Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church’

God’s grace from beginning to end

July 16, 2012

Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church.

In my sermon on Noah a couple of Sundays ago, I concluded the sermon, as I usually do, with a word about God’s grace. I wanted to make the point—already made beautifully well by John Goldingay in his Genesis for Everyone commentary—that God’s choice of Noah to carry forward the human project after the flood was a powerful example of God’s grace. Noah “found favor” (i.e., received God’s grace) and this finding of favor is always undeserved. The nature of grace didn’t change between the Old and New Testaments.

In the sermon, I said the following:

God’s love and grace aren’t conditional, based on your good behavior. God’s love and grace just are… a free gift, offered without condition or price.

I thought this was uncontroversial, at least in the Protestant waters in which I swim. I borrowed the phrase, “offered without condition or price,” from United Methodist baptism liturgy, which (without bothering to look it up) is probably also in the liturgies of other Christian traditions.

My friend Tom, a Southern Baptist, very helpfully challenged my assertion about God’s grace and love. I mean this sincerely: I simply take for granted my understanding of God’s grace and love. Tom forced me to think through its implications when he wrote the following:

With respect to “grace is free, not earned,” what I would say is that grace is God’s willingness to accept less than perfection to receive a relationship with him (since Jesus “paid the difference”). I am not sure I can go so far as to say, “grace is free.” We have no claim to have God’s love or relationship extended to us, but that does not mean God requires nothing from us to receive that. In the first instance, we have to have faith to be saved. And James says that faith without works is dead. Also, we have to repent. Neither of these “merits” God’s favor, but they are still indispensable to receiving it. We cannot be saved by “works” because that would require perfection. But we cannot be saved without faith and repentance either, and those are not “nothing.” God’s grace is “freely given,” without compulsion to do so, but it, like (or as a manifestation of) love, is still conditional.

If I’m reading Tom right, he’s saying, among other things, that faith and repentance are prerequisites for receiving God’s justifying grace. They are two necessary conditions by which we are saved. As he says, faith and repentance are “not nothing” (I love that phrase!). Therefore, we can’t assert God’s unconditional love or grace.

Hmm Read the rest of this entry »

Is Protestantism still a good idea? (Part 2)

July 22, 2010

[Click here for Part 1 of this discussion.]

It began as a simple digression. I was teaching a Sunday school class on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.1 I asked the class what they thought about Paul’s devil language in Ephesians 2 (which he returns to elsewhere). Who is this “ruler of the power of the air,” and what does it mean? I asked the class if we—sophisticated 21st-century people that we are—really believe in Satan.

I enjoy asking this question because it generates interesting discussion. As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I do believe that demonic forces exist—although I try to treat the subject with the same circumspection with which scripture treats it. The New Testament assumes the existence of demonic forces, but doesn’t say much about how they manifest themselves in the world—not nearly as much as some Christians want it to say. So I don’t try to, either. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Protestantism still a good idea? (Part 1)

July 9, 2010

My short answer is “yes.”

For a variety of reasons, personal and professional, I have followed with interest what I perceive to be a trend of adult Protestants who are “crossing the Tiber” (as they say) and confirming as Roman Catholics. (I refuse to say “converting” to Catholicism because in my view that implies that Catholicism is a different religion.) Here’s one recent article from the Christian Century on the trend.

Let me hasten to add the obvious: traffic between the two traditions flows in both directions—as the success of Alpharetta Methodist bears witness. We welcome a large number of new members from Catholicism. And we do so with little fuss or fanfare. We Methodists are a pretty laid-back bunch who don’t divide easily over doctrinal differences. Please note: we have plenty of doctrinal differences between and among us, but we don’t easily let them stand in the way of doing the work of Christ, which is far more important than the sign in front of the church building. Read the rest of this entry »