All posts in “Atonement”

8 Brilliant Karl Barth Quotes on Atonement (CD IV.1 Summarized)

Karl_Barth_DeskKarl Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation, found in volume IV.1 of his Church Dogmatics, is without a doubt one of the greatest theological works ever written on the subject. And it is personally my favorite volume from the Church Dogmatics. In this volume Barth beautifully and masterfully describes what has taken place for all mankind in Jesus Christ, the God who became man to reconcile the world to Himself.

Today I wanted to continue with my attempt of summarizing each volume of the Church Dogmatics into a collection of quotes. I’ve done this already with volumes II.2 and I.1. And as before, I have limited myself to one quote for every 100 pages. And while it certainly goes without saying that Barth here is far too complex to be simplified into eight quotes, however, I have chosen these quote to attempt to give a very broad and general overview of the volume. And hopefully, if you have not already read the volume, to encourage you to read it yourself! It is a beautiful work of theology, and I cannot recommend it more highly.

So without any more introduction, here are eight quotes to summarize CD IV.1. Enjoy!

(All page references are taken from the Hendrickson Publishers 2010 edition.)

CD IV.1 Summarized in 8 Quotes

“‘God with us’ is the centre of the Christian message—and always in such a way that it is primarily a statement about God and only then and for that reason a statement about us men.” (p. 5)

“[Jesus Christ] is the atonement as the fulfillment of the covenant.” (p. 122) “To say atonement is to say Jesus Christ.” (p.158)

“The passion of Jesus Christ is the judgement of God in which the Judge Himself was judged.” (p. 254)

“He Himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, was justified by God in His resurrection from the dead. He was justified as man, and in Him as the Representative of all men all were justified.” (pp. 305-6)

(I’ve written more on this idea here: “God Justifies Himself.”)

“…We maintain the simple thesis that only when we know Jesus Christ do we really know that man is the man of sin, and what sin is, and what it means for man.” (p. 389)

(I’ve written more on this idea here: “Karl Barth’s Revolutionary Doctrine of Sin.”)

“It is as God identifies Himself with man—His participation and intervention is as direct and complete as that—it is as He becomes a man and as this man the Representative of all men, it is as He makes His own the cause of all men that justification can and does take place.” (p. 551)

“A private monadic faith is not the Christian faith.” (p. 678)

“Faith is at once the most wonderful and the simplest of things. In it a man opens his eyes and sees and accepts everything as it—objectively, really and ontologically—is. Faith is the simple discovery of the child which finds itself in the father’s house and on the mother’s lap.” (p. 748)

(See also this extended quote for Easter.)

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God Justifies Himself – (Barth Reflections from CD IV.1 §61)

Kõnnu_Suursoo._10Happy Palm Sunday!

Today, as with two weeks ago, I’m continuing by writing my way through Karl Barth’s masterful volume in the Church Dogmatics: volume IV.1, on the doctrine of reconciliation. It has been a fitting read as we come into Holy Week, and the celebration of Easter.

This week, I’m examining a different aspect to the justification which takes place in the atonement through Jesus Christ. Often one sided as the justification of man, Barth in §61, under the heading of The Justification of Man, begins first with the justification of God. In short, he argues that the “backbone of the event of justification” is the justification of God Himself, that He is just in Himself and in the right. Here, then, are some insightful quotes from Barth and reflections on the subject. Enjoy!

(As before, all quotes are from the Hendrickson Publishers 2010 Edition. All bold texts are my emphasis.)

The Justification of God

The God who is present and active in the justification of man, and therefore as the gracious God, has right and is in the right. Not subject to any alien law, but Himself is the origin and basis and revealer of all true law, He is just in Himself. This is the backbone of the event of justification. (pp.530-1)

God Himself is law. (p. 529) And God is in complete harmony with Himself. On the cross God proves this, revealing this fact in stark contrast with our inconsistency, our pride, and our sin. God shows Himself to be just in and through Jesus Christ. He shows Himself to be faithful despite our unfaithfulness.

In the revelation and efficacy of the grace of Jesus Christ proclaimed in the Gospel what comes first is not the justification of the believer in Jesus Christ but the basis of it—that God shows Himself to be just. […] The faithfulness of God Himself, cannot be destroyed  by any unfaithfulness of man. […] In the first instance God affirms Himself in this action, that in it He lives His own divine life in His unity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But in it He also maintains Himself as the God of man, as the One who has bound Himself to man from all eternity, as the One who has elected Himself for man and man for Himself. (p. 532)

The grace God shown in justification is not an alien grace to the nature of God’s eternal being. God is gracious in Himself from before all time. He does not become gracious for our sakes. And if this were true, God would remain untrustworthy. If God only becomes gracious He may also someday become ungracious. Which leaves us with no assurance of God’s goodness or favor towards us, thus voiding the very Word spoken in Jesus Christ. So we must say this is true, that God is gracious in Himself from before all time. And Barth here seems to be affirming the importance of this. God first justifies Himself as the God who is faithful in Himself, and “in the exercise of His Godhead” He, for the sake of all flesh, became flesh. (pp. 532-3) That is, in other words, as God is in Himself He is towards us, He is faithful because He is faithful to Himself, and He is gracious because He is the gracious One.

And as this faithful One, God has taken our condition serious as His own. As Barth writes of mans rebellion, “He takes it so seriously that He encounters it in His own person.” (p. 533) We cannot undo this faithfulness. And in spite of our unfaithfulness to God, God remains wholly determined to us. We cannot disrupt this “self-determination of God”. (p. 534) Mankind belongs to God, as God has determined mankind for Himself and Himself for mankind. We cannot escape this determination, we cannot escape God’s being for us. This is the justification God makes of Himself, that He will not abandon His eternal will for mankind.

In a fascinating paragraph, Barth takes this justification of God in terms of immutability. Writing:

One thing is certain. It can be true only on the presupposition that God as God is in Himself the living God, that His eternal being of and by Himself has not to be understood as a being which is inactive because of its pure deity, but as a being which is supremely active in a positing of itself which is eternally new. His immutability is not holy immobility and rigidity, a divine death, but the constancy of His faithfulness to Himself continually reaffirming itself in freedom. His unity and uniqueness are not the poverty of an exalted divine isolation, but the richness of the one eternal origin and basis and essence of all fellowship. The fact that according to His revelation God is the triune God means that He is in Himself the living God. (p. 561)

God is immutable not in the sense that God is a static, unmoved mover, but that God is the living God, the God who is in freedom faithful. This God is the basis of all fellowship, as the living God, the Triune God.

It is this God who has justified Himself in Jesus Christ, as our God, as the One who is faithful towards mankind because He is first faithful to Himself. This beautifully reaffirms the Trinitarian life of God as the origin for the good news of Jesus.

Jesus came as a man and died in our place because that is what the Triune God is like. It is the overflow of who God is. This is who God has revealed Himself to be in this justification. He is our God, faithful to mankind, despite all our unfaithfulness. He is the immutable, living, Triune God of grace. He has always been this God, and in Christ He has justified Himself as this God, reaffirming His faithfulness to mankind.

Here’s one final quote to bring this home to the radical love of this Triune God, this God who is faithful to us in Jesus Christ.

God does not merely confront him as God and Lord and Judge, but as such He effectively takes His place at the side of sinful man, indeed, He takes the place of sinful man, representing him against Himself. His eternal Word becomes flesh. He Himself in His Word becomes man. Why? In order that He may not only conduct His own case against all men, but take up and conduct the case of all men, which they themselves cannot conduct, in that process between Him and them. In order that He may be for them what they cannot be for themselves—an active subject and a passive object in that conflict… Not from His own side. Not as God, Lord and Judge. But from their side. As the God, Lord and Judge who is man, servant and judged. In general terms, what has taken place in Jesus Christ is the divine participation in the situation of the man confronted by His right… It is as God identifies Himself with man—His participation and intervention is as direct and complete as that—it is as He becomes a man and as this man the Representative of all men, it is as He makes His own the cause of all men that justification can and does take place. (p. 551)

God is justified in Jesus Christ. God is faithful and gracious in Himself, and therefore He is faithful and gracious to mankind. He is so for us in this way and is so self-determined to be faithful to us that He has taken up our condition as His own. God became a man. He participated in our life; He made our cause His own. And in this He justified Himself as this faithful One.

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7 Theories of the Atonement Summarized

Atonement theoriesThe nature of the Atonement has been a study for me over the last few years. After having my world turned upside by Dr. C. Baxter Kruger in his book, Jesus and the Undoing of AdamI have not been able to shake this fascination with rediscovering the cross of Jesus Christ. Today I wanted to share seven of the major theories for the Atonement. These theories attempt to explain the nature of Jesus’ death on the cross. Why did Jesus die? What does this death mean for the world today? These theories are historically the most dominant, and I hope you enjoy learning some of them today!

#1 The Moral Influence Theory

One of the earliest theories for the atonement is the Moral Influence theory, which simply taught that Jesus Christ came and died in order to bring about a positive change to humanity. This moral change comes through the teachings of Jesus alongside His example and actions. The most notable name here is that of Augustine from the 4th century, whose influence has almost single-handedly had the greatest impact upon Western Christianity. He affirmed the Moral Influence theory as the main theory of the Atonement (alongside the Ransom theory as well).

Within this theory the death of Christ is understood as a catalyst to reform society, inspiring men and women to follow His example and live good moral lives of love. In this theory the Holy Spirit comes to help Christians produce this moral change. Logically, in this theory the Eschatological development too becomes about morality, where it is taught that after death the human race will be judged by their conduct in life. This in turn creates a strong emphasis on free will as the human response to follow Jesus’ example. Although Augustine himself differs here in that he did not teach free will, but instead that human beings are incapable of change themselves, and require God to radically alter their lives sovereignly through the Holy Spirit.

This theory focuses on not just the death of Jesus Christ, but on His entire life. This sees the saving work of Jesus not only in the event of the crucifixion, but also in all the words He has spoken, and the example He has set. In this theory the cross is merely a ramification of the moral life of Jesus. He is crucified as a martyr due to the radical nature of His moral example. In this way the Moral Influence theory emphasizes Jesus Christ as our teacher, our example, our founder and leader, and ultimately, as a result, our first martyr.

#2 The Ransom Theory

The Ransom Theory of the Atonement is one of the first major theories for the Atonement. It is often held alongside the Moral Influence Theory, and usually deals more with the actual death of Jesus Christ, what it actually means and the effect it has upon humanity. This theory finds its roots in the Early Church, particularly in Origen from the 3rd century. This theory essentially teaches that Jesus Christ died as a ransom sacrifice, paid either to Satan (the most dominate view), or to God the Father. Jesus’ death then acts as a payment to satisfy the debt on the souls of the human race, the same debt we inherited from Adam’s original sin.

The Ransom view could be summarized like this:

“Essentially, this theory claimed that Adam and Eve sold humanity over to the Devil at the time of the Fall’ hence, justice required that God pay the Devil a ransom, for the Devil did not realize that Christ could not be held in the bonds of death. Once the Devil accepted Christ’s death as a ransom, this theory concluded, justice was satisfied and God was able to free us from Satan’s grip.” 1

Redemption in this theory means to buy back, and purchase the human race from the clutches of the Devil. The main controversy here with this theory is the act of paying off the Devil. Some have written that this is not a fair statement to say that all Ransom Theorists believe that the Devil is paid, but rather in this act of Ransom Christ frees humanity from the bondage of sin and death. In this way Ransom relates the Christus Victor theory. But it’s worth differentiating here because in one way these views are similar, but in another way they are drastically different.

#3 Christus Victor

Classically, the Christus Victor theory of Atonement is widely considered to be the dominant theory for most of the historical Christian Church. In this theory, Jesus Christ dies in order to defeat the powers of evil (such as sin, death, and the devil) in order to free mankind from their bondage. This is related to the Ransom view with the difference being that there is no payment to the devil or to God. Within the Christus Victor framework, the cross did not pay off anyone, but defeated evil thereby setting the human race free.

Gustaf Aulen argued that this theory of the Atonement is the most consistently held theory for church history, especially in the early church up until the 12th century before Anslem’s satisfaction theory came along. He writes that “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.” 2 He calls this theory the “classic” theory of the Atonement. While some will say that Christus Victor is compatible with other theories of the Atonement, others argue that it is not. Though I have found that most theologians believe that Christus Victor is true, even if it is not for them the primary theory of Christ’s death.

#4 The Satisfaction Theory (Anselm)

In the 12th century Anselm of of Canterbury proposed a satisfaction theory for the Atonement. In this theory Jesus Christ’s death is understood as a death to satisfy the justice of God. Satisfaction here means restitution, the mending of what was broken, and the paying back of a debt. In this theory, Anselm emphasizes the justice of God, and claims that sin is an injustice that must be balanced. Anselm’s satisfaction theory says essentially that Jesus Christ died in order to pay back the injustice of human sin, and to satisfy the justice of God.

This theory was developed in reaction to the historical dominance of the Ransom theory, that God paid the devil with Christ’s death. Anselm saw that this theory was logically flawed, because what does God owe satan? Therefore, in contrast with the Ransom theory, Anselm taught that it is humanity who owes a debt to God, not God to satan. Our debt, in this theory, is that of injustice. Our injustices have stolen from the justice of God and therefore must be paid back. Satisfaction theory then postulates that Jesus Christ pays pack God in His death on the cross to God. This is the first Atonement theory to bring up the notion that God is acted upon by the Atonement (i.e. that Jesus satisfies God).

#5 The Penal Substitutionary Theory

Penal Substitutionary Atonement is a development of the Reformation. The Reformers, Specifically Calvin and Luther, took Anselm’s Satisfaction theory and modified it slightly. They added a more legal (or forensic) framework into this notion of the cross as satisfaction. The result is that within Penal Substitution, Jesus Christ dies to satisfy God’s wrath against human sin. Jesus is punished (penal) in the place of sinners (substitution) in order to satisfy the justice of God and the legal demand of God to punish sin. In the light of Jesus’ death God can now forgive the sinner because Jesus Christ has been punished in the place of sinner, in this way meeting the retributive requirements of God’s justice. This legal balancing of the ledgers is at the heart of this theory, which claims that Jesus died for legal satisfaction. It’s also worth mentioning that in this theory the notion of inputed righteousness is postulated.

This theory of the Atonement contrasts with Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory in that God is not satisfied with a debt of justice being paid by Jesus, but that God is satisfied with punishing Jesus in the place of mankind. The notion that the cross acts upon God, conditioning Him to forgiveness, originates from Anslems theory, but here in Penal Substitution the means are different. This theory of the Atonement is perhaps the most dominant today, especially among the Reformed, and the evangelical.

#6 The Governmental Theory

The Governmental Theory of the Atonement is a slight variation upon the Penal Substitutionary theory, which is notably held in Methodism. The main difference here is the extent to which Christ suffered. In the Governmental Theory, Jesus Christ suffers the punishment of our sin and propitiates God’s wrath. In this way it is similar to Penal Substitution. However, in the Governmental Theory, Jesus Christ does not take the exact punishment we deserve, He takes a punishment. Jesus dies on the cross therefore to demonstrate the displeasure of God towards sin. He died to display God’s wrath against sin and the high price which must be paid, but not to specifically satisfy that particular wrath. The Governmental Theory also teaches that Jesus died only for the church, and if you by faith are part of the church, you can take part in God’s salvation. The church then acts as the sort of hiding place from God’s punishment. This view contrasts both the Penal and Satisfaction models, but retains the fundamental belief that God cannot forgive if Jesus does not die a propitiating death.

#7 The Scapegoat Theory

The Scapegoat Theory is a modern Atonement theory rooted in the philosophical concept of the Scapegoat. Here the key figures Rene Girard and James Allison. Within this theory of the Atonement Jesus Christ dies as the Scapegoat of humanity. This theory moves away from the idea that Jesus died in order to act upon God (as in PSA, Satisfaction, or Governmental), or as payment to the devil (as in Ransom). Scapegoating therefore is considered to be a form of non-violent atonement, in that Jesus is not a sacrifice but a victim. There are many Philosophical concepts that come up within this model, but in a general sense we can say that Jesus Christ as the Scapegoat means the following. 1) Jesus is killed by a violent crowd. 2) The violent crowd kills Him believing that He is guilty. 3) Jesus is proven innocent, as the true Son of God. 4) The crowd is therefore deemed guilty.

James Allison summarizes the Scapegoating Theory like this, “Christianity is a priestly religion which understands that it is God’s overcoming of our violence by substituting himself for the victim of our typical sacrifices that opens up our being able to enjoy the fullness of creation as if death were not.”

Conclusions

Each theory presented here is dense and complex, but I hope you can learn from the overall focus of each. I personally believe that we need to move beyond some of these theories and progress into a more robust theory of the atonement. But thankfully, at the end of the day we aren’t saved by theories. We’re saved by Jesus! How that happens may be fun to discuss and theorized about, but only in sight of the fact that it’s the who that matters far more!

What do you think of all these theories? Does a certain one appeal to you more than the rest? Let me know in a comment!

Recommended reading

The following books are some of the best studies on the atonement I know and recommend for further reading:

Atonement, Justice, and Peace by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek (the best argument against penal substitution I’ve read)

The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge (excellent study on the cross for today’s world)

Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulén (a classic study of traditional atonement models)

Atonement: Person and Work of Christ by Thomas F. Torrance (great study by the renowned 20th century theologian)

The Nature of the Atonement by John McLeod Campbell (difficult reading, but historically an important text)

On the Incarnation by Athanasius (don’t let the title fool you: this is a profound text for the atonement in the early church)

Curs Deus Homo: Why God Became Man by Anselm (classic for the “satisfaction” atonement theory)

Against Heresies by Ireneaus (a great example of the atonement in the early church)

Things Hidden Since the Foundations of the World by Rene Girard (for the scapegoat theory)

The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann (one of the best modern works on the atonement)

Church Dogmatics IV/1 by Karl Barth (another modern classic on the atonement, famous for Barth’s notion of the “Judge judged in our place”)

The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (a decent collection of essays to give you a feel for various atonement theories)

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Notes:

  1. Robin Collins, Understanding Atonement: A New and Orthodox Theory 1995
  2. Christus Victor P. 20

Who Killed Jesus?

Who Killed?Jesus was not murdered. He offered up His life freely for the sake of humanity. No one took His life, He gave it away. 1 But the question remains, even if Jesus did offer up His life, to whom did He offer it up to? Who actually killed Jesus?

The Atonement, that is, the death of Christ, is something I’ve written on a few times before. 2 In my upcoming book I’ve chosen to spend a lot of time on this subject. 3 Today I thought it’d be fun to look at an aspect of the atonement that is often overlooked (or not taken seriously enough).

Within the classical understanding of Penal Substitutionary Atonement 4, the answer is God. God killed Jesus. Within this model Jesus offers up His life for the appeasement of His Father’s anger. But as I’ve written before, this understanding of the cross is highly problematic. It over legalizes this Gospel, undermines the unity of the Trinity, and paints a horrific picture of the Father.

Additionally, it blatantly ignores the bible.

Many who defend the classical doctrine of PSA will point to the bible as its origin, but in my understanding of scripture I don’t see how that’s possible. While there may be a few verses that in some ways appear to present PSA as true, there are far more verses that destroy it entirely. Take for example, our basic question: who killed Jesus? Within the Penal model of atonement, where the Son is punished by the Father for our sake, the answer must be that God killed Jesus. But the bible never once says that this is the case. In fact, it says the opposite. The bible clearly tells us that someone else killed Jesus, and it was not His Father.

Consider the following:

“For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.” 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 NIV Emphasis mine. 

“After Jesus finished saying all these things, he said to his followers, ‘You know that the day after tomorrow is Passover. On that day the Son of Man will be handed over to his enemies to be killed on a cross.'” Matthew 26:1-2 ERV Emphasis mine.

“And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!'” Matthew 27:25 ESV Emphasis mine.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Acts 2:22-23 ESV Emphasis mine.

“let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” Acts 4:10 ESV Emphasis mine.

The cross was not divine child abuse. The Father did not beat up His Son so that He could love you. God gave up His life for the sake of the human race, at the hands of the human race. In a stunning display of self-sacrifical love, Jesus hung on the cross, crying out to those who had crucified Him: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 5

What outrageous grace! What stunning love!

That is good news. Divine child abuse, is not good news. Jesus saves us from sin, not from His Father’s fury. Jesus gives His life for our life, not as a pagan appeasement sacrifice, but as a stunning display of unconditional grace. The cross was the beautiful act of love in which the man Jesus Christ died our death in order to undo death itself, thereby freeing us from sin. Who killed Jesus? Certainly not the Father.

Jesus died at the hands of man, to free man from the hands of sin.

What do  you think? Can you find any scriptures that prove me wrong here? Comment below!

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Notes:

  1. See John 10:18
  2. See On Atonement
  3. Tentatively entitled We Belong: Trinitarian Good News – coming this fall
  4. The view that Jesus was punished from the Father (penal) in our place (substitutionary) for the sake of our redemption, reconciliation and justification (atonement).
  5. Luke 23:34

On Eastern Orthodoxy

Small

I’ll be honest, I’ve been looking for an excuse to use this picture in a post here since I took it. It’s a stunning vertical panorama shot with my iPhone, which I admit is far from professional, but I love it. It was taken inside the Church of the Spilt Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia while I was there on a trip with the church plant I’m a part of here in Tallinn, Estonia. I found this church stunningly beautiful and awe inspiring. (Click on the photo for an enlarged version.)

Recently I’ve been intrigued by Eastern Orthodoxy, and not just their beautiful church buildings, but also their theology. I’ve found that many of the things I have come to learn in my own journey have an echo in much of the theology of the Eastern Orthodox church. For me, that’s encouraging. It means that I’m not just another “heretic” loosing his mind after reading a few books, but that faith is a 2,000 year old conversation that I get to be a part of. Theology is a fluid thing, not a stagnant study.

One of the biggest areas of theological change for me has been in rediscovering the Atonement (the death of Christ). In my denial of the classical theories of atonement that are common in the west, I have found myself working against the norm. But the more my intrigue led me to study Eastern Orthodoxy, the more I’ve begun to see how truly “unorthodox”, in a technical sense, the west really is, especially in regards to Atonement. Our (Protestant) theology is only 500 years old, give or take a few years. That may seem like a lot, but when you compare it to the 2,000 year old legacy of the Eastern Church (with the Roman Catholics) you get a sense that Protestantism is the new player in town. Which in my experience with discussing theology, this seems like the opposite attitude of Protestants. 1

As soon as I began to question the Western understanding of Atonement, I received backlash from Protestants who felt like I was questioning an age old belief that has existed since the early church. I myself thought I had stumbled upon something new, but as I’ve explored Eastern Orthodoxy I’ve realized this is not the case. I had not stumbled upon something new to theology, but something very old. I began to read the Patristic (church fathers) greats like Athanasius, Gregory, Irenaeus, Hilary, and others. 2 As I read their writings, some of which go back as early as the second century, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts back to myself. Someone else has already said what I have felt compelled to say.

That awful westernized doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement? It’s a new idea. Calvin and Luther turned it into what it is today in the west. The Eastern Orthodox won’t even touch that doctrine. PSA did exist in some ways before the reformation, but only subtly in the Catholic church. They adopted Thomas of Aquinas’ satisfaction model along with that of Anselm. Luther and Calvin took these theories and hyper-legalized them into what we know today in the West. But it’s worth noting that the Eastern Orthodox Church has never held to these beliefs. They have always been highly Incarnational and Christus Victor based in their model of Atonement. 3

The point here is that maybe this conversation we’re having about theology, the bible, and the gospel is really much more diverse and intricate than we make it out to be. Denying Penal Substitutionally Atonement is not heresy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that. But most days I just smile and think to myself: “I have 2,000 years of the most undivided church in our Christian history on my side.” Which isn’t to imply that that settles the issue, but it is to imply that it should change the way we approach atonement.

We’re all on a journey. History is a conversation. Theology is not a perfect science, it is an art. We must learn from one another and from our history as Christian brothers and sisters. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, I guess, is all I’m saying here. We should be able to have conversations about theology, the bible, and the Gospel with an open mind. Theology is not a stagnant thing, it is not about strict dogmatics. We’re having a conversation here, not a debate. Tell me what you think, not just what you’ve been told to think.

Of course it goes without saying that there are problems within Eastern Orthodoxy too, just as there are problems within Protestantism and Catholicism. But that is just all the more a reason for us to let down or name calling, closed-minded thinking and just have a conversation with one another. We can learn from each other, and I think we should.

(Oh and by the way: I’m planning on attending a Russian Orthodox church here in town for my last sunday in Estonia. Maybe I’ll write a follow up about my experience later.)

But enough about my thoughts, what are your thoughts? Let me know in a comment.

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Notes:

  1. e.g. we have the right doctrines, the pope is the antichrist, etc. etc. Little of our theology is willing to humbly admit that the 2,000 year old church may be right in some areas where the 500 year old church is not.
  2. Many of which I have made available for download here. (free)
  3. Incarnational is in reference to Christ’s healing assumption of our fallen humanity. Christus Victor is in reference to Christ’s triumph over sin and death.

A Vision of Christ (Podcast)

A Vision of Christ: This message was shared on May 21st, 2014 at Hope:Tallinn church in Estonia. 20 minutes long, on “what makes the Gospel good news?” Enjoy!

 

 

Notes:

New English Bible, John 1:1-5, 14: Who is Christ? He is the eternal Being, He is the one through Whom all things come to be, He is the Word of the Father to man, and He is the Word became flesh.

Hypostatic Union: Jesus Christ is fully God of God, and man of man. He holds both natures in Himself.

In His Divinity He has laid hold of our humanity, healing our humanity and reconciling us back to God. In the incarnation we can say that God has truly reached us. He has found us in our darkness. Adam and Eve hid in the garden and Christ has come to find us once again.

In His humanity He has enacted a new covenant between God and the human race by taking up our cause and fulfilling our side of the covenant before God. He therefore is at once the God-manward motion and the man-Godward motion. In His vicarious humanity He came and did as us what we cannot do in and of ourselves.

In our union with Christ we partake of this covenant relationship that has been established in Christ.

Christ’s death: Jesus dies our death, undoing death and destroying sin, setting us free from both.

Christ’s resurrection: We have died with Him, and we raise to life with Him. We are new creations in Christ, as we partake in His divine nature and in His resurrection life.

Christ’s ascension: When Christ ascended and seated on high, He took us up with Him, seating us in heavenly places with God in Christ.

The Gospel is the stunning announcement that we have been included into the very Trinitarian life of God, that we now live in the heart of the Trinity. We share in the Great Dance of God. That is what makes the Gospel so astounding.

What is the gospel in one sentence? My sentence: The Gospel is Jesus, the Son of God, Who has become man in order to bring us home to His Father. 

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What if All Means ALL?

What if all really means ALL?

What if we could actually see that all humanity is in the same boat?

That there are no outsiders to Grace.

That no one is excluded.

That there is no inner-circle with God.

What if we actually saw the whole world as having been reconciled?

Would we see brothers and sisters in the faces of our enemies?

Would peace be possible?

What if the homeless man you pass by on the street is just as close to God as you are?

What if the terrorists, the murders, the rapists, and the down-and-outs are actually all loved and treasured by God?

What if all really means all?

Can we take the bible seriously, that all humanity is in the same boat, included, and adopted into the family of God?

“God so loved the world …1

“I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 2

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  3

“One died for all; all mankind died with Him.” 4

“…the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 5

“He is the atonement for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 6

“…who gave Himself as a ransom for all7

What if we stopped seeing the world as the outsiders, and started seem them as insiders who are simply unaware that they’ve been included?

What if we stopped seeing church as an exclusive club, and started seeing Christ in all of humanity?

“…there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.8

Does all really mean ALL?

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Notes:

  1. John 3:16
  2. John 12:32
  3. John 1:29
  4. 2 Corinthians 5:14
  5. 1 Timothy 4:10
  6. 1 John 2:2
  7. 1 Timothy 2:6
  8. Colossians 3:11

10 Ways We Should Rethink Easter

10 ways easterTomorrow we celebrate Good Friday, and with it the very heart of the Gospel: the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. I want to present ten ways that we should think differently about Easter this year. In doing so may you rediscover the beauty of the cross, and the stunning message of the Gospel.

#1 It’s Good Friday, Not Bad Friday

The cross is not a dark event. The cross is the center of our joy and celebration. Far from being a defeat, the cross is a victory!

While from a humanistic perspective, the cross is weakness and failure. But from the Christian perspective, the cross is the greatest moment of triumph in all of history. As Athanasius says, “the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.” 1 That’s good news! Jesus fully defeated death, in His death.

#2 Resurrection Isn’t the End

The story of Jesus doesn’t end at resurrection. While the resurrection is important, it’s not the end. The Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance help me see that the resurrection, while staggering in itself, is not complete apart from the ascension.

Robert Walker, in his introduction to Torrance’s book atonement, says “The ascension is Jesus’ taking of our humanity in His person into the presence of God into the union and communion of the love of the Trinity.” 2 Or as C.S. Lewis says, “In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend.” 3 Jesus ascended, taking us up with Him; seating us in heavenly places! 4

#3 God Didn’t Kill Jesus

crucifixionWe know for a fact in Christianity that the cross accomplished our salvation. Theories of how this happened however, are vast and wide. One of the worst, in my mind, is that of Penal Substitutionary Atonement 5 which essentially teaches that Jesus saved us from God. Meaning that Jesus was actually killed by His Father.

Did Jesus save us from God? Absolutely not! Here’s a few reasons why. 1) Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” 2) This notion divides the Trinity and undermines the goodness of God by creating a dark side hidden behind the back of God—which ultimately goes against Jesus’ own words, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” 6 We aren’t saved from God, we’re saved from sin. 

#4 The Cross Wasn’t a Pagan Ritual

The cross isn’t a form of paganism where Jesus is sacrificed up to an angry god in the hope of appease his terrible wrath. If this is true, then paganism is true. Which would be disastrous to the Gospel: making it not a Christian Gospel, but a pagan gospel.

Jesus didn’t die in order to condition God into being gracious. T.F. Torrance writes that within the Old Testament paradigm of sacrifice and atonement, we must see that the cross is not a pagan offering for the sake of forgiveness, but rather a witness to the merciful will of God. 7 The priestly system was never pagan—in the sense that it was an offering to earn forgiveness or mercy—rather, it was and is a system to manifest and give witness to the mercy of God.

#5 Jesus’ Death Was Real

The death of Jesus is the action of God to meet us in the pit of our human existence. What do we fear more than death? In order for salvation to be complete, God must meet us in the depths of our humanity. I feel like sometimes we pass over Jesus’ death as a real event, as if His being God made Him less human. He was God as a human, and in His humanity He fully felt the bitterness of death.

This is important to remember. The death of Jesus was a very real event. He actually felt the fear and abandonment that we feel. He entered into our Adamic fear and calamity and from that place He brought redemption. In His death, death itself is undone!

#6 Jesus Was Not Forsaken by His Father

The-Holy-Trinity-xx-Nicoletto-Semitecolo“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is not a prayer of Jesus. Every prayer that Jesus ever prayed began with “Abba, Father!” Here Jesus is not saying that the Trinity was deconstructed and destroyed. The Trinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit remained intact on the cross!

Jesus is quoting the old testament. 8 He is fulfilling prophecy. He quotes Psalms 22, the Messianic Psalm. This Psalm, more than any other, is a clear prophecy foretelling the death of Jesus, the Messiah.

#7 The Cross Wasn’t Pretty

The cross was a horrific and terrifying event. It wasn’t pretty. While it is important to see the celebratory reality of the cross (see #1), it is also important to remember how expensive the party cost God.

God paid a high price for our redemption. We celebrate joyously that sacrifice, but at the same time keeping in mind, with reverence, the enormous price that was paid. Jesus died a real death, feeling the full weigh of our sin and guilt. He suffered in our place, so that we might have life. Celebrate that, but just don’t forget the price.

#8 The Cross Reveals Love, Not Wrath

The cross reveals the love of God, it does not primarily reveal His wrath. When you think of the cross, do you see the wrath of God or His love? If wrath, you need to take another look. The cross is not about wrath, it is about love.

T.F. Torrance writes that, “The cross is a window opened into the very heart of God.” 9 We understand God through Jesus: in His life, and especially in His self-giving death. The cross reveals a God who is madly in love with the world, not a God who is furiously angry at it. “For God so loved the world…” 10

#9 The Life of Jesus > The Death of Jesus

INRIPaul writes that we are “saved by His life.” 11 The life of Jesus, and the work of Jesus should be inseparable. It’s not the cross that saves us, it’s Jesus. He embodies our salvation, and reconciliation back to God.

The cross matters, but the Christ of the cross matters even more. God did not use Jesus as a tool to fix humanity. Jesus Himself is the salvation of the human race. It is in His very person, in His hypostatic union: the joining of God and man in one body that we find salvation, reconciliation, and redemption. The new covenant is a person, not a transaction!

#10 The Cross is a Mystery

We know what the cross accomplished. We know that because of Christ we are forgiven, reconciled, redeemed, freed from sin, in union with Christ, and participants in the eternal life of God. How it all happens is a mystery.

While there are many theories as to how the cross accomplishes all these things, we cannot get to hung up on theories. It’s the person of Jesus that saves us, not our theology. We don’t have to understand the cross to benefit from it’s blessings. The bible doesn’t give us a clear formula for exactly what happened at calvary, but it does inspire us to worship God because of it.

Let’s keep the cross mysterious. We may not understand it fully, but that’s okay. No one is asking us to.

“Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want.” 12

He has done it! It is finished!

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Notes:

  1. On the Incarnation, section 20.
  2. Editor’s introduction to T.F. Torrance Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, page lii.
  3. The Grand Miracle, page 111
  4. See Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3.
  5. I’ve written much about this view of atonement. You can find these articles here.
  6. John 14:9
  7. See Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, pages 38-39.
  8. I’ve written more about this here.
  9. The Mediation of Christ
  10. John 3:16
  11. Romans 5:10
  12. Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, and Judgement.

Holy Week Meditation: The Love Dream of God

photoWhat drove Jesus to the cross?

In the stunning words of St. Catherine:

You, high eternal Trinity, acted as if You were drunk with love, infatuated with Your creature.. 1

Love.

Jesus became a man, lived a life within our fallen existence, fought back against the Adamic nature, bearing the totality of our sin, death, and corruption on the cross in one seamless movement of a Trinitarian passion.

Jesus was driven by reckless abandonment, an unwavering commitment to the infinite love of God.

The eternal Godhead, the Triune Being, the Uncreated Light, became one with our fallen humanity, and in one movement of ecstatic love, defeated death.

The cross echoes the eternal love dream of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This love-dream is that we may be One with God, that we may belong in His heart; that we may be included in the very life of God.

In essence, adoption. We were “predestined for adoption.” 2 Before the world was made, God had a dream: you, me, and the whole human race. Predestined to belong.

This passionate drive within the heart of our Triune God is the driving force behind the life of Jesus. Jesus died because the Father loves you. Jesus died because the Trinity has a dream for the human race, and nothing, not even death itself, will separate us from that dream.

Jesus died because we are loved, because we belong; because God is good.

What a stunning reality.

What a beautiful Gospel.

God became a man, dwelt among us, and died our death. The eternal dream of God is made fully manifest in the act of the Son. He loves us, and in that love, He cannot leave us to our corruption. He must, with reckless abandonment, save.

It’s a mockery of the cross to say that Jesus died because the Father needed blood on His hands to forgive us. It’s a shame that what is meant to be the most beautiful message the world has ever known, has been transformed into a highly pagan message that insults the very nature of God.

Jesus died because the Father hates the world, and needed to be appeased? Jesus died to satisfy some legal requirement within the heart of God?

Absolutely not.

Jesus died for love.

Jesus died because the Triune God has an unbreakable dream for the human race. This dream didn’t change when Adam fell. This dream burns on without diminishing for a second.

God’s mind is made up. It always has been.

His love is eternally set on the human race.

Jesus died because of an infinite love-dream of the Trinity to have us, to include us, and to adopt us into the Life of God.

His passionate pursuit is set on the human race. He is wildly in love with us, and it is because of this reckless love that He came, lived in our world, and died our death.

The cross…

This isn’t paganism. This is the Gospel.

Jesus didn’t die to appease an angry God. Jesus died to reveal a God of infinite love.

Jesus recklessly ran to the cross, for love.

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Notes:

  1. Full quote
  2. Ephesians 1:5

The Atonement – Robert Farrar Capon

rfc“I began, as most Christians do, with the image of Christ’s death on the cross as a sacrifice: Jesus the Great High Priest offers up to God his death as the Saving Victim and thereby makes a perfect satisfaction for the sins of the world. But for a number of reasons, I found this image less than satisfactory…it sounds awfully like a merely divine transaction: God doesn’t really help us out that much; the Trinity simply fixes up its internal relationships so the Father isn’t mad at us anymore. [And] when I came to take seriously the idea that all times and places, however unreconciled in themselves, are held eternally in God, all I could come up with was either a very large hell (which is, admittedly, one of the images of Scripture – but that large?) or a very unsatisfactory heaven, full of unrelieved agony. Consequently, I found myself casting about for some imagery that would either shrink hell to reasonable theological proportions (thus allowing the divine Success to look a little less like cosmic failure); or, alternatively, cleaning up the New Jerusalem so it wouldn’t look so much like the South Bronx.

What came to hand was the image of the dead human mind of Jesus between the time of his death and the day of his resurrection. It struck me that if you took the utter deadness of that mind… and posited the sheer oblivion of that mind as an eternal fact, you came up with a kind of universal black hole down which all the unreconciled evil of the world could be dumped. God says he will remember our iniquities no more; the dead human mind of Christ seemed to provide a way for omniscience to do just that: Jesus takes all the badness down into the forgettery of his death and offers to the Father only what is held in the memory of his resurrection. Christ as eternally dead (if he was dead even ten minutes, those ten minutes are still held eternally) provides you with someplace to put evil – with a hell inside Christ’s human death, so to speak. And correspondingly, Christ as eternally risen provides you with a ‘place’ for heaven: heaven is the actual, historical world that he offers, eternally reconciled, to the Father… all the unspeakable things go unspoken at the picnic by the Word who in the resurrection speaks them only to himself, in his death.”

(Taken from Between Noon and Three)

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