Balancing Grace with Righteousness

Wesley Memorial Church, a Methodist church in Oxford, where the Wesley brothers studied.Image via Wikipedia
The recent Whiteboard Sessions event in May yielded an interesting comparison between two "camps" of ministry. Ben Arment, the founder of the Whiteboard program, writes the following:
Bringing diverse leaders together for Whiteboard showed me something about the church landscape in America: There's such a huge chasm in ministry between those who advocate the holiness of God and those who advocate the grace of God.
Hmm, holiness and grace camps? What do mean by this?

This sparked a memory...I remembered in my "read later" bookmarks this earlier entry on Missio Dei: the two camps of church. Jonathan is writing a bit out of John Eldredge's book Walking with God. Eldredge's take is that there are two basic camps out of which churches operate.

(1) The righteousness camp (Arment's language is "holiness" camp)
  • “The first is the the holiness or “righteous” crowd. They are the folks holding up the standard, preaching a message of moral purity. The results have been…mixed. Some morality, and a great deal of guilt and shame.”
(2) The grace camp
  • “Their message is that we can’t hope to satisfy a holy God, but we are forgiven. We are under grace. And praise the living God, we are under grace. But what about holiness? What about deep personal change?”
I'm not sure I'm with this dichotomy when we start defining the terms. Holiness is defined as righteous living. Righteousness as opposed to grace? Grace has nothing to do with works! Grace is the unearned love of God. For Methodists, grace is never earned. Prevenient grace gives us God's love before we are aware of it, Justifying grace is given when we commit our lives to Christ, and Sanctifying grace gives us strength as we seek righteousness, not because we earn it.

As you can see above, grace already includes righteous living in the Wesleyan theological system. But the critical difference between the "grace" camp and the "righteousness" camp is that we act in righteous ways in response to God's grace, not to earn God's grace.

Rather than seek to redeem the grace camp and etch out this subtext, Jonathon (Missio Dei) posits a third way as as he concludes his write-up:
[A]s John points out, neither is wholistic. He points to a third way found in whole restoration that embraces grace but seeks wholeness. This is for me true spirituality, a grace that seeks restoration found in surrendering to His Spirit.
I'd love to read more! In the meantime, I would have to read more about Eldredge's book. Because the thing is, Ben from the first quote tries to find a third way too...and I'm not sure I'm with him:
If we truly understood the Gospel, we'd look at the cross and see the perfect collision of grace and holiness. The righteous wrath of God satisfied by his unconditional grace.
Count me out of "third ways" that are hipper versions of satisfaction atonement.

Thoughts?
  • Is there a dichotomy between grace and righteous crowds who value one or the other?
  • Can grace better include righteousness in ways that a "third way" cannot hope to balance?
Thanks for your thoughts, and welcome to HX.net!

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2 comments:

Justin Long June 12, 2008 at 7:38 PM  

Interesting post. I've known people who go to the extreme, who effectively live one-sided lives on this issue. In fact, I've known some who've gone to the extreme on the holiness side (virtually to the point of earning Christianity), then had a terrible breakdown in their life, and then swung to the opposite extreme of grace. I think you have to "hold the two extremes in tension." Perhaps more crudely: there's no need for grace without the demand for holiness, and no possibility of holiness without grace. To be "whole" you need to recognize both...?

Chris Harmon,  June 12, 2008 at 9:29 PM  

To give the layman/armchair philosopher's view on it:

I think perhaps the balance comes from recognition of a responsibility one has to grace. Even one such as I, ever the agnostic and skeptic, cannot help but realize the presence of grace at times, whatever its origin and nature. The occasions in which I experience that grace, and the feeling arising from it, instill in me the sense of a certain "debt of honor" to said grace.

I routinely fall far short of that debt, and perhaps I may never even the balance in my lifetime. But I think it is from the awareness of this responsibility that genuine greatness arises in people. By "great" I don't necessarily mean famous, globally-impacting individuals. I simply mean those whose lives leave a section of the world better than where they found it, however large that section may be.

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