As theologians move beyond the categories inherited from modern theology, the notion scripture first of all functions as a means of grace has become more popular. Billy Abraham (Canon and Criterion) , Ellen Charry (By the Renewing of Your Mind) encourage us to think this way. Telford Work (Living and Active) seems to be going this way also, but I’m not smart enough to get through the book. In this post, however, instead of dialoging with these folks (or others), I’m just going to think off the top of my head on the subject.
It is insufficient to just say, “Scripture is a means of grace” and think that gets us any where. We’ve marginalized “means of grace” language for so long we need to work on that concept for it to help us.
First, in popular theology, grace has too often been simply understood as what saves us. Following Ephesians 2:8-9 we say that we’re saved by grace, not by works. Surely that’s true, but it doesn’t take us far enough. Grace does much more – just in the book of Ephesians. Grace breaks down the barrier between Jew & Gentile. Grace calls and equips Paul for his ministry. Grace makes us one in Christ. Grace is connected with our remaking in the image of Jesus.
Second, it’s been a long time since “means” language has had a big function in popular language. At the very least, it shows that something is happening. Through X, Y happens. Scripture makes something happen, or, our interaction with Scripture is the occasion for something happening.
What kinds of things happen through Scripture in our lives? Well, those “grace- things” happen. How does it work? is it magic? Is grace some kind of juice that gives us super-spiritual vitamins? (Reading medieval theology has sometimes given me that picture of grace.)
Scripture as a means of grace pins me down to the reality of God’s Kingdom helping me see through the facade the rest of the world produces. I try to start each day in a good hour of scripture reading, studying, and prayer every morning. It truly shapes how I live out my day. Not because it’s magical, but because it grounds me and humbles me. Otherwise I see the world and my place in it as the world wants me to see it and not as God has truly made it. That’s my 1/50 of a dollar.