In an oft-quoted passage, Charles Spurgeon reflects on the nature of his calling as a pastor:
Fashion Theology. Robert Covolo. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2020. 216 pp.
Patrick and His Mission
Every year, we read articles about the “real” Saint Patrick – the one who didn’t drive out snakes and didn’t use a shamrock to explain the Trinity. His own account of his life, expressed in his Confessions, has become better known, but is still not commonly read. Yet, it holds much interesting information about this fervent missionary.
One summer, a family man (and personal friend) traveled to Paris, where he spent a morning enjoying Luxembourg Gardens. In time, he noticed a group of mothers who, he realized, were so engrossed in their conversation that they tilted toward neglect of their children. He watched as one child wandered ever farther from her mother in the crowded park. Not yet two, she began to follow a family, apparently thinking its mother was her mother. When the group crossed a street and hurried onward, the child was finally quite alone.
In recent years, it seems increasingly rare to hear believers say, “I grew up in a happy home and we had everything we needed.” I almost never hear anyone say “I am making progress as a disciple,” although healthy believers should keep growing (below). The unfettered gratitude we hear in Psalm 16:6 has gone missing: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” It has become difficult, even fraught, to say “My life is good,” in public at least.
It is a very human trait, one from which even theologians are not immune: the tendency to make ourselves the default reference point for everything. We do it without realising it, because it is built into our subconscious. But it happens nonetheless.
One particular locus of theology where this becomes repeatedly obvious is in our understanding of the church. Christians generally and ministers/theologians in particular can unwittingly emphasise their own particular church polity over against the larger ecclesiology from it which by definition it must be drawn.
It is one of those ‘stop-you-in-your-tracks’ type statements that crops up in the Bible from time to time. ‘Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (He 12.2). It is, of course, speaking of Christ and his sufferings on Calvary, but it is the strange inclusion of ‘joy’ in this statement that seems out of place.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is… joy.” Joy, that ultimate of teleological pursuits. It is the reason we exist. What is the chief end of man? It is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. More than mere happiness, though not less than, joy is the deep culmination and end of all we were created to know, believe in, and love. We were made to joyfully know, and believingly enjoy the God who is Eternal Joy Himself, Father, Son, and Spirit.
As I was sitting down to write this article initially, there were at that very moment, unbeknownst to me, a hoard of rioters breaking into the Capitol of the United States. In the days that have followed, people living in the US have been at one another’s throats. Every word, every action, seemingly every secret thought by every single person, from the president himself all the way down to the lowliest person making a Facebook post, has been scrutinized, judged, and found offensive to at least someone.
Exuberant over an experience, an oh-so-sweet manifestation of divine providence, you delightedly seek to give God praise in telling your story. “It was such a ‘God thing’,” you proclaim. As you see it, God wove together an otherwise inexplicable combination of events to deliver a wonderful—even stunning—outcome. The story nearly tells itself, and the words gush with geyser force. In such times, it is good to credit the Lord for his work. That is what God’s people do.
God has a Grand Plan
Larger than life itself, Paul’s God is a big God. The God of the prophets and apostles, in fact, created life. Creator and Redeemer, he becomes the awesome Benefactor of new life. Words fall short of the splendor. To say God is great is to call Niagara Falls a quaint and serene stream.
Small and stunned by God’s grace, the apostle inhales the air of grace and not surprisingly pens his letter on his face. Praise is befitting of the upright (cf. Psalm 33:1). Theology airs best from our knees.