Posts Tagged 'modernist'

Further Atonement Thoughts: Late to the Party

[he_qi_crucifixion.jpg]Earlier this week, kicking off Lent, Tony Jones pointed his readers to some reflections on Jesus atonement, including my recent pieces “Beyond Liberal and Conservative” and “Possible Reconstructions.” The resultant comment-conversation is largely quite encouraging, and worth reading. One of the highlights from me was this helpful summary of atonement models by Brian:

(1) Substitutionary atonement (Calvin) – Christ’s voluntarily suffers and dies on the cross as our substitute. In other words, Jesus takes the punishment of God for sinners by representing us.

(2) Satisfaction (Anselm) – Christ’s voluntary sacrifice of his innocent life pays our debt to God so God’s justice can be satisfied. In short, Jesus makes restitution for us.

(3) Ransom (Origen) – Adam and Eve sold humanity out to the devil, so God had to trick the devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom so we can be free. In the end, the devil is tricked because Jesus got resurrected after we are freed.

(4) Moral influence (Abelard) – Jesus’ life and death are characterized by his exemplary obedience to God’s love, therefore demonstrating to humanity the love of God. So, Jesus should awaken sinners to God’s reality and inspire us to be obedient to God.

(5) Governmental (Grotius) – God demonstrates God’s anger toward sin by punishing Christ. Here, God is understood as a judge who demands divine justice for sinners. In the end, Jesus suffers in order that humans can be forgiven and God’s justice can be upheld.

(6) Liberation (Boff) – Jesus’ life and death demonstrate God’s solidarity with people who are poor and oppressed. So, Jesus lives a life of care and compassion – and his crucifixion demonstrates how perverse and violent human injustice can be. In other words, Jesus lived obediently to God’s care for the poor, which brought him into conflict with an oppressive empire that killed Jesus. In the end, Jesus was unjustly executed through crucifixion by the Roman Empire. Therefore, the oppressive and violent people in the world were exposed as ungodly and immoral. In this theology, Jesus died because of sin, but not for sins. Therefore, in imitation of Jesus, ministry is about empowering the oppressed and helping the poor.

(7) Decisive Revelation (Riggs) – Jesus is the widow through which we see God. Through Jesus’ life and teachings we learn about God and what God values. Some people experienced God-in-Christ and became faithful to God. But other people were offended and threatened by Jesus and wanted to kill him. In the end, Jesus was murdered by people who hated the values and influence of God. Despite his crucifixion, the presence and ministry of Jesus continues through the lives of Christians. God is still beckoning us into faith and faithfulness. In this theology, the purpose of ministry is to share the good news of God’s love that was decisively revealed through Christ, so more people can develop a relationship with God.

(8) State Execution (Crossan) – Jesus and his disciples invited people into the Kingdom of God and out of the Kingdom of Rome. The Empire of God was about God’s love, justice, and mutuality. The Empire of Rome was about humanity’s individuality, greed, and brutality. Jesus and his disciples were rebels against Rome by living out the values of God. Romans became angry that Jesus was undermining their way of life. So, the brutal Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, hung Jesus on a cross to humiliate Jesus and terrorize his followers. Despite Jesus’ traumatic and unjust execution by the state, Christ’s presence and God’s Kingdom continues to invite people to live by God’s values – and be assured of God love. In this theology, Christians are empowered by God’s love to live out God’s values of love, justice, and mutuality.

Brian’s series on Lent & Crucifixion is well-worth reading too:
Journey of Lent (#1): “Crucifixion of Jesus as Unresolved Grief and Trauma”
Journey of Lent (#2): “Grieving the Crucifixion to Heal Our Memories of Jesus”
Darrell Grizzle’s Atonement and Emergents is great too along this theme. And finally, The Contemporary Calvinist & Friends think we’re taking a blowtorch to the Bible – alas.

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Recommended Atonement Reads

https://i0.wp.com/www.bradjersak.com/images/stricken-cover-new-5-web.jpgMy reflections on the meaning of Jesus’ atonement are far from finished. I think such multifaceted and rich dimensions of the life of faith rarely are. This year, as I’m able, I’m going to be reading through the following volumes in my library, books that have been recommended to me as valuable resources on reconciling messages of Jesus with messages about Jesus. Most of these I’ve read at least partially before, but I’m gonna buckle down! Here they are:

Stricken By God? An incredible anthology edited by Brad Jersak, featuring Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, NT Wright, and a ton of others, it has been a most enjoyable read this past year.

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Joel Green & Mark Baker

Consuming Passion: Why the Killing of Jesus Really Matters An anthology – Hard to find in the U.S.

The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver

A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight

Saving Paradise by Rita Brock

This Book Will Change Your World by Kevin Beck

I’ve had this one recommended to me, but haven’t recieved one yet – Saved from Sacrifice by S. Mark Heim

In addition to books, here are a few free online resources I’m working through:

The Day God Turned His Cheek by Graham Old

The Cross: Cure Not Punishment by Wayne Jacobsen (audio)

Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor by Derek Flood

Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence by Walter Wink

Rethinking the Death of Jesus: Cross Purposes by David Heim

Clarion Journal of Spirituality & Justice articles on atonement

The Anthropology of René Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement

…so what resources would you recommend?

https://i2.wp.com/www.eerdmans.com/shop_products/9780802832153_l.jpg

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Possible Reconstructions

Wow. After all the spirited dialogue on yesterday’s post, I feel like my Part II is somewhat anti-climactic. Seriously. I took time to reply to each & every one of you who commented yesterday; if anyone has the time & patience, you should definitely check out the back-and-forth. It transcends the sadly-typical blog comment disrespect and opens up into some great dialogue. I’ve always thought that I have the best readers. https://i1.wp.com/www.msgr.ca/msgr-4/dali_christ_from_the_apocalypse_of_st_john_1958_lg.jpg

So…gulp…without further ado, here are some of my Possible Reconstructions of atonement meaning. I’m well aware that people far smarter & more thorough than I have attempted what I’m attempting, and do it better…but again, for my own wholeness’ sake, I’ve been re-reading atonement in Scripture afresh, with the aim of charting a faithful way forward. As I implied in my last post, my goal in reconstructing atonement is to be faithful to both the message of Jesus, which I take to be the Gospel of Peace, the message of God’s in-breaking Kingdom, and the message about Jesus – what he has done on our behalf in forgiving, cleansing, and empowering us, not to mention relationally indwelling us. Working with this latter aspect, messages about Jesus, is invariably working with images of sacrifice. While ‘penal substitution’ is tracable to Anslem’s work Cur Deus Homo in 1098, sacrificial imagery to describe Jesus’ death is undeniably tracable to the New Testament itself. I don’t want to sideline this imagery, but I do feel like I need to get a better grasp at the meaning(s) of sacrifice in Hebrew religious understanding. Here’s where I’m going right now…

  • The Cross isn’t salvation by violence; it’s salvation from violent living, and God’s ultimate repudiation of violence, absorbing it all unto himself rather than fighting back.

  • This absorption is not as a passive victim, but as transforming sustainer. Rather than transmitting pain, as we humans so often do, Jesus transformed the world’s pain/sin/death, creating instead sustaining nourishment whereby we can become partakers of the divine nature.

  • Jesus’ death can be rightly seen as ‘sacrifice.’ But in the Hebrew faith sacrifice is not centrally about killing; it’s about giving your best – representative of your all. By freely giving a symbolic portion of your sustenance – the very food you eat, grain and meat – God meets the collective people with all that God is, giving away God-as-sustenance. (Which makes sense of Jesus speaking of his death and resurrection as real food & real drink in John 6)

  • Jesus, as a symbolic representation of the whole of humanity, is given for all. But this giving began with Jesus’ birth, and didn’t end with his death. Jesus’ response to the cross stands out as the most vivid declaration of God’s eternal heart toward humanity & the cosmos – rather than retaliate in kind and mount the hordes of heaven (or an army of all-too-human zealous followers) in vengeance, Jesus forgives his tormentors, forgives the thief, and puts the powers of violence and oppression to an open shame in the manner of his dying and in resurrection by the Spirit’s power. The sacrifice that occurs is not the Father slaying the Son, but Jesus’ own sacrificial, creative-culture life, which he lived to one of its logical (and tragic) conclusions. Any theology of the cross that celebrates the execution without first mourning it is sub-Christian.

  • Because Jesus’ execution by the collusion of the State and Religion is first of all a tragedy, a mockery of justice, and not something unusual but mundane in the litany of the fallen powers, we should not speak primarily of God’s desire for this to have happened. Jesus was ‘slain before the foundation of the world’ does not have to mean ‘before all time began,’ or some such thing. It can simply mean ‘in front of the foundation of the world,’ in a cosmological sense. This was an ordinary event – the officially-sanctioned killing of undesirable elements – projected by God onto the stage of the universe. In the midst of this most humiliating moment, the Father exalts the Son, and thus, by extension, exalts the suffering of all criminals, terrorists, innocent, guilty, perpetuators and victims alike. He who knew no sin became sin for us, displaying all of our tragedies and inconsistencies and lifting them up to Abba God’s forgiving, reconciling embrace.

So I’m going to make a bold claim: I’m not sure that the killing of Jesus changed anything metaphysically in the universe. I don’t think that God was unable to love us until God saw some spilled blood and suddenly his disposition changed. (‘Cause, y’know, John 3:16 is pre-death) Make no mistake: I fully affirm Paul’s writing in Romans 5:

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life!”

The question is, what did Paul mean when he spoke of “dying for”? He zooms out the lens from Jesus himself, to whom “anyone” might (or might not) die for – but it’s clearly in the context of a rescue mission – not a human sacrifice, which would be unconsciable for any Jew. To be sure, Jesus’ blood speaks, declaring righteous – but this doesn’t mean the act that sheds the blood is somehow righteous or just. After all, the blood of Abel speaks in Genesis too, crying out and accusing. And in this, another senseless and tragic murder, Jesus’ blood meets the cry of Abel’s blood, comforting it at last. Perhaps the wrath we are saved from is our own.

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Beyond Liberal and Conservative

https://i2.wp.com/i139.photobucket.com/albums/q295/sheepnose777/dali1Christ.jpgAbout a year ago, I wrote a post that became one of my most controversial to date: Spilled Blood & The Cosmic Christ: Atonement Dissonance. In my youthful zeal of last year, I expressed myself in some ways that I wish I’d stated differently. Given my newfound ROM-and-centering-prayer perspective, I think some of my thinking is clearer and more precise. Let me see if I can better lay out the perils and promises of atonement models as I see them.

Simply put, it’s exceedingly difficult to take Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence and peacemaking seriously while also taking seriously a punitive model of Jesus’ atoning death. Penal Substitutionary views of atonement (a fancy way of saying that Jesus died in my place so I don’t have to, because God requires the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins) just don’t square with the God of Jesus Christ, who encourages us to not remove an eye for an eye, or plot against our adversaries. Sure, ‘Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,’ but we cannot be sure what God repays. As Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch say in ReJesus, “It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Christ.” (pg. 12) How would a Christ-like God redeem humanity?

To place this in a larger frame, it’s difficult to hold with integrity both the message of Jesus (that is, change your living for God’s in-breaking, all-encompassing Kingdom is at hand) and the various messages about Jesus that have been promulgated in the millennia after Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I’m honest, it’s even difficult to square the message of Jesus in the gospels with some of the messages about Jesus even later in the New Testament. Not trying to be a reverse-Marcionite or anything…just sayin’.

And yet! One of the tasks before me, as an emerging Christian, is to hold liberating truths in creative tension. As a follower of Jesus in this era that many of us believe is one of ‘great emergence,’ I feel like our task – not in some lofty way, but simply for our individual & collective spiritual sanity – is to not repeat the mistake of the 20th-century modernist-fundamentalist divide. The Church of 100 years ago was being met by a flourishing of science, the arts, and scholarship. They were also, we now know, on the cusp of meeting the full impact of the darker side of full-on modernity: eugenics, total war, entangling geopolitical alliances, racism, environmental degradation on a massive scale, and the full industrialization and compartmentalization of everyday life, from cooking to entertainment.

In the face of all of this change and sensory input, the Church in the West fissured (as we Western Christians often do). The fundamentalists forged a retreat from the promise and terror of the modern world, from its evolutionary science to its weapons of mass destruction. They chose the messages about Jesus, the good news as told by his friends. They dismissed the message of Jesus as too utopian for this life; it must be referring to far-off heaven, to the world that awaits us after this corrupt place breathes its last. Thus did the message about Jesus become in vogue for fundamentalists and later evangelicals; thus did the good news about Jesus become distorted beyond recognition.

But that isn’t the whole story of the split. The modernist Church, by contrast, saw much that was amenable about modern culture. They wanted to engage this culture, and be relevant. There was heartfelt concern about the viability of major components of the modernist project, and the teachings of Jesus were, in a fashion, brought to bear on these problems – poverty, for instance, and other forms of injustice. But where science or critical scholarship brought into question some of the tenets of Christian belief – the actuality of cherished confession and experience – the modernist Church was quick to capitulate, feeling that earlier generations probably didn’t know what they were talking about when they were ‘strangely warmed’ by amazing grace.

By contrast, I want it all. And so do you, I think. I don’t want an Ockham’s razor minimalist faith, that attempts to strip down to the “real” or “historical” Jesus. Faith has ways of knowing that sight simply doesn’t know. So I wish to embrace the good news of Jesus and the good news about Jesus. But my problem, my struggle, is that the good news about Jesus needs to be ethical, it needs to be loving, and it needs to square with what I’ve apprehended of Jesus’ own life, message, and depiction of Abba God. And frankly, most of the atonement metaphors in vogue today seem to be about an evasion of justice, a glorification of violence and victim-hood, and a denial that the message of Jesus really has the power to work in our day and age.

I want to affirm the historic Christian faith (and reality!) that Jesus saves us. More specifically, I want to joyously experience Jesus’ incarnation, life, teachings, signs & wonders, death, resurrection, ascension, and indwelling as saving us.

The crux of the question – both for followers of Jesus and the world at large – is how Jesus saves us, and from what Jesus saves us. Tomorrow I’m going to try and articulate how I’ve been processing this lately.

To be continued in Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Possible Reconstructions.


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