I have started reading The Romance of the Word: One Man's Love Affair With Theology by Robert Farrar Capon. It is a reprint of three of his earlier books - An Offering of Uncles, The Third Peacock and Hunting the Divine Fox. I've not read Capon before, but since his name and quotes of his keep turning up in books I like (most recently in The Other Six Days), I decided to give him a try.
Last night I finished the preface, and I have to say it wasn't an easy journey. There was something in the tone that I found a bit off-putting. It may just be getting used to a new voice, a new way of saying things. But once he got the autobiographical things out of the way, it got good, quick. The last half of the preface was worth the read by itself. In it he discusses grace and its relationship with transactional religion (hint: there is no relationship). I found the following three quotes (along with some others I am leaving out for brevity) to be thought-provoking, to put it mildly.
"There is no such thing as the Christian religion because Christianity, at its heart, is not a religion. Rather, it's the announcement by God in Christ that whatever it was that the religions of the world were trying to do and couldn't (make God think kindly of you, win wars, end poverty, get the crops to grow, stop your brother-in-law from drinking too much at your parties), the whole rigmarole has been canceled. In Jesus, God has put up a 'Gone Fishing' sign on the religion shop. He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it - to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed - no nothing. All you need is faith that the entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ - even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it's crazy. And yes, it's wild, and outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn't sell worth beans. But it is Good News - the only permanently good news there is - and therefore I find it absolutely captivating." - pg. 20But that didn't hit me half as hard as this:
"A question arises, however: Is this eucharistic 'change of status' an ordinary, transactional alteration, like the change of flour into bread? Does the act of celebrating the Eucharist 'mix up a batch of Jesus'? Does Jesus, during the service, show up in a room from which he was previously absent? Do benefits we were formerly without suddenly begin to flow our way in Communion?
"The answer to those questions, I think, has to be a flat no. The faithful who gather in the church before the rite begins are already, Christians believe, the body of Christ. The forgiveness, the reconciliation, and the new life they have in Jesus are already and fully theirs. They do not, therefore, receive an accretion of Jesus. It's not that their tank was topped off with Jesus the previous Sunday but now needs a refill. They never lost a drop of him, because he never left them. They couldn't get any more of him than they already have. But if that's the case, do they really receive him? And if so, how do you go about theologizing that reception?
"You refuse to make the Blessed Sacrament a transaction, that's how. You say it is the presence of Jesus, but you don't make it out to be an insertion of Jesus. You say the eucharistic presence is a mirror held up to the church's face so it can see the Jesus it already has. You say it's a dinner with the Jesus who's already in the house. You say any non-transactional thing you can think of - just as long as you say it's a party the church is already at and not some limousine that brings Jesus to the church's door. And those same rules apply to the other sacraments as well." - pg. 22-3If those two didn't shake you up enough, then how about this? (emphasis mine):
"The church doesn't take Jesus to the heathen: Jesus, because he is God, is already intimately and immediately present to the heathen before we arrive. And he's present in all his power, not only as Creator but as Redeemer. They've already got him, they're already home free, they're already saved - but they don't know it because they haven't heard it. What they need is not a dose of Jesus to cure them but some sacrament of the fact that they're already cured in Jesus. And baptism, as the constitutive sacrament of the church, is precisely that sign. F.D. Maurice said that when you baptize an infant, you baptize the whole world: if you can say all that wonderful stuff over some two-week-old who knows nothing, believes nothing, and has done nothing, you ipso facto say it over everybody. Jesus is the Light of the world, not the Lighting Company of the world. neither he nor his church is an electricity supplier you have to get wired up to in order to have light in your life. He is the Sun, not a power utility; all you have to do is trust him enough to open your eyes and presto! You had light all along." - pg. 25I think it's going to be a good book.