Christ.”48 Looking Like Children of God: Being Spiritually Formed by Suffering Just as Calvin’s understanding o f ju s t i f ic at io n i s b e s t understood when placed in the larger frame of adoption, so is our sa nctification. Calvin’s understanding of sanctification is that children of God look like the Son of God. This is no magical transformation, no plastic surgery. It happens in the same way that we were justified: participation in Christ, and in his sufferings. Ca lvi n i s clea r t h at, through adoption, believers are drawn into Christ’s own life and relationship with his Father. But this relationship with his Father was worked out, for us, in a historical way—in the slog a nd determination and suffering of life on earth (John 16:33). Suffering, therefore, is as much our context as it was for Christ. Being united to Christ does not short-cut suffering. It leads us straight into the heart of it.49 Christ’s path is our own. “The afflictions of the faithful are nothing else than the manner by which they are conformed to the image of Christ.”50 Calvin specifically links adoption and cross-bearing, in order that adoption doesn’t usher us into a feel-good realm or into unreality itself. Salvation

Calvin’s understanding of sanctification is that children of God look like the Son of God. This is no magical transformation, no plastic surgery. It happens in the same way that we were justified: participation in Christ, and in his sufferings.


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comes through a cross-shaped life. Calvin’s approach to suffering is not cavalier—one that sees God rewriting people’s life-scripts to make it hard and unpleasant. No, suffering is part and parcel of life on earth, which itself can be hard and unpleasant. Calvin gives the naked reality of suffering a purpose: you have been adopted. Now take these circumstances to grow into the family likeness. Using Romans, Calvin sketches out his spirituality of suffering: we are predestined to glory, but the highway to glory is via our ordinary lives. The route to glory begins at the “You Are Here” signpost under our feet, which means our everyday, fallen life-on-earth, including loss, i nju stice, t hwa r ted dreams. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), but God doesn’t need to engineer difficult circumstances for this. Life on fallen earth provides them aplenty. Suffering is not predestined by God, according to Calvin. But the transformational character of suffering is. “Afflictions conform us to Christ” 51 because we are people who have been united to the one who suffered and has overcome the world. For this reason, because of Christ’s redemption of suf fering, suffering itself can be said to be “appointed by God”52 for a work far beyond face value. Calvin calls upon Paul for his defense: “[Paul] now draws this conclusion from what had been said, that so far are the troubles of this life from hindering our salvation, that, on the contrary, they are helps to it.”53 Once again, God has taken our context—life on a broken and suffering

planet—and creatively worked good from it. It can break us or minister salvation to us. It is ordinary. It is not to be analyzed for a deeper spiritual meaning. (After all, the root of suffering and evil is beyond our comprehension.) But it is to be entered into with confidence, as children of God receiving their inheritance: “but Christ came to [his inheritance] by the cross; then we must come to it in the same manner.”54 If suffering is neither God’s intent, nor an orchestrated test, then what is it? Calvin focuses on the vulnerability of suffering —how suffering is vulnerable to the transforming sovereignty of God. Suffering is, in Christ, subject to the recapitulating love of the Father who, through the Spirit, draws near to his children—first to comfort, and one day finally to heal. In between that first and final embrace, our transformation occurs, for God had so determined that all whom he has adopted should bear the image of Christ.… Gratuitous adoption, in which our salvation consists … determines that we are to bear the cross; for no one can be an heir of heaven without being confirmed to the image of the onlybegotten Son of God…. We ought to refuse nothing which he has been pleased to undergo.55

We are being lured away from the siren-song of the self-contained person, and into a family who together witnesses to the true human identity. We have been freely adopted and are growing up into our family as we “ hold fast” to that fellowship by which the firstborn Son first bound himself to us.

This is the life of Christ into which we are being drawn, deeper and deeper, day by day. We are being lured away from the siren-song of the self-contained person, and into a family who together witnesses to the true human identity. We have been freely adopted and are growing up into our family as we “hold fast” to that fellowship by which the firstborn Son first bound himself to us. But this Son still bears the marks of suffering and humiliation, of death and resurrection, in his body. We are joined to these marks as much as we are joined to him. Conclusion For Calvin, the gospel is a new set of relations into which we have entered. Spiritual formation begins when we wake 26

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up to these relations. Calvin’s Institutes is a marvelous work opening our eyes to the trinitarian context in which we almost unconsciously live and move and have our being. But Calvin wants more than an awareness of our context. He desires that we be spiritually formed by it. For Calvin, everything hinges on the fact that our salvation moves us from “terror” at the sight of God (II.12.1) to knowing God as Father. (Faith, as mentioned aboove, is moving away from the belief that God is “out to get us” and instead into the understanding that he is “out to give to us,” or to use Calvin’s word, that he is “benevolent” [III.2.7]). This is not so much a mental adjustment, as it is a relational adjustment, occurring when the “Spirit of adoption” engrafts us into the beloved Son, who shares the love and blessing of the Father with us. This, however, is no easy realization. It is a miraculous insight—a special ministry of the Spirit—who persuades us over and over that we truly are God’s children. This same Spirit who places us “in Christ” also places us into Christ’s family—the church—challenging us to put our orphan ways behind us and to start living and acting like family. As family, we are welcomed into the family inheritance, but also included in the “chore chart.” These family chores (or commonly called “good works”) demonstrate that we are part of the family, and reflect our status as children resembling their Father, in the image of the Son. The Father loves us and “shows favor to the image of his Son which he recognizes in us,”56 which grows within us day by day, particularly as we face suffering head-on, as our Saviour did.

tainty from Calvin’s letters. For example, Calvin’s reflection that our life “hangs as if from a silk thread” or his exposé on the dangers of “modern” living: If you step onto a ship, you are only one step away from death. If you climb onto a horse, your foot only needs to slip and your life is in danger. Just walk through the city streets one time, and there are as many dangers as there are roof tiles on the houses. If you or your friend are carrying a weapon, injury lies in wait. [36] 3 See William Bouwsma’s penetrating analysis in John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). 4 Selderhuis, John Calvin, 33. 5 The scant statements we have are from the “Preface” to his Commentary on Psalms, in which he relates that it was “unexpected” (subita). All references to Calvin’s commentaries are from the modern twenty-two volume reprint (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) of those put out by the Calvin Translation Society (Edinburgh, 1843–55). 6 In Calvin’s writings, there is tremendous movement “upward” toward deeper and deeper communion with God. One’s reference point is not backward to a point in time (such as conversion), but forward into the intimacy of obedience and love, as enacted by the Son. 7 Calvin, “True Method of Obtaining Concord,” in Tracts and Treatises in Defense of the Reformed Faith III, ed. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 275. 8 I am unwilling to drop the gendered term “sonship,” as our “sonship” is founded upon Christ’s own Sonship. For those who find the term suspect, I do think it can be interchanged with all sorts of terms like “becoming children of God” or “being adopted,” but these lose the christological clarity that Calvin intended. 9 A better term, though more inaccessible to our modern ears, is Calvin’s own use of the word “piety.” For Calvin, this was not a holier-than-thou term, but a holistic, life-affirming one that spoke of unity among our life, beliefs, and emotions. For Calvin, piety is one’s reverential life-response in the face of knowing God’s true character. Since Calvin says that the first step toward true piety is “to know that God is a father to us” (II.6.4), I am taking the liberty to use the more contemporary term “spiritual formation” (with all its baggage), as I argue that the first step of spiritual formation (according to Calvin’s theology) is knowing God as Father. 10 Institutes, “Preface to the Reader.” 11 For this reason, Calvin does not use the titles “Father,” “Son,” “Spirit,” and “Church” but instead speaks of “I: The Knowledge of God the Creator,” “II: The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ,” “III: The Way in Which We Receive the Benefits of Christ,” and finally “IV: The External Means … by Which God Invites Us Into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein.” Note the emphasis on how the Triune God works in Christ to bring humans to salvation and communion.


1 All references to Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion are to the 1559 edition and will be inserted directly into the text. I am working from the two-volume Library of Christian Classics (20– 21) edition, ed. John T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960). 2 See the delightful chapter “Pilgrim,” by Herman J. Selderhuis (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2009), in which he gleans this sense of uncer27

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12 Commentary John, 15:15. 13 This is from the catechism found in the first edition of The Book of Common Prayer, “an instruction to bee learned of every childe, before he be brought to be confirmed of the bushop.” Although catechisms existed in the medieval church, they were used so advantageously by the Reformation that the Council of Trent declared great “mischief” to have been done “especially by those writings called catechisms.” 14 Luther’s Lesser Catechism began with the Decalogue and Apostle’s Creed, then moved on to the Lord’s Prayer, true and false sacraments, Christian liberty, and ended with church government and discipline. 15 From Calvin’s letter to Sadoleto, in A Reformation Debate, ed. John C. Olin (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 58. 16 See Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), chapter two. 17 Calvin sees Christ everywhere, not only in our present lives but through all of history, particularly the Old Testament. God’s presence in the garden? It was Christ. The insight of the prophets? They were speaking the words of Christ. The cloud in the desert? It was Christ. 18 “The Son of God became man in such a manner, that God was his God as well as ours” (Commentary Ephesians, 1:17). 19 Commentary Hebrews, 7:25. 20 Commentary John, 17:19–21. 21 Calvin sees Jesus as a walking treasure-chest, “adorned” with gifts (“not those gifts which he had in the Father’s presence from the beginning”) but those gifts of his own holy and obedient life, which he desires to give to us (IV.17.9). 22 “We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body—in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him” (III.11.10). 23 From these events in the life of Christ, we receive the “double grace” of justification and sanctification (III.11.1). “For in [his flesh] was accomplished the redemption of man, in it a sacrifice was offered to atone for sins, and an obedience yielded to God, to reconcile him to us; it was also filled with the sanctification of the Spirit” (Commentary John, 6:51). The classic Protestant emphases on justification and sanctification here find their proper place, as subsets of a primary union with the person of Christ. Justification, for all its forensic and legal overtones of guilt and pardon, centres on our being counted righteous in Christ. God not only releases us from guilt, but receives us into his family. 24 Commentary John, 6:26. 25 This is no less true for an overemphasis on justification as the “means” by which we are saved, than for “union with Christ.” The recent deluge of articles in the Reformed world on “union with Christ” only underscores the delicious irony of how easy it is to miss the point. For many of these new

champions of union with Christ (against the “older” and more outdated proponents of justification), union has become the new mechanism by which we are saved! Once again, we lose the personal for the functional, turning even unio cum christo into a way to get our problems solved. 26 Mystical union, in Calvin, has a wonderful upward momentum, because Calvin reminds us that Christ is in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. (Heaven is often termed “the heavenly fatherland,” III.9.5). For us to be “in union” with Christ signifies that we are, in some way, taken into this fellowship with the Father. The christus pro nobis (Christ for us) in the incarnation and crucifixion is also the christus pro nobis in the resurrection and ascension. 27 Commentary Romans, 8:17. 28 Calvin does not shy away from “mystical union” because Osiander had so twisted it. Instead, he reappropriated it, grounded it in the Trinity, and handed it back to us as the concrete movement of adoption: by the Spirit, in the Son, to the Father. In distancing himself from Osiander, Calvin was not necessarily less radical than Osiander in his description of union with God; he was just relentlessly trinitarian. Calvin says, “[This] has been perversely twisted by Osiander; for he ought to have considered the manner of the indwelling—namely, that the Father and Spirit are in Christ, and even as the fullness of deity dwells in him, so in him we possess the whole of deity…. For the fact that it comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit that we grow together with Christ, and he becomes our Head and we his members, he reckons of almost no importance” (III.11.5). 29 Although Alister McGrath notes that “Calvin is actually concerned not so much with justification, as with incorporation into Christ,” it seems as if Reformed theology traded this full-bodied trinitarianism for a narrower (though vital) christocentrism. Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 225. 30 For many years, adoption was relegated to a sequential position in the ordo salutis (order of salvation), which caused its importance as a comprehensive category to be overlooked. While adoption is also linked to justification in Calvin—the massive change from darkness to light, the pure gift of God to us in Christ—this is only one of its nuances. Calvin’s doctrine of adoption is connected to justification (I.10.1), sanctification (III.6.3, Commentary Romans, 8:14), election (III.25.4), the imago dei (III.11.6, III.11.8), and the historia salutis (history of salvation) (II.7.1–2, II.10). For more on the loss of adoption as a category in Reformed theology, see Tim Trumper’s two-part series “The Theological Histor y of Adoption,” in Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 20 (2002): 4–28, 177–202. 31 “For here it is not a matter of figures, such as when atonement was set forth in the blood of beasts. Rather, they could not actually be sons of God unless their adoption was founded upon the Head” (II.14.5). 32 Commentary John, 15:9. 28

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33 Commentary Matthew, 3:17. 34 Commentary Colossians, 1:19. 35 “But because [Osiander] does not observe the bond of this unity, he deceives himself. Now it is easy for us to resolve all his difficulties. For we hold ourselves to be united with Christ by the secret power of his Spirit” (III.11.5). The Spirit, though, is not a “bridge” to Christ and his benefits, but the one who fulfills them within us. Calvin does not use the word “bridge”—as if the Spirit leads us to something somewhere else—but uses the word “bond” to connote the Spirit’s presence to make these realities within us. 36 Commentary John, 3:16. Also from Institutes, II.14.6: “We admit Christ is indeed called ‘son’ in human flesh; not as believers are sons, by adoption and grace only, but the true and natural, and therefore only, Son in order that by this mark he may be distinguished from all others. For God honors us who have been reborn into new life with the name ‘sons,’ but bestows the name ‘true and only-begotten’ upon Christ alone.” 37 Commentary Genesis, 28:12. 38 Selderhuis, Calvin, 61. 39 Ibid., 37. 40 Faith is in the person of Christ, but its power comes not from us but from the fact that it joins us to Christ, for “how can there be saving faith except in so far as it engrafts us in the body of Christ? ” (III.2.30). 41 See the excellent defense of the rightful place of human activity in Calvin in Todd Billings, Calvin, Participation, and the Gift (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 42 For a deeper discussion, see Julie Canlis, “Downloading our Spirituality: Why Going to Church Doesn’t Seem to Matter in this Virtual Age,”

Crux 45, no. 1 (2009): 2–12. 43 “But I prefer to retain the words of Paul, in Christ Jesus, rather than to translate with Erasmus, [alive to God] through Jesus Christ; for thus the grafting, which makes us one with Christ, is better expressed” (Commentary Romans, 6:11). 44 See Calvin’s discussion of “and the two shall be one flesh” in Commentary Ephesians, 5.30–31. 45 Calvin’s famous “negative anthropology” is a reflection on the sinful human condition, which is “not our nature, but its derangement” (II.1.10). 46 “The phrase in ipso (in him) I have preferred to retain, rather than render it per ipsum (by him), because it has in my opinion more expressiveness and force. For we are enriched in Christ, inasmuch as we are members of his body, and are engrafted into him: nay more, being made one with him, he makes us share with him in everything that he has received from the Father” (Commentary 1 Corinthians, 1:4). See also Commentary 2 Corinthians, 5:21. 47 James Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 393. 48 Sermon Acts, 1:1–4. 49 For a thorough study of Calvin and Romans 8, see Mark Garcia, “Christ and the Spirit: The Meaning and Promise of a Reformed Idea,” in Resurrection and Eschatology, ed. Lane Tipton and Jeffrey Waddington (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2008), 424–42. 50 Commentary Romans, 8:29. 51 Ibid. 52 Ibid., 8:28. 53 Ibid. 54 Ibid., 8:17. 55 Ibid., 8:29. 56 Ibid., 2:1.



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Planting a Garden Lance Odegard Having kids was like having a garden, we said. After four good years together, it was spring and the time seemed right for planting. Sure it’d mean digging up the lawn and losing a corner of the backyard, and we wouldn’t be able to go out on the weekends as much, having to stay home and water. But the image in our minds of green life in tidy garden rows, nourished by our care, was enough. Maybe one day we’ll have apple trees, we said. Looking out the kitchen window I see the blackberries, a wild thatch tangled across the yard, overtaking the sidewalk and steps, the brambles now climbing the cupboards, even brushing against my leg as I write.

Lance Odegard (MCS, Regent College) lives in East Vancouver with his wife Aimee, raising their three kids, writing poems and stories, and pastoring with the Artisan community.


The Two Books Metaphor: A Critique and a Caution Marty Folsom

Abstract: The two books metaphor gives equal weight to both Scripture and nature as God’s means of self-disclosure. This article discusses historic problems, inherent even in our day, that occur whenever church, science, and culture fail to give authority to God’s self-revelation. It concludes with cooperative proposals for faith and science to seek understanding that serves God and humanity. picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language, and language seemed only to repeat it to us inexorably.”1 The two books metaphor is such a picture. Metaphors have the capacity to enslave us or send us down a wrong road as they determine our pictures of reality. At one time, an image of a flat world kept sailors from sailing west for fear of falling off the edge. The two books metaphor presents Scripture and nature as having a common author, hence both capable of revealing God. This image intends to open avenues of investigation in knowing God, and to bring value to both theology and science as providing valid data for this quest. Historically, however, this has proven to be a dangerous image, as the challenging book of Scripture was frequently abandoned in favour of the more accessible book of Nature.2 Presenting them as equalopportunity avenues, or even parallel streets to the same end, confuses language about knowing God, and will ultimately and inexorably lead us to a dead end. I affirm the need for respectful dialogue between science

and faith, but critique the value of this one metaphor, which claims to adequately present two means of knowing God. Science and faith were not always distant. It has been argued that science arose out of the God-world relation depicted in Christianity.3 But modern science claims an independent authority and manner of knowing, departing from the ancient unity of the sciences that regarded theology as the queen of the sciences. Mathematics, the language of science, is now the queen of the sciences. So how might science and theology become friends again? Can we envision a friendship and compatibility between the church and science, offering the two books metaphor as a platform to bring them together as complementary conversation partners? This is a worthy goal, but a dangerous approach. The picture of two books of revelation is hardly new. John Calvin, the Belgic Confession, and Reformed thinkers all appear to advocate for this image.4 But, in actuality, Calvin did not see them as two equal books; the Bible, as a pair of enabling spectacles, was necessary to truly interpret what was otherwise indiscernible in nature.5 Ultimately, the Reformers affirmed the clarity of the written word and its priority over the natural order in knowing God. Appeals to Romans 1:19 also seek to support the premise that knowledge of God is available to everyone through the natural world. But this interpretation neglects to note that in all of history no human got it right; all missed the glory of God. All needed God’s personal revelation as the faithful way



Marty Folsom, PhD, is Executive Director of the Pacific Association for Theological Studies, Chancellor of Washington Seminary, Adjunct Professor of Theology at Northwest University, and was postdoctoral fellow at Regent College 1998–99.

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has a Creator, nothing in creation gives a self-explanation regarding its author. Any religion or atheist can interpret as they please from within their frame of reference. There is nothing uniquely Christian about the design of the world. Nature’s “text” is neither addressed nor signed. So it is difficult to defend a Christian critique that claims other religions have misread knowing the true author of the world. The fact that we can observe both the natural world and the Bible is not enough to assume that either adequately or equally reveals their Creator. Recognizing they are different, we ought not to use the words “read” and “book” as though they mean the same thing in both cases. The two books metaphor, which presents both the book of Scripture and the book of nature as key texts to help us understand God and his ways in the world, is a perilous model in that it assumes both texts intend to communicate with similar clarity, though in different languages. But nature and the Bible are two radically different “texts.”7 Nature’s Creator forms and sustains, but does not embed into nature a message to be interpreted in knowing who God “is” or what God “wants.” The Bible, however, is a written text, conveying the definite sense of an author who desires to communicate. There is grave danger in construing a dualism between the spiritual world, known through the Bible, and the material world, known through human experience of nature. This dualism fractures the holistic view of a God who holds together one reality. Without divulging the mechanisms of how the created order works, the Bible reveals God and divine purposes in creating, sustaining, and redeeming it; this allows humans to maintain belief in a unified cosmos, even while studying in subdisciplines such as theological science and natural science. But we must remember that natural science is self-limited, because nature can only reveal to us its own character, but not God’s character. To our listening minds, Scripture and nature may easily appear equal in value and authority. But only the Bible claims to be

to know God. Human interpretations of the world and the human’s place within it led people to abuse creation and miss God. One can only come to know God—and the nature of the world—retrospectively, after having been given the Spirit and the witness of Scripture. Psalm 19 begins with a proclamation of the heavens recounting God’s glory, but notes in verse 3 that because creation has no speech or words, its voice is not heard. Starting at verse 7, the word of the Lord is introduced as God’s articulate speech, giving, in various ways, the means necessary to know God. While creation is a mystery that appropriately raises questions about the world, only God reveals God. In the current conversation regarding the relation between faith and science, the two books metaphor has again been given prominence as our guide to understanding the interrelating of science and theology in serving the church.6 Many church leaders are afraid to discuss science in the church, and it is easy to understand why proponents of a healthy dialogue between science and faith might employ this image in an attempt to overcome their fears. Therefore, we must attend to the serious dangers implicit in using the two books metaphor as a picture that guides us. Books are wonderful tools for knowledge. Two books with a common author would seem to give us more knowledge. But they are not “authored” in the same way. Though Christians affirm that creation

Appeals to Romans 1:19 seek to support the premise that knowledge of God is available to everyone through the natural world. But this interpretation neglects to note that in all of history no human got it right; all missed the glory of God. All needed God’s personal revelation as the faithful way to know God.


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the Word of God, the authoritative text for faith and practice. There are no principles of interpretation to accurately hear God’s voice through nature. Nature does not name the Christian God as its author, and many religions claim their deity is the creator. In the Bible, the Christian God makes claim to creation. But God nowhere attests any intention that nature function as a text that communicates to humanity God’s character or God’s will. The Bible tells us to be stewards of nature, to enjoy its fruit, to value it as God’s handiwork, and to voice creation’s praise since creation has no articulate voice.8 The Bible is like an owner’s manual that explains how to drive a car, or a shop manual showing how to maintain a car. The mechanic does not go to the car to understand the creator; instead, he goes to the manual to learn how to fix or maintain the car. In the same way, God created nature to be lived in and enjoyed, but the Bible is the communicative text that guides us in stewardship, operation, and means of contacting the manufacturer. Voltaire once said, “If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.” This practice has been greatly detrimental to the church over the centuries. Our tendency as humans to form idols by deifying nature is the basis of mythology—projecting ideas onto the divine based on one’s experience of nature. Whenever humans try to read nature as “text,” our sleight-of-hand move imports a human value agenda onto God. This is how the American dream subtly becomes “God’s plan” for the blessed faithful. In biblical times, the nations surrounding Israel sought to reach their gods through nature, worshiping on mountaintops and using sex and alcohol (the fruit of the earth) as “God’s gift for worship.” But Yahweh instructed Israel to worship only the Maker of heaven and earth. Many, in the history of theological and political thinking, have believed they could discern God’s will in the “orders of creation.” Reading nature as text, they “obediently” placed men over women, since “God made men stronger and smarter.” The same errant interpretive logic was used of race to deduce that God

made white people superior to all others. In reality, this sleight-of-hand move, reading cultural values and hierarchies into nature and calling it God’s will, is idolatry. Evolutionary science tells the story of history as a struggle for survival—through mutation, adaptation, selection, and many chaotic wrong turns. But contrary to looking out for ourselves, the Bible explicitly directs us not to imitate the competitive “tooth and claw” process we observe in the created order. Science describes past actualities; theology presents divine possibilities within natural realities. We are saved by grace, not by following the laws of nature. We are to love and function as a collaborative body with God and one another beyond the herd instinct. The book of Scripture is a corrective to the impulses of nature. Another human tendency is to select from nature only those texts that best serve our ends. In biblical interpretation, this is called eisegesis or “I-see-Jesus”—reading into the text what is not there, or considering only the parts that support our desired conclusion. Nevertheless, prooftexting from nature has all the same problems as prooftexting from Scripture. In this move, some may regard only what is pleasant as portraying God and his will, while intentionally overlooking negative events, confusion, and ignorance in the world. Others will construe an earthquake or tsunami as God’s act of judgment. Positive or negative, both project cultural values onto God. Tragically, as science and theology battle for the authority to determine truth, science continues to dismiss Scripture while embracing the objective world. Since the Enlightenment, nature has become the book of truth, and science its priests. Whatever is still unproved by scientists is not considered

Science describes past actualities; theology presents divine possibilities within natural realities. We are saved by grace, not by following the laws of nature. The book of Scripture is a corrective to the impulses of nature.


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true. In fact, whatever is outside the realm of objects is not considered even worthy of discussion, including personal relationships. Science originated with a foundational belief in an orderly world created by God. But through the two books mode of thinking, the book of nature usurped faith. God became viewed deistically, as watching from a distance, as a God who set up and then exited his self-sustaining, mechanical universe. God became merely an unnecessary hypothesis. The God of the gaps, who had explained the mysteries, shriveled up and blew away as humans felt enlightened by reason and rejected God’s revelation as Creator and Sustainer of the world. Many Christians, when presented with the two books metaphor, ultimately dismiss the Bible as theoretical and difficult to understand. Once again they exchange the Creator for the creation in a contemporary mode.9 Indoctrinated by today’s academic education process, most people will give preference to the study of nature as practical while considering the Bible an optional text, eventually abandoning it. Pastors know that younger generations are losing their faith to secular science, and particularly to evolutionary explanations that dismiss God. The word “evolution” is attached to a metanarrative that has battled to replace the Christian story. Because of the conflict between our back-stories, it can be jarring, even for educated Christians, to hear a Christian scientist say that God facilitates evolution to perfect creation. It might be helpful to hear Christian scientists claim and defend that God created and is involved in the ongoing creative process, but that approach still defers to the book of nature as

providing the logic for interpretation. Church leaders often indiscriminately embrace the scientific model, and run their churches like businesses, following the laws of nature based on what has proved to produce the numbers. When church growth is committed to scientific control, its proponents are often unaware that Scripture is inadvertently dismissed in favour of seeking guidance from “successful leaders.” Their actions mirror those of the Hebrew people who followed Moses into the wilderness; in his absence, when he tarried on the mountain to meet with God, they made an image they could relate to, a golden calf, and called it Yahweh. They took what they valued in form and content, and labeled it God. We fall into the same trap when we deduce God’s character from the conclusions of science. Those who employ the two books metaphor seek to address a real concern, that many churches are afraid of science. But we must also note that science fears the field of the personal in church and therapy, and refuses to respect its equal place at the table of true knowledge. The scientist can speak from the pulpit, but is the theologian allowed to speak in the university classroom, or the pastor in his child’s school? Modern science has broken free from its original moorings, when, birthed in monasteries and universities of the Middle Ages, it studied the orderly world created by God. The Latin, scientia, properly refers to all human knowing. But modern science, refusing to engage with the subjective, or personal, dimensions of life, has hijacked the term to mean only objective knowledge, excluding the knowledge of subjects. Rather than sharing the word “science,” natural science and its text have monopolized it. Even Christian scientists with whom I have spoken are unwilling to apply the word “science” to the study of God or the realm of human relating that the Bible addresses. “The dwarves are for the dwarves,” was C.S. Lewis’s characterization of a people who disregard all but facts and proofs.10 Modern scientists are for the world of hard facts. They rule out the

Those who employ the two books metaphor seek to address a real concern, that many churches are afraid of science. But we must also note that science fears the field of the personal in church and therapy, and refuses to respect its equal place at the table of true knowledge.


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possibility that modern science could have anything to do with subjective relations—the personal (human) and theological (divine) dimensions of life. They concede those forms of study may have their place in private life. But to see theology as valid science degrades the meaning of the word “science” for those committed solely to objective science. Like King Midas and his golden touch, the character of objective science is detached and professional, metamorphosing into impersonal objects everything it contacts. But pure objectivity is a myth. As Michael Polanyi points out, all knowers (scientists) are subjects or persons, so there is always a subjective or personal dimension of knowing both the objects of the world and other subjects.11 Natural scientists, however, while acknowledging that pure objectivity is a myth, still protect the authority of science by excluding whatever realms they identify as subjective. This means that the two books cannot be equal; science is given priority, even by the scientist who is also a Christian. Science studies the book of nature: accepted as objective! As for the book of God’s personal revelation: rejected as subjective! Knowing God and neighbour is not considered to be a serious discipline; only knowing the material world is considered valid science. Thus, proponents of the two books metaphor might be said to of fer an understanding of chess (God and the natural world) and study the chessboard, its pieces, and possibilities, but are restricted from discussing its strategies, great games, and personalities in history, and the subjective dynamics of playing the game (relating to God and neighbour). These are outside the realm of factual knowledge. Thinking one signed up to become a great chess player, instead one finds they have been brilliantly trained to dissect chess boards and expound the rules of the game. Having this narrow knowledge doesn’t mean one knows how to play the game. Studied through science, the mechanics of the world give us the kind of knowledge we need to live. Both nature and Scripture give us knowledge that helps us to live in

this world—to play the game. If we focus only on the rules of studying the world, we exclude from serious conversation the study of God and human relations. However, the study of persons is the realm in which we most need insight and progress. The mission of the church is to know and love persons, starting with God. No one argues that science must study cancer to stop its destructive course in the body; that is a given. Nevertheless, we fail to acknowledge that whatever destroys marriages and international relations also needs serious attention and funding. The Bible calls us to healing in relationships with God, humanity, and the created order. This is the task of practical theology. But if we do not address the issues of personal relationships, we are bound to fail on many levels, including caring for the natural world as we abuse our natural resources. To do theology means to listen to God, who re-centres our life to learn what love means for those reconciled to the Creator. If we think we understand love from our human experience, which we then apply to understanding God, we are no longer doing theology. We stand at a crossroads whenever we say, “God is …” or “God wants …” On one hand, we may listen to God through Scripture. But on the other hand, there is a real possibility we may make an image of God shaped by our own intuitions and interpretations. How quickly we forget that we are told in Romans 1 that everyone missed God’s obvious nature so that all fell and did not know God. Therefore the Father sent his Son, so we could know God and be in relationship. That is the logic of Romans 1–3. Human ignorance and arrogance fail; divine grace and revelation save. Are we so much wiser now than then? Science is at its best when it serves by living in a caring stance, both explaining and managing the created order. But we must not naively fail to recognize that science can just as easily exclude God and use nature for selfish gain. Scientific inquiry can be a great expression of faith seeking understanding. But all seekers of knowledge need to learn humility 35

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so they may serve God and his creation. The church’s history of arrogant control is certainly a real historical concern causing many scientists to resist the church’s voice. But many modern scientists reject the church in order to singularly affirm the human place in dominating the world and using its resources. Together we must judiciously consider the future of science and technology with its potential for both good and evil. Both church and science must prophetically curb any dehumanizing dimensions of our existence in order to wisely serve God and humanity. To understand and live within the material world as healers and stewards, the church needs to affirm the final authority of the Bible when properly interpreted, as well as support scientific findings for healthy living. But we require a much clearer interpretive strategy for the cooperation between science and theology than the two books metaphor provides. Pastors must teach that through the Bible we have tools to know and love God. Additionally, evolution, when properly interpreted, is not a threat, but is merely reflection based on human observation. Observation can teach us about the world, but not about God. God will teach us about God; God’s world will become understandable if, as good scientists, we pay attention. We cannot “listen” to its voice, but we can observe, hypothesize, experiment, and grow in understanding. We must work toward both good science and good theology. I offer the following suggestions. First, let us affirm that the task of the church is a seriously scientific investigation of knowing and being known by the Triune God. We stand within the task of the One Book. By scientific investigation or study, I mean that we know that the object of our study is a Subject, and we respectfully maintain a humble stance.

Humility is a requirement for all sciences. We must employ the tools appropriate to the task, namely the self-revelation of God in Christ as witnessed to in the Bible. Any claims as to who God is or what God wants must resonate with this authoritative text. The study must proceed in a humble community with consistent correction and improvement to communicate the things of God to the changing world. Its talk about God must be seen as unique to God. God, not human experience or culture, must fill out the definitions of love, grace, fulfillment, purpose, and other terms applied to God. Second, knowing God as the Creator means we acknowledge that all creation is within the scope of God’s care. Science appropriately studies the objects of the world, but must not dismiss the interpretive worldviews that make claim on origins and intentions. The church should cooperate with science insofar as both are called to stewardship through understanding. As a subset of the scientia (knowing) in which humans engage, natural science must be allowed to focus on its limited range of objects. While divisions of science further limit the field of attention within the set of objects to be studied, no discipline should claim final authority to make proclamations that encroach on other disciplines, nor exclude them. The church needs the natural sciences in order to fulfill its commission to love and tend God’s world. And God, who causes rain to fall on the unrighteous, still cares for those ignorant of divine sustaining. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” is a proclamation from the cross that we all act out of arrogance as well as out of ignorance. Third, the church must acknowledge that the Bible affirms both personal growth and material decay. The biological lifecycle ends in death and separation. Our bodies grow old. Our families move out and away. We cannot depend on this world to sustain us forever, but it is our current home, the realm of God’s activity to redeem and renew. God values this material world by creating it, by taking on flesh to reconcile it to him, and by promising

Let us affirm that the task of the church is a seriously scientific investigation of knowing and being known by the Triune God.


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final redemption in a new creation. We live in the tension of the temporary nature of this world and the eternal nature of our spiritual being. Since God values both, so must we. Fourth, we must remember that science is not objective; it is the work of persons with faith commitments. Some scientists acknowledge that it is impossible to fully accomplish the attempt to create an exhaustive “book of knowledge,” entirely free from subjectivity, about the natural world. Many people are not educated in the humanities and become naively assimilated into the technological system. All of us have presuppositions that influence our thinking without knowing it. Christians must honestly admit that this is also true when interpreting the Bible. Thus, whenever either science or church demands authority that belongs to God alone, we need to call for correction. Humility is the mark of all scientific study that seeks to pursue the truth. Finally, both church and science live as communities of “faith seeking understanding” for the purpose of serving God, humanity, and world, to create a community who lives from love, following the greatest commandment. We are not to live in fear, confined to dwell in Christian ghettos of ignorance, unwilling to talk about controversial aspects of life. Although science cannot show us God, it can help us serve God. I believe Christian scientists are not trying to lead us astray, but to draw the world together in understanding in order to be responsible to creation’s needs. But the church must insist on the priority of the personal over the objective. God addresses us as persons, not as mere bodies, which are necessary but not sufficient for living life. Scripture interprets God’s purposes toward us and gives meaning to science12 as extending God’s charge to Adam and Eve to care for creation. If this priority is not maintained, the power of technology, derived from nature, will supplant the biblical values that should inform technology in the first place. As Christ-followers, we are to be set

on a hill within churches, observatories, hospitals, universities, and all manner of wonder-filled communities of devotion who work for God and his world. Endnotes

1 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 98. 2 See Avihu Zakai, The Rise of Modern Science and the Decline of Theology as the “Queen of Sciences” in the Early Modern Era (London: Equinox, 2009), and Kenneth J. Howell, God’s Two Books: Copernican Cosmology and Biblical Interpretation in Early Modern Science (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002). 3 Harold Turner, The Roots of Science: An Investigative Journey Through the World’s Religions (Auckland: Deep Sight Publishing, 1998). 4 Deborah B. and Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive, 2007), 58. 5 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.6.1. 6 For example, the motif is highlighted at the Biologos website, “Since God is the author of both books, there are theological and devotional reasons to embrace science as a way of learning about God,” http:// The image is used affirmatively at conferences for pastors as an image to bring clarity to the faith-science dialogue. An advertisement for a conference in Texas states as one of its core purposes: “The ‘Two Books’ metaphor has long been a way to express the dual nature of God’s revelation, in scripture and in nature, and this presentation will be helpful for the non-scientist to learn more about the methods and limitations of science in the quest for knowledge.” The conference speakers, representing leading evangelical voices in the faith-science dialogue from around the world, appear to affirm this as a key metaphor ( 7 Robert P. Crease, “The book of nature,” in, December 6, 2006, points out that for Galileo, “the signs of nature had their own self-contained meaning. To understand nature one did not need to rely on the Bible as an allegorical aid; studying nature was an independent activity best carried out by a separate, professional class of scholars.” It was a metaphor of distinction, rather than collaboration or cross-reference. 8 Jeremy Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise: Toward a Theology of the Arts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), unpacks the role of the arts in articulating what the inarticulate creation cannot say. 9 See humanity’s downward spiral in Romans 1. 10 C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (1956; repr, New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 156. 11 Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (Chicago: University Press, 1974). 12 See George L. Murphy, “Reading God’s Two Books,” in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 58, no. 1 (March 2006), 64–67. 37

The Two Books Metaphor: A Response Loren Wilkinson

Loren Wilkinson is Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies & Philosophy at Regent College.


arty Folsom’s warning about the dangers of the “two books” metaphor is an important caution. He is quite right to remind us that although both creation and Scripture convey knowledge about God, creation will not in itself lead us to a knowledge of the personal God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God revealed in Jesus. For that we need words. He is right as well to remind us that we cannot read ethical principles directly off of nature. The last century is littered with the wreckage of such attempts, ranging from Social Darwinism to the Nazis. And he’s right to remind us that if eisegesis is a problem in reading a text with words, it is also a problem in “reading” wordless nature, where it is also possible to twist the “text” to fit our preconceptions. Folsom tells us in his title that he intends to provide a critique and a caution. Yet his caution itself needs to be read with great caution. What is missing is an appreciation of the two books metaphor— and without some appreciation of the value of the idea, it is hard to accept cautions or critiques that omit that value. The omission is clear in the opening paragraph, where we read:

One would expect that judicious begin ning to be followed by some recognition of how seeing creation as a book has indeed “opened avenues” and can “bring value to both theology and science.” The metaphor has certainly done these things. Yet we find no such appreciation. Folsom moves from his hopeful beginning directly to the critique: “Historically, this has proven to be a dangerous image.” Dangerous, yes—but in the wrong hands, all good things are dangerous, even the Bible when used or “read” in the wrong way. What we need is not an unqualified critique of the metaphor, but some guidance on how to use it. Dennis Danielson’s superb anthology The Book of the Cosmos is a rich source both for understanding the historic fruitfulness of the two books metaphor, and for guidance on it’s proper use. Danielson is a professor of literature at UBC and thus trained in the reading of texts. In his own introduction, in defense of the use of the word “book” in the title, he writes: It will be clear from Chapter 1 [which deals with Biblical texts] onward how persistent is the idea that we can hear the heavens speak, and that the cosmos is a book that we can read. The same profound analogy of verbal communication undergirds much cosmological writing, and, as my title intimates, informs the overall conception of The Book of the Cosmos itself.1

The two books metaphor presents Scripture and nature as having a common author, hence both capable of revealing God. This image intends to open avenues of investigation in knowing God, and to bring value to both theology and science.

Danielson is clear (and here he agrees 38

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The Two Books Metaphor: A Response

with Folsom) that it is an analogy to say that the cosmos communicates verbally. But it is, he insists, a profound analogy. In the same introduction, Danielson speaks of the whole “splendid evocation of the verbal,” which, he says, contains order and meaningfulness—but also ambiguity. And he is speaking here of all verbal texts. Certainly “the book of nature” does not carry with it unambiguous meaning, as Folsom repeatedly warns us. But neither, always, does the book of Scripture. The two texts are often necessary in order to illuminate each other, to remove some of the ambiguity. Folsom appeals to Calvin here, who did make use of the two books metaphor. However, he says, “Calvin did not see them as two equal books; the Bible, as a pair of enabling spectacles, was necessary to truly interpret what was indiscernible in nature.” And certainly written Scripture does provide us with such “enabling spectacles” through which to bring a confusing world into focus. What Folsom overlooks, however, is that Calvin also recognizes that sometimes we need the book of nature to help us rightly understand Scripture. One of the selections in Danielson’s anthology is a passage from Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 1:16 (“and God made two great lights”). Calvin explains:

unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant but also very useful to be known; it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. (Quoted in Danielson, 123–24) If we are concerned to know the size of the planets, implies Calvin, we need to look through the “spectacles” of astronomy, an art which “unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.” But the writer of Genesis was speaking in the language of ordinary folks, concerned with communicating greater truths. The purpose of the two books needs to be kept in mind. Of course they are not “equal”—but they need to be read through each other with discernment. A little further on in his book Danielson cites Tom a s s o Ca mpa nell a, a Catholic writer, in defense of Galileo. Galileo had written eloquently in defense of the idea that God is the author of both Scripture and the heavens, and insisted that “one truth does not contradict another truth.” Campanella concludes, “wisdom is to be read in the immense book of God, which is the world, and there is always more to be discovered. Hence the sacred writers refer us to that book” (quoted in Danielson, 176). I suspect Folsom knows all this. I suspect too that the real target of his article is not the two books metaphor itself, or science itself, but a particular kind of science that reads only the book of the world and treats Scripture as irrelevant. As he says:

Certainly “the book of nature” does not carry with it unambiguous meaning, as Folsom repeatedly warns us. But neither, always, does the book of Scripture. The two texts are often necessary in order to illuminate each other, to remove some of the ambiguity.

Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference. Moses wrote in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons endued with common sense are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is

Science originated with a foundational belief in an orderly world 39

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The Two Books Metaphor: A Response

created by God. But through the two books mode of thinking, the book of nature usurped faith. God became viewed deistically, as watching from a distance, as a God who set up and then exited his selfsustaining, mechanical universe. God became merely an unnecessary hypothesis.

It is a tragedy that the science that resulted from such an understanding of creation as words from God has sometimes been closed to the written Word of God. But the source of the tragedy is not the two books metaphor itself. Tracing that tragedy is a long and complicated story, but the tragedy would be compounded if Christians—already somewhat suspicious of science—were further discouraged from the whole-hearted investigation of creation. Certainly for reading the book of creation we need Calvin’s “spectacles” of Scripture. But equally, if we are to fully understand the cosmos God is creating and redeeming, we need to read Scripture through the “spectacles” of science. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was a great “reader” of both Scripture and creation. In a private meditation, he wrote,

But the idea of creation as a book containing news of God does not in itself lead to belief in a Godless u niverse. Among t he epigraphs to the Danielson’s Book of the Cosmos are these words from Bonaventure: “The whole world is a way, a shadow, a trace, a book with writing front and back.” That Franciscan attitude opened the world to investigation in a new way, as these other words from Bonaventure’s The Mind’s Road to God make clear:

Certainly for reading the book of creation we need Calvin’s “spectacles” of Scripture. But equally, if we are to fully He, therefore, who is not by such great understand the illumined splendor of created things is blind; he who is not cosmos God is awakened by such great creating and clamor is deaf; he who does praise God because of redeeming, we not all these effects is dumb; he who does not note the need to read First Principle from such signs is foolish. Open Scripture through great your eyes therefore, prick the “spectacles” up your spiritual ears, open your lips, and apply your of science. heart, that you may see

God’s utterance of Himself within Himself is God the Word; outside himself is this world. The world then is word, expression, news of God. Therefore its end, its purport, its meaning is God and its life or work to name and praise him.3 Hopkins’s words express well the spirit in which the book of creation should be read, whether by the poet, the scientist, or the ordinary Christian. It would be a tragedy indeed if that book were to become closed to Christians through legitimate cautions about misreading it. Endnotes

1 Dennis Danielson, ed., The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2001), xxvi. (Subsequent references to this book follow the citation in parentheses). 2 Bonaventure, The Mind’s Road to God, trans. George Boas (Indianapolis: The Library of Liberal Arts, 1953). 3 Gerard Ma nley Hopkins, Ser mon s an d Devotional Writings, ed. Christopher Devlin, S.J. (London, Oxford University Press, 1959), 129.

your God in all creatures, may hear Him, praise Him, love and adore Him, magnify and honor Him.2


Book Reviews

Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension

centrality of the descent and ascent of Jesus Christ to Calvin’s understanding of salvation as human participation in the life of God. In a precise statement of what she aims to display through the exposition of the works of Calvin, Canlis writes: Calvin brilliantly synthesized the two movements of ascent and descent into one primary activity: the ongoing story of God himself with us. God has come as man to stand in for us (descent), and yet as man he also leads us back to the Father (ascent). The entire Christian life is an outworking of this ascent—the appropriate response to God’s descent to us—that has already taken place in Christ. Thus, for Calvin, the only appropriate human ascent is a matter of participating in Christ. [3]

Julie Canlis

Eerdmans, 2010 336 pages, paperback ISBN-13: 978-0802864499 $32 .00 CDN This book comes out of Canlis’s doctoral work at St. Andrew’s University, where she worked under the direction of Alan Torrance and for which she won the 2007 Templeton Award for Theological Promise. It is tightly argued and carefully expressed; and, though focused on Calvin and Irenaeus, it is a wide-ranging piece of “catholic” scholarship. I learned a great deal from reading it. Canlis’s ability to situate participation/ascension within the overall context of the corpus of Calvin’s work makes her argument quite powerful. Her ability to balance and relate with theological subtlety matters too often depicted in competitive/contentious terms or as zero-sum games (divine and human life, christocentricity and trinitarian theology) was a delight to behold. The burden of this superb piece of theological work is to demonstrate the

Calvin was not, of course, the first to deploy the language of ascent and participation to articulate an understanding of salvation or as a way of relating human and divine life. Plato deployed a similar vocabulary, as did substantialist medieval spiritual theologies of soul ascent, which ascribed powers of ascent to “anthropological endowment” (49) rather than to God or the incarnate Son of God or to the work of the Spirit engrafting us into Christ. Calvin’s deployment of the language of human participation (koinonia) in the life of God, however, renders the language 41

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of ascent and participation christologically and with a view to the church; he speaks of the Head of the church bringing his members with him (see 48ff). His use of the categories of participation and ascent are thus not general philosophical principles or statements about human potential or achievement, but “flow directly from Christ’s sharing in human life. Because God himself, in the person of Christ, shared fully in our humanity, human beings are able to ‘share or participate in God’” (4). Canlis argues the case that participation, as both concept and praxis, is central to Christian faith, present in the Old Testament, central to the New—particularly in the Pauline corpus—and of great significance in patristic theology. Her depiction of the way in which the New Testament and the fathers of the church borrowed language from philosophy and shaped it for Christian use, with varying degrees of success, is instructive for contemporary theological endeavour. Canlis is mindful that koinonia understood as a sharingin-being, participation, indwelling, or communion with God will need careful articulation in our society, shaped as it is by an extrinsic individualism. However, such language will be a gift to alienated and isolated people who sometimes relate to God and each other, in the words of George Hunsinger, “like ball bearings in a bucket” (7). Moreover, the language of ascent and participation has ecumenical promise, central as it is to Eastern spiritual theology, which derives in part from Irenaeus. Canlis believes that by showing continuity in difference between Irenaeus and Calvin on the matter of a trinitarian understanding of divine-human koinonia, she can deliver on this promise. The irony in Canlis’s ecumenical motivation is that she is also aware that in the family of churches that trace their theological heritage to Calvin, the language of participation is suspect. She cites some examples and notes that these are representative of a wide-ranging

phenomenon in Refor med thought. The reason for suspicion regarding the language of human participation in God as expressive of the meaning of salvation is anxiety about Platonic and scholastic metaphysical residue. The language of participation has the potential to blur distinctions between the transcendent God, who is other than us, and us. The line between Creator and created when participation language is predominant tends to get blurred; intimacy with God is featured at the expense of the distinction between God’s being and human being. Canlis counters these anxieties by drawing attention to the conversion the language of participation undergoes in Calvin’s hands. Calvin redefines terms as he uses them such that participation is set free from Platonic and Neoplatonic a s so ciation s a nd “i s ch a r acter i zed by intimacy and differentiation, not consubstantiality” (13). In other words, participation, as both intimacy and difference, is oriented by the Trinity. What is more, Calvin also features the language of adoption when speaking of the reality of salvation in Christ. While the orientation of the Christian life is upward (ascent) by the Spirit, in the Son, to the end of human life, which is communion with the Father, the nature (type) of this communion is specified by the term adoption, which is often paired with engrafting. While these terms affirm a spiritual theology of inclusion, and not just a change in status, they also give theological traction against absorption or pantheism. Describing the theological dividend that Calvin’s understanding of adoption pays, Canlis writes, “Adoption … carries radical implications for participation in the divine life while also assuaging traditional Reformed fears (i.e., loss of distinction between Creator/creature and neglect of atonement)” (136). I offer the following comments as inquiries into the thesis of the book, the first two as ways in which more of the Calvin corpus might be brought into 42

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almost necessary. Calvin writes, “Baptism is the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children” (Institutes, IV.15.1); and “[Our] faith receives from baptism the advantage of its sure testimony to us that we are not only engrafted into the death and life of Christ, but so united to Christ that we become sharers in all his blessings” (IV.15.6). What follows this citation is a discussion of baptism in which Calvin holds together in the very same sentences the language of adoption (children of God) and participation (union, fellowship). There is intimacy and distinction, distinction and intimacy. This is only a brief passage to be sure, but it does raise a question central to the thesis of Canlis’s work: does Calvin give such prominence to participation that adoption and engrafting ought to be understood in the light of it? Or is the relationship between these descriptions mutual, oscillating, perichoretic? Calvin may mix his metaphors—“we are children from the fact that we put on Christ” (IV.15.6) —because he wants to keep alive, and in dynamic tension, the full range of biblical language related to salvation. Intimacy and distinction seem to be preserved, at least here, not so much by specifying participation by means of adoption and engrafting but rather by keeping both “more than metaphors” in mutually interpreting play. The section on baptism in the Institutes may be particularly reliable in this regard since in his exposition of baptism Calvin is writing in a less polemically charged context. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. God give us more books of this quality and depth in Christian spiritual theology. I will recommend it to my students and include it in my courses on Reformation theology.

consideration in Canlis’s argument, and the third as a gentle questioning of the thesis itself. The subtitle of the book—“A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension”—could be more expansive. What if Canlis included descent and incarnation/crucifixion? A spiritual theology that focuses on life in Christ as ascent by the Spirit to fuller participation/communion with and in the life of God ought, it seems to me, and I think certainly in Calvin, to include our death/descent “in and with Christ.” Those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death so that with Christ we rise to newness of life. This move would certainly assuage some of the Reformed hesitance regarding the neglect of the atonement, which can bedevil articulations of participation in Christ. Calvin, speaking of the benefits of baptism, writes, Baptism also brings another benefit, for it shows us our mortification in Christ, and new life in him.… Through baptism Christ makes us sharers in his death, that we may be engrafted in it.… Just as the twig draws substance and nourishment from the root to which it is engrafted, so those that receive baptism with right faith truly feel the effective working of Christ’s death in the mortification of the flesh, together with the working of his resurrection in the vivification of the Spirit (Rom. 6:8). [Institutes, IV.15.5] W hile Ca nlis refers to Calvin’s sacramental theology, she treats principally his theology of the Lord’s table: there is virtually no treatment of Calvin on baptism and our engrafting into Christ’s death and resurrection by means of it. The one exception that I could find is in a footnote, page 135, note 36. Given the thesis of the book and the corresponding importance of en Christo, an account of Calvin’s theology of baptism would seem

~Richard R. Topping is Professor of Reformed Studies at St. Andrew’s Hall in Vancouver, BC. 43

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The Civil War as a Theological Crisis

was, as Chesterton described it, “a nation with the soul of a church.”1 That is to say, in contrast to the place of religion in America today, “religion was then much more importa nt than any other center of value at work in the country” (ibid.). So although church attendance was statistically unremarkable, Protestantism in the United States wielded considerable influence up through the first half of the nineteenth century. With this influence in mind, Noll lists six characteristics that typified American evangelicals from the beginning. First, evangelicals were marked by holding a strong dichotomy between the Bible and tradition, with the latent assumption that faithful biblical interpretation was hindered by clerical tradition. Second, and closely related to the first, was a suspicion of ecclesial authority. Third, as Noll puts it, “they emphasized both the activity of grace in their lives and the need for lives of gracious activity” (17). Evangelicals were, much as we are now, very active in the expression of their faith. Fourth, they possessed a strong sense of discipline, both individually and corporately. Fifth, Catholicism was not understood to be another branch of the larger church, but an antithetical religion at odds with Protestantism and republican political values. The sixth and final trait was a cultural pragmatism. Institutional structures and ideas were typically evaluated based on how well they served the present need, and what did not work was readily discarded. This meant that inherited traditions in the United States, even of Protestant ilk, often took on different shapes than their European counterparts. Having established these six traits, Noll works through the pertinent issues that led to the war. He begins by analyzing the biblical defense for and against slavery. Articulate arguments were made for both positions, but “the power of the proslavery

by Mark Noll University of North Carolina Press, 2006 216 pages, hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0807830123 $32 .48 CDN The Civil War as a Theological Crisis makes a bold assertion right from the title page. Its simplicity suggests there is a whole angle to the American Civil War of 1861–1865 that has, with few exceptions, been overlooked—volumes have been written on the political, military, and, of course, racial conflict, but remarkably few have ventured to take seriously the theological conflict that led to the war. This is intriguing when we consider that Protestant churches were microcosmic portents of the United States’s rending, most having split up to thirty years prior to the rest of the country over the same issues. Thus for Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, the Mason-Dixon Line appeared to trump doctrinal lines. This begs the question that Mark Noll sets out to answer, namely, how ought we to understand the theology of the war—whose ghosts are still haunting North American evangelicalism? To do this, he sets the theology of the war front and centre, arguing that at the heart of the war was a significant theological crisis concerning how to interpret both the Bible and Providence. Noll’s book begins with a close analysis of the nature of American churches from the country’s founding until the war, and then works outward to how they were perceived by Canadian and European churches. To begin, he locates American Prote st a nti sm w it h i n it s n ation a l context, noting that America was not “uniquely religious” (11) but even still 44

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scriptural position … lay in its simplicity” (33). One reading the Bible only had to look at passages like Deuteronomy 20:10–11, and, believing the plainest interpretation of the text to be the correct one, accept that the Bible sanctioned slavery. For more moderate Christians, the hermeneutics were made complicated by extreme Abolitionists who made a point of flouting biblical authority. For these Christians, to reject slavery felt the same as rejecting the Bible, even if they were uncomfortable with the institution. Noll goes on to discuss the race issue, which the more discerning scholars of the time realized was a distinct issue from the slavery question. One German theologian and church historian who had immigrated to Pennsylvania wrote an article in which he insightfully observed, “The neg ro question lies far deeper than the slavery question” (51, his italics). This is just the sort of issue that appeared fairly obvious to outside observers, but remained obscure to those involved; so the debate over slavery raged, all the while little was said about the insidious heart of the matter. Last, Noll looks at the disagreement over proper interpretation of Providence, citing a “confidence in the human ability to fathom God’s providential actions” (75) that emerged in the nineteenth century. This naturally led the North and South to regard the imminent war as an execution of God’s judgment on their behalf. T he sixth a nd seventh chapters represent some of the most groundbreaking scholarship in the book. Where the Civil War is usually understood vis-á-vis the United States, Noll looks to Canada and Europe and analyzes both Protestant and Catholic perspectives. This immediately releases the Civil War from its often dusty American provincialism and places it on the world stage in continuity with the rest of church history. He is quick to admit the fragmentary nature of his own venture into foreign perceptions, but nonetheless shows foreign observation to be remarkably fruitful, as “foreign

observers often saw what Americans could not see or, … more precisely, often saw certain things about the singularities in the structure of American thought that were hard for Americans within that structure to comprehend” (95). Thus the foreign perspectives prove indispensable for understanding the theological crisis. Despite the constraints of so short a book, Noll packs a great deal of insight into this small package. Rather than providing an exhaustive history of the Protestant church in the Civil War era, he succeeds in shining a broad swath of light on a corner of church history that has been largely neglected. Noll suggests this might be more than a little ironic, as it may be that the reason it has been neglected is a direct result of the war’s outcome. In his final chapter he writes that because of the war and the deadlock the churches found themselves in, it has been harder for deep, religiously rooted moral convictions to exert a decisive influence on the shaping of public life—be it … against unfettered capitalism, against violent ethnic discrimination, for environmental protection, for the unborn human fetus, for equal educational opportunity, or for universal medical protection. In other words, since the Civil War[,] theological arguments have only rarely been able to overcome the inertia behind institutions and practices sanctioned by the evolving usages of voluntaristic, democratic consumerist culture. (161) It seems like a big leap to go from talking about race and chattel slavery to medical ethics, but Noll is making a profound point about the ability of American Protestantism to adequately function as a city on a hill. Because the Protestant churches in the North and South were looking in on the same issue, using essentially the same hermeneutic but coming to wildly opposing conclusions, 45

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further. However, I do wish he had been able to capture the pathos of the Southern churches during the difficult years of Reconstruction. The complex and moving letters of pastors who struggled with what appeared to be God’s abandonment present a helpful rejoinder to Noll’s point about the interpretation of Providence. If the period leading up to the Civil War laid out the key theological questions, the period following leaves a harrowing theodicy that begs to be responded to. He does mention the perception that, as one newspaper editor put it, “The hand of God, gracious though heavy, is upon the South for her discipline” (78), but it might have been helpful to include some more of the voices on the ground. Ultimately, Noll’s book will no doubt continue to stir scholarship in an area that is pertinent in understanding the contemporary evangelical milieu.

the matter “was left to those consummate theologia ns, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant” (50). We ought to fear the consummate theologians like we ought to fear the rocks crying out. Having grow n up in the North, and then having lived in the South for a number of years, I was left with the impression that the war was popularly understood in divergent ways, with the North perhaps feeling a bit self-righteous and the South a bit sentimental. However, both North and South seem to share an underlying belief that the theology of the war is either inconsequential or divisive, and thus better left alone. I find Noll’s conclusion on why this is the case very helpful. Moreover, I appreciate the breadth of perspective Noll brings to this subject by drawing on Canadian and European sources. There is not much to criticize about The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. Noll is upfront about the brevity of the book given the subject matter, and so although I may have had other questions about the event, I was left with impetus to look


1 G.K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America, vol. XXI, The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius: San Francisco, 1990), 45.

~Jon Furst is completing an MCS in Church History at Regent College.


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