I took a turn teaching one of the Bible classes and the subject was Creation, which we obviously could just touch on. I was struck, in both the preparation and teaching, with the aptness of the observation from one of our teachers some time ago that the “narrow way” of truth (and all it involves by way of life and salvation) does not run alongside the broad way of error, but is a “golden mean” (Plato?) in the middle of error, which deviates both to right and left increasingly wider as error multiples by accumulation of new material with which to go astray, and the evolvement of what is implicit in even the slightest of digression form the “straight and narrow.”
In my remarks to the students I pointed out that the swings in the development of all fields (including religion/theology) are like a pendulum. The Reformation, for example, was a reaction to work-righteousness of the Church (Western) in those days, which resulted in a “cheap grace” that neglected Christian living. The social gospel was in turn a reaction to “fundamentalism”. So – as regards the whole controversial matter of creation, at one extreme is godless evolution; matter is eternal or something of “god” itself by its unexplained origin and inherent capabilities of development. At the other extreme are those who think the earth is comparatively young, was created in 6 days of 24 hours each, had trees with rings in them from “day one”, mountains like they are now, all the species of animals we presently know, and man was made out of dirt (like a mud-doll) and was tall, “brainy”, etc.
Upon reflection, it occurs to me that in every one of the traditional six sections (“loci”) of (Reformed) doctrine extremes of such sort are to be seen and bewared of. 1. Regarding man, the basic matter is that of autonomy – predestination versus “free will”. Humanism makes man completely autonomous; Calvinism tends in the direction of Muslim fatalism. (Verduin’s writing about “Man’s image” of God are all on this important point.) 2. Regarding Christ, the extremes are obviously making him merely human (differing from us only “quantitatively’) or (in which direction we lean) making him exclusively divine, knowing everything at birth, etc. 3. Regarding salvation (see above) it is the error of saying (via bumperstickers and testimonies) that salvation is simply forgiveness, going to heaven: Reformed wariness of liberalism tips us toward that. 4. Regarding the church, one extreme is identifying the mystical body of Christ with the organized church. That tendency has plagued God’s people from the days of Israel. The opposite extreme is disparagement of church membership, worship. A sub-point of this is congregationalism vs. contemporary “bapitstic” independentism. Contrary to our patron, Abraham Kuyper, our current weakness as a denomination is in the former direction. 5. As to eschatology, the extremes are the immanentism of the prelims and the virtual denial of a second coming by extreme “posts”. In theory I think we a-millenials are close to a “golden mean”, but in practice are to be found all over the spectrum, The Christian Reformed “classic” of Revelation (in fact, our dominant “treatment” of that book and eschatology generally is one of benign neglect) – Hendriksen’s commentary, is quite inadequate; Hoekema’s recent tome is good, but the book of Revelation itself is essentially a prediction, for the sake of the beleaguered early Christians, of the certain and not-so-distant, collapse of invincible Rome. (The very word “anti-Christ” is not found in Revelation.)
Our Reformed proneness to deviation from the ideal balance, non-extremism, lies in our traditional intellectualism, rationalism, sophistry, scholasticism, and love of system, organization. (Theology itself is systematization of Scripture.) We make many very illicit and unhelpful distinctions – casuistry is the technical work for it – so that we speak of the church triumphant versus militant, invisible/visible, organized/organism, to say nothing of congregations vs denominations vs universal. We distinguish between an inner and external call of the Gospel; we have all kinds of “faith”, with the result that our “temporary” faith (of the four soils in Matt 13) denies our doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. (The parable, like many other parts of Scripture, is not talking about salvation per se, but fruitfulness, varying kinds of justification from eternity, on Calvary, at regeneration, upon conversion – and then have the temerity to quarrel with non-Reformed folk – and even John Calvin – regarding the explicit meaning of Peter’s “evangelistic” sermon and call to decision – Acts 3:38.
The other large Reformed error is excessive concern with matters that really are not revealed in Scripture – infra and supra is but on instance of that, plus the decrees of God over which Daane et al toil so wordily. “The revealed things belong to us and to our children; the secret unto our God”. (Our pre-occupation with predestination forgets that.)
So, it’s the old story; we must constantly get back to the Bible itself, and in our evangelism and self-nurture articulate the good news in God’s way and works, insofar as possible (especially in vocabulary, so that, like Jesus, we talk about being born again, instead of regeneration, etc.) and do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, which is why Acts, primarily was written, never intended as a “history” of even the early church, limiting itself as it does to only the work of Paul, out of countless others, including the eastern thrust into India and China themselves.