It's about God's grace - not transactionalism

In this post I quote from Capon's book, The Mystery of Christ...And Why We Don't Get It, where Capon says his reason for writing is... protest against...a [theological] model I choose to call transactionalism, and to witness to a better model based on the Mystery of Christ" p. 23).
For Capon, this "mystery" is the real presence of God in his reconciling grace throughout every particle of the cosmos (including every human life) made evident now in Jesus Christ. This Jesus - the fullness of Grace and Truth - is the Eternal Son of God: the Word, Creator, Sustainer, Judge and Savior of all the cosmos - now manifested to us and for us through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and parousia.

It is this mystery - the real and redeeming presence of God, in Christ in all the cosmos - that forms the basis for Capon's view of the Gospel (and thus his theology) as being not about transactions that are causitive of God's grace, but about God's grace already present in the cosmos in and through Jesus that is received (experienced) by us through faith (trust). Following are relevant quotes from Capon's book (page numbers noted).

-Ted Johnston
If you are wise [you will hold to]...a theological model not one based on transactions like earning, working, deserving, or any other tit-for-tat operation. Rather it will be based on the imagery of a free gift already given, without condition, to everybody - a gift hidden in every particle of creation, a gift that goes by the name of the Mystery of Christ... a reconciling gift hidden throughout creation... not a transaction poked into the universe that previously didn't have the benefit of it.... It is a cosmic dispensation that has been present at all times and in all places but 'kept secret for ages and generations' (Rom. 16:25). It is a dispensation, in fact, that has been hidden 'from the foundation of the world' (Matt. 13:35), or even 'before the foundation of the world' (Eph. 1:4) until it could finally be revealed in Jesus.

In other words, the mysterious, reconciling grace that was revealed in Jesus is not something that got its act in gear for the first time in Jesus; rather, it is a feature of the very constitution of the universe - a feature that was there all along, for everybody and everything. And it was there, Christians believe, because the Person who manifests himself finally and fully in Jesus' humanity is none other than the Word of God, the Second Person of the Three Persons in One God who is intimately and immediately present to every scrap of creation from start to finish (p. 25-26).

We are accepted in the Beloved, because of Jesus only, not because of anything we do (p. 6).

[Our] promises to God...are not capable of getting us either accepted by God or damned by God. Acceptance, according to the Gospel, is a free gift bestowed on a world full of four flushers. And it's given to them despite their four flushing, right in the midst of their four flushing. It is not a reward for hotshot behavior in the promise-keeping department. And damnation is not a punishment for breaking promises to God - or even for breaking the commandments of God himself; it's a consequence of stupidly throwing away the free gift of acceptance (p. 4).

Luther said, 'No man can know or feel he is saved; he can only believe it.' And believing - trusting - is simply something you decide to do. It's not something you can con yourself into with arguments; it's a blind 'yes' to somebody who offers you a fabulous deal for reasons you can't know anything about (p. 7).

Jesus didn't say he came to judge sinners, or even to turn them into non-sinners; he said he came to save them. And the rest of the New Testament makes it quite clear that his salvation works by grace through faith, not by frightening people into getting their act together (p. 18).

...If the Gospel is about anything, it is about a God who meets us where we are, not where we ought to be - "while we were still sinners," as Paul said...(p. 21).

The true Good News is that God works in bad news (p. 21).

...The concept of God as an angry, unforgiving parent - and his church as a domineering grown-up issuing threats to willful kids - is bad news, not Gospel. Such concepts inculcate only fear: fear of God, and then fear of our own freedom. They lead not to liberty of the children of God, to the freedom with which Christ has set us free, but to a servile mentality that kills courage and breeds resentment (p. 22).

How does the death and resurrection of Jesus (an event that, on the face of the biblical narrative, happened some two thousand years ago) make itself operative in your life here and now...? (p. 23)....You may have assumed, for example, that because the gift of grace in Jesus' death and resurrection is something you receive by faith, this gift is something you do not have until you make the act of faith. In other words, you may have assumed that the gift starts out by being in one person (namely Jesus) and not in anybody else, and that it enters the lives of other persons only after the completion of some suitable transaction on their part. And this assumption, if you continue to hold it, will lead you down the garden path to a theology that is clean contrary to some of the most fundamental points in the New Testament. Because despite the fact that both the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle to the Galatians make it quite clear that the gift of grace operates by faith alone and not by works, you have for all practical purposes converted faith into a species of work. You have turned it into something that needs to be done before the gift can in fact be bestowed...You have said, in short, that it must be earned...

In building this [erroneous] theological have opened yourself to the idea that the church is the fellowship of those who have the gift and that the rest of the world is just a crowd of outcasts who don't have it. Even though you may go on saying in church that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, you are actually holding that he has taken away only the sins of the church (p. 24-25).

Your in no way the cause of the gift; the only thing it can possibly have any causal connection with is your enjoyment of the gift (p. 26).


Anonymous said…
This blog entry on transactionalism is indeed an intriguing one. However, I feel a need to offer a word of caution here. You see, and while it may not seem like much, there is most definitely a transactional element to the new way in Jesus Christ. I offer this observation because, without noting this, we may end up with a vagueness as to what the faith once delivered to the saints is. The fact is that we are now under the New Covenant, and a covenant is an agreement (You do this--I do that) between parties. But this New Covenant is most different from what went before, as Paul tells us:

2 Cor 3:6-18--He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)

What Paul is saying here is that this New Covenant (agreement) is not like the Old Covenant. If fact, Paul is saying the every vestige of that Old Covenant must be turned from if we want to be able to see and radiant Jesus. Furthermore, Paul tells us that our turning is based on something, which something is:

Gal 5:6--For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (NIV)

John, in turn, fleshes this out for us so that we can get the point:

I Jn 3:21-24--Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (NIV)

The point I am making is that both the Old and the New Covenants are indeed agreements. One is based on the law; the other is based on faith expressing itself in love. These latter features are unilaterally given to us by God by His will through Jesus Christ.
They are also given to us so that we can participate in the New Covenant and therefore fulfill the transaction between us and God.

But doesn’t this transaction imply a certain “exclusivity” for those who have engaged in this transaction? Absolutely! Please note the distinction Jesus made to His disciples on the love one another point:

John 13:34-35--"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV)

The idea is that those on the “outs” will be able to look into the community of believers and see a testimony as to who Jesus’ disciples are by the internal love they have for one another. And of note, this love one for another was one of the chief elements, which attracted converts to the early church.

With this all said, it must be remembered that the goal is to get everyone into “exclusivity” as a son or daughter of God through belief in the name of Jesus Christ and love for those who share that belief.

The best to you always!

J. Richard Parker
and then we made the act of turning from the old covenant to the new covenant a work. I feel it is more like, once God reveals the new covenant, the turning happens automatically. All works are fully finished...keeping that in mind, there are no shoulds, woulds, coulds, have to, need to, got to anything...there are truth and lies, and damnable lies, and any language that speaks of compulsion, requirement or transaction is a damnable one. In the Jewish model, covenant was irrevocable, and in the covenant with Abraham, which our New Covenant is modeled after, it required absolutely nothing from him.