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."