Sola Gratia


All Is Grace

Brennan Manning died Friday night.

Long before the recent resurgence of interest in “gospel-centrality”, Brennan was a voice calling out in the wilderness–a voice reminding us that we are great sinners but God is a greater Savior. Theologically quirky and personally idiosyncratic, he was nevertheless a broken man on a passionate mission to remind Christians of the truth that while our sin reaches far, God’s grace reaches farther. He desperately wanted bedraggled, beat-up, and burned-out Christians (like himself) to recover a sense of God’s “furious love” for them.

A lifelong alcoholic who spent his entire life ferociously battling the demon of addiction, he was uncomfortably transparent about his weaknesses and failures which made him a prime candidate to teach us something of God’s scandalous grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). Every addict I’ve ever known–every person who has crashed and burned and, as a result, come to terms with their own powerlessness–has taught me something about God’s grace that I would’ve never known otherwise.

Brennan’s life (tragic and sad as it was, according to him) was a living testimony that horizontal consequences for sin (they led to untold miseries in Brennan’s life) cannot forfeit the “no condemnation” that is ours in Christ Jesus. This was his hope. His lifeline. Unable to bank anything on himself, he banked everything on Jesus. In this sense, his well-documented weaknesses were a gift to him. And to us.

I never had the chance to meet Brennan, but I know many who knew him well…and their lives were never the same. He knew Jesus, loved Jesus, and is now with Jesus…finally enjoying the full measure of the freedom he longed to experience.

The night after he died, I sat in bed and read (once again) these amazing words from his bestselling book The Ragamuffin Gospel–a man after my own heart:

Put bluntly, the American church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works–but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in a house of fear and not in the house of love.

Our culture has made the word grace impossible to understand. We resonate with slogans such as:

“There’s no free lunch.”

“You get what you deserve.”

“You want love? Earn it.”

“You want mercy? Show that you deserve it.

“Do unto others before they do unto you.”

“By all means, give others what they deserve but not one penny more.”

A friend told me she overheard a pastor say to a child, “God loves good little boys.” As I listen to sermons with their pointed emphasis on personal effort–no pain, no gain–I get the impression that a do-it-yourself spirituality is the American fashion.

Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation–that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase–our spirituality often starts with self, not God…We sweat through various spiritual exercises as if they were designed to produce a Christian Charles Atlas. Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time. Our eyes are not on God. At heart we are practicing Pelagians. We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps–indeed, we can do it ourselves.

Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut. Once the fervor has passed, weakness and infidelity appear. We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature. Life takes on a joyless, empty quality. We begin to resemble the leading character in Eugene O’Neill’s play The Great God Brown: “Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?”

Something is radically wrong.

Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat out denial of the gospel of grace.

With Brennan, I concur that it is high time for the church to honor its Founder by embracing sola gratia anew, to reignite the beacon of hope for the hopeless and point all of us bedraggled performancists back to the freedom and rest of the Cross. To leave our “if’s” “and’s” or “but’s” behind and get back to proclaiming the only message that matters—and the only message we have—the Word about God’s one-way love for sinners. It is time for us to abandon once and for all our play-it-safe religion, and, as Robert Farrar Capon so memorably put it, to get drunk on grace. Two hundred-proof, unflinching grace. That’s the kind of drunkenness Brennan would endorse–especially from where he is now. The radicality of grace is shocking and scary, unnatural and undomesticated…but it is also the only thing that can set us free and light the church, and the world, on fire.

Brennan “got” that. He “gets it” even better now.

See you on the other side, brother!

Inscribed Columns in Temples

Illuminating Revelation 3.11-13. This is a great find and helps readers fit the message of Christ’s letter historically to the understanding of the local recipients. A common fallacy of my Christians today is allocating the message of the Bible in an anachronistic manner. We should always seek to understand the text in the historical setting and apply it carefully.

HolyLandPhotos' Blog

In the first three chapters of the New Testament book of Revelation the author addresses seven churches in the Roman Province of Asia (=modern western Turkey).  In doing this he often makes allusions to cultural items that were especially meaningful to his first century hearers.

For example, in the name of Jesus he writes to the Church at Philadelphia:

I am coming soon … the one who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my GodI will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. Rev 3:11–13 (NIV)

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Crucified skeleton found near Jerusalem

Often what Christians need to explain is “significance” or “Biblical relevance.” This is particularly true about artifact discoveries. By the example of Paul (and it is imperative to follow his example for all Christians [this too needs explaining definitively but this is not the subject of this post]), he was ready always to give a defense and rationale of the Christian faith. Peter also says: “be ready always to give a reason for the hope (here “hope” means-confident expectation) that is in you.”

To show this artifact’s relevance we must look for how it relates to the accuracy of the Biblical text. As I have commented previously about Gen. 3.15, from the beginning, when humanity fell in Adam, the “curse on the serpent” provided the promise of deliverance through “The Seed of the woman” who would crush the enemy’s head and for the sake of humanity would have His heel pierced.

Here is evidence of the Roman crucifixion practice of piercing the heel unlike what is often displayed by later artists’ depiction of nails through the instep of the feet of Christ. So this artifact is strong proof of the accuracy of the redemptive promise set forth from the foundation of the world.

Ferrell's Travel Blog

The Romans were adept at crucifixion, according to many historical sources. The first archaeological evidence of crucifixion was uncovered in 1978 [1968; see comments] when an ossuary (bone box, or receptacle) was found north of Jerusalem containing the bones of a man who had been crucified. His name was “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.” He is thought to have been between 24 and 28 years of age, and was about 5 feet 6 inches in height.

Both the ossuary and a replica of the heel bone are displayed in the Israel Museum. When Yehohanan was removed from the cross the nail pulled away from the wood.

On Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus. He said,

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23 NIV)

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