A little change-up, just in time for the weekend, we bring you the must-hear companion piece to this past Monday’s ‘cast, “My Sharona,” in which our hero, um, explains himself. Together they represent something of a summation, or, as PZ puts it, This is Grace in Practice for 2011.
The Four Theses I wrote for “My Sharona”, which is Episode 54 of PZ’s Podcast, express some convictions I have about reality. I expressed these convictions in a way that is somewhat new, or at least new for me.
Now I would like to take these convictions and express them in somewhat more formal terms: the terms of New Testament theology.
“My Sharona” originated in a two-year direct engagement of recent personal experience with what I have taught and preached in ministry since 1978. I was ordained in 1975 and began preaching ‘grace in practice’ about two and a half years later. I hope that message has never wavered.
Starting in 2007, but in a 24/7 way beginning in June 2009, I reviewed everything I had said or written, in the light of life. Had the New Testament Word held up? Especially, had the Word concerning God’s Mercy and Grace held up? In the crunch.
It had. It had held up.
What I did do, however, in the light of experience, was investigate fresh ways of putting it, ways that built constructive bridges between my life as it had happened to me, and the faith that I had long worked from.
I asked myself, in light of my disillusionment with the world, based on disappointing experience with the world, what did St. John really mean when he said, “Little children, love not the world”? And why was the Bible, and the Protestant Reformers, so concerned about idolatry, and the myriad forms of human attachment that prove so mournfully disappointing in the lives of “everyday people” (Sly and the Family Stone), including believers? Was Luther talking about what we today might call “attachment” when he described the heart as ‘one perpetual idol factory’? This is the origin of my thesis in “My Sharona” concerning detachment.
In the thesis concerning the One, or “Love Action” (Human League), in its relation to the enduring self, I was reflecting on St. John’s ever ready maxim, “God is love”. John frequently states that God is to be found where love is found. Thus no one, according to John, can say that he or she loves God if he or she has not love, and in particular, love towards other people. I pointed out this emphasis from St. John long ago, in a book entitled A Short Systematic Theology. I haven’t changed my mind concerning the connection between the God Whom we don’t see and the Love which we do see. I like to remember the phrase from a hymn by Charles Wesley: “God’s new best name of Love.”
The thesis concerning “assimilation of negativity” comes from a book I wrote in 1979, during the Disco Era, entitled Who Will Deliver Us? That phrase, which I learned from Frank Lake, a Christian psychiatrist in Nottingham, was another attempt to put into contemporary words the dynamic of Grace. Mercy, Absolution, Forgiveness: these refer, theologically speaking, to the core attitude of God towards the human race. Grace is the essence of Christianity. The ministry of Christ begins and ends, historically speaking, with Grace. God assimilates our negativity, “not counting our trespasses against us”. This is therefore what we need to do in relation to one another. “We love because He first loved us.” Saint John again!
Christianity, in its “etat pur”, is the opposite of those notorious “unforgiving tabloids”, both here and across the Atlantic.
The final thesis of “My Sharona” concerns the life of the Child. Here I describe the virtue of Childhood by taking a “leaf” out of Jesus’ book: “Unless you become as a little child, you will in no wise enter the kingdom of God.” This word of the Lord we read at every Baptism. What does it mean in practice? In what lived way might it be true? Well, the best answer just now is: See Super 8. There’s your answer, today — our answer, in practice.