This post is from Connie W he can be found on twitter @conniejoh2o and she blogs at http://conniejoh2o.wordpress.com/
Read this before reading on, just to see what is going on here. Note: these posts are guest posts and may or may not reflect my views. -Jay
Trying to Understand Justification
Near the end of the Love chapter ( 1 Corinthians 13) Verse 12 we are given, I think, a lens through which we have to view most of our attempts to be assured that we “understand” the Bible, it says, “ For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now we know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was known fully.” If Paul could admit that he couldn’t fully grasp the enormity of God’s essence (love) then it isn’t reaching for us to assume that there is no one human answer that is perfect on the topic of justification, but that our faith and belief in Christ Jesus is not in jeopardy if we question in a prayerful way, the specifics of how justification works.
I appreciated Jay asking me to present my understanding of Justification and to also speak, if I could to the “Outlaw Preachers” understanding of Justification. His request sent me on a quest by way of several conversations to find out just what Outlaw Preachers believe when it comes to the topic of Justification. As all good 21th century folks do, my first stop was Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification_(theology) to get an overview of various understandings of justification. Next I had conversations with several Outlaws across the country whom I knew came from varied traditions and understandings.
Justification is not a foreign subject to me, having received my MDiv while a candidate for ministry in the United Methodist tradition justification was a topic at many DCOM meetings and in many of my seminary classes. I am familiar with the understanding of grace of which justifying grace is an important step. Justifying grace is the time in one’s faith journey in which you recognize the presence of God and begin your personal relationship with God as you accept for yourself the action that God has already taken through Jesus Christ. Then begins Sanctifying Grace, you begin to display your growth in the Spirit by becoming each day more like the image of Christ, hopefully traveling on to perfection. It wasn’t talked about much, but there was a brief mention in Seminary about “back sliding” or leaving the way and losing your salvation or the possibility that one wasn’t justified at all having never “really” accepted God in the first place because the actions never reflected the acts of someone moving on to perfection. It made sense to me, but I always understood that our understanding of justification is unique to the United Methodist tradition.
As I began to speak with other Outlaws about how they were taught to understand Justification, it became apparent that there was great diversity (which I completely anticipated seeing). Outlaw Preachers come from many traditions, and no traditions, some run away from the understandings of their youth, some cling to them, and some didn’t even know that “justification” was a big deal. See, when you are part of a group that spans the gambit of theological understanding from Episcopalian to Assemblies of God, “Recovering Conservative Evangelicals” to Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Disciples of Christ and various other traditions and complete lack of tradition diversity is a given, finding common ground is the trick. This bunch of rapscallions seem to be linked not by any academically defined doctrine, but a simple (not simplistic) belief that the Grace of God restores ALL. There seems to be an understanding that God’s grace and God’s love are not contingent on our becoming someone else but that by the unconditional love and grace of God we become confident in whom we already are.
Once God’s grace and love are seen in this way, the focus becomes not on “how God did it” but “what is our response to what God already did”. Grace and love can never be seen as simply between God and the individual, while there is no doubt that each of us in important to and beloved by God, grace is extended to all humankind, making our response not one of deep relief because we are “saved” but gratitude for inclusion into the “body of Christ” and we then become part of the grace and love of God.
In conclusion, if you ask me now about my understanding of justification, I would be most inclined to call myself a hopeful Universalist. While I cannot see through the dark mirror clearly enough to tell you that I know for sure that everyone, everywhere will get “in” in the end, I can say this, the God that I see in scripture, the God that most Christian traditions proclaim, the God I have observed in my life, and all that my logically mind has learned about God all point to the belief that God has done everything within God’s power, including giving that power up to walk among us, and die as one of us, to prove to us the lengths God will take to reconcile with God’s creation and extend God’s love and grace to that creation. I hope that God does bring everyone home for eternity, nothing would make me happier than for everyone, everywhere to be perfected in the grace and love of God. I don’t believe this understanding varies far from where I started, the idea of prevenient grace tells us that God is always seeking us, looking for a way to be a part of our lives and I don’t believe God ever gives up. I long for the day in which I know fully the how’s of justification, but for now, I am content to live in the grace and love of God trusting that it is indeed for all of our good and not our demise, that is indeed good news that I can share with everyone, everywhere.