22 October 2013

Our Musty Christian Incubators

ThielickeLast night, I was reading a chapter of Helmut Thielicke’s How the World Began, entitled ‘Man – The Risk of God’. Sometimes, when you’ve been turning over thoughts in your mind and reflecting on them in prayer, you pick up a book and read something that just hits you like a train – because it puts your own reflections into words. The issues raised in this chapter are, in my view, pressing ones for the Reformed church. Thielicke’s words (from the 1960’s) have the ring of the prophetic…

We Christians, therefore, have not only to sing hymns; we must also pay attention to culture. God wants this too. But we cannot pay attention to culture if we are narrow-minded, stupid Christian philistines. Then we hand over the theater, music, literature, and politics to the so-called children of the world, and our somewhat belated agitation and concern that they may play hob with it, that they may make a cult of Eros or an atomic witches' sabbath of it, is completely out of place. "Is the plot of history to turn out in such a way," asked Schleiermacher in another connection, "that Christianity will go with barbarism, but science— and art—with unbelief?"

I believe that the church of Jesus Christ has not yet really grasped just what has been entrusted to us and the wealth that has been given to us. Often it seems to me that we Christians flounder about between heaven and earth, as if, down underneath, we had lost both, and therefore present a rather lamentable figure to the children of this world. We keep thinking about all the things "we can no longer do" as Christians, instead of enjoying the riches of creation and then accepting with open hands what God wants to give to us. Is God, then, a mistrustful miser who locks everything away from us so that we cannot get at it? Is he not rather the Father who is always giving with full hands and unparalleled generosity, always pouring out his gifts? I am afraid that the germs of a neopagan culture are being cultivated in our musty Christian incubators.   How the World Began, 68

Thielicke puts his finger on it. A truly Reformed theology does not (or should not) ‘flounder around between heaven and earth’. I’m afraid that Christianity often does present a lamentable figure. We denigrate our creatureliness, as if God wanted us in heaven rather than on the earth. And then our anaemic gospel becomes a shadow of what it ought to be, and makes little sense to those who live as creatures in God’s much-loved world. Our musty Christian incubators need to be opened to the fresh air of God’s purpose to redeem all of His creation through Jesus the Messiah.