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Why I Don't Practice Lent // Dust No. 18

John W. Cooper

A Reformed theological critique of Lent

Professor of Philosophical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary
April 11, 2014

Biola CCT’s The Table is all about finding a way to exercise intellectual virtue in the face of disagreement. So during this Lenten #Dust project, we’ve tried to incorporate perspectives of Reformed Christians who don’t practice Lent, so that we might learn from them as well. (See also George Hunsinger’s interview.) Specifically, it’s helpful for those who do practice Lent to keep in mind the following reflections to provide an opportunity to think better about their own experience and approach to Lenten disciplines.  Here, John Cooper, a philosophical theologian at Calvin Seminary offers a brief reflection on his theological reasons for not practicing Lent. Thanks, John, for your willingness to participate!

John Cooper- I am Reformed and generally limit my worship and devotional practices to what is specifically enjoined or modeled in Scripture. I observe Lent as the time of the year when we focus on Jesus’ earthly life and ministry rather than our sin and mortality. Jesus is the Lamb without blemish–the Second Adam, the New Israel–who unlike us, did not sin but fulfilled all righteousness. He is worthy to bear the sins of the world and is able to impart the perfect love and obedience of his life to us through the Holy Spirit, as well as the benefits of his death and resurrection.

All Jesus’ great acts of redemption and renewal have already been accomplished and are already ours, except for the final sanctification and glorification which follow our death and his second coming. We have been baptized into his death and resurrection.  We are new creations in Christ. For these reasons it is difficult for me psychologically and spiritually to make an annual penitential pilgrimage, “following Jesus to the cross,” as though I am not yet a new creation and still look forward to Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. I do not want the ashes of sin and death smudging a forehead that has been cleansed forever by the waters of baptism.  Given Scripture’s presentation of our place in redemptive history, I experience many views and practices of Lent as anachronistic and cyclical.

I do not deny that I am still beset with the old sinful nature and physical death. In fact they trouble me every day of the year. But I must not dwell on them. Every day I must focus instead on the perfect work of Christ which has defeated sin and death. Then sincere repentance and new obedience are grateful and joyful responses–daily for each of us and weekly together. I do not engage in special disciplines for Lent which I give up after Easter. If they are worth doing for a few weeks, they are worth doing all the time.

I do not intend my reflections as criticisms of others’ Lenten practices or to suggest that I am more faithful in practicing mine. But many common observations of Lent are not helpful for me. They are not how I (and many Reformed Christians) respond to the Gospels’ presentation of Jesus’ ministry as it led to his crucifixion and resurrection.