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Bankrupt Grace

Daniel Skeel serves on the faculty of UPenn Law School, specializing in bankruptcy law. In recent years he has been increasingly bold in bringing his faith to bear on his scholarship. Much of that witness can be traced to what he sees as the New Testament’s inescapable—and inescapably radical—understanding of debt (and debtors).

Skeel reflects,

There came a point, where I realized that the story of the Gospel, and the idea of the fresh start with bankruptcy, are very closely parallel. The idea is that you’re indebted beyond your ability ever to escape that indebtedness (and) you can’t get out on your own. It’s almost exactly the same trajectory as the idea of who Jesus is from an evangelical perspective. (It) emphasizes that reconciliation with God can come only by embracing Christ as the Savior, not through a believer’s good works.

This sort of language might cause some hearers to balk (how simplistic!), but its pastoral traction cannot be denied. Not among those carrying student loans, not among those with mortgages, to say nothing of those asked to repay a “debt” to society. Debts weigh on people, and the prospect of the clean slate has a gut-level allure and immediacy, whatever your financial situation.

In other words, it’s not an accident that Jesus used so much debt language. It’s not something to be minimized. And not just because it’s timeless, but because it’s profound. What other type of imagery could make the burden of sin—and sin’s forgiveness—more concrete?

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