Resurrection and Prodigal Grace: A Holy Week Reflection

Posted: March 26, 2013 in Theology, Things of Faith

I have been reflecting recently upon the biblical story of the prodigal family. I must admit I have read this parable so many times that I had become blinded by the traditional readings and interpretations of this passage. These interpretations generally surround the three basic themes of greed and excess, forgiveness, and jealousy. It’s unfortunate that we have watered down such a tremendous parable to over-simplistic readings.

 

As many of you may know I am an active participant in the new conversation group NuDunkers. We have been engaging various topics of faith, life, and theology for the past couple of years and have now come together as a more formalized group (a group of which all those interested are invited to participate). Our conversation occurs primarily through internet media. For example, we have begun having monthly Google hangouts in which we have structured interactive conversations around specific topics. These conv

 

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

ersations are then recorded and posted on YouTube. In March we talked about an Anabaptist-Pietist understanding of the Holy Spirit. In April we have the pleasure of hosting a conversation and interview of David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw surrounding their new book, Prodigal Christianity.

 

At this point you’re probably wondering what in the world this has to do with anything. To be honest, I have just begun reading the book and it already has my mind going. I am only a short way through the book and while I certainly have questions I am refraining from drawing conclusions. I will say, however, that the first chapters have added an interesting twist to my Lenten meditations.

 

While I have long maintained that the father in this parable is also prodigal as is the second son as well, I had not allowed this parable to ruminate in my soul for an adequate period of time so as to discover the foundations of the gospel in a new and fresh way. Consider for a moment that if the first son is prodigal because of his excess and waste then how much more the father is prodigal as he welcomes his son back in spite of everything lavishing him with excessive celebration and welcome. This in itself is not a fresh look at the passage. However, transfer this reading of the father and son to God and Jesus and suddenly the passion, death and resurrection come alive in new ways. What if we considered “prodigal” as a core characteristic of the nature of God’s response and interactions with his creation through his son? During holy week we might conclude the sad and even disturbing prodigal nature of God offering his son to such a harrowing human experience is truly wasteful. If God is the only player in this drama then it is nothing more than the divine equivalent of child-abuse. On the other hand, considering the murder of God’s son of which there is universal culpability, then God as prodigal acts in an unexpected way toward his creation by forgiving rather than destroying.

 

Essentially God acts redemptively transforming a heinous criminal act into a universal act of forgiveness drawing all people to himself through his son. And if this excessive act of grace is not enough, God not willing to succumb to defeat through the lasting death of his son becomes conqueror of death. Through the power of resurrection God justifies himself as the God of love and life not only through the raising of his son but by the promise of resurrection and life for all who have faith.

 

If this were all, it would be enough. However, God demonstrates his “prodigal-ness” with yet more grace. This I believe is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. God chooses to have a people of purpose, of mission, of grace to live out the ongoing power and presence of resurrection. God lavishes his people with grace not to keep to themselves for their own purposes, but as an extension of the Abrahamic blessing to all peoples. Now the question is, “how does this take form?” “What does it look like?” The answer to these will take ongoing work, but if God is truly the prodigal God, then it will be marked by prodigal grace.

 

As I continue to meditate and reflect upon this scripture passage and interact with Prodigal Christianity, I look forward to the journey and adventure of plumbing the depths of God’s grace and love to which God calls us to live.

 

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Scott Holland says:

    Thanks for this edgy reflection, Andrew, on the prodigal God and prodigal grace which seems to arc beyond the “Prodigal Christianity” book back to Radical Pietism and perhaps onto new spiritual paradigms beyond the edgy but quite Evangelical pietism of Fitch and Holsclaw.

    Last night I finished a very important new study of Radical Pietism: Douglas Shantz’s long awaited book, “German Pietism” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2013). What the NuDunkers might find interesting and instructive about the Shantz text, and other new scholarship on Pietism coming out of Europe, is the reminder of how wonderfully heterodox and polydox the Radical Pietists were before they were tamed and tutored by modern Lutheran, Evangelical, Anabaptist and yes, Brethren churchly scholars and theologians. These scholars were tempted to define Pietism in their own image.

    According to Shantz’s typology, Mack’s Brethren did land in the sect model of Pietism along with the Anabaptists, Beissel, Becker and others. However, if we really invite back and welcome our true prodigal sons and fathers and mothers (those in the circles of G. Arnold and Hochmann) we would be falling on the necks with kisses of those who were Spiritualists, Alchemists, Universalists and, to use Arnold’s title of praise, “Heretics.”

    For some of us Radical Pietists and Romantics, the Prodigal God is returning home and she is not what most Brethren, Evangelical Pietists or Church Pietists think, because Arnold, Arndt, Hochmann and Bohme remind us that one of her names is Sophia.

    • Andrew says:

      Scott,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure my post was as edgy as you give credit. While I certainly have an appreciation for Radical Pietism, I am also inclined to follow Mack, et al, into a disciplined community which sets out to live out a “Jesus” centered faith in community. I must admit that I have been more profoundly affected formationally by Spener than I have been by Bohme and Arndt. I have only had limited exposure to Bohme and Arndt both through what I have read about them in history and by reading small portions of their writings. Additionally, while I have no objection to referring to God as Sophia (which I think both scripture and the apocryphal writings allude to), I also recognize that God has many names in scripture all of which are appropriate and emphasize particular characteristics.

      The point of my post, however, was not to emphasize simply a universal salvation theme even though my hope is that God’s prodigal grace wins out, but to also recognize that there is a necessary human response required to this grace. Therefore, while universal salvation is the goal, it is not guaranteed. I am not of the theological persuasion to believe that God’s grace is irresistible. Nor do I subscribe to a penal substitutionary atonement theory. I am growing more convinced that the early church had a better handle on atonement than the church in the middle ages. I am aware that there are some interesting modern atonement theories still being developed but I think it will take more time to fully scrutinize them. Perhaps this is my Neo-Anabaptist side showing, but I think that it is good to look to the early church for correctives. Also in my mind, reform is intrinsic to faith. We are always wrestling with our perception and belief as we engage scripture and spiritual experience in community. It’s not about the destination, but the journey after all. The eschaton is in God’s hand.

      • Scott Holland says:

        Well, I did read a seduction by universalism into your post but perhaps I had the Messenger article by the feared “Mr. Fike” in my head.

        I think it’s fine to follow Spener and Church Pietists, but in the kind spiritual and intellectual honesty you display in your response, it is well and wise to name this. I have been uneasy with many Brethren scholars and laypersons who celebrate the Brethren movements’ genealogy within Radical Pietism but then theologize like Lutheran Church Pietists or Emergent Church Evangelicals.

        I think the new Shantz book is eye-opening in this regard! This actually is the topic of a public lecture I’m giving this Friday for a large Bethany alum gathering: “On Pietists, Poets and Other Romantics.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s