Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lessons on the Non-Violent Atonement

Hi Folks,

Crazy last 9 days for me!
*Last Friday through Sunday participated in a conference on faith and politics in Kansas.
*Monday was in meetings all day at Woodland Hills Church.
*Tuesday worked 14 hours on my book Revolting Beauty.
*Wednesday and Thursday was in Detroit, Michigan, preaching and conducting a Seminar on Imaginative Prayer
*Friday participated in an all day conference on "The Non-Violent Atonement."
*Saturday prepared and preached a sermon at WHC.
*Sunday preached twice at WHC.
*Monday was in meetings all day at Woodland Hills Church.

In the midst of all this I had to read Tony Cross' great (but difficult) book Cross Purposes as well as Christopher Hitchen's interesting (and angry) God is Not Great.

I love everything I'm doing, but I'm tired. The light at the end of the tunnel is mid-November. Lord help me hang on!

I want to share a bit about the Non-Violent Atonement Seminar I participated in last Friday. It was really interesting. The Seminar was sponsored by an organization called Preaching Peace headed up by Michael Hardin (editor of Stricken By God?). He was joined by Denny Weaver (author of The Non-Violent Atonement) Tony Bartlet (author of Cross Purposes) and myself (I argue for the Christus Victor view of the atonement in The Nature of the Atonement, eds. P. Eddy and J. Bielby).

The one thing all of us have in common is a concern about the dominance of the Penal Substitutionary theory of the atonement. This is the view that the way Jesus reconciled us to God was by becoming the object of God's wrath against sin. We don't deny that Jesus "died in our place" and "as our substitute." Nor do we deny that we're reconciled to God only "through the blood of Jesus" or that Jesus died as our "atoning sacrifice." We just have serious reservations about the Penal Substitutionary interpretation of this substitutionary and sacrificial language.

For example, if God punishes Jesus for our sin, does God really forgive anybody? If you owe me a hundred dollars and I won't let you off the hook till someone pays me, did I really forgive your debt? Why does God frequently forgive people in the Bible without requiring a sacrifice? So too, are sin and guilt the kind of things that can literally be transferred from one party (us) to another (Jesus)? Where is the justice in God killing his innocent Son because of what we humans did? Does Jesus reveal God's love for us, or placate God's wrath towards us? And doesn't this way of thinking presuppose that you can attain a good, loving result through violence? Does the end justify the violent means? Isn't this the sort of thinking that has fueled the endless cycle of violence that's characterized human history? (I address other concerns in the Q &A section of my website).

As I traveled to this conference Friday morning - having just flown back from Detroit the night before - I was tired, grouchy, and wondering why the heck I said "yes" to doing this. But once the conference started, and especially as the day progressed, I was glad I was part of it. I learned a lot - particularly from Tony Bartlett. Among other things, Tony taught us a lot about Rene Girard's mimetic anthropology and his scapegoat theory. I wasn't clear about any of this before the conference.

I also gained some insights into aspects of the Bible's sacrificial language I wasn't entirely clear on before. For example, one of the main texts used to support the Penal Substitution view of the atonement is Romans 3:25 where (in many translations) Paul says God put forth Christ to be "the propitiation for our sins." Penal Substitution theorists argue that "propitiation" means something like "appeasement." They hold that Jesus appeased (or "satisfied") the Father's wrath against sin. Tony presented a compelling argument that the word for "propitiation" (hilastarion) actually means "a place for atonement" - referencing the mercy seat in the ark of the Old Testament. So Paul is simply saying God presented Jesus to be the place where we receive mercy.

Good stuff. My "flesh" may be fatigued but my mind and spirit are soaring.

And now, on a totally unrelated note: half of the small group I'm a part of is in Haiti right now engaging in some incredible ministry with my good friend Dr. Jen. They're journaling on line, and it's frankly beautiful and powerful stuff. (Though they've been off line for a couple days because of Tropical Storm Noel). You can check them out HERE.

Peace on all of you