The Uncommon Generosity of Richard Mouw
December 8, 2014
I have always enjoyed reading Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Seminary, long-time faculty member at Calvin College. I was reminded how much I enjoy him this morning when I read his little book, Called to the Life of the Mind. The book represents a short essay broken up into various meditations on the virtues of an evangelical scholar--those virtues being humility and hope.
As I thought about the book and about Mouw's work more generally, that is what I've always appreciated about it: a humility and hope, a generosity, that is uncommon. And it is uncommon especially among Reformed theologians, which is strange based on the faith we confess.
I remember first thinking about Mouw's uncommon generosity when I read his little memoir/meditation, The Smell of Sawdust. Although denominationally his upbringing was different than mine, ethos-wise it was very similar. And yet, Mouw didn't categorically reject his upbringing. Rather, he sought to remember the positive benefits of it: the emphasis upon and trust in the Bible; the determination to live out a genuine piety; and a commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus. Those values are good things for Christians--whether you embrace a more fundamentalist or a more Reformed identity. Ever since reading that book, I've described the benefits of my fundamentalist upbringing in a "Smell of Sawdust" kind of way.
As I've read other Mouw books--gobbled them up is more accurate--I've always appreciated how generous Mouw is. In his essay collection, The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship, he overviews various theological brouhaha's in the CRC world with a measure of grace and kindness. His book on common grace, He Shines in All That's Fair, models a kind of charity, especially in overviewing the disagreements in the continental Reformed tradition over that doctrine. Even most controversially in his dialogue with Mormons, summarized in his Talking with Mormons, his uncommon generosity drives his determination to engage with this group that has historical roots within evangelicalism.
And I've learned a tremendous amount about the Reformed tradition from Mouw, especially as mediated by Abraham Kuyper. Whether in his short primer on Kuyper, which is gold, or in his applications of Kuyperian thought in When the Kings Come Marching In or Uncommon Decency, Mouw provides a model for a humble and hopeful Calvinism engaging the world. And what is great about reading Mouw is that even when I disagree with him at points theologically or methodologically, I come away admiring his commitment to these virtues of humility and hope, to the best of our tradition.
All to say, I hope that I've learned a little bit about how to be generous and how my Calvinist commitments shape and motivate that generosity. If I've learned anything about that and live out it in any degree, it is because I've learned it from Richard Mouw.