Business Closed

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Christianity is not a religion, it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshipping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle of Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle of Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection.

For Christians, then, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical, and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.

–Robert F. Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

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Not only wild and wonderful

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And if there is a God who can take the dead and, without a single condition of credit-worthiness or a single pointless promise of reform, raise them up whole and forgiven, free for nothing—well, that would not only be wild and wonderful; it would be the single piece of Good News in a world drowning in an ocean of blame.

–Robert Farrar Capon

Art: Mikki Senkarik

Published in: on 01/24/2015 at 8:20  Leave a Comment  
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Theological wipeouts

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Christian theology, however, never is and never can be anything more than the thoughts that Christians have (alone or with others) after they have said yes to Jesus. Sure, it can be a thrilling subject. Of course, it is something you can do well or badly — or even get right or wrong. And naturally, it is one of the great fun things to do on weekends when your kidney stones aren’t acting up.

Actually, it is almost exactly like another important human subject that meets all the same criteria: wind-surfing. Everybody admires it, and plenty of people try it. But the number of people who can do it well is even smaller than the number who can do it without making a fool of themselves.

Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want, Just don’t lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Published in: on 06/04/2014 at 8:02  Leave a Comment  
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Not a blessed thing

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Neither the lost coin nor the lost sheep was capable of any repentance at all. The entire cause of the recovery operation in both stories is the shepherd’s, or the woman’s determination to find the lost. Neither the lost sheep nor the lost coin does a blessed thing, except hang around in its lostness. On the strength of this parable, therefore, it is precisely our sins, and not our goodnesses, that most commend us to the grace of God.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Image:  James Tissot

Just say thank you

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The life of grace
is simply believing
that Somebody Else
has made it all right, and
you just say thank you
and shut up.

–Robert Farrar Capon

Published in: on 11/01/2013 at 5:58  Leave a Comment  
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When God set things right

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From the dim beginnings of our history right up to the present day, there is not a man, woman, or child of us who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired from our side by our efforts. Whether those efforts involve credal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements – or whether they amount to little more than crassly superstitious behaviour – we are all, at the same level, committed to them.

divider-1If we are not convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, we still have a hard time shaking the belief that stepping over sidewalk cracks, or hanging up the bath towel so the label won’t show, will somehow render the Ruler of the Universe kindhearted, softheaded, or both.

But as the Epistle of the Hebrews pointed out long ago, all such behaviour is bunk. The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins, nor can any other religious act do what it sets out to do…

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But the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is precisely Good News. It is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has simply called off the game – that he has taken all the disasters religion was trying to remedy and, without any recourse to religion at all, set them to rights by himself.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

The only punishable offence

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Bookkeeping is the only punishable offence in the kingdom of heaven. For in that happy state, the books are ignored forever, and there is only the Book of life. And in that book, nothing stands against you.

There are no debit entries
that can keep you out of the clutches
of the Love that will not let you go.

bookeepingThere is no minimum balance below which the grace that finagles all accounts will cancel your credit. And there is, of course, no need for you to show large amounts of black ink, because the only Auditor before whom you must finally stand is the Lamb — and he has gone deaf, dumb, and blind on the cross. The last may be first and the first last, but that’s only for the fun of making the point: everybody is on the payout queue and everybody gets full pay. Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in, the only bruised backsides belong to those who insist on butting themselves into outer darkness.

For if our world
could have been saved
by bookkeeping,
it would have been saved
by Moses, not Jesus.

The law was just fine. And God gave it a good thousand years or so to see if anyone could pass a test like that. But nobody did — when it became perfectly clear that there was “no one who was righteous, no even one” (Rom. 3:10; Ps. 14:1-3), that “both Jews and Gentiles alike were under the power of sin (Rom. 3:9) — God gave up on salvation by the books. He cancelled everybody’s records in the death of Jesus and rewarded us all, equally and fully, with a new creation in the resurrection of the dead.

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And therefore the only adverse judgment that falls on the world falls on those who take their stand on a life God cannot use rather than on the death he can. Only the winners lose, because only the losers can win: the reconciliation simply cannot work out any other way . . . the kingdom of heaven is for everybody; hell is reserved only for the idiots who insist on keeping nonexistent records in their heads.

Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment
(emphasis added)

It’s not for the living

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Grace . . . works
only on the untouchable,
the unpardonable,
and the unacceptable.
It works, in short,
by raising the dead,
not by rewarding the living.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

A change of residence

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All the clutter that, like decrepit bachelors, we have allowed to pile up in the house of our living, all the hates, the lies, the lusts, and the lunacies – the whole lifetime’s accumulation of irretrievable mistakes – has been forgiven, absolved, put away, carted off.

If then we accept that absolution, that housecleaning that is a house-removal – and if we take up residence in the clean emptiness of Jesus’ death – we will have his life and have it abundantly. But if we try to hang onto the old house of our living we will have only hell . . . To go back to that life is to go back to nothing.

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The only real dwelling we have now is the Father’s house of many mansions: hell is simply the stupid pretense that nowhere really would be a nicer place to spend eternity.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Fabulous forgiveness

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[God’s forgiveness] is neither a response to a suitable worthy confession, nor the acceptance of a reasonable apology. Absolvere in Latin means not only to loosen, to free, to acquit; it also means to dispose of, to complete, to finish. When God pardons, therefore, he does not say he understands our weaknesses or makes allowances for our errors; rather he disposes of, he finishes with, the whole of our dead life and raises us up with a new one. He does not so much deal with our derelictions as he does drop them down the black hole of Jesus’ death. He forgets our sins in the darkness of Jesus’ expiration. He finds us, in short, in the desert of death, not in the garden of improvement; and in the power of Jesus resurrection, he puts us on his shoulders rejoicing and brings us home.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Lost and found

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It turns out that what makes
history come out in triumph
is some dumb sheep that
couldn’t find its way home.

–Robert Farrar Capon

Published in: on 02/15/2013 at 5:17  Leave a Comment  
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The blunder of bookkeeping

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In heaven, there are only forgiven sinners. There are no good guys, no uptight, successful types who, by dint of their own integrity, have been accepted into the great country club in the sky. There are only failures, only those who have accepted their deaths in their sins and who have been raised up by the King who himself died that they might live.

But in hell, too, there are only forgiven sinners. Jesus on the cross does not sort out certain exceptionally recalcitrant parties and cut them off from the pardon of his death.

He forgives the badness of even the worst of us,
willy-nilly; and he never takes back that
forgiveness, not even at the bottom
of the bottomless pit.

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The sole difference, therefore,
between hell and heaven is that in heaven
the forgiveness is accepted and passed along,
while in hell it is rejected and blocked.

In heaven, the death of the king is welcomed and becomes the doorway to new life in the resurrection. In hell, the old life of the bookkeeping world is insisted on and becomes, forever, the pointless torture it always was.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment
(emphasis added)

Designed for delight

The world exists, not for what it means but for what it is. The purpose of mushrooms is to be mushrooms; wine is in order to wine: things are precious before they are contributory.

It is a false piety that walks through creation looking only for lessons which can be applied somewhere else.

To be sure, God remains the greatest good; but, for all that, the world is still good in itself. Indeed, since He does not need it, its whole reason for being must lie in its own natural goodness; He has no use for it, only delight.

–Robert Farrar Capon

The celebration of life

Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.

— Robert Farrar Capon

Published in: on 06/09/2011 at 17:45  Leave a Comment  
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The outrageous invitation

Religion is the human race’s vain attempt to perfect a series of transactions that will con God into doing something about its plight. But the prescriptions of religion never delivered on their promises: all the chicken sacrifices of history, all the fasts, all the nights of prayer, all the approved sexual behavior—none of it ever tidied up even the smallest corner of the mess of history. And therefore when God really does do something about the mess, he doesn’t risk doing anything religious. Instead, he simply gets himself executed as a common criminal and then outrageously invites us to trust that everything religion ever tried to do has been accomplished . . .

–Robert Farrar Capon

Published in: on 04/27/2011 at 22:19  Leave a Comment  
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It’s not about bookkeeping

You’re worried about permissiveness—about the way the preaching of grace seems to say it’s okay to do all kinds of terrible things as long as you just walk in afterward and take the free gift of God’s forgiveness… While you and I may be worried about seeming to give permission, Jesus apparently wasn’t. He wasn’t afraid of giving the prodigal son a kiss instead of a lecture, a party instead of probation; and he proved that by bringing in the elder brother at the end of the story and having him raise pretty much the same objections you do. He’s angry about the party. He complains that his father is lowering standards and ignoring virtue—that music, dancing, and a fattened calf are, in effect, just so many permissions to break the law. And to that, Jesus has the father say only one thing: “Cut that out! We’re not playing good boys and bad boys anymore. Your brother was dead and he’s alive again. The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping.

–Robert F. Capon

Published in: on 01/06/2011 at 13:39  Leave a Comment  
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