A spirituality for exiles
Writing at First Things, Carl Trueman makes a compelling case that the reformed theological tradition offers the best resources for faithful Christian living today:
…Of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.
As popular as Anglicanism (understandably) is, there is little in Anglicanism that isn’t also in Presbyterianism in a slightly different way. Liturgy has become a popular topic of conversation lately and reformed theologians have typically been conscientious in affirming a robust theology of worship. As Trueman again points out:
Reformed theologians understand this point. James K. A. Smith highlights the liturgical nature of all of life and the need for the Reformed Church to be self-conscious in its own liturgical performance. David F. Wells underscores the need for an intelligent and well-constructed liturgy that reflects our theological convictions. Reformed worship has always involved more than preaching, even though the sermon is central. Its liturgical form flows directly from our commitment to the Word and to the catholic foundations of our faith. The Gospel according to the Reformed faith is straightforward: We are dead in sin and need to be united to Christ, the God-man, who lived and died and rose again for us and for our salvation. United with him, we look beyond the ephemera of this world to the eternity beyond.
As the tide of American culture changes and classic Christian belief and practice is pushed aside, all of us ought to be asking how will the proclamation of the gospel continue?
When I first came to America in 1996, I remember sitting in a service in a church where the preacher declared that the tragedy of the town in which he lived was that only one person in two would be in a place of worship that morning. What was a tragedy then would look like a third Great Awakening today. Christianity is moving to the margins of American life, and Christians are heading into cultural exile. The question is: How will we survive? The answer is: as Paul did in the first century. First and foremost, we need the simple proclamation of God’s Word in church week by week, reminding us of our identity in Christ. We need liturgies and worship saturated with that Word. We need engagement with the world consistent with the identity formed in us by a clear and confident faith in that Word. In short, we will survive—indeed, we will thrive—through a vibrant commitment to exactly what the historic Reformed faith has emphasized.
In my mind, survival involves a missional shift. However, the missional shift will be a consequence of reformation rather than the cause of it. God works in his church through the ordinary means of grace: word, sacrament, and prayer. The reformed theological tradition–from Calvin to Barth–offers incredible resources of thought and practice to sustain the Christian faith through the coming storm.