Sunday, July 27, 2008

Capon on Grace

Remember how I mentioned starting another book by Robert Farrar Capon and enjoying it and wanting to quote from it? I'm certainly cognizant that I haven't yet -- even though I'm on page 104 and have manifold passages underlined throughout the book. The primary problem with sharing snippets with you, dear readers, is that it's so nuanced (he weaves together parable and commentary), it's hard to pick out one of his pithy quotes without having about 2 paragraphs of explanation beforehand. But I am determined, and so I found a passage this morning that I not only underlined for nearly a page in the book, but it works okay without explanation around it! But before I do that, here's a funny Capon-esque remark next to which I wrote "LOL;" he's talking about a quote by Luther on Romans 6, where the good German got it "mostly right:"
"That is so close to the mark that it's almost a shame to fault it. And the fault in it is really so minor that one regrets withholding the rewarding cigar. But alas, it must be withheld" (103).

And now the quote that will hopefully stimulate and encourage whatever fills your cranial cavity (emphases are mine):

Any talk of the role of the human will in the plan of salvation invites back into the Gospel of grace the purely moralistic distinction between sin and temptation -- a distinction that jesus once and for all tossed to the dogs when he said that thinking about adultery was as bad as doing it. It leads us to imagine that in the risen life of grace, while there may be all the trappings of our death -- while there may be mental motions toward sin, nifty ideas of renewed tricks with old (or new) partners, seeds of possible sin -- we are nevertheless still okay as long as we can say in our heart of hearts that we have not really watered the damned things and brought them to flower.

But that is simply the old law of salvation by our own integrity; and it blows the Gospel of grace to bits. In the risen life of grace, there are not just trappings of our death, there is our death itself; not just the tinder of sin but the full, raging fire. That is simply true. To make a distinction between the unlit tinder and the blazing inferno, and then to suggest that as long as you don't get lit you're still safe, is to fly straight in the face of the Sermon on the Mount and to require not only more than human nature, even under grace, has ever been able to manage but also more than grace itself has ever demanded. It is a case of theological imagery riding roughshod over revelation. The Gospel invites us to believe not that we are safe, provided, but that we are safe period. It is not that sin should not have dominion over us but that it cannot, for its power has been destroyed by Jesus. It reigns in our death, of course, as it always did; but what is that? What is it to have sway over a valley of dry bones? The main thing is that sin does not reign over Jesus, and Jesus is our life.

And there is the crucial point: Therefore, we are safe. Not safe, if... Not safe, as long as ... Not safe, provided .... Add anything -- even a single qualifier, even a single hedge -- and you lose the Gospel of salvation, which is just Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three (103-104)

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