Atonement: Jesus + Suicide = a (sorta) response to @MAGuyton

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Oh yes I will make you come down here! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Morgan has asked for some feedback on this post:

Do you deserve to be crucified for your sin?.

I missed it, but I guess Brian Zahnd and Michael Brown had a debate on Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). As Morgan has said, I’m not going to throw the concept of a substitutionary atonement out of the window as there is clearly a notion of Jesus dying in the place of others. We find this in Scripture and in Church Tradition. And Morgan is correct, I believe, that Scripture does not contain the necessary elements of PSA, that of a God who has honor and requires a satisfaction of that honor code.

PSA has been part of (Western) Christian Tradition since the 11th century and roundly developed during the early days of the Protestant Reformation. It is not historic in the sense that it is found in Scripture nor in the earliest Christian Tradition. Indeed, during its genesis, it faced stiff competition from Peter Abelard’s moral exemplary theory. Note, the 11th century was also the time of the Great Schism. Thankfully the East never enjoyed the benefits of the wisdom of Anselm or Calvin on PSA. Rather, the East held to and continues to hold to Christus Victor (CV). This is a linear progression from the ransom theory of early writers and, of course, of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation.

However, we cannot do away with the sacrificial death of Christ nor the role sin played in causing the death. Michael Bird has combined the two, PSA and CV, to produce CV as the overarching goal but accomplished by something akin to PSA. In general, I am okay with that. I think there is room in Scripture and in Tradition to allow for a few different atonement theories (as well as a few different understandings of atonement). The early Church simply did not develop a completely systematic theology of atonement but spent the better part of its time saving children and understanding the divinity of Christ.

I have other issues with PSA, none of which require me to place God into human terms such as honor, evil, and good. If God chose to kill his son because of our sins, then we can hardly lay at God’s feet the crime of child abuse. My rejection of PSA is not based on notions of human morality but on the lack of historical evidence for it. PSA develops during a time of the rise of individualism as well as a sharp rise in the way the West viewed the Jews. I might would say it was a wave of intellectual Marcionism. Rather than divorcing the New Testament from the Old, Anselm and others divorced the OT from its Jewishness. I cannot say Anselm did this on purpose, as he had not yet heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the rise of an area of study known as Second Temple Judaism.

I digress.

Because of the lack of Jewishness in designing this new doctrine, atonement turned from the corporate to the individual. Had the Church and the Synagogue continued to work closely with one another as it had in the first few centuries of Christianity, we may never have seen such a uniquely pre-modern atonement theory develop. But, we have and we have lost a lot in regards to a corporate view of individual sin because of this. I cautiously agree with Morgan, when he writes,

The way that sin actually works doesn’t respect our individualist boundaries of blame and responsibility anyhow. We are collectively responsible as humanity for the harm that our community has made possible, even if individuals were the direct agents behind it.

I think immediately of Achan and others throughout Scripture who individually sinned and helped to lead the corporate body astray and into punishment. This is not to say individual sins do not matter, or that because a corporate body is saved, then even the worst part is cleansed; however, PSA is about the individual whereas CV focuses on the corporate notion of covenant and election. It is not a personal relationship between God through Christ and an individual, but God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. God did not through Christ make a personal covenant with each and every one of us individually based on our reaction to him, but with a people as a whole. Once we lost this sense of corporate election, we quickly devolve into individual election. Further, I believe PSA is harmful to the notion of being grafted in (Romans 9-11) as well as Scriptural points about sin as an action against the covenant.

PSA has transformed our notion of sin into individualist terms. Further, the Cross is not necessarily about blame and justice. Thus, I somewhat disagree with Morgan when he writes,

The cross happened because we will never be able to assign blame for sin with perfect accuracy and justice, so God says give all that blame to me and accept my forgiveness, recognizing your culpability and my grace…I do believe and am grateful that God came up with a way to take the blame for all the awful things we human beings have done to each other so that we can spend eternity together in authentic reconciliation and peace.

Sin is not about what we do to each other but what we have done against the covenant (although that actually includes what we do against each other (Matthew 25)). The covenant is with God and if we break it it is not against another, but against God. Thus, reconciliation is not about humans, but between God and his creation.

So, what is my view on the atonement? As I have disclosed before, I believe Jesus participated in a style of self-sacrifice commonly called devotio ducis. Why did he do it? This type was specific to those who were losing a battle and who had to offer something to deities who had abandoned them. This includes a loss, a sense of abandonment, and the notion of free will. In Stoic and developing Jewish thought, suicide was forbidden because it allowed the human to take the reigns from the deities. We are not our own, both made clear, but God’s! Thus, to do it in such a way made something more than a statement. If Jesus suggested it or rather if Paul and early /a/Christians are using this as an image (I think the earliest) then they are telling us a few things:

  • Jesus felt God had abandoned Israel (not only is this present in the Gospels, but so too in other Second Temple literature).
  • Jesus chose to die as a self-sacrifice (enough passive language in Paul to allow for this). He offered himself up via a death-by-cop motif (or death by legionnaire?). What’s the difference between martyrdom, suicide, and self-sacrifice? The motivation. All three end the same way.
  • By offering himself up as a sacrifice, he clearly saw himself as someone different. If he followed the views of Cato, it is possible he saw himself as divine. His death is Christological and should be understood as such.
  • His death is not so much an atonement for sins (nuanced – read Psalms of Solomon) as a reigniter of the covenant and the call to God to keep his promises (such as opening the covenant to the Gentiles). By his death, Jesus is attempting to force God to act (react?) and renew his covenant. If anything, the charge is not against the people of the covenant, but against God.
  • The self-sacrifice is meant to bring peace (not so much victory) between God and the world. The peace is the reconciliation between God and the covenant. This is not about hedonism or legalism, but about the relationship (no, Jesus is not your boyfriend) between God and his Creation. When Israel sinned, God abandoned her. And likewise, he abandoned the world. Jesus, seeing this, decided to act. He killed himself.

This is, by the way, the topic of my dissertation. I use sources from 1 Clement, Tertullian and other early Christians to support this view as well as the book of Galatians. Further, I use Josephus, Plutarch, and others. I maintain that this is an image, and would like to maintain that it is the earliest image, of the death of Christ. I equally maintain that it is not new but was known before. It just was not the dominant image. And I’m okay with that.

What does this do? I do not believe Christ “died for me” but rather, Christ died as the obedient Son God never had (i.e., Israel) which opened the door to the Gentiles. The sins of the people caused God to abandon Israel and thus deny to the Gentiles the fullness of reconciliation. It is only by the death of Jesus (who saw himself as divine) that the covenant was renewed. It is only through the death of the divine Jesus we are able to participate in the covenant with God. He became the curse so that we might become free. Jesus was the perfect Israel so that All Israel might be saved.

While I think it is time the Western Church shook off the stranglehold of PSA, we have to be watchful not to forget the sacrifice of Jesus and its relationship with sin. We need to be mindful of the several images of the atonement in the New Testament and how the early Church developed them — as well as the various early atonement models existing side by side.

There is a Facebook discussion going on as well. Feel free to join in there if you so choose.

Please note this is for discussion and my views may change somewhat.

It’s the end of the world as I know it…and I feel fine.

I am, most days, fairly reasonable. I enjoy a good conversation, a good and lively debate, differing opinions and view points. None of that means that I do not have view points of my own, but I do enjoy others. I like diversity. I enjoy most when the “educated” and “uneducated” can actually swap ideas and share things with each other. I think both have perspectives valuable in the search for truth. Ultimately I believe in people. I believe in them so much, that one of my sources of contact with them will come to an end. The decision is mine, it does not feel forced nor is it some plea for attention. It is simply what I need to do in order to continue to be able to believe the best of people. This swan song, if you will, is a final attempt on my part to try to shed light to online community and why it matters, how it helps, and how it hurts.

I believe that social media can be an amazing tool for community. I believe that online groups and rooms, church services and teachings, blogs, and networks, all constitute community. I believe that when you choose to “like” a post, comment upon a blog or story, etc. that you are voluntarily engaging in that community. The potential is amazing! The ability to exchange thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and lives has never been more available. The ability to interact with strangers never more ready, the ability to influence others never more important. Unfortunately never more abused.

To often I find myself in discussions that turn ugly, accusatory and just plain mean. To often people, myself included, end up saying things hurtful, vulgar, unnecessary. To often there is verbal bullying and abuse. To often the idea that we are essentially anonymous allows our sinful nature to speak before the nature we have in rebirth can come to the forefront.  To often we are so convinced that we are right that we can not allow a second to pass before we start to type so as to disagree. To often we, the people of God, rip off own arms and legs with a keyboard and a computer screen. We are indeed one body and make no doubt, when you are mean, nasty, hurtful toward your brothers and sisters, even online, you have in effect ripped off your arm. If we should speak in love, it means we should type in love also. We all to often are not. I all to often am not.

This boils down to me feeling entirely to much hurt and pain when I or others say harmful things to people. When we insist that someone is not able to receive grace for whatever the reason. When we start talking about the “right way” to do church. It is a selfish choice because I choose to not allow myself to continue in that hurt. This does not require comment to me as I will not respond, but please feel free to use this as a discussion starter as to how this is true. Perhaps it is not at all true and I am a lunatic. This is possible as well. In this great digital age, we have such potential to reach people for the gospel more than ever and we spend our time fighting over the very tool we have to advance the Kingdom. For me that will no longer happen. I will read my news sites, and the like. I will of course use my email. I will not disengage from the information available, but I will disengage from interacting online via social media. God has given us this great and wonderful tool for connecting with each other and for forming a new and expanding community. I have contributed far to much in its misuse to continue. I hope that you who may read this learn from my bad example and use this tool to instead begin building the Kingdom instead of tearing it down. Peace.

Review, @ivpacademic’s “Suffering and the Search for Meaning: Contemporary Responses to the Problem of Pain”

Richard Rice has written a marvelous little book on the problem of suffering, or rather, the mystery of suffering. He has written it in gentle, direct language, without the need of an interpreter. He has done so through parables, stories, and letting authors speak for themselves. Rice provides, in this short little book, a multitude of views on theodicy, their respective high and low points, and a way forward respective of these wide ranging views and Christian tradition. Indeed, I can think of no better introduction to the philosophical problem of suffering as grasped in the Christian Tradition and how to form our own theology than this book.

Rice divides the book into 9 chapters, with 7 chapters to explain the various theodicies and 1 to explain why we need to examine this. The final chapter is his personal view. He knows full well, and uses noted apologist Alvin Plantinga as his support, that the one challenge atheists have best over theists is the problem of evil. He begins in chapter 2 with the easiest — the easiest to grasp at the very least. As he does with all other theodicies, Rice gives an overview, usually accompanied by a personal anecdote. Our author then gives the philosophical backdrop as to how these viewpoints came to take shape. Following this, he gives questions about the theodicy in view. In chapter 2, he examines the perfect plan wherein the holder sees God’s perfect will behind every action, good or bad. He raises the right questions, as he does in each and every viewpoint. He is not biased towards any one over the other.

There are only a few issues I have with this book. One, he relates what I would consider personal stories falling under the restricted structures of teacher-student, or otherwise, considerations. He may have reached out to those students, but this was not related to us. Perhaps it is not a problem with many, but I bristled at it, recalling some of the private conversations I had with teachers. Further, I would liked to have seen a stronger approach to the actual problem of the philosophy of evil. Why do we need to define evil and then use it as a litmus test for God? Overall, given the limitations of the nature of the book, these issues are perhaps more personal and should be taken into consideration if you are exactly as I am. Finally, in examining the non-theist view of theodicy, he takes an apologetic track. This was not as oft-putting as when others did it, but I’m not completely satisfied with the answers he gave.

I’ve chosen to include the best of this book last, forgoing my usual book review structure. In the last chapter of the book, Rice gives us a practical way forward. He admits that the previous views, even the view of the non-believer (he calls this “protest theodicy” in chapter 8), all hold something for him, but do not answer the question completely. He lays out four tenets of how he maintains the separation between God and evil (the most basic definition of theodicy). Without giving them away, they reside on the things Christians believe and hope for, falling into the realms of the doctrines of creation and salvation. It is in Rice’s practical theodicy we find a real path forward, consistent with the Christian tradition of mystery and confession over theories and facts. While you and I will have our own views of God and suffering, Rice’s understanding should be one we can give an ear to and learn from.

In all, this book does not answer the question of suffering — why good things happen to bad people; rather, it admits that, admits we do not know, and calls us to live in that place where a great deal of Christianity remains…the great mystery of Godliness.

A confession

I am having an issue with forgiveness lately. Not with those I know and love but with those I do not know and struggle to love. Mostly media figures, sports figures and today, again, a company known as Urban Outfitters. So many people and groups have been apologizing over the last few weeks and I can not seem to be able to bring myself to find it sincere. “I’m sorry that I punched my girlfriend, now wife, in the face and knocked her out”, “I am sorry that I caused the legs back and scrotum of my son to bleed while I was beating him with a stick, I didn’t notice at first and once I did, I felt bad”, “We are sorry we sold a sweatshirt celebrating the shootings at Kent State, we did not intend any offense…again, just like with the swastikas and the other stuff…”. I have such a hard time buying it. It is funny because I didn’t realize that there was a problem with it until I read my pastor’s blog this afternoon. I tried to brush it to the side, went to my bible reading and found myself in Ephesians reading this in particular “Eph 4:23 However, you were taught to have a new attitude. ” The translation is not the most faithful admittedly, but for the day it was exactly the jolt I did not at all want, and obviously needed. I think that a lot of other people are having a hard time with this too.

I have become the worst sort of cynic, the kind that is convinced everyone acts of self interest and that is all, not the philosophical school founded by Antisthenes that is sort of fun to read. Even with the realization of this, I can not find it in me to believe that they are indeed sorry. I can not bring myself to think that they are actually apologetic. I think it is just damage control in a society that expects an apology, but does not require it’s sincerity. I am having such a difficult time thinking the best of these people and companies. I think that a lot of us are struggling with this exact same thing in truth. It is a problem.

Today, and for many days in the future, I am going to be praying that God breaks this part of me so that it can be mended in accordance with His desires instead of my cynicism. I am going to be praying that God does the same for anyone else struggling with this. I am not going to do it because I think all these people are genuinely sorry, I am going to do it on faith that God knows better than I. I am going to do it with the belief that the world needs more forgiveness and mercy instead of condemnation. I am going to do it because if we, the body of Christ, can not see even the most depraved with heaven’s eyes, then who else will?

 

some reflections on theodicy

All About Evil

All About Evil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I leaned towards the soul making theodicy as explained by John Hick, but I would go further than that. I am still toying with it, but I am leaning to calling something like entropic theodicy. Here are the basic principles:

  • “Evil,” “good” and “love” (along with other concepts) presuppose a moral order. Even “suffering” and “well-being” are concepts presupposing a pre-existing order. If God pre-exists order and is outside of all systems, then likewise he is outside the moral order. Therefore, such human concepts cannot easily apply to God.
  • God and the Cosmos are not separate (panentheism) albeit the cosmos is physical whereas God is not.
  • God and evil are not separate (Isaiah 45.7).
  • Evil is cosmological. (It exists in all corners of Creation).
  • Evil is entropic (hot water (unstable) growing colder (stable) due to entropy). Thus, evil leads to good, even if eventually. Thus, evil is defined as a cosmological state of instability whereas good is a cosmological state of stability. As with other entropic systems, there has to exist a separation and a difference. This allows for the transformation (theosis).
  • There are natural laws established by God; science has shown that in places these laws are not always strictly enforced; therefore, God is not completely bound by natural laws. Therefore, if God decides to intervene, this is to further the course of evil which will lead to good.
  • We can cooperate with God in the course of evil which leads to the eventual transformation.

Alright, there you go. It is still raw, but thoughts?

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Creation Ministries and Oscar Pistorius

Many of you wont know about Oscar Pistorius, you can read up on him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Pistorius

Its been a quite interesting case with many experts giving evidence. What’s also quite interesting is an article on creation.com where they detail the various kinds of evidence and some of the issues with it. The crux of their argument being that even experts disagree on evidence, which they are able to reproduce, and measure scientifically.

 

The problem is that whilst the CMI might consider themselves experts, they are not. They are “people who have an interest in firing guns” and not “ballistic experts”. When they DO employ “ballistic experts” they only employ ones who agree with their perspective on how they should interpret the evidence.

 

This is completely contrary to to facts, and good “Science”. Most of us study the texts to determine what they are for, what was intended to be said, its socio-historical context, its theological context, its historical theological context, etc. The “Science” involved in interpreting scripture is called Hermeneutics. This is what you do BEFORE you start making any scientific conclusions about creation. In fact, once you do this, you realise that any scientific conclusions you make about creation have very little bearing on what Genesis says at all.

 

They say this:

Further, with the lure of prestige, fame and fortune accompanying evolutionary ‘discoveries’ in academia today, and with most universities firmly ensconced within the reigning materialist paradigm, one would have to be naïve not to believe that much of the evolutionary interpretation is also influenced by the rewards that come with telling the ‘right’ stories.

Apparently evolutionary studies are not based on science, but because scientists are being bribed to manipulate the evidence. Its beside the point because the bible does not have anything to do with the study of evolution, other than the God who ordered the universe also made it possible for science to be done. Either that or all science is a lie.

I liked this article which popped up today on the subject: http://agreatercourage.blogspot.co.nz/2014/09/more-pannenberg-on-genesis-1-2.html

Then:

… when it comes to the past, an objective, reliable eyewitness account of events carries the most weight. When it comes to origins, the claimed evolution from the Big Bang onward had no eyewitnesses and has never been observed in the field or repeated in a laboratory

Of course we know this to be true. However, scientists can measure and observe, then draw a line backwards and get some idea of what happened. However, this same criticism is true of Genesis, because the author of Genesis was not present at creation either. Worse, the author did not ever intend the text to be understood as an explanation of WHAT (the scientific detail) but rather, the WHY (the theological implications of a God who orders the universe), and HOW (this God is the one God who is above all other gods, and understandings).

They go on to say:

By contrast, creation had the ultimate, most reliable and truthful eyewitness possible, the eternal Creator God Himself. And He has given us an account of that supernatural, six-day, once-off event—primarily in the book of Genesis, but confirmed by many other passages of the inspired Word of God. Noah and his family were eyewitnesses of the Flood judgment about 1650 years after creation, and God (and possibly Noah himself) ensured that the account was also recorded for us in the Bible. As in a court of law, let us take the objective, unbiased account of the ultimate eyewitness at His plain meaning when evaluating the evidence for where this wonderful universe, including mice and men, has come from. When we do so, we will find that all of the ‘forensic’ evidence available to humanity as made in God’s image makes perfect sense when interpreted in the light of that record.

God did not WRITE the Bible, he INSPIRED it. There is a huge difference, and the author of the passage in question was not recounting, as I said, the details of what happened, he was not there, he did not know. He was INSPIRED to write about why things are the way they are. He also was not present at the flood, and did not know NOAH.

These people have stolen what it really means to believe in creation, and the name “creationist” and perverted it into some perverted shadow of the truth.

Its time to claim it back.

It is not enough

10670191_10152756368903185_6436640874602357279_nThis is a day when we remember a tragedy and it is good and right that we do so. It is a day to respect the dead and to remember those who were misguided enough to cause those deaths. It is a day that we pray for the peace that only Christ can bring so that instances such as this will not be repeated. It is a solemn day for those we lost and a day of rejoicing in those who survived. All of this is good and right…and it is not enough. We have built memorials and have memorials. There are moments of silence and moving tributes to those who died. There are television specials and the news shows do their best to make certain that we remember. All of this is good and right…but it is not enough.

It is not enough to just remember, we must remember with hope that the future holds a better day, not with the fear of the inevitability of this happening again. Those who will killed, died because of fear. If we are to remember, let us remember in hope, The Blessed Hope, that one day the world will be conformed to His image. If we remember those who have died in fear, we remember only the death, but when we remember in hope, we remember in the power of Resurrection, we remember not in a spirit of fear, but in a spirit of love and power and a sound mind. It was good advice from Paul many years ago and it is good advice now. We are not people of fear, we are a people of love, of a sound mind and of the power of God. It is not enough to remember, we must remember properly.

It is not enough to build memorials and hold memorial services. It is not enough to have moments of solemn silence for those who have past. It is not enough because the lives that were lost this day and in the events that followed did not die for moments of silence, or for mortar monuments, they died for the idea that there would be a better day. They died for the idea that there would be a better world. They died for the idea that not only could we be better people, that we would actively pursue being better people. The memorial that they need is our lives better reflecting the mission of Christ. The bible says that greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friend. Make no mistake, many lives were laid down for us. I say that greater honor and respect has no man than this, that he live a live worth the sacrifice. It is not enough to have a memorial, we must be the memorial.

Book Notes, @ivpacademic’s “The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas”

Periodically, Christians will awaken to the fact we no longer live in a pure, unadulterated Christendom. Since 1776, the West has been rocked by the notion that pluralism can happen and if it does happen, previously secure groups will begin to lose adherents. Such is the fate of the Christian Church in the West. In Europe and in the United States, we have seen a marked decrease in church attendance and identification as Christians. We have also seen Christianity challenged by various movements. There are reactions, not necessarily good ones either. There is a general consensus, however, that Christians need to understand the times in which we live (the end of a Christian-dominated West) and how this will shape our message. Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak attempt to deliver a plan by using Paul’s time and context to show how it shaped his preaching so that we may learn how to use the pluralism today to shape ours. Think of postmodernism, relativism, and a heavy reliance on science and how this is shaping reactions to Christianity and Christian reactions to the world at large. They divide the book into 10 chapters, with each chapter adding something to the conversation about social context. We are introduced to ancient, pluralistic Athens before Christianity. It is a time that was dangerous to new messages. Yet, Paul succeeded. How so? He used rhetoric, persuasion, and followed God. They used the language of the time and place to teach about Christ, using the hallmarks of the time to point to him. I’m not sure I would call this apologetic, Copan’s usual fare, but is it evangelical (without the capital ‘E’). The book gets a bit repetitive at times, but this may be helpful in driving home what Paul was up against. This is a needed book as we face the graveyard of American Christianity.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber to be an example of a charismatic religious leader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)