A place for United Methodists and others to explore and share their ideas, resources, visions, and dreams of or about mission, ministry and worship in the emerging missional way... Hosted by Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, GBOD. http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, September 17, 2010
Grace without Works Is... Antinomianism, Gnosticism and Mere Rationalism Revisited
I'm not reviewing the book here. I'm sure Shane will do a good job of that over at his place.
Or if any of you who are already authors on this blog (your names are on the right) would like to, by all means do so!
Here's the video...
Okay, so this video has a subtitle, "So Who's the Mean Guy?" If I turn off the sound and I'm just looking at tone and voice and body language, no question. It's the narrator, not Adam.
But who is meaner isn't the problem here, is it? The problem here really is a theological and even anthropological one.
The theological problem is twofold: antinomianism and gnosticism. Both the apostle James and "our apostle," John Wesley, were ardent opponents of any notion that the grace of God or faith itself could be lived apart from actually living them-- practicing them. It just doesn't get any clearer than "Faith without works is dead." And yet there emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries at sort of the fringes of Reformed theology this notion that ANY sort of enactment of faith or grace was to be rejected on the principle of "Sola Gratia" (by grace alone). These folks, like the narrator in the video, Wesley and other theologians in the mainstream of his day called "antinomian"-- "against the law." He would have nothing to do with them, apart from rejecting their teaching as forcefully as he could and urging them to repent, and would not allow persons who held their doctrine membership in the Methodist societies.
So was Wesley "the mean guy?" Maybe so?
Wesley and nearly all Christians have affirmed that salvation is God's action offered to us to enter into and enjoy purely on the basis of God's grace. But the vast majority of the Christian witness (including Paul himself-- What, should we sin that grace might much more abound? By no means!) have always understood that salvation is not primarily a juridical transaction but rather a whole new way of living, one we either enter into ("take up your cross and follow me") or don't. Where we don't, forgiveness is offered as we confess our failure. But if we don't even try... Jesus said something about the one who built his house upon the sand... the one who said, "Lord, lord" but did not do the works of his Father in heaven.
Okay, so now Jesus is "the mean guy?"
The second theological problem here is closely related to some of the more rabidly dualist versions of gnosticism. There were gnostics who were committed to practices that did seek to subdue the body as an essential means of expressing the spirit. They were at least incarnational somewhat (even if philosophically opposed to that!) in what they did. But there were others who made such a separation between body and spirit that their conclusion was that what one did with one's body mattered nothing at all. All that mattered was having the right knowledge in one's spirit. Salvation for these 'hyper-dualists' consisted of having the right ideas/ideology. Know the secret words and you're in-- no works or other actions required.
But as I've said there's an anthropological problem as well. Rationalism simply does not describe actual reality as we are coming to know it more and more through either the sciences (especially neuroscience and cognitive science) or philosophy. That I believe X to be the case may mean only that. The holding of cognitive assertions actually commits the rest of our selves to almost nothing. Why? Because such cognitive assertions work primarily at "top level processing." They're the icing on the cake, if you will. They don't go "all the way down" to the "whole self" unless or until they are actually embodied, practiced, lived into. But for that to happen requires... well, doing something!
If the incarnation means anything, it means that God is out to save us "all the way down," to redeem our entire humanity. That redemption only happens as God's grace moves "all the way down" and God's will gets encoded into our own-- conscious and unconscious, in thought, word and deed.
The experience of salvation in our lives and the life of the world is both unthinkable and undoable without works. They do not constitute it solely, nor are they the basis God chose to set out to redeem us. But they are surely the means by which God's saving grace in Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is made real in our lives... and becomes real in the life of the world.
Even if, philosophically, you are an antinomian, a gnostic, or a mere rationalist.