By Michael Jinkins
Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Ky. 144 pages
reviewed by Mark J. Englund-Krieger
The phrase, “Reformed Project” caught my eye when I pondered Michael Jinkins’ new book. The Reformed Project sounds open-ended, forward-thinking, experimental and innovative. “When we say we are Reformed Christians, we are simply saying that we are Christians committed to a particular project, the project of reforming the church.” That is a project we should be about!
Jinkins and I are, in part, preaching the same sermon. I am gratified that someone of Jinkins’ stature in the church is saying these things. This sermon is about how our church is good and blessed. I want to preach from the highest Presbyterian pulpit, I want to shout from the highest Presbyterian mountaintop: “Can we please stop whining! Can we please stop complaining! Can we put away the ‘Woe is me!’ litany! Do we know how rich our heritage is! Do we know how great our Church is! This Church belongs to Jesus Christ!” Jinkins says it better: “When we are mindful of our legacy, however — when we remember the good news of Jesus Christ that fuels our lives and gives us hope as persons — we stop worrying about our survival.” Jinkins preaches: “We really do need to stop whining about the losses we have suffered in numbers and prestige and influence as a mainline church. No one else cares, including (I suspect) God.”
Michael Jinkins’ Reformed Project offers a rousing call to a “thinking faith.” This is our heritage. Chapter 3 is a powerful source of encouragement for every harried pastor and overscheduled church leader who wonders again about the value of theological education and who struggles to find time to read the hard books. Jinkins also offers a fresh, creative image of the task of ministry today with his description of becoming a “docent in the house of wonder.” This is a fabulous image for ministry today, and Jinkins develops it with compelling description. As a Presbytery staff person, I have a unique perch from which I view our church. I often see a lot of conflict, confusion and division. Jinkins does not shy away from our ugly heritage of schism. In what I consider a brilliant theological reflection, Jinkins dissects for us John Calvin’s theology on schism and unity. For people like me who are working every day with issues of schism, separation, unity and our profound polarization, Jinkins’ Chapter 4, “Schism, the Unintended Consequence of the Reformed Project,” is important.
Thank you, Professor Jinkins, for a bold call to hope. Thank you for helping us not be ashamed and afraid. Thank you for lifting our pride and reminding us again of the good gifts we have all received. Indeed, I would like to print your last sentences as a poster to hang inside the front door of our Presbytery office: “If we can remember who we are and who we are called to be in Jesus Christ, the best days of the Reformed Project are still ahead of us. Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.”
MARK J. ENGLUND-KRIEGER is executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Carlisle .