I posted recently about the debacle that Tony Jones got into partly because of his statement that “the nascent Pentecostalism practiced in much of the Global South would benefit from being in dialogue with the older, more developed theologies of the West.” Well, I’ve been reading The Spirit Poured Out On All Flesh, a book by Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong, who could hardly be called “nascent.” He’s kind of like the Pentecostal Scot McKnight, well within the bounds of what evangelical sensibilities call “orthodox” while very sympathetic to postmodern concerns and critiques. And he offers a pneumatological account of atonement that seems to address a lot of the issues the emergents have with the traditional evangelical account of atonement, so he’s somebody that emergents like Tony really ought to read and learn from.
A basic principle of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What exactly this statement means has increasingly come under debate in our time. For most of the modern period, Protestantism has almost exclusively understood Jesus’ death on the cross as a punishment that pays a debt, or “penal substitution.” Added to this has been the assumption that the primary problem resolved by the cross is God’s anger about our sin. These are two separate issues. I believe that penal substitution has Biblical support, but it has been drastically over-weighted; I do not believe that a view of the cross as an appeasement of God’s anger is Biblically faithful. One way of exploring this phenomenon (imperfectly) is to look at all the references to Jesus’ blood in the New Testament to see what the Bible says that the blood actually does.
For the second sermon in our LifeSign series “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross,” we talked about how Jesus’ cross represents a battle between truth and power. Jesus not only pays the price for the guilty; He also vindicates the truth of those who have been treated unjustly. Jesus’ story has not been passed down to us as the story of a renegade messianic troublemaker who was executed before things could get out of hand. Even though Jesus availed Himself of no earthly power, the fact that we heard the real story of His innocent martyrdom means that truth won over power on His cross, which should give us hope that the truth will ultimately win in our lives as well.
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The LifeSign alternative worship service at Burke United Methodist Church is doing a sermon series called “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross.” Here is a promotional video which I first tried to make of me drawing on a whiteboard and then had to improvise using Microsoft Paint.
Our youth pastor invited me today to talk about atonement with our confirmation class. As you know, I am very passionate about offering a better explanation than the Four Spiritual Laws of how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reconcile us to God. I’m not very good at turning confirmation lessons into silly activities with cotton balls and papier mache. So what I offered them was pretty simple: a single sheet of paper with a brief description of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection at the top and then seven different concrete problems that Jesus’ atonement provides a solution for (realizing that’s not an exhaustive list). I gave them scripture passages to read and had them try to answer based on the scripture how Jesus’ atonement addressed the stated problem. Continue reading
Jerry Sandusky was on the TV at the gym this morning, since his sentencing is today. He made a statement continuing to deny all the allegations against him. As I saw the words in his statement on the screen, it occurred to me that hell must be something like that: to spend eternity in denial of the mercy from God that makes facing the truth possible. What would have to happen between now and the time that Jerry Sandusky dies for him to get into heaven? Here’s the problem: he was already a Christian. He already said the sinner’s prayer and got baptized. Does he have to do it again? Do his actions retroactively make his “decision for Christ” insincere? Or do they prove that he was born reprobate and should enjoy life on Earth while it lasts because his eternal fate is locked in? Or does he have to make confession and receive penance from a priest? (Surely not, because we’re justified by faith, not works, right?) The resources of popular American evangelical theology fail us at this point because they rely on a hackneyed and caricatured reading of the book of Romans. But the epistle reading from yesterday’s Daily Office — Hebrews 4:12-16 — offers new cement to patch in the quickly crumbling Romans Road of our theology. Continue reading
I preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago about a passage from 2 Corinthians 5 in which Paul uses a phrase that has dominated my mind ever since it jumped out at me at my Monday small group two weeks ago. Paul says that he longs for “what is mortal [to] be swallowed up by life.” Our lives in the world are oftentimes overwhelmed by things that create spiritual death, that keep us from being the vital, dynamic people God created us to be. Jesus swallows us this spiritual death on His cross and replaces it with the resurrected life that God established through Him on Easter. Here’s an audio recording of my sermon on this topic: swallowed up by life.
For the past two years at our church’s confirmation retreat, I’ve shared a message based on Ephesians 4:14-16 that summarizes the way that I understand Christ to save us from sin by incorporating us into His body. I have often described my dissatisfaction with the popular evangelical account of salvation in which sin is understood solely as an offense against God’s honor which is “paid back” by Jesus’ blood on the cross. The problem with this predominant account is that it allows little recognition of the cross’s role in addressing the spiritual imprisonment sin creates as a powerful social force. In any case, the way I explained to our church’s confirmands the problem that Jesus’ cross resolves was by using the metaphor of a sea of wrath that we can only escape through an island of mercy created by Christ. Continue reading
Sermon preached at Lifesign, Burke UMC, 8/13/2011
Text: Genesis 37:1-24
I wanted to be Joseph. It was my senior year and it was my turn to be the star of the spring musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream-coat. I remember rehearsing the songs and practicing my Joseph swagger in the mirror. I thought I had nailed the audition. I scoped out my competition and felt pretty good about my chances. But then this guy named Jesse rolled in. Continue reading
I’ve often been cynical about American exceptionalism. Especially on days when I walk into Barnes and Nobles and see the political bestsellers on display in the front of the store. Americans are exceptional? Really? Exceptionally tacky? Exceptionally self-righteous? Exceptionally deaf to opinions outside of our own echo chamber? Exceptionally good at building an industry off of paranoid hate and conspiracy theories?
One of the most exceptional Americans I know about, Mark Twain, famously said that “patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels.” There is something quintessentially American and even partly healthy about his cynicism. At the same time, I’m feeling contrite today about my cynicism and lack of patriotism because a dream and vision for humanity that was exceptional about our country is in the process of dying. Continue reading