Grace Amazing

Posted: February 18, 2010 in Culture, Theology

Celtic Woman really hits this one out of the ballpark:

Wikipedia has a lot of information about this song at:

I did not realize that one of the verses to John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” had been taken from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.”

Judy Collins introduced a whole new generation to the song around 1970 and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards based their popular arrangement on Collins’s version.  The Celtic Woman arrangement is based on the Guards’ version and starts off the same way.

The Wikipedia article says, “Since the 1970s, self-help books, psychology, and some modern expressions of Christianity have viewed this disparity in terms of grace being an innate quality within all people who must be inspired or strong enough to find it, something to achieve.  In contrast to Newton’s vision of wretchedness as his wilfull sin and distance from God, wretchedness has instead come to mean an obstacle of physical, social, or spiritual nature to overcome in order to achieve a state of grace, happiness, or contentment.”

There is definitely a clash of theologies going on here.  To sing “Amazing Grace” as though it were about some innate quality in man, or man’s ability to achieve a goal, is about as perpendicular to the meaning of the song as one can get.  The main point of the song is that there is nothing in us that is worthy of God’s favor, not in our lifetime, not in a million years, not ever.  And yet God still saves us.  That is what Newton thought was so amazing about grace.

It’s rather amazing in itself that people can sing the same song and have two entirely different meanings in mind.

I’m reminded of what the theologian Karl Barth said in 1934 to the “German Christians,” just before the nightmare of fascism & Nazism descended upon Germany.  He was very opposed to the “God and” theology, the idea that God needed a human contribution in the matter of salvation:

“Let me warn you now,” he said.  “If you start with God and . . . you are opening the doors to every demon.  And the charge which I raise against you, I lay before you in the words of Anselm: ”Tu non considerasti, quandi ponderis sit peccatum!  You have failed to consider the weight of sin.  And that is the sin: that man takes himself so very seriously.”  (God in Action, pp. 137ff.)


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