Messiah College recently celebrated the life of the late president Rodney Sawatsky with an unveiling of Gracious Christianity, a book he coauthored with Distinguished Professor Douglas Jacobsen (right). Sawatsky’s wife, Lorna, traveled to Messiah from her home in Canada to share in the dedication.
Making gracious Christianity visible
When The Beatles sang “all we need is love,” the idea that love trumps everything found new voice in modern culture. For Christians, The Beatles’ words merely echoed a more profound voice that proclaimed a deeper message of love thousands of years earlier. When asked the greatest of all commandments, Jesus declared: love God with all of your being, and then love each other. The apostle John goes on to teach us that God is love. And the apostle Paul even devotes a portion of his first letter to the Corinthians to love’s nature as the core of our faith.
Beginning in 2003, two of Messiah College’s most well-known educators—Douglas Jacobsen, distinguished professor of church history and theology, and the late Rodney Sawatsky, Messiah’s seventh president—wrote from their deep belief
in a Christian’s call to incarnational
love when they coauthored Gracious Christianity: Living the love we profess.
“The gospel invites us to mimic
God’s own graciousness in our lives,” the authors write. “It calls us to become so enveloped in God’s graciousness that we become conduits of God’s grace and love for others. Graciousness is a nonnegotiable dimension of Christian faith. It goes to the very core of the gospel. It is what makes the gospel good news.”
Throughout the book—which contains chapters that each mirror a point in Messiah’s statement of faith—the authors define and explore the implications of
gracious Christianity through such topics as Creation, human nature, salvation,
and the Bible itself. At its core, the book builds on a simple idea: that gracious Christianity is so “deeply rooted in God’s love that we cannot help but love others
in the same gracious way."
As the authors collaborated on the book, tragic news interrupted their important work—Sawatsky had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The words he had so newly penned became some of the last he would ever publicly communicate. “Rod’s sickness changed the project, turning it, in a sense, into Rod’s spiritual last will and testament,” Jacobsen says.
In March, members of the Messiah community gathered to commemorate the ways in which Sawatsky embodied gracious love, planting a Canadian maple in the name of the Ontario native.
For those who remember Sawatsky
as a visionary leader, it seems only fitting that his final testament would be such a grand call to all Christians. “The ultimate goal of Gracious Christianity,” Jacobsen says, “is to help the world’s two billion Christians make God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and compassion a little more
visible on earth every day. We say that,
for the most part, this business of making
the kingdom visible is a matter of layering small grace upon small grace in a way
that all of us can have a part.
—Jonathan Vaitl ’06