Jul 15, 2005

Amazingly ignored grace.

How can we get around the fact that, according to Jesus, to understand God and God's relationship with the world we have to begin with grace? This is especially troublesome for Christians, who claim to follow the teaching of Jesus, but it is also problematic for those who consider Jesus simply a wonderful teacher. After all, this wasn't a minor part of the legacy he left us; this was its central theme. We can't fault him on this without negating his entire ministry.

But how can we go along with this, really? It would mean a total reversal of our values. It would disrupt everything. Absolutely everything.

What might work is this: don't reject grace, just tame it. Honor it, by all means, and enshrine it in official confessions and praise it in religious ceremonies, but keep it within reasonable bounds, keep it away from the rest of life, keep it from running wild. If grace remains free, it will get into too much mischief. So always qualify and explain it. Preach sermons about it, if you must, but always conclude with a mighty therefore, as in "therefore, this is what you must do in response to God's grace,"

Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, said the most cunning strategy for defending ourselves against grace is to tame and harness it, to allow grace "to take its seat in the pew, cheerfully don the vestment and mount the pulpit, zealously to make Christian gestures and movements, soberly to produce theology, and in this way, consciously participating in the confession of Jesus Christ, radically to ensure that His prophetic work is halted, that it can do no more injury to itself, let alone to the world."

-- Donald McCullough, The Trivialization of God: the Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity

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