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Just off the Port Bow—a place of uncertainty, adventure, and insight. Thank you for your ears, eyes and hearts. I hope to bring compassion, grace and beauty to your day.

Antagonistes - Part Two

In my previous post I noted the existence of a quiet ongoing debate in the church. If you wish to get a first hand look at it read these two blog posts at:

thegospelcoalition.org

From Jen Wilkin (May 2, 2014)
"Failure Is Not a Virtue"
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/05/02/failure-is-not-a-virtue/

From Tullian Tchividjian (May 9, 2014)
"Acknowledging Failure IS A Virtue: A Response To Jen Wilkin"
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2014/05/09/acknowledging-failure-is-a-virtue-a-response-to-jen-wilkin/

This debate has found voice in seminaries, para-church organizations, pulpits and pews, and has taken as many different forms as forums.

It all boils down to this.

Is there any BUT at all in the statement,

"God loves you"?

Tullian says no, Jen says yes.

I have yet to hear any helpful labels attached to either position, though there have been plenty applied over the past 2,000 years. For the sake of this short piece let's call the positions,
Grace and Grace But.

Grace says that there is nothing you can do to earn God's love. This Love is universal, comprehensive, unconditional and one way. Our side of the formula is an inconstant one, God's side is compassionate and persistent. There are no Buts.

Grace But says that there are. The core But is the acceptance of Christ as savior. The contingent Buts come under the general heading of Sanctification, what we do in response to God's Grace.

Both positions extol the wonders of this divine grace.

Both positions are clear about our fallen nature, and universal need for grace.

Grace veers toward monistic universalism.

Grace But veers toward deistic provincialism.

Each position fears that the other is dangerous. (And, put in these terms, both positions sound dangerous - this must be a gross exaggeration of the debate. The points I am about to make do not depend upon exaggeration. I am trying to push you, the reader, to a place where the Cringe Factor can be teased out sufficiently to be discussed.)

+ + + + +

Here is where Black Flies become instructive.

These two religious positions have a very hard time talking with one another. The fears present in the debate are such that calm conversation quickly gives way to acrimony and despair. What is going on here?

I suspect that there is a cringing dread lurking beneath arguments of the Grace Sneetches and the Grace But Sneetches; a dread so powerful that faggots and stakes might well be employed were we in another era of history. Can we tease out this dread; a dread which makes Winter a Narnian nightmare and Spring a Faustian folly?

What might be the Black Fly or Cringe factor with Grace, from the perspective of Grace But?

Here are some of my guesses (and note that I mean each of these in their most primal and existential depth):

An experience of guilt and of shame, which have become the Enemy - an enemy who can only be appeased with cringing obedience and tireless effort.

An experience of sexual trauma, which can only be tolerated by a dedicated and single-minded striving.

A personal failure of some sort which must be atoned for, and never can be.

An experience of loss, particularly parental "loss", which demands "being a better person" as the only antidote to despair.

There, that wasn't hard, or was it?

How about Grace But, from the perspective of Grace. What are the Cringe factors there?

I need to frame this one differently for my own sake. I struggle with this.

Grace But says that there are conditions to love; says that Law cannot be avoided. Why does this make my soul twitch?

Some guesses:

A complete failure to live up to some moral code at some point in one's life. Law is a terrifying reminder of this failure.

A parental voice which offered approval, but kept holding the approval back. Law stands between you and love.

Feeling like you were never good enough. Law endorses the verdict.

A family dynamic drenched in alcoholism where all things are turned upside down. What does Law mean when it doesn't seem to mean anything, or means something quite different today than it did yesterday?

These are my guesses, my hunches.

None of these guesses would work in a theological debate between Grace and Grace But. Their silent presence in the debate does nothing but raise anxiety levels and drive deep wedges between the children of faith who have drawn their respective lines in the sand (or, more aptly put, who have chiseled their adamant positions in stone.)

Just for the record, I lean in the direction of Grace, and monistic universalism. I may be wrong about my convictions. I am willing to stake all on the Triumph of Compassion as The Eternal Truth. I could define this with religious terms, but that sets up another range of anxious reactions, so I'll stick to the universal.

I am aware that differing experiences of deep dread, inner conflict, relational dysfunction, catastrophic failure, loss and bewilderment will give rise to differing expressions of this Grace/Grace But divide. If one, for instance, were to focus exclusively on the dynamics of an alcoholic family, and the dynamic role a Twelve Step program plays in this context, there would be some different, though related, generalizations to make.

(I have not tried here to address the issues of Bible Study, Christian discipleship, Faith and Culture, Social Activism, Evangelism, or Ecclesiology. The root fears, however, which I have pointed toward apply to all.)

Finally, what about the stuff I am afraid of, the stuff which makes me cringe, the dreaded Black Flies of life's seasons? I can only lean into Grace in order to lean into these feelings, thoughts, memories and questions.

Whether it be "peace like a river" or "sorrows like sea billows", I choose to rest in Grace.







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Antagonistes - Part Three

Antagonistes Part One