Learning to be Reformed from a Jewish Novelist

Today I continue my “Lessons from Saul Bellow” over at The Twelve blog. Here’s the opening couple of paragraphs:

As you’ll note from my recent Perspectives article, “A Peculiar People,” I’ve been thinking a lot about the dynamics of immigration and how that intersects with my own experience of being an immigrant–and being Reformed. That’s not just because my Reformed community finds its heritage in an immigrant population; rather, there is something inherent to this expression of the Reformed faith that is poised to appreciate the precarious place of the immigrant and the exile. This is because the people of God inhabit that equally precarious place between common grace andantithesis–between the persistent affirmation that the whole earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1) and the heartbreaking recognition that the whole world lies under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19). We serve the risen, coming King of creation but are constantly aware of the governorship of the enemy in this meanwhile. And so we are like citizens who return to our homeland only to find it under foreign rule. We are not so different from Israel, who returned from exile only to find themselves exiles in their homeland now run by the Roman empire.

At the heart of what I’ve imbibed from Kuyper and Dooyeweerd and Runner and Seerveld is the sense that the covenant people of God will (and should) never quite be “at home” anywhere; the people of God hold citizenship in a far country which should make us uncomfortable but constructive inhabitants of any culture. We are called to seek the welfare of the city in which we are exiled (Jeremiah 29:4-7) while also learning to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land (Psalm 137:4). We shouldn’t lock ourselves up in ex-pat enclaves, as it were–forming holy huddles and circling the wagons to protect ourselves from “the world.” But neither should we gleefully assimmilate to majority cultures characterized by disordered love. Reformed Christians, for example, should never easily be described as “good Americans,” it seems to me. We should instead by characterized by a kind of immigrant distance, which can also manifest itself as cautious gratitude.