“Reformed spirituality necessarily begins with a stunning vision of God’s grandeur,” he writes. With joyful imagination, he argues for the truthfulness of his theological forebear, John Calvin, in declaring that “the world is the theater of God’s glory.”
Lane is an incisive theologian who teaches American religion and the history of spirituality at the University of Saint Louis. Beyond his considerable theological insight, Lane knows his subject from his own experiences hiking in wild and wonderful places. This book is the fruition of years of exploring such wilderness and connecting its delight with the theological tradition that has formed him since childhood.
Reading Lane one is reminded of the poet Mary Oliver, who offered these “Instructions from the Lord: Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” This is precisely what he has done in this book. More importantly he has searched the writings of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and a host of influential Puritan theologians to bring forward an unrecognized creation theology grounded in Scripture.
Mining Reformed theological sources for a new appreciation of creation and an environmental ethic, Lane describes himself as “returning to a home he’s never really known, delighting in it for the first time.” This rereading of Calvin, 17th century Puritans and Edwards awakened within Lane a half-forgotten desire for a God able to exult in nature’s beauty.
Like that other Presbyterian wilderness lover, John Muir, who rejected the harsh Calvinism of his pastor father, Lane acknowledges his own struggle to find an alternative to the strident Calvinism of his youth, focused solely on human depravity with little concern for delight in the surrounding world. Unknowing at the time that “a love of wilderness, a readiness to take life, and a God of awesome power were inextricably intertwined in my inchoate Calvinist imagination,” he has ever since been driven by the need “to know how to retain a God of feral and untamed beauty while affirming a moral universe where all of life is sacred.”
This book remains focused on the glory of God while revealing this feral God’s desire for humans to join all creation in praise and adoration. Lane has interspersed sections devoted to Calvin, the Puritans and Edwards with interludes from his journals. Steadily, a vibrant theology of creation emerges that stirs the heart with gratitude, while compelling one toward an ethic that pursues justice for all of creation, not just the human creatures. Lane has built a theological foundation that allows for serious dialogue with science and contemporary concerns for a fragile, largely polluted world.
“Transformed by Beauty,” the title of the final chapter, is a sustained argument for a way of life that joins all of creation in just praise, which includes practicing justice for the earth. After reading this book, one will want to join the chorus.
ROY W. HOWARD is pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville, Md., and the book editor of the Presbyterian Outlook.