A holistic view of the atonement - interdependent, cosmic, humble, hopeful

Rev Dr Moses spoke to us, offering his holistic view of the atonement. 

Regarding the atonement, it is not immutable this tradition in which we stand. There needs to be an openness by the spirit of truth because heavy handed assertions are unhelpful. Starting with the
New Testament, the atonemnet tells us a story of redemption.How do we make sense of the events and how do we speak of the mysteries? We have to try.

It's good Friday and Easter Day - how do we speak of the death of Jesus? How does it work and what difference does it make?

The cross tests everything, says Martin Luther.

Ignatius of Antioch in his commentary on Ephesians speaks of it in terms of a mystery wrought in the silence of God. And so we approach with diffidence. Silent contemplation is for many better than words. There is that limitation of language. Due to historical cultural baggage, the reference points may have lost their efficacy. In many ways all theories of the atonement are inadequate.

The church has never committed itself to one doctrine of the atonement. There are certain human constructs that attempt to get nearer - in the light if the thought forms of their perspective ages.

We are alive to what is happening around us as we speak of the mysteries of faith.

The idea of ransom in the early fathers owes something to the culture of the medieval world in which masters had rights over slaves and freedom could be secured for payment. The Satisfaction theory of Anselm needs to be understood against the background of a feudal society about honour with God as supreme feudal over-lord. Abelard with his subjective, moral or exemplarist theory has Jesus dying for us and exhibiting that love of which there can be none greater. We are set free by a deeper love freed in us to do all things in love and not fear. Was his emphasis on divine love to do with his own personal love story and the mark of this on his life or was he influenced by the new wave of creativity from the eleventh century? The law and its influence: civil, natural, penal is drawn on by theologians and the protestant reformers in the 16th century. Calvin was influenced by his legal background with this idea of the transference of guilt under the law. The cosmic drama of Aulen and Christus Victor - how much does this owe to the bitter experience of the war of 1914- 1918? There is that failure of the churches to respond during this conflict. Then there are the exponants of liberation theology who make a direct connection between the work of Christ and the liberation of those in the places from which they write. Their starting point is an experience of alienation and it insists that sin is both corporate and structural and that atonement is found in the contemporary scene and the eschatological import of working out all of this in history.

What does the word atonement mean? It is the action of making or becoming one.
Becoming one 'at - one - ment' - becoming one in Christ. (Eph 1:9-10, Col 1:19 -20) It is about reconciling all things; making peace by the blood of his cross. The uniting, the reconciling of all things. This emphasis on all things puts us on our guard - against those things that are all about personal salvation and the human element of things. The intedependence of all things is paramount - so the convictions of the gospel are in this and this is where they meet and inform each other.

At this point during Rev Dr Moses' talk I want him to talk about global, technological interdependence but he doesn't. We hear about that from Steve Hollinghurst the next day.

Moses talks about the world and the gospel informing each other in a cycle and the need to relate these things to people's experience of life. There is an urgent need to attempt from the standpoint of Christian faith for a systematic interpretation of our world. Is there a Christian world view that can create a world view with the cross as prime in the scheme of things?

Moses then proposes that there should be a new approach to atonement theology that takes seriously a more holistic view. We have within the Christian revelation all the material that we need but the church can think through her faith in isolation from the world. Christian doctrine has gone through a long process of Christian dialogue and theories of the atonement are no different. We should develop the cosmic and the global in terms of our relationship with our planet and with one another, with political and economic life, with the evolution of life and our relationship with this planet and with each other, with political and economic aspects of life. If we do this four principles emerge.
These principles help us take forward any dialogue between faith and reason.

  • The patterns of relationship - only expressed by words like interdependence, interaction, interrelationship - everything bound up to such a degree with everything else that there is relationship.
  • Patterns of relationship - politics and economics and relationship and the planet - necessity and chance, spontaneity and choice - there is conflict, there is waste. Development will happen.
  • Patterns of relationship are distinguished by a recurring motif of life and death and life - in the world of nature, in the seasons of the year, in the story of nations - the element of sacrifice - unseen deaths, dying to patterns of self-sufficiency - alive to relationship to the whole.
  • And fourthly the possibility of coherence - coming together in ways that retain their own integrity and identity.

So we bring out of his treasury what is old and what is new. We take very seriously our understanding and our experience of the world in which we live, we can not do atonement theology unless we look at it all. The theology here needs to be central. Our places as men and women in the reality of God and the work of Christ and the redemption and the end all things - all this contributes to the necessary backdrop - so all theories draw on contemporary experience but they stand and fall to the extent that they reflect the Christian tradition, the incarnation, the trinity and the work of Christ.

Patterns of interrelatedness and interaction have something to say about a trinitarian understanding of God...and the coming together of the divine and the human in the incarnate world and the chance and purposefulness speak also of the provision and the freedom of God and life and death is encapsulated in the life and the death of jesus, the unity and the wholeness that God will accomplish for his creation. It is all in this.

The death of Jesys is a mystery wrought - atonement is a mystery that we receive in faith and yet because we need to speak meaningful theories of the atonement, they must be relevant in our contemporary world – the unity of all things is key. Moses proposes therefore a holistic theory of atonement but feel too diffident to propose it as such and so it is an approach to atonement theory - it makes all kinds of connections between vast areas of knowledge and experience. It does not sit lightly to the three legged stool - they confirm and complement one another - all these theories - open up the cosmic, global dimension - if we do this the things that Christians have always said about the atonement remain - it is focused in the cross. Life and death and life must be taken back into the life of God because Jesus is sacrificed before the beginning of the world - he enters the human predicament so nothing remains outside the mystery. All this within the context of the accumulated torments of our world and how they can not be accommodated within a facile account of unity - these things have to be brought within an account of the cross and so the cross speaks of our capacity for self destruction, the torments of the human condition and how God comes to meet us in all this - in the edarkness and the emptiness of this.
Secondly we have to recover our understanding of sacrifice - we associate this with patronage and warfare - but even the most outdated acts of sacrifice speak of what happened when people operated in the life of God himself, the energy and the power that bound a community together - sacrifice is the power that makes the world go around. It is about a search for meaning.
From the beginning that Christians have spoken of the cross as a sacrifice through which God acted decisively to redeem the world. Only the wounded healer heals - the cross is not external to God but within and is taken up because nothing in God is wasted so that suffering that defies reasonable explanation, self-destruction and that which runs through the whole of the order are taken up by God and contained in God and find their meaning in God.
This is the sacrifice of God.
The conviction that GOD'S PURPOSE is that all things will be united in Christ (1 Cor 15:8) - that God will be all in all - this is where Christian hope finds its fullest expression. The goal of all existence is this unity in God spoken of by the Christian mystics - all things held in God for all eternity. This is Christian hope - this eschatological dimension takes on a new meaning in the light of all that we know about creation. The cross tests everything and this can not be taken to respond only to human kind – the evolution of ourselves as a species is bound up with the cosmos, we therefore need a cosmic credibility to the cross - if all life is contained in God then all life has meaning in God. This needs to take place within our atonement theology – it commends itself to our world – is a high priestly prayer - in the unity of the divine life our unity is found - theosis - divinisation of human kind - speaks of a conviction that there is no life outside God - we do not stand apart from the creative powers of God. This requires from us a humility regarding the different viewpoints - there is no wrong but do we have to believe in them - there are some ways that drive Dr Rev Moses to despair but he can not disregard them - there is a tapestry and we have to interconnect.

When Dr Rev Moses is asked whether he is a universalist he alludes to all encounters containing promise and judgment, that some will choose to travel with God and others will not. He comes very close to being a universalist, he believes. He explains that some people's lives are so compromised - we have to allow for this - the divine love does not hold it against people who do not make a confession of faith.

I find this last point very interesting. I resonate with it. It challenges my evangelical foundations but makes me post-evangelical, I guess. It resonates with me in ways that the Barth Brunner debate resonated when the idea of people being unable to confess their faith has to be taken into account. It makes for my neo-orthodoxy and how it is all about God's condescension and his decision for us over and above our decision for him, which I think is a biblical position, anyway.

I was so pleased with the quality of our speakers on clergy conference, the intellectual struggle, the heart struggle, the conversations that it led to in the bar and the opportunity to attend seminar workshops on the topics.

Next time, I will write up some reflections regarding a summing-up lecture given by Steve Hollinghurst.

1 comment:

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The four bullet points stand on their own. I cannot see the connection between those and someone the Romans decided to execute.


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