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So The TwelveReformed Done Daily is moving into its third month.  So far.  So good.  I’m told readership is strong and growing, although it can be a bit unsatisfying to post something and not receive much or any response.  Is anybody out there? 

I was heartened recently when a friend—and purported regular reader of The Twelve—called me to share some observations about the overall tone and general direction of the blog.  Without any agenda or disapproval, he noted “I hear a lot of Kuyperian antithesis, over-againstness.”  Do you other regular readers (are there any?) concur?  Do you sense other common threads and broad themes in the blogs?  My friend’s comments sent me spinning in all sorts of directions.

I’m really only a Kuyperian to the extent that it rubs off from my friends and colleagues.  Not to quibble, but my own over-againstness probably owes more to Barth’s “nein!” than Kuyper’s antithesis.  Yet, even most Barthian devotees would probably admit that “nein!” is a more helpful response in Germany of the 2310’s than in the vagaries and shades of gray of most other contexts.

Cultural commentary from a Reformed perspective was the stock-in-trade of our hallowed ancestor, The Reformed Journal.  I wonder if part of what made the old RJ seem so fresh and provocative back in the day was a reliance more on “common grace” than on “antithesis.”  To an audience that was then still wary of the world, who recoiled from engagement with the “American” culture, common grace was a way to draw the Dutch Reformed onto a bigger stage.  (I’ve argued elsewhere that this over reliance on common grace led to a naïve collaboration with American evangelicalism.)

If the old Reformed Journal, back in the day, was more about common grace than antithesis, then what accounts for perhaps this different tone today?  Different authors?  Different context?  Can we reduce it to personality traits or ethnic tendencies?  The need of the pastor and professor to play the critic?  Much of the early blogging on The Twelve has related to the Christmas season—certainly ripe for antithesis, but hopefully still able to convey some grace as well. 

If you’ve been a regular reader of The Twelve, you’ve followed Jamie Smith’s engagement with Jewish writer Saul Bellow as possibly instructive for the Reformed experience in North America.  See what he might add tomorrow.  In one of his first posts, Smith said that Bellow might be more “our novelist” than Marilynne Robinson.  I think he is right.  That is no slam on Robinson.  I deeply admire her, find her to be an incredibly cogent cultural commentator and whenever I finish reading anything she writes, I say to myself, “I wish I was half that smart.” 

Smith’s comments came to mind recently when I received Robinson’s “Wondrous Love” (Christianity and Literature, Winter 2010) in which Robinson points out that her Congregationalist tradition can trace its roots to Plymouth Rock, and additionally that she came to Congregationalism “on the basis of affinity.”  Personal choice?  Plymouth Rock?  How much more American can it get—especially to a community where many of us can recall ancestors who spoke with a brogue, and where choice often seems an ill-fitting idea?  I am not in any way trying to say that Robinson isn’t thoroughly Reformed, just of a vastly different subculture.  “Antithesis” and “common grace” aren’t really part of her vocabulary.  While Robinson can be a trenchant cultural critic, I wonder if what makes her such a compelling Reformed voice is something in her that is more akin to common grace. She is more likely to say that it is exactly because the world is such a beautiful and complex place that evil can be so pervasive.  Likewise, because human beings are so capable, intricate, and splendid, our ability and inclination to do harm is that much greater.  Election is not a mean-spirited conversation about who is chosen and who doesn’t get in, but is more about the inexorable love of a pursuing God.  

My friend, the regular reader of The Twelve, who noted a steady undercurrent of “antithesis” didn’t intend it as a criticism, merely an observation.  Positively, it might be evidence of being rooted in and reflective of our subculture.  Yet even as one with an inclination toward nein, I don’t want this place to be a place only of antithesis.  Do you think we could get Marilynne Robinson to write for us?

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

2 Comments

  • SSB says:

    I try to read regularly. As a Presbyterian USA pastor serving in Texas, I find it refreshing to read blog posts connecting me to a larger Reformed conversation.

    I've not noticed the Kuyperian tendancy, though I'm steeped in that tradition, so I sometimes take it for granted.

    Keep writing!

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I'm reading regularly too. For some reason, my browser or whatever often won't take my comments. Let'd hope today it does. I was surprised at the "antithesis" comment. I don't like Kuyperian antithesis at all, especially in its original sense, any more than I like "common grace" in its original sense (which is actually quite a negative) or even in its popular, looser sense. But I don't experience the blog as unbalanced that way. There's sufficient variety in voice, venue, depth, and tone. Yeah, we'll see what happens when the contradictory season of Christmas is over.

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