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NAIROBI: British Theologian says "No" to Cheap Grace at GAFCON Gathering

NAIROBI: British Theologian says "No" to Cheap Grace at GAFCON Gathering
Western churches have abandoned "true grace of God" says Dr. Michael Ovey

By Michael Heidt in Nairobi
Special Correspondent to VOL
October 23, 2013

Speaking before lunch on the second day of GAFCON II in Nairobi, Dr. Michael Ovey, Principle of Oak Hill Theological College in England, told assembled delegates that the churches of the western world, including the Church of England, have largely abandoned what he called the "true grace of God" for the "world of the West." This, he believes, has been fatal for Christianity and for humanity. A distorted view of grace, Ovey suggested, is responsible for many of the problems faced by contemporary Anglicanism.

"My first encounter with worldwide Anglicanism," said Ovey, "came at theological college in 1990," when a visitor from Africa asked, "What Gospel do you expect us to believe, the one you came to us with or the one you now believe?" For Oak Hill's Principal, the Western church now has a very different version of the Gospel than the one it once believed, with much of the fault due to a belief in "cheap grace."

Ovey described this grace as self-bestowed at no cost to the individual, cancelling out the need for repentance, amendment of life and the subsequent, uniquely Christian blessing of forgiveness. This not only guts the Gospel of its central message, that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem," (Luke 24: 47, Acts 2) but impoverishes our understanding of God. With cheap grace in place, there is no need for the forgiveness of an all-merciful Creator because repentance isn't necessary in the first place, but something we give ourselves.

This self-bestowal amounts to the sin of presumption, which mirrors cheap, self-bestowed grace, by hoping for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, and assuming forgiveness without repentance. "Look at the West," stated Ovey, "do you not see presumption?" He gave the western world's current obsession with gay advocacy as an example, calling it a symptom of a "disordered love of ourselves." But if cheap grace is at fault for the flaws in contemporary Western Anglicanism, leading to a church that is self and world regarding, instead of reliant on God, why is the Western world so hostile to the church?

Ovey placed part of the blame on the enlightenment philosopher Kant, whose teaching he described as leading to a rejection of the need for revelation, based on the presumed "competence" of the "mature" individual. Such a person does not need outside guidance and is entitled to use their own judgment without interference. It's a small step from that to jettisoning reliance on God.

Kant was also linked to the West's emphasis on rights. Ovey stated that people, after the philosopher pronounced his "maturity" as an entitlement, began to regard rights as innate, unearned privileges that a person is simply born with, regardless of qualification. However, in adopting Kantian "maturity," Western culture has forgotten that the concept of rights comes from Gospel principles and belief. In abandoning these, the West has become an "amnesiac culture trying to live down its Christian past." But if rights don't come from God, asked Ovey, "where do they come from?"

"According to the culture, you can't base them on God," he stated, "and you can't base them on society," because this would detract from personal autonomy. The only source left is the individual and society then devolves into a series of warring individuals, or "kings and queens." Dr. Ovey then went on to warn delegates that the West's attitude towards rights is attractive, because Western technology backs up its Kantian assumption of maturity and competence.

Ovey then asked where the Western Anglican church is in relation to hostile secularism. He believes the church's anti-Gospel adoption of cheap grace mirrors Western culture's sense of narcissistic, unearned, self-entitlement and is part of a broader capitulation and compromise with a disbelieving secular society.

"Denominations have made a virtue of modernization in the hope that the people of the West will flock back to the church in droves," only to "find that the world doesn't want you." Church pews, accordingly, remain empty and the church finds itself increasingly irrelevant.

The real solution to this is a return to the central Gospel message of "costly grace," and a radical call to repentance, stated Ovey, "not because we hate the world but because we love it, as our Savior did."


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