Monday, December 18, 2006

Why I don't view the Cross as punishment - Intro

I haven't actually posted in a while because I was trying to work on a post that was becoming simply too large for a single post, so I'm going to break it up. Today I'm just going to give a bit of background, and a few sites to visit for those interested in further reading.

First a bit of background. I have spent the majority of my life as a Christian (21 years) in various Baptist Churches, and if pressed many of those pastors would probably espouse the theory of penal atonement (formal name for the theory that states that Christ took our punishment). However, no one ever really talked about how the cross 'worked', and would generally quote Scriptures, or talk in terms very similar to those found in Scripture. Such as: Christ died for our sin, or we are saved from our sin, or our sins separate us from God and there is nothing we can do to bridge that gulf, etc. So about 10 months ago, I was listening to the Transition Series by Wayne Jacobson who was the first person I had ever heard describe the workings of the Cross. He described the Cross as cure rather than punishment and this piqued my curiosity, so I have been doing a bit of reading, studying, and thinking about what he proposed. After much reading and contemplation, I would say that I have to agree with him and I hope to lay out my reasons why here over the next couple of weeks.

Second, I want to be clear that I am not saying that God doesn't punish or judge sin at all. The scriptures are clear that there will be a day of Judgement. However, this does not require us to make a conclusion that because God punishes sin that he must punish an innocent victim in order to forgive sins. The theory of penal atonement often reads like God is a divine computer where all equations must be balanced, rather than a sovereign being who has the authority to forgive sin as he pleases. I know that last sentence may cause a bit of angst and leave some wondering why we need the Cross at all. Here is a hint - think of who feels threatened, or feels they might die when God and sinful man come near to one another in the Bible.

Interestingly, Anslem of Canterbury in the 11th century was the first to raise the idea of the Cross as punishment in his book 'Cur Deus Homo'. His theory came to be known as the Satisfaction Theory, which would later be refined into the penal atonement theory by the reformers. So what did people believe for the first 1000 years of the Christian faith? Prior to Anslem, the prevailing theory was known as the Ransom theory which stated that Jesus ransomed humanity from the power of sin, death, and the devil. A more refined modern version of this theory is called 'Christus Victor' which implies that Christ triumphed over sin, death and the devil. This idea is actually portrayed in the movie 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe'. In the movie, Edward transgresses and because of that his blood belongs to the White Witch. Aslan makes an agreement with the Witch to die in Edwards place and the Witch agrees thinking that she will be rid of Aslan for good and be able to rule Narnia as she pleases. However, she didn't understand that what Aslan was doing would result in his victory over her.

So hear are the major areas that I hope to cover in the weeks ahead:
  1. Scriptural Language of the Cross.
  2. Who is the Cross for? Was the cross the sacrifice God gave (we needed), or was it the sacrifice God requires? Could it be both?
  3. Who does the Cross change?
  4. Penal Atonement doesn't take sin seriously enough. (I can hear you now thinking -- What in the world is he talking about? -- Stay tuned)

In the mean time here are some sites you can visit if you are interested in your own research.

Here are a couple of parting thoughts for you as you ponder this mystery. First, it is a mystery and when our feeble minds try to form words to describe the reality of what happened at the Cross, we automatically begin to make it something less than what it really is. Second, this is an idea that is under construction for me, so I am hoping that others will participate in the discussion to make points I may have not considered, etc. Finally please keep it civil, I will mod out any ad-hominem arguments.

Have fun and feel free to comment.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Going Deeper with Jesus

I've been reading 'The Divine Conspiracy' by Dallas Willard; a book where (200 pages in at least) he has been covering the Sermon on the Mount. Willard's writing on this passage has been refreshing and challenging. I can't begin to do him justice, so I will quote him directly.

By no means, however, is he simply giving here three more things not to do, three more points on a 'list' of things to be avoided. Certainly we are not to do them, but that is not the point. ....

So here as elsewhere in his lovely Discourse on the Hillside, we need to put the idea of laws entirely out of our minds. Jesus is working, as already indicated, at the much deeper level of the source of actions, good and bad. He is taking us deeper into the kind of beings we are, the kind of love God has for us, and the kind of love that, as we share it, brings us into harmony with his life. No one can be 'right' in the kingdom sense who is not transformed at this level. And then, of course, the issue of not being wrongly angry, not expressing contempt, not calling people "stupid bastards," and so on is automatically taken care of.

When I go to New York City, I do not have to think about not going to London or Atlanta. People do not meet me at the airport or station and exclaim over what a great thing I did in not going somewhere else. I took the steps to go to New York City, and that took care of everything.

Likewise, when I treasure those around me and see them as God's creatures designed for his eternal purposes, I do not make an additional point of not hating them or calling them twerps or fools. Not doing those things is simply part of the package. "He that loves has fulfilled the law," Paul said (Rom. 13:8). Really.

On the other hand, not going to London or Atlanta is a poor plan for going to New York. And not being wrongly angry and so on is a poor plan for treating people with love. It will not work. And, of course, Jesus never intended it to be such a plan. For all their necessity, goodness, and beauty, laws that deal only with actions, such as the Ten Commandments, simply cannot reach the human heart, the source of actions. "If a law had been given capable of bringing people to life," Paul said, " then righteousness would have come from that law" (Gal. 3:21). But law, for all its magnificence, cannot do that. Graceful relationship sustained with the masterful Christ certainly can.

We learn this in our discipleship to Christ.

The Divine Conspiracy - p. 154-155

All I can say is wow. Did you see the key to a transformed heart? If you missed it here it is again: "He is taking us deeper into the kind of beings we are, the kind of love God has for us, and the kind of love that, as we share it, brings us into harmony with his life." Just as Paul said, "He that loves has fulfilled the law."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Disconnected Youth

Today I was asked my opinion about a youth specialties report on youth in America. In this report the author talked about a recurring theme of 'feelings of abandonment' among today's youth. I'm not surprised, but I think that this goes deeper than that, and I think the problem isn't limited to our youth. Here is my response to my friends request:


This may be more than you wanted, but let me go a step further than the article does. Rather than talk in terms of 'abandonment', let me talk in terms of 'disconnection'. Disconnection is a problem that really not limited to the youth of today, but they may be the first ones in recent history to grow up with no memory of what connectedness looks like. Whether, or not this is 'new under the sun', I really don't care. It is the reality of where we are today, and it is the issue before us that needs to be addressed.

When I was growing up there was still a sense of connectedness with people around you, a sense that you were part of a larger community. If someone was hitch-hiking, of course you would give them a ride. If someone was broke down on the side of the road, of course you would stop to give them a hand. If your neighbor was building a fence, you grabbed your hammer and gave him a hand. If you had a basket ball goal in your driveway, you expected all the neighborhood kids to use it.

If you lived in out in the 'country' as we called it, the connectedness was even stronger. Driving down a country road involved at least 2 stops in the middle of the road to chat with a passing neighbor. There was also weekly visits (at a minimum), from all the neighbors to see how you were doing, or to share some excess vegetables from their garden. The one neighbor who didn't visit on a regular basis was considered just plain weird.

My family also moved several times while I was growing up. Because of this connectedness, the sense of losing friends was tempered by the excitement of making new friends wherever we went. The possibility of not making friends in a new place never even entered my mind. For kids today, that is a real and scary possibility; heck it's not just a possibility for kids, its a possibility for adults too. I have worked at JPMorgan for over a year, and there isn't one person here whom I could truly call a friend and this is where I spend most of my time! Most days I eat lunch alone downtown in one of the largest cities in the country (Houston). I'm not saying this to feel sorry for myself, its just the reality of this culture that we live in.

Today we live in a society that is crowded, impersonal, rushed, and task oriented and that is how many of our congregations have become as well. Being rule or task followers doesn't solve this issue; anyone who has taken the time to read my story knows that I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. There is a tremendous movement afoot in the body of Christ here in America and abroad that is questioning our traditional structures, and is making this sense of connectedness or community a priority. People are longing for connectedness again; both a sense of true connectedness to Christ who is our head, and a true connectedness to a local fellowship. Whether is a 'house', 'cell', 'fellowship', or 'emergent' church they are all making community a priority, some admittedly missing the first priority and best solution -- our connectedness to Christ.

So what does this mean for youth today? Yes they face many of the same issues that the generations before them did, but now these problems are only amplified by the disconnectedness they feel. Growing up can be difficult, terribly difficult at times and I know that I would be pushing up daises if I didn't have the relationships of those in my community. To be honest, my relationship with my father was bad, but thankfully I had other adults in my life who cared about me and helped me through some difficult times. Personally, the last thing I needed when I was growing up was yet another person telling me what I was doing wrong, but I know that not everyone is me. Some may need that, but whatever it is, we need to be up close and personal enough to know what their needs are. They need connections, we can meet that need and then out of that relationship, we can introduce them to the Father that loves them more than they can possibly imagine and longs to be connected with them for eternity.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Christian 'Religion' or Life

Is God real? Can I really talk to him and hear from him? These are questions that you might begin to ask if you were to spend some time in a typical congregation these days. I've been a follower of Christ for 21 years and in all that time I've only recently heard anyone talk about living relationally with our Father. Before that, I heard plenty about rule keeping or knowledge acquisition, but that's about it. But those things don't transform a life like a relationship with Father does, they only produce the outward appearance. Ted Haggard is the perfect example of someone who can have an outward appearance (for a while), but not be transformed on the inside. Maybe now that the illusion has been torn down, Mr. Haggard will be able to go on a real journey with Jesus.

I recently was listening to a podcast called "When you can't play the game anymore" when they made this interesting statement:
"To be successful in our religious system does not demand someone be engaged in a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ."

How true that is, and how sad that is. You don't have to know Christ to be considered 'Spiritual', you only have to know how to play the game.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I was reading "Dear Church, letters from a disillusioned generation" this morning and came across a quote in the book that really resonated with me:
"Twentysomethings don't want 'the victorious Christian life,' they want to be allowed to struggle. When the pastor, the Sunday school teacher, or the Bible study leader speak (week after week) about how things ought to be without telling the church how badly they themselves have blown it, young adults write them off as inauthentic."
Mike Sares, Pastor at Scum of the Earth Church -- quoted in 'Dear Church'

Though I'm not a twentysomething, I definitely share that same view these days. But I have to confess that there was a time in my life when I thought that everyone in the congregation was really living the 'victorious Christina life', except me. By that I mean that I thought that I was the only one who struggled, and had doubts. These days however, I know better; most just hide it well. My wife and I have referred to the people who hide it well as "Happy Plastic People", but now I'm beginning to wonder if that is just a bit unfair; they are following the lead of their pastors or teachers after all. Maybe they only act that way because few dare to teach them how to live an authentic life in Christ, how to struggle, and how your doubts can actually be a springboard into a deeper walk with Christ.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm daring to be authentic; I'm daring to look to Jesus rather than look to the congregation; some think I'm crazy, but I can't seem to get this great old hymn out of my head....

"Though none go with me, I still will follow...."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Deja Vu

One of my strongest early memories is the first time I experienced deja vu. I was looking out my grandmother's apartment window saw 2 people crossing the parking lot and realized that I had seen this before in a dream. Over the years I had come to dismiss this and a couple of other times I experienced deja vu as just some freaky copy error in my brain that only made me think I had 2 separate memories of the same event, but the deja vu that I experienced a couple of weeks ago is a little harder to explain.

My mother had come into town to help me watch the kids while my wife was in Thailand on a mission trip. She was getting ready to take 2 of my kids to a carnival at their school and was asking me some questions about the carnival when the deja vu hit, only this time I recognized it before it was over! I knew what she was going to ask next, and I was tempted to blurt out the answer before she asked it, but then it wouldn't be deja vu any more would it? So I waited to see if I was really right about the next question. Then it came, "How long is the Carnival?" I was right! How do I explain that? Copy error + lucky guess? A lucky guess doesn't adequately explain why I 'remembered' her question before she asked it. I don't know what to think about this one.

Cue Twilight Zone theme.....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rooted and established in love...

I was reading in Ephesians today and came across the following familiar passage:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21 (Emphasis Mine)

I don't know how many times I've read these particular verses before without ever noticing that small phrase. But this time it struck me because I'm starting to notice this theme all over the New Testament -- being rooted and established in love. It's the idea that this is the starting point in our relationship with Christ; this was what the cross was all about -- For God so loved..... We need to understand and be secure in His love for us before we can move on to anything else in our walk with Him. This understanding will free us to love and trust him, and will rid us of the need to protect ourselves from others. It also frees us from sin because we will trust that his ways are truly the best for us. What freedom His love brings!