Posts tagged with: grace

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

FLOW Lord's PrayerIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “Cheap Grace and Gratitude,” I extend the notion of “cheap grace” beyond the realm of special or saving grace to the more mundane, general gifts of common grace.

One of the long-standing criticisms of common grace is that it actually cheapens or devalues a proper understanding of special grace. That is, by describing the common gifts of God to all people as a form of “grace,” the distinctive work of salvation can be overshadowed or under-emphasized.

This criticism of the doctrine of common grace gets at something important: there is a recurring challenge to rightly order our loves and our appreciation for the diversity of God’s gifts. I take this concern about the relationship between common grace and special grace to be a version of the problem of relating nature and grace.

It is important, as I argue in the commentary, to appreciate the gracious foundation of all of creation. So it is a gift of God that we have the sun, rain, food, and shelter just as it is a gift of God that we have repentance, forgiveness of sins, and freedom in Christ.

But that isn’t to say that all gifts are the same. In the abstract I would much rather have forgiveness of sins than daily bread. As the Puritan John Flavel (c.1630–1691) put it, “God has mercies of all sorts to give, but Christ is the chief, the prime mercy of all mercies; O be not satisfied without that mercy.”

As it turns out, though, forgiveness of sins presupposes our existence, which requires (among other things) daily bread. Thus the Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691) observed that

if nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings; not as if it were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men: God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily senses to the Soul.

In this way, special grace presupposes nature or the realities preserved through common grace. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck argued that grace restores nature. And Abraham Kuyper, in his writings on common grace in science and art, put it this way:

Scripture does not arrange both of those—the way of salvation and natural life—like two ticket windows next to each other, but continually weaves them together like threads, giving us a view of the world, its origin, its course within history, and its ultimate destiny, within which, as though within an invisible framework, the entire work of salvation occurs.

So today, this Thanksgiving, and every day, let us be thankful for all the good gifts that come from God. Being thankful for our daily bread, how much more thankful should we be for the forgiveness of sins!


Jean Valjean in “Ep. 4: The Economy of Order”

“Seeking justice isn’t a matter of designing the right programs or delivery systems… Seeking order means acting in accord with a true vision of our brothers and sisters.” –Evan Koons

American society and public discourse seem to be stuck in a state of feverish discord, rightly concerned with severe acts and systems of injustice, even as we continue to dig deeper cultural divides over everything from healthcare to sexual ethics, race relations to religious liberty, immigration to foreign policy.

As Evan Koons asks in Episode 4 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles: “How are we to operate with so much hurt, so much dysfunction in the world? What hope is there for justice?”

When we consider the Economy of Order, it can be intimidating to even think about enacting change. Government, policy, and the big bureaucratic food chain that supports it all don’t necessarily tend  toward inspiring optimism, patience, and trust. (more…)


Fr. Matthew Baker

Alexis de Tocqueville, observing the young United States in the 1830s, wrote, “Wherever, at the head of a new undertaking, you see in France the government, and in England, a great lord, count on seeing in the United States, an association.” In the midst of recent tragedy — the untimely death of Fr. Matthew Baker, a Greek Orthodox priest killed in a car accident this past Sunday evening, leaving behind his wife and six children — it is a source of hope to see that this American associational persistence is still alive in the present.

Without hesitation, friends of Fr. Matthew set up a page at the crowd funding site gofundme, and they have already raised a tremendous sum to support Presvytera Katherine and the children.

The loss of Fr. Matthew has been felt far beyond Orthodox Christian circles and close friends. Americans across the country, utilizing modern technology for this good work, have come together across confessional lines to help a family they have never personally known.

As for myself, I had only just begun to know Fr. Matthew. I regret that is all I can say. We both were contributors to Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and belong to a Facebook group related to our writing there. I had just spoken with him (via Facebook) the previous night, not even 24 hours before his death. (more…)

In his reflections on art and common grace, Abraham Kuyper affirmed that “the world of beauty that does in fact exist can have originated nowhere else than in the creation of God. The world of beauty was thus conceived by God, determined by his decree, called into being by him, and is maintained by him.” Beauty is, in this deep sense, a creational good, and even though beauty is often pressed into the service of evil, beauty, like all good things, is a creation of God.

During last week’s symposium at Calvin College on common grace and business, Dr. Vahagn Asatryan of Redeemer University College presented on marketing and common grace. To open his paper, Dr. Asatryan used this advertisement. Be sure to watch to the end and pay special attention to the message at the conclusion of the commercial:

Asatryan noted the deep beauty of the story told in this piece, and yet ultimately it depicts a situation that conflicts with God’s will for human social life. In the old days it was referred to as “living in sin.” What might a marketing piece that is more affirming of God’s common grace as reflected in his will for the human institution of marriage look like?

CG 1.3Christian’s Library Press has now released the third part in its series of English translations of Abraham Kuyper’s most famous work, Common Grace, a three-volume work of practical public theology. This release, Abraham-Parousia, is the third and final part of Volume 1: The Historical Section, following Part 1 (Noah-Adam) and Part 2 (Temptation-Babel).

Common Grace (De gemeene gratie) was originally published in 1901-1905 while Kuyper was prime minister. This new translation offers modern Christians a great resource for understanding the vastness of the gospel message, as well as their proper role in public life. The project is a collaboration between the Acton Institute and Kuyper College.

Whereas the first two parts of Volume 1 focus on “what was common to our entire race”—stretching from Adam and Eve to Babel—in the final part of the Historical Section, Kuyper now sets his sights on the story of Abraham, where “the channel suddenly narrows” and the “world stage shrinks to Palestine and the human race to Israel.”

But although the Bible begins to focus “almost exclusively on Abraham’s seed,” Kuyper is quick to caution against turning this “seeming disproportionality” into some kind of lopsided particularism. For Kuyper, reading the Bible in such a way has led to the false notion that “the fate of the nations and the importance of the world are of lesser concern to us,” and that missions (etc.) “do not rise to a higher vantage point than to save souls from the masses of the nations and to transfer them into the particularist sheep pen.” (more…)

downloadOver at Rough Trade, the always intriguing James Poulos celebrates the increased attention  now being given to the “relationship between economic and religious life,” pointing to the Acton Institute’s very own Samuel Gregg to kick things off.

Yet he remains unsatisfied, fearful of a return to what he views to be unhelpful “conceptual frameworks and cultural antagonisms” of the past, and urging us to push toward “a new mode of analysis that breaks away from the old, exhausting debates.” For Poulos, this means embracing an “economics of grace,” an interrelated component of something he has called “radicaltarianism” in the past (see more on this here and here).

Poulos observes the typical divides among Christians as follows:

Christians who accept these teachings [about the fall of man and grace] tend to split into two economic camps: those who lean toward an uncritical embrace of free-market capitalism, and those who tilt toward a far more skeptical, suspicious attitude. For the first group, the social upshot of Christianity is an institutional framework that supports flourishing with minimal reliance on the state. Christianity supplies a good foundation for market activity. For the second, the most durable and authentic institutional frameworks supplied by Christianity raise damning questions about the sustainability of neoliberalism — the secular “democratic faith” that gives market capitalism its modern philosophical foundations. For both groups, the key is that, ultimately, religion drives sustainable economic life. The difference is that the first group typically understands religion in a Protestant way, as a driver of explosive, and morally legitimate, economic growth, while the second takes a more Catholic view, doubtful of the moral purity of explosive growth, and focused much less on growing capital than other sorts of things, like families.

Although I disagree with where precisely Poulos draw his lines — sharing much of Rodney Stark’s skepticism about an explicitly Protestant ethic (etc.) — such divides do exist, labels aside.

Describing the state of the debate more broadly, Poulos argues that our political factions have also proven unhelpful, using terms like “economic growth” based on limited materialistic assumptions. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I explore the dynamics between gift, gratitude, and stewardship. The proper response to a gift that has been given is gratitude, and the proper expression of gratitude comes in faithful stewardship.

I’ve heard it repeated in many times and in many places that for a gift to truly be a gift, there must be no responsibility of response on the part of the recipient. As I write in “Gift, Gratitude, and the Grace of Stewardship,” that view is precisely what Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against in his excoriation of “cheap” grace.

One of the most striking illustrations to me of this dynamic came as I watched the TV series Friday Night Lights. One of the main characters is Tim Riggins, a fan favorite who begins the series as a student and ends it as a man. Over the last two seasons Tim’s maturation really comes through, as he has graduated from high school and is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

Tim’s got a troubled background that doesn’t need to be explained here, but suffice it to say that the only family he’s got is his older brother Billy. Despite his better judgment and discomfort with the idea, Billy convinces Tim to help him with his new garage, which by night becomes a chop shop operation. The brothers are eventually busted, but Tim generously and lovingly takes the rap for his brother, who has a new wife and child that he’s trying to support.

After some time, Tim is paroled and comes back to Dillon, Texas. As you might imagine, Tim isn’t the happiest guy around after his stint in jail. But what really angers him is his sense that his brother Billy hasn’t done enough with the gift of freedom he’s been given by his brother’s sacrifice. After the brothers fight, Billy asks, “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?” Tim responds, “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”

Tim has given Billy a great gift, and it’s clear that Billy feels a sense of responsibility. Tim recognizes it, too, which is why they both know that there is something, some obligation, to be “held over” Billy. That doesn’t make what Tim did any less of a gift. But it does illustrate that there is a deep connection between gift and gratitude, or what Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.”

Tim’s sacrifice, in this way, is an echo of the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, who showed the greatest love there is in laying down his life for us (John 15:13). The reality of this gift of costly grace ought to inspire in us a sense of gratitude and responsibility, to do something good with the freedom we’ve been given in Christ.