Saturday, July 28, 2007

Totally Irrelvant Dawg Prognoistication

So I've been reading this about twice a week. Sometimes it makes me cry.

This is a pretty good pick-me-up, too.

Since I'm not (yet) knowledgeable enough about college football in general or Georgia football specifically, I'll be linking to other, more knowledgeable prognostications as the season draws closer. This season is looking pretty tough: Oklahoma State may very well present more of a challenge than Boise State did in 05. If South Carolina is really going to become a contender in the SEC East they're going to need a few marquee wins over Tennessee, Florida, or Georgia...and since we're the only top-tier East they have not recently defeated, I'll be willing to be they'll be gunning for us most of all. Depending on how the season has progressed by week four, we could go into Tuscaloosa expecting to blow 'Bama out of the water...or be looking at our most challenging fight of the season. Tennessee in Knoxville is always tough, of course. If we're ever going to beat Florida, it's going to be this season, but we can't expect an easy repeat of last season's thrashing of Auburn. Although I don't expect us to lose to Kentucky again, they may well still pose a serious threat. And, finally, we'll play Tech in Atlanta without Reggie Ball...which, judging by the closeness of our last few wins, may be enough to swing the momentum in their favor.

So, assuming we handle the games we should (which isn't always a safe assumption after last season), we're looking at at least eight very challenging games. And, if we do indeed make two trips to Atlanta to close the season, we'll be facing SEC favorites LSU or Darren McFadden and some other people.

My totally uninformed prediction? Even if we lose to USC, I don't think they'll pull out other necessary wins to contend for a trip to the SEC Championship. And since we will beat Florida, it'll come down to our record vs. Tennessee's to determine who goes to Atlanta. I don't know if we can win there...but hey, beating Florida's all that really matters. And beating Auburn. And Tech. And Tennessee. And Alabama. And Vandy....

Sunday, July 22, 2007

John Dominic Crossan on the Atonement

From God & Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007).

P. 138

In that theory [penal substitution], God is imagined as a Divine Judge who can no more forgive everyone than a human judge could walk into the courtroom and forgive all those under indictment. ... Notice, however, that the traditional metaphor for God is Father rather than Judge, and that in human courts we expect a father to rescue himself from judging his own child. We do not think one can be Judge and Parent at the same time.

P. 139-140

Sacrificial offerers never through that the point of sacrifice was to make the animal suffer or that the greatest sacrifice was one in which the animal suffered lengthily and terribly. Whether for a human meal or a divine meal, an animal had to be slain, but that was done swiftly and efficiently--ancient priests were also excellent butchers. Likewise, sacrificial offerers never through that the animal was dying in their place, that they deserved to be killed in punishment for their sins but that God would accept the slain animal as substitutionary atonement or vicarious satisfaction. ... We may or may not like ancient blood sacrifice, but we should neither caricature nor libel it.

P. 140-141 (emphasis in original)

Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins. In Jesus, the radicality of God became incarnate, and the normalcy of civilization's brutal violence (our sins, or better, Our Sin) executed him. Jesus' execution asks us to face the truth that, across human evolution, injustice has been created and maintained by violence while justice has been opposed and avoided by justice. That warning, if heeded, can be salvation.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Brief Survey of Atonement References in 2 Corinthians

1:5 - "For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ."

--This verse comes in the context of consolation in affliction. Paul's emphasis here is then not on the atonement but on consolation of Christ in the lives of suffering Christians. But Jesus Christ's sufferings here are clearly "for us."

4:8-10 - "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies."

--Here is a clear statement of participation in Christ's death; it is always "carried in the body" of his servants. "Carrying in the body the death of Jesus" correlates with the sufferings that Paul and his fellow apostles experience and which he described here. Affliction, perplexity and persecution all allow Christians to participate in the death of Jesus Christ.

5:14-21 - "For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, no counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors of Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

-- Many things are going on in this passage, one we can justly call one of the central atonement passages in Paul's letters.

First, Paul insists that since "one has died for all," thus "all have died." It is not immediately clear whether by "all" he means all Christians or all people; v. 15 ("those who live") seems to imply anyone living. I'm sure Five-Pointers have an argument for this passage, but to me it seems to be that Paul is referring to all people.

Second, we have a clear explanation of the purpose of atonement: "that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them." The (or "a") purpose of the atonement is that we might live for Christ and not for ourselves. The purpose of the atonement is to make us into disciples and followers of Christ.

Third, atonement is tied intimately and essentially, to God's work of redemption and re-creation. "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ." Atonement has cosmic effects.

Fourth, Green and Baker make the case that God does not need to be reconciled to man but rather man to God; that the problem lies in our affections, not God's. This passage seems to support that view, since it always speaks of man being reconciled to God, never God to man: "God, who reconciled us to himself...God was reconciling the world to reconciled to God." If God indeed needed to reconcile himself to the world this would have been a perfect place to say so. However, this is an argument from silence and not enough to disprove the objectivity of God.

Fifth, Paul seems to be speaking here not of the how of atonement but of the what. "Reconciliation" does not describe how the atonement effected something, but rather what was effected. Atonement accomplishes reconciliation. I think we can safely conclude from this passage that reconciliation is a, if not "the," key purpose of atonement--mankind reconciled to God, restored to a proper relationship. Such a restored relationship has implication for every facet of life--a human being restored to a right relationship with God is by implication restored to a right relationship with other human beings and with the rest of creation.

Sixth, in this passage we have one of two examples of "status exchange" in Paul (the other being Galatians 3:13-14). Jesus was "made to be sin" so that we might "become the righteousness of God." From a penal substitutionary standpoint, this makes sense: Jesus Christ was "made to be sin" as a substitute for our sins, bearing the weight in himself of God's judgment on sin. For other interpretations this presents a problem: what does it mean that Jesus "became" sin? Indeed, the question of what it means for us to "become" the righteousness of God poses a problem for any interpretive framework. But maybe an understanding of our becoming the righteousness of God can help us interpret the idea of Jesus becoming sin. Of course, the phrase "righteousness of God" has itself many interpretations. Obviously, this is one of the more difficult atonement verses to explicate and one I'll have to return to later.

8:9 - "For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich."

--Craig L. Blomberg writes, "Contra some liberation theology, this statement probably does not refer to the material or socio-economic circumstances of Jesus througohut his earthly life. Rather if offers a far more profound theological summary of all that he gave up in leaving his heavnily home for the constrictions of earthly existence and the ultimate ignominy of crucifixion" (1999). This passage deals with atonement as long as atonement is defined as (as I see it) "Christ's work for us." Thus, since Christ's poverty (cf. Philippians 2 and comments here) makes us "rich," in the same spiritual sense of the poverty he embraced, this passage can properly be seen as referring to atonement.

13:4 - "For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God."

--A simple statement about Christ's weakness in death, followed by a statement of Paul's own weakness "in him." Christ's vindication after a shameful death from which he exercised no power to escape implies vindication for Paul's weakness and our own weakness today. Those who are "in" Christ will have their suffering in weakness vindicated in Christ.


Blomberg, Craig L., Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions. Downer's Grove: IVP; Leicester: Apollos, 1999.

Monday, July 16, 2007

In Ten Words or Less...: The Last Mimzy

Trippy. Perfect for five-year-old potheads.

Friday, July 13, 2007

C.S. Lewis on the Atonement

From Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1980):

Pp. 53-54
Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was on particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to, but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter.
P. 55
A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.

Pp. 57-58
Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person--and he would not need it. ... But supposing God became man--suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God's nature in one person--then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes a man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God's dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God's dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Meditation on the Atonement: Colossians 1:13,14

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (NRSV).

In his book Christus Victor, which helped restore the patristic view of atonement to prominence in the last century, Gustav Aulen speaks of the “dramatic” aspect of atonement. This in his usage refers to the cosmological nature of the atonement—its wide-reaching effects not just for individual souls but for the whole cosmos. This idea of dramatic conflict between God and the Satan, not just for the souls of the elect but for the shalom of the entire universe, is one that according to Aulen pervades both the New Testament and patristic literature. Whether or not Aulen’s thesis is correct, this passage certainly reflects such a perspective.

Paul’s view here is cosmic: God snatches away from the myriad powers of darkness and brings us into his new structure for reality, the kingdom of his Son. In Christ’s kingdom there is redemption, an economic term whose resonance for Jews recalls the Exodus (Exodus 6:6), the controlling metaphor for their understanding and experience of YHWH. This redemption in Christ is defined as “forgiveness of sins,” a phrase whose rich depths of meaning include ideas from personal salvation to God’s restoration of justice to the whole universe.

Whatever our view of the mechanics of atonement, we must affirm that his sacrifice has universal, and not just personal, dimensions. The cross is the turning point of history, the linchpin of God’s program for a new heaven and a new earth. Atonement is about new reality exploding into our lives, challenging our deepest assumptions and most cherished beliefs. Atonement is for the world: for our family, our neighbors, our countrymen and all of our fellow humans. Indeed, it is not just for them; it is for the creation that groans in anticipation for God’s redemption (Romans 8:22). For our own wounded souls, for the poor and powerless of this world, for the corrupted nature that assails us: Christ’s work is for all of these. And, as "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:19) entrusted with a "message of reconciliation" (v. 20), it is our job to proclaim the message of that conciliatory work to every inch of creation, through our words and our deeds, doing all to the glory of God.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Book Review: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament & Contemporary Contexts

Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker
InterVarsity Press, 2000.

I was first alerted to the existence of this book, and in fact the whole atonement debate in general, by Mark Dever’s cover-story rebuttal of this book published in Christianity Today last year. Up until the appearance of the article, entitled "Nothing But the Blood," I had little knowledge of issues in atonement theology. I accepted and cherished the penal substitution model that I had been taught, through the influence of evangelicals like J.I. Packer, who in his book Knowing God called penal substitution the “heart of the gospel,” and was only vaguely familiar with competing atonement theories. I skimmed through the article, mostly uninterested, and counted myself on the side of Dever, Packer and the other evangelical theologians who defended penal substitution.

When I began to question penal substitution theory, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross was the first book I turned to; however, I wasn’t able to read through the whole book until just recently. Although I think Green and Baker could have fleshed out some of their ideas and strengthened their arguments in some places, overall they provide a solid introduction to atonement theology and a valuable critique of contemporary atonement metaphors and theories.

While the authors critique the penal substitution model of atonement throughout their book, such a critique is not their ultimate purpose. Rather, it is to explore multiple New Testament, historical and contemporary atonement metaphors, assess their viability, and explore new options for today. In the process they must of course interact with the dominant contemporary evangelical atonement theory.

The book constantly affirms, in the company of theologians like C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright, the immensity of the atonement and the inadequacy of one metaphor or theory to completely explicate it. This is part of Green and Baker’s critique of penal substitution: as long as it claims to interpret the atonement “completely, fully, without remainder” (p.13), it is an inadequate theory on those very grounds. The book takes its title from the authors’ claim that

In the early decades of the Christian movement, the scandal of the cross was far more self-evident than its meaning. ... Additionally...the portrait of Jesus’ execution could not be painted with a single color. Against the horizons of God’s purpose, the Scriptures of Israel, and Jesus’ life and ministry, and in relation to the life worlds of those for whom its significance was being explored, the death of Jesus proved capable of multiple interpretations. (15)

Like the multiple artistic depictions of the cross on the book’s cover, the cross and Christ’s atoning work there have many interpretations and applicable metaphors. It is the job of the responsible Christian to translate the New Testament proclamation of atonement into a contemporary context by asking, “How can I communicate this message in terms that make sense in this world in which I live while at the same calling this world into question?” (210).

The authors spend three chapters at the beginning of the book surveying the New Testament message of atonement, first examining the surprisingly few references in the Gospels, then the works of Paul, then in Luke-Acts, the Johannine literature, and the rest of the NT. In “The Saving Significance of Jesus’ Death in the New Testament,” Green and Baker explore the broad categories of atonement metaphors found in the NT, including ransom/redemption, sacrifice, revelation, and reconciliation (99-108).

One important weakness of Green and Baker’s work is a muddling of the ideas of “metaphor” and “theory.” They give us no way to differentiate in the New Testament an atonement metaphor (or interpretation) from an atonement theory (or description). The authors seem to use the ideas interchangeably; however, there is a distinct difference. If we claim to have any understanding of the “what” of the atonement, even if not the “how,” then the NT must include at least some explicit descriptions of what happened at the cross. Metaphors are no good if we do not have an understanding of what actually occurred—interpretation is impossible if we do not know what we are interpreting! Although there would probably be disagreement on which terms in the NT are interpretive and which are descriptive—penal substitution, on one hand, would see “sacrifice” as a factual description of what occurred at the atonement, while its detractors would see the idea as an interpretation or metaphor—at least some amount of NT teaching must be descriptive. Green and Baker's book does little to help us distinguish one from another.

In chapter five, the authors explore four historical models of the atonement and their major proponents: Christus Victor, or ransom theory, held by Irenaeus and Gregory of Nyssa; the medieval satisfaction model, formulated by Anselm; the moral influence of Anselm’s contemporary Abelard; and modern penal substitution, in Green and Baker exemplified in the works of Charles Hodge. The authors explore the strengths and weakness of each theory; in the case of Anselm they rise to his defense, claiming that Anselm's idea of satisfaction differs markedly from that of modern theologians (Anselm, according to the authors, was interested in satisfying God's feudal honor, as opposed to his wrath as in contemporary theology).

The rest of the book is dedicated to exploring contemporary alternatives to the penal substitution model. Green and Baker discuss and analyze C. Norman Kraus' shame-based atonement model, developed in the context of a Japanese culture that attaches to sin a stigma of shame rather than a penalty of legal guilt. While Kraus' atonement model is highly subjective (see this post), as a missional, "on the ground" and in-progress framework for proclaiming the gospel in Japan and other shame-based cultures, it succeeds with both biblical fidelity and interpretive ingenuity. The authors move on to discuss the model of Darby Kathleen Ray, who presents a moderate feminist atonement theology that rejects patriarchal and retributive images of the atonement without abandoning the doctrine altogether, as some other women theologians have done. Instead, Ray emphasizes a perspective dormant since the church fathers: the idea that God used cunning and trickery to defeat the devil on the cross. In this view, resurrected for the modern age, Jesus uses non-violent resistance to shame the ruling powers of the world and reveal the destructiveness (and indeed, self-destructiveness) of their violent means for obtaining power. At no point do Green and Baker attempt to elevate either model to the status of ultimate atonement "theory"; rather, they point out the usefulness of such models to engage our world's varying contemporary cultures.

Overall, the book succeeds as a survey of the effectiveness and appropriateness of different atonement metaphors and models, from the New Testament to today. Although the authors mount several attacks on penal substitution, readers looking for a strong case against evangelicalism's reigning atonement model may want to look elsewhere. Those looking for a definitive descriptive theory as an alternative to penal substitution will likewise be disappointed; Green and Baker's emphasis lies on communicative metaphors rather than descriptive theories. The book's most important aspect is not, as Mark Dever seemed to believe, it's attack on penal substitution, but rather its emphasis on developing a missional understanding of the atonement and interpreting the central event of Christianity to both apply to and critique our contemporary environments. It is an emphasis that proponents of any atonement model can appreciate, and one that we would all do well to explore in our own lives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Brief Survey of Atonement References in Philippians

2:5-11 - "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 'who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father'" (NRSV).

--This passage comes in the context of an exhortation to "in humility consider regard others as better than yourselves" (2:3). Thus the emphasis here is on Christ's humility in his incarnation. But his obedience is also a factor, obedience "to the point of death--even death on a cross." It is Jesus' obedience that causes the Father to exalt him. Thus the cross is the supreme act of obedience to the Father, one that reflects and culminates a lifetime of perfect devotion.

3:10-11 - "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

--Cf. Colossians 1:24. Paul desires to share in Christ's sufferings, which may point to a sacramental "participation in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), in which atonement is effected by our sharing in the life of Jesus, which itself was offered as a substitution for ours. In any case, obviously there is some aspect of Christ's suffering and death in which Paul expects Christians to be able to participate.

3:18 - "For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things."

--Paul here defines what it means to be an enemy of the cross. Can we draw conclusions from this passage on what it then means to be a "friend" of the cross (to have "citizenship in heaven," 3:20)?

Simpsons Ben

HT: Jesus Manifesto (Check it out for Springfield denizens Tony Jones and Brian McLaren)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Issues in Atonement Theology 1

One of the most basic issues in the discussion on the atonement is whether the atonement is objective or subjective. This is one of the first questions we must answer in the course of formulating a theology of the atonement.

If the atonement was subjective, Christ's atoning work was primarily "exemplary" or "revelatory." Christ's atoning work and death on the cross was an example of a holy life, or a special revelation of God's character. In this view of the atonement, Christ's example of a perfect life spurs us on to emulate him, or the ultimate revelation of God's character in Christ's innocent death allows us to comprehend God's love for us and respond in contrition and gratitude. These are subjective atonement theories because humanity is the subject of the atoning work--it is not, in fact, what Jesus did that reconciles us to God, but instead our action in response to his example. Those who respond to the cross in the way God desires are in actuality the ones doing the atoning, while the work of Christ is secondary.

If the atonement was objective, Christ's atoning work was in fact his own work; it is something that he did that reconciles us to God. Whether it was defeating the powers of evil, paying a ransom for our spiritual release or suffering the wrath of God, it is Jesus Christ's work that atones for us. This is called the objective view because it affirms the work of Christ is effectual for us, the objects of the atonement. Christus Victor, ransom theory, governmental theory and penal substitution are all objective theories of the atonement.

So which is it to be? In Christian history the idea of an objective atonement has been far more prevalent than the idea of a subjective one. Indeed, the Bible seems to give far more support to an objective view. According to 2 Corinthians 5, it is God "who reconciled us to himself through Christ...that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (18,19). It was Christ who "redeemed us from the curse of the law" (Galatians 3:13); in his own flesh he was "putting to death that hostility [of the law] through it [the cross]" (Ephesians 2:16); "He saved us" (Titus 3:5).

The question of objective or subjective atonement is also the question of mankind's fundamental problem. A subjective view of the atonement downplays the significance of sin in our lives and essentially puts the work of atonement in human hands, an idea that the Bible strongly repudiates. In the subjective view, it is our mindset or our worldview or our beliefs that is the problem. In contrast, the objective view takes the answer to sin out of our grasp as humans and places it in the hands of God alone. In an objective view, nothing we can do can untangle us from sin; only God's action can save us. I think it is clear from the Bible that it is God's power alone that can save us, and any subjective view of the atonement is thus inadequate.

Once we affirm an objective atonement, we are free include subjective elements--for instance, the idea that Christ's atoning work was exemplary or revelatory. In fact, the Bible is clear on this very point: see 1 Peter 2:21 ("For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps") and John 13:19 ("I tell you this now, before it [my death] occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he"). However, while Christ's work provides an example and a revelation for us, they cannot cause or enable us to atone for ourselves. God does not reveal himself to effect atonement, but Christ's work in atonement still reveals God.

When we accept an objective view, however, another question arises. Is God also an object? According to penal substitution theory, yes. God's attitude toward human beings is conflicted; he loves his creation deeply, but he cannot allow sin to go unpunished. Thus not only must humans be made right with God, God must be made right with humans: a quality of his own attitude must be altered. Proponents of other theories, especially ransom theory, disagree, denying that God's must be reconciled to humans.

This is not a question I feel ready to answer. God as an object of atonement is the central idea of penal substitution, and provides a simpler explanation of Christ's work. That is, if God is the subject of atonement and humans the object, it is not easy to determine what, exactly, Christ's work accomplished. Proposing God as the object connects atonement to a known factor such as God's wrath against human sin or our debt to his honor. However, positing God as both subject and object of atonement seems to wrongly divide God's nature, pitting Christ (subject) against God (object). Any thoughts?

Daily Randomness

Track: "By_Myslf (Josh Abraham & Mike Shinoda)" by Linkin Park

For most of us it takes a long time for the Spirit of freedom to cleanse us of the subtle urges to be admired for our studied goodness. It requires a strong sense of our redeemed selves to pass up the opportunity to appear graceful and good to other persons.
(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel. Sisters: Multnomah, 2005, p. 153)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Golden Compass Movie

So, I've been watching out for this movie for like...a long time.

Here's a link to the Quicktime trailer. The actors they rounded up for this film are fantastic, and the production design looks amazing, even if Lyra's world doesn't look quite the way I envisioned it. This movie better be good enough/do well enough to finance the sequels--the first book (the one the movie is based on) is great, but things don't get really cool until books two and three.

Beside the fact that his magnum opus is a bold declaration of humanistic atheism, Philip Pullman is a genius. And I'm not the only one who thinks so: The Golden Compass just won the Carnegie of Carnegies. (Of course, the selection of the best of the top ten Carnegie winners came by popular vote, so TGC could have won just by the virtue of the fact that a billion crazed preteen fans mobilized to vote). My (quite lofty and likely unattainable goal) as a fiction writer is to write something with the same epic scope, personal warmth and overarching sense of wonder as the His Dark Materials trilogy.

For now, though, I'm just counting down the days 'till December 7.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Brief Survey of Atonement Refrences in Colossians

1:13,14 - "He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

--Four atonement terms here: God "rescues" us from the power of darkness, "transfers" us into the kingdom of the Son, "redeems" us and "forgives" our sins. "Forgiveness of sins" here also defines "redemption." This comes in the context of Paul's prayer for the Colossians in 1:3-14, and specifically in the context of Paul's prayer for their gratefulness to the Father.

1:19-22 - "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him...."

--Another atonement word here, "reconcile" (opposed to "estranged" in v. 21). This comes at the end, and indeed climax, of Paul's Christological theological reflection starting in v. 15. The Son, who is the "image" of God and "firstborn" of creation (15), is the one through whom all things, visible and invisible (including the "thrones or dominions or rulers or powers"), were created (16). In 18 he is called simply "the beginning" or "the firstborn from the dead." vv. 19-20 see Christ's conciliatory work as the key example of his deity and supremacy.

1:24 - "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church."

--What does it mean to "complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"? Is some sort of atonement implied here? Apparently Paul though this phrase would easily understood by his Colossian audience, because he offers no explanation.

2:12-15 - "When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it."

--Here, the human problem, which Christ atones for, is our "death" according to the legal demands of the record of our trespasses. Does this come from the "rulers and authorities" or is their disarmament a secondary accomplishment of the Atonement? This passage is framed by references to "philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe" (2:8) and "a human way of thinking" (18). The "legal demands" of v.14 then seem to be not the Law but human philosophies (e.g. "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch," 2:21) that "have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility and severe treatment of the body" (23).

2:20 - "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?"

--This verse continues ideas and themes from 2:8-19. In Christ we did not just die to sin but to the "elemental spirits" (NIV, NASB: "elementary principles") as well.

Semester Project: The Atonement

This was originally going to be a summer project, I think, but time this summer is running out, so I've extended the end of my timeline to December. The goal of the project is to formulate some sort of coherent statement on the nature of the atonement and it's meaning for the Christian life. I'll be posting thoughts and progress reports here on IMF.

My goal is to survey references to atonement/"the" atonement throughout the Bible. I've already started combing the NT, book by book; I will include the results in an analysis of the atonement theology of individual books, then authors, then broad historical contexts.

I also want to delve into the relevant literature. The three most relevant books I have on hand are Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Green and Baker, The Cross of Christ by John Stott and Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright. I'll try to get into the UGA library as much as possible before I go back to Bryan; they have a bunch of relevant books including Gustav Aulen's Christus Victor. There are online resources available through the BC library as well, including Richard Swinburne's Responsibility and Atonement and a plethora of journal articles. I'll update with reviews and relevant thoughts from these sources.

All in all, should be fun.

Daily Randomness

Random Track: "The End of All Things Will Be Televised" by Norma Jean

Random Quote:
Holiness is not a bid to be noticed or loved or accepted by God. Holiness, rather, is acting out and acting upon the truth that God has noticed, loved and accepted us long before we did anything to warrant that. It's the discovery that we're alive when we thought we were, and ought to be, dead. Holiness is simply living into and living out that aliveness.

(Mark Buchanan, Your God is Too Safe. Sisters: Multnomah, 2001, 117).

Holy Schnikey (sp?)

Microsoft announced today that it is expanding its Xbox 360 warranty to three years for any customer who experiences the three flashing red lights error message that indicates hardware failure. All repairs will be made free of charge for three years from the time of purchase, including shipping expenses (Source: IGN, full article here).
This is great news, considering my 360 started flashing three red lights just about two weeks ago. This makes me much more excited about the prospect of getting it fixed...

The Mystery of the Word

So this "Bible" thing is really confusing.

The Bible and I have had an interesting relationship. My first Bible was "The Beginner's Bible," a score or so of illustrated Bible stories. Most of my religious experience as a kids stems from the images in this book. By the time I was six or so I had a real Bible, but I don't recall reading it, ever. This trend continued after my "salvation experience" and subsequent "re-commitment."

With a real commitment to Jesus came a real commitment to the Word. I diligently followed the required readings in my "First 30 Quiet Times" booklet, and when that was finished, began following a daily reading plan in addition to various Bible studies. My conception of the Bible at this point was pretty basic: it was God's Word. Read it. Do it. Simple.

This phase lasted for a couple years, until my interest in Christianity took a more academic and intellectual bent. I discovered that the Bible was not churned out in a single sitting by a single author but was rather the combined result of several thousand years and multiple authors from varying backgrounds. I learned about Q and theories of Synoptic interdependence. I began to understand the biblical authors' pastoral and polemic concerns. And my conception of the Bible began to change. How could a book like Luke, whose author (who might not actually be Luke!) used multiple sources, edited and redacted material, and who has clearly identifiable pastoral concerns, be inspired or "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16) in the way that I understood it? So I began to mistrust my Bible.

Sometime during last semester I realized that my attitude toward the Bible was having serious effects on my spiritual growth. I knew that my growth as a young Christian was directly tied to my immersion in the Word, but my intellectual understanding of the Bible did not permit the same simplistic understanding I'd once had. I feared using the Bible as a "magic book," not wanting to engage in such practices as flipping it open to random pages seeking spiritual direction. I began trying to work out a "philosophy of the Bible" that could reconcile my spiritual thirst for the Word of God with my intellectual need for truth-telling about the nature of this odd collection of ancient documents that we call the Holy Bible.

Though this endeavor proved intellectually stimulating for a day or two, it failed to reconcile me to my Bible. And although I had read and approvingly highlighted this passage last winter when I first read the book, it's tangible meaning escaped me until just recently:

Reading scripture, like praying and sharing in the sacraments, is one of the means by which the life of heaven and the life of earth interlock. ... How this happens is unpredictable and often mysterious.

(N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.)

I had missed an important point about the Word. It might be okay to theorize about the Bible from a safe distance as a scholar, but as a living Christian, thinking and theorizing is useless without direct engagement with God's Word.

At the heart of the Word is a divine mystery. The Bible clearly a collection of ancient documents at home in particular and far-removed socio-politico-cultural settings. It is also unavoidably the product of human authors, human authors not just with particular vocabularies and styles, but particular biases and agendas.

But the Bible is also unequivocally the Word of God. The Christian canon is, from Genesis to Revelation, "God-breathed." This term does not allow for a conception of the Bible that sees it as a mostly human project to which, when completed, God gave a passing glance and a causal stamp of approval. No, "God-breathed" implies a work in which God is intimately involved, a work into which God pours the very essence of his divine life.

So how are these two ideas to be reconciled? I don't know. The Word is, in Wright's terms, a place where earth and heaven interlock. In every such place there is an element of mystery, the undefinable quality of a place where our reality and God's collide.

It is a mystery not meant to be eyed from a distance but to explored, to be engaged, to be wrestled with. It is a mystery that has to be lived. The Bible is part of God's living mystery. It is (among other things) a record of God's interaction with human beings: living, breathing human beings like you and me. It is a story of what happens when God invades the lives of ordinary people like me and turns them upside-down. It is also an essential part of God's way of invading my own life, right here and now. Thus it is a mystery that, as generations of Christians have attested, must be personally sought out.

So when I quote to myself Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me," I am neither reciting a direct quotation from the mouth of God nor simply repeating the words of a 1st century charismatic preacher. I am doing something includes those categories but ultimately transcends them. I am participating in the mysterious--and sometimes indeed incomprehensible--kingdom-life of God. My experience of the Bible is not predicated on my understanding of it, but rather my willingness to engage it--not as an esoteric anthology of historical interest or a transcription of divine revelation of other-worldly concern--but as a mystery, a thin place between here and heaven.

As a mystery, the Bible is ill-suited to modern sound-bite-ism. But, as a mystery, it can be as powerful in mustard seed-sized doses as it is in its full discourses. So with the proceeding thoughts in mind, I conclude with two selections from Scripture, one relevant to the topic and one that has been on my heart as of late:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belong to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 3:16-17, NRSV)

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. ...In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Romans 8:31-34,37)

Vicit Agnus Noster

Thursday, July 05, 2007

In Ten Words or Less...: Transformers

Silly movie. But, giant robots duke it out. Score.

Daily Randomness

Random Track: "My Deliverer" by Rich Mullins

Random Quote:
It is impossible to exaggerate the historical significance and the endless personal ramifications of salvation. It always exceeds our powers of understanding and imagining. We will never get our minds around it. We see well enough what is going on: God is at work in history; he heals and helps; he forgives and blesses; he takes a creation in ruins because of human willfulness and patiently begins to make a new creation of it; he takes a world corrupted by evil and begins the long, slow work of transforming it into a holy place. But we see all this in bits and pieces, moments and fragments. It is understandable that we often reduce salvation to a handful of these moments or fragments. But we must not. We are dealing with God's work in history on a scale of comprehensiveness that ever eludes us. St. Paul, wrapping up his excursus on God's salvation work in history in his Letter to the Romans, is appropriately in awe of what we will never grasp: "O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33).
(Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2005.)