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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!

Eugene Peterson and Love Wins

Eugene Peterson respected author of The Message
wrote an endorsement for the book Love Wins
that reads,

“It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ…Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination — without a trace of the soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”

Eugene Peterson Love Wins Rob Bell Endorsement

Eugene Peterson

Timothy Dalrymple got the chance to interview Peterson asking him why he gave an endorsement for Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”:

What are your thoughts regarding Rob Bell’s book and the controversy it ignited?  What inspired you to endorse the book?

Rob Bell and anyone else who is baptized is my brother or my sister.  We have different ways of looking at things, but we are all a part of the kingdom of God.  And I don’t think that brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God should fight.  I think that’s bad family manners.

I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says.  But I think they’re worth saying.  I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people.  I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement.  I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him.  He may not be right.  But he’s doing something worth doing.  There’s so much polarization in the evangelical church that it’s a true scandal.  We’ve got to learn how to talk to each other and listen to each other in a civil way.

Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?

Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine.  They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context.

But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything.  They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not.  But that’s not what it means to live in community.

Luther said that we should read the entire Bible in terms of what drives toward Christ.  Everything has to be interpreted through Christ.  Well, if you do that, you’re going to end up with this religion of grace and forgiveness.  The only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees.  But everybody else gets pretty generous treatment.  There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.