On the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it…
Today’s artist is Stuart Townend.
On the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it…
Today’s artist is Stuart Townend.
Yesterday we mentioned an article posted by Scot McKnight at the Patheos blog Jesus Creed titled The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?
Not long ago I posted on the loss of the evangelical soul, a post in part stimulated by the tone of conversations I am witnessing on FB. Everybody’s a prophet these days and thinks so because, so they think, they are speaking truth to power. They’re not. They’re yelling in a barrel full of self-appointed prophets
Today’s post moves into signs of evangelicalism’s demise. Let’s get the standard definition of evangelicalism on the table first: an evangelical is committed to these four elements: the Bible, the cross as the place of atonement, the necessity of personal conversion, and an active Christian life both in missions/evangelism as well as justice, peace and reconciliation….
…Those four elements are crumbling, folks, they are crumbling. It’s not that evangelicalism has been yet again swamped by politics and lost its way. Rather, it is swamped by politics because those four elements are crumbling. Bible and theology are of little interest other than an odd Bible citation to prop up a claim. Small groups read books by well-known authors, rarely are they studies on a single book of the Bible (publishers aren’t selling these as well today), far too many of its most prominent theologians write books unanchored in Scripture and they do not begin with sketches of the Bible.
He then breaks down his areas of concern with the following headers:
Again, you need to click through to read the article, it’s not lengthy and I encourage you to do so.
The section headed Atonement Confusion caught my interest:
Atonement theology has fallen on hard times. It has become politicized into penal substitution, which for some means propitiation, vs. some other center of gravity — and more and more it has moved toward Girardian scapegoat theory, exemplary theology, or a very soft Christus victor. Hard headed conservatives are protecting propitiation at all costs and neglecting kingdom themes in the process and so distort atonement while committed progressivists are determined to prevent the wrath of God against sin and sinners (mentioning Jonathan Edwards does the trick) so they can find some “theory” of atonement that turns the Holy Week into justice and more justice. Evangelicalism from beginning to end is a cross-shaped atonement-based gospel and there is little appeal for a new book like John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ except with the propitiation crowd, who are in an echo chamber of Stott. I have attempted to sketch a comprehensive theory of atonement in A Community called Atonement.
I asked Dr. McKnight if he would break this down a little bit for the lay-reader; the average parishioner like me who might find this paragraph a little above their pay grade. He graciously replied with this brief synopsis:
1. Evangelicals are shifting toward a variety of approaches to atonement. Some think it’s about the wrath of God, some think it’s about Jesus as enduring injustice, others think it’s about Jesus showing us how to fight for justice, some think Jesus got trapped in a culture-religious war, etc.
2. People think anything having to do with punishment makes God unworthy of worship and an angry, embattled God who seeks vengeance. So, they want a God of love theory.
3. Jesus did with us, instead of us, and for our redemption. (And he was raised, too!)
For more of Scot McKnight’s Kingdom view, check out his other books, including the one we reviewed here, The King Jesus Gospel.
…After considering that, I decided to go back into McKnight’s original paragraph and look at some of the elements contained there. First, scapegoat theory. This is from René Girard’s Mimetic Theory of the Scapegoat.
René Girard’s Mimetic Theory is based on the principle that human beings are mimetic creatures. We imitate what we see in others. In fact, our desires are not actually our own, but desires we have copied from others. The more we imitate each other, the more alike we become. Increasingly, we vie for the same desires and we become rivals. The more human beings imitate each other, the more individuals become alike. Distinctions between individuals are blurred as they mirror each other. The boundaries between individuals which keep order, begin to disintegrate. Increased rivalry creates increased violence and the blurred boundaries threaten to destabilize the social fabric.
In Girard’s theory, primitive man stumbled upon the solution to this threat: the scapegoat. By placing the blame for all the hatred and distress on one individual or group of individuals, the community’s violence becomes polarized toward the ones being blamed. These responsible individuals become the scapegoats for all the bad feeling in the community. By expelling or killing the scapegoat, order is restored and the community becomes peaceful again. The single act of sanctioned violence, becomes like a vaccination against the disease of chaotic, out of control violence.
It is critical that the members of the community be completely convinced that the scapegoat is guilty for this mechanism to restore order. That is why the scapegoat must be accused and slandered before he is killed, but after the killing, everyone attributes the restored order to the scapegoat’s sacrifice. In this way, the sacrificial victim becomes responsible for both the violence and the peace in the community. He becomes “the sacred”…
Exemplary Theology proved a little more slippery in terms of finding a concise definition. (If you can direct me to one, we’ll insert it here.)
Wikipedia has a definition of Christus victor:
According to the Christus Victor theory of the Atonement, Christ’s death defeated the powers of evil, which had held humankind in their dominion. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers, and it, or the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the Atonement for a thousand years, until Anselm of Canterbury supplanted it in the West with his Satisfaction theory of atonement.
Their article also contains three atonement theory models:
In his  book, [Gustaf] Aulén identifies three main types of Atonement Theories:
- The earliest was what Aulén called the “classic” view of the Atonement, more commonly known as the Ransom Theory, or since Aulén’s work, it is known sometimes as the “Christus Victor” theory: this is the theory that Adam and Eve made humanity subject to the Devil during the Fall, and that God, in order to redeem humanity, sent Christ as a “ransom” or “bait” so that the Devil, not knowing Christ couldn’t die permanently, would kill him, and thus lose all right to humanity following the Resurrection.
- A second theory is the “Latin” or “objective” view, more commonly known as Satisfaction Theory, beginning with Anselmian Satisfaction (that Christ suffered as a substitute on behalf of humankind, satisfying the demands of God’s honor) and later developed by Protestants as penal substitution (that Christ is punished instead of humanity, thus satisfying the demands of justice so that God can justly forgive). Some have argued that the penal substitution theory of the atonement was expressed by the early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr c.100-165, Eusebius of Caesarea c.275-339, and Augustine of Hippo 354-430.
- A third is the “subjective” theory, commonly known as the Moral Influence view, that Christ’s passion was an act of exemplary obedience which affects the intentions of those who come to know about it.
There is also a link there to this article by Greg Boyd.
Timothy George explains why the Presbyterian Church USA has recently rejected the hymn “In Christ Alone” from its new hymnal:
Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” For this they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.
There is no surprise in this news. Although not all PCUSA churches are theologically liberal, the denomination by and large is. Liberalism and wrath go together like oil and water; they don’t mix. And historically speaking, one of them eventually has to go. When wrath goes, so does the central meaning of the atonement of Christ—penal substitution. At the end of the day, the cross itself is the stumbling block, and that is why the PCUSA cannot abide this hymn.
You can read the rest of George’s article here. …
…On the Committee’s Facebook page earlier this month they wrote, “After last night’s Hymn Festival, PCOCS think that ‘In Christ Alone’ will become a favorite. What are your other favorites on the list?”
Apparently they used a version that excluded the wrath of God. How far the Presbyterian Church (USA) has drifted from their historical roots. I’m trying to picture John Knox, the leader of the Reformation in Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian Church, having an issue with idea of God’s wrath being satisfied by Christ’s death on the Cross.
Knox once said, “By the brightness of God’s scriptures we are brought to the feeling of God’s wrath and anger, which by our manifold offenses we have justly provoked against ourselves; which revelation and conviction God sends not of a purpose to confound us, but of very love, by which He had concluded our salvation to stand in Jesus Christ.”
The Scottish Confession of Faith (one of Presbyterianism’s first creeds) says:
[We confess] That our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us; that he suffered contradiction of sinners; that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions; that he, being the clean and innocent Lamb of God, was damned in the presence of an earthly judge, that we should be absolved before the tribunal seat of our God; that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross (which was accursed by the sentence of God), but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father, which sinners had deserved. But yet we avow, that he remained the only and well-beloved and blessed Son of his Father, even in the midst of his anguish and torment, which he suffered in body and soul, to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people. After the which, we confess and avow, that there remains no other sacrifice for sin: which if any affirm, we nothing doubt to avow that they are blasphemers against Christ’s death, and the everlasting purgation and satisfaction purchased to us by the same.
1. Heb. 10:1-12.
2. Isa. 53:5; Heb. 12:3.
3. John 1:29.
4. Matt.27:11,26; Mark 15; Luke 23.
5. Gal. 3:13.
6. Deut. 21:23.
7. Matt. 26:38-39.
8. 2 Cor. 5:21.
9. Heb. 9:12; 10:14.
They are embracing a cultural hatred of God’s wrath. I mentioned over four years ago something Brennan Manning wrote (Manning’s writings were very influential among the Emergent Church):
The god whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger… the god who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ. And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist.
The trend to throw penal substitutionary atonement under the bus has taken root in the Presbyterian Church (USA). What a shame! Though Christ’s death on the cross God’s wrath was satisfied. He gave up His son to bear it Himself because God knew we could not. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10, ESV). It is finished. God’s wrath is satisfied. Nothing else is needed, Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for our salvation…
It [the song] avoids shallow promises of earthly comfort in favor of the ultimate comfort — no matter our earthly destiny — found in Christ. And it’s a beautiful song, covered by countless Christian artists.
The core of the dispute is the mainline break with orthodoxy on the very nature of God and mission of Jesus. In orthodox Christianity, sin demands sacrifice. God’s wrath against sin — our sin — was atoned through Christ’s sacrifice. Or, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
This is the essence of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and mainline protestantism is increasingly rejecting it in favor of a doctrine that places Jesus not as Savior in the orthodox sense but more as an example of love and nonviolent resistance, Gandhi on divine steroids.
The importance of rejecting substitutionary atonement is tough to overstate, with ramifications across the full spectrum of spiritual, social, and cultural engagement. In fact, it’s likely one of the key reasons for the steep decline in mainline churches. After all, when the purpose of Christ’s presence on earth is ripped from its eternal context and placed firmly within (and relegated to) the world of “social justice” and earthly systems of oppression, there’s little that church offers that, say, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Occupy Wall Street, or a subscription to Mother Jones can’t also supply.
If, on the other hand, Christ represents the sole source of our eternal hope, then church offers something that no political movement can replicate or replace. No amount of “social justice” or political liberation can save your soul.
A comment posted on John Meunier’s blog:
This song was also sung at the recent worship service when the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby took office — at HIS request. As I followed the tweets for the service, a number of people noted that about half the congregation refused to sing the words about God’s wrath.
Frankly, I am clear that John Wesley would like the author’s words. He emphasized the need for sinners (including Methodists) to “flee from the wrath to come”. I know you have written about this in the past. I am pretty well convinced that our reluctance to consider the wrath of God is one of the reasons the church has lost it’s emphasis on winning souls.
You know, after reading that last one, I’m determined to return to the top of this article, replay the video and sing loud and strong.
At least once a week, I have the opportunity to share a simple overview of the difference between religion and Christianity with someone. I wrote about it in September, 2008, but the essence of it is:
Q. How do you spell religion?
A. D-O — Do this, do that, do the other thing. Your standing before God is/will be based on what you do.
Q. How do you spell Christianity?
A. D-O-N-E — It’s all been done for us. There is nothing we can do to earn it, it is the gift of God.
The response I’ve had to this over the years has always been positive — it shatters many false perceptions — and I’m grateful to the former YFC staff worker who introduced it to me over a decade ago.
Justin Buzzard, who blogs from California, has taken a look at Tim Keller‘s The Gospel in Life curriculum, and has extracted more detail on the contrast between religion and the Good News, and has put it in chart form on Buzzard Blog. (Check out the whole blog!) Here it is for your consideration: