I just loved John Dehlin’s latest interview with Shawn McCraney. I’ve followed both of their work with great interest for years. They bring up the age-old grace vs. works issue, which always compels me to speak, because I don’t ever hear my point of view quite verbalized. I’m interested in the thoughts of this very thoughtful crowd.
SHORT VERSION: If all we do is get in the boat, Christ will row us to the other side. But if we’re anxious to meet God face to face, there is an extra oar in the boat with our name on it.
1. EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS emphasize that “Grace is sufficient” and we are helpless to save ourselves. In response, people often ask, “Why would you continue to be good if you’re already saved and it doesn’t matter what you do?” The response is often, “We do good works out of gratitude to God.”
2. MORMONS say that we are “saved by Grace after all that we can do”. I think Shawn McCraney has a valid concern that Mormon people are burdened by the belief that they need to do all these things to become exalted. I’ve heard so many dear Mormon friends (some physically or mentally ill with severe limitations) gnash their teeth in fear that they had not “done all they could do” and would fail in God’s eyes or miss out on living with God. I hope and pray for the message in Stephen E. Robinson’s Believing Christ to permeate Mormon culture. In that book he describes that Grace is in fact sufficient, and that being in partnership with Christ is like having a bank account with infinity. Any amount times infinity is infinity. It’s not up to us to save ourselves, but it is up to us to be fully engaged in the process as our way of saying “yes” to that partnership.
3. EASTERN PHILOSOPHY emphasizes that our spiritual goals are attained by personal effort and choices, but also includes the idea of Grace in places. In my yoga class this week we read from the Bagivad Gita a passage emphatically urging disciples that no progress will come, save from our own effort. (In much of Eastern Philosophy, “works” are Knowledge, Selfless Service, Meditation, Renunciation, Devotion, and others.)
4. MY PERSPECTIVE is that the purpose of works is in fact the elevation of our consciousness and the transformation of our natures into Celestial Beings. We miss the power of spiritual practices when we think of works as merely expressing gratitude to God, or even as a gesture to show God our sincerity. Works actually do something that matters to our spiritual growth. I sometimes wonder if “Grace AFTER all we CAN do” doesn’t really play out as “Grace BEFORE all that we WILL do”, since it is Grace that gives us the life, health, faith, motivation, understanding, and free will that allow us to do works in the first place. To me, the co-creative process of spiritual growth looks like this: If all we do is get in the boat, Christ will row us to the other side. But if we’re anxious to meet God face to face, there is an extra oar in the boat with our name on it.
Questions for you:
1. What do you think of my universalist religion-synthesizing? Am I missing the point?
2. What do you think of Shawn McCraney’s concern that Mormons are in bondage under a false teaching that more than faith is needed for us to live with God? Do you feel in bondage?
3. What do you think of my idea that works are optional? Blasphemy or sensible?
4. In my boat analogy, if you agree with it, what does it mean to “get in the boat”?