Grace Creates a New Social Reality

In light of yesterday's post about how seeing the gift of God creates a new social imagination, I'm reminded again of the analysis of John Barclay in his book Paul and the Gift

I've shared this material before, but I keep coming back to it, over and over again, I think it's so important.

Again, the main point that Barclay makes is how grace affects social relationships.

To recap, according to Barclay Paul's great theme concerned the incongruity of grace, that God gave the Christ-gift to the unworthy.

In the ancient context that was a revolutionary idea. According to the ancients, gifts were only to be given to worthy recipients to ensure the web of social reciprocity at the heart of the ancient gift economies.

We tend to miss the radical social implications of Paul's message of grace. We moderns tend to make grace a personal and psychological experience: I feel grateful because God loves me, an unworthy sinner.

But in Paul's context the message of incongruous grace--God gives gifts to the unworthy--blew up the entire ancient way of thinking about social relationships.

In short, rather than creating an internal, private experience grace creates a new social imagination and reality.

According to Paul, in the light of grace all previous cultural standards of significance and worth--how we divide up the winners and losers in any society--are dissolved and eradicated.

Grace is an acid that dissolves the social barriers that separate the winners from the losers.

A quote I've shared before from Barclay (p. 394-395):
The cross shatters every ordered system of norms, however embedded in the seemingly "natural" order of "the world"... the cross of Christ breaks believers' allegiance to pre-constituted notions of the honorable, the superior, and the right...Paul parades the cross as the standard by which every norm is judged and every value relativized...

[As used by Paul in his argument in Galatians] The enormous creativity made possible by this vision of reality is immediately obvious: "For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but new creation."... Paul announces the irrelevance of taxonomic systems by which society had been divided in subtly hierarchical terms: old "antinomies" are here discounted in the wake of a new reality that has completely reordered the world..[I]n context the primary focus is the social novelty of communities that disregard former boundaries by discounting old systems of worth. The "new creation" is indifferent to traditional regulative norms and generates new patterns of social practice. 
We can clearly see the social effect of grace in Paul's famous declaration in Galatians 3.28:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 
For Paul these distinctions remain. Paul is a Jew and he is a man. But what has been "crucified" in Christ, to quote Barclay, is the "evaluative freight carried by these labels, the encoded distinctions of superiority and inferiority." Thus, "baptized believers are enabled and required to view each other without regard to these classifications of worth."

In short, grace creates a new social reality, the formation of communities that throw away cultural and social systems of worth to realize "new creation" in their midst through surprising, boundary-crossing communities. As Barclay writes:
Ancestry, education, and social power are subordinated to a common "calling" that disregards previous assumptions of worth (1 Cor. 1:26-31). Novel communities are encouraged to relativize the differences in culture, welcoming one another on the unconditional terms by which each was welcomed in Christ Jesus (Rom. 14-15).

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