We may find ourselves reflecting on those relationships among grace and faith and predestination and works this week, and on our preconceptions about those relationships, as we attempt to gain some insight into Ephesians 2:1-10.[*] It’s a very uncompromising statement about God’s grace, arguably the clearest in the Bible. Certainly, Ephesians 2:8 makes a great proof-text, and an incredibly tenacious theological anchor, which is probably why we [kids at Lake Avenue Congregational Church] memorized it when we were in 4th grade.
The vision of the relationship of grace and faith to the activity of God and the demands of the Christian life painted by the author of Ephesians may be the main thing we’ll want to spend time on, but here are a couple more questions we might want to think about or discuss in class:
[This is a question that can get people really riled up – it’s theological, but also emotional; and, it’s one of those questions that will remind us that we ourselves are responsible for our theologies.] Who are “we” and “us,” do we think, in v3? [And elsewhere in the text, but v3 is a good one to focus on.] Why do we think that?
What are our possible answers here, and what difference does it make which one we pick?
What interpretive choice do we ourselves make? Why? Does that tell us anything about ourselves? What?
What is the picture we get of God in these verses? What in the text gives us that picture? How does this compare or contrast with our own picture of God? With what impact on our thinking about God?
We might want to spend some extended time on vv8-9: what does each of those key words (grace, faith, saved, gift, works, boast) mean to us? What does that give us for a total meaning of these verses?
[More personal] What does that whole big idea mean to us, for our lives?
[Maybe even more personal] What does that whole big idea mean to others, people we care about, for their lives, do we think? Implications for us?
What about verse 10, and its vision of us being what God has made us – works of a divine creator, made ready to walk in good works that have been laid out for us to walk in? What does that language bring to mind, what do we appreciate about it, what do we not appreciate about it (if anything)? What are the images it brings to mind – or, could? That is, are there various imaginative possibilities, and if so, which ones occur to us most easily, and which ones are more surprising? Why is that, do we suppose?
[more personal] How does this verse make us feel about our relationship with God? Why is that, do we think?
Then, maybe, if we have some time, we could think about what we think that language “the ruler of the power of the air” refers to in v2, and what examples we can think of, and whether we imagine the situation has changed between Paul’s time and our own …
[*] I have a lecture, which developed over time, about the relationship of grace to predestination. This is surprisingly pertinent not only to classes on Christian Tradition, but also to Introduction to World Religions. Both predestination and providence [which people persist in confusing with predestination, to my predictable annoyance] are issues for Islam as well as for Christianity, presumably for the same systemic reasons.
There are a lot of people who like the doctrine of “grace alone.” But there are also a lot of people who really dislike the doctrine of predestination. And they are often the same people. Despite the fact that logically the two doctrines are correlated: The more exclusively salvation depends on God’s gracious choice, the less it can possibly depend – logically – on humans, their choices, and their behavior. The logical extreme of that relationship is predestination, and a logical extreme of that logical extreme is universalism. (Ergo Barth, son of Calvin, son of Augustine).
Here’s what I’d tell my students: I used to live in Oak Park, Illinois, and in Oak Park it seemed like everyone grew hosta in their front yards. I used to wonder why EVERYONE had hosta – like, why doesn’t anyone grow anything else?? Like, flowers??? Finally, though, I came to my senses: in Oak Park, everyone also has BIG OLD TREES that people love, and those BIG TREES make deep shade, and in that kind of shade there is basically one plant you can grow in your yard, and that’s hosta. Hosta may not be your favorite plant, but you don’t have many [or any] other options.
For Augustine [& Calvin & Barth], grace is a GIANT TREE. Predestination is theological hosta.
So, if we want to have theological trees like Augustine’s, [I say] we need to learn to love hosta. It helps, in my experience, to know that there are MANY VARIETIES of hosta. (This is true in real life about literal hosta, too, blessedly. Not all are completely boring.) Not all predestination is double predestination of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Sometimes it’s the kinder, gentler single predestination of the Second Helvetic Confession. Thank you, Heinrich Bullinger. May light perpetual shine on him. And may we have a good hope for all.