Van Reken, Calvin P. “Christians in This World: Pilgrims or Settlers,” Calvin Theological Journal 43 (2008): 234-56.
Van Reken traces and “Old Vision” and a “New Vision” in the CRC regarding the Christian’s place in the world. Interestingly he approaches this topic by looking at revisions to the denomination’s hymnals. For instance, he notes that a hymn that once read “Spirit of God, who dwells within my heart, wean it from earth” was altered in the 1987 hymnal to read “Spirit of God, who dwells within my heart, wean it from sin.” He then documents a shift from seeking the world “as so vile as to be dangerous to Christians” to seeking the world as a place that Christians should seek to redeem. In the new vision sees “the world as our home in need of our attention.” Van Reken believes that the new vision is correct in some areas. But he has two concerns: worldliness and lack of evangelism.
He notes that 1928 CRC “did not warn the church about cultural engagements in general; it warned specifically about worldly amusements.” It did not call these amusements “intrinsically sinful.” But it did recognize a danger in them that differed from other kinds of cultural engagement: “the less hazardous forms of cultural engagement, such as working in a factory or running for Congress, are not things so pleasant as to make us forget God. They have much less power to lure us away from our interest in heaven. Worldly amusements, on the other hand, are enjoyable.” Van Reken thinks that danger from worldly amusements is greater now than in 1928 but that concern about this matter has greatly diminished—making the danger even greater.
Van Reken’s other concern is an increasingly lack of attention given to evangelism. He praises the increased social outreach that the new view has generated, but he is distressed that this social work seems to have replaced an emphasis on evangelism. And what shall it profit if Christians repaired a home destroyed by a hurricane but failed to share the gospel of salvation with the homeowner?
Fundamentally, however, Van Reken believes that the new vision has forgotten that the old vision was rooted in the Bible’s teaching about the pilgrim life of the believer. Van Reken does not think that the pilgrim vision should detract from engagement with the world. But he does think that it reminds us to consider what is temporary and what is eternal. It reminds us that the life to come is eternal and that this life is transitory. In other words, Van Reken concludes, “If we completely lose the old vision, we are in danger of forgetting what is really most important.”