I seldom comment critically on Reformed Christianity – Calvinism, my last waystation before Orthodoxy – but a very telling set of concessions from a Calvinist scholar leaves me wondering what thoughtful Calvinists think they stand to lose by
- giving up on restoring missing elements of balance to Calvinism and
- returning to the Church that never abandoned those elements.
William Dyrness of Fuller Seminary has been thinking and writing since at least 1971. He writes quite a bit on creativity and aesthetics, which makes him an odd bird in Reformed and Evangelical circles. His latest is a volume on, of all things, Poetic Theology.
Ken Myers interviews him in Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 109, Track 3. The Mars Hill download site describes track 3 as “William Dyrness, on why theology should take more seriously the goodness of Creation and our proper delight in what God has made.” But the problem discussed by Myers and Dyrness isn’t universal: it’s a problem specifically of Reformed theology.
- The latent gnosticism of much Evangelicalism. [I think he intends to include the Reformed, but I don’t want to misrepresent him.]
- The Reformed tradition doesn’t value the arts or visual imagery.
- The Reformed tradition doesn’t quite believe in the power and legitimacy of imagination.
- Too much Reformed preaching is about the things we should avoid.
- Calvin and Calvinism underplay the Incarnation because the Acension is the critical part of Christ’s work. Calvinism needs a better theology of the incarnation, which Dyrness acknowledges that Catholic and Orthodox “depends on so heavily.” [N.B. The feast of Ascension now is largely ignored by Calvinists. In my hometown, the four Reformed Churches can’t round up enough faithful to hold even a joint Ascension Day service.]
- Reformed Churches aren’t conceived of as sacred spaces where you can go, for instance, to pray. Calvin instructed that Churches be locked outside of formal worship so people wouldn’t go do superstitious stuff there. That continues in Europe and the U.S.
- The Reformed tradition doesn’t appreciate the virtues of contemplation. It wants a “To Do List” instead of a vision of God.
That’s quite an indictment, it seems to me. Dyrness has the audacity, in short, to believe, against the Calvinist stream, that God’s creation is “very good,” and may provide a way of knowing God (or at least of knowing Him more deeply).
I don’t know whether the Calvinist branch of the Reformation ever considered leap-frogging over the 500 or so years between the Great Schism and the Reformation, returning to Orthodoxy. I’m not sure, at that point, that it even would have been feasible without migrating to eastern Europe (i.e., I’m not sure the Orthodox Church would have allowed the ecclesial aggression of planting Churches in the geographic Patriarchate of Rome). I know that some of Luther’s fellow Reformers communicated with the Orthodox, but it came to naught.
But I’d challenge a Reformed Christian who sees and wants to amend these problems: consider Orthodoxy. Even assuming that you and your pastors can derive from the Bible the “essentials” of a pure, simple Christian faith, why would you not want the fullness of the faith, not just the thin gruel of “the essentials”?
The door is open for return.