The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Grace is not the problem

Recently there was some discussion in our adult Sunday school about preaching. Namely, that maybe the kind of preaching we hear in ELCA churches is too grace-centered. The claim: we turn people into couch potatoes.

I disagreed. I don't think we need less grace but more — albeit not cheap grace.

My son did a good job of clarifying this when he said that those whose lives have been difficult, unproductive and filled with bad choices need grace to propel them forward. Grace reminds them that their lack of production and their mistakes don't speak the final word about who they are. And those who have succeeded, produced and behaved need the proclamation of grace to be reminded that life is not fundamentally about production or success.

Grace elevates and it crucifies. Grace is not the problem. In fact, grace is what can truly change us. Grace (the sheer "given-ness" of all things) takes us beyond a preoccupation with ourselves. Grace truly addresses sin.

Can grace be cheapened? Sure. It is cheapened when it's used to excuse negative behavior or choices. For example, when it's used to keep us from addressing evil, as in the case of Nazi Germany's Lutheran church during the time of Adolf Hitler. Many Lutherans allowed cheap grace to prevent them from addressing what Hitler was doing.

We can become faith couch potatoes. But this is not a problem with grace. It is a problem with its application. When we proclaim grace, it is quite clear that all humans should be treated with dignity and compassion. We should have been the first to speak up against Hitler's inhumanity. Grace should not let us remain silent. 


Robert Barndt

Robert Barndt

Posted at 1:14 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/15/2011

AMEN!  But I'm not even sure the "problem" is even "with its application."  We don't apply the gospel.  The gospel applies us!  Maybe the "problem" is the purity.  "[The church] is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached IN ITS PURITY and the holy sacraments are administered ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL."  After all, grace is never cheap to the giver!  Just ask Jesus!

Brady Faggart

Brady Faggart

Posted at 5:24 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/15/2011

Thanks, Pastor Bill Utricht and son, for calling attention to grace. We certainly need the emphasis. If I could add one point, it would follow that grace "takes us beyond a preoccupation with ourselves." We are called to respond to God's grace by growing toward that new life we are offered, the life lived and taught by our Lord Jesus and emphasized by Paul. I feel that we should not be afraid to emphasize that new life even though we'll never be perfect and we never take credit for it.

Note: Brady Faggart edited this post at 5:25 pm on 2/15/2011.

Ramona Starks

Ramona Starks

Posted at 3:13 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/16/2011

How can preaching be "too" grace-centered?  That's what the Gospel is all about. If we weren't "grace-filled", how could we spread the Good news?   It changes us and gives us new life.  In fact, before the churches merged into one ELCA, I belonged to a group in the ALC called "CICM" - the Conference on Inner City Ministries".  We often sang Amazing Grace, but changed the words "that saved a wretch lilke me" to a more meaningful "that gave new life to me"!  That says it all - grace gives us NEW LIFE - like getting a second chance, whether, at the time, we know it or not. Grace-centered preaching is what brings us to the realization of what GRACE really is, and when we finally "get it" (no pun intended), changes our lives and gives us more meaning as to what we should be doing with our lives.  I'll take all the "grace-centered" preaching I can get - and I thank God that my pastor gives me a lot of it!  

Thanks for bringing this up for discussion.  Your Sunday School class must have been an interesting one the day you discussed this!

Note: Ramona Starks edited this post at 3:25 pm on 2/16/2011.

Print subscribers and supporting Web members may comment.

Log in or Subscribe to comment.

text size:

this page: email | print

March issue

MARCH issue:

All are welcome