Friday, October 24, 2008

The Beatitudes: Idealistic vs Grace-Based Porphetic Interpretation

Taken this straight from the book, Following Jesus in Contemporary Context: Kingdom Ethics by Glen H. Stassen & David P. Gushee:

Many have interpreted the Beatitudes idealistically, saying they are high ideals that Jesus is urging us to live up to: if only we would mourn, be pure in heart, be peacemakers and so on, then we would be rewarded. This is the ethics of idealism: "if only people would act according to these ideals, then good things will happen.".....

If we think we do live up to these ideals, we fall into self-righteousness....

We undersatnd them as a set of ideals floating above our heads, imposing an ethic on us from above us that does not fit our real struggles. They are foreign to our nature, like a suit of armor that does not fit our body, or a job that does not fit our gifts and interests. We try to make our reality fit the ideals, but it simply does not fit... (page 33)

A Grace-Based Prophetic Interpretation

Guelich argued that Beatitudes should be interpreted not as wisdom teachings but as prophetic teachings. Wisdom teachings emphasize human action that is wise because it fits God's way of ordering the world and therefore gets us good results. Prophetic (or eschatological) teachings emphasize God's action that delivers (rescues, frees, releases) us from mourning into rejoicing.

Is Jesus saying, "happy are those who mourn, because mourning makes htem virtuous and so they will get the reward that virtuous people deserve"? Or is he saying, "Congratulations to those who mourn, because God is gracious and God is acting to deliver us from our sorrows"?

Some have erroneously taken grace to imply passivity, disempowerment of those who receive God's grace: if God is giving grace, it means that we are doing nothing. And if we are doing something, if we are acting in conformity with God's will, it must not be grace. This sets God's grace and our disciplesihp in opposition, as rivals. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this "cheap grace"....It is grace without repentance, grace without concrete change in our way of relating to others, grace without cost to us. It is "easy believism"...

A central theme in Bonhoeffer's writing is participation in what God is doing in Christ. Through God's grace in Christ, we become active participants in Gods grace, and Christ taks shape in us...It is like the cripple by the pool of Bethesda or Bethzatha (John 5:2-9): he could not walk until Jesus delivered them; then he was empowered to move, to participate in the deliverance that Jesus brought.

The shape of grace is Christ taking form in us. We participate by answering Jesus' gracious call: come follow me. This is not cheap grace, nor is it works-righteousness. (page 34 -36).

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