Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: John Calvin's American Legacy - Chapter 4 - Practical Ecclesiology in John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards

Chapter 3 review here. Chapter 2 review here. Chapter 1 review here. Introduction review here. Initial thoughts here.

"Practical Ecclesiology in John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards" by Amy Plantinga Pauw is the first chapter from Part II on Calvin's legacy on American theology. Although Edwards was no carbon-copy of Calvin, Pauw emphasizes the "deep commonalities" between his and Calvin's thinking, particularly their mutual ability to balance in the face of tensions that both "inclusiveness" and the "holiness" are chief attributes of church life and Christian living. Pauw, therefore, argues that because of this mutual practical ecclesiology, it is Edwards who should be considered the "rightful heir to Calvin's theological legacy [in America]."

Reformed theology, particularly ecclesiology, creates the tension. Believers are told to remain in the Church, not because the Church magically ensures their election, but because by doing so they cling to God and his promises, and it is the church which is the society and communion of men and women struggling with and continually confessing sins that God has called out of and who are distinct and separate from the world.

Calvin emphasized the need for these individuals to grow and mature under the kind rule of their motherly church. This life of maturation, however, is not characterized by perfectionism. Holiness, yes. Death to sin, yes. But not perfectionism. On this point Pauw reminds us that Calvin thought that "the life of believers, longing constantly for their appointed state, is like adolescence" (95); Pauw elaborating that:
In the midst of turbulent spiritual emotions and repeated moral failures, Christians are to strive by God's grace to grow into a mature life of gratitude and holiness. Portraying the earthly church as a mother not of helpless infants but of a large band of unruly adolescents better reflects both Reformed ecclesiology and Calvin's and Edward's pastoral experiences.
At the center of God's "redemptive perseverance" is the visible church, warts and all. Pauw gives several illustrations to demonstrate that in many pastoral experiences Edwards (following Calvin) had to wrestle with the reality of the inclusiveness/holiness tension. The ongoing story of God' redeeming work will certainly have its share of sorrows (as pastors in local churches teach, lead, serve and care for the "unruly adolescents"), however, these are all subplots to the metanarrative, the unsurpassed and unspeakable joy of living in union with Christ within the society of those who hold onto the promises of being raised unto newness in life because of the victory of his life, death, and resurrection.

The church is in God's hands. Therefore, assurance can only be found in resting, that is, reposing in God's good providence (even in the midst of the inclusiveness/holiness tension), and that is the practical ecclesiology which defines Calvin' legacy in American theology and which was exhibited in John Edward's life and practice.

My thoughts: this was the most readable chapter. And I thought Pauw was spot on describing Reformed ecclesiology. God does not kick people out of the family for their sins, rather he tells them to repent and confess their sins. Salvation is all of grace, always.

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