All Is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism

By Marsha G. Witten | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
The Transformed Self

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet;

and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

(Luke 15:20–24, Revised Standard Version)

AND SO THE prodigal son reaches the end of his journey. Luke tells us that as the young man comes to himself, he lifts himself out of the pigpen, guided by memories of the comforts and security of his father's house, and returns home. There he is greeted by his father, who grants unconditional forgiveness and acceptance symbolized by the gift of the sandals, robe, and ring, and by the rejoicing at the feast. Although the account Luke gives is only a few sentences long, many of the pastors linger in their sermons on the scene of the son's homecoming, as they demonstrate its application to their listeners. For the return of the prodigal son represents the event of conversion in the life of the individual. It is the moment when, confronted with God's inexplicable and undeserved grace, the configuration of the self is changed. Through conversion, a person undergoes a break between the old self that lives in the world before the transmutative experience and a different self that is brought into being through the salvific relationship with Jesus Christ.


THEOLOGICAL LANGUAGES OF TRANSFORMATION

The language used above suggests that of Paul and Augustine, who provide a vocabulary on which pastors could draw in talking about the transformation of the self. In this speech, the replacement of the old self

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