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. Continue reading →
We’ve been having a very stimulating conversation at our confirmation retreat that has completely derailed from my plans, but as I learned at the Missio Alliance, the Holy Spirit is a spirit of disruption. I’ve been so grateful that these kids have been bold with their questions because my presentation felt very flat and boring. And then they made me squirm by asking about people from other religions. Do they go to heaven too? Don’t we all just have different names for the same God? Oh boy… Continue reading →
If I were a non-Christian looking from the outside in, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to think that American Christians’ two highest priorities right now are keeping the government from taking away our guns and stopping gay people from getting married. And I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to assume that Jesus sure must love guns and hate sex. But should these really be our priorities as Christians? And if not, how did they rise to the place of prominence they have? Continue reading →
People hate each other for all kinds of sinful reasons. In my life, I’ve hated people unfairly before, usually out of some sort of envy or paranoid presumption about what somebody else thought of me. It’s different when people hate out of devotion to God. Two nights ago, when I took a look at Way of the Master evangelist guru Ray Comfort’s account of his airplane evangelism, it was jaw-dropping to see the contempt he held for the people he was witnessing to. I don’t think that Comfort is an evil person; I think he genuinely believes that God wants him to hate ungodly people. His hate, like the hate of the Pharisees who crucified Jesus, is a genuine solidarity with a God he has misunderstood. The linchpin of Christian hate, insofar as it has a theological root, is the assumption that God’s holiness amounts to a nihilistic, ruthlessly unsympathetic perfectionism. This assumption is largely derived from a distorted inheritance of the medieval satisfaction atonement theory of Anselm of Canterbury and a ubiquitous misinterpretation of Romans 3.
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 →
Is God’s goal for humanity communion or correctness? The way you answer that question will determine your understanding of atonement, orthodoxy, holiness, Biblical interpretation, and just about every other major issue within Christian thought. Does Jesus’ cross serves the purpose of imputing perfect correctness to imperfect people or creating peace and reconciliation between otherwise irreconcilable people? That is the distinction. For the purpose of this piece, I want to define correctness very specifically as a way of thinking about behavior and opinions in which there is one right answer and the goal is absolute uniformity. Righteousness is different from correctness; its absolute would be perfect love for God and neighbor which would not necessarily result in identical decisions being made in the same circumstances but a perfect disposition for making these decisions. I believe that a certain threshold of correctness is important for the sake of establishing communion between God’s people, but if correctness means chasing after an elusive goal of absolute ideological conformity, then it is a source of schism in the body of Christ and as such a heretical pursuit.
I have often struggled with the notion of imputed righteousness in reformed theology. It grates my soul to read preachers talk about how we deserve punishment, wrath, etc, since I cannot picture the God I think I know as an angry judge. I’ve also read so many books about how this conception of God was used to justify colonialism and slavery and gained currency as part of the myth that Europeans had a duty to save the heathen Africans and Indians by conquering them from a much worse fate before a fiercely wrathful God. Continue reading →