Perplexed by Atonement Theories? The Core of it All

Once a young reader informed me with a robust confidence that the heart of the atonement concerned the wrath of God — and I’ve had others say it’s the love or grace of God while others think it is adjusting the books and getting the ledgers re-assigned. What is it then? Is it propitiation and penal substitution, the exemplary love of God, or justification? From another angle: How does the atonement fit into the Bible’s central narrative?

And, why is atonement — no one doubts its importance — so often ignore resurrection? How does it all relate to our understanding of God and how does it related to the life of Jesus?

I’m happy to commend for your reading Adam Johnson’s Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed.

Which text in the NT do you think is most expressive of the atonement?

What does the doctrine of atonement do in Christian theology? Is it the center? If not, where does it fit?

The rest is at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/02/09/perplexed-by-atonement-theories-the-core-of-it-all/

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The Church’s Hospitality Mandate

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Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 7.28.53 PMThe church has two complexes: one says it is a fellowship for the saints while the other complex is that it a fellowship for the sames. To use terms that have been suggested by folks like Craig Vernall, Dawn Haglund and Robert Webber, the traditional church often says it works from behaving, believing to belonging. But Vernall, Haglund, Webber and now Brian Harris says the proper order — the one the 21st Century most needs — is

Belong
Believe
Behave

This might be called the Hospitality Mandate of the church. Brian Harris outlines this in his book The Big Picture: Building Blocks of a Christian World View. Harris sketches a theology of embrace and hospitality by touching on important themes in the Bible:

Go to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/12/09/the-churchs-hospitality-mandate/

Siding with Jesus on the Cross

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Making sense of the cross has been the church’s business since the day Jesus died. It’s way of making sense was to theorize or, to put the matter more delicately, to theologize — even if Zinsser taught me long ago that adding -ize to a word is a shortcut. Indeed, maybe so, but the church didn’t take shortcuts when it came to explaining its beliefs through the cross. One theory after another unfolded in the church, each adding to the other and at times a new one arising because it thought earlier theories got things wrong.

One such theory is the Abelardian theory, and another is the Girardian theory. The former is connected to the word “exemplary” and the latter to “scapegoat” and “mimetic violence.” I contend neither is in fact a theory of atonement even if each reveals yet one more way to ponder the cross.

Here’s why I say so. In all other theories the cross is in some way against us — pronouncing us guilty and therefore captured by the devil, or therefore condemned, or therefore at enmity with God, or corrupted by death and in need of life. In other words, atonement theories work by Christ entering into our condition — slavery, guilt, condemnation, alienation, dead — and absorbing that very condition on our behalf so we can enter into a new condition — free, justified, reconciled, new life.

But the Abelardian and Girardian have an oft-missed sinister side, even if you may object to my saying so. In these theories we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death. We end up being the good guys, the victims, while the bad guys — Roman and Jewish leaders, the gutless disciples, the whole damned human race — are the ones who put him there. We, on the other hand, know better. We’re innocent, they’re guilty.

We are not the authorities, pockmarked as they are by injustice; we are for justice, and we see Jesus as suffering a colossal injustice. We tell a story in which we side with Jesus against the world and against the sinners and against the perpetrators of injustice. We thereby become guiltless and just. The opposite of what the cross’s message teaches. We end up where the Holocaust perpetrators were: we see in the leaders those who killed God. But not us, we are on Jesus’ side. We find Jesus as our model for sacrifice for justice. He becomes a moral example — not against us but as one of us.

Such approaches mask their inner reality: self-righteousness.

To use the words of Francis Spufford, in Unapologetic, we make the crucifixion scene “a story about a special shiny person, whose side we’re all on as we listen, being abused by especially evil persons.” He says such an approach to the crucifixion scene is no longer about Jesus being crucified but Jesus being crucified. He’s innocent, we know it, and we’re for him. Cheer the just man on, folks, cheer him on! Raise a toast for justice as activists for justice!

But the cross contains another message: that we, each of us, because we are sinners and hate to be confronted with the utter sickness that stains us, are the ones who put him there. To read that narrative well is to see ourselves as complicit in the condemnation of the innocent man.

The only “theories” of the cross that make any sense of the cross then are theories that begin right here: I am guilty of that death.

—-

Scot is much too smart for me. Still, I am blessed and challenged by his writings.

Go to Amazon.com and type in Scot McKnight – go to his page. Good material to read there.

http://www.amazon.com/Scot-McKnight/e/B001IQZDNO/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1391888082&sr=1-2-ent

Reading the Bible in its Galaxy

from Jesus Creed

John Walton, this time with Brent Sandy, has done it again. We have a new book that examines how to read the Bible within the categories of thought and practice of the Bible, a procedure that puts back on the shelf approaches that pretend the Bible is using our categories. The book is called The Lost World of Scripture, with John writing the OT parts and Brent the NT parts.

The Bible, they confess, is a “literary masterpiece, a magnum opus, a stellar performance. But there’s more to the story” (12, italics added). Yes, it is “the inspired revelation of Almighty God” and God’s “self-disclosure.” Yet, the Old Testament emerges from the Ancient Near East and the NT from the Greek and Roman world as they intersect with Judaism. The Bible reflects and speaks into and with those worlds.

They affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, knowing they are pressing specific themes that some inerrantists do not acknowledge sufficiently and they will be opposed by some who think they know what inerrancy means.

Big one: What do these various four statements mean for reading the Old Testament? 

Like John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, so this book is a series of (21) propositions. Here are the first four:

1. ANE societies were hearing dominant and had nothing comparable to authors and books as we know them. Our world is text-dominant. Text-dominant societies think in textual terms; oral societies think in oral terms.  Texts emerged in the ANE for archives, libraries, as texts, to be read aloud, and as expressions of power. It was a world of authorities (kings, etc), tradents (passers on of traditions), and scribes (those who could write).

2. Expansions and revisions were possible as documents were copied generation after generation and eventually compiled into literary works. For instance, glosses (Gen 12:6;Num 12:3), added sections (Deut 34), updated legislation (Exod 21:28-32), or integrated revisions (Chronicler’s approach to what we read in Samuel-Kings).

3. Effective communication must accommodate to the culture and nature of the audience. They believe God accommodates at the locution level but not at the illocution level, that is, in form but not intention. God may accommodate in cosmology but the intention of God is not part of that cosmology. Inerrancy, they argue, is about illocution.

4. The Bible contains no new revelation about the workings and understanding of the material world. Here John Walton develops what he wrote in The Lost World of Genesis One.

A Celtic Evening Blessing

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From the Celtic Book of Prayer:

Blessing
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

The Gifts of Christ for the People of Christ

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There is, the apostle Paul tells us,

one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).

His emphasis on “oneness” forms everything in these three verses: God is one, what God does is designed to form oneness. God is not divided; God is palpably one.

Do you prefer the consecutive reading? Why aren’t gifts more often connected to unity?

That oneness does not, however, obliterate distinction or integrity. Each of us remains singular. Paul’s way of saying that is to say that God has given to each of us a gift, an assignment, a task, a role, a place at the party:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it (4:7).

Oneness includes differentness. The oneness is not identical-ness or same-ness but the fellowship of interpenetrating love and communion. The differentness, then, is designed to contribute to the whole, and this is why Paul puts it this way:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (4:11-13).

Notice here that it is Christ who distributes these gifts, it is Christ who makes us both one and different at the same time. The gifts mentioned here are the gifts of theological and spiritual formation: apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor-teachers (it is possible to translate pastors and teachers since there is no absolute rule, though the majority of us think it means pastor-teachers). [My point here is that grammar doesn’t always obey laws.]

Now there are two ways to read what comes next. The gifts of Christ are given to the body of Christ, and why are they given?

Consecutive reading: the gifts equip the people of God and the people do the works of service and those works of service lead to the building up until we become mature. So a chain reaction: gifts, equip, works of service, building up, unity in knowledge and maturity.

Multi-impact reading: these theological and spiritual formation gifts are given by Christ to accomplish four results:

1. They equip the saints.
2. The same gifts are works of ministry (service).
3. The same gifts accomplish building up of the body of Christ.
4. Those same gifts lead to unity in knowledge and maturity.

In this reading, then, the focus is on the designed impact of the gifts of theological and spiritual formation. In the consecutive reading there is a distribution of impact from the leaders to the body and through the body to maturity. The consecutive reading is especially comfortable for those who emphasize “body life” and the ministry of everyone in the church, while the multi-impact reading emphasizes God’s design for those gifted for theological and spiritual formation.

The grammar does not “prove” either reading; the grammar can be read consecutively or as a multi-impact. The absence of “and” before the second item in the listing, however, just causes me to lean in the direction of the consecutive reading. What we must take away, regardless of the reading, is that Christ has given gifts for the people of Christ to become what they are to be: one in Christ and in knowledge and maturity.

 

Comments? 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/09/10/the-gifts-of-christ-for-the-people-of-christ/

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

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James D.G. Dunn was my doctoral supervisor. I have visited with Jimmy most every year since the early 1980s at the annual academic conferences, and this sketch of his newest book needs to be seen in that light. In many ways, this book returns to the sort of work he was doing in the 1980s when I was his student and which established the kind of scholarship he does. Reading the book was like sitting in the seminar room in Nottingham, flanked by Goldingay and Casey, with Dunn engaging two scholars — Hurtado and Bauckham — in typically Dunnian form.

The question Jimmy Dunn asks is actually slightly different than the title of this post: Did the first Christians worship Jesus? This question, the subject of Dunn’s newest book Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence, surfaces from the claims of Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham, both of whom contend that Jesus was worshiped by the Christians early, within just a few years. That question gets modified as the study proceeds.

It would take a long review to do full justice to this book, and it would complicate the review to engage with the subtleties of this debate with Hurtado and Bauckham, so I want to focus on Dunn’s major conclusions because he is taking issue with both of these scholars and contending, in essence, that they have overstated the evidence.

1. When it comes to the terms for “worship,” though there is evidence these terms were used of Jesus, there is a reserve on the early Christians’ part. He says “Generally no” or “only occasionally” [but this opens up a fissure into the whole issue. It’s like the deity of Christ discussion: are we looking for evidence that his deity pervades everything, as we will find in later discussions, or are we looking for evidence that one or more NT statements make that claim. Once one finds one incontestable, or at least one instance, the Christian’s instinct is to say “So, yes, they did worship Jesus.”] Dunn thinks the NT shows Jesus is both the source of worship and the object of that worship.

2. When it comes to the practice of worship, the evidence is similar: few prayers are addressed to him, few hymns to him, no sacrifices to him. What we find is that Jesus is wholly bound up with their worship. This provokes another question: was their worship possible without Christ?

3. Monotheism, heavenly mediators and divine agents: worship was always of God, though angels and Wisdom and Logos etc were seen as the immanence of God. The rising of Christ to heavenly status was indeed possible within the world of the earliest Christians.

4. The most significant chp in this book concerns the NT evidence, and this chp flows out of Dunn’s major work on the development of early Christian christology (Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry Into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation). The earliest Christians saw him as a prophet without peer, they called him Lord, they invoked him in prayer, they identified him with Word and Wisdom; thus, they called him God. Yet, this same Jesus called someone God, the Father. The God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was seen as the presence of God, the immanence of God. Thus: “the first Christians did not think of Jesus as to be worshiped in and for himself” (146). “He was not to be worshipped as wholly God, or fully identified with God, far less as a god” (146). And this leads to his big conclusion:

If he was worshipped it was worship offered to God in and through him, worship of Jesus-in-God and God-in-Jesus.

Christian monotheism, if it is to be truly monotheism, has still to assert that only God, only the one God, is to be worshipped.

So the distinctive element of Christianity is that God is to be worshiped through and in Jesus Christ.

5. Thus there is a danger of Jesus-olatry, a worship of Jesus that detracts from the one true God. Earliest Christian worship of God through and in Jesus Christ does not diminish monotheism. The Christian claim is that in Jesus God has revealed God’s self. All Christian worship worships the one God, the Father, through and in Jesus Christ.