Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Return

So I didn't finish my Easter posts as I was spending time with family and friends. I was working my way up to the Resurrection but got sidetracked. I've been spending my time elsewhere online.

Maybe I'll finish some of my unfinished post series eventually whenever I'm motivated enough to return to them. I have to Blog some on CBF's 20th annual General Assembly as well.

Anyways here's a link to an interesting post by Bruce Prescott: How Albert Mohler Became the Baptist Pope.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Meditations For The Cross

Leonard Cohen Story Of Issac:
You who build these altars now
to sacrifice these children,
you must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
and you never have been tempted
by a demon or a god.
You who stand above them now,
your hatchets blunt and bloody,
you were not there before,
when I lay upon a mountain
and my father's hand was trembling
with the beauty of the word.

Leonard Cohen The Butcher:
I came upon a butcher,
he was slaughtering a lamb,
I accused him there
with his tortured lamb.


I saw some flowers growing up
where that lamb fell down;
was I supposed to praise my Lord,
make some kind of joyful sound?

A few thoughts from Harry Emerson Fosdick:
Must we, then, go on forever, using the analogy of bloody animal sacrifice to express our interpretation of Christ’s death? I answer emphatically, No! Here, once more, some clergymen confuse those whom they would persuade by using an obsolete, contemporaneously meaningless vocabulary.


I take it that the way I have just put the matter is at least understandable. It states the meaning of Christ’s cross in familiar words. So, age after age, Christians, feeling the necessity of explaining Christ’s sacrificial death, have thought and spoken about it in the terms of their own generation. As the Eskimo houses his family in igloos of snow and ice because they are the materials at hand, while a dweller in the tropics uses bamboo and palmwood for the same reason, so different generations have enshrined their explanations of Christ’s death in terms of thinking peculiar to their times. The result we call theories of the atonement. Isn’t it a paradox that some of the most controversial words in Christian theology -- "Trinity" and "atonement," for example -- are not to be found in the New Testament? In the King James Version "atonement" occurs only once -- Romans 5: l l --but the revised versions correct that translation and use "reconciliation."

At any rate, what we call theories of the atonement have been many and varied. I must not undertake to give you a course in theology, but just to relieve your mind of any suspicion that there is one orthodox doctrine of the atonement, which a Christian is expected to accept, let me give you a sample or two.

The earliest Christian literature, deeply and gratefully impressed by the fact that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself," and that the cross was the indispensable factor in that reconciliation, did not at first theorize about how the death of Christ saved men. Analogies from current life were used: Christ’s death was a ransom, by which slaves of sin were freed from serfdom, or the paying of a debt, which released the debtor from his prison. But then the theologians began to speculate -- Origen, for example, in the third century. His theory was that man’s sin had put man in thralldom to Satan, so that Satan owned mankind. But Satan bargained with God that he would surrender his lordship over fallen man, if God would give him his Son in exchange. So Christ came to earth and was crucified, and man was set free, but the bargain turned out to be a "pious fraud" on God’s part, for by his resurrection from Sheol Christ escaped from Satan after all. Believe it or not, that theory of the atonement, in one form or another, was orthodox doctrine for centuries!

Then, in the eleventh century, Anselm came and started off on another tack. His thinking was thoroughly saturated with Roman legalism. "Every sin must be followed either by satisfaction or punishment"-- that was his basic principle. God to him was the infinite Feudal Lord. Every man, being the Lord’s vassal, owed him perfect obedience. For a man to sin is to defraud God of his due, and so by dishonoring the Infinite to acquire infinite guilt. But infinite guilt demands infinite punishment, in man’s case his eternal doom in hell. There is only one way out: the infinite price must be paid. Man, being finite, cannot do this, neither can anyone not human do it, for because the sin is human the reparation must be made by the human. Therefore, only the God-man, both deity and humanity, can make the necessary sacrifice. This Christ does in his death on Calvary. He pays the adequate ransom, not as in Origen’s theory to Satan, but to God.


How pitifully inadequate all our analogies are to explain what the ancients rightly called the mysterium crucis, the mystery of the cross! We face there one of the basic principles of creation, vicarious sacrifice: any salvation from human need dependent on someone, who does not have to do so, voluntarily caring enough to identify himself with the needy and give his sacrificial all for their help. That principle is surely at the very heart of Calvary’s meaning. But, the older I grow, the more I think that I understand the cross best when I stop trying to analyze it and just stand in awe before it.

Richard Beck On A Christus Victor Reading Of Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ

Christus Victor and Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ:

Last night Jana and I watched Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. We had seen the film when it first came out. And as you know, there was a lot of conversation swirling around the movie's release. So it was hard then to watch The Passion independently of the controversy surrounding the film. Everyone wanted to know "What did you think about it?", "Was it too violent?", "Was it anti-Semitic?". So I knew then I'd want to wait a few years to watch the movie one more time to revisit my feelings about the film. So we got the movie on NetFlix and watched it, purposefully, on Good Friday.


All in all, then, although there are overtones of penal substitutionary atonement in the film, one could approach the film from a Christus Victor perspective. All the physical trauma is from Satan who is intent upon breaking Christ's will and body. The only view of God the Father is a single tear, a symbol of sympathy and sadness not judgment and wrath. The climatic moment of the film is the defeat of Satan and the military drumbeat of the resurrection.

And there is another interesting point in the movie that hearkens back to early church thought regarding Christus Victor and ransom theory. If Satan knew that the death of Jesus would redeem the world why would Satan allow Jesus to be crucified? Some of the church fathers posited a bit of cosmic trickery. God was hidden inside the human Jesus. And, like the Trojan Horse, after Jesus' death Satan takes Jesus into hell thinking he's won the fight. Unfortunately, Satan has brought God Himself into hell! God in Christ then cracks open the gates of hell and sets Satan's captives free. What is interesting in The Passion is that in the confrontation in the garden Satan seems unsure about who, exactly, Jesus is. Satan seems to get his answer when Jesus crushes the head of the snake, but Satan's initial uncertainty about Jesus' true identity is interesting in light of church history. It highlights, once again, the Christus Victor themes, the confrontation between God and Satan in the person of Jesus.

Does any of this rescue The Passion on theological grounds? I have no idea. Mainly I wanted to see if another view, one other than penal substitutionary atonement, could rehabilitate the film. My conclusion is that a plausible Christus Victor reading does work for the film and may, in fact, be a better fit for the film than penal substitutionary atonement. We can read the violence in the film as Satanic in origin rather than coming from the Father. This doesn't remove the penal substitutionary overtones in the movie, but those overtones come from biblical themes and Gibson can't be faulted for including them. But my take is that the penal substitutionary overtones are more subtle than the consistent, beginning to end, Christus Victor themes.

Read the whole post: Here.

The Atonement Wars: Whose Atonement?

The Atonement Wars rage on in a blog post from last month of Ken Silva's on Al Mohler. It seems that Ken Silva and Al Mohler would divide the church over their pet theory of the Atonement: The Penal Substitution theory of the Atonement. (Yeah you heard me right Ken, I just called the Penal Substitution model of the Atonement a theory and it is. It is just one theological theory of the Atonement out of many---so get to cracking on calling me out as a heretic because if you don't I'm sure these guys or these guys will. This post was written just for you and with you in mind).

Al Mohler goes so far as to blasphemously with idolatry proclaim:
Let’s get this straight; [in the penal substitutionary atonement] we’re either seeing the truth, or a lie. This either is the Gospel, or, it is not. The dividing line is abundantly clear; we either believe that the sum and substance of the Gospel is that a holy and righteous God—Who must demand a full penalty for our sin—both demands the penalty and provides the penalty, through His Own self-substitution in Jesus Christ—the Son—whose perfect obedience, and perfectly accomplished atonement, has purchased for us all that is necessary for our salvation—has met the full demands of the righteousness and justice of God against our sin.

We either believe that, or we do not. If we do not, then we believe that the Gospel can be nothing more than some kind of message intended to reach some emotive level in the human being, so that the human being would think better of God, and might want to associate with Him. Or, we would transform all of these categories in the theological into the merely therapeutic, and argue that the whole point of the atonement is that we would come to terms with our own problems, and come to understand that there are resources for the repair of our troubled souls beyond which we previously knew.
Dr. Mohler gets it quite wrong actually as Jesus Himself is the Gospel period not someone's pet and favorite Atonement theory. Dr. Schreiner correctly states that The Penal Substitution theory of the Atonement is not the only teaching in scripture regarding Jesus' death. Although I believe that The Penal Substitution theory of the Atonement is one of many valid theories of the Atonement, I don't believe it is the only theory. In fact I believe that those who hold up The Penal Substitution theory of the Atonement as the only theory of Atonement grossly misrepresent God's character as revealed in Christ and therefore distort the true meaning of the Gospel. Harry Emerson Fosdick my personal hero under Jesus of course said it best when he stated:
Were you to talk to that fundamentalist preacher, he doubtless would insist that you must believe in the "substitutionary" theory of atonement - namely, that Jesus suffered as a substitute for us punishment due us for our sins. But can you imagine a modern courtroom in a civilized country where an innocent man would be deliberately punished for another man's crime? … [S]ubstitutionary atonement … came a long way down in history in many a penal system. But now it is a precivilized barbarity; no secular court would tolerate the idea for a moment; only in certain belated theologies is it retained as an explanation of our Lord's death… Christ's sacrificial life and death are too sacred to be so misrepresented.---Harry Emerson Fosdick, Dear Mr. Brown (Harper & Row, 1961), p. 136.
I also believe Brian McLaren raises a good point as well:
Theory of Atonement
Could you elaborate on your personal theory of atonement? If God wanted to forgive us, why didn�t he just forgive us? Why did torturing Jesus make things better? This is such an important and difficult question. I�d recommend, for starters, you read �Recovering the Scandal of the Cross� (by Baker and Green). There will be a sequel to this book in the next year or so, and I�ve contributed a chapter to it.

Short answer: I think the gospel is a many faceted diamond, and atonement is only one facet, and legal models of atonement (which predominate in western Christianity) are only one small portion of that one facet.

Dallas Willard also addresses this issue in �The Divine Conspiracy.� Atonement-centered understandings of the gospel, he says, create vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else. He calls us to move beyond a �gospel of sin management� � to the gospel of the kingdom of God. So, rather than focusing on an alternative theory of atonement, I�d suggest we ponder the meaning and mission of the kingdom of God.
This is why these two theories need their proper place along side of the Penal Substitution theory for a more holistic understanding of the Atonement:
The Moral Influence theory

This view of the atonement limits Christ's death to a radical example of His love that influences sinners morally but does not pay any price on their behalf. God's justice demands no payment for sin. First Peter 2:21 is the primary text for this view. "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example." But just a few verses later (v. 24) Peter refers to the subsitutionary aspect of the cross, "He Himself bore our sins in his body on a tree…" Even in this primary passage regarding the moral influence of Christ's death, it can't stand alone without the central message of substitution.

Christus Victor

This view attempts to limit Christ's work on the cross to the defeating of the powers of evil. Indeed, Col. 2:15 assets; "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him." Indeed Christ's death defeated the powers of darkness. But directly preceding this statement in verse 14, Paul points to the substitutionary aspect of the cross by stating, "By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross." Here as in other contexts, PSA stands in the central place.

These two views (Christus Victor and the Moral Influence Theory) are indeed presented in scripture. But they can't stand alone. These views are only complementary to the sacrificial death of Christ. Someone over the course of my studies referred to the various presentations of the cross as a choir in which all the biblical references to the cross are harmonious. I would like to adjust the metaphor and suggest that the sacrificial death of Christ is the "soloist" and the other biblical references to the cross are "background singers" that enhance the soloist's voice.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday: How The World's Biggest Hate Crime Leads To Hope

Drew Tatusko on Good Friday:
the triumphal entry turned into a blood-thirsty mob

Good Friday is evil. There is nothing "good" about it. After all what do Christians say in their confessions about the crucifixion? This is what Protestants all over will say on Esater Sunday about the crucifixion as a confession of faith:

(Jesus) suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

There is a strange fascination with many Christians that looks at the cross as a gift. It is the punishment of sin that we don't have to endure because God decided to do it to his Son. For that we are to be thankful. Thankful? For a God who kills off his only son? We are to be thankful for a God who commits human sacrifice after stopping Abraham from killing Isaac?


Jesus came as a human being who sacrificed his human will fully in order to observe the will of God. When the two wills have been so intertwined this becomes the true son of God. His true divinity is his true humanity. One would think that this would be a good death on the cross. Of one who fought the good fight to reveal the Kingdom of God as a hero. But it's not. As Brandon Mouser says today:

He’s hanging on a cross and asks God, why he’s doing this to him. Why, in this hour when it would be tops to have the one person he should be able to count on to be there and offer comfort, why has God left him?

And God responds with a most deafening silence.


This is not a good death. It's an horrific death. The only people to blame are people; the same people who welcomed him as an ironic king demand his death and torture under Roman law. And it gets worse. Even with Jesus, the only one who had fully conformed to the will of God, hanging in torture on a cross as a result of his obedience, God still despises the sacrifice. It is the logical result of sin.

Good Friday is not good. Good Friday is the day when the holy becomes grotesque.

We now have to sit in somber mediation for the evils that we do that continue try to kill off God and place humankind above who God is.

Jesus is dead. God is dead.

If we cannot love Jesus dead, we cannot love him when he rises on Sunday.

To put this cart before the horse is perhaps the greatest blasphemy in the history of the Christian church.
Read the whole post: Here.

Was Judas The Beloved Disciple?

The recent special issue of US News & World Report titled “Secrets of Christianity” has an article on the Gospel of Judas which argues this case. The article in question is entitled Judas Agonistes: An Old Text Claims Jesus Chose His Most Beloved Disciple To Betray Him and is an interesting scholarly article written on the Gospel of Judas by Karen L. King and Elaine Pagels two of the foremost scholars of the Gnostic Gospels of our time.

Now of course the Gospel of Judas is a controversial text as:
The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel purported to document conversations between the apostle Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ. The document is not claimed to have been written by Judas himself, but rather by Gnostic followers of Jesus. It exists in an early fourth-century Coptic text, though it has been proposed, but not proven, that the text is a translation of an earlier Greek version. The Gospel of Judas is probably from no earlier than the second century, since it contains theology that is not represented before the second half of the second century, and since its introduction and epilogue assume the reader is familiar with the canonical Gospels. The oldest Coptic document has been carbon dated to AD 280, plus or minus 50 years.

First page of the Gospel of Judas (Page 33 of Codex Tchacos)

According to the canonical Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Judas betrayed Jesus to Jerusalem's Temple authorities, who handed Jesus over to the prefect Pontius Pilate, representative of the occupying Roman Empire, for crucifixion. The Gospel of Judas, on the other hand, portrays Judas in a very different perspective than do the Gospels of the New Testament, according to a preliminary translation made in early 2006 by the National Geographic Society: the Gospel of Judas appears to interpret Judas's act not as betrayal, but rather as an act of obedience to the instructions of Jesus. This assumption is taken on the basis that Jesus required a second agent to set in motion a course of events which he had planned. In that sense Judas acted as a catalyst. The action of Judas, then, was a pivotal point which interconnected a series of simultaneous pre-orchestrated events.

This portrayal seems to conform to a notion current in some forms of Gnosticism, that the human form is a spiritual prison, and that Judas thus served Christ by helping to release Christ's spirit from its physical constraints. The action of Judas allowed him to do that which he could not do directly. The Gospel of Judas does not claim that the other disciples knew gnostic teachings. On the contrary, it asserts that the disciples had not learned the true Gospel, which Jesus taught only to Judas Iscariot.

Pagels' and King's article is just a more condensed version of their book: Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. Pick up a copy of US News & World Report's special issue: Secrets of Christianity in their Mysteries of Faith series if you can. Other topics of interest in the issue include:
Who was the real Jesus?

Why do scholars still debate the Resurrection?

What happened during the Crusades and Inquisition?

Are miracles real, or a figment of our imagination?

Why are scientists making the case for a Creator?

What do the Vatican’s Secret Archives reveal?

Will there be an Apocalypse, and when will it happen?
The Resurrection article in this issue is by N. T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan. All the best of mainstream biblical scholarship is represented so check it out.