Friday, April 11, 2014

Jesus or religion: an oblique take on a false dichotomy

Here's a thought that occurred to me late this afternoon: One of the ways Catholics and Evangelicals fail to communicate is when Evangelicals denounce "religion" and insist on the primacy of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I think the subtitle of Jefferson Bethke's book can help get past this impasse. It does this by succinctly stating what Evangelicals (often/usually) mean when the denounce "religion": Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.

Even with this there remains some what we might call "ecclesiological dissonance." It seems to me that for Catholics and Evangelicals alike, the question is, How do we evangelize? Do people feel like they have earn acceptance in order to belong?

The truth of the Gospel is- Jesus did what you needed in order for to be good enough for God. Hence, nothing you can do will make God love you more, or less. I know this remains a scandal for many. You certainly can't add anything to what Christ did for you.

As I frequently mention, the question is never "Does God love me?" Rather, it is, "Do I love God?" At least for me, the honest answer is "Not as much as I should, not even as much as I think I want to." Isn't how much I want to, at least to some degree, shown forth by what I say and do?

In any case, what we "do" must have its source in love and be for love. Hence, I think the fundamental issue that remains between most Evangelicals and Catholics is whether grace is imputed or imparted. Imputed grace is a succinct way of referring to forensic justification, which holds that Christ's righteousness "covers" my unrighteousness like snow can cover a pile of dung (A metaphor used by Luther)> Imparted grace refers to God transforming me from the inside out, which speaks to the necessity of the sacraments and, in a particular way, the Eucharist. This is why I find the most compelling definition of grace to be, "God sharing divine life with us." I think we agree that whether grace is imputed or imparted it cannot be earned. If it were earned it couldn't be grace, right?

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