Karl Olsson Refresher

Covenant Chris Craft University and Pietisten continue this series of selections from the writings of Dr. Karl Olsson (1913-1996). This selection is from Dr. Olsson’s Introduction to Come to the Party, 1972, pp. 9-11. — Provost, Chesterton Chair of Literature, CCCU

The most difficult thing about writing this book has been finding a title which said what I meant to say. I suppose I could have called it a “theology of grace” or “the quest for blessing,” but both of those titles would have been cop-outs. I needed to invite people to the party.

Why did I find it so difficult? For two reasons, I think. In the first place I am a Christian living in a world full of sin, shame, suffering, hospitals, concentration camps, prisons, mental institutions, war and violence, greed and corruption, flippancy and heartlessness. I belong to a people with fat hearts and fat bodies, docile, insensitive, pouty, and delicate—what Amos called the “kine of Bashan.”

How can I even think about a party in a world either choked to death with parties or starved to death with poorness: the despair both of unwant and of want?

The justification lies in the language and acts of Jesus. He was, despite the sad world he inhabited and the solemn destiny which lay coiled in him, the prime host and the prime guest of the party. He ate and drank; he let himself be doused with perfume; he was concerned about wedding wine and wedding garments. Without denying anything that was sad or sinful, bloody or pallid, Jesus was indeed Lord of the Feast.

My second reason for hesitating about the title is more personal. I am…not a blessed child. I am not Joseph of the coat of many colors. Hence I could never feel that I belonged at a party. It was my lot to serve and to suffer, not to enjoy myself. That does not mean that I did not go to parties…and enjoy myself while there. There were moments when in the perfumed presence of the young girls-so pink and white of flesh and so ravishingly fair of form—I was close to ecstasy. But something somber in me held back. I nearly always felt that the party was not for me, that when the clock struck I would end up in the chimney corner.

Despite these reservations, I have managed to risk a title which in some ways frightens and embarrasses me. And I can risk it because through Jesus (O beautiful and banal phrase) I have discovered that I too am a child of blessing and belong at the party. And that I need never go away.

I have also discovered that the church is the new family of blessing…the presupposition of its life is the grace of the party. I do not believe that the church exists for mission as if it were an army of workers, gray, stolid, and joyless. I believe that the church exists for joy in relationship. It is made by love for love. Furthermore, I believe that grace begets both gracefulness and graciousness. Accountability for the world is born in love, not guilt. When we are truly at the party, we want to see the house full.