Friday, April 24, 2009

Which Christ do you Follow?

"But we are called to follow Christ, not a set of doctrines." 

This is a sentiment that you often see expressed. It sounds all well and good until you think about it. Simply asking some basics questions help you realize that doctrine is indispensable before you can even begin to apply such a statement.

  • What Christ are we talking about here? There have been many would-be Christs.
  • Who is this Christ? Is he man? Is he God? Is he both? 
  • How do we follow? What does that look like? If there are two contradictory ways of following Christ (assuming we even mean the same thing by Christ) which one is right? What if neither is right? How do I know if I'm really following Him?
  • Called? What kind of authority does this call come with? How do I know that I am called to follow Christ? What if I don't want to? If I am called to a particular path can I still get there if I strike out on my own?

Christ is of course more than a set of doctrines, but following Christ is not less than doctrine. J. Gresham Machen reminded us in his Christianity and Liberalism that Christianity is not a way of life. Christianity is first and foremost a doctrine. Christianity begins with good news, a message that is proclaimed and thus it is not less than doctrine although it is certainly more than a mere doctrine. 

Anti-doctrine in favor of 'following Jesus' is no less of a doctrine. It may be a jellyfish doctrine but it still has form; it still appeals to a certain kind of following which entails doctrine. We still follow a person which means we have to say something about who the person is and why we should follow Him--which is doctrine. Following Jesus is predicated on some level of doctrine. In fact, the less doctrine you have the less path you actually have to strike out and follow Jesus.

I realize that it is possible to overcook the doctrine side of things. It becomes like a mushy stew and that is neither nourish or appealing. But you can't leave the doctrine out. That's like a dinner with no main course. We'd be like the Lost Boys in the movie Hook, eating nothing but our imagination. Only this time, no amount of imagination will bring food to existence. 

Don't be fooled by anti-doctrinal sentiment. We need doctrine. Jesus himself gives us doctrine. The Sermon on the Mount entails doctrine. The proclamation of the kingdom entails doctrine. His Saviorhood and Deity, which according to Jesus must be believed, entails doctrine. And those things that are of 'first importance' to the Christian life are indeed doctrine.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One Thing I Don't Like About Star Trek

Indeed, I am a Star Trek fan. But as a Christian, one of the things that has always bothered me about Star Trek is its humanism, particularly in the Original Series and to a lesser extent in the early episodes of The Next Generation. Today, I ran across this article (HT: Trek Today).

The article is about Susan Sackett the former executive assistant to Gene Roddenberry. She now is a board member of the American Humanist Association and lectures on behalf of humanism. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Humanism, Sackett said, is a rational philosophy without supernatural or superstitious beliefs.

“Roddenberry himself was an agnostic and a humanist. Humanism is the philosophy that reason, creativity, and our basic shared sense of ethics are all that is needed for humanity to improve its condition. Secular humanists hold that supernatural entities are either not needed or run contrary to our shared objective of a better world. Roddenberry’s vision of humanity as constantly improving and approaching a peaceful and equitable existence was the foundation of the society in the Star Trek universe,” according to the announcement of her visit by the Secular Alliance of Indiana University.

“I was raised as a reform Jew so it was not a great jump to the concepts of humanism,” Sackett said. “He (Roddenberry) was more or less an agnostic.”

Humanism is about “accepting your fellow human beings,” Sackett said. “Most (humanists) are pro-choice and open to the concept of gay marriage, all hot button issues that have been tied to religiosity.”

Some of the seemingly all-powerful figures, including the Q, that the U.S. Enterprise encountered on its treks weren’t gods or spiritual figures, she said. They are merely creatures that aren’t understood yet, she said.

Later the article notes:

After her work on “Next Generation,” Sackett didn’t follow closely the other Trek series. She, however, didn’t like “Deep Space Nine” because of the spiritual aspects of the show.

“Gene wouldn’t have liked that,” she said.

I do find the evolution of Star Trek fascinating. It is a mirror for the age in which it is made. Early in Star Trek lore, we find a very 'modernist' view of the world. It is highly optimistic. Humans are almost never the villains but have achieved a superiority and have bettered themselves. The world is often very sanitized. Good and evil is always black and white. Although there are a few allusions to religion (and a number to patriotism) in the Original Series, by and large humanity has moved beyond religion and spirituality.

Later on in Star Trek, we see religion and spirituality begin to enter. This is particularly true in DS9 and Voyager. Deep Space Nine introduces us to Bajoran culture which has a whole religion based on 'The Prophets' aka "The Wormhole Aliens" to the Starfleet types. Captain Sisko himself progresses from tolerating the beliefs to accepting them along with embracing his role in Bajoran spirituality as a messiah-esque figure 'the Emissary'. Even more in Voyager, we see Commander Chakotay in full pursuit of Indian spirit guides, even teaching the crew to find their own. Spirituality is in full bloom.

Without losing the general advancement of humanity, we see a darker side to humanity. as Star Trek progresses. For example, Picard's internal conflict of hatred for the Borg. Captain Sisko suffering his own horrid loss of his wife to the Borg is arguably a much darker character. The writer's skillfully weave in his own conflict. But even his dark side at times cannot be redeemed as he is willing to lie and murder to win Romulan support in the Dominion Wars or attack a Macquis colony with chemical weapons to capture a traitor to Starfleet. There is corruption of Star Fleet with high powered admirals in Insurrection and DS9's Homefront and Paradise Lost; not to mention a secretive corrupt intelligence agency within Starfleet itself known only as Section 31. It is more than willing to break all our morals to save our morals, so much for human betterment. Finally, even season 3 of Enterprise portrays a much darker struggle as humanity seeks to defend itself. We see a progression where the ideals remain but are often at tension with the realities of a cruel world that humans have not conquered with rational thought.

This is not to say that Star Trek ever loses its basic central tenants. Star Trek did what all good stories do, they reflect something of the age. They tell a human story and human stories at their best reflect external and internal conflict. They battle the demons within as well as without. Unlike some fiction, particularly in the science fiction genre, Star Trek has not been assumed by the dark demons. Space may be full disease and death wrapped in darkness, but Star Trek like any good mythology does have a triumph of the hero.

To a larger point, humanism just doesn't work. Even the secularist will admit as much if he would just listen to the larger critiques of postmodern philosophy. Humanism is too wildly naive. Indeed it offers a hope, a category of thought which is wildly non-rational. One might even say the level to which some cling to humanism is quite superstitious.

On the moral issues it begs the question. Who defines morals? "Humanism is the philosophy that reason, creativity, and our basic shared sense of ethics are all that is needed for humanity to improve its condition." When has humanity ever truly had a shared ethic? I think if we would be fair with the evidence of history the best ethical advancements have come when people challenged the 'shared sense of ethics,' consider slavery, racial discrimination and apartheid.

Humanism does not really wrestle with the reality of evil. People have been suffering from evil since as far back as human history records. And whenever evil is crushed by truth and justice in one area, it seems to go to seed and rise up in another area. What makes us so arrogant as to think that the future will be so different? The reality is that while humanity by be improving and becoming more advanced in many areas, there are other areas where it is not. To amount of optimism can overcome this basic reality.

Humanism ignores the human condition that our desires for peace and stability go beyond just rational thought. In the Western thought there is a large shift back towards 'spirituality' as part of a basic human yearning. N.T. Wright, in his book Simply Christian, illustrates this with a parable of a dictator who paves over all the streams of water so that things might be regulated (controlled by rational thought alone). Over time however, the springs of water bubble up and crack the pavement. He writes,

Millions in the Western world have enjoyed the temporary separation from "religious" interference that this philosophy brought. Millions more, aware of the deep subterranean bubblings and yearnings of the water system we call "spirituality," which can no more ultimately be denied than can endless springs of water under thick concrete, have done their best secretly to tap into it...Now at last it has happened: the hidden springs have erupted, the concrete burst open...The official guardians of the old water system...are of course horrified to see the volcano of "spirituality" that has erupted in recent years. (Simply Christian, 19).

Let me suggest that Roddenberry and thus like him might duly be categorized as the 'old system'.

I appreciate Star Trek. For better or worse, I am a fan. Yet there are always commitments larger than Star Trek. For some it is humanism, for me it is Jesus Christ and Christianity.

I look forward to the new movie as much as the next Trekkies (except maybe those rabid about continuity issues). I hope it is optimistic in its outlook rather than the dark outlook pervading much science fiction and fiction today. But the reality is that humanism at the end of the day is not realistic. It cannot by its own principles and the nature of reality provide the real hope that all human beings crave at some level. For all it does to decry superstitions, it ironically holds, dare we say with religious tenacity, to a future of peace flowering with hope. Based on human history and the complex problems that unfold in any future yearning for hope is at best a superstition. Man has always used his creativity for good and at the same time for evil; what makes us so sure the future will be any different?

The truth is that we need the real triumph of a hero, who having conquered sin and death has risen victoriously. This is not found in superstition, whether religious, spiritual, or humanist, this is found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WTJ: Enns Debate On Inspiration, Round XXVI,

The discussion and debate over Peter Enns book Incarnation and Inspiration may have just heated up again. While the topic is over important issues, this is beginning to look like it will have more rounds than the Rocky movies.

The Spring issue of the Westminster Theological Journal has several essays:
  1. Review Article: "Revisting Inspiration and Incarnation" by Bruce Waltke
  2. "Interaction with Bruce Waltke" by Peter Enns
  3. "Interaction with Peter Enns" Bruce Waltke
  4. "The Inspiration and Interpretation of God's Word with Special Reference To Peter Enns: Part 1: Inspiration and Its Implications." by James Scott
At this point I haven't had a chance to do much more than skim the essays. The interaction between Waltke and Enns looks promising. It seems to be a very gracious response and counter response series. Waltke's main contention is to look at some of Enns data and argue that there are alternate interpretations for what Enns has shown. There is some correction and clarification by Enns followed by Waltke responding again. This may actually move to some clarity. While it may not actually change the opinions of seasoned scholars, it may help the novice realize that Enns' data is open to interpretation (and one might argue vice versa). Too often the novice, particularly the blogger has been so sure (dare we say smug) about the side upon which they land in the debate.

Scott's essay is really just an earlier version of what was distributed to the voting members of the WTS faculty as early as Feb. 2008 (as noted in footnote 5 of the essay). It remains to be seen what, if anything this will contribue to the debate or if this is just making public early defenses and rationales.

Another essay "Election and Trinity" looks to be promising particularly for those interested in systematic theology and some of the Barth and McCormick proposals. There is about five pages (pp.71-76) with the heading "Vos' Biblical-Theological Contribution". This comment struck me:
"Whereas McCormack and Barth would want to eternalize his priesthood in makin the God-human an eternal reality, the author explains (and if Vos is correct above, our Lord himself intimates) that at one time God was not a high priest. Priesthood is something proper to his humanity only." (p.75, emphasis original)

Again, it looks like an good theological interaction, and well worth a more careful read. It seems to be exegetically aware with an attention to biblical theology to answer the tough theology question surrounding God's aseity. It is a response to Barth/McCormick.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Christ in Our Place

There is a helpful essay of the contributions of the prepositions to our understanding of the death of Christ: R.E. Davies "Christ in our Place--The Contribution of the Prepositions" published in Tyndale Bulletin ( 21 [1970] pp71-90). The essay is almost forty years old. It argues that the prepositions in the NT, particularly anti and hyper, contribute to our understanding of Christ's substitutionary atonement. The argument is that prepositions are just one portion of a full orbed understanding. I found his introduction quite telling:

"Christ dying in our place, the substitutionary suffering of our Lord--this, according to these writers [after quoting hymns by Charles Wesley and Philipp Bliss], is a key concept in the New Testament understanding of the saving work of Christ.
This view, however, is not without its critics, and it is often suggested that such an understanding involves a reading into, rather than reading out of, Scripture. It is said that the New Testament knows nothing of a 'crude transactionalism', and that even if certain elements which might suggest a vicarious, substitutionary idea appear, this is only one of many ideas which are put forward in the New Testament to explain Christ's death, and should not be made the controlling concept in our understanding of it." (pp71-72)

I find it ironic that this was written forty years ago. Davies' allusion to 'crude transactionalism' cites a work that is now ninety years old. These debates have not gone away and have in fact been around for quite a while. The opponents of the penal substitutionary atonement have not changed their rhetoric much. There still are strong defenses of penal substituionary atonement out there which articulate that it is a significant part of the Biblical witness to Christ. It is something that we should not abandon today, regardless of which way the cultural winds are blowing and the suppossed force with which they blow.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On the Use and Abuse of Church History

Over that Justin Taylor's blog, I made the following comment about church history, particularly in relationship to how we internet bloggers tend to marshall history to our defense, rarely ever to the critique of our own position. One of the most recent examples is over issues of penal substitutionary atonement, particularly here in the post and comments.

First we ought to be extremely careful how we examine history. Often times they do not ask the same questions we are seeking answers for. They may give us clues how they might answer, but often times their debates are far different from our own.

I’m not going to defend all the church fathers here and their views on the atonement, but it seems to me too many are quickly dropping names from history and then asserting ‘these guys denied penal substitution’ when in fact they were not issues they wrestled with as a whole (or to the degree that say others in the 16th century did). This first claim goes hand in hand with the assertion that penal substitution is a new invention, which is hardly the case since the church fathers do bear some witness (beyond Chrysostom) to Christ bearing our sins and the curse we deserve. If you read the comments in Jones' post there is a discussion of the church fathers linking to sources, and then dismissing them, etc.

The careful historian encounters these issues and is much more judicious in how he asks questions of the past that may not have been asked or addressed until the future. This is not to say the past cannot give us clues but only to say that most of us internet bloggers are far too quick in our assertions about who has and has not read history very well... even while too many us get our history from wikipedia, or other bloggers (myself included at times). It is hard work to listen to the past rather than merely marshaling them to our side (I call myself into check here too).

Second, because often times the issues that the wrestle with are different from our own, we ought to avoid a sort of smorgasbord approach. The tendency to is to pick one element of one person’s thought and justify our own view with it. The reality is that we might pick all the worst aspects of various church fathers (and latter figures) and construct a theology in which the whole tenor of it runs contrary to the dominant themes of said fathers (this strikes me as a fair example of how many people approach Irenaeus and Athanasius--choosing one element they like while discarding their whole theological paradigm). This becomes an immature program of defending one’s position marshaling a ‘he said, she said’ without listening to the larger melody of their thought. Let’s not forget either that Luther, Calvin and a whole host of the reformers were better historians of the church fathers (both eastern and western) than all of us combined.

Third, does it not go without saying that regardless of what someone said our hearts must be held captive to the Word of God. Church history and historical theology can be like a stabilizing wing of an airplane but it can hardly be the engine that drives the plane.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Resurrection and the Atonement

In a recent blog post Tony Jones has commented on the relationship between the penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) and the resurrection. Here are some of his thoughts:
But, in all honesty, PSA never sat quite right with me. For one, it didn't seem to jibe with the chesed of God in the Hebrew Scriptures....Another problem with PSA, it seems to me, is that there's really no reason for the resurrection. It's little more than Jesus, "Ta-Da! See, I told you that I was divine!"...Well, if you found some resonance with my previous post on the crucifixion, then the resurrection of Jesus is all the more important. In Jesus, God identified with humankind in an unprecendented way -- this is why the divinity (i.e., non-mortality) of Jesus really matters...

So, when Jesus rose from the grave, it was more than the resusitation of a corpse (hell, I've seen Criss Angel do that!). Instead, it was a foretaste of the eschaton. I described Jesus' miracles in the last post as significations of the new, eschatological age that Jesus the Messiah inaugurated. The resurrection is the capstone event in the inauguration.
Jones says some things that are right here about the beginning of the eschaton in the resurrection. This is of course because Christ is fully human. The resurrection is one of the stages of his exaltation where is crowned with glory and honor in advance of what awaits all who trust in Christ. He is the 'firstfruits'. He is given indestructible human life. He is the 'Last Adam'... the eschatological man. He is also made king of all creation and appointed to judge the world (Acts 17:32). This is a fulfillment of the OT hopes of the eschaton where their will be at God's right hand a human king. So Daniel 7, Psalm 110, Psalm 2, and Psalm 8, to name a few, come to fulfillment in Christ.

Yet the reality is that these things are grounded in the atonement. In fact, Hebrews is quite clear that he is exalted into heaven as our representative based on the fact that He has offered his own blood and has obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9, esp. 11-14). The covenant cannot be inaugurated unless Christ bears the penalty of our transgression of the first covenant (Heb. 9:15, 26-28, et al).

I posted a comment on Jones' blog. Here was my brief response.
Four quick thoughts:
PSA isn't against God's 'hesed'. In fact, if you consider Genesis 15 and how God himself walks between the divided animal parts, you see that God himself in covenant with his people promises to take upon himself the curses of the covenant when God's people break the covenant in order that the covenant faithfulness (hesed) of God might be maintained. This has been articulate in much more extended form elsewhere, let's not put up false antitheses where there are none. You can find further Biblical examples of this so that PSA and hesed are not against each other. In fact the latter is the basis for the actions taken in the former.

Second, outside of the internet world, the best articulations of PSA have also been clear to include a two-adam christology, Christus Victor and other elements that help explain both PSA and representation/identification and the eschatos man that Christ is for us. At what point have you crossed over from 'dethroning' into the realm of tearing asunder?

Third, Hebrews all over the place connects PSA with Christ's representation of us as one just like us as high priest, mediator, intercessor, etc. Christ's continuing work for us is ground on the fact that he both accomplished redemption (PSA) and he is exalted with indestructible life to minister as high priest. In fact, Hebrews is clear that he cannot do the latter without doing the former. Here again, resurrection is not an after thought as if 'once we have PSA we don't really need the resurrection'... this of course, just isn't Biblical... but just because this view is false doesn't mean downplaying the significance of PSA is true.

Finally, Romans 4:25 has not problem with PSA and the resurrection of Christ and connecting the two as part of Christ's one great work for us.

I am sure not all will agree with me, but the least we could do is not erect straw men (even if they are unintentional). Granted many people who hold to PSA do not work it out in relation to other areas of theology, but it would be prudent to listen to the best articulations where these issues are dealt with more fully. I think one might find that some of your objections fall by the wayside... perhaps not, but the full-orbed articulations are out there.
I will refrain from expanding each of these brief points into a blog post on its own, but I trust one will recognize that these thoughts can go much deeper than my brief reference of them. The riches of Scripture expand these ideas in a way that would interlock PSA and the resurrection beyond Jones' quick dismissal.

In the internet world and elsewhere I'm sure, those of us who hold to PSA wholeheartedly are not always good at linking it to the rest of theology. But theology is like dominoes, if you knock one down a whole mess of things begin to fall. The same is true with PSA. Those others areas of theology that Jones holds dear (Second Adam, Christ's identification with our humanity, etc.) cannot truly be held together apart from PSA... at least that is how the Bible holds them together.

The resurrection is not an afterthought to God's design in the atonement. The resurrection truly is the beginning of the New Creation now that God has exhausted the curse that condemned the new creation.

Let's be clear, the resurrection of Christ is more that simply saying "That Jesus who died is divine". No first-century Jew understood resurrection to prove divinity... although Jesus' resurrection would vindicate all his claims (including his divinity). Resurrection says some key things about humanity, the new creation and the new humanity. It says some things about Jesus' representation of His people (the second Adam, 1 Cor. 15). Even more, it says some things about his exaltation (Eph. 1:19ff, Hebrews). Nevertheless, the resurrection is intimately connect to PSA. If we listen to Scripture more closely, we would see that Jones' positive affirmation of the resurrection do not dismissive but rather uphold PSA. In fact, it is only if we neglect the Biblical text and carry ourselves with extreme prejudice against PSA that we will think that the resurrection is more persuasive than PSA. Listening to the Biblical text means seeing how the two are interlocking as part of one system. Those of us who hold to the PSA ought to be careful that in our emphasis on a Biblical theme we do not inadvertently intentionally or unintentional minimize the resurrection. Theology is a set of dominoes, let's not knock a few over and assume it does not matter.

Throwing the Apostle Paul under the Bus UPDATED

I drafted this post on Saturday, but I see that Justin Taylor already pointed to it, even quoting J.I. Packer against Tony Jones. Here's what I thought I'd point out:

So on the one hand, talking about the penal substitutionary atonement Tony Jones writes:
Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction took place on that day 1,980 years ago, that God's wrath burned against his son instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.

But then a little later on in the comments he writes:

To the rest of you, we seem to have locked horns on this dilemma: Is the penal substitutionary *theory* of the atonement the primary historical and biblical understanding of Jesus' death, or not. Of course, the answer is that it's not. It's relatively recent, and it's a minority opinion, historically speaking. Nor is it the only way that Paul understood atonement, though it is surely one of the ways...

Finally, using Isaiah to reflect on the meaning of the crucifixion is fine, within limits. Surely the prophet established an alternate understanding of the Messiah's trajectory, but that can hardly be seen as a theological justification for penal substitution.

(April 11, 2009 11:01 AM, emphasis mine)

Well if that's not throwing the apostle Paul under the bus, I don't know what is. Paul says it, but I can find it "neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative." Of course, we've seen this before. And given Isaiah's explicit language and that fact that our theology should be derived from Scripture what in the world is the rational for saying that what he says "can hardly be seen as a theological justification for penal substitution"? Where do we get of being so dismissive if the text actually points to Christ (or an "understanding Messiah's trajectory" [whatever that means]).

If we aren't as Christians going to submit to what Scripture actually says--even as we acknowledge that is what it says... what are we even doing?

UPDATE 2: I put the first update in the comments. Tony Jones has added another post where he acknowledges that he does not deny the penal substitutionary atonement but rather denies it pride of place in the gospel. He does not believe that one theory can cover all the aspects of Christ's death.

Tony does not explain his view in light of what he said in the first quote above. Nor does Jones elaborate {in fact the first commentor points this out}. He notes that "
I don't disparage that theory of the atonement (see my recent endorsement on the back of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Stott's The Cross of Christ), but I believe the birth/death/resurrection of Jesus Christ to be the pivot point of cosmic history." I am not sure how holding that Christ's death as the pivot point of cosmic history necessarily entails downplaying the significance of penal substitutionary atonement. In fact, in 1 Cor. 15:3-4, Paul holds to the centrality of the death and resurrection and the fact that this death was 'for our sins'--clearly alluding to the substitutionary nature of the atonement.

In another post he again claims that he does not reject all of PSA.
However, that [his statement in my first quote] does not lead me to reject it outright. Why? Because I can still see the merits of PSA. I can still understand the theological arguments behind it. I can still see how it is justified by some Pauline writings.

As I have said and written elsewhere, I consider the crucifixion-resurrection to be the pivot point in cosmic history. It is ultimately more immense and beautiful than any human words can describe or explain.

Every atonement theory proffered by theologians over the past two millennia has shone a spotlight on that event. And I, for one, think the more spotlights shining on the cross and empty tomb, the better.

Ok, so his comments seemed initially to me to indicate throwing Paul under the bus.but he has clarified himself in some subsequent posts. He does see aspects of Christ's work to involve penal substitution because it is justified by some of Paul's writings. Regardless of what Tony Jones believes or how he parses his view, for the believer, based on Paul, Hebrews, Isaiah 53 and the rest of Scripture, the PSA should be spiritually compelling and significant to our theology of the cross--even if we all acknowledge it does not exhaust the sum total of the cross.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

N.T. Wright on the Resurrection

N.T. Wright has written one of the most massive books on the resurrection entitled: The Resurrection and the Son of God. It is a book that should be read by pastors, scholars, and laypersons who love to study. N.T. Wright does break down some of his exhaustive research into several of his chapter in his shorter work Surprised by Hope, which is geared more for the layperson.

Here are two short articles with some of his thoughts on the resurrection.

1) Is an older article in Christianity Today This is an interview where he is asked a number of pointed questions about the resurrection.
2) Is a recent article he wrote from the Time Online. Here is an excerpt:

The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn't defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon - He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.

Let's be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn't mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God's life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect - and in the whole world.

Now, suddenly, the real meaning of Easter comes into view, as well as the real reason why it has been trivialised and sidelined. Easter is about a new creation that has already begun. God is remaking His world, challenging all the other powers that think that is their job. The rich, wise order of creation and its glorious, abundant beauty are reaffirmed on the other side of the thing that always threatens justice and beauty - death. Christianity's critics have always sneered that nothing has changed. But everything has. The world is a different place.

Easter has been sidelined because this message doesn't fit our prevailing world view. For at least 200 years the West has lived on the dream that we can bring justice and beauty to the world all by ourselves.

Chrysostom on the Death of Christ

Under articulating penal substitution is not that same thing as out and out denying it. One of the things we should consider is how some of the church fathers actual handle scripture not merely the systematic treatises they do (or do not) write, especially since the impetus for lengthier treatments was often combating a particular error.

Consider this from Chrysostom:
On 2 Cor. 5:21 "God allowed his Son to suffer as if a condemned sinner, so that we might be delivered from the penalty of our sins. This is God's righteousness, that we are not justified by works (for then they would have to be perfect, which is impossible), but by grace, in which case all our sin is removed."

On Gal. 3:13 "For the people were liable to punishment since they had not fulfilled the whole law. Christ satisfied a different curse: the one that says 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.' Both the one who is hanged and the one who transgresses the law are accursed. Christ, who was going to lift that curse, could not properly be made liable to it yet had to receive a curse. He received the curse instead of being liable to it and through this lifted the curse. Just as, when someone is condemned to death, another innocent person who chooses to die for him releases him from that punishment, so Christ did also...Just as by dying he snatched from death those who were going to die, so also when he suffered the curse he released them from the curse."

This is not to say that Chrysostom had a fully articulated or full blown view of penal substitution as it was later come to be understood. But his handling of Scripture is quite carefully and at least in these quotes he understands a central aspect of the atonement and Christ's death for our sins.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Resurrection Sunday

I haven't had a lot of time to post for about two weeks now. Things have been pretty busy and at times chaotic in my life along with the regular prep work and study for church. Not only has my time been limited, I haven't felt much like writing when my creative juices are drained. Hopefully, this next week I'll pick up with a few posts.

Tomorrow is Resurrection Sunday. Here's a thought I had in my sermon prep for this week:

"There is no lofty ethical ideal or moral vision to Christianity without the hard fast truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ taking place within real space and time as true history."

Something to chew on.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...