Grace Emerges

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Forward Progress 4: The Good News of Grace

Forward Progress: 
Lessons and Trends in Progressive Christian Faith
by Brad Duncan

A 6-part series on the church, faith and theology,
and how they can move forward into the next generation. 

The Good News of Grace

There's something wrong with our view of the cross when it provides incomplete grace to us and teaches us to treat others with incomplete grace.

Are we saved by our faith, our adherence to a particular set of ideals and beliefs?  Or are we saved by right behavior that comes from our faith?  Are we saved by belonging to the right group, qualifying us as God's children?  Are we saved by correctness, by carrying a certain truth?

No, grace is the whole story.  Complete grace.

In the past three articles I have covered a lot of ground, and hopefully these next three articles may be much shorter since the long-winded points have already been covered.  In particular I discussed the notion that grace can be defined as unconditional love, which leads us to a new gospel, a new good news that eradicates judgment.

I also talked about the human condition.  After all, what is grace if not in the context of human failure?  We wouldn't really call that grace.  Love, freedom, hope, faith, and grace only make sense in our context of weakness, failure, and incompleteness.

Where does this leave us?  How do we actually live with grace?  What do we say about the cross?  How did the cross provide and demonstrate grace?  What is grace in the context of human failure and unconditional love from God?  What kind of faith does that produce, what type of right behavior?

Pointing Out the Flaws
First of all, let's acknowledge that there's something wrong with the traditional gospel, in that it teaches an incomplete grace. It teaches us that the cross does not eradicate God's judgment toward us and that we must still work (believe, behave) to please God and go to heaven.  It teaches us that the example of the cross does not eradicate our judgment toward others - we should continue splitting people into sheep and goats, the saved and the not.  With such "Either/Or" thinking we are the good guys, and free to discriminate against the bad guys.

What's missing is grace.  We can't see what is right in front of us.  What happens if we reverse this?  We pass on grace when we act like God does toward humanity.

What We Can Learn
Figure 2 shows how grace, defined as unconditional love, transforms our gospel.  We recognize that love is without judgment or condition, and apply that love liberally to everyone including ourselves.  We view the world as God does, loving others and showing grace to them.  We apply the teachings of Christ to love enemies, fight injustice, and resist religious elitism.  We create peace, we fight injustice using peaceful means, and we fight intolerance with kindness and tolerance, not by joining the hate party in order to achieve our goals.

In short, we put into practice the teachings of Christ, the beatitudes, the Lord's prayer, the sermon on the mount, the Great Commission, the teaching of the kingdom, and the teaching to resist against religious elitism and every type of favoritism and judmental-ism.  We become the kingdom.

The Church in Transition
Can the church embrace grace?  Or must we cling to judgment?  If we choose judgment we are choosing to continue to discriminate or even hate, continuing to think of ourselves as able to please God, continuing to think we don't actually need grace.  We need to embrace the good news, before it is too late for us to love any more.

I have talked extensively about grace on this site.  Here are a few of the ways that grace would transform our churches:
  • Open-minded discussions and teaching, engaging people to learn without feeling criticized, embracing questions and exploration of faith and theology.  Teaching in community should lead to less "top-down" teaching and more discussion-oriented teaching, inclusive teaching, facilitating growth, learning and sharing.  Learning is not a show - growth requires participation.  This type of participation is usually thwarted by dogmatism, because the discussion is only allowed to reiterate the pre-ordained facts represented in the church statement of beliefs.
  • Acceptance of outsiders, opening our arms to people with differences so that we can practice love, learn from differences, spread the good news about Jesus, offer shelter to the hurting, and offer true community to believers and non-believers alike.  This type of acceptance requires an assertive welcome policy.  You have to let people know and remind them all the time -- all people are welcome here, and the day that only people like us show up is the day we start to forget how to love.
  • Active love and compassion, where grace is felt from one person to another, within families where parents teach their children grace by example, within the church where people actively care for each other in ways that are needed by the other person like listening, participating, sharing, praying and of course meeting material needs.  If we peel away judgment, if we peel away a constant need to please God through worshipful actions, we can start to liberate our hearts to pay attention to those around us.  Appreciate God's children, as a way and means to honor God.  Don't just sing about it :) do it!
  • Treat women better!  Giant soap box here -- out of grace and a more open-minded understanding of the Bible, please elevate the status of women to full equality and participation.  No limits, no gender roles, no lower authority to women in the kingdom.  The gender inequality in our churches comes from believing that gender inequality in past ages was a good thing and we should propagate it to the future!  This does not match the message of the gospel at all, and instead the church should be a place where women are treated better than in the world outside.
  • Stop hating gays!  No matter what your view is on homosexuality, the church must completely reverse its long-standing opposition to the LGBT community.
    • If you think it's a sin, all the more reason to completely accept this group and welcome them so you can demonstrate God's grace to them, without any judgment at all!  What a testament to the love of God if someone's sin has absolutely no bearing on how you treat them!  
    • If you study the Bible in context, there is plenty of support for the idea that homosexual relationships and marriages are not distasteful to God but are just a part of the human condition.  It is certainly debatable, however, and seems more that the Bible just doesn't address same-sex healthy relationships.  Rather it addresses other notably dysfunctional behaviors that today we would call by simpler names like rape and child molesting.  The best current article on this topic is: The Best Case for the Bible Not Condemning Homosexuality
    • But, discrimination is the sin.  Just like others areas where we previously (historically) have misunderstand the Bible, like when we thought the Bible supported slavery, colonization, manifest destiny, genocide, subjugation of women, separate-but-equal racial discrimination, nuclear proliferation, and heavy-handed politics, we have historically gotten the gay issue wrong.  We as a church are just absolutely terrible at equality!  We like to define levels of goodness and make sure that we define ourselves into the best bracket!  We use the narrative in the Bible, all the ways that people messed up in the past, to support our theories of inequality.  Can we take the command to "judge not" literally instead?
    • Regardless of our view on whether any action is a sin, we must stop thinking that God appoints us to care at all about another man's sin unless there's a helpful and positive role we can have, and the person wants our support.  Don't we have enough flaws of our own to work on?  If a man is an alcoholic, both he and I would probably agree its unhealthy and can be or lead to a sinful lifestyle -- if that person wants my help I would support his efforts to sober up.  If he's abusing his wife as a result I would speak up in her defense.  Otherwise I would be rationale, supporting and loving with this person and not interfere where I am not welcome.  Come on, we can be rationale about so many other areas, so why do we look at homosexuality so irrationally, and so unlike Jesus would?
    • We should concern ourselves more with injustice.  If we are going to talk about sin as a community of believers, can't we focus on the sins the Jesus spent his time on?  Like elitism, like hate, like arrogance, like judgment?  Let's put a bit more effort into these, before we start digging into topics that Jesus didn't concern himself with.
    • The issue of homosexuality is today's test for the church.  Can we appreciate grace and put it into action? Or do we embrace judgment.  If we can get this one right maybe our hearts are in the right place.  It serves as a good working example of the theology of Grace = Unconditional Love.
  • Participation in the outside world.  Our polarized view of good vs. bad leads us to largely ignore those that are not in the church, except to try to convert them to grow the church.  This view is based on conditional, limited grace!  We unknowingly discriminate against all people different than us, to the point of apathy.  Not part of us?  Then not important.  If we embrace grace, we open our eyes to the world outside and realize that we gain something by letting them in, in fact we should invite the world into our church to open our eyes.  For example, why not invite secular organizations that have success in humanitarian goals or environmental projects to come and teach us how they did it, and enlist our help?  Other people are successful in the world, probably more so than the church because we are so distracted by religious concerns.  If we open our eyes to outside ideas we can learn something.
The choice is ours: what are the limits of grace?  To us and from us to others?  What if we choose to eradicate judgment?  What would the church look like?  Out of the ashes of judgment,... Grace Emerges!


Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society by Jay Bakker (Jan 12, 2011)

Choose Love Not Power: How to Right the World's Wrongs from a Place of Weakness by Tony Campolo (2009)

Forward Progress: "I am the way, the truth and the life.  Come to the Father through me!  Find the good life at home in my kingdom, where God's will is done, where your needs matter, and where forgiveness reigns." -- Jesus
Figure 1.  The gospel should be based on the authority of Christ rather than a mix of grace and judgment.

Figure 2.  Grace is defined as unconditional love.  Apply it liberally!

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