Being unReformed Again

My reading of Calvin’s Institutes (I’m not very far in it yet) brings to mind an anecdote about Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is sitting on a panel of writers at a Fantasy/SciFi convention and someone is talking to him about how amazed they are at his talent for writing, talking about how they could never create stories of such beauty, etc. He gets peeved, and tells the person that if they really want to show him how much they appreciate his work, they should do their own work. They should demonstrate that his life was spent in a meaningful and valuable way by devoting their own life to the same thing – the creation of great stories. There’s no special talent that he has – he just works extremely hard, and learns from his mistakes, and produces what he does only with incredibly time, effort and sacrifice. It isn’t enough to just absorb other people’s stories – the point is to move you to create your own.

I think of this when I read a Reformed theologian writing about how the chief end of humanity is the worship of God, that the chief response to the knowledge of salvation and relationship with God is to worship. I have to say, flat out, I disagree, at least in the sense that worship is almost always understood. I don’t think that’s the point at all. I think the highest response to God is, for lack of a better word, emulation. The way we demonstrate that the gospel contains truth, that it is powerful, that it is transformative, that it connects us with God, is to live it out personally. We demonstrate that Jesus’ life had value by living our own lives the way Jesus did. We demonstrate the truth of God’s relationship with us by entering into relationship with others. We show the value of God’s love by loving, not by sitting there and thanking God for all that love we’ve received.

This is worship that doesn’t occur for an hour on Sunday. This is worship that requires no church, no liturgy, no sermon, no hymns, no pews, no pulpit, no devotionals, no curriculum. That kind of worship, for me, is the entry point, perhaps, but far, far from the culmination. Worship that only occurs at church is pretty much dead. I mean, you can do almost anything for an hour. But the real test is what you do with your life. And not just with a life of worship (whatever that means) – with a life that lives out the gospel, that lives in the kingdom. Otherwise, the kingdom of God is just something we talk about that has no concrete reality. The gospel is just something we preach, but it is like commemorating a corpse. Wow, wasn’t the gospel amazing? Or, thank you God, for giving us the gospel.

What is the chief end of humankind? God.

12 thoughts on “Being unReformed Again

  1. Careful how much you advertise your unreformedness, it’ll get back to your CPM. 😉Well, as usual, I agree and I disagree. I agree because I am with the prophetic voice of Amos who says God hates the festivals and sacrifice’s but want justice instead. I agree because I think what matters is a wholly regenerated life not just an hour of attention each week.I disagree because I think emulation of God as a primary mode of worship lends itself dangerously to pride and arrogance. I disagree because I think that worship IS about love – it’s about returning love to the source of goodness, God. In other words, if we’re worshipping right we are fulfilling our vocations because we’re loving right back at God and our neighbor.In my opinion the chief end of humankind is to delight in God. We should worship ALL the time. Worship by making love. Worship by being generous. Worship by building houses, schools and hospitals. Worship by creating beauty. Worship by absorbing the pain of our friends and neighbors and giving back joy.

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  2. It seems like somehow you made it, John. How do you do it? It seems like I have this future to look forward to of dealing with a powerful majority that nonetheless thinks of itself as an embattled minority. Sometimes I can’t get straight why I am a Presbyterian beyond the fact that I have been one for most of my life (except for forays into the Community Church and a more agnostic agnosticism).Seriously, though. It seems really…uphill. And what’s at the top of the hill?

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  3. Hi Doug,I am not sure what is at the top of the hill, but the climb itself is rewarding even as it is tiresome. What has been most rewarding is the people who have responded favorably. For instance, my lgbt advocacy (of which I am so glad you and Aric are taking on by the way) generated a great deal of opposition, of course. But, and this is the reward, I cannot count the number of people within and without the church that were grateful and able to connect again with their faith,(and in some cases their family members) because a minister took a public stand affirming that you can be both gay and Christian. The same is true for theological issues as well. The point is that the institution will be what it is. The reward is the people we touch individually. That makes it worth it. Hang in there! You are doing great!

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  4. Doug,One more thing. After I posted here, I checked my e-mail and found this from a church member. This is why it is worth it:“Happy Easter Monday, John! I don’t know how else to say that I appreciate you & the church somuch. I talked to my mother yesterday afternoon. She says withguilt, yet also frustration, disillusion, “nobody went to Mass this holiday.” I said, “I feel like I went to Easter service for the first time EVER this morning. Talk about resurrection!” I heard her smile over the phone. “I should find something up here like you did down there.” 🙂

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  5. I don’t know… MaybeSeems to me the chief purpose of humanity is to live. It seems the chief purpose of God is to cause life. My guess is that the best way to say thanks is to pay it forward. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.Jodie

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  6. Doug, Along with Piper- but on a completely different angle to your unreformedness, Kevin van Hoozer’s (sp?) book, “Is there meaning in this text?”, is a great exploration of what he calls a Trinitarian Hermeneutic. A hermeneutic of trust, while acknowledging modernitys false claim of the objective observer. Leslie Newbiggin also has a little gem, much shorter, entitlted, “Proper Confidence” which applies Polyani’s insights on personal knoweldge, along with Augstine’s ‘Faith seeking understanding’ against the enlightenments, “I think, therefore I am.” Both should be on Amazon. I commend them to you, as well.Dave Moodydavemoody@mac.com

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