Monday, September 05, 2005

The Sausagemakers of Grace

An interesting web of comments has arisen about a post on Jesus Creed called "Grace Grinding". It's a short post, so here it is in toto...

There is a kind of writing, preaching, and talking about grace that instead of offering grace and extolling the goodness of God, seems to use grace as the backhand of God that is used to grind humans into the ground as it talks about grace. I’m having a hard time being gracious about this.

It is the sort of communication that does extol grace, God’s good grace, but it makes that grace an angry thing God has to do because he is gracious. God, being so loving but downright ticked off with humans for their sins and stiff-neckedness and hard-heartedness, is still gracious to us. That sort of idea.

This is a massive distortion of what God actually does to us. James tells us, don’t forget, that if we ask God in faith that God gives to us simply or unbegrudgingly — and the grace grinders tend to make God a begruding God of grace rather than a delightful and pro-active God of grace.

These people can’t talk about grace without emphasizing that we are wretches;
they can’t read Yancey’s What’s So Amazing…? without saying it isn’t the whole story;
they can’t preach obedience without saying this isn’t works;
they can’t talk about grace without talking about all those who are on their way to hell;
they can’t preach love without showing holiness is behind it all;
they can’t talk about grace without reminding us that it is all for God’s glory and that God didn’t have to do this and that we ought to consider ourselves lucky;

in other words, they can’t accept that God’s grace is God’s benevolence toward us because of who God really is (a gracious loving God) and because of who we are: his chosen people in whom he delights and for whom he has crafted a gospel that restores us to be Eikons who are in union with God and communion with others.

Forgive me if I’m being ungracious to the grace grinders, but it wounds the gospel to use grace as a grinding instrument.

Grace, so it seems to me, should make us aware that we are special to God not the reluctant objects of mercy.

JollyBlogger and Missional Baptist picked up on it, and Scott posted a follow-up today.

What's most interesting is the comments sections in each of these posts. As Scott points out in his follow-up, there are not lacking those who will proudly wear the badge of "Grace-Grinder". The question I want to ask is, "Why?"

I think I have some explanations for this, and I will list them below. (Note that this brush is a bit broad, and is not intended to explain specific individuals - just the general spirit.)

1) The Reformed and/or 'culture warrior' emphasis on "sin". The Reformed community is probably one of the few left that, in general, makes much of sin. And as they see fewer and fewer people "beyond the pale" doing so, they make even more of it in compensation.

2) The Reformed/Puritan archetype of preaching the Gospel is not just preaching the Gospel - it's Law, THEN Gospel. The Puritans, facing a turbulent and spiritually dry enviroment (much as we do), sought to ensure the sincerity of their converts by first terrifying them with the full measure of God's Law(s), and only then presenting them with the Gospel. (Lutheranism has a similar paradigm, but they don't take it to the extremes the Puritans did). In Reformed circles today (especially those who consciously emulate the Puritans), this is the only way to preach the Gospel. If you don't preach the Law first, you're failing in your task.

3) An emphasis on the holiness and transcendence of God. This I've seen too many times to ignore. Again, in reaction to the overmphasis on God's immanence in "liberal" theology, Reformed types tend to emphasize the transcendence. (And given the focus on predestination in much of Calvinist theology - again an aspect of transcendence - there is an inherent pull in that direction anyways.)

Operating from these perspectives, any talk of "grace-grinding" not only does not make sense, it sounds like incipient easy-believism or liberalism. Hence, they emphasize the judgmental aspects of God's dealings with man.

The real danger (for Grace-grinders and grace-peddlars) is that if you over-emphasize one aspect of the Gospel, that tends to color your perception of all the other attributes. Brian McLaren's views on hell are one example, IMHO. It's a question of perspective. In some circles, the grace peddled is false, and needs grinding up. In other circles, however, a fresh breeze of the scandal and free grace of the Gospel is just what is needed to shake things up. What is most needed is the wisdom to tell at which point you are in.


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