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On Becoming Generously Reformed

By January 4, 2014 One Comment

Today we welcome guest blogger Chuck DeGroat. Chuck teaches counseling and pastoral care at Western Theological Seminary, in Holland, Michigan. He co-founded Newbigin House of Studies, San Francisco, where he serves as a Senior Fellow and served as Teaching Pastor at City Church. Chuck has authored two books – Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places, and the forthcoming Toughest People to Love, and blogs over at the New Exodus. Join him in conversation @chuckdegroat.

I’m convinced that the church has fashioned a rather innocent-looking idol – certainty. It is cloaked in the mask of words like “truth,” or “dogma,” or “Gospel” – all good things. It is housed in activistic causes and rigidly defined systems and glimmering pastoral personalities. But the dark, idolatrous heart of certainty wraps itself around the security of being right.

Now, we’re all guilty of this idolatry. It’s not unique to those on the left or on the right. In fact, you’ll often find it among those who are polarized, those who are quite pleased that their “tribe” has figured it out…and let me be clear – I’ve not seen it discriminate among liberal or conservative. I, personally, love this feeling of power. I love to be with conversation partners who agree with me. But perhaps you, like me, want out of this constricting bind.

Breaking free is not about abandoning faith or jettisoning orthodoxy. In fact, it might just be more about discovering it again, but this time as the ancients knew it – as a holy mystery. Mystery, humility, contemplative knowing, participation, union – these features mark an ancient faith, proclaimed each Sunday: this is the mystery of the faith – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

The ancients resisted (albeit imperfectly) a polarized, bifurcated, dualistic faith by entering the mystery, embodied in their liturgy and doctrine. The inexplicable and paradoxical – Incarnation and Trinity, for example – became pillars. Participation in God’s life through Christ was central, prayer and belief intimately intertwined (lex orandi est lex credendi). All were the fundamentals, but fundamentals which resisted human explanation, fundamentals which resisted fundamentalism. This was truly foolishness to the wise. Perhaps most foolish of all – the weekly feast in which Christians exercised their longing to commune, practiced in the puzzling intake of body and blood – an act of communion, participation, and reconciliation in Christ.

Today, we resist mystery. Our new pillars have become causes we can hold and feel secure in – gender, justice, multiplication, polarizing personalities, and more. They’ve become labels we elevate – complementarian, egalitarian, missional, liberal, Gospel-driven, feminist, New Calvinist. Labels and causes aren’t bad, but when elevated to rival our ancient pillars, they become idols which demand our allegiance, polarize, disease the church, and break God’s heart.

But my sense is this: there is a new space emerging in the North American church. It is bringing together curious bedfellows, people willing to relax their grip for just a bit in order to break bread with the ‘other’. It’s a space for those who want to trade certainty for Gospel generosity, security for mysterious participation in Christ’s life, tribal warfare for Resurrection power. I’ve been calling it a “Generously Reformed” space, and I’ve been praying that Jesus might just show within it as those who are humbling themselves seek him.

What might this space look like? St. Augustine once said, “If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility.” What I’ve noticed is that there is a longing to be supported by the great orthodox pillars of the faith I described above, in all their grand mystery, while holding other ‘certainties’ more loosely and humbly.

I see it in a close friend and pastor whose orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathos generate beauty in broken San Francisco.

I see it in a pastor who has gained a following, but is using the platform to model humility as he forges conversations with those he adamantly disagrees with on issues of gender and sexuality.

I’m seeing it among young pastors growing in voice and influence who sense the tug within, who feel it, and are willing to move toward Jesus, not backward.

I’m hearing it in repentant voices.

I’m watching it before me as new partnerships emerge – church and seminary coming together to form Newbigin House – each partner having to loosen their grip for the sake of a larger vision.

I’m seeing it in young, rock solid, generously Reformed theologians – Todd Billings, Suzanne MacDonald, Kelly Kapic, Theresa Latini, Justin Holcomb, Scot Sherman, Laura Smit.

I’m admiring it in a historic Dutch Reformed church becoming a place of reconciliation.

Humility. Humility. Humility.

When our idols tumble, God’s Spirit can make all things new. Let’s let them tumble.

Get in touch and tell me where you are seeing God at work.

Chuck DeGroat

Chuck teaches Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. His sojourn as a pastor meandered through Orlando and out to San Francisco, where he started church counseling centers in both places. Chuck is a church consultant, a therapist, a spiritual director, and author of four books. He’s married to Sara and has two teenage daughters.

One Comment

  • Isn't "certainty" really the "original sin" of knowing good from evil, of being "like God", of being capable, like God, to judge one thing as right or wrong, better or worse, and the beginning of tribes which needed,for survival, to defend against "the other"?

    Just my humble opinion, of course, but that is what makes most sense to me these days and why I so need to follow Jesus, in order to just BE, to simply live in the moment and experience the "God-with-us-ness", which is impossible if we continually assess/ judge the "other". And often, I am the "other" when I come down harshly on myself, and then miss God's presence in this moment, as a presence in which I can rest and be fully who I am as I am becoming who I am created to be and loved in the process of becoming.

    Sorry for long ramble …

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