Although he was no household name, Robert Farrar Capon was a noted Christian clergyman and author. Born in 1925 and a lifelong New Yorker, he passed away one year ago, on Sept. 5, 2013.
|Robert Farrar Capon (in 2011)|
Last September when I heard that Capon had died, I decided to read one of his books in his memory. The one I chose was "Parables of Grace" (1990), and I was not disappointed.
Here is part of what I wrote in my brief Goodreads review of that book:
As the title indicates, this work deals only with those parables of Jesus which especially emphasize grace, and Capon has a remarkable understanding of the breadth and depth of God’s grace. Some readers may even be offended by the radical nature of Capon’s understanding of grace.
His far-from-usual interpretation of the parables soon became evident in reading his “take” on them. For example, “We twentieth-century Christians—with our basically nineteenth-century view of childhood as a wonderful and desirable state—miss the point of the passage” about Jesus saying his followers would have to become like children.
In Jesus’ time, and for most of the centuries since, childhood was almost always seen as a less than human condition that was to be beaten out of children as soon as possible. Therefore when Jesus sets us a little child as an example, he is setting up not a winsome specimen of all that is simple and charming but rather one of life’s losers (p. 17).
In “The First Parable of Grace: The Coin in the Fish’s Mouth,” his third chapter, Capon says that it is very sad when the church acts as if it is in the religion business rather than in the Gospel-proclaiming business. What a disservice, not only to itself but to a world perpetually sinking in the quagmire of religiosity, when it harps on creed, cult, and conduct as the touchstones of salvation (p. 29).
Last month I read another of Capon’s books, "The Foolishness of Preaching" (1997), which I wish I could have read 50+ years ago when I was preaching every week. In it he calls religion, spirituality, and morality “grim pills” that stand in contrast to the radical grace he praises.
To Capon’s way of thinking, not only grace but also the forgiveness produced by that grace is radical and unconditional.
In “Death, Resurrection, and Forgiveness: The Unforgiving Servant,” the fifth chapter of "Parables of Grace," he contends that “the gift of forgiveness proceeds solely out of God’s love and is therefore antecedent to any qualifying action on the part of the receiver” (p. 40).
Accordingly, at the end of that chapter, Capon says that both heaven and hell are occupied by “only forgiven sinners.” Jesus forgives all. Thus,
The sole difference, therefore, between hell and heaven is that in heaven the forgiveness is accepted and passed along, while in hell it is rejected and blocked (p. 50).
Capon’s writing is captivating because of his out-of-the-ordinary ideas and also because of his witty ways of saying things. For example, I enjoyed his reference to being “stuck with a paradoxical pig in an off-putting poke” ("Foolishness," p. 11).
And speaking of paradox, his trilogy on the parables of Jesus has been published in one volume, "Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus" (2002). I highly recommend it.
Yes, Robert Capon is a man worth remembering—and worth reading.