My in laws moved just down the road from us this summer. Being the good conservative Christians that they are, they immediately began shopping around for a suitable church. After a few weeks they finally decided on the church which is even closer down the road to us than they are. The name of this church is the name of the town we live in followed by the words “Grace Church” For example, say we live in Frisbeegolfville, the name of the church is “Frisbeegolfville Grace Church”.
Anytime I see the word “grace” in a church’s name, I recoil. I was a member of Sovereign Grace Ministries for about 15 years, and let me tell you, it’s no accident that they use the term “grace” in the name. There is a good reason for this…it’s intentional, and it speaks heavily to the theology they promote, and it’s not a good theology. Not at all. “Grace” is a nice word…but it’s doctrinal meaning is anything but. When you see “grace” read “existential dead end”, and it should trigger your survival instinct. I’m not saying all churches with “grace” in their name are dangerous, but it’s highly probable there is hella cognitive dissonance going on in there, and this dissonance can be downright destructive and even criminal if in any significant way taken to praxis.
Here’s the problem with “grace”: Grace is a doctrine which is supposed to describe how God saves the un-savable; loves the un-lovable; values the valueless. It is contradiction upon contradiction, and it vaporizes man into oblivion by its impossible metaphysics.
Grace” isn’t just a pleasant word to describe how God benevolently deals with his children…as in he doesn’t necessarily leave them to wallow in the guilt and pain of poor choices, but will step into help or comfort them should they have the morality and wisdom enough to recognize their mistakes, confess them to Him, ask for help in humility, and make some kind of commitment to doing better. Something like that, I suppose. No, in Christian doctrine, particularly of the Calvinist persuasion which so many Christians unfortunately presume is nothing more than good old fashioned Biblical Truth, “grace” is a sinister euphemism which implies a complete rejection of man at the most fundamental level. In other words, the doctrine of grace is an ontological description of man whereby he is condemned as being too evil to possess any useful or efficacious existence at all. It is the idea that one’s self is an illusion…that the unsaved man is pointless, and the saved man is just a manifestation of God, Himself, and thus is equally pointless. Those whom God “elects” to save are simply replaced by God (i.e. the Holy Spirit acting through man); those whom God does not elect are annihilated because they lack any intrinsic value or purpose. Of course the unsaved are called evil, but this is little more than an empty invective as their evil can never actually amount to any meaningful disruption of God’s will. The fact that they are evil is entirely irrelevant. They are said to be evil, but really they are nothing.
I know all that is a mouthful, and I’ve probably confused you. Please bear with me.
The doctrine of grace proceeds from the doctrine of Original Sin (neither of which are biblical, by the way…cobbled together by some fast and loose interpretations of the literature). Original sin states that we are all born with the mark of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. We are tainted at birth, and this evil pervades every aspect of our existence. What this means in practicality is that no distinction can be made between Evil and one’s very Self. There is no part of man which is not tainted, physically/spiritually/psychologically, and so it is impossible to describe man as anything other than evil, incarnate. Man’s original sin means that he is not actually man but is only evil. That is, Original Sin means that man IS Sin, itself, and not actually man at all.
I feel like I’m still confusing you…not your problem, but mine.
Think of it this way—say a person has cancer, but the doctors, upon examining his body, discover that there is literally no area which is not fully cancerous. At that point the man doesn’t have cancer, he is cancer, Now, extend that cancer to his mind and soul and you have a good metaphor for Original Sin.
Naturally Christians, upon seeing the doctrine exposed in its stark, psychotic fullness, recoil and condemn it as being a misguided oversimplification…and when it comes from a former Calvinist like me they call it heresy. It isn’t the former, but I’ll concede the latter…at least technically. I think they are the true heretics, but that’s by the by.
They will say things like, “Original sin doesn’t mean that man IS evil, only that, left to himself, his nature is such that he has a tendency toward evil.” I submit that Christians seem to have trouble distinguishing between “tendency” and “inexorable and unrelenting”. “Tendency” presumes that truly benevolent behaviors and ideas are performed, just not as frequently as malevolent ones. That’s NOT Original Sin. All behaviors and ideas are fully “tainted” with sin, which makes all behaviors and ideas fully sinful. All actions and thoughts and choices are infused with and corrupted by sin. Were you to parse those actions, thoughts, and choices down to their sub-parts, and those sub-parts into further sub-parts, and so on, you’d also find that they too are infused with sin. Do you see what I mean? Ask a Christian to describe for you where the sinful parts of body, mind, and soul end and the healthy parts begin. They simply cannot do this. This is because original sin is a function of man’s very existence, and you cannot parse existence down to components or categories. Something which exists IS. And IS is absolute. Man IS (i.e. man exists); man’s IS (i.e. man’s existence) is corrupted by sin, therefore man IS SIN. It’s a simple logical deduction. Furthermore, and not to put too fine a point on it, when tendency becomes the only thing you do, and always, because it’s a determinative aspect of your very existence—meaning, when faced with a choice to do or think evil or good you always choose evil—it’s no longer tendency, it’s your root nature.
Okay, that’s all well enough, but what does that have to do with grace?
If man is evil incarnate, as Original Sin demands (the equivocation and appeals to “divine mystery” you find in church notwithstanding) then both the saved and the unsaved find themselves in pretty much he exact same ontological position, just with different (and these differences are fundamentally irrelevant) manifestations. Both the saved and unsaved man are perpetually and fully sinful. For man who IS sin (i.e. born in Original Sin) his only real experience is that of “un-personing” or “un-being”—there is no man, only Sin.
What this means for salvation is the following: man who is saved is saved utterly in spite of himself; and man who is unsaved is condemned utterly in spite of himself. Original sin makes man’s very existence irrelevant. The doctrine of Grace then is supposed to explain how God deals with man when “man” becomes entirely without substance…an ontological exercise in futility.
Since man is born in sin, and indeed IS sin, then he clearly has no real means of expressing himself…he has no efficacious will and thus no real choice because any knowledge he possesses is subordinate to his sin instinct, making knowledge irrelevant. Man has no choice but to be and do evil, and therefore whatever knowledge he is said to possess is pointless to him. He cannot act in service to knowledge, he cannot make any real value judgements and then choose and act accordingly, but can only act service to what is his instinctual sin. Since man then is driven fully by sin, and thus is in all practicality sin, itself, man isn’t really man at all. He is the incarnation of Sin…he is a force of nature so to speak, not a consciousness…not thinking, nor feeling, nor valuing, nor choosing. He is, in short, not himself at all. So there is no man then to save. Man, being sin, has absolutely no value to God. Man presents as the very antithesis of God’s nature and character. So when God “saves” someone, well, it’s important to remember that man, being reduced to sin incarnate, doesn’t really exist to be saved in the first place.
What this means is that God cannot actually extend salvation TO anyone. There is no one to save, because whoever might have been been there to be saved has been eradicated by Adam’s inexorable, indelible, and absolute mark.
Who then is God saving? Well, you could say that God is saving himself. The saved person, according to the doctrine, is infused with the Holy Spirit—this is God’s grace to “him”—and it is this Spirit which acts then in accordance with God’s will, and can receive God’s love and hear God’s Truth and can act in service to that truth. Indeed, you will hear this all the time:
“How are you doing?” one asks the SAVED person.
“Better than I deserve,” is the pat reply.
One would think that one who is capable of doing good would thus deserve whatever benevolent and prosperous outcomes follow from this good, but notice how the knee-jerk response, even implicitly so, is to explain that even though one is (supposedly) saved and loved and given the power to know good and to act upon it one is still in this perpetual state of inability, insufficiency….evil. Even the saved person has been conditioned by the doctrine to accept that he is, at root, still just a sinful wretch, incapable of anything except expressions of evil, and thus undeserving of anything but hell and divine hatred.
What this means is that even the Christian understands that he has not really changed; that all that divine love and blessing and salvation of which he is the recipient is really not for him at all, but only for the Holy Spirit which acts “through” him…somehow…it is never really explained how the Holy Spirit can be compatible with that which represents the categorical antitheses of Himself, but whatever…it’s all mysticism, and we all know it…even as we try to ignore the cognitive dissonance, we still know it’s there. In other words, when Christians speak of the Holy Speaking working “through” them, they really mean that God is acting in spite of them. All good things that the saved man does, speaks, thinks, or experiences—all this grace—is to be attributed to God, not to man. This is because they understand, even if many of them cannot properly articulate it, that they are entirely irrelevant in their “personal relationship with Jesus”. They are still as sinful and wicked as the day they were born…their new “standing” in Christ, their “rebirth”, is merely academic. Whatever good they do is God; whatever good they experience is because of God and in spite of their evil, which sill pervasively characterizes the whole of their being. Whatever misfortune they experience and sin they commit is because they are, even after salvation, purely wicked in nature and being. Within the saved man is this infinite schism of identity…they are both Good and Evil together, but not really. .
This is grace, then. Meaning that God somehow gives one salvation and peace in spite of one’s perpetual and pervasive Original Sin. The truth though is that when God acts in spite of you because of what you ontologically ARE, then God doesn’t actually regard you at all. God cannot love you, nor extend you grace, because your very being represents what he must necessarily hate. God cannot value you because you embody that which God must necessarily consider valueless.
The doctrine of Grace implies a perpetual separation of man from God, and renders salvation not only completely arbitrary—because there could be no reason why God would choose to elect one utterly wicked soul instead of any other utterly wicked soul—but makes God out to be some kind of dabbler in madness and nonsense. Of course Christians will disagree…they will say that it’s not madness, only mystery. God’s ways are not our ways. Yet if we have no frame of reference for “God’s ways” because they necessarily present to us as a contradiction in terms (e.g. absolute Evil (fallen man) is compatible with absolute Good (God)), then such a mystery must always be perfectly mysterious, which renders it meaningless. In other words, a question which can have no answer (e.g. How can God save that which is utterly un-savable?) isn’t actually a question. It’s just noise.
But don’t worry….you won’t have to suffer the exasperation of having to explain this, or even simply discuss this kind of thing with most Christians. Ironically, those who profess to believe so ardently in things they would consider to be of supreme importance seem to spend and desire to spend as little time as possible actually thinking through their beliefs. As a general rule I have noticed that Christians do not like being challenged on their doctrines, and any attempts to reveal to them the strict and narrow rational limits of their ideas are almost always punted away with an appeal to some ineffable divine “mystery’…a mystery which somehow will be cleared up at some point when they get to heaven. Or not. They don’t really seem to care.
Ah, the palliative of “mystery”. The world collapses around you, but it’s all in God’s hands, right? What can you do anyway? You have no real power because you don’t really exist at all. Drink a toast to divine mystery and make a virtue out of object failure and presto! Faith!
Anyway, be wary of “grace”. It might not mean what you think it means.