Friday, May 22, 2015

The Heart of Being Reformed

Funny thing, how a negative comment can be the best thing to get you thinking.

I'd noticed the other day that my rather-less-than-bestselling book on faith and the multiverse had gotten a couple more ratings on Goodreads.  The overall rating: a "3," which was where it had been for a while.  That had been based on a whopping one reader, who evidently felt sort of meh about it.  Now, two new folks had bothered rating it.

One had given it a five out of five.  Yay!

The other, a one out of five.  Boo!

And of course, the one written review on Goodreads?  It's from the person who hated it.  Figures.  Because those negative things are, of course, where we tend fix our attention.  Why don't they like me?  What's wrong with me?  Snif...

But it's still worth listening, to this human being in their particularity, telling you why they hated it.   In this case, they thought the book was going to put multiverse cosmology in the context of the Bible, but it didn't.  There was no science in it!  There was no bible in it!  Evidently, they didn't bother looking at the footnotes.  Or  Maybe I should have bolded the science parts and put the Bible parts in italics.  Or used #hashtags.  I don't know.  Whichever way, it didn't register.  And the whole book was, as far as they were concerned, just standard-issue namby-pamby liberal hoo-hah, in which every faith is the same.

Sigh.  At least they put in the effort to write something, eh?

What was illuminating, though, was a particular one of their other complaints, the one directed at me personally.  Here I am, a pastor from a reformed tradition.  And though I talk about the Bible, the Bible doesn't seem to be my focus in the book.  Oh, sure, I reference the Genesis stories.  And other Torah.  And the Prophets.  And the Writings.  And yeah, I talk about Jesus, and God, and what the Kingdom of God means, and about the Gospel, with extensive footnotes from the Bible.

But I don't quote scripture in every other sentence I write.  I write and tell stories for those who aren't already steeped in the in-group language of my faith.  You know, like Ol' Uncle Paul did, up on the Areopagus, when he wanted to connect to people.  You know that story, right?  Ahem.

Which, as far as my dear reviewer was concerned, meant that I wasn't really Reformed.  My faith has to be entirely based in the Bible and expressed in its terms, or I am not upholding the purpose of the Reformation.

This is a good and valid thing to raise, because it's an issue worth talking about.  The Reformation, as I understand it, was not primarily about replacing ecclesiastical inerrancy with biblical inerrancy.  That was not its purpose, not if it was a God-breathed movement.

Its purpose was to break the grasp of a system that had been corrupted by human power and human grasping.  How?  By getting those who follow Jesus to realize that they can stand in the same relationship to God that Jesus did.  That's the point of the Spirit, that ephemeral third person of our philosophically complex Trinitarian faith.

In point of fact, the only way one can legitimately read scripture is through the lenses of the Spirit.  Otherwise, you can bend it and shape it and mangle it any way you see fit.  You can focus on irrelevant details.  You can justify your own sociopolitical biases, or your own position in the power structure of a culture.

The texts themselves are not sufficient.  John Calvin himself was clear on this in his Institutes.  Without the Spirit at work in the heart of the believer, those texts have no more authority than the church does when it has God's life and breath crushed out from it.

And as I reflected on that, I found myself grateful to the soul that stirred that reflection.  It's a good reminder of what it means to be reformed, and why being Reformed matters so very much.