Against Bloodless Ghosts in Theology


Brown_ladyJohn Updike, from his 1963 review of Paul Tillich’s Morality and Beyond:

[T]he net effect is one of ambiguity, even futility — as if the theologian were trying to revivify the Christian corpse with transfusions of Greek humanism, German metaphysics, and psychoanalytical theory. Terms like “grace” and “Will of God” walk through these pages as bloodless ghosts, transparent against the milky background of “beyond” and “being” that Tillich, God forbid, would confuse with the Christian faith.

— “Tillich,” in Assorted Prose of John Updike (New York: Knopf, 1966), 220.

We too often toss around words like “spirit,” “grace,” “peace,” and “hope,” smooshing them all into some Christian-ese gobbledegook. This is not the Christian faith. The Bible will not let us have these ideas merely as ideas, as things. They are personal. Thus: “He himself is our peace” (Micah 5:5; Eph. 2:14) and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Let’s not mess with ethereal virtues, no matter how Christianly gauzed. Leave ethereal virtues to vague saviors. Let’s not toy with bloodless ghosts, which time and time again only slip through our grasping fingers like smoke through pitchfork tines. All biblical virtues find their solidity in our real and risen Lord, Jesus the Christ. The Word is real and em(glorified)bodied!

Sinclair Ferguson brings it home:

[R]emember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus. If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself.

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