Horton on Grace (2)

More good stuff from Michael Horton’s article in the most recent issue of Modern Reformation Magazine:

“We work very hard today to make grace normal rather than utterly disorienting. We bend over backward backwards to show how Christianity is ‘practical,’ how it conforms to our common sense and moral intuitions. ‘Practical Christianity’ (deeds, not creeds) is touted, although the actual practice of Christians is, according to the statistics, indistinguishable from that of non-Christians. The ‘righteousness that is by works’ looks for somewhere to go and something to do, while ‘the righteousness of faith’ receives Christ as he comes to us in the gospel (Rom. 10:1-13)…

“Sharing a common heritage in the revivalism of Charles Finney, mainline and evangelical Protestants have trouble being recipients of grace. The church becomes an army of activists – social engineers, moral reformers, event planners, life coaches – rather than a theater of grace where God has the lead role. As a result, the focus is not on how God gets to us (the logic of grace) but on ‘inducements sufficient to convert sinners with,’ as Finney put it, following his basically Pelagian view of the moral ability of fallen people. Finney’s Systematic Theology explicitly denies original sin and insists that the power of regeneration lies in the sinner’s own hands…”

This, by the way is not far from the common conception held by many evangelicals, particularly Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Methodists, and Southern Baptists. Many of us grew up learning from well meaning pastors that being born again (regeneration) comes about as a result of something we do. But this is remarkably different from the teaching of Jesus. In answer to Nicodemas’ inquiry on how to gain eternal life in heaven Jesus said, “You must be born again” (or, “from above”). What a wonderful metaphor for regeneration! Is there anything with which we have less to do than our birth? Jesus is assaulting Nicodemus’ “can-do” approach to salvation; an approach that many evangelicals share. To further drive home the point that the miracle of regeneration is an act entirely of God’s free will, Jesus added, “The wind (a reference to the Holy Spirit) blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Horton goes on:
“American evangelicalism seems at least in its most popular forms today to be a version of spiritual technology – almost magic, with every new movement and best-selling author offering his or her own ‘Ten Steps’ to harnessing God’s power. In this context, grace is less God’s favor shown to sinners on account of Christ than the opportunity God has provided for greater spiritual and moral power if we cooperate properly, using our free will. John Newton the slave trader may indeed have been a ‘wretch,’ but surely not I…

“Grace can only be recognized in the face of Christ, for there the strangeness of God, of ourselves, and God’s method of redemption converge. Counter-intuitive, disruptive, and unsettling, the grace defined by Golgotha requires an entirely new set of presuppositions about God, ourselves, and how the relationship works. Yet the measure of the sheer gratuity of God’s grace is that it even gives us those new presuppositions in the very act of being given. Grace is God’s refusal to allow us to define ourselves or to have the last word. Rather, it is the surprising announcement that salvation is ‘not the result of human decision or effort, but of God who shows mercy’ (Rom. 9:16).”