Grace as Jesus, not Juice and Crackers

*Repost on John Calvin number eight.

In the regular understanding of God’s grace and created nature; nature is often construed in ways that it is latent with capacity for a ‘perfecting grace’. The effect of this kind of thinking is to collapse grace (or ‘created grace’) into nature itself; thus absolutizing grace, through nature, in a way that makes it an abstract quality of nature and thus a de-personalized framing of “salvation” accrues when shaped by this kind of lens. In simple terms, grace
is collapsed into nature; so that it no longer is grounded in the ‘personal nature’ of our Triune God. Julie Canlis comments on how Calvin’s understanding re-introduces a Trinitarian and ‘personalising’ understanding that is contra-posed with the Tradition (e.g. that ‘collapses’ grace into nature — ‘de-personal’):

. . . If we remember our earlier discussion of Aquinas, his ordering of the Prima, Secunda, and Tertia Partes carried an implication about the inherent capacity of nature for grace, where created forms carried within them a natural yearning for God, a homing device of sorts. Motivated by his desire to take creation seriously as a realm of God’s grace and goodness, Aquinas formed an ontology that led him to invest created forms with “vestiges” of God. Over the years, these forms — the imago, humanity, the soul, the sacraments — became larger than life: instead of pointing people to the God in whom they participated (and upon whom the forms depended for their very essence), they began to segregate people from God. They became substitutes for his presence rather than what mediated is presence. Calvin realized that for all of high scholasticism’s attempts to make grace central, the result was a depersonalized grace, a grace that had no need of the person of Christ. That supreme miracle of God’s freedom and grace, the incarnation, deteriorated into the basis for a claim about nature’s capacity for grace. Not only was God’s freedom and sovereignty curtailed, but reality stopped being an event of communion. Each instance of grace was no longer God freely choosing again and again to give himself to humanity and the created order; rather, this became a “principle” inherent in the order itself. Thus we can see that, for Calvin, God’s freedom and transcendence is a necessary component of his larger relationship to the world characterized by communion. (Julie Canlis, “Calvin’s Ladder,” 69)

Layman’s Interpretation

When grace is made into something that you can physically drink (like grape juice or wine), and something physically eat (like bread); then it becomes something that you and I can shape and manipulate. We can pour more juice or less, we can break the bread into small pieces or bigger. The point being, by implication, grace becomes a thing that we can determine through our own sensibilities. Grace in this scenario is not a someOne, and thus it becomes an ‘it’ that is depersonalised; no longer grounded in the personal Triune God of life and the living.

In short, if we think of grace as something other than ‘who’ comes in Jesus Christ; we will fall prey to views of salvation that starts with us, and grace becomes a “grocery” by which “we” choose to “cooperate” with God, or not. If we operate with this conception of grace, then we will place ‘Law’ before grace; as the instrument through which we are able to cooperate with God (through grace). Worst of all, if we think of grace this way, then Jesus Himself — in the Incarnation — just becomes the ‘Instrument’ of God through whom God is able to procure or purchase salvation through meeting the demands set out by grace.

Okay, so the “layman’s interpretation” didn’t turn out so “layman;” sorry, I’m trying 😉 .

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5 Responses to Grace as Jesus, not Juice and Crackers

  1. Robert Montgomery says:

    I love your layman’s interpretation!

    Sent from Bob Montgomery


  2. Bobby Grow says:

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks 🙂 . I still plan on responding to your email on Judas, hopefully by this Thursday.


  3. Pingback: Julie canlis | Mendocinophoto

  4. Wayne says:

    This reminds me of Joshua 3:11 which literally reads, “Behold, the ark of the covenant, the LORD of all the earth.” Most translations place an “of” instead of a comma, but the Hebrew is pretty specific that the two phrases are in apposition to one another. The point being that the ark as a means of grace was a means of real presence. This notion of grace being some ethereal “stuff” rather than Christ himself undermines one’s sacramental theology as well. $.02


  5. Bobby Grow says:

    Great insight, Wayne … thanks.


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