Someone picked up scissors and snipped our mentalities. Our thoughts lay like scraps on the floor: thinking is severed from doing; spirituality is cut from its heritage and theological reflection mutates into one-liners from an adolescent-like preacher in an empty comedy club.
Such imagery comes in the wake of recent events on humanity’s most dire concern. Scientists keep filing alarming reports of climate change — including discoveries that CO2 levels surpassed 400 parts per million at least twice this year — and yet we’re on a full-scale policy retreat. Movements for rollbacks in goals for renewable energy rumbled through several states recently, with Republican Gov. Chris Christie dismissing New Jersey’s ambitions as “pie in the sky” and Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy elevating large-scale Canadian hydro-power in the renewable mix, then raiding clean energy funds to balance the budget. Meanwhile, the renewable industry prospers in Germany, which feasts on the pie and dons the can-do spirit for which we were once known.
Hello? Anyone out there? Can anyone say “moral imperative”? This is not just “another issue.” Imagine a 14th-century physician anticipating the looming bubonic plague. He merely whispers to a local priest, who emits wisecracks about chills and fever and sputum next Sunday. The sleepy king flies his falcons and ignores the swelling rat infestation.
We’re disconnected, ripped from reality. Our synapses fire but send no signal.
Maybe presidents and prime ministers and governors can ignore the potential devastation because, like that jokester priest, some in the Christian church have forgotten their heritage and role. Listen to Mark Driscoll, the New Reformed pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill megachurch: “I know who made the environment,” he reportedly said in an April conference. “He’s coming back, and he’s going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” He snubbed subsequent criticism with his notorious mockery, claiming he was just yucking it up: “According to people who, unlike me, go on the Internet, some did not understand I was telling jokes and people were laughing.”
Perhaps the bright lights blinded him to several who walked out.
Driscoll could have cleared everything up on the spot with a quick “just kidding” disclaimer and explanation: “For the record, I really like this planet. God did a good job making this planet. We should take good care of this planet until he comes back to make a new earth.” He said that later, and wrapped it in his unbecoming all-your-fault lament for misunderstanding poor little me. The people of Malawi, whom climate change has pushed to survival’s edge, must have slapped their thighs while the Carteret and Tuvalu islanders hooted. Those rising sea levels are such a gas!
Such cavalier “jokes” amputate him from his own Reformed heritage, which developed a sophisticated cultural theology that ripened in the mind of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), the Dutch theologian, politician, journalist, educator and prime minister. Discussions over Reformed Theology, usually an interchangeable term with Calvinism, often freeze in the 16th-century and focus on predestination, then leap to the Salem Witch Trials. It’s not fair. The Reformed tradition brims with brain power. Legions of monumental thinkers abound and not all agree on predestination (Moses Amyraut, John Cameron and Richard Baxter were among those who differed).
The theology’s unifying heart centers on God’s sovereignty: Everything and everyone sprawls flat before the transcendent Being — including monarchs, dictators, CEOs, generals, oil barons, union leaders and Wall Street brokers. Brawling over who is superior is like sparring over the most significant mole hill on Mount Everest. We’re equally microscopic — and important. Each believer is a priest and everyone is responsible, with civil government given the vital role of protecting all citizens in a well-ordered society. The office of the magistrate, said Calvin, is “specially assigned” by God.
Thinking evolved through the centuries: The law restrains kings and queens. If absolutely necessary, citizens must depose rogue monarchs, which is why Congregational and Baptist churches spurred revolutionary fervor in the American colonies. It all crystalized in Kuyper’s roaring mind and his claim, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” Christ not only came to restore individuals, but the world. Richard J. Mouw sums it up: “When God saves us, (Kuyper) insisted, he incorporates us into a community, the people of God. And this community, in turn, is called to serve God’s goals in the larger world.” Genesis 1:28 implies a “cultural mandate” in which God delegated his rule to humanity, a rule implemented through distinct but interconnected spheres: Religious institutions, politics, science, the arts and so on. Each sphere must honor the other. Clerics cannot mandate their practices via law and politicians must respect religious liberty. The separation of church and state thwarts both secular domination and theocracy, giving Christians a theoretical basis for political participation in a pluralistic society: we advocate our positions while co-ruling with others; we do not dominate.
Mouw cautions that “there is plenty in Kuyper that needs updating and even serious correcting” (pa-lease look away from his sympathies with his Dutch cousins, the South African Boers), but he bequeathed a framework for envisioning societal engagement. Calvin College took up the mantle in its mission statement: “We aim to develop knowledge, understanding, and critical inquiry; encourage insightful and creative participation in society; and foster thoughtful, passionate Christian commitments” (emphasis added). Kuyperian minds bred thoughtful declarations on social and ecological justice in the Christian Reformed Church and planted roots for The Center for Public Justice, a Christian think tank with origins in the Evangelical Left of the 1970s. His framework has spread into evangelical academia and mainline Protestantism via Princeton Theological Seminary’s Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology.
Holistic Reformed Theology anchors itself in Heaven and calls us to this-worldly relevance: God inserted us at this time and place to do his will — now. Its thinkers should be the last to dismiss monumental issues with cavalier “jokes” about SUVs and a future fire. They would see the moral imperative and call our leaders to task. May Mark Driscoll grow up and rediscover his tradition’s noble heritage — and may he learn how to apologize with dignity.