Grace Defined

The other day, I stumbled upon an interesting piece of blogging satire. I have to confess, I usually LOVE satire–so much so, that in college I wrote a 40-page undergrad thesis on the 18th-century satirist, Jonathan Swift. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this piece to be particularly funny.

See, the title of the post is called “Post-Evangelical Blogging for Dummies.” And I just so happen to be a post-evangelical blogger. Well, sort of. I’m post-evangelical in that I reject the counterproductive culture of shame and fear that evangelicalism often promotes. Beyond that, I retain my faith in the Holy Spirit, Christ’s redemption of sin, the importance of witnessing, and adhering to the Bible’s commands.

But post-evangelical Christians, as a whole, aren’t being portrayed in such a light. Instead, we’re called the “disaffected semi-faithful,” among other not-so-flattering things. Now, the (pseudonymous) writer, Mr. Holgrave, claims to have aimed his satire at a particular post by another blogger. But the average reader wouldn’t know that from the context. It simply appears that the writer is mocking all post-evangelical bloggers–portraying them as emotional, uncommitted posers who blanch at the word “sin.”

I could spend 5 pages responding to such a satire, but I won’t. Instead, I want to address one particular point in the following:

The trick of post-evangelical blogging is to take the issue du jour, be it gay marriage, birth control, gun control, abortion, or assisted suicide,  and re-interpret it as a fundamental and authentic challenge to the assumptions of the suburban evangelicalism. […] Explain the personal conflict you experience between your evangelical roots and what you now truly believe is a devastating challenge to those formerly-held beliefs. Suggest that instead of being so quick to oppose the issue, Christians should extend “grace” (don’t define) and a “generous response.”

In short, the writer claims post-evangelical bloggers promote the idea of showing grace to others but never explain exactly what that means or what it should look like. Well, let me clear that up today.

What is Grace?

Normally, we hear the word “grace” within the context of Christ’s redemption. Grace is a gift. It frees us from sin. Grace stands in opposition to the Mosaic Law. But when the Bible says that our speech should always be “full of grace,” (Colossians 4:6) what does that mean? Does it mean we refuse to disagree? Avoid sticky topics? Tell people what they want to hear? Let’s see.

According to Strong’s, the word for grace in the Greek is “charis.” It’s taken from the word “chairo,” which means “cheerfulness.” The definition for “charis” is as follows:

graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstr. or concr.; lit., fig., or spiritual; espec. the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; incl. gratitude):– acceptable, benefit, favour, gift grace (-ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank (-s, worthy).

Here’s the definition for “chairo”:

to be “cheer” ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off; impers. espec. as salutation (on meeting or parting), be well:– farewell, be glad, God speed, greeting, hail, joy (-fully), rejoice.

Here’s how I interpret the above definitions. Whenever Christians speak to others “with grace”, their words and manner should be cheerful, calm and gracious. Their speech should reflect the divine influence of Christ in their lives. It should express joy and thanks. It should be acceptable and benefit those who hear it. It should greet others with genuine warmth and wish them well–even if they’re wretched sinners.

Does that mean affirming someone’s sin? No. If Christ has had an influence in our lives, our stance on things the Bible calls sin should come across clearly. The verse in Colossians says our speech should also be “seasoned with salt”–in other words, seasoned with the gospel. At the same time, it’s possible to love a person without approving of everything they do. It’s possible to say “I disagree” without being a hot-headed, condescending, spittle-spraying jerk.

In fact, if a Christian’s speech doesn’t fit the guidelines for grace, they are (biblically) out of line. God demands graceful speech from His followers. Period. No verse in the Bible provides an exception to this command. To anyone who can prove otherwise, I’ll send you $10.

I find it somewhat amusing that every time a post-evangelical blogger writes about how Christians should treat others with grace and dignity, hardline evangelicals start calling the faithfulness of such bloggers into question. They can’t seem to grasp the idea that some of us left evangelicalism in an effort to be more faithful to the gospel. Yes, the Bible commands us to abstain from sin. Absolutely. But it also demands that we respond to others with love and grace. If you’re doing one and not the other, no matter what side you’re coming from, you’re not embracing the whole gospel. Those who refuse to treat others with love and grace are just as much in the wrong as the Christians who endorse porn and open marriages.

I hope Mr. Holgrave finds my response to be satisfactory.

6 responses to “Grace Defined

  1. Unequivocally, ideal answer…
    A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair. (c)Abraham Joshua Heschel People

  2. Pingback: A Worthless Religion | Revolutionary Faith