On the Misuse of “Grace and Truth” image

On the Misuse of “Grace and Truth”

When I hear talk about the importance of Christians being "full of grace and truth," it seems to mean something like "full of kindness and affection in our demeanour and attitude, even as we speak directly and robustly about things people may not want to hear." Grace is soft; truth is hard; combine the two and you get what Goldilocks was looking for. Put differently, grace seems progressive, and truth seems conservative. If someone says they were treated "without grace," we assume they mean they were treated too harshly in a conservative environment. If a church is described as failing to stand for the truth, we assume they have gone squishy in a liberal direction. Grace leans left, and truth leans right, and only by holding both can we keep going in a straight line.

Bunk. Any bona fide squishy liberal would be profoundly offended by grace, biblically defined (and many have been): it is predicated on the claim that all human beings are hopelessly mired in sin and need rescuing, and that God is free to give gifts to whomever he wills regardless of merit, and that he does so by means of a crucified and resurrected Saviour. Self-improvement is antithetical to Christian grace, which abounds where sin increases. Laxity is antithetical to Christian grace, which teaches us to renounce worldly passions. It is hard to think of a concept that collides more directly with secular humanism than that. Grace does not meet sin with a shrug, but with a cross.

Nor is truth the exclusive preserve of conservative evangelicals. Obviously if you move in conservative evangelical church circles, you will see conservative emphases as true, and the refusal to accept them as false. Fair enough; so do I. But there are all sorts of truths that conservative evangelicals are less likely to notice, let alone celebrate, than those from other church traditions. Ask a few abuse survivors, or people of colour, and you may well find people who think the problem with conservative evangelicalism is not that we speak truth too much, but too little. (I remember being struck by this listening to Duke Kwon a few years ago. I was used to hearing conservative evangelicals being the ones who need to speak the truth, rather than the ones to whom truth needs to be spoken.)

Clearly it is a good thing to be nice and courageous, inclusive and incisive, compassionate and clear. But that does not necessarily map on to left/right, soft/hard, progressive/conservative, or whatever it may be. And it is not quite what it meant for Moses to hear that the LORD is abounding in steadfast love (= grace?) and faithfulness (= truth?), or what John meant when he said that Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

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