For years there hung in my office a head of a beret-wearing, grinning man whom I called Pierre. I don’t know if that name was on him when we purchased this head, but it is what we called him. His smile was infectious and brought smile after smile to those who visited my room. One day, when the wind blew and slammed the door shut, Pierre fell to the floor and broke into pieces. So, I gathered him up, tossed him into the garbage can, and we said our goodbyes.
Not so with God. We are Eikons who have fallen to the floor and cracked, but God’s gracious love does not permit him to gather us up and toss into the garbage can. Instead, God gathers us up, holds us in his embracing love, and that embrace unleashes the cycle of embracing grace. By embracing us, we are restored; by being embraced, we learn to embrace; by learning to embrace others, we aid in the restoration of others.
Brian McLaren has recently suggested we need a “purple” politics, one that gets beyond the partisanship and reified boundaries between the Democrats and Republicans. I want to suggest that we need, along with a purple politics, a purple theology—a “purple” gospel. A purple gospel takes us beyond both the evangelical preoccupation with forgiveness and the liberal preoccupation with injustice. It takes us beyond both not by suggesting both are wrong but that both are right—and that a purple gospel is a sin and systemic resolution.
A purple gospel begins with human beings created in the image of God, or in the Eikon of God. Humans are appointed by God in this world as his representatives—to govern this world and to be in union with God and in communion with others—for the good of others and the world. To be an Eikon of God is like being an “icon” on a computer screen: When you click on the icon it opens up another world. We are designed to be “clicked” and when we are opened, we should reveal God’s presence. That is, we are designed to open God to others. The calling to be an Eikon is our noblest.
But, the Biblical story, which is the story Christians find themselves in, is that the Eikon cracks when Adam and Eve, together I might add, choose to disrupt their relationship with God and with one another. And here we find a secret to a “purple gospel.” In classical evangelicalism, sin tends to be defined judicially. That is, sin is an offense against God’s will, revealed especially in the Law. When sin is defined narrowly as only judicial, then the gospel becomes a work of God designed to rectify the judicial story Adam and Eve find themselves in, and the gospel is reduced to a courtroom declaration. Classical liberalism, especially in its most recent forms, tends to define sin systemically—that is, it is structured evil; it is out there rather than in me. When sin is defined narrowly as systemic, then redemption becomes nothing more than social activism that targets injustice in this world. The gospel becomes little more than liberation from injustice. Now, let me add, we need both judicial standing and liberation, and we need more. The way to find that more is to recognize that both have narrowed who we are. We are relational beings.
A purple gospel, however, transcends both of these understandings of sin and therefore lands upon a gospel that transcends both as well. For a purple gospel, sin is relational. If the Eikon is designed to be in union with God and in communion with others, and if the cracked Eikon finds itself out of union with God and no longer in communion with others, then the gospel is designed to restore union with God and communion with others. Thus, for purple theology, the gospel is the work of God designed to restore relationships in all directions: A purple gospel is a hyper-relational gospel. Humans who are under the caring work of God’s gospel are being restored to their proper relationships with God, with others, and with the world.
This hyper-relational, purple gospel can be called the gospel of embracing grace.
Once again, if we let ourselves define either sin or our problem as cracked Eikons as simply a judicial condition, we miss what the Bible is teaching us: That we are hyper-relational Eikons. We are made to relate to God, to others and to the world. Our “fall” is the disruption of relations; if our “fall” is disrupted relations, then our “atonement” is the restoration of relations. For this reason alone, the word "embrace" penetrates deeply into what the gospel is all about—it is about humans being restored hyper-relationally in the embracing grace of God that unleashes a cycle of embraces and graces.
But, embracing grace is also designed, because God created this world, to empower us to work for the restoration of the entire created order. Romans 8:21 tells us that the entire created order is waiting, as God himself waits in potential relationship with us, for its potential liberation—and we are summoned, missionally, to join God in the work of restoring Eikons for the good of others and the world. Because God graciously and lovingly picks up our broken pieces and restores us, we can share grace with others.