I mentioned in a previous comment that I find myself needing to reframe the typical Protestant questions / debates before I can articulate Church of the Brethren beliefs. Because I have studied ecumenical theology, I understand the questions, but the questions themselves don’t quite make sense in a Brethren context. So, here’s the beginning of a series on “questions reframed.”
Typical question: Which is more important, faith or works? Which comes first, grace or works?
This question is often thought of in a justification / sanctification framework, almost in a court-based paradigm or a mathematic formula. Lutherans and others say grace and faith, of course! Catholics and pietists might put more emphasis on the human works in response. Most everyone agrees that grace (in whatever form) comes first or is the precondition for all human goodness.
But I find myself tongue-tied when I try to answer the question framed in this way. Here’s what I want to say in response…
An acorn grows into an oak tree. What’s more important in the growth, the acorn’s potential and “action” or the sun/rain? Which comes first in the growth process, the acorn’s potential and growth or the sun/rain’s nourishment?
A child and a mother are connected. Which is more important, the child’s personhood and action or the mother’s love? Which came first, the child’s interaction with the mother or the mother’s interaction with the child? When the mother teaches, which is more important, the response of the child or the teaching of the mother? Can you really parse out where each love starts and ends and which love is more important or came first?
I guess what I’m saying with all this, primarily, is that if we think in terms of more organic processes, we don’t have to have a “first” or “more important” but can recognize that somewhere in the space between, the dynamic process happens such that beginnings and endings, firsts and lasts, gives and takes get all mixed up. That, I think, is where God is.
So perhaps a more fitting question is “What is the nature of the dynamic process between God and humans?” or “In what ways can we understand and experience ourselves as part of the flow of grace that connects us with the divine?”