Grace, Power, and Sentiment

There is a famous sermon by Paul Tillich, known by its tagline, “You are accepted.” Tillich’s intention was to preach of God’s grace to a world that badly needed assurance. God’s grace is absolute. If so, then Jaroslav Pelikan spoke truly in a sermon at Yale Divinity School ca. 1970, when he said God’s power is greater than all human sin, greater than that of even the greatest villains of history. Name whom you will, they have had their shriving before the throne of heaven. We might go on from there to say they are in a better position to pray for us than we are to pray for ourselves.

It would be a serious error to construe this as an expression of “cheap grace.” Yet we must never settle for tawdry grace, grace trivialized, so that the wonder of it becomes routine. I certainly did nothing to deserve Jesus’ sacrifice for me, but it would show a frightful misunderstanding, wouldn’t it, if I showed up at the crucifixion expecting people to hug me and tell me I needn’t be afraid or sad. The lover of souls is condemned and dead. It would be horribly grotesque to hold hands and skip in a ring.

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Kitsch and Repentance

I have what some would probably think is a snooty attitude about guitars in church. One would think all that need be said has been said. Still, I have never succeeded in getting across the real reason for my objection. It is not merely a matter of taste. I think it is a matter of ecclesiology; of conceptions about the church itself, some of which are actually harmful to people.

If my warnings have any basis in fact, it is this: folksy “praise” invites the people into a regressive mindset toward the faith, of a piece with the “family” language which one hears so often. Meanwhile, according to Matthew, Jesus has some pretty harsh things to say about family and how it runs afoul of faith. Think our gay and feminist friends, who should be among the first to agree, because family talk bllithely excludes people who have no aspirations to conventional family. Our agreed favorite hymn, number 140/141, contains language about seducing others into sin.

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