Thursday, July 12, 2018

book review: the fingerprints of God

title: The Fingerprints of God
author: Robert Farrar Capon
publisher:Wm. B. Eerdmans
year: 2000

Capon, makes you think. Whether you agree with him or not, he makes you think. In this little book (163 pages) he explores some of the images in the Bible and in church history that point to God.

In this book, he tackles some of the mistakes of some of the church fathers, he calls it "transactionalism" - the old left-brain idea that one must contribute something -  sacrifice, repentance, good works, or whatever - to deserve the free gift of forgiveness and grace given by God. 

He argues that the Reformation kicked transactionalism out the front door, proclaiming salvation by grace, through faith, (not works), but let it right back in the back door by stipulating that faith was the current coin of the realm.

In his unique style, Capon has the Holy Spirit saying (in a dialogue among the Trinity at the beginning of the book), "They're going to paint themselves into a corner and say that the unbaptized go to hell or even that sins after Baptism make forgiveness flake off like a bad paint job, and that unless Christians go to confession for a second coat before they die, they'll go to hell too. Oh sure. We've also agreed on this Reformation business where I convince them that nobody has to do anything to be forgiven except trust the grace that Jesus has already given everybody. But give them a hundred years after that and they'll manage to turn faith itself into a requirement for grace: no faith, no forgiveness. Out the window again goes the free gift we've given them once and for all; and back in comes forgiveness as a deal that's good only as long as they behave themselves."

Capon explores how some of the church reformers such as Irenaeus, Athanasius. Luther, Calvin and Melanchthon, while contributing invaluable insights essential to a true reformation, still slipped into this transactionalism. 

Capon says he was originally planning to call the book "Re-forming the Reformation" and I think that may have been a better title for the second half of the book. And is probably even more relevant for today, with the rise of neo-calvinism.

I would have liked to see more exploration of images. Capon roots his exploration mostly in his discussion around Literalism/Fundamentalism vs. Liberalism (turning the Bible into a book of ethics and denying the mystery). He, I believe, rightly says both views are mistakes. God can use whatever device he wants to tell the STORY of scripture - images in poetry, hyperbole, allegory, parables, and yes, even literalism - even though that is used far less than some think.

One of the key things that Capon repeatedly says in this book that it is essential that we continually come back to Who Jesus Is... not just focus on what he did. As important as that is, if we lose sight of Who Jesus Is we miss his mission, his incarnation, his role in creation, his relationship within the Trinity... in fact, we miss Jesus. And that is the whole point... to know Jesus.

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