“We are here to love” (Von Balthasar)

I stumbled onto these remarks by Von Balthasar while reading Edward Oakes this evening. Ponder this:

The calling to love is an absolute one, admitting of no exception, and so ineluctable that failure to observe it is tantamount to total corruption. Let there

be no doubt. We are here to love—to love God and love our neighbor. Whoever will unravel the meaning of existence must accept this fundamental principle from whose center light is shed on all the dark recesses of our loves. For this love to which we are called is no a circumscribed or limited love, not a love defined, as it were, by the measure of our human weaknesses. It does not allow us to submit just one part of our lives to its demands and leave the rest free for other pursuits; it does not allow us to dedicate just one period of our lives to it and the rest, if we will, to our own interests. The command to love is universal and unequivocal. It makes no allowances. It encompasses and makes demands upon everything in our nature: “with thy whole heart, with all they soul, and with all thy mind.” (Christian State of Mind, p. 27. Quoted in E. Oakes, A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies [Eerdmans, 2016], p. 45).

Oakes brings Balthasar into his treatment of grace to emphasis that grace is about love, but not in the romantic sense. And I must say, this just seems incredibly important to me at the moment.

I have been editing an anthology on the doctrine of grace for several years  now, and I see more clearly than ever the incredible continuity across the range of Christian thought when it comes to grace. Sure, there are differences in how the doctrine of grace is refracted by particular thinkers given their place in the Christian tradition. Given the continuity I see, what troubles me is the utterly sad state of the doctrine of grace in the lives of most Christians I interact with. Much work needs to be done at the level of parish ministry. Oakes writes,

The word grace is, ultimately, a matter of love; but not love in the romantic sense, a protection against the cold winds of existence, the kind of love the poet Matthew Arnold speaks of in “Dover Beach.” No, this is a love that demands, that goes beyond nature and its capacities, that makes no exceptions and brooks no opposition (A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies, p. 44).

Here’s my gut instinct on the state of grace in Protestant evangelicalism. The doctrine of grace is either a totally empty doctrine, or a doctrine that does absolutely everything but isn’t anchored anywhere. Oh, it is given some relation to the Cross, but that’s about it, which should trouble us, right? The crucifixion of Jesus isn’t an isolated event in God’s economy of salvation. Thus I hear Christians talk about grace with no real sense of what it means, specifically of how it’s anchored in the divine life. It means “unmerited favor” from God (good start) but no further can anyone go. Or, it’s a doctrine that does everything: all is grace and grace is the answer to everything. Yet, the doctrine floats unmoored from any real Christian teaching about God: his triune nature, the economy of salvation, sanctification, etc.

I offer no quick fix here. I simply have a burden to see young pastors and old alike go back to the doctrine of grace and do their homework, prayerfully and with some good cheer. Let the witness of Christ’s mission speak to the doctrine of grace, and let it lead us back to God’s utterly sufficient life from which grace arises toward us.  There is some careful doctrinal reflection needed here to be sure, so let’s not delay and let’s allow the fruit of that thinking to inform our counseling, preaching, apologetics, dogmatic theology, teaching, etc.

By the way, I see that kind of prayerful, careful reflection in the work of Edward Oakes I was reading tonight.

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One thought on ““We are here to love” (Von Balthasar)

  1. Pingback: Weekender: May 27, 2017 – Theology Forum

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