Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Grace is No Science

Ponder this 'mystery of divine causality' with me.

2 Cor. 4.6: 'For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.'

That is (nearly) quoting Genesis 1.3: Let there be light. I do not have any commentaries around that can confirm this. It seems straightforward. The question that arises, then, is what is the connection Paul is affirming?

Let me suggest the following. God saves us by His grace - this is indisputable. It does not matter for my purposes here whether this is prevenient grace, cooperative grace &c, for no Christian can say the grace of God is uninvolved in salvation.

But what is grace? Is it a substance? a gas? some circumambient airy matter in the heavens? As stated, no Christian can say grace is uninvolved in salvation. This is just another way of saying grace is the cause or at least a cause of our salvation. But then the question again: what is the nature of this causality? is it traceable? can it be demonstrated? is there data for it?

No matter how many sociological surveys, or neuroscience studies, or advances in physics, the most determinative truth about those who are born again is this: it is by the grace of God, not the works of men.

Christians, we must notice and embrace the peculiarity in this statement. What we affirm is that there is a force or cause in this universe that is not reducible to scientific explanation. This is the cause that shines in our hearts and shows up in our lives. It causes us to repent. It causes us to worship. It causes us to rejoice. It is a gift, a mystery, a light, a knowledge - but it is not any thing that we may reduce to constitutive physical properties or laws, period. Grace is no science. Gravity is a science. As Simone Weil put it:
All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, p. 1.
So what is the connection Paul is making? My suggestion is this: that grace is a mystery, just as is the very creation of the world. Both represent a cause that is 'outside' that which man can discover. Instead, faith, hope and love access what reason can only ram into and halt. My supervisor puts it best:
Whatever scientific researchers may believe they are able to tell us about the prehistory of the universe, they can tell us nothing about 'creation' in the theological sense, because creation is not a process which might be accessible through the backward extrapolation of other processes. Creation as a completed design is presupposed by any movement in time. Its teleological order, expressed in the regular patterns of history, is not a product of the historical process, such that it might be surpassed and left behind as history proceeds further toward its goal. It is the condition of history's movement, a condition which, in one form or another, history will always bear witness.
Oliver O'Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 63.


Andrew Faris said...


In my humble opinion, this is one of your best posts yet. Really clear and provocative- great stuff.

So great, in fact, that I have nothing to add!


Norman Jeune III said...

This is a fantastic post, and whether or not you had this in mind, I think it dovetails well with the post I put up on the origins debate.

I think this post is an important reminder that God is, the gospel is, grace is, and at the end of the day, empirical data, historicity, and modern scienctific prespectives do not have the capactiy to debunk Christianity. This is not to say that these conversations do not have their place- obviously they do. But evangelicals can learn something here by being reminded that apologetics and rational coherency should not be the primary pillar in our response to the modern world.

It should be the witness of our changed lives, coupled to an unashamed theological candor that is unfraid to point to the personal subjective encounter of God in our lives as the catalyst for justification and sanctification. I think the work of guys like John Webster is important here. We do not always have to answer to the world.

A changed life will do that.

Ian Clausen said...

Norm, I agree 100%. I've had this feeling that for questions like the origins debate, Christians already have the primary answers resident in the creed. I realise it's fashionable these days to speak about 'mystery' or do apophatic theology in a sort of 'we don't know and never will know the answer' sort of way. Yet the very fact that we raise the question 'how did God create the world?' (or, 'how does God save a sinner?) shows that we already know something - that is, God created the world; God saves us. In our theological epistemologies (if you will) we need to spend some time thinking about how we know these things, on what basis we claim them. Lots of work being done there. At any rate, thanks for the comments. And you too Andrew - I'll get the right balance soon enough ;)