Emm - things to think about...

'Whereas epistemology represses the other by absorbing it into explanatory schemes, ethics does justice to "others" precisely by letting the other be,' (The Atonement in Postmodernity, 368).

...theologies of the atonement seem unable to articulate a theory that explains the saving significance of Jesus' death without betraying the rich testimonies to the event of his death, (The Atonement in Postmodernity, 369).

Joel Green and Mark Baker have recently suggested that the penal substitution model...betrays telltale hallmarks of modernity: an anthropocentric tendency to see the significance of Jesus' death as limited to human beings; an individualistic tendency to see Jesus' death as benefiting isolated persons; a moralist tendency to see Jesus' death as a punishment for the acts of sinful individuals, (The Atonement in Postmodernity, 370)

Would you believe it, 'Penal substitution is one of thirteen models of the atonement examined by John McIntyre.'(The Atonement in Postmodernity)

I find this really stimulating:
Jesus' death is efficacious, not because it satisfies God..., but "because it is the inauguration of the political practice of forgiveness...(Millbank). (The Atonement in Postmodernity)

...and this
Rom 6:23 '"The logic of punishment was a logic of equivalence (the wages of sin is death); the logic of grace is a logic of surplus and excess." In Ricoeur's view, the doctrine of atonement belongs, not in an economy of crime and punishment, but in a hyper-economy of gift and grace.' (The Atonement in Postmodernity, 396)

So we have a debate exercise coming up. I wonder if debating models of the atonement might be fruitful.

I remember writing this once:

Ultimately, N.T. Wright is correct in exhorting us to ' embrace, and preach, the genuine biblical doctrine, while avoiding both the caricature and the rejection of the caricature as if it were the reality.'1 The atonement must be considered within the context of the trinity and articulated as an act of love. We must uphold the biblical view of a just and loving God – this constitutes his holiness. We must present PSA as just one of the ways in which the Bible bears testimony to the work of Christ, for that work is a multi-faceted gem of divine complexity.

Indeed, with any articulation of the work of Christ on the cross, we should say with Paul only that 'now I know in part’ (1 Cor. 13:12). I believe that Christ did take upon himself the punishment which I deserve. At the cross, Christ took our place (Isa. 53:4-6), became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21), and bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). He stands in my place in the divine law court, suffering punishment and canceling out my debt: 'having canceled the written code, with its regulations...he took it away, nailing it to the cross' (Col 2:14). I also believe that Christ accomplished much more besides.

Christ is a moral exemplar; he came to show us what the Father is like. He is the sacrificed paschal lamb of the Passover and the priest offering himself as a sacrifice in the temple: the eternal Malchizedek. He is the ransom paid in the slave market, redeeming humanity from its bondage. He is also the 'Christus victor' in a cosmic battle (Col. 2:15).

More importantly, we should never separate the death from the resurrection lest an articulation of the cross becomes a stumbling block. We must instead be able to say with Cyril of Jerusalem:
I confess the Cross, because I know of the Resurrection; for if, after being crucified, He had remained as He was, I had not perchance confessed it, for I might have concealed both it and my Master; but now that the Resurrection has followed the Cross, I am not ashamed to declare it. 2

1 Wright,N.,T.,'The Cross and the Caricatures' Durham Cathedral
2Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 13, Section 4

Looking at this now, my position is somewhat different. This conclusion from a few years ago seems somewhat naive and something of a cop-out. Emmm.


liturgy said...

Following Sunday's epistle reading, it is significant how some/many people seem to put so much energy into a theory of the atonement, using it like a badge to identify belonging to a particular gang - rather than accepting/finding that belonging to the church is sufficient. We believe in the atonement, not a theory of atonement. We believe in a saviour, not a theory of salvation. Or so it seems to me.



Michael Leyden... said...

Hi Rach,
you are delving into somethign really interesting here. I think the questions you begin to raise about the location of the atonement - for example in the life of the trinity - are helpful, certainly more helpful than some of the postmodern examples you also cite. I hope you don't mind me offering my own (pseudo-Barthian) two pennies worth.

It strikes me that 'the atonment' only makes sense in a broader narrative. Most people agree on this, but disagree over the shape and content of the narrative. The penal substitution folks construct a 'divine righteousness' narrative that starts with the goodness of creation and the rebellion of the fall. The atonement then takes on the character of divine response to a fallen world. other narratives might think about the self-giving nature of the cross, or the political aspect of atonement that overlooks differences for the sake of common life. To me, whatever these narratives look like, they all seem to start in the wrong place. That is to say they begin, as it were, in the midst of human existence. The atonment happens because the world is broken, or sinful, or disperate.

My suggestion, and here's where we get a bit Barthian, is that the proper theological location of the atonement is in the covenant God makes with humanity. The question is, where does this covenant begin? Barth locates it not in created time, but in the eternal determination of God to be God for us, to create us, and to invite us to be covenant partners with Him. This begins to make sense of verses like, 'Before the very foundations of the world, the Lamb was slain'. It's not about divine foreknowledge, but about the history of the covenant. The decision to covenant, and so to create, and so ultimately to atone, belongs in the eternal inner life of God. It not a response to our sin, but, per se, but a moment in the fulfilment of covenant commitment.

As I say, just two pennies worth, and not very densely argued. Thanks for the provocation.

Rachel said...

Yes Mike
- much that I resonate with here.

- some exaggeration but I keep thinking that Barth is the solution to so many things. Is this a phase in my spiritual formation?

The word 'hyper' is taking on a whole new significance for me - this idea of being 'for' - in fact, the unpacking of the word 'hyper' is helping me on so many levels, as you can imagine!

- the gloriousness of gift in the giving of the Son - I have much work to do on this - but find arguments about excess and exuberance so appealing and I am self-conscious enough to know also that I find such readings attractive because this is the kind of spirituality which I find most nurturing so I know I come with some baggage to the idea....

...to be continued.

Thanks for your contribution.


Michael Leyden... said...

I wonder if in being drawn to exuberance and excess you are finding something of the lavishness of the covenant idea that Barth draws us to - via a close reading Paul. God is not forced, coerced, obligated, destined, or necessitated to create. It may be true that God is creative (in the proper sense of the term), but not necessarily true that he therefore was *obliged* to create us. It is because of his grace - the pure gift (i.e. unwarranted, free, and exuberant giving) - that we came to exist at all. A moment in the divine history when God determined Himself to no longer be God alone (if indeed that's not too hyperbolic to speak of the immanent Trinity as God-alone) but to be with creation and for creation. This sounds like exuberance to me... I think you're on the right tracks.
p.s. I like the term exuberance...it captures something of the liveliness of God's grace.


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions