Thursday, February 22, 2018

Just As I Am



Billy Graham, 1918-2018

A brief letter.

Billy,

Thank you for your dedication to God's Word and your heart for souls. Thank you for showing your faith to us in real ways that go beyond preaching and into social living. A lot of people owe a spiritual debt to God for sending you to preach His word. As Romans 10:14 says, "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"

Now you are in Glory with your God. You approach him as you have encouraged others your entire life, just as you are. Rest in peace, brother...

Just As I Am

Lyrics: Charlotte Elliot
Music: Woodsworth & Bradbury


Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!


Friday, January 12, 2018

The Atonement: Ransom


THEOLOGIAN: Irenaeus (c. 130 - c. 200) Bishop, Theologian, and Saint. [1]
WORK ON SUBJECT: Aversus Haereses V
ANGLE: Transactional
THEME: Satanward [2]
IN HIS OWN WORDS:
"the mighty Word, and very man, who, redeeming us by His own blood in a manner consonant to reason, gave Himself as a redemption for those who had been led into captivity. And since the apostasy tyrannized over us unjustly, and, though we were by nature the property of the omnipotent God, alienated us contrary to nature, rendering us its own disciples, the Word of God, powerful in all things, and not defective with regard to His own justice, did righteously turn against that apostasy, and redeem from it His own property" [3]

Basically...

Ransom theory is a natural outgrowth, or meditation, on the Christus Victor Paradigm that dwells on the human condition and what God actually did to redeem (buy back) his creation. In the fall, humanity subjected itself to a kind of enslavement to sin (Romans 6:20) that requires a payment. God's order of Man's dominance over all creation is now no longer seen as a result of this fall, and something must be done to reverse the perverted course of history.

The Global Dictionary of Theology crystallizes Ransom theory into the following three parts:
(1) Satan gained mastery over humanity when the first couple chose the path of sin in the garden. Satan retains this hold on humanity through the powers of the kingdom of darkness (sin, fear, death, etc.).
(2) Through death, Jesus’ innocent life became the ransom price that was acceptable to Satan for the liberation/redemption of humanity. The New Testament passage often used to support this idea came from the very lips of Jesus: “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45; cf. 1 Tim 2:6).
(3) Finally, the ransom theory typically emphasizes that Christ's victory was achieved by outwitting the devil. The inherent injustice of taking an innocent life as a ransom is the basis on which Christ defeats Satan (a notion tied to the words of Paul in 1 Cor 2:8). [2]
We know that we have been "bought with a great price" (1 Corinthians 6:20) and in Revelation 5:9 the Lamb was "slain, and purchased for God with [His] blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." When viewing the Atonement form this lens, it is easy to view it as "the deliverance from captivity by the payment of a ransom." [4] While I credit Irenaeus for expounding Ransom Theory in its embryonic stage, let it be known that there was agreement among Church Fathers on the validity of this view, including Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Rufinus of Aquileia [2]. Even Augustine wrote the following, which is heavily influenced by Ransom language:
The Redeemer came, and gave the price; He poured forth his blood and bought the whole world. Do you ask what He bought? See what He gave, and find what He bought. The blood of Christ is the price. How much is it worth? What but the whole world? What but all nations? [5]
As has already been mentioned, Ransom Theory can be seen as an extension of the Christus Victor Paradigm. Therefore, its Angle and Theme remain Transactional and Satanward, respectively. This is not a substantially different stance, merely a new viewpoint on the topic.

Precedent

Bondage/captivity and rescue underpin the entire biblical narrative from Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman oppressors. The Israelites are always warned to obey the Lord their God with the threat of oppression looming over them. Hence, the Messiah was viewed as a leader who will lead the people into political freedom from the tyranny of human government into the Kingdom of God.

Note also that this freedom from tyranny is not to usher in a state of autonomy or anarchy, but the freedom to worship their God as He desires (Exodus 8:1). This dovetails nicely when spiritualized as freedom from the bondage to sin into the dominion of righteousness.
...present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. —Romans 6:19b-20, NASB

Problems

The big problem with Ransom theory has to do with its tendency to promote an extreme Satanward Theme. One might begin to wonder, To who is this ransom paid? One might be led to conclude that since Man was deceived by Satan that he was taken captive by Satan and now God must pay the ransom to Satan. Therefore, God must subject himself to Satan's pleasures in order to redeem man. Indeed, the following statement immediately precedes the aforementioned quote from St. Augustine:
Men were held captive under the devil and served the demons, but they were redeemed from captivity. For they could sell themselves. The Redeemer came, and gave the price; He poured forth his blood and bought the whole world. [5]
This horrendous conclusion, however natural it may seem to come to given the premise, is rightly inconceivable. God owes nothing to the devils. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains their response to this conclusion as follows:
...however useful and illuminating in their proper place, figures of this kind are perilous in the hands of those who press them too far, and forget that they are figures. This is what happened here. When a captive is ransomed the price is naturally paid to the conqueror by whom he is held in bondage. Hence, if this figure were taken and interpreted literally in all its details, it would seem that the price of man's ransom must be paid to Satan. The notion is certainly startling, if not revolting. Even if brave reasons pointed in this direction, we might well shrink from drawing the conclusion. And this is in fact so far from being the case that it seems hard to find any rational explanation of such a payment, or any right on which it could be founded. [4]
Who, then, is paid? We are left to conclude that Sin itself is Man's captor and the recipient of this debt. Justice deems that this price is paid before Man can hope to be free.

Conclusion

This last quotation may well be a wise warning for all theology. We use figures to help us understand cosmic truths. Figures are good things. Figures are limited things. We must understand their limitations, use them as they shed light on our experiences and help us understand scripture, and promptly discard them when human experience begins to contradict Biblical principles.

Ransom Theory helps us to understand the cost of our Atonement. We can conclude that Grace is free but not cheap, depending on one's perspective. It is free to us who were in bondage and are now set free. It is costly to the redeemer, who paid dearly to gather his own back to himself.
References: 1. "Irenaeus (c. 130 - c. 200)." In Who's Who in Christianity, Routledge, by Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2001.
2. Eddy, P R., and J Beilby. "Atonement." In Global Dictionary of Theology, edited by William A. Dyrness, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
3. Irenaeus. Aversus Haereses V. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book5.html
4. "Doctrine of the Atonement." Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02055a.htm
5. Augustine. Enarration on Psalm 96, no. 5. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1801096.htm

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Atonement: Penal-Substitution


THEOLOGIAN: Anselm (c. 1033 - 1109) Archbishop, Saint, and Theologian.
WORK ON SUBJECT: Cur Deus Homo [1]
ANGLE: Juridical
THEME: Godward (understands the work of Christ as primarily addressing a necessary demand of God [2])
IN HIS OWN WORDS:
"It may, indeed be said, that the Father commanded him to die, when he enjoined that upon him on account of which he met death. It was in this sense, then, that "as the Father gave him the commandment, so he did, and the cup which He gave to him, he drank; and he was made obedient to the Father, even unto death;" and thus "he learned obedience from the things which he suffered," that is, how far obedience should be maintained." [3]

Basically...

The basic premise of this theory is expressed quite often in certain circles when discussing how Jesus died in our place. As the name of the theory suggests, Jesus died on the cross as man's substitute. Often, John 3:16 is quote in this way:
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. —John 3:16, NLT
A lot of times it is explained as a simple switch, but that's not all that is at play here. In fact, the parts that involve mankind are actually quite small. This theory has everything to do with God's Holiness and Wrath. Hence, why it has been said that the theme of this view is Godward.

God, as a holy and just judge of this world, must condemn sin when he sees it—and he sees it covering his creation. God's wrath is kindled against Man. It says so in the Bible:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. —Romans 1:18, NASB
According to the natural course of justice, God must pour out the full measure of his wrath on human beings for their rebellion. But there is another way. The substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, best explained (again) in Romans:
being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. —Romans 3:24-26, NASB
This brings us to another important word for this theory: Justification. The end-goal of this theory (from man's perspective) is to get us to the point where we can stand justified before God. To be justified is a legal term that declares the man/woman righteous by imputation. God looks at us, we point to Jesus, and God says, "OK, He's righteous so I'm satisfied." The end-goal of this theory then (from God's perspective) is to have his wrath (and love) satisfied.

Or consider this outline from Saint Anselm:
(1) The essence of sin is humanity's failure to render to God what is rightfully due him; sin dishonors God.
(2) It is humanity's responsibility to restore to God what they have robbed him of, as well as to make reparation above and beyond for injuring and offending him. God's honor inherently demands such restoration and reparation.
(3) Humanity can never restore such a debt. Even if humans did their best and did not sin further, they would only be rendering what God is already due; the necessary reparation above and beyond would always be left undone. Beyond this, humanity lives in a state of bondage to the devil.
(4) God is left with two basic options: punish humanity as they deserve, or accept satisfaction made on their behalf.
(5) But now the predicament: satisfaction can only be made by a human since it is humanity that owes God the debt, yet no mere human has the resources to make satisfaction for the race.
(6) The sole solution is to be found in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the God-man. As God, he has the ability to make satisfaction; as man, his satisfaction can be made on behalf of humanity. [2]
* It should be clarified at this point that while Anselm certainly laid the groundwork for the many subsequent objective theories of The Atonement, it did not develop into properly understood Penal-Substitution until John Calvin and the Reformers. Yet, they can be looked at as developers of a theory more than innovators of one.

Precedent

Related to the comment about love, the tension between God's wrath and God's love is ever-present in scripture. In the OT, God is constantly vacillating between burning anger and burning desire for his people. He gets angry but preserves a remnant. Even before he establishes Israel, God floods the earth but saves Noah. When these two elements are viewed in tandem, God places himself in an apparent bind. He cannot uphold one without violating the other. But he cleverly finds a way to uphold both by the perfect sacrifice of his son.

Problems

Proponents of this theory may have a tendency to emphasize the wrath of God at the expense of his love. A punishment must be made, God must be satisfied. Some very important attributes of God must then be minimized in order to amplify this part of the truth.

The idea of justification and imputed righteousness leaves this theory open to the charge of neglecting the sanctification of the believer. It leaves the Christian justified, but not intrinsically righteous. In that sense, it's only a covering or deflection and not a removal of sin. Thus, the fragmentation of salvation into justification then sanctification becomes a major new contribution made by this theory.

Conclusion

This theory is very personal. Jesus becomes the substitute for me so I can read my name into John 3:16. A lot of the ideas in the Penal-Substitution Theory of Atonement certainly lends itself to the individualism we see in current Christendom and leads to even more theological innovation when taken as the sole basis of Atonement Theology. A lot is happening when man's sinful state is atoned for, especially from God's perspective.


References: 

1. "Anselm (c. 1033 - 1109)." In Who's Who in Christianity, Routledge, by Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2001.
2. Eddy, P R., and J Beilby. "Atonement." In Global Dictionary of Theology, edited by William A. Dyrness, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
3. Anselm. "Cur Deus Homo?" https://www.ewtn.com/library/CHRIST/CURDEUS.HTM

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Atonement: Christus Victor


THEOLOGIAN: Gustaf Aulen (1879 - 1977) Theologian, Ecumenist, and Bishop.
WORK ON SUBJECT: Christus Victor [1]
ANGLE: Transactional
THEME: Satanward [2]
IN HIS OWN WORDS:
“the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ—Christus victor—fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the ‘tyrants’ under which mankind is in bondage and suffering” —Gustaf Aulen [3]

Basically...

The basic premise of Gustaf Aulen's work is that since mankind is under bondage to the Prince and Power of the Air, God's atoning work must undo the havoc his enemies wreaked on his creation. The Cross now becomes the battlefield where two rulers fight for the right to assert dominance over their property.

Hence, this theme can be considered Satanward; Jesus' primary objective is to defeat him. On that Beautiful Scandalous Night, Satan brought death to the sinless one—thus crossing a line bringing wrongful death. Therefore, Jesus is now the glorious victor. He can now say in Revelation 1:18:
I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. (NLT)
Consider that scripture contains a thread of competition between Satan and the Almighty. Note the temptation in the wilderness as Satan tried to lure Jesus into wrongdoing. It is conceivable that these trials do not simply stop after a few unsuccessful attempts. It is more likely that Satan simply modified his plans.

Perhaps Satan's missives came in the form of doubters and potential followers and religious leaders. What does Jesus say to Peter when the disciple rebuked him? Oh yes:
Jesus turned to Peter and said, "Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God's." (Matt. 16:23, NLT)
You can say this is a figure of speech. I tend to agree, but it is interesting that this comment comes as Jesus tried to explain his mission: The Atonement. It also cannot be denied that the text of scripture clearly pits Satan against Jesus. After all, the name Satan means adversary.

As a final observation, it is Satan who begins Passion Week in Luke 22:3 when he "enters" Judas Iscariot and strikes a deal with the priests to betray Jesus to them.

Precedent

There is also Old Testament precedent for direct satanic involvement in the course of human events. The Serpent of Genesis (a clear figure of Demonic suggestion) introduces and entices mankind to disobey God, thus ushering in The Fall. The criterion for those subject to death is laid out here; if you sin then you will certainly die. Finally, the epic battle between the Seed of the woman and this Serpent is predicted with the Serpent bruising the Seed's heel while the Seed crushes the Serpent's head. (Genesis 3)

The epic poem of Job also comments extensively on Satan's desire to manipulate and affect humans on this earth. The oft-repeated observation that Satan is accountable to God for all things holds true as Satan must request and receive permission before exerting any power in Job's life. There are limits to Satan's power. Hence, it stands to reason that when Satan put the innocent, blameless Jesus to death, the sentence would not hold up and Jesus must necessarily rise up victorious.

Problems

While it is completely orthodox to claim that the Lamb, freshly slain, is worthy to take the scroll and loosen the seals (Revelation 5), it is also possible to get lost in this discussion and take the figure too far.

It has been observed that this atonement theory takes a focus that is traditionally viewed as secondary and makes it the primary focus. [4] It would be easy to read the aforementioned Christus Victor argument and think that our primary problem was enslavement to the Devil when our real issue is, in fact, death itself.

God's holiness and satisfaction are also not properly highlighted. Mankind—the objects and recipients of The Atonement—are reduced to mere pawns on a cosmic chessboard, waiting to see who the final victor will be. In other words, it can be easy to read Christus Victor as cosmic vengeance rather than a redemption story.

Finally, God's love can be minimized. Souls are collateral in an ultimate struggle. Domination and sovereignty take the place of benevolence and kindness. While this might accurately describe Satan's motivation, God has higher and greater goals.

Conclusion

Christus Victor has a lot of great points and calls attention to several aspects of The Atonement that are sometimes forgotten in our current age when more emphasis is placed on the personal experience than an overarching cosmic reality. As with every paradigm, we must remember that the figure can only hold a snippet of the immense reality of God's atoning work through Jesus Christ and react accordingly.


References:
1. "Aulen, Gustaf (1879 - 1977)." In Who's Who in Christianity, Routledge, by Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2001.
2. Eddy, P R., and J Beilby. "Atonement." In Global Dictionary of Theology, edited by William A. Dyrness, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
3. Aulén, G., Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement (Macmillan New York, 1969 [1931])
4. Mccormack, Bruce Lindley, and Bruce Lindley McCormack. "Atonement." In Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology, edited by Ian A. McFarland, David A. S. Fergusson, Karen Kilby, and et. al.. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Atonement Theology: Introduction

Introduction

In recent weeks, I have considered various theories of The Atonement that have been held by Christendom and how they inform our faith. Typically, I avoid such speculation because there is room for divergent beliefs in the actual mechanism of The Atonement because they tend to grasp at earthly figures to describe heavenly truths. Thus, I tend to echo C. S. Lewis' sentiments as follows:
"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. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work." -- Mere Christianity, Ch. 4 [1]
Yet, as I read up on the theories, I find incredible depth and scope to Christ's work. In this series, I will attempt to recreate arguments for the three most common theories of the atonement and explain how they relate to the Christian experience. Further, I plan to show how, when taken to an extreme, each of these theories falls apart when taken past the point of good use.

So each theory enlightens truth when considered properly and obscures truth when abused. At the end of this study, we will likely say that The Atonement is like Christus Victor in this sense, but not in another, where it is like Penal-Substitution, except where a Ransom applies. In other words, most Christians probably have a blended understanding of these theories and can find some harmony between them while rejecting aspects that are not profitable.

The Atonement: A Definition

The word Atonement is actually one of the few theological terms that derive their origin from the English language [2]. It may be read as: "at-one-ness." Or to bring to unification/reunification. In this sense, it is synonymous with reconciliation -- to be made friends again.

Propitiation is another word that regularly appears in Atonement discussions. This word refers to the turning aside of God's anger toward sin [3] and to thereby regain favor with Him. It is a general term for the deterrence of God's holy wrath so we can approach Him.

A narrower term that falls under propitiation is expiation. Expiation means to make amends or to make reparations [4]. It's typically used in a tit-for-tat situation. You hurt me so before I accept you back, you must do the following... You must make reparations or make it up to the offended party. The goal is to make things right again.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary describes the relationship between propitiation and expiation as follows:
"Expiation speaks of the process by which sins are nullified or covered. Propitiation, taking a personal object, speaks of the appeasement of an offended party--specifically the Christian God--from wrath or anger. Expiation falls under the concept of propitiation. In Scripture, it cannot exist without propitiation." [5]
Thus, The Atonement is the process by which man is reunited with God. The Fall is presupposed as the problem to which God has responded. His Holiness is the barrier which Man cannot hurdle. His Love is the motivation which drives the action. But how is this accomplished? This is the question that theologians have wrestled with for centuries.

The Atonement: Two Angles

The two major angles from which The Atonement is typically viewed can be described as transactional and juridical. A transactional viewpoint describes The Atonement as a "price paid" or "just for the unjust." On the other hand, a juridical viewpoint describes The Atonement in legal terms, showing how God is satisfied by The Atonement.

Note that both views have a place in scripture. In subsequent posts, we will explore that place and what happens when these theories are taken further than their usefulness. Truly, the biggest problem we have is when we take the figures too far and apply them where they have no business being applied.

The Atonement: Three Views

As mentioned, in this mini-series I will explore three views of The Atonement, highlight the key Theologian(s) involved with each theory, the philosophical strengths and weaknesses of the theory, and the scriptures from which these theories are derived. Note that these theories grow from Church development and the influence of many Church Fathers. Hence, while one person may be named or credited for each theory as the principal promoter, several Church Fathers likely contributed to the development of these ideas.

Specifically, the three views that I will consider in this mini-series are:
  1. Christus Victor
  2. Penal-Substitution
  3. Ransom


1. Mere Christianity, by Clive S. Lewis.
2. Eddy, P R., and J Beilby. "Atonement." In Global Dictionary of Theology, edited by William A. Dyrness, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
3. "Propitiation." In Macmillan Dictionary of the Bible, by Martin J. Selman, Martin H. Manser, and Stephen Travis. Collins, 2002.
4. "expiate." In The Macquarie Dictionary, edited by Susan Butler. 6th ed. Macquarie Dictionary Publishers, 2013.
5. "EXPIATION, PROPITIATION." In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, by Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England. Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.l
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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