On June 15, 2015, delegates at the CRCNA’s Synod unanimously ratified the appointment of Dr. Matthew Tuininga as Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. Dr. Tuininga is a member and licensed exhorter of Covenant United Reformed Church in Pantego, NC.
“Moral theology encompasses our understanding of the practical implications of the gospel for human beings in the church and the world,” Dr. Tuininga says. “It extends to God’s will for his created order, but is especially concerned with the fulfillment of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the implications of that revelation for people as they live in this world. It encompasses Christian ethics as understood in the broadest sense.”
Dr. Tuininga graduated from Covenant College in 2004, worked as a legislative correspondent for a congressman in Washington, DC, for a year and at the FBI as a counter-terrorism intelligence analyst for another year. He then attended Westminster Seminary California, graduating in 2009. He began teaching politics and core courses at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA, in 2013, and received his Ph.D. in Religion, Ethics and Society from Emory University in 2014. His dissertation explored John Calvin in light of two kingdoms theology.
“The dissertation argues that the two kingdoms distinction is central to Calvin’s political theology,” he explains. “Understood in light of the two kingdoms distinction, Calvin’s political theology serves as a helpful corrective to triumphalistic forms of transformationalism that expect to see temporal society transformed into the kingdom of God. But Calvin’s two kingdoms doctrine was not, first and foremost, a theology of institutions. Rather, it arose out of Calvin’s understanding of the kingdom of God, which lies at the foundation of his thought, and the way in which that kingdom breaks into the present age. The doctrine seeks to explain the relationship between the present age and the age to come, given the existence of the kingdom that will one day transform all things, but that is not yet manifested in its fullness (the already and the not yet). My dissertation then traces the implications of this eschatological dynamic for Calvin’s understanding of church and state, and I conclude by grappling with potential implications for contemporary Christian engagement.”
In 2007, Dr. Tuininga was licensed to exhort by Covenant URC in Pantego, which his father, Rev. Cal Tuininga, pastors. His grandfather, Cecil Tuininga, was one of the student group at Calvin known as the “Sacred Seven” in the 1950s. Six students attending Calvin Seminary and Cecil, who still attended Calvin College, wrote a grievance against the liberal teachings of several professors. Dr. Tuininga’s brother, Rev. Eric Tuininga, served in pastoral ministry in the URC and now as an OPC missionary in Uganda.
“After my interview at Synod, a delegate told me that he saw in me the passion for truth that characterized my father and grandfather,” Dr. Tuininga says. “I am honored to take that passion back to Calvin Seminary just like my brother Eric has taken it to Uganda. There are so few schools in the continental Reformed tradition to begin with, and even fewer that have a full time position in moral theology. I am blessed to be able to teach at one of them! My grandfather died several years ago, but my father, like the rest of my family, has been very supportive. As I made clear in various interviews, I haven’t turned my back on the URC in any way. The whole church is Christ’s church and I will serve wherever God calls me to serve. I do hope that coming to Calvin from the URC gives me the ability to begin to build bridges once again between believers and churches who have much more in common than we often realize. Reformed believers need to proclaim the gospel clearly together.”
The position at CTS begins in 2016, with Dr. Tuininga teaching an online course in Christian Ethics during the spring. His family anticipates moving to Grand Rapids in the summer, and he will begin teaching full-time at the Seminary in the fall.
As he anticipates his last academic year at Oglethorpe, he’s grateful for the opportunities the secular liberal arts context has given him to discuss fundamental issues with young people.
“I’ve learned to talk about Christianity, ethics, and the gospel in ways that take seriously and challenge the concerns of a broad audience,” he says. “These sorts of discussions do not take place in the mainstream media, and rarely in the academy, as Americans increasingly take refuge in their own bubbles, talking and engaging only with people like themselves.”
He adds, “Christendom is behind us, and we live in a world that is increasingly pluralistic. Used to being in control, we have much work to do in thinking about what faithful Christian witness looks like when we are a minority not in control.”
Reflecting on his appointment, he says, “It seems like an exaggeration, but I believe my whole life was preparing me to do this. I was raised and educated in a strong, confessionally Reformed tradition, and my commitment to it is deep and thorough. But I earnestly desire to see the tradition engage the broader Christian community and the world in more constructive and gospel-oriented ways. I’m sensitive to the riches our tradition has to offer, but I’m also sensitive to its weaknesses and blind spots. This equips me well, I think, to guide seminary students who will themselves wrestle with the implications of the gospel in a wide variety of circumstances.”
Dr. Tuininga hopes to give pastoral ministry students “an energetic vision for the way in which the gospel shapes” the entire Christian life. “We need a vision for faithful Christian witness that is thoroughly Reformed and evangelical. Given the times in which we live, faithfulness will require a greater willingness to be conformed to Christ in his suffering. Standing for the faith, for love, and for justice in conformity to God’s will for his creation is going to be costly. We need to have a clear understanding of the gospel, and we need to recover a clear understanding of what is means for the church to be the church—in preaching, the sacraments, discipline, and the diaconate.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12-13 of the August 26, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal.