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- Page 7

  • Abundance of Grace?

    No, not the dodgy theology that says sin more to get more grace, but just the abundance of stuff on/about grace and the intense mystery of what it must really be.

    This morning I have read no less than four entries in theological 'dictionaries' on grace.  So, the SCM dictionaries of Christian Theology, Ethics and Spirituality and the Oxford Companion to the Bible.  I could also read McGrath on this topic but not Grenz because I lent him to someone else, but my brain is already overflowing with what people think meant by the word 'grace' or the Hebrew and Greek words thus translated (hesed, hen, eleos and charis).


    Charis - gift, rejoicing, charm, beauty, kindness, goodwill, gratitude, favour, boon, gratification, delight

    Hesed - mercy, love, covenanted love

    From these comes a doctrine of grace as

    • undeserved election
    • new birth
    • adoption
    • incorporation in the body of Christ
    • bearing of fruit (charismata/'graces')

    Or, forgiveness coupled with participation in the divine life

    Or, forgiveness and ongoing transformation/empowerment

    And then, if this wasn't enough to boggle the old mind, a whole list of varieties of grace:

    • uncreated grace
    • created grace
    • habitual/sanctifying grace
    • actual grace
    • elevating grace
    • healing grace
    • prevenient grace
    • efficacious grace
    • sufficient grace

    And all that before we get onto the topics of 'means of grace' or 'irresistible/resistible grace' and the shenanigans they cause.

    I feel like rather than a couple of sermons, I have a whole undergraduate module here!  So, what am I going to do with it all?

    Firstly, to acknowledge the mystery (I seem to be getting fond that word at the moment) and complexity of the concept.  Then something about open-handedness of this gift - but even that is impossible to explain adequately (and I have no desire to go through the Calvin/Arminius debates).  Then something along the lines of it as transformative and leading to action as well as attitude.  I think the first week will introduce the theme and concentrate on the 'vertical' (us to God) dimension and the second week on the 'horizontal' (us in the world) dimension.  So in week 1 we'll pick up threads from  Romans (where else?!) although there will be some other stuff too.  In week 2 probably the story of David and Mephibosheth and/or the John 8 adulterous woman (thanks Angela and Julie).

    All in all, then reading has served it's usual purpose of confirming that there is a simple sermon to be preached on any topic - and it will simply be inadequate.  And now, back to trying to write the first sermon...

  • Florence and Theology?

    This is (metaphorical) thinking out loud. 

    This evening I half watched the Florence Nightingale dramatisation on BBC1, whilst completing a 'difficult' sudoko or two.  Whether this is a female multi-tasking approach to relaxation or just proof I'm stark staring bonkers I wouldn't like to guess.  What really struck me was how 'shot through' with God language the whole thing was, and how much blatant spirituality, if not theology, lay behind the story as told.  Needless to say, as I am pondering the potential for a more explicit writing of 'God' into denominational history, this broke through my stupor and got my grey cells whirring gently.

    Obviously, this was a dramatisation under a broadly 'entertainment' banner, not an attempt at serious history or serious theological reflection, but it was based on Florence Nightingale's own journals and letters, so it had a solid basis in historical documents.  It was also biography - or autobiography - so to skip over the religious elements would have been to ignore a large chunk of Florence's self understanding.  Maybe it is more OK for biography to simply report the 'God stuff' than it is for history?  But there some big themes in there - about how one discerns God's will, about the permissibility or otherwise of human frailty and failure, about how God responds to prayer.  They weren't explored, they were simply laid open for the viewer to consider - or not.

    So, if it is OK for (auto)biography to explicitly use God language and to explore, or tiptoe round the edge of, theological themes, then why not religious history?  I think there are lots of complex things to consider and combine in some way, shape or form.  I accept fully that historians have no independent of means of verifying whether God did or did not act/speak in a certain situation and therefore can't use blatant God language, yet as people like Paul Fiddes have suggested, sometimes we just catch a glimpse of God's back - something that a few theologies of history concede may be admissible, albeit having ruled out other explanations.  But - and here's where the boundaries start to get somewhat fuzzy in my muddled little brain - if 'history it a set of stories we tell about ourselves' (Rowan Williams) and if this is something about us being part of the story/stories as well as being shaped by it/them, then it has some sort of (auto)biographical character and maybe should be a bit more overtly 'Goddish'? 

    Is there maybe some sort of continuum from autobiography via biography to family history to community history .... etc so that there comes a point when the spiritual dimension ceases to be something that a writer is confidently - or competently - able to express? 

    Also, (I'm on a roll now!) what is the relationship of biography to oral history?  Presumably there is some sort of fuzzy boundary between the two?  If, in recording an oral history, people attribute actions or experiences to divine agency how does the historian then handle this?  And are more people like to talk of God's involvement than they are to write about it?

    What intrigued me about the Florence Nightingale dramatisation was its post modern refusal to tell the viewer what to do with the image of her that had been portrayed.  We were left with the traditional Lady with the Lamp (as expressed via musical comedy) juxtaposed with her own sense of failure and guilt (coupled with a degree of collusion in not making public some of the findings).

    Going off at a complete tangent, I was intrigued by the dramatised conversation with the nun who was recruited to go out with Florence to Scutari.  If this was an authentic portrayal of practical ecumenism all that time ago, it is a sad indictment that we have not moved further in a century.

    I don't think any of this will help much with what I need to be writing at the moment, but it is all grist to the mill, and suggests that just maybe I am on to something worthwhile in what I am trying to achieve.