Uncovering Jesus' Free Grace message.

Is Free Grace Odd? So What?

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Robert W. Jenson (1930–2017) was considered by some to be America’s “best” theologian. That means he was a theologian’s theologian who wrote for other professors at elite institutions.

And Jenson didn’t make the reading easy. Virtually every sentence is a distillation of his encyclopedic knowledge of theological history. If you’re not equally at home with Ezekiel, Gregory Nazianzen, Hegel, and Barth (and I certainly am not!), he’s difficult to follow.

Jenson was widely admired, but he took some minority views.

You see, he was extremely Christ-centered (which is why I’m interested in him). You could say he was passionate about arguing for the “evangelization of metaphysics.” Put simply, he wanted to show that instead of interpreting Jesus in light of reality, we should interpret all of reality, including God, in light of Jesus. That experiment in theology led him to many conclusions that put him in the extreme minority, where he often disagreed with the great figures of theology, and they disagreed with him. But is the oddity of his views a good reason to reject them?

Lincoln Harvey, in a brilliantly written overview of Jenson’s work, said this:

Of course, the greatest theologians have said something different. Of course, that makes it look like Jenson gets it completely wrong. But that is partly Jenson’s point. He thinks orthodoxy has never been decided by the rule of a timid majority but is instead ‘opposed to a culture’s common sense’—sometimes even that of the most faithful Christians. As a result, the oddity of Jenson’s proposal isn’t enough to reject it. We need to find better reasons than that” (Harvey, Jesus in the Trinity, p. 12).

Being a minority position may be a reason to reject it, but it’s not a good reason.

I quote that in defense of Free Grace Theology.

Yes, we take a minority position on the nature of salvation by grace. Yes, the “greatest” theologians in church history would disagree with us that salvation is by faith without any admixture of works. But being a minority position is not a good enough reason to show that we’re wrong (nor is it a good reason to think we’re right, as though having a minority view in itself proves that we’re the faithful remnant).

Jenson was described as “a theologian who takes Jesus seriously” (p. 7). We take Jesus seriously, too—at least regarding the saving message and the kingdom. Jesus taught that believing in Him was the only condition to have eternal life (e.g., John 3:15-18), but that other conditions were necessary to receive, inherit, and rule in His coming kingdom (e.g., Matt 6:19-21; Luke 19:11ff). Free Grace Theology understands that, or tries to, while it seems to me that most academic theology ignores it or misunderstands it, being too caught up in other issues.

Free Grace may be odd, but it’s true.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


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