All posts in Atonement Theology

A More Christlike God – Understanding Atonement – Part2

I was recently quite happy to recieve in the mail a new book just published by Bradley Jersak, “A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel“. I was happy because by choosing to read it would give me the opportunity to further the Atonement question on the blog. It did take me a month to read it but that is not the books fault; I was moving across the world (India to U.S.A.) and then again between States (OR to CA). Well, now I’m settled here in San Diego. I just arrived last night and decided this review is overdue! This review will serve as the second entry torwards the “Seeking and understaning of Atonement” series of posts. You can read part one here.

The book is foreworded by Brian Zahnd and endorsed by another author I have appreciated greatly, Eugene Peterson.

God is like Jesus

Truncated certainly, but none the less, this is the essence of the book; God is like Jesus.

Not, Jesus is like God, but rather, God is like Jesus.

Bradley begins his book by talking about how Jesus has revealed to us a God who is “cruciform” by nature:

“The Christian fatih, at its core, is the gospel announcement that God–the eternal Spirit who created, fills and sustains the universe–has shown us who he is and what he’s like–exactly what he’s like–in the flesh and blood human we sometimes call Emmanual (‘God with us’). Converselyy, we believe Jesus has shown us the face and heart of God through the fullness of his life on earth: revealed through eyewitness accounts of his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We regard this life as the decisive revelation and act of God in time and space. That’s still a faith statement, but for Christians, it is our starting point. To look at Jesus–especially on the Cross, says 1 John–is to behold the clearest depiction of the God who is love (1 John 4:8). Ive come to believe that Jesus alone is perfect theology.”

Progressive Revelation
He also discusses apparent conflicting biblical portrayals of God often deliniated and contrasted between old and new testament. He comments that, “God didn’t evolve; our conception of him did, in greatest part because Jesus cam to show and tell us exactly who God is in ways no prophet had the capacity to anticipate– not Moses, David or even Isaiah.

And further along Jersak says, “Jesus is the decisive revelation of who God is and the radical re-definition of what God is like. If so, then understand: God is entirely Christ-like!

Human Culpability
I really appreciated how Bradley focuses in on the complicity of humanity as the causing agents of the death of Jesus. I feel like this point doesn’t find it’s proper expression within the P.S.A and one of the critical truths that needs to be understood.

He breaks down the death of Jesus into two terms that describe his death; crucifixion & cross. He says that the Crucifixion refers “to the sinful act of evil men who tortured and murdered the Son of God.”

He says that the Cross refers to the “self-giving, servant-love of Christ, in which his blood symbolizes his mercy and forgiveness poured out onto the world.”

Contrasted a bit further, “the crucifixion is what we did to him–we took his life. The Cross is what Christ did for us–he gave his life.”

He strongly declares that

“God the Father is not a co-conspirator in the crucifixion of his own Son, nor does he get any pleasure of of betrayal, punishment or killing. Rather, the significance of the Cross is that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself..”

How? By Graciously, mercifully “not counting our sins against us” (2 Cor. 5:19). And by powerfully, victoriously conquering Satan, sin and death on our behalf.”

Again, I greatly appreciated reading these words.

atonement theology

Kingdom & Cross
Further along in a section titled, Christ’s cruciform reign, Jersak pulls together two topics which for many people are mearly two isolated and exclusive concepts; The Kingdom & The Cross. Many folks interpret the Christ’s death on the Cross within a framework that doesn’t see any connection with Christ’s Kingdom message. Making the connection will open up the meaning for ‘Atonement’ as well as Kingdom. The two need not be pitted against each other, rather the two benefit the meaning and reason for the other.

Christ_Handing_the_Keys_to_St._Peter_by_Pietro_Perugino

Jersak asks, “Is the cross how he reings?” He goes on to declare, “God does not ‘do control,’ so the kingdom of God is without coercion.

And, “God wins through love, so the kingdom of God persuades by witness, rhetoric, compassion, Spirit and , if need be, martyrdom, but never by force.

This point of Jersak’s of Kingdom & Cross was a nice fit within the books overall topic, and he doesn’t go into it deeply here, I would imagine, it is to make room for his other talking points. This is by no means a critique of his message at this point, but if you are interested to further explore the Kingdom/Cross relationship, both Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright have books exploring this in greater detail. “The King Jesus Gospel” and “How God Became King” respectively.

Unwrathing the Cross
More snippits from the book,

“How did the reconciliation or atonement work? How did the life, death, and resurrection of Christ save us and reconcile us to God? Was the wrath of God somehow satisfied thorugh the punishment of Christ? Or was the Cross God’s grand rejection of wrath as a solution to sin?”

“The gospel is not an atonement theory, or four spiritual laws, or five steps or any doctrine of man. It is the good news about what Christ actually did in history to initiate the restoration of all things.”

“God did not need to be reconciled to us–he was never our enemy. It is we who had fled and were lost, we who were hostile and rebellious, we sho needed reconciliation and atonement. God did not need a sacrificial Lamb, we did.”

There were many great points in the book, I do recommend it, that is of course why I am discussing it!

Jesus’ Death – Seeking An Understanding of Atonement – Part1

Beginning with this introductory post and the ones to follow, I will be seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death and in what sense it is ‘atoning’.

Jesus Death Saves Us

Followers of Jesus across the spectrum of traditions have learned to speak of Jesus’ death as God’s way of somehow solving what was broken with humanity and the world we live in.

La descente de croix Rubens

La descente de croix – Rubens

Atonement Through the Ages

When investigating the history of Atonement theories over the last 2 millennia, you will discover that there are basically about 3 main categorical theories; Christus VictorMoral InfluenceSatisfaction. To be sure, there are more subsets and sister theories to these 3. If you have not yet looked into this topic too deeply yourself you may be in for a twisting and turning roller coaster of a ride! I certainly have been.

Which Atonement View Is Right?

But when we are asking how atonement works, what the mechanics of it are, how can a person’s death (specifically Jesus’ death) actually resolve things? -The answers actually vary quite broadly.

At first I didn’t know there were ‘other’ explanations. I thought there was just the one, and that it can be boiled down quite economically to a single paragraph of elboration. At least that is how it was first presented to me; atonement boiled down to a 3′ x 5′ 2-3 page illustration & text ‘gospel’ tract. This gospel tract atonement theory was soon reinforced in quick summary most Sunday mornings at the tail end of the sermons. This particular view which I first learned falls within the Satisfaction view of the atonement but has been shaped and refined in a particular fashion by John Calvin and since then has come to be known as the “Penal Substitutionary View” of the atonement (P.S.A.).

The P.S.A. explanation does help in some ways in communicating truth & meaning about Jesus death and what that means for us, but it also created many problems for me as well. And with problems became questions, and in time, those questions forced me to consider that their might be ‘other’ atonement explanations more satisfactory. ; ) But, onced I learned there were other theories about the atonement, I thought to myself, “I need to figure out which Atonement theory is the right view”,  with my added assumption that in declaring to myself that one of them is ‘true’, by definition out rules all of the other views of being true.

Truth In Part

But, after deciding upon one view as being the “right” one, I quickly found myself wanting to double back on that decision because suddenly a different one sounds more convincing.

I couldn’t find a single atonement view which by itself appeared to express the complete meaning and significance of Jesus death. Each view left to itself, seemed to come up short in explaining the full weight of what was going on. And each of the Atonement views appeared to have at least some truth. Anyway, why must only one view be right?

I resolved to settle on the idea the we may very well need all of the perspectives to help round out the fuller picture of Jesus’ atoning work.

You might imagine one person seeing one unique thing and another person sees another thing, each explaining in their own way, informing us what they see. It is a reasonable enough idea to think that quite a few explanations, similes, and metaphors might be needed to capture a richer and fuller understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death.

Metaphor & The Real Thing

After all, most of the Atonement views employ metaphor to explain the significance and meaning of Jesus’ death. And a metaphor being a metaphor, isn’t by its very nature the real thing which we’re getting at, is it? A metaphor is a device and a tool which seeks to point to something beyond itself, merely a representation, a likening -to the real thing.

Quentin Massys Ecce Homo 1520, Doge's Palace,Venice

Quentin Massys Ecce Homo 1520, Doge’s Palace,Venice

The real thing in this discussion, of which the various atonement metaphors are pointing to, is the real-in-person death of Jesus on a Roman cross. The real facts on the ground, so to speak. All that real stuff which led to Jesus death. The context surrounding it all. The different historical actors within the drama. Asking the questions, “Who killed Jesus”, and “Why did they want to murder him?” are necessary to make any plausible conclusions. Also, What role did God play in his death? Who is responsible for killing Jesus? Was it a just or unjust death? How did Jesus understand the meaning of his own death?

We might say the real thing of which the metaphors are merely pointing to, are detailed within the Gospel accounts themselves, in the narrative historical events and explanation of his death.

If the Gospel writers themselves were asked what their Atonement views are, they might each simply hand you their own books.

All Views Equally Valid?

A generous orthodoxy might welcome all atonement theories, every perspective, all views, and thus be saying, “they are all equally valid”. I had come to this conclusion- for a short while.

But then I began to realize that in spite of having concluded that the multiple views are all necessary in their own way because of their individual strengths in highlighting each of their particular truths, there is also a noticeable and stark incompatibility between these views and their various metaphors. That is to say, even though the various atonement views have so much that is solidly compatible between them , some of them are at times claiming things that are incompatible or contrary with the others. Sometimes, affirming that part of one atonement theory is true, then by reason, at least parts of a different atonement theory cannot also be true at the same time. One truth excludes another.

This incompatibility is the space that I am currently wanting  to continue my search for understanding: with further questions, observations, and conversation..

 

 

 

Pursuing Justice

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Review

I can’t more highly recommend a book which explores the topic that Jesus himself instructs us to seek first above all other things: God’s Kingdom and Justice.

In the book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things, Ken Wytsma sets out to explore the proper place and broad reaching effects that pursuing a life of justice ought to have among the followers of Jesus.

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Review

For me a book about justice seemed a bit daunting at first, and so you too might be hesitant or suspicious that this is another book meant to guilt you and twist your arm into caring about many issues that may be beyond your natural sphere of concern. Who wants more of that? You might already have enough on your plate within your own purview. This fear is not necessary..

Ken carries you through his program with conviction and passion for sure, but not with any emotional and manipulative tricks up his sleeve. Instead, he points you towards seeing the intrinsic joy and beauty that accompanies those who begin to join God in his Kingdom and Justice dreams for this world.

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Author
Ken Wytsma

He lays the ground work very well, philosophically and theologically, towards a big picture view of justice; including it’s individual/personal as well as its societal implications.

Some have recently gotten stuck in the false dichotomy of pitting the “social gospel” folks against the “heavenly/spiritually minded” folks and acting like you must choose between these bounded polar ends. Ken steps into this discussion with some helpful context and offers us a 3rd option or rather builds a bridge and life line between the two isolated extremes and shows us how they are better together, serving to compliment the bigger whole.

While Wytsma does name many of the pressing justice related issues of today, rather than presume to offer up an exhaustive schematic that all should now follow, he cleverly goes only so far in his prescriptions, and thus leaving work for his readers both to imagine and appropriate how they might go about pursuing a life of justice in their unique situation.

I found the chapter most personally intriguing in which Ken tells an anecdote from his relationship with a friend of his from Rwanda. His friend Célestin, a Hutu who had lived through the Rwandan Genocide between April and July 1994 has now become one of the world’s more respected voices on reconciliation and forgiveness.

While visiting Ken’s church recently Célestin said that “Americans tend to think that punishment is the only way to satisfy justice, when in fact punishment is only one of several ways to satisfy it. The evil must be punished, but the goal is not just to punish the perpetrator; the goal is to restore the community.”

And further, “There is no justice without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without justice. Before I forgive something, I have to judge it as evil.”

This whole discussion about the many possibilities or means of achieving a restored shalom/justice really got my head churning and I begun connecting the dots from this idea to the life and mission of Jesus.

This has catalyzed my thought process, and I am now desiring to further investigate my forming theology around the significance and meaning of the central work of Jesus. If achieving justice need not be limited to a punitive means simply, then how might that reality shape my understanding of what Jesus’ sacrifice means. How do I read it? I already see some possibilities but won’t continue in that vein here.

There was so much more that the book stimulated my thoughts and hopefully soon my actions towards. I simply am mentioning this one bit -to encourage you that the words can have fruit. I found the book not static in nature, but leaving me with a sense of action.

I pray that “Pursuing Justice” will do just that for you, imagining a world of justice, God’s dream, and beginning to see and act on that vision in your life.

-Nick Watts

If the last few words aren’t enough, this creative spoken word by Micah Bournes just below hits at the heart of the message..

Pursuing Justice | Book Trailer from The Justice Conference on Vimeo.

Read Ken Wytsma’s recent article on Huffington Post

Connect with Ken Wytsma’s Facebook

Tom Wright On Old Testament Sacrifices And Penal Substitutionary Atonement

It seems there ought to be a much broader approach to the understanding of Jesus’ atonement work than to simply be correlating all O.T. sacrifice into the penal substitutionally metaphor. If you’re used to thinking in such lines consider the “3 question reward” which Wright says is in store for those who gain a more nuanced approach to understanding the meaning of Jesus atoning sacrificial death.. If that is at all interesting to you then go ahead and listen to or read below N.T. Wright discussing this topic.

Watch Old Testament Sacrifices w/NT Wright in full size window

Interview in text:

Interviewer: What.. What don’t you know? What makes you angry that you don’t know or that your wrestling with.

Tom: Oh there is a thousand things. I have often said to students and indeed in pastoral work, “the reward for getting one answer is you get three more questions.” You know, thats why life goes on being exciting. You say, “Hey I just found that but then this leads me into a different room, I didn’t know this room existed! Now where do we go?”

One of the things that I think our generation finds it very difficult to understand is the notion of sacrifice. That the O.T. is full of sacrifices. And Jesus and the Apostles used the language of sacrifice in relation to Jesus’ own death. Now, obviously we do not as a matter of habit, ritual, custom, umm slit the throat of goats or bulls or calves or doves or anything else in the way that people used to very cheerfully right across the ancient world.

Interviewer: I still do that.

Tom: You still do that? Oh well, Ok, then you can tell me afterwards what it means.

You see my fear is that a lot of Christians when they think sacrifice, they collapse the notion of sacrifice into some version of penal substitutionary atonement. Now as my books make it quite clear I believe in penal substitutionary atonement, just in case there’s any doubt on that score. Yes, watch my lips: Galatians 3:13, Romans 8:3 and 4 etc. Paul says that umm God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ. That is penal -because it is condemnations. It is substitutionary -because what happened there in the flesh of Jesus Christ means that therefore there is now no condemnation for those.. So I mean Romans 8: 1 to 4 really says it all and there are lots of other passages too of course.

But, I don’t think that’s what sacrifice is about. Sacrifice means a wide variety of different things in the O.T. There are sin offering and guilt offerings and thank offerings and so on. And the idea that all sacrifices have to be collapsed into the idea that God wants to punish me but I transfer the punishment to the sacrifice and the sacrifice gets killed instead of me. You do get that a little bit on the day of atonement, but i noticed that when the sins are confessed over the head of one particular goat, that is the goat that isn’t killed. Thats the goat thats driven off in to the wilderness because the sin has made it unclean.

So, there is a real problem about this and I get frustrated with the thought that a lot of Christians when they think sacrifice they either ignore it all together or they think oh yes that’s that atonement stuff which we learned about in Sunday school. I don’t think that either of those really works. And I suspect we need to do more studies of the kind of whole social and anthropological context of what people thought they were doing when they were offering sacrifice.

And i’ve tried, I’ve asked Jewish friends, Jewish scholars why did the ancient Israelites do this? And the the only answer I usually get, is because it said so in the Torah so they had to do it. And i’m not satisfied with that.

I think people had a deep instinct. It is something to do with humans, and animals and god and land and so on. Its a kind of a ritual way of expressing the place of humans that we do not take flocks and herds for granted. We are not simple building up our own wealth which was of course animal wealth in the ancient world. Animals and land were wealth basically. Umm, So you give the first and the best to God as a sign that it’s all from him in the first place and you are not just being greedy but that’s only a little pointer towards something which is right in the middle there somewhere and uh I’d love to see some more serious work done on that.

The Gospel: Good Friday


John 18:1-19:42

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”

 



Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”


After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Jesus, Good Friday, Entombment

Don’t Miss Tom Wright on Fox & Friends


If there is a speaker that I have listened to the most, without a doubt it is Tom Wright. I would love to attend this event taking place this summer where N.T. Wright will be speaking at a conference on Paul’s letter to the Galatians & Christian Theology at St Andrews in Scotland.

The dates are July 10-13th. I would go, but I’ll be In California and/or Oregon about that time.

If you can’t make it to that conference you might enjoy reading his interview with Christian.co.uk, where Tom discusses his latest book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
, and more. I am in the middle of How God Became King as well as Scot McKnight’s complementary book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. I will be reviewing both of them very soon.. Yes, I am half way through both, and they are quite excellent so far.. Well, if that is not a good enough recommend then I will do a better review as I said, very soon..

Last of all you can watch him on FOX & FRIENDS where he will be interviewed for a special Easter show on Sunday, April 8, 2012!

The interview will focus on two of his books, his newest HOW GOD BECAME KING, as well as his seminal work considered a new Christian classic, SIMPLY JESUS
. Yes, I have read Simply Jesus as well. And yes, it is recommended. I will review it properly as well very very soon..



“Love Wins” -Rob Bell


In this post I will be giving my Review of the book “Love Wins”, but first, a preamble is probably needed for context and clarity.



Preamble

On March 15th 2011 Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” was released to the public.  Of course at this point the Christian Blogosphere had already been buzzing about the short and provocative Love Wins video released a couple weeks earlier where in the very short clip Bell gives an anecdote about an art show at his Church followed by a lot of questions related to “heaven and hell”.  Based on this short clip many started writing and blogging about Bell being a Universalist, and most of  their writings were done without actually having read the book. One prominent pastor even tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell” again without even having read the book.  : (

It was at that point I decided I should take a step back, read the book, read it twice, listen to some interviews and videos of Bell about his book. Having done so, I am now prepared to give my review.

Review

Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins..” has 8 short chapters. He starts out his book talking about the importance and place of questions in following Jesus, of whom Bell says, “(Jesus) responds to almost every question he is asked with …a question.” This essentially, is also Rob’s way of exploring faith. He is often re-evaluating old formulas of faith with fresh expressions and understanding.

He then follows up with many questions asking how many people think they know who by name is literally burning in hell right now. Bell tells a story about how his Church had an art show and one of the pieces of art had a quote from Gandhi. Many people were inspired by the quote, but one person decided to stick a note on the art saying, “Sorry, Gandhi is in Hell“. Bell wonders how someone can know this with such certainty about Gandhi.

Now the following two chapters are about Heaven and Hell. I believe these two chapters are Bell’s strongest chapters within the book. Bell critiques the common interpretation of Jesus’ ” kingdom of heaven” message,  often understood as  a reality which is arrived at somewhere else, beginning after this earthly life ceases. He points out that Jesus’ central teaching about “the Kingdom of heaven” was one that spoke of a reality that one is to participate in right here and right now. Heaven isn’t a reality we hope to escape to someday , but rather one we pray for and work for on earth. Bell says:


..Jesus doesn’t tell people how to ‘go to heaven’. It wasn’t what Jesus came to do..”
“Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be..”“A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven.”

First heaven, now hell.
In this chapter bell explores all the different words that often get interpreted by many folks as the singular concept of Hell. This has to be done because if your happen to still be reading from the highly influential King James Version of the bible you would read the English word “Hell” across the board in the place of four different words. Bell begins explaining the context of these different words along with their different meanings. While Bell begins articulating how these words had varying and different intentions of meanings, you begin to wonder how the many translators justified rendering all these as one word -Hell.

The old testament Hebrew word for the place of the dead is Sheol, and its new testament Greek equivalent  is Hades.  Bell then points out that the word Jesus most often used to talk about “hell” is “Gehenna“. Ge means “valley,” and Henna means “Hinnom“. Gehenna is the Valley of Hinnom. This was an actual valley on the south and west side of the city of Jerusalem. Gehenna, in Jesus’s day, was the city dump.. I won’t explain it all here, but he has some striking points which again, this chapter alone would be worth the read.

In the chapter, “Dying to Live”, bell explores what happened when Jesus died on the cross (Atonement Theology). He talks about how there are many different metaphors utilized within the New Testament which give explanation to the meaning of the atoning work of Jesus. He sums up this part here:

“So, back to the question: What happened on the cross?Is the cross about the end of the sacrificial system
or a broken relationship that’s been reconciled
or a guilty defendant who’s been set free
or a battle that’s been won
or the redeeming of something that was lost?Which is It?

Which perspectie is the right one? Which metaphor is correct? Which explanation is true?

The answer, of course, is yes.

..The point, then isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a “correct” or “right” one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors. They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp.

The Point then, as it is now, is Jesus. The divine in flesh and blood. He’s where the life is.”

The remaining chapters of the book have very interesting observations and questions that are worth pondering about the ultimate fate of everyone who has ever lived. Along with Bell’s great skill at observing and asking excellent questions, he begins some attempts at constructing some answers. Now, it has often been rightly said that Bell is great at questions and weak on answers.  On questions of ultimate salvation for all people he seems to suggest that this is a strong possibility.

Some times you think he is saying that in the end all people will ultimately choose the gift of life offered in Jesus.  And in the following sentence he will then say that love demands freedom, love is not coerced. He really sets a tension up here and never gives a definitive conclusion whether or not he resolutely has planted his feet in this belief. In fact, he says we can’t resolve this tension.

Bell asks, “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?” He follows with, “Those are questions, or more accurately, those tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We dont’ need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t..” There in lies the answer to many people’s question, “Is Rob Bell a universalist?”. He wants to be but never definitively states that is his absolute belief.

Now I think Bell’s arguments loose steam in his chapter, “There are Rocks Everywhere.” It is here where he begins making some arguments that are not all together very convincing to me. Especially his use of these passages: John 10 and 14, and Colossians1. He seems to be meandering through some ideas that I think are just not articulated well or very persuasive. And his scripture references don’t seem to hold up his argument as tightly as he is trying to make them do so.

After all is said, I do think much good can come from this book. Bell has brought much needed critique to the current formulations and understandings of heaven and hell. His book serves as a kind of catalyst, a conversation starter. By no means should his book be considered comprehensive or the last word on these subjects. Much of the strong critical reviews that I have come across on the blogosphere at many times were assuming that Bell was giving a version of his own Summa Theologica. Rather, I suggest quite the opposite; that Bell’s intention was not to be the last word, simply just an initiatory word in hopes to re-liven the conversation about long unchallenged beliefs concerning “the end”. He does not come out decidedly on the question of Universalism, he merely invites you to enter into a tension with him. This book should be read as a starting point only. In fact, once one reads any of Bell’s books, it is soon realized that Bell is having a conversation, he is pointing things out that have often been overlooked. He is asking questions, giving some answers, but by no means is he saying this is the last word. Even more so, in this book, I believe that is true. Thank you Rob.

The following excerpt is from a very recent interview with Relevant Magazine and Rob Bell:

Based on your understanding of universalism, do you consider yourself a universalist?
No, I don’t.And you see the difference being what?
My observation would be that people mean lots of different things with that word. I think for some people, apparently the word means nothing matters. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter how you live—nothing matters. And I simply don’t believe that. Certain paths are destructive. Certain paths are wrong. Certain paths cause all kinds of toxic harm to other people and it’s not loving your neighbor. So if by “universalism,” people mean it doesn’t matter—it doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter what you do—that’s just complete rubbish. So, no.Secondly, sometimes when people say the word “universalism,” I think they mean that at some point God just swoops everybody up into heaven. Like, “Come on, everybody—everybody is in.” And the problem with that is, I believe love wins, and the very nature of love is freedom. So if at any point God co-opts your ability to choose, we no longer are dealing with a loving God. And if there are people who are in heaven who don’t want to be there, then it’s not heaven. Like God is saying, “It’s a party—and you’re going to like it!”

The question that I do think is terribly interesting, and which as a Christian we must wrestle with, it is written in a letter to Timothy, “God wants everybody to be saved.” Now this is fascinating. God wants everybody to be saved, so perhaps the important question is, is God a universalist? And I do think as a Christian it is our duty to long for the things that God longs for, and to want the things that God wants.

Here is a link to an interview with Eugene Peterson.

The King and the Maiden By Søren Kierkegaard

I have often enjoyed Søren Kierkegaard’s Parable of “The King and the Maiden”. I think it is very analogous and helps give a foundation reasoning/explanation to the meaning of the Incarnation, the coming of God in the man Jesus. His birth, life, giving his life to the point of death, and resurrection. It displays for me what I call the “nature” of the Kingdom of God/Heaven.

Read the story below and consider the nature of the life and message of Jesus. In what manner does God reveal the nature of his Love through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the man Jesus?

The King and the Maiden

Søren Kierkegaard

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

Scott McKnight’s “A Community Called Atonement”

Atonement Theology, or how we understand the meaning and consequence of the death of Jesus on a Roman cross has been a much discussed topic in the last decade. I believe this is a very good thing to be asking these big questions about what is at the very heart of the Christian Faith.

If my history is right, we have William Tyndale to thank for the coinage of our english word atonement.  Atonement being a concatenation of the words ‘At One’ to describe Christ’s work of restoring a good relationship — a reconciliation — between God and people.

If you are like me, you came out of a tradition that explained the totality of what Jesus did through the Cross strictly in Penal Substitutionary terms. This might have been the only lens in which you have seen what Christ has done for us. According to Wikipedia:

Penal substitution (sometimes, esp. in older writings, called forensic theory) is a theory of the atonement within Christian Theology, developed with the Reformed tradition. It argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying  the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins. It is thus a specific understanding of substitutionary atonement, where the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death is understood in the sense of a substitutionary punishment.”

Along with this strict interpretation, the dots might not have been connected between Jesus “Kingdom”message and his death on a Roman cross.

In Scott McKnight’s book, “A Community Called Atonement: Living Theology“, he argues quite persuasively for a more comprehensive and varied understanding of the atoning work of Jesus. Scott begins his exploration and explanation of the atonement by likening the various New Testament atonement metaphors to the many golf-clubs that are needed in playing a good game of Golf. He says if we were to only use one club/metaphor for an exhaustive explanation of what is happening with Jesus going to the cross then we will be playing a very poor game of golf.

Scott explores the proper understanding or Metaphors; the reality to which they point as well as a metaphors limits . He explores the question, “What did Jesus think of his death?”  He gives good summary of the main atonement metaphor categories: Identification for Incorporation, Recapitulation, Ransom/Christus Victor, Satisfaction, Substituion, Representation, Penal Substitution.  I feel that Scott McKnight has done us all a great service by  framing the atonement in the manner that he has. Thank you. : )