Marian, servant of God,[i] by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ[ii] and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,[iii]
to Constant Readers:[iv]
I have heard of your faithfulness, good looks, feats of strength, and general thingness.[v] So…good job and keep circulating those tapes.
It’s been several months since you heard from me. If this was first century Palestine, you’d attribute the hiatus to slow postal service or me getting eaten by lions somewhere, but thankfully, we’re two thousand years beyond all that, except, possibly, for slow postal service. Lo, these last many weeks, I’ve been immersed in deep and significant higher learning about Presbyterian polity,[vi] creeds, and confessions,[vii] Biblical Greek,[viii] and Paul’s seminal epistle to the Romans. It is in regards to Romans that I write you today.
The book of Romans has been freaking people out for centuries. A madcap hybrid fund-raising letter/theological treatise written in characteristically incomprehensible Pauline Greek,[ix] the book of Romans kept Augustine up nights, inspired Luther to pound his historic list of grievances to the Wittenberg door, gave Calvin the idea of dressing up as a doubly predestined sinner for Halloween – a totally depraved act which, as we all know, led him to invent the Protestant Reformation[x] – and gave Barth something to read in his free time when he wasn’t pissing off the Third Reich.
After two months of dogged study, I am now fully qualified to stand shoulder to shoulder with these theological grandmasters and share my view of what, clearly, is the principal take-home message of this famous letter:
Grace, baby, grace.
Oozing through this letter is the theme of God’s grace, which Paul presents alternately as a) God’s faithfulness to Israel and b) God’s justification of Christ-followers’ through forgiveness of sins. N.T. Wright, an epicure and soldier on the front lines of the new-perspective-on-Paul, doesn’t see much of a difference between the two: “Dealing with sin, saving humans from it, giving them grace, forgiveness, justification, glorification – all this was the purpose of the single covenant from the beginning, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.”[xi] Pretty much this means that God had it all figured out for all of us a long time ago and we can just get over our damn selves.
Now, I know that some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but what predestination?” As a good Calvinist, I turn to Barth.[xii] He said that humanity’s love for God originates in God, who exists outside chronological time, so a temporal human life can’t predicate predestined outcomes because in the mind of God, whatever we’re hurtling toward is already reality, so we can just get over our damn selves. And anyway, God gets to pick no matter what and because God’s faithfulness and love surpass human belief or unbelief, we can stop worrying and just get over our damn selves.
Yes, yes, some of you are going to the dark side. What about double predestination you say? Paul sums it up best:
Nothing, you name it, separates us from God’s love. Not even twerking.[xiii]
So, rejoice. Let’s get over our damn selves and enjoy God’s grace, peace, and general thingness. Amen.
[i] Stop laughing. I’m doing homage to a classic literary form here.
[ii] Please don’t hold this post against Jesus. He’s been held against enough posts.
[iii] In the cunning guise of Rail Yard Red Ale and Frito pie.
[iv] Or Re-Readers, to which you’ve been reduced to since this blog hasn’t seen two microseconds worth of action in six frickin’ months.
[v] I also heard something about the Guinness people, a deacon clearly operating without adequate adult supervision, and a hot dog eating contest, but since you didn’t break the current record of six hot dogs consumed in under three minutes, I really don’t think that’s something we should broadly advertise.
[vi] Because, loosey goosey as our theology may be, by God, all Presbyterian pastors know how to run a decent and orderly meeting.
[vii] These are kind of like Presbyterian fight songs. For example: “Rah, rah, ree! Total depravity! Rah, rah, rent! Limited atonement! Rah, rah, race! Irresistible grace!” We have pompons and everything.
[viii] One of the peculiar hazing rituals to which Presbyterian candidates for ordination are subjected.
[ix] Through an aneurysm-inducing cocktail of participles, serial clauses, and run-on sentences, Paul makes his point in Koine Greek at least as well as I make mine in English with liberal applications of footnotes and semicolons.
[x] And Protestants have been protesting ever since.
[xi] From N.T. Wright’s latest New York Times bestseller, Justification: Twenty Centuries of Low-Fat Cooking on the Road to Damascus, p. 95.
[xii] While avoiding Calvin himself and his five centuries of bad press.
[xiii] Romans 8:38-39, slightly abbreviated and nominally paraphrased.
(c) Marian the Seminarian, 2014