Free, but Not Easy

Why grace is so rare among Christians.
2006This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Miroslav Volf, the leading Protestant theologian of his generation, has written a book that might serve as a model for how to do "public theology"—a book that can be read with profit by any thoughtful Christian. Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace is a sustained examination of the scandalous truth at the heart of the gospel: "God's forgiveness is indiscriminate." We've become dulled to this truth, Volf observes. We need to recover it again and again.

Don't linger over the reference to a "culture stripped of grace" in the subtitle. That's one of the book's very few concessions to a marketing department's idea of relevance. Volf refers at the outset to "a larger pattern of what we may call the gracelessness that is slowly spreading like a disease through many of our cultures," but the specific example he gives—a rude American cop—will strike many readers as underwhelming, and he makes no effort to mount a historical argument. What he's interested in is a perennial human condition—and the way in which God's graciousness allows us to enter a very different "culture," a community of love.

Exploring the implications of God's great gift with a subtle dialectical intelligence and a winsome voice—the stories from his life that give the book a powerful personal dimension will stay with readers a long time—Volf is in constant conversation with Martin Luther. Indeed, Free of Charge could be described as a return to the wellsprings of the Reformation.

My copy of the book is a thicket of Post-it notes marking passages to return to: "Naked need is the occasion for God's giving, not a need adorned with the clean, elegant robes of respectability and good works." "There are no unforgivable ...

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