November 24, 2014

Nadia on Grace

fellowship1

From Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, here are some thoughts on “grace,” a summary of what she learned in a church basement when she began attending church again.

I won’t comment on her words, simply present them and ask you to consider and discuss.

* * *

  • God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to the gift.
  • No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement.
  • We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.
  • The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.
  • The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.

…I need to clarify something, however. God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word. My selfishness is not the end-all… instead it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn’t about God creating humans as flawed human beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace — like saying, “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be a good guy and forgive you.” It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”

- Pastrix, pages 49-50

Comments

  1. The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.

    That’s too Lutheran for me. I’m not a rock. I have skin in the game. However, I’m glad to see her theological roots go that deep.

    • It does seem something of a self-contradictory statement… We do, after all, have to make our way to the Eucharist some way or another.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Agree. This ultimate-all-is-grace theology eventually must just loop back to hyper-calvinism. It has nowhere else to go; it has no room for participation. It has no room for communion, as there can be no communion when one party is incapable of anything at all, it is just God storming into the room.

        I do believe I am a broken sinful SOB and I have no delusions of spiritual ascendency. I also am not inert and powerless.

        • The reformed faith tradition is what I inherited, Calvinist if you must. I like the way this excerpt from the Belgic Confession puts it :

          “…so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and—in a manner at once pleasing and powerful—bends it back.”

        • Hi ADAM,

          there is the Catholic, Therese of Lisieux, who once wrote that ‘everything is grace’,
          and she was as far from some of the extremes of Calvinist thinking as you can get. In fact, where they see God’s glory in His wrath against ‘the lost’, she saw in the Holy Gospels something else about God that is so beloved by the Church that she was declared a ‘Doctor of the Church’ after her death when the Vatican read her diaries:

          ” . . . God has created the baby who knows nothing and can utter only feeble cries.
          He has created the poor savage with no guide but natural law, and it is to their hearts that He deigns to stoop.
          They are His wild flowers whose homeliness delights Him. By stooping down to them, He manifests His infinite grandeur.
          The sun shines equally both on cedars and on every tiny flower. In just the same way God looks after every soul as if it had no equal.
          All is planned for the good of every soul, exactly as the seasons are so arranged that the humblest daisy blossoms at the appointed time.”

          Therese, in her simplicity, had understood what many theologians in their convoluted doctrines have missed:
          that ‘God is love’ and ‘God giveth grace to the humble’.

        • Adam
          It is exactly because you, and I, were and are not inert and powerless that you, and I, became and remain broken sinful SOB’s.

    • Hebrews says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” That’s pretty black and white.

      • That’s James 4:8

        • Yeah. That’s what I meant.

          • Scott Fisher says:

            That verse came to my mind as well. I remember really being blown away by that Scripture when I first came to Christ. So there is a sense in which we are called to act, to “draw near,” to pursue God. I find it quite easy because of my sinfulness and brokenness to go to one extreme or the other. I either act as though it is all up to me in terms of spiritual growth and become a dried out Pharisee type or I become passive and irresponsible and in effect blame God that I am not experiencing a closeness with Him. Only by the Spirit can I hold the tension in place. That is one reason I look forward to heaven!

    • Mule,

      I suspect that Lutheran perspective may be something of an over-reaction to perceived Pelagianism.

      Your own tradition of Synergism acknowledges that God is the Initiator. St. John Cassian;

      And when His goodness sees in us even the very smallest spark of good will shining forth, which He Himself has struck as it were out of the hard flints of our hearts, He fans and fosters it and nurses it with His breath, as He “willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” for as He says, “it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” . . . (Conferences, XIII.7)

  2. ?The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.

    A statement like that needs some explanation. First of all, for all the talk I’ve heard about bibliolatry, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen it. I don’t know of a single person who thinks the Bible is God. The word of God yes, but not God himself. If I had a letter from my earthly father I wouldn’t consider the paper and ink to be my father, but I would take it as message from him, his own words. That is how many peole look at the Bible, and it is not bibliolatry.
    And what does ‘anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ’ mean? Who is the judge for that criteria? Does that mean if I think something Paul says in 2 Corinthians doesn’t line up with what Mattew has Jesus saying in his gospel, I’m supposed to disregard what Paul said?

    • I know plenty of Christians who make the Bible their God. Especially those who think it’s King James or nothing…LOL. And also anyone who pulls it out, points to scripture, and says, “You must do this.”

    • Jon,
      The bible is not God – agreed.
      However, the bible as an idol? – not so much.

    • Mule Chewing Briars says:

      I love looking at maps. I know where Perth Amboy New Jersey is! I could probably get there without a map.

      People who mistake knowledge of the Bible with knowledge of God are like people who mistake knowledge of maps for a knowledge of geography. That said, if you are going to eschew maps and deal directly with the landscape, watch out for the ditches!!

      • Very nice, Mule!

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        +1

        Maps and the bible address me on a plane I can understand and deal with. So I’ll hold them in front of me as I journey. That is not the same as also looking at the road ahead and the landscape around me.

        I suppose bible-idolatry exists, but it is a pretty minor affair. I doubt anyone who takes those people seriously visits here, or much of anywhere except THEWAY-FM. “Bible thumpers” make great canon fodder for church haters [and I am NOT implying the other above is one of those], but in most places they are also quite rare and probably on a rapid road to near extinction. At least here in the rust-belt [West Michigan] I haven’t encountered a true bible-thumper in years. A decade ago we’d occasionally have one on a street corner here or there antagonizing pedestrians. Sadly the couple of ‘prayer warriors’ that used to frequent my neighborhood also seem to have disappeared. They quietly, but obviously, did there thing not really bothering anyone; which at least reinforced that I still live in a free civil and multicultural society. My little city has prospered economically and I worry one downside of that is pushing out some of the fringe populations [rents have skyrocketed].

        • “I suppose bible-idolatry exists, but it is a pretty minor affair.”

          Adam, bibliolatry is a major affair. Some people use the bible as a stick to beat the faithful into submission, interpreting it legalistically, even perverting it to their own destruction and the destruction of the innocent.

          Better in the long run that a millstone be tied around their neck and dropped in the deep. Or has someone already said that?

          Using the bible as a weapon becomes not only idolatry but it turns the bible into a false god, even a demon. The devil quotes scripture, and it pours out through the mouths of some of those in our own churches, turning what is holy into a lie.

          Once you’ve been burned by someone in your church who presents himself as an authority (not his own authority, he’ll say; it comes from Holy Scripture!) you’ll agree that this perversion is a major affair.

        • “Bible Thumpers” are still very much a reality in my region of the country–The Bible Belt.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I have to agree with Rick Ro. Plenty of Christians practice Bibliolatry and, in doing so, draw meanings from the text and fashion applications, doctrine, etc. which have nothing to do with who God is.

      To that end, if you read something in 2 Corinthians that doesn’t line up with what Matthew has Jesus saying in his gospel, Bolz-Weber never claimed that you have to discard it as useless, only that it does not have the same authority. If that bugs you (as it would me), perhaps we need to consider how much of what we read in Scripture is the words on the page vs. our own cultural lens that we use to shape meaning from what we read.

      • I really don’t think the problem of bibliolatry is as wide spread as some here seem to think. The thing that bothers me the most though, is the thing about authority. The way the statement is phrased is not talking about interpretations that do not hold up to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but actual passages of Scripture. So again, who gets to be the judge of that? Can someone give me an example of such a passage? And if there are none, why even make the statement. It creates an easy out for parts of the Bible that make me uncomfortable.

    • In my reading about my grandmother’s faith, I found a controversy that began when Southern Baptists created a new Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and dropped a key phrase from their 1963 ‘Baptist Faith & Message’, this:
      ” The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”

      From that point on, the Words of Christ Who spoke and acted in the very Person of God were no longer given a central authority but ‘all’ Scripture was ‘freed up’ to be interpreted in a more fundamentalist manner.

      Why the change? The fundamentalists felt that too many had ‘taken advantage’ of having Christ as the criterion for interpreting other parts of Scripture. (?) So, the change was made formally, and subsequently the Baptist Faith and Message became a way of eliminating many from positions of importance in the Southern Baptist Convention’s organizations. In short, it became an instrument of ‘accountability’ and had to be ‘signed’ by employees of the SBC entities. Seventy seven missionaries resigned. Many seminary teachers ‘resigned’. People like Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptists due to a portion of the BF&M 2000 that wanted women to ‘submit graciously’ to their spouses, redefining the role of women in the Southern Baptist denomination.

      The history of this time is well documented. Bibliolatry? Some say it was more a case of a few powerful people in a denomination being able to ‘interpret’ the Bible according to their own points of view. Has the SBC grown since this time? No. It has declined in numbers by their own accounting.

      In my Catholic mind, I do see something wrong with interpreting any of the words of St. Paul in a manner that depart from Our Lord’s teachings, especially from the Royal Law. My Church sees Christ as the fullness of revelation from God. That gives Christ’s Words, His teachings, and His actions far greater standing in sacred Scripture than the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message does, when it comes to interpretation of all Scripture.

      • Christiane,
        I remember well when that happened, and I know that it happened for good reason. Yes, many people did leave the denomination. Yes, many did leave the seminary, and many of them needed to. The Southern Baptist seminaries are schools supported by Southern Baptists to train Southern Baptists to minister in Southern Baptist churches. If a professor’s teaching and beliefs are not in line with Southern Baptist belief, they need to go somewhere else. Just like I wouldn’t expect a Catholic school to hire a Baptist to train their priests.
        The phrase you mentioned was removed because people did in fact misuse it. If you go in to any conservative Southern Baptist church and ask people, “Do you think Christ is the fulness of the revelation of God?” the vast majority are going to say, “Yes he is.” For the record I don’t think anything Paul teaches departs from Jesus’ teaching. But some people like to say, “Jesus never said anything about ( )”, and whatever fiills that blank they dismiss as unimportant because we don’t have a record of Jesus addressing it.

        • Hello JON,
          I suppose you are also familiar with the case of the removal of a Hebrew professor from a Southern Baptist seminary because she was a woman. This was done after the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message went into effect, and she was ‘let go’ even after receiving top marks for her work and after having been guaranteed tenure before the BF&M 2K went into effect.

          Problem was, her husband was very ill. She went through a terrible time because of the way she was treated, and sued the seminary justly, I’m sure, but the judge threw the case out. All that time, the focus of the Seminary leader was on defining a verse by St. Paul that he interpreted as forbidding a female to instruct a male in the seminary. But he had no qualms about the harm done to the Hebrew professor’s family and finances . . . the seminary leader had forgotten that there is in sacred Scripture a Royal Law of Christ that, if honored, would have prevented the seminary from causing so much pain to that good woman and her family. It’s not even about the ‘injustice’ so much as it is about the profound unkindness that was shown to her at that time. And the fact that none of this COULD have taken place UNLESS Jesus Christ was ‘no longer’ honored as the lens through which Southern Baptist entities were expected to interpret sacred Scripture.

          That is just ONE of the examples I heard about. And a very sad one indeed, when a Christian woman who has lived virtuously in service to her Church and family was denied even basic human kindness, much less the loving-kindness like that of Our God that should have been shown to her and her sick husband by the Christian seminary she had served for years honorably.

          • Christiane,
            I don’t agree with everything that has happened since the days of the Conservative Resurgence nor do I think the SBC is somehow perfect. It is far from it. I pray that God will work in us to help us become more like Christ. But the one example you chose to share is probably one of the most extreme and controversial (and I mean controversial among Southern Baptists). And it doesnt’ change the fact that there were many who did need to leave because their beliefs were no longer in line with the SBC. For that matter there many whose beliefs weren’t even in line with the Nicene Creed.
            But for all of our imperfections the SBC does a lot of good as well, particularly with disaster relief and missionary work. There are still a lot of godly people in our churches who love the Lord and love people. The SBC is not somehow unique among churches for having done things unchrist-like.
            In fact there are more than just a few things in the history of the Catholic Church that are certainly unchrist-like. So how do you account for that?

          • Christiane, that story about the removal of the female prof at an SBC seminary could easily be repeated in my church if one man would have his way, forbidding women to teach or to hold office as deacons. And he would do this no matter the destruction that would follow, all in the name of his god. He has done enough damage already, with no practical changes in our policy. It’s why I insist that bibliolatry is a grave problem.

          • And what became of all the harlots and catamites expelled from the temple? Did they not experience financial hardship? And yet they were cast out.

          • Christiane,
            Many unkindnesses have been shown by the Roman Catholic church to divorced and remarried Roman Catholics and their families who wanted nothing more than full, welcoming inclusion in the life of the Church without having to repudiate their marriages. Full reconciliation has been made conditional on acquiring a canonical annulment; where such an annulment is not possible, the RC Church would require repudiation of the new marriage for full reconciliation.

            The Royal Law of Christ is not invoked in these cases, nor are the pain and hardship given much weight.

            Bibliolatry, anyone?

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        I’m in the middle of a correspondence with an old high school buddy who seems to be rather hostile to Christianity. The topic we were discussing was some of the harder stuff in the bible (specifically the Old Testament) with regards to ethics and morals.

        One of the big things that came out as I was kind of stream-of-thought typing to my friend was that I find that there are two supremely important tools necessary to contextualize Scripture: 1) Original context in the original audiences time/place. 2) Filtered through the lens of Jesus. Oftentimes those don’t line up, and in those cases I MUST go with the latter as the preferred way of looking at the text. But that’s OK; the NT authors did the same thing.

      • Well put, and amen. The first Southern Baptist congregation I served still had that line, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,” in their constitution. It wasn’t until I became Lutheran, however, that I had a clue what it meant.

    • It has to do with sexual / gender issues. The bibliolators are the ones who believe those verses.

  3. Just so I’m not all negative, I do really like her first statement about grace.

  4. “It’s God saying, ‘I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.’ ”

    I like that.

  5. “Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.”

    As a Protestant, I have to wonder what her authority for saying this is? She has made herself the judge of God’s word rather than (completely) submitting to it.

    That said, I wonder if I would do as well as she does were I in her place. I doubt it.

    • But I would submit that we all agree with Nadia here; the real question is about extent. For example, I have yet to meet even a fundamentalist who holds the genealogies up to the same standard of “authority” as, say, the Sermon on the Mount. I think we need wisdom and an attitude of love for – and obedience to – Christ when we approach Scripture, but in a lot of ways I think her statement is kind of a truism.

    • I agree completely, and I would add this: If you see something in Scripture that does not “hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” I would rather assume you have grossly misunderstood that passage before I decide that God made a mistake in communicating with us. I’m not interested in cleaning up his messes.

      Lutherans are supposed to believe in the “analogy of faith,” which teaches that “Scripture interprets scripture.” We harmonize, rather than pitting one verse against another. It always amazes me how liberals jump at apparent contradictions to shoehorn aberrant views of inspiration and authority into the conversation where harmonization wouldn’t have been that difficult were you interested. Either the book is God’s Word or it is not. How incompetent does the almighty creator of the universe have to be if he gives us a book that we have to edit and correct before it can be rightly understood?

      • Some harmonisations do involve significant intellectual contortions…

        • Sometimes it’s better to just admit there somethings in the Scriptures we don’t really understand, rather than asserting the inerrancy and infallibility of our personal intellect as the final arbiter of truth and textual authority.

      • Quoting Miguel;

        “Either the book is God’s Word or it is not.”

        It is not. Rather, it is the words of a 2100 year stream of people engaged with God who recorded their interaction with the Word who is God.

        T

  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM9Y5S3UYi8
    That is a 20 minute video of Nadia talking before a very large crowd and is mostly about how she came to be a Lutheran. But if you want to skip to the last three minutes that is when she starts to talk about the power and love of God. It is good and powerful.

    And from http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Tattoo-Faith.html we read about her tattoos:
    “Indeed, cascading down the front of this pastor’s arm from shoulder to wrist, was the entire Christian story in tattoo. There, in vivid detail, was the deep darkness and gleaming stars of Creation; the Angel Gabriel announcing the birth of Christ; Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (and the animals!) at the Nativity; Jesus fasting in the desert; Good Friday and the Crucifixion; Mary and the women at the empty tomb; and the first apostles with tongues of fire at Pentecost. It was the most beautiful tattoo I had ever seen, not to mention a stunning display of faith.”

  7. I think Bishop Thomas Gumbleton would like very much what Nadia has to say about grace:
    http://ncronline.org/blogs/peace-pulpit/gods-love-gift-not-something-be-earned

    I get a kick out of his referring to the “prodigal son” as being a “loose liver.” :-)

    (I will stop now with the links.)

  8. On the third point about Scripture, I think it’s helpful especially as we engage with and think about the OT in light of Christ. This is why, I believe, many people are trying to ‘rethink’ aspects of the slaughter of the Canaanites, etc. We don’t see Christ turing to the 12 and saying: ‘Ok, guys. Go out there are strike down those Romans.’ We actually see a call to the opposite. Now, it’s not that we deny the judgment granted to Christ/God. It’s just that they are the judge and do not ask us to judge in such a way as to slaughter the enemy. So, in the sense of ‘progressive revelation’, the ancient Hebrews in their own perspective, would have imagined Yahweh commanding such. But, as far as we can see, this is not in line with the revelation of God that we see fully in Christ.

    On point 4, I would say we can ‘move closer to God’ (i.e., something like James 4:8). There is an injunction that we draw near to God and he will follow. Now, one could argue that it is the grace of God that we are even in the place of desiring to draw near to God. And I’m ok with that. But we are called to draw near to God, i.e., a call for us to move. At times, I move near to my wife and she responds. And at other times, she draws near to me and I respond.

    • Scott, I clicked on your name and read your review of Scot McKnight’s book, Junia Is Not Alone. Good job!

  9. Wow! 100% sinner and saint at the same time. So, simple, but I have never thought of myself in those terms. It is honestly a relief to do so. I am buying this book when I finish this comment. Thanks for posting.

  10. I don’t hear the words of Christ much in services. Jesus loves you, yeah. Paul says in the bible, yeah. Christ said, not so much. Actually, the only sermon I can recall that focused anywhere within the 4 gospels, the lesson was about the value of friends who would take a lame you to get healed. Christ was ancillary to the story as far as the message given was concerned. Much of what I see is people busy being Biblians rather than Christians.

  11. “Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.”

    The only caution I would give on this is that sometimes we don’t get how this is so. So to set certain scripture to a lower authority is too rash. Instead we should reexamine our understanding of that scripture.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    ?We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.

    Like Christ is simultaneously God and Man, 100 percent of both, all the time.

    Sounds consistent.

  13. When a sinner speaks the gospel, we rejoice and believe it.

    When they don’t, we ought not listen.

    Far too many fall off one side of the horse (law, or license) or the other.

    I have no problem with the bullet points where she was parroting others who have gone before her. I do have a lot of trouble with her “3rd use of the law” (socially) when she and other Lutherans throw God’s Word overboard (not in this piece – but in others that I have read from her) for ‘what we do’. ‘Gay’ issues and social gospel stuff and political stances…all at the expense of God’s law…and His gospel.

    • You’ve put your finger on a real problem in progressive Lutheranism. They just put people under different parts of the Law.

      • Yes, Mike, and the Missouri folks (of course, not all of them ) at the other end do the same thing but with religious law.

        • …and this all serves to demonstrate the importance of understanding the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. I wish that our ministers all understood and practiced this well. I’d rather be in a traditional ELCA congregation that knows this than a Purpose-Driven theology of glory LCMS. The rates for both groups seem equally bad. It’s as if in America our religiously driven ethical systems are more defined by political affiliation than they are by scripture and tradition.

      • The truth is that you can’t live a human life without social and ethical guidelines. If rejecting the Law in certain strains of Lutheran theology means rejecting such guidelines, then it is not only bad theology, but it is impossible theology, because anyone who repudiates all such guidelines will inevitably be found, under investigation, to be furtively holding guidelines of their own, though they may be blind to the fact.

        If these guidelines are instead seen not as inflexible laws but as contingent boundaries that may move over time, while still giving shape to the social and ethical life of human beings in community, and the Christian church as a community; and if these guidelines can be recognized and developed in the midst of a church community that works together toward extending them in sober, prayerful, mutual and responsible ways; then these guidelines can be means for the Gospel to form the church into the community of love that Jesus intended it to be.

        No perfectionism is involved in such an understanding, and in recognizing the positive value of such guidelines, no ultimate value is attributed to them; their value is rooted in the degree to which they serve the Gospel at the present time, not now and forever.

        • Lutheranism does not reject the use of the Law as guidelines. Lutherans accept the first and second uses of the law: (1) as a CURB against sin (civil use), and (2) as a MIRROR, reflecting our sinfulness and leading us to Christ. The difference between these two uses also marks a division, in Lutheran thinking, between the two kingdoms. The first use of the law is for human conduct and relationships in this life, setting boundaries and giving shape, as you said, to civil life. The second use of the law is its “religious” use — and it is this use that Lutherans are careful to maintain, stressing that the law in no way serves a positive function in enabling us to live in a way that makes us acceptable to God. However, its civil use is indeed useful to order society.

          There is a third use of the law — as a GUIDE for the Christian life — which some hold. I wrote about this in a post earlier this year: “Third Use of the Law? No, Something Better.”. The position I advocated is summed up in the Solid Formula of the Book of Concord:

          “But when man is born anew by the Spirit of God, and liberated from the Law, that is, freed from this driver, and is led by the Spirit of Christ, he lives according to the immutable will of God comprised in the Law, and so far as he is born anew, does everything from a free, cheerful spirit; and these are called not properly works of the Law, but works and fruits of the Spirit, or as St. Paul names it, the law of the mind and the Law of Christ. For such men are no more under the Law, but under grace, as St. Paul says, Rom. 8:2 [Rom. 7:23; 1 Cor. 9:21 ].”