September 3, 2009

God's Gift

Grace is not only cheap, but free. The price was paid by someone other than ourselves, who came to us while we were in the depths of sin, and forgave us when we didn't know what we were doing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

16 comments:

Erika Baker said...

I've been thinking about this all day, and I LOVE the "forgave us when we did not know what we were doing".
Thank you.

KJ said...

Amen.

it's margaret said...

YES!

"And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well...."

Bryan Owen said...

I think the following passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship is relevant to these reflections:

"Costly grace is the treasure hidden in a field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

"Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

"Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us."

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts. Bryan, thanks in particular for the reminder of how wise Bonhoeffer was, yet at the same time how incompletely formed was his thinking. In this passage he creates quite a fruit salad of apples and oranges, and so gets some things exactly right and others completely wrong. Thus he is completely on the beam when he notes that the cost of grace is cost to God -- not to us; and when he notes the treasure in the field, which a man finds free of charge and need only gain the right to the field (at a far lesser cost) in order to reap this windfall profit through no other effort of his own than the luck of finding it.

But even here he begins to confuse grace with the kingdom of God and then even with the call of God and the decision to follow. No, however tasty this fruit salad, it misses the primary point, that the initiative is always with God -- even in our seeking, asking, and knocking -- for it is the Holy Spirit at work in us that inspires the will and the deed.

As with many Evangelicals, the excessive focus on Jesus, and secondarily on the Father, leaves the work of the Holy Spirit (who is, in fact, the primary guide to grace) to one side. The shadow side of Evangelical faith -- righteousness through works -- lurks in, with, and under this passage. It was to address this shadow -- which I see manifest in much of the present thinking of Anglican Evangelicals -- that this thought came to mind, in response to an assertion that without repentance sin could not be forgiven or absolved.

It is one of the great tragedies of contemporary theology that Bonhoeffer died too young to have come to a more completely integrated theology, preserving the proper distinctions. In some ways he was like a musical prodigy who creates great music but uses the wrong fingerings -- and in cases like this, IMNSHO, I think he misses some very important notes while producing an overall impressive result.

Bryan Owen said...

While I agree that there are dangers in Bonhoeffer's approach towards the "work righteousness" side of things, I still think that his sharp critique of "cheap grace" is an important and powerful corrective to the opposite danger of antinomianism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

A good point, Bryan. But I think it would actually be more helpful in the task by teasing the issue open a bit -- a project for which, sadly, DB did not have the time. For instance it is common to set Grace against Law -- but that isn't really the issue: it is Grace against Works.

Where Bonhoeffer was correct is in seeing the cost of discipleship -- that is, the work of the Christian life, in taking up ones cross, is indeed costly.

But that is not grace.

Grace is that "new creation" that like the old creation comes purely as the act of God, and remakes one anew. That is free, unmerited, irresistible, etc. It has nothing to do with Law or Works or anything else but the pure overflow of God's love for God's creature.

So the proper setting in opposition is not grace vs law but works of righteous discipleship vs works of following evil -- the answer to the question "Whom do you serve?" and the old "two ways" of the Pslams and the Didache.

In this sense, the Way in which one walks, and the works done therein, can damn, but they cannot save! Unless the universalists are right and God's grace is bigger and more powerful, and more powerfully willed, than all the willful wickedness of the fallen world...

On that question, as I've noted before, I am willing to remain hopefully agnostic.

Bryan Owen said...

Excellent points, Tobias. I particularly find this helpful: " ... the Way in which one walks, and the works done therein, can damn, but they cannot save!" Yes, I think that's right.

BTW, all of this resonates for me with hearing the epistle of James readings in the Daily Office lately. I've been "inspired" to offer a study of this epistle for our congregation and have begun looking around for resources that might be helpful. I'm curious if you know of any good ones to recommend.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Bryan. Perhaps reading James this last week has put this bee in my bonnet! That Epistle does seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to further reflection -- yet I think it has much to offer. IN particular it seems to speak to real church life -- parish to province -- and the difficult matters of getting along with each other, and what the path of righteousness requires. But I have to confess I can't offer any particular scholar or critic on James.

Bryan Owen said...

I remember seeing somewhere in my initial research that James' epistle contains more parallels to the teachings of Jesus recorded in the gospels than any other NT epistle. In addition to the reasons you cite, that makes it all the more a shame that this epistle gets the short end of the stick.

John-Julian, OJN said...

I remember - lo, these many years ago - when first reading Julian of Norwich and happening upon her simple statement "To the soul this was a mighty wonder... that our Lord God, as far as he is concerned, cannot forgive — because he cannot be angry — it would be impossible." (i.e., God is never angry with us in the first place, and so God need not "forgive" us because he has never judged us, but , rather, pitied us for our sin).

All forgiveness was taken care of 2000 yeas ago -- ALL future human sin was forgiven "in advance". The sins I will commit tomorrow are already forgiven! And I have never (and never will have) "earned" that forgiveness.

Christopher said...

As I close, our soteriology as Anglicans is a gift soteriology--all is by God's gracious initiative. This soteriology relates to both the old and new creations as Fr Haller rightly reminds.

Paul (A.) said...

Coincidentally, I questioned a poster over on Jake's place about his use of "cheap grace"; my question there: "was the Crucifixion not expensive enough?" The poster's only response was to cite Bonhoeffer.

I think I'll refer him back here.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Paul.

robroy said...

"Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us."

It is interesting that you accuse evangelicals of "works righteousness". That charge is usually leveled against catholic-types by evangelicals. Your statement about Bonhoeffer dying too young reminded me of C.S. Lewis' bishop character from the Great Divorce: "If only Jesus, hadn't died so young..."

Anyone who has read Bonhoeffer sees that he is not "confused" about Grace versus "the kingdom of God." My kids know all to well that there are gifts whose acceptance comes with significant costs. "Dad, why do we have to clean the guinea pig's cage?"

Acceptance of God's gift is to take his yoke. It is to set forth upon His chosen path for us, not our chosen path and that path is the way of the cross.

What Bonhoeffer objects to are those purveyors of "cheap grace" who deny the cost of acceptance of the gift. The Episcopal denomination is full of these types as made evident by all the tepid, neither hot nor cold, semi-Christians in the pews.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

RobRoy, if you read what I wrote with care you will see that I acknowledge that the "cost" is in the discipleship. The confusion in Bonhoeffer comes when he blurs the distinction of which he is actually quite aware, as in the phrase "costly grace."

I also realize who usually accuses whom about "works." Just goes to show that judgment is often a boomerang.

The incompleteness of Bonhoeffer's work, cut short by his execution, is certainly something to be mourned. Lewis' joke about Jesus is such because the Bishop misses the point that Jesus did not come to be a great teacher or spiritual, but came to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin -- in short, to die. Bonhoeffer, on the other hand, could have finished his Ethics had he lived, and probably produced some more internally well-organized work.

There is a fundamental problem with attaching the "cost" to the "gift." I think Saint Paul had something to say about it. There is a cost to following Christ, but the gift is free. And the yoke Christ offers is "easy and light."