From the Obscure Theological Discussion department: Several members of an “online faith community” of which I am part have lately been exploring the full extent of God’s grace. With any thorough discussion of salvation by grace through faith alone, it is impossible to plumb too deeply into the subject without stirring up fears and accusations of antinomianism, and this discussion is no exception.

Of course, I should back up and explain myself a little bit, since I’ve jumped right into the discussion at full speed, and the majority of my readers here do not necessarily follow my theological interests fully.

The grace of God is an unfathomable mystery, and if it were so easily explained as all that, I would not have so many books on my shelf dedicated to the subject. For now, suffice it to say that grace is the central theme of the Bible from beginning to end, and that it stands in opposition to human-centric ideas of “free will” or pietistic notions of “works.” We are saved by God’s grace.

Antinomianism is easier — it is the collection of teachings which state in one way or another that no laws have any authority over human behavior, at least from a spiritual perspective. If we are saved by grace and not of our merit, the argument is said to be, then our behavior has no bearing on things and we can act however we wish.

In fact, there is greater support for this position in Scripture than one might first suppose, but it is explicitly repudiated by the New Testament writers from Paul to James.

One popular figure who keeps popping up in conversation is Robert Farrar Capon, a figure against whom I’m predisposed simply because of the responses he has caused in the lives of people for whom I care. In reading an interview with the man I found many things with which I can agree wholeheartedly, and at least one statement that seemed painfully awkward when I read it.

We try to make [grace] some kind of transaction.

Exactly. But even in Jesus it is not a transaction. In the Trinity, you might call it a transaction between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. But in the world, his death is not a transaction. It’s not a religious act that does something. We’re not saved by stuff Jesus does or even stuff he teaches. We are saved by who he is.

I actually agree with Capon’s concept of an eternal God acting eternally, and a rejection of transactionalism as embodied in popular American protestantism. But the idea that we are not saved by the work of Christ on the cross is a bit much. I think that Paul is very clear that we are saved by who Jesus is and also by what He did. It was not enough that Christ exists, or even that He was born as a man. With this sweeping statement, Capon has pushed too far and minimized the work of redemption in an unwelcome overreaction to transactionalism.

As is often the case with Capon, though, I must let his ideas roll around in my head for a while and bounce off of Scripture to see just exactly how wrong (and often, how right) he is.