Friday, September 25, 2015

Engaging God's World

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. Eerdmans, 2002. 150 pages. ISBN 0-8028-3981-9

God wants to not only convert our heart, but our mind also. God calls us to love Him with our mind. As Mark Noll observed years ago, there was a need for evangelicals to develop the Christian mind. So often Christians might have been converted to Christ, but their thoughts and actions are determined by secularism. As Psalms one says, we are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly. How can we develop a Christian mind? I am glad you asked. Plantinga shows us how in his book, Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. This book is especially written for college students to show them the main themes of Christian faith and how they apply to higher education. The big themes discussed in this book are creation, fall, redemption, vocation, the kingdom of God, and shalom. The author hopes these themes will provide the student with the ability to "recognize a world and life view" and be able to communicate it to others. The author quotes from three major sources as he addresses these themes in this book: the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Cathechism (1563), or the Canons of Dort (1618-19). The author is reformed, but he addresses these themes in a broad way that applies to all Christians.

Engaging God's World is divided into the five major themes: Hope, creation, fall, redemption, and vocation. In chapter one he describes the hope for shalom. Shalom can be defined as human flourishing. It is through following Christ that human flourish. The author begins with his first major theme in chapter one-creation. This is important. My early years as a Christian believer creation was not emphasized in the christian circles I participated in. They emphasized redemption. They also emphasized that the only reason God left us on earth after we were converted was to win souls. It was not till I begin reading Thomas Aquinas was I taught the importance of creation. The author emphasizes that the biblical view of creation implies certain points: "First, the original goodness of creation implies that all of it, including any human being we meet is potentially redeemable. . . . Second, created things - and their parts and processes - are unique and sometimes mysterious, but because they have come from the wisdom of God they are also purposive and, in principle, intelligible" (35). This means that we are co-partners with God in redeeming the earth, and we can use our minds to understand and improve it. Another implication from the doctrine of creation: the earth was created out of "god's goodness, power, and love." God did not have to create the heavens and the earth and everything was created out of nothing. Fourth God calls us to love his world without worshipping it. In other words, the material, physical creation is good. All that leads to human flourishing is good. The author notes, "It follows that the things of the mind and spirit are no better, and are sometimes much worse, than the things of the body. Christianity rejects those 'boutique spiritualities," ancient and modern, that scorn the messy, organic nature of physical life" (37).

Chapters three and four discusses the fall and redemption. We live in a fallen world. This does not mean that the world is completely corrupted. The author notes, "If you put together the doctrines of common grace and total depravity, you'll be in a position to explain the remarkable fact: worldly people are often better than we expect, and church people are often worse" (60). The author declares that sin is as old as the human race, but so is the grace of God that brings redemption. Redemption comes from the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot save ourselves. It is all of God's grace. The author pictures the Christian life as a dying and rising with Christ. This is not a one time event, but a continual even. Plantinga states that the Christian's life needs "continual reformation."

The last chapter addresses vocation in the service of the Kingdom of God. We are redeemed by God to serve others in this world. The author sees the Christian as having a calling. The author illustrates this by the mission statement of his college. It says that the college "seeks to engage in vigorous liberal arts education that promotes lives of Christian service" (110). Even Christ said I have not come to be served, but to serve. A major part of our calling is to work for shalom, or human flourishing. A college education can equip the student to serve in God's kingdom. A college education should provide knowledge, skills, and virtues.

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