The full title of our next book is The Mystery of Christ and Why We Don’t Get It. In this Book Robert Farrar Capon delves into the meaning of salvation, grace and redemption. He does this in a conversational style, and the various chapters consist of recreations of meetings he has had with people he has counseled, a Sunday School class, his wife, parishoners, and an encounter at a cocktail party.
If you have read anything by Capon before, you know that for him grace triumphs over everything else. Further, Christianity is not a system whereby we make ourselves good enough to be saved from an angry God bent on our destruction, rather it is the acceptance of and the living out in our lives that in Christ all our sins have been cancelled and marked" “paid in full.”
Capon covers a wide range of topics in this book, including guilt, forgiveness, love and romance, grief, the incarnation, reincarnation and resurrection. So while this book is certainly not a novel, as the other books we have read have been, it is one that any Christian should read. And I would add that many non-Christians would find in its pages a unique and interesting take on the gospel that the church is called to proclaim but seldom does.
Some of what Capon tries to achieve in this book is summarized by this exchange with Tim Brassell (the full interview can be found here).
Tim Brassell: Can a pastor take grace too far?
Robert Capon: No. A pastor can’t take grace too far. That is, not unless he claims that sin doesn’t matter. If he claims that, he’s abusing grace, because sin does matter. It matters to me, the sinner. It matters whether I leave myself stuck in it.
Suppose a mother has a kid who comes in all muddy. She just washes off the mud. She loves her child and doesn’t wait to see whether the kid decides if he wants to live with mud all over him. She just washes it off. And if she is a faithful, true mother, she will continually take that mud into herself and say, "Well, this is my son, and I will stick with him."
TB: Mothers are like that.
RC: Yes. The point is that sin is mud. It’s a cover-up or cover-over of your true being as a person. And Jesus has washed it away. He’s erased the sins. He’s washed them away.
Not all churches practice infant baptism, but infant baptism is a wonderful testament to absolute grace. It says, "It’s done." It doesn’t say, after this if you do something, then you’ll be OK. It says, "You’re OK now," not because you did something or thought something or figured something out, but you’re OK now because Jesus says so.
It isn’t religion that makes you OK with God, it’s God who does it. The sacraments are not religion. They do not cause something to happen. You don’t change the wine in the Eucharist into the blood of Christ, the presence of Christ. You just put up a sign in which you say, he is present in this sign as he is present in all things, including me.
For example, a priest in my jurisdiction holds up the bread and wine before communion and says, "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." That means that the whole world is changed, changed by Christ.
TB: Some people say that if you preach grace a lot, people will get the idea that they can go ahead and sin all they want and still be saved. What would you say about that?
RC: First of all, I would say they’re perfectly free to sin all they want whether you give them permission or not. But the thing that they are not free to achieve on their own is their own forgiveness, and that is what is already done. They simply have to accept that in Jesus, God has forgiven their sins.
You can purchase an inexpensive copy of The Mystery of Christ here on Amazon. In a week of so, I will be posting some questions for your consideration and discussion (either with yourself or a group of friends). I hope you will join us in reading this fine work.
To close this post, here are some snippets from reviewers on the Amazon site. First a couple of positive ones:
If such concepts as "Both heaven and hell are populated with forgiven sinners", "God isn’t in the sin-prevention business….He is in the sin-forgiving business", and "the argument between Cheap Grace and Costly Grace is ridiculous, because Grace is FREE", are intriguing to you, then get and read this book. It is a thought provoking delight!
I read this for the first time shortly after becoming a Christian. Earlier, I thought Christianity meant constantly avoiding sin. Capon points out that we will always sin, but the Good News is that God loves us anyway. He emphasizes love and hope, and does not waste energy on the little questions. And he exhorts us also to remember that we do not need to waste our energy on the little questions, but to instead remember Jesus’ commandment to love God, ourselves, and each other. This book increased my new-found joy in knowing God’s love.
And now a couple of negative ones:
Robert Capon is a dedicated thinker, but he is a bit too cute to get to some real meat of the thought problem. The book did nothing to answer some of the theological questions that I have as a Christian of strong faith but still one with many questions. He provides little reasoning or rationale, just an admonition that faith and belief is all that is required. Christ is a mystery so leave it there and just believe! Just don’t think to heavily.
When I was just starting out in my new Christian faith I stumbled onto Robert Capon’s writings, including this book. Perhaps it was providential, because the insanity of his theology mirrors that of Luther, and it drove me into the arms of the Roman Catholic Church. This stuff is Luther’s inconsistent, confused take on the Gospel, carried to its logical conclusion. Luther denied the value of human works and efforts to do good in the economy of salvation, and so does Capon. They both trample roughshod over the Epistle of St James, not to mention the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul. Capon extracts the teaching on the necessity of faith for salvation, from its context in all of the New Testament, and, like a follower of Luther anxious to push the boundaries even further, makes even the act of faith "trash". Yes, that’s in this book.
This variety of opinion kind of makes you want to read the book yourself to see what these folks are talking about, doesn’t it? I hope so.