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Old and New Project

Just wanted to give a shout out to the graphic designers at the Old and New Project (http://oldandnewproject.com/). I find their biblical graphic art a refreshing break from modern Christian art.
09-Dan-Christofferson

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In past posts I have dismissed the penal substitution theory on various grounds: God’s character, Jesus’ statements, justice and ethical theory etc… This post is going to be different. In this post I am going to address how the scriptures pointing to Substitution Theory are misinterpreted, and the complexities involved in understanding Jesus as the final sacrifice where His death voids the requirement of sacrifice as the payment for sin.

Now originally, the Church Fathers viewed the forgiveness of sins through the Ransom Theory of Atonement. They believed that Jesus paid the price (to Satan, or just abstractly) that saved humanity from captivity to sin. In freeing the captives, He also forgave them freely. However, fast forwarding a few hundred years, Anselm and Aquinas rejected this view for a different view called the Satisfaction Theory (still held by Catholics today). Drawing mostly from Isaiah and Hebrews, they adopted the language of Jesus being punished on our behalf, to mean that Jesus took the punishment of sin upon Himself. In their view however, Jesus did not take the totality of sin on Himself (which they considered to be ludicrous and impossible), but rather the punishment dealt to Jesus was a satisfactory one to appease God’s judgment toward sin and allow forgiveness.

Now the view popular today comes from Calvin and Luther. They took Satisfaction Theory and integrated it with the concept of Old Testament sacrifices while viewing Jesus as a metaphorical perfect Lamb. They took Substitution Theory to mean that Jesus took on all the sins of everyone and was sacrificed to God to offset all the sin of the world so that God might view all who accept it as being without sin.

Now that we’ve gone through an overview of the historical background of these views, their origins, and developments, I want to suggest where Luther and Calvin went wrong in dealing with the language of the Law and Old Testament sacrifices relating to Christ. In order to do this, we need to back track to the foundation of the Old Covenant in Genesis 12.

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

This is the foundation of the election of Israel. What God says here is to follow Him, and will make Abram’s descendents a great nation which He will bless, and that this nation will henceforth be a blessing to all other nations. Furthermore, those who bless Israel shall be blessed and those who curse Israel shall be cursed.

So basically the plan is this: God elects Israel and promises that as long as they remain true to Him, He will bless them greatly and bring down those who oppose them so that people will see Israel, know that this nation is blessed by God, and want to go there and find out about this God in order to also be blessed. God’s election of Israel is one that pours both blessing and responsibility on Israel as God’s instrument to bless all nations.  We see this process at work for example in Joshua, with Rahab’s exclamation that…

Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men: ‘I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we heard it, our hearts failed, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.

So God’s election of Israel looks like this

Now, when God rescues the Hebrew nation from Egypt and they begin to lose faith in Him, God establishes a more concrete way for this function of Israel as his instrument to the nations to work. That is, the Law. Through the Law, God has a means for Israel to show that they are truly His people and are committed to their task as God’s elect. When they follow His commandments established in the Law, God will bless their nation and out from that blessing the whole world. When they do not follow Him, other nations will not know they are His and so they will not have His blessing at all. The problem is of course that the Hebrews cannot follow the Law perfectly, and so the sacrificial laws are in place as a means for Israel to show their commitment to the Covenant (of election) even when they fall short of following the Law. When they sacrifice their best animals (these are very important live stock for them) for their sins, God will pass over those sins and continue to bless them according to the covenant.

This system works pretty well with some fluctuation for many years. However, eventually as attested by the prophets, Israel forsakes her duty to the covenant with Yahweh and instead whores herself to other cultures and Gods. But they maintain the sacrifices, believing that they are a sort of substitution for sin, a get-out-of-sin-free card. And this is when God sends Babylon to destroy Israel as concrete proof of God’s attitude toward them. They are no longer blessed, for they no longer understand or have commitment to their covenant. All throughout the prophets we see exclamations from God saying that He is no longer accepting the sacrifices of Israel. Particularly climatic are His words through Hosea exclaiming that He doesn’t even want sacrifices, He just wants Israel’s love.

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,
I have killed them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgement goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.

Note that He doesn’t want their love and their offerings, just their love. If He has that, He does not need the signs of commitment afforded by the sacrifices. Jesus echoes this very passage to the Pharisees as well:

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

However, as we know, Israel remains obstinate to the pleas of God throughout the prophets. But God does not give up; His desire to reach the world and His promises to Israel can be fulfilled another way. That is, through the figure whom Isaiah prophesies about, “The Suffering Servant”. The suffering servant is going to take up Israel’s covenant and fulfill it in Himself. Israel’s wickedness is so great that they will make the servant suffer despite the fact that He is fulfilling their calling for them. He will suffer at the hands of God’s very own people and remain faithful, so that they can be made right with God.

Enter Jesus. Jesus is the suffering servant. Israel’s covenant is to remain loyal to God and His commandments, receive God’s blessings and with those blessings, be a blessing to all nations. This is exactly what Jesus does. He obeys God perfectly, God pours blessings on Jesus because of His faithfulness which draws great attention to Him, and He uses that attention to turn many to God. And as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus is faithful even to horrible death on a cross at the hands of the very people whose commitment He is living on their behalf. And with His death and resurrection He becomes the complete fulfillment of the covenant. People even to this day see the wondrous faithfulness and blessing of Jesus and come to the Father because of it. With His death and resurrection He fulfilled the Old Covenant in Himself. The reason we no longer have to sacrifice animals is not because Jesus took all of our sins with Him, but because He completed the Old Covenant. He came not to abolish the Law, or satisfy the Law, but to fulfill it.

Where does this leave us with atonement? If Jesus did not take the penalty of our sin, then how are our sins forgiven? This answer lies primarily with Paul. While Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of Israel, He is also the New Adam.

Romans 5
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul says that through Adam’s disobedience all were condemned. Because of Adam’s failure, humanity became a failure. But Christ is the new Adam and His effect is greater. While through Adam’s disobedience was born condemnation for all, Christ’s perfect obedience led to justification for all. Because of Jesus’ perfection as a human, humanity is now deemed justified (a success) with God. So not only did Jesus accomplish Israel’s work for them, but also He accomplished humanity’s. Jesus has done everything for us, all God is now waiting only for is the return of His prodigals. He asks us for nothing in return for our disobedience and squandering, for Jesus has already given it. As Christian’s we are ambassadors of this message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ…

Jesus’ New Covenant asks us to be further witness to His completion of the Old Covenant. We recognize what Christ has done for us and model ourselves to be like Him to draw more people to Christ and through Christ, to God. In this way we become “In Christ” and share in His election. The new covenant also shares in Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf as a way of showing commitment. This is the Eucharist, or Communion. We no longer need to sacrifice animals because of Christ, so Jesus calls us instead to remember His sacrifice and commit to the new Covenant by taking the wine and the bread in remembrance of what He has done for us. And it is Jesus who ensures our forgiveness for sin, as a mediator on our behalf. And anything Christ asks of God the Father is given to Him, like our forgiveness.

I have a few final points I would like to share. I covered a lot here that could have easily been expanded on, but for the sake of trying to get to the point, I kept it as short as possible, though I hope, while preserving the point of where Substutionary Atonement goes wrong. Also, I have to give credit to theologian Robin A. Parry whose books introduced a lot of this insight to me. And lastly, Jesus as the new Adam and fulfillment of Israel is not a totally complete account of Jesus’ work but it is a significant understanding necessary to understanding a lot of the language of sacrifice and election in the Bible. It also stands against the schizophrenic, retributive problems of penal substitution.

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To start, the penal substitution model of atonement holds that sin is an offense against God that must be paid for. However, the offense is so great that we cannot pay it. God, because of His justice, cannot simply allow our sin to go unpunished and as such, our sin means we merit eternal wrath. Jesus atoned for our sins by taking all the punishment for sin upon him (though he was without sin). Thus all our punishment is merited to him, and those who believe are found not guilty of their sin.

 

In previous posts on my blog I have attacked the penal substitution model of atonement in various ways. I attacked the notion that retributive justice makes sense for God (or anyone); I also have argued that such a belief robs God of the ability to forgive, and therefore love. In this post I am going to examine a passage of scripture that by itself shows the penal substitution view to be flawed.

Mark 2

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

 

In this passage Jesus forgives a man’s sin. He does so without punishment, without offset, without sacrifice. So at face value we see that penal substitution’s model of atonement is at risk. But, those who hold this view (much of traditional Christianity) have an answer. They say that Jesus can forgive sins because his death/sacrifice is ordained. That is, he knows that the man’s sin will be paid and so he can say that his sins are forgiven. Now that may seem like a stretch but if we hold a priori that God has revealed throughout the Old Testament that sin requires a sacrifice or offset it seems like a plausible statement.

The problem with that argument however, is the reaction of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were experts in Old Testament law and their problem with Jesus is not that Jesus is incapable of forgiving sin because it requires an offset, but that only God can forgive sins. They see forgiving sin as a matter of authority (which Jesus responds by saying that He has that authority) not satisfaction (justice being met), the Pharisees know sin is an offence against God and so only God can forgive it. The claim that the Old Testament teaches, that God requires an offset for sin, seems to be contradicted by the very people in the best position to make such a claim. And so I think it is only plausible that the passage be taken at face value, so when Jesus says to the man his sins are forgiven, they are. Because God can forgive sin, can show mercy, can love without requiring a dispersion of wrath. The offended party is God and He can choose not to be offended.

A Clarification:

I am not saying that there is no support to the claim that Jesus paid our debt for our sins. Jesus’ atonement for us is described in many ways as the authors try to convey exactly how momentous of an occasion Jesus’ death was. For Jews who had lived under the sacrificial system, this model espouses continuity between the Old Covenant and the New. Jesus is the last lamb to be sacrificed and no more are required. The problem is when this view gets turned from the consummation of a symbol to a metaphysical necessity, leaving God to be some demanding tyrant judge, incapable of mercy or forgiveness, requiring the eternal punishment of even the slightest offense. The other problem with this view is that the model is framed as a way for Jews to make sense of the cross. The modern mind does not connect to the idea of sacrifice and bestowing sin from one person to another and so in holding this view as the dominant theme of how God is setting sin straight, we alienate people to the gospel and confuse even those raised in Christianity. The New Testament writers employ many ways for us to understand what happened at the cross because they are speaking to many different audiences. It seems that Christianity needs to learn that skill again as well.

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I wanted to do a few posts on Christmas this December since I think it is the largest Christian holiday but has the least content of any holiday. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ and I think, especially as one with a Protestant upbringing, that we have de-emphasized God’s incarnation through Christ in highlighting death/resurrection/atonement so that Christmas in nothing more than a big American birthday celebration. I have come to realize that Christmas is very important beyond a mere birthday commemoration and so I want to take this first post to talk about God’s incarnation in Christ as an outreach to man.

Luke 2
8
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

This passage has a lot in it but what is most important here is that the angel says “do not be afraid for I bring you good news…” Unlike the prophets who had been sent earlier by God to bring judgment and call God’s people to repentance, Jesus comes with good news for all men. Jesus comes as a gift from God and is an outreach to all of mankind; an offer of peace for all those with whom he is pleased.

This is one of the most imperative things about Christmas. God is not sending a prophet with news that people need to return to God or face judgment; rather, He is sending Himself to reveal something new and something great.

I think the incarnation of God is an idea that we often lose sight of because of our narrow focus on atonement. The gap between God and man is not just a gap of sin but also one of understanding. In the Old Testament God has tried to reveal Himself to Israel over and over and sometimes they get it; Moses on the mountain understands the glory of God; David; Jonah; the Prophets; but in transmission, the Hebrews continually see God as a head deity/law giver. Jesus comes to bridge that gap, to give a concrete way for us to really understand the nature of God. He does this not by changing us, but by becoming one of us. In a way which is just as important as dealing with our sin which separates us from God, Jesus allows us to actually relate to God and bridges that gap of understanding.
John 14
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

There is something more to bridging this gap that the Bible reveals. Not only do we now have a way to understand who God is through his Incarnation in Christ but also God has more intimate knowledge of us because of it. The Bible suggests that God, through walking in our shoes, has a greater pathological knowledge of us and so, a greater empathy for the human situation.

Hebrews 4:14-16
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So beyond the birthday, Christmas is a time that we can celebrate that we have a God who is not content to leave us separated from Him but is willing to come walk in our shoes and reveal Himself to us in a way we can truly understand. It is also a time to celebrate that we have a God who was willing to become the least so that He might know us more fully and so that we might have confidence in that.

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Favorite Christian Books

I’d thought I would share what I would consider to be my favorite and/or most impactful Christian books. Hope some of you will check them out. Also please leave a comment with your favorite and/or most impactful Christian books so I can get some new reading material.

Christian Theology

“What the Bible Really Teaches”, Keith Ward
“A New Kind of Christianity”, Brian Mclaren
“Unspoken Sermons”, George MacDonald
“The Problem of Pain”, C.S. Lewis
“Universal Salvation: The Current Debate”, Parry Partridge(editor)
“Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”, Alister McGrath
“Love Wins”, Rob Bell

Christian Fiction

“The Princess and the Goblin”, George MacDonald
“The Princess and Curdie”, George MacDonald
“The Chronicles of Narnia”, C.S. Lewis
“The Shack”, W.M. Young
“The Brothers Karamozov”, Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Les Miserables”, Victor Hugo
“The Screwtape Letters”, C.S. Lewis

And although I wouldn’t consider their books to be any of my favorites. I enjoy and highly respect N.T. Wright, Timothy Keller, and Richard Beck

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I have decided that there is something that I would like to do for myself and I think it would be even more beneficial if shared with all of you. What I want to do is take a look at the beginning of the Bible, Genesis and Exodus, with the insights I have gained since I last read them, but with the intent of trying to read them simply as they are without trying to over theologize (that is apparently an acceptable word to Microsoft Office) or tie them in with the rest of the Bible. That is, I want to read them as much as possible as if I was reading them for the first time. Now, I want to share what I get out of these passages with you, but I don’t intend on posting on every section and I will very likely be posting these as I go so I will apologize ahead of time for the flagrant errors like to abound in them since I won’t do much editing. Feel free to comment on these and give your opinions, I want this to be exploratory and fun.

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A song from Downhere’s new album “The Altar of Love” which I am really enjoying and ties in very well with my recent post “As In A Mirror Dimly”.

Your spirit hovers over my waters
Your love burns longer than the sun
The skies of thunder echo you wonder
Your praises can’t be over – sung

The whole Universe is witness
To only a part of what you’ve done
So let me rediscover you
And breathe in me your life anew
Tell me of the God I never knew
Oh, let me rediscover you

You see my weakness, my pride, my blindness
You wield your power through them all
Of all the mysteries, still, the greatest to me
Is that you’re faithful when I fall

How can I say I know you
When what I know is still so small?
Let me rediscover you and breathe in me your life anew

Tell me of the God I never knew
Oh, let me rediscover you

Let me cry “holy, holy, holy”
Let me awaken to your majesty
And see a glimmer of your glory
Let me abide in you

let me rediscover you
and by your grace I’ll follow through
reveal to me the God I thought I knew

let me rediscover you
And breathe in me your life anew
Tell me of the God I never knew
And let me rediscover you

Oh, let me rediscover you
Tell me of the God I never knew
Jesus, let me rediscover you.

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