Thursday, April 30, 2009

Torture - May God have mercy on us!

I just learned of this CNN report from a friend. Here's the meat of the story, referencing a new poll by the Pew Research Center:

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

I have no words strong enough to express my outrage. I am ashamed to be part of the group "Americans who go to church" if that's what we look like.

as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom 2:24)

Perhaps we need to follow the example of Daniel (Dan. 9:20) and learn what it means to confess the sins of our people. . .

Monday, April 27, 2009

Penal-Substitutionary Atonement--It has God's Role Wrong

I want to highlight a thought my friend Ben just posted over at his blog, that I think adds an additional dimension to the (mis)understanding of atonement which we have been discussing. This is the role of God the Father in the whole process.

As Ben proposes the analogy, we look at atonement in an (appropriately) law-court setting. In classic PSA, God is both plaintiff bringing the accusation against humanity, and judge deciding the case. God proposes and finds man guilty, and as he is pronouncing sentence, Jesus volunteers to accept the sentence in our place. In CV, as Ben proposes it, God is judge, but not plaintiff. That role is the role of Satan and the Powers (appropriately, as Satan is named the "accuser" in scripture). It is the accuser who seeks the death penalty for the defendant (humanity), and the accuser is all-too-glad to accept the judge's son in place of the defendant. When the judge then trumps the sentence by raising Jesus from the dead, the enemy's design is foiled.

Like all analogies, this one can be carried too far (and we have yet to unpack the loaded terms of "sin" and "atonement" so we still have a long way to go. But I think Ben is correct in re-directing our attention to who, after all, is the accuser and who, after all, is demanding the sentence.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Atonement and the Warfare World View

My good friend Ben and I have the greatest theological discussions by cellphone text message. This is both a blast and a pain. . .a blast in that an ordinary, underwhelming day can be interrupted at any moment by a question or a thought about stuff that really counts, and a pain in that it can be really hard to encapsulate a nice juicy thought in 160 characters or less!

Being that as it may, we have been trading thoughts recently over some questions related to the purpose and effect of Jesus' death, ignited (this time) by a great post over at my friend Kurt's blog. I want to get some of these thoughts down in greater detail here. . .and I must start with the caveat that while the words here are mine, the thoughts are very much a product of this back-and-forth we have been having, so thanks to all of you.

Regulars will recognize that we've been over some of this territory already, and will know that several of us have pretty serious issues with the Penal-Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) framework for understanding Jesus' death. Most of us have agreed that the Christus Victor (CV) view explains vital elements of the redemption story that just aren't covered in PSA. Where we may differ is in just how much to keep or discard, in PSA.

The prevalent notion, of course, is that Jesus' in his death took on the wrath of the Father (who demanded death in payment for our sin 1). A major problem with this theory is that it is (I am beginning to suspect) largely extrabiblical. I am doing a study right now on the use of, and teaching regarding blood sacrifice in Scripture. My initial observations suggest that God never demanded blood sacrifice as payment for sin in the first place. . .but more on that once my study has progressed further. But if (as Ben and Kurt and I have all suggested at different times) Jesus' death wasn't primarily (or mostly, or at all) a payment for sin, then what was it? Just a necessary prelude to resurrection? No, biblical texts still suggest it was more than that. What then?

The key that is starting to tie this together in my mind, was ignited for me when Kurt commented that Jesus did, in fact, die in our place--a "substitutionary" death--but not necessarily in the "penal" framework usually posited. That clicked a connection for me with the "Warfare World View," (WWV) which holds that, rather than God controlling--and even planning or mandating--everything that happens, in fact the cosmos suffers under a grand battle between God and his servants on one hand, and the "principalities and powers" (which I will refer to simply as the "Powers") at work against God throughout creation (Greg Boyd has a nice intro to WWV here). I don't know if Boyd (or other WWV proponents) would agree with this or not, but WWV has the potential to profoundly affect our understanding of Jesus' death, and that matter the broader notion of atonement. The concept is this:

God didn't demand death as payment for sin, the Powers did.

Death, remember, is an enemy. Rev. 20:14 tells us it's the last enemy to be destroyed, and Rom. 5 tells us that death "reins" as a result of sin. In other words, humanity's choice to rebel against God handed authority, as it were, over to the Powers. The Powers' ultimate weapon is death (and humanity's fear of death); therefore, the rein of death is the consequence of the Powers' authority.

What Jesus did in the incarnation, and culminating on the cross, was to voluntarily submit to the Powers' ultimate weapon. In this sense, he died "in our place," in that although he "knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21), he submitted himself to the consequence of sin (death at the hands of the Powers). Of course, they didn't know that his submission wasn't the end of the story. When he was raised from the dead, he defeated the Powers' ultimate weapon, thereby becoming the first fruits of God's restoration of his corrupted cosmos. (If this sounds an awful lot like the climax of Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, don't blame me. Obviously Lewis thought of this long before I did).

So yes, Jesus' death was "substitutionary" for us. But not because he was absorbing the Father's wrath--but rather because he was dying for us so that he could then rise for us, and in so doing defeat our slave masters and raise us into his renewed kingdom. The Lord is Risen Indeed!

1) I am avoiding, for now, a study of the word "sin," which itself requires further parsing. I will get there, Mom, I promise! ;{)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Gay Brother's Grief

I found this article linked off of a long discussion related to a gay fellow participating in a worship team, over at Scot McKnight's blog. Wesley Hill's poignant piece is what I want to highlight here.

Hill gives a heartfelt description of the deep frustration and intense loneliness he has experienced because, well, I'll let him explain it himself (the "Auden" to whom he refers is another author):

I am drawn to these haunting confessions of Auden’s because I, too, am a homosexual Christian. Since puberty, I’ve been conscious of an exclusive attraction to persons of my own sex. Though I have never been in a gay relationship as Auden was, I have also never experienced the “healing” or transformation of my sexual orientation that some formerly gay Christians profess to have received. But I remain a Christian, a follower of Jesus. And, like Auden, I accept the Christian teaching that homosexuality is a tragic sign that things are “not the way they’re supposed to be.” Reading New Testament texts like Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 through the lens of time-honored Christian reflection on the meaning and purpose of marriage between a man and a woman, I find myself—much as I might wish things to be otherwise—compelled to abstain from homosexual practice.

Hill makes a vital point in his article, which we straight Christians who still believe homosexuality is not God's standard, must take to heart. People need to feel love. They need community. This is true even for someone like me who's in a deeply satisfying heterosexual marriage--how much more for someone who does not have that privilege, whether through orientation, through a broken marriage, or through whatever combination of life's circumstances leaves them alone!

If we as believers do not provide a loving, sustaining community for those who are alone, how dare we blame them for seeking that love somewhere else? If we are (rightly) to teach that gay relationships, like other extramarital sexual relationships, are outside God's standard, then we have got to be the sort of "how few" Wesley Hill is seeking. As he himself concludes:

Will the Church shelter and nourish and humanize those who are deeply lonely and struggling desperately to remain faithful?