Resistable Grace

Leave the TULIPS growing in the field

Hope you like the title. TULIP has been far too influential for too long, so time for a push back. My one success in my theological studies days was when I pushed a professor (a bit of a Calvin expert) to agree that he was holding to ‘God desired all to be saved, but only chooses some’. An all powerful God who can do what he wishes and chooses to do something he does not desire? Really? All systems leak, and mine simply leaks less than the next person. So I am not in favour of the ‘irresistable’ part of TULIP. [Note to self: have to come up with a new acronym.]

A couple of texts that of course ‘prove’ my perspective (we all love proof texts, all one has to do is to ignore the non-proof texts!).

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:10).

we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

Not in vain… seems to imply that the grace of God can be received in vain: from the same verb as in Phil. 1:6 regarding the kenosis of Jesus… the self emptying of Jesus, so it seems ‘in vain’ is along the lines of ‘deprived of power’, ‘without achieving the desired results’. The grace of God could be without desired results, and the deciding factor regarding the outcome in these verses was Paul, or the Corinthians. I don’t think it really gives the idea of ‘irresistable’.

Charity. When we see someone who is desperate it is right to be moved and to give without knowing much more something that will at least enable that person to survive. Charity though is not the meaning behind the word ‘grace‘ or ‘gift‘ in the NT. Both charity and gift / grace are given with no strings attached, neither demand a return, neither buy the person’s allegiance. The difference though lies in the consideration given that lies behind the act, the reason for the act. For gift to be truly gift / grace it is given without strings attached, but with the consideration that what is given will enable this person / situation to pull toward their destiny. Without the gift it will be very difficult for them to move onward and upward, indeed, unless something similar comes from another source, the movement toward their destiny will not be possible. That is the purpose of grace. Paul responded in such a way that he moved on to fulfil his destiny, and he is appealing (second verse quoted) that the Corinthians will respond in like manner.

Paul gave the escaped slave Onesimus back to Philemon as a gift. Philemon could receive him back as a slave, but the gift was given to pull Philemon to a new level. He might be a slave owner (in that culture) but he was being given a gift to enable him to pull himself higher and to humanise all people, regardless of economic status. (We might add that Paul gave some fairly strong arguments, and perhaps a bit of emotional weight, to strongly encourage Philemon not to receive the gift ‘in vain’.)

Gifts given are given because they carry an inherent power… if pulled on. In order to be truly a gift we will need to know something of the other person / situation, so that what is not ours (in the sense of ownership) but is ours to steward can be given freely. There will be a relational, but not transactional, element to the gift.

2022 – I have had on my heart for some days ‘a new economy being birthed’. Resistable grace has to be part of it.

[Now to work on that very clever acronym.]

We beheld his glory

We beheld his glory, full of…

John suggests that his glory had content. The glory was more than an existential experience. It was touchable and touchable in an observable way. So time to look up the Greek text and come up with a good translation? How about:

His glory was full of grey – and black and white…

Not really suggesting that is the translation, and I do not want to cheapen the word ‘grace’, so tentatively am going to run with ‘grey’ to make it very concrete. If we use the word ‘grace’ it can be religionised away and truth – well we all know what that is. In a recent post I suggested that we are better to be solution focused rather than answer focused and this is a kind of follow on. So forgive me for the translation!

The classic response of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery: ‘I do not condemn you’ shows a measure of greyness. Grey / grace was the solution to the situation that was a bad one from the start. The deck was stacked against the woman (where was the man?). There was probably the prevailing belief that the woman was the seductress and so what else was the man meant to do. That belief skews any judgement, even a judgement based on biblical texts. We face situations that should never have occurred, but we face them because they started out wrong. Our true judgement does not get us too far with many of those situations. The wealthy person walking past the person sitting on the street and refusing to part with a few coins as they will only use it to buy booze or drugs… yes we can walk past and then at the weekend go and buy some booze, and now even more sadly drugs as well. The black and white judgement against the ‘sinner’ just does not always cut it as there are so many other factors.

Tighten legislation against abortion might well be necessary, but when there is such a connection between abortions and social deprivation, we can tick the box of ‘right move’ but not go deep enough. Grey… not pretty.

I like the word ‘grace’, a nice theological category but grey – I just don’t like it. Yet so many situations that God comes to he comes into the situation that was started wrong, and the solution is sometimes a grey. He walked among us, he did not set out rules from a position away from us. He touched what was wrong, and in touching it solutions, ways forward were manifest. Glory is not to be pushed simply into the transcendent realm of out there and up there somewhere. Maybe though we think that is the only realm where glory is found because we are not able to allow it to manifest among us. He (Jesus) walked and we saw glory… we saw again and again a greyness to those on the margins. They did not face a strong ‘repentance’ call, but words of hope. Grey is not the colour of religion!

Grey, strangely a mixture of black and white. His glory full of grey, but stick with it and we will see that he is not pushing ‘anything goes’ as a response. In the midst of it all there was a black and white (truth). How anyone can hold that together is a mystery, and whenever it takes place, for sure, we see ‘glory’.

Show us your glory is a great cry. Show your glory through me is a most challenging pathway. Truth / black and white will be involved I am sure, but right at the forefront, the leading edge will be grey.


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