While the memory of guilt is far from pleasant (like 'wormwood and gall'), it has the curative intent of restoring us into an awareness of the constancy of God's love, new every morning. God's mercy is not spent even with our worst misdeeds.
-Thomas C. Oden
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Grace works ahead of us to draw us toward faith, to begin its work in us. Even the first fragile intuition of conviction of sin, the first intimation of our need of God, is the work of preparing, prevening grace, which draws us gradually toward wishing to please God. Grace is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own unrighteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the gift of God.
Thomas C. Oden
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Because cultures and languages are constantly changing and because the apostolic testimony must be attested in ever-new circumstances, it is a necessary feature of the apostolic tradition that it both guard the original testimony and make it understandable in new culture settings. Failing either is to default on the apostolic tradition. Far from implying unbending immobility, apostolicity requires constant adaptation of the primitive apostolic testimony to new historical challenges and languages, yet without altering or diluting the primitive witness.
Thomas C. Oden
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Sins that have been completely absolved on one occasion sometimes on other occasions cannot be completely forgotten or set aside. They may continue to have a ripple effect. But it is comforting to realize that they are no longer remembered by God, even if traces remain in human memory.
Thomas C. Oden
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The heart of the difference between cheap-grace doctrines of guilt-free existence and the Christian gospel is this: Modern chauvinism desperately avoids the message of guilt by treating it as a regrettable symptom. Christianity listens to the message of guilt by conscientious self-examination. Hedonism winks at sin. Christianity earnestly confesses sin. Secularism assumes it can extricate itself from gross misdeeds. Christianity looks to grace for divine forgiveness. Modern consciousness is its own fumbling attorney before the bar of conscience. Christianity rejoices that God himself has become our attorney. Modernity sees no reason to atone for or make reparation for wrongs. Christianity knows that unatoned sin brings on misery of conscience. Modern naturalism sees no meed for God. Christianity celebrates God's willingness to suffer four our sins and redeem us from guilt.
Thomas C. Oden
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Does biblical psychology, then, merely ask us to value good things a little less? Does the Bible seek a reduction of guilt by an overall deflation of the currency of moral ideals, so we can live more comfortably with an uneasy conscience? That would exaggerate a valid point. Although the Bible holds that no finite relationship is of infinite value, it does not embrace an extreme ascetic view that the source of happiness lies essentially in the reduction of desire. Some ascetic strategies try to diminish desire and reduce all valuing so as not to allow any loss to become an overwhelming disappointment. According to this view, the less one values created goods, the happier one is. In contrast, life-affirming Christianity hopes that love, desire, and appreciation of limited values can be increased or decreased to the measure of their real proportional value. Jesus does not call for a stark reduction of all finite valuing merely as a preventative measure against disappointment. He calls for a love of good things with an awareness that they exist within the boundaries of birth and death, and are therefore under the judgment of the giver and source of all value (Matt. 6:19-21).
Thomas C. Oden
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Christian consciousness experiences itself in a curious sense as LIBERATED TO FAIL, without intolerable damage to self-esteem and without any reduction of moral seriousness. We are free to be inadequate, free to foul things up, and yet affirm ourselves in a more basic sense than the secular moralist or humanistic idealist (who can affirm themselves only on the basis of merits and accomplishments. We are free to choose and deny finite values, free to take constructive guilt upon us and to see it as an inevitable and providentially given aspect of our fallen human condition. All that we have said leads us to the pinnacle of this good news: In Jesus Christ we need no longer be guilty before God. It is only before our clay-footed gods that we stand guilty!
Thomas C. Oden
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Before whom am I guilty? Myself and my gods. But before God? I would be guilty before God IF God had not disclosed himself as forgiving, taking my place, rendering a verdict of pardon upon me. But upon that IF hinges the force of justification by grace through faith alone. For precisely amid our failure to actualize values we mistakenly imagine as ultimate, God himself continues to perceive us AS IF we were clothed in Christ's own righteousness. The Reformation formula, simul peccator et justus, meant: I am a sinner, deserving condemnation for my idolatry; but from God's point of view I am AT THE SAME TIME pardoned, regarded as if the charge against me were canceled out! the final verdict is thus not the one I give myself or the one that may be given in the courts of law or gossip or peer pressure. Rather, it is what God himself has decided about my situation, how he has regarded and perceived me. Through God's own incomparable initiative, our sin is not remembered against us, even though we may oddly persist in remembering it against ourselves.
Thomas C. Oden
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Protestants at one time were confident that their free form of confession was a vast improvement upon Catholic private confession to a priest because it is voluntary, demystified, and not routinized. But amid the acids of modernity it has volunteered itself right out of existence. Demystification has dwindled into desacralization. The escape from routinization has become a convenient cover for the demise of repentance. The postmodern pastor is trying to learn anew to listen to the deeper range of feelings of others, without forgetfulness of the Word of God.
Thomas C. Oden
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Faith is not a meritorious cause of election, but it is constantly attested as the sole condition of salvation. Faith merely receives the merit of atoning grace, instead of asserting its own merit. God places the life-death option before each person, requiring each to choose. The ekletos are those who by grace freely believe. God does not compel or necessitate their choosing. Even after the initial choice of faith is made, they may grieve and quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Faith is the condition under which God primordially wills the reception of salvation by all. 'He chooses us, not because we believe, but that we may believe; lest we should say that we first chose Him' (Augustine). Faith receives the electing love of God not as if it had already become efficacious without faith, but aware that God's prescience foreknows faith like all else. In accord with ancient ecumenical consent, predestination was carefully defined in centrist Protestant orthodoxy as: 'The eternal, divine decree, by which God, from His immense mercy, determined to give His Son as Mediator, and through universal preaching , to offer Him for reception to all men who from eternity He foresaw would fall into sin; also through the Word and Sacraments to confer faith upon all who would not resist; to justify all believers, and besides to renew those using the means of grace; to preserve faith in them until the end of life, and in a word, to save those believing to the end' (Melanchthon).
Thomas C. Oden
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There is a quality of lightness, easiness, and in some sense blatant unseriousness that pervades Classical Christianity's dialogue with modernity. The Christian intellect has no reason to be intimidated in the presence of later-stage modernity. Christianity has seen too many 'modern eras' to be cowed by this one.
Thomas C. Oden
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If God absolutely and pretemporally decrees that particular persons shall be saved and others damned, apart from any cooperation of human freedom, then God cannot in any sense intend that all shall be saved, as 1 Timothy 4:10 declares. The promise of glory is conditional on grace being received by faith active in love.
Thomas C. Oden
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