Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Grace and Unity

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” I Corinthians 1:10 (NIV)

A few days ago Douglas and I were in a discussion over an apparent difference. He said something like this: “When talking across a theological divide it is difficult to communicate when we hear what is said with our own definitions while the person who is speaking is using his definitions.”

We both realized the truth of this. What is the solution?

In normal serious communication the burden is on the communicator. If he wishes to be understood he will speak with the definitions of his hearers. That is true for all nations except America. Americans expect everyone to speak and hear in English. If we really want them to understand our message we must either learn their language or get an interpreter. If I were an interpreter I would seek for words that are identical, or very close, to the meaning of the words being translated.

Not so in theological dialogue. Each person wants to use the word with his own definition and wants to hear with his own definition. This is not only a cause of misunderstanding, it is a cause of willful misunderstanding.

However, if I were willing to use the hearer’s definition of my word “grace” in order to be understood, it would not be the word “grace”. If I used the word “grace” he would hear it with his own definition and therefore would think I was saying something I was not saying.

In order to use the word “grace” I must come up with a common definition or use a word that means what I am saying.

Sometimes there is the same word in the same language with very different meanings. When Lucy was in the wardrobe, C. S. Lewis wrote, “It was almost quite dark.” That did not make sense to me. “Quite” in American English means “almost”. To me he was saying “almost almost”. “Quite” in English English means “absolutely” or “completely”.

In theological dialogue neither side wants to give up the word “grace” because it is the single biblical word that provides the righteousness that comes from God (and every other need we have which we cannot provide ourselves). When the word is used this way in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ people are justified. It is a common definition. People are saved by this common definition of the word. If we talked with each other with this common definition there would be “unity in mind and thought.”

However, when we add adjectives to the word we tweak the definition. Two of the most frequently used adjectives are “sovereign” and “free”.

Common Definition:

Grace is a saving gift from God that provides God’s righteousness to people who do not deserve it now and could not deserve it ever. It is provided by the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Sovereign” adds to the definition of the following: “God provides this saving grace selectively in advance by His own purpose. It cannot be refused or rejected by the selected person.”

“Free” adds to the common definition of the following: “God provides this saving grace universally. It is required, but not forced upon the sinner. It is optional because it is free.”

These additions do not provide “unity in mind and thought.” They have been arrived at by deduction. They are not explicit in the Bible. The additions are not saving.

They are not both right.

They could be both wrong.

Both groups preach the common definition to the lost. Lets preach it to each other.

(Taken from Day & Night)

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