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Cornelius Plantinga: Engaging God’s World

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 145 pages.

This book was written to fill a need that concerned the leadership at Calvin College–wanting to keep Calvin a college that is Christian. Though presented to a wider Christian audience, Plantinga is a minister in the Reformed tradition and his writing is from that perspective. It would be good to note that the Reformed tradition places great emphasis on the main topics of the book, and that adds to the value of what Plantinga presents. My own theological perspective comes from Holiness and Pentecostal interpretations, yet I can easily read and admire Plantinga’s thoughts.

The book was commissioned to provide the basic background that Calvin College found was missing in its incoming students, students which largely had grown up in the church but nonetheless were rather clueless when it came to the great doctrines of Christianity. Plantinga deals with each of these doctrines: Longing and Hope; Creation; The Fall; Redemption and Vocation in the Kingdom of God. The book closes with an Epilogue and an appendix of talking points to enable discussion by and between the students.

Longing and hope repeats some of Plantinga’s thinking from his earlier award winning book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1995). There he described Shalom for which we were made and hunger for and yet have trashed such that it no longer exists except as a hope. I was so impressed when I read the earlier book with this concept that it has become part and parcel of my own being and I pray that priestly blessing in Numbers 6 over my house every morning as part of the litany with which I start each day. I, too, long and hope for what Plantinga so magnificently and simply presents.

With the stage thus set, Plantinga next takes us to and through the marvel and wonder of Creation a place where we find creatures of wondrous particularity–each of them and all of them a display of God’s inventiveness and love. We learn that God revels in his creation, that lightning bolts say “here we are” to God; that the morning stars sang together as God unfolded his creation and all the angels shouted for joy. We have to do more than glance around; we have to lie on our backs and look into the night sky. We also have to study scripture which corrects our dull vision with special or particular revelation or what a prophet today might call illumination.

We learn there is a time to speak and a time to be silent; that this is the rhythm of God as is the time to work and to rest from work. We learn that marriage is good and that God gave our ancestors, that primal pair in the garden, a cultural mandate to multiply and fill the earth. Against the backdrop of all the good and the wonder in creation, Plantinga develops the horror of the fall, the onslaught of sin, culpable evil. God hates sin not just because it violates law, but because it also violates trust. Sin grieves God, offends God, betrays God, and not because God is touchy. God hates sin against himself, against neighbors, against a good creation because sin breaks the peace. Sin interferes with the way God wants things to be. That is why God has laws against sin. God is for Shalom and therefore against sin.

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Category: Fall 2005, Living the Faith, Pneuma Review

About the Author: H. Murray Hohns went home to be with Jesus on November 28, 2012. He was on staff at the largest church in Hawaii and served on his denomination's investment committee from 1999 until his death. Hohns held two degrees in Civil Engineering, an MA in Theology from Fuller Seminary, and served as an instructor at Foursquare's New Hope Christian College (formerly Pacific Rim Christian College) in Honolulu. He wrote six engineering books and hundreds of articles in every type of newspaper, magazine and journal.

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