I received a copy of Brennan Manning’s neo-classic The Ragamuffin Gospel for review yesterday. As I started to read, I was struck by the way Manning jumped headlong into the deep end with little or no fanfare. His first chapter touched on how we no longer understand the word “grace.” His words struck in me a chord about grace that I wanted to play for you.

Language is an interesting thing. Regardless of the one you espouse – or the one you learn, for that matter. Since English is my language of origin (although that would be debated by British nationals and New Englanders alike) I’ll concentrate on that one for a moment. Words in English have a way of taking on a life of their own. For instance, the word “gay” originally meant “happy and carefree.” Today, it has become a designation: a badge to some and a by-word to others. I recall a sermon in which the preacher suggested that the word “high” had taken on a new meaning (I was in high school at the time). “When I was young,” the preacher asserted, “if you wanted to get high on pot, you’d go and climb up on the back of the toilet—then you were high on pot!” A bit later in the same sermon, the speaker assured his listeners that when he was young if you were “bad” you were doing something wrong, and at the time of the sermon if someone was “bad” they were to be looked up to. [Which reminds me of a clip from Welcome Back, Kotter in which Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington tried to explain to the teacher that when he said he was bad he did not mean that he was bad but that he was ba-a-a-a-a-ad.]

Another example of the fluidity of our language has to do with the phenomena known as homophones—words that sound alike but have totally different meanings. My favorite of these pairs are the words raise and raze. The former means to build up; the latter, to tear down. And with the constant mutation of our language, some words get snatched up, banged around, and battered into an unrecognizable mound. Our case in point today: grace.

Not long ago I was in a meeting with other Baptists from around our state. In the course of the discussion, one minister-type made the bold statement that we all know that “Grace” (when used in the name of a church, particularly) is a code word for Calvinism. In making such a statement we disallow any other Christian group access to the word. Could it be that only Calvinists can understand or have grace? Has God relegated grace to those who hold tightest to the five petals of the TULIP?

I would like to argue that grace is not so much a theological term as it is a biblical one. And it is not so much a designation of a certain doctrinal inclination as it is a holy gift from God Almighty. The reason is that grace suggests to us several things: the first of which is that God is the initiator of our salvation. We should be reminded again of the injunction from the book of Revelation:

9 After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb! [Revelation 7:9-10, HCSB]

Salvation is both His initiative and His prerogative. There is nothing that you or I could do to make or earn our salvation. As such, grace also means that since God initiates and provides salvation, He also keeps it. Since I cannot make or earn it, once I have it I cannot do, say, or think anything that can pull it from His grasp.

Grace is not a code word for one type of believer, for one denominational leaning, or for one theological bent. No, grace is God’s gift. It is beyond our power and greater than our understanding, but we are to fall on it, trusting in Him to catch us—mercifully because we do not deserve it, and gladly because He provided it.

I am glad that as follower of Christ, grace has found me—regardless of the theologian whose teachings I find most appealing.