Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell’s essay, “Reformed Intramurals: What Neo-Calvinists Get Wrong” (February 2008), touched on some important challenges for neo-Calvinists today. His concluding story about the great theatre deftly highlights these challenges; yet the story he tells is incomplete. The drama needs another act.
His story is of a great theatre, unparalleled in its beauty and design. But something happened to knock it off kilter. Every performance on the stage, indeed, every performer on it, was affected by the damage that was done. In spite of various efforts to set the theatre to rights, none succeeded. And then came a new repairman.
So far, so good. The first act of Creation, the second act of the Fall…the drama builds, awaiting the act of Redemption. Much to the supposed chagrin of neo-Calvinists, among others, the repairman isn’t particularly dramatic in his work and doesn’t carry out any large-scale repairs. He does some small works, however, which “had monumental repercussions throughout the theatre, the troupe and the productions they staged.” Stories arose about the wonder-working of “The Fixer,” but some insightfully suggested that perhaps he wasn’t a repairman but rather was “the consummate artist, whose performance in that theatre had been so beautiful, so complete, so graceful, it had somehow righted the entire theatre. He hadn’t so much made a repair, as he had been the star, although so few had caught his performance.” Mathonnet-VanderWell concludes the story and the article by saying: “Why there was even a handful who surmised that the whole grand theatre had in fact been made precisely to be the stage on which this unsurpassable artist would perform.”
A beautiful third act–Redemption. Surely the whole enterprise of Creation-Fall-Redemption isn’t about the theatre of Creation, but rather about the God who creates and redeems, and specifically about the “consummate artist” whose performance “righted the entire theatre.” In this dramatic parable, the truth that the story isn’t about fixing the Creation but is about the Star of the show is clear. As good as Kuyperian neo-Calvinist intentions are to transform this world into the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, the real story isn’t about all of our work to transform the world at all. It’s about the Christ. It’s about the one who came and by his performance–living and teaching and touching and suffering and dying and rising and ascending–reconciled the Creation with the Creator. A beautiful story, well told. But something remains.
There’s another act, an act that is dear to the hearts of many neo-Calvinists, the act of Consummation. I have personally been enriched by and preached some of the insightful commentary of Richard Mouw on Isaiah and Revelation and the New Jerusalem. The vision of this world being transformed, renewed, and restored is a grand and exciting vision. The highest aspirations of culture, stripped of their sinful taints and malicious purposes, enjoyed by all the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem and the New Earth. Enjoying Baryshnikov and borscht without oppression and revolution, Riesling and lager without tariffs and drunkenness, Ferraris and frescoes without pollution and pride–now that’s a final act that neo-Calvinists can get excited about. But before we tell the fourth act the way we want it to be performed, let’s go back to Mathonnet-VanderWell’s great theatre, and to the inspired script, to see what comes next.
One day, the one whom some know as “The Fixer,” but whom others know as the Consummate Artist, returns to the great theatre. At his return, there is great excitement, for the whole great theatre burns to the ground, and no one is able to put out the f lames. While many weep at the loss, others begin to sing for joy for the Artist goes to work in the still smoldering ashes. From all of the materials, from all of the performances of the troupe, from all of the repairs and patches of the repairmen who had gone before, the Artist fashions a new theatre and a new stage. It is a replica, a restoration of the great theatre–but no, it is more. It is more glorious, more beautiful, more stunning than anyone could have ever imagined. It would take an eternity to fully appreciate its glory.
But the great theatre, though glorious, is only a stage for the Artist’s performance. All of its beauty serves only as a setting to reflect the far greater glory of the Artist. In fact, as beautiful as the theatre is, no one gives the theatre much thought because they are so enthralled–heart, soul, mind, and strength–by the Artist. Though the great theatre has astonishingly beautiful crystal chandeliers and the highest technology in stage lighting, they don’t actually give off any light, they reflect it, for the Artist himself is the Light. Though the troupe will perform forever and ever with the Consummate Artist, the glory and the honor and the power and the praise belong to the Artist, and to Him alone, for all eternity. As beautiful as the New Great Theatre is, it is merely the stage for the Consummate Artist, whose glory gives light and life to all.