Sunday, November 23, 2008

The grace of God -- in practice

One of my favorite books is Philip Yancey's "What's So Amazing About Grace?", which was recommended to me by a former Campus Crusade staff worker who once attended my church and now is a seminary student in Los Angeles.

I was reminded of that book -- and was prompted to reread it -- because last week I was actually banned from a Christian blog for, basically, challenging its established ideological orthodoxy.

This particular blog promotes Reformed theology, which its supporters refer to as the "doctrine of grace" and which happens to be my heritage. But, with the way I was treated by the owner of this particular blog and his syncophants, in this case "grace" remained nothing more than a theological concept that didn't translate into affirming, mutually beneficial relationships with others who think differently.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. After all, the history of Calvinism has always been one of seeking political power under the guise of religion -- indeed, the Protestant Reformation was as much about power politics as recapturing the historic Christian faith. In fact, some extremists of that persuasion subscribe to the "reconstructionist" movement, which believes that nations can and should be governed by Biblical law. (The Puritans came to these shores to do just that, after they were unable to do so in Europe.) Trouble is, such a conviction leads to the idea that "only our side is right" and that we don't even need to talk to anyone else.

That, right there, violates the grace of God, which is a shame.

After all, in my view Calvinist theology is absolutely right at its heart. The acronym TULIP -- which stands for the five primary maxims of Reformed theology: Total depravity (sin entering into every area of life), Unconditional election (God Himself "selecting" whom He will save), Limited atonement (Jesus dying only for the "elect"), Irresistable grace (God eventually turning the "elect" towards Him) and Perseverance of the saints ("Once saved, always saved") -- is as good an understanding of the soteriology of the Christian faith as I've ever seen or read.

However, Christianity is far, far more than just "salvation" -- God always intended to create an alternative community set apart for Himself, originally with ancient Israel but now with the church of Jesus Christ, to bless the world through Him. For that reason God saves not just, or even primarily, for our benefit -- that's just a side issue -- but, ultimately, to glorify Himself by the way we treat others, especially other members of the Body.

That's the part we Calvinists tend to forget. Yes, God is to be worshipped "with all [our] heart, soul, mind and strength"; but the same God also orders us to "love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]" -- which is where "horizontal" grace comes in. This is of course impossible when the focus shifts to ideological and cultural domination and, ultimately, the denigration of other views which ultimately creates resentment. That's why the Reformed were run out of every country in Europe where they had a presence, and whenever they became dominant they themselves became oppressors -- in America, yes, but most notably in South Africa (where Calvinists supported the immoral political system of apartheid).

One problem is that, with all the theology that we Calvinists study, we often don't allow the Holy Spirit to saturate our being and cause the kind of sea change that God requires, so that we can do the works He has for us. In fact, it seems that everything has to be done "by the book" -- consulting only "approved" sources in order to maintain the tradition -- with the danger being, of course, that we can love our traditions more than the God Who gave them. Worse, we sometimes forget what we were like before God got a hold of us, which can cause us to look down on others not of our party -- however, Paul, who many times talked about his former life, including his persecution of the church, refused to do so.

The people who frequented the blog I mentioned earlier apparently didn't have a clue about any of these things. The owner not only consistently denounced even fellow Christians who didn't follow the Reformed line (even though some of those criticisms were actually warranted) but even posted a commentary from a conservative talk-show host who by position and temperament is at direct odds to the Gospel of grace -- and I got slammed for bringing that up. I was ultimately banned for supposedly "disrespecting God" with an off-hand remark I made and not apologizing for doing so in the time frame in which he wanted.

So much for God's grace.

I pray that, in my walk with Him, He will point out the ways in which I fall short. And that's the point of God's gift of Jesus Christ -- not simply to be the recipients of His grace but also to dispense it toward those who need it. And that could be anyone.

No comments: