My great-grandfather Luther Weigle [pictured here] was the dean of Yale Divinity School and chair of the translation committee for the original RSV Bible. He incurred the fury of the fundamentalists when he chose to translate the Hebrew word almah in Isaiah 7:14 as “young woman” instead of “virgin.” They actually burned RSV Bibles and sent the ashes to him in the mail. The reason? Isaiah 7:14 is referenced by Matthew’s gospel as an explanation for Jesus’ virgin birth. But Isaiah 7:14 also refers to the “young woman” who was Isaiah’s prophetess wife and definitely not a virgin. In Isaiah 7 and 8, she bore Isaiah two children with prophetic names related to their immediate historical context. Does the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth depend on translating almah as “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14? Only if Isaiah 7:14 is expected to function as a prooftext for that doctrine, which raises a larger question: to what degree should Old Testament prophecy be used as prooftexts? And if Isaiah 7 is allowed to have less than a perfectly mapped correspondence to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, then can we apply the same hermeneutical boundaries to the relationship between Isaiah 53 and the circumstances of Jesus’ death on the cross? Continue reading
For many of us who grew up evangelical, the word “compromise” has always been a bad word. It means to allow non-Christian values and influences to corrupt your devotion to Biblical truth. Frank Schaeffer, the son of the evangelical leader who started the modern Religious Right, claims that our government shutdown and its Tea Party architects cannot be understood apart from this fundamental characteristic of the evangelical ethos. Insofar as the Tea Party is an evangelical phenomenon, I think he may be right. Evangelicals are raised to be a people of no compromise. And it all starts with an understanding of Jesus’ cross that makes God into Darth Vader and turns us into cookie-cutter stormtroopers devoted to His imperial cause. Continue reading
Al Mohler recently put up a post on penal substitution in response to the PCUSA brouhaha over the hymn “In Christ Alone,” which they withheld from their hymnal because of the line “The wrath of God was satisfied.” In the past you may recall, I shared a study on here of all the ways in which Christ’s blood is described in the New Testament, finding only one possible, tenuous reference to the satisfaction of God’s wrath. In any case, Mohler doesn’t allow comments on his blog so I sent him an email. Since he probably won’t respond, I decided to post it. Keep in mind that I’m deliberately framing how I speak in a way that might be persuasive to an arch-fundamentalist Southern Baptist. Continue reading
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.
There’s an elephant in the room when we talk about the cross. The cross is indeed solidarity with the crucified, the victory of God’s truth over Caesar’s power, the introduction of nonviolence into the world, a means of reconciling enemies, and a pouring out of sacred life blood that removes the curse of sin from the Earth. Jesus’ crucifixion also pays a price that needs to be paid for my sin. For many Christians, this sixth blessing of the cross is the only blessing it offers; ugly misrepresentations of this blessing have polluted our discourse, causing many other Christians to reject this dimension of the cross altogether. Regardless of that, we need to be justified by the punishment Jesus suffers on our behalf because only people who know that they are unjustifiable and entirely dependent on the mercy of God can enter the kingdom. Otherwise, we are a danger to the communion of all who live in the vulnerable safety of God’s mercy.
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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.
***Spoiler alert: this post presumes that you know the storyline of Les Miz.*** After watching Les Miserables in the theater, I wanted to stand up at the end and shout, “This is what Christianity really is!” kind of like what Peter Enns wrote on his blog. But there are two Christianities represented in Les Miz by the police inspector Javert and the convict Jean Valjean, and though Valjean’s version triumphs in the film, Javert’s Christianity is winning big time in today’s America. Some say Javert represents “justice” and Valjean represents “mercy,” so we need a happy mix of the two, but that’s already choosing Javert’s Christianity, because Valjean exhibits not only mercy, but an alternative justice that is incomprehensible to the penal retributive justice of modernity. The question of whether we see the world through the eyes of Javert or Valjean amounts to our understanding of justice. For Javert, justice is retribution in the interest of maintaining an abstract order; for Valjean, justice is solidarity in the interest of personal love. Continue reading
I’ve often wondered if the same thing that makes violent video games appealing is why young evangelical guys are so infatuated with penal substitution theology. I figure a scary bad- !@#$%^&* God is cool for the same reason that the loud wet smack of a linebacker knocking the wind out of a quarterback is cool (I was that linebacker once).