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What is Grace?


Question & Answer

Q: By Judy

* In general, what is the Progressive Christian understanding of the word “grace”?

* Specifically, what is the grace referred to in the 5th point of Progressive Christianity, which says that Progressive Christians “Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning with an open mind and open heart, than in absolutes or dogma.”

A: By Rev. Mark Sandlin

Dear Judy,

When it comes to religion, “grace” is a bit of a loaded term. That is to say, it tends to come with a lot of baggage. Because of that, it is frequently difficult to tell precisely what any given person means by it when they use it. Are they speaking theologically, biblically, colloquially, or from some other point of view? Even then, each one comes with multiple, differing understandings.

I actually became a minister, in part, because of how I heard a Presbyterian minister define “grace.” He said (to the best of my memory), “Grace is that thing that pulls you through the darkness to the other side.” To me, that sounded like a warm and fuzzy bit of hocus-pocus. I mean, it didn’t really say much and it certainly didn’t get me any closer to an understanding of grace.

I liked the fact that it moved away from the roots of the word which are tied back to the concept of receiving a gift that is unearned and undeserved. In some ways, his new-to-me definition was kind of saying that grace is not that, but knowing what something is and what it isn’t are far from the same thing.

At that point in time I was the IT Director for a medium size retail company and, as luck would have it I had to travel alone for six hours that day to fix a networking issue at one of our stores. I spent the entire six hours thinking about what my definition of grace would be. I ended up with something like this: Grace is a gift from God not because of our deserving of it or right to it, but rather, in spite of either.

Not perfect, but it got me hooked on thinking more theologically.

The reality is, “grace” means a lot of things to a lot of people and there simply is no definitive Progressive Christian Dictionary for looking up what the general Progressive Christian understanding of it is. I can, though, tell you how I currently understand it.

Grace is a gift. It is a gift that opens you up toward love and fulfillment. There is no deserving or not deserving it. It just happens. It just is.

For me that’s what it means in our 5th point of Progressive Christianity. Learning to live in the questions rather than clinging on to the dogma, is a gift that opens us up toward love and fulfillment. There is no deserving or not deserving it. It just happens. It just is.

~ Rev. Mark Sandlin

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. Mark Sandlin is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) from the South. He currently serves at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. Mark also serves as the President and Co-executive Director of He is a co-founder of The Christian Left. His blog, has been named as one of the “Top Ten Christian Blogs.”  Mark received The Associated Church Press’ Award of Excellence in 2012. Follow Mark on Facebook and Twitter @marksandlin.

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