Scot McKnight had a very interesting post last week concerning a recently popular“scapegoat” atonement theory about Jesus’ cross based on the cultural theory of French philosopher Rene Girard. The scapegoat theory’s basic idea is that God the Father doesn’t demand Jesus’ blood as the price for humanity’s sin, but that we humans needed Jesus to be our scapegoat so that we could be liberated from our sin. McKnight contends that the Girardian view doesn’t count as an atonement theory because in his interpretation of the scapegoat theory, “we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death.” McKnight says that for an interpretation of the cross to be atonement as such, it must implicate us in the death of Jesus, “the cross [must be] in some way against us.” Interestingly, McKnight’s terms for a valid atonement theory don’t delegitimize Girard’s scapegoat theory nearly as much as they invalidate the default evangelical understanding of the cross as the satisfaction of God’s wrath. I heartily agree with McKnight’s understanding. Humanity crucified Jesus, not God; it is our needs which the cross satisfies, not God’s. Continue Reading
My wife and I watched “12 Years A Slave” this weekend. Needless to say, it was a hard movie to watch. As a pastor, what pained me the most were the parts where the slave-master would read self-serving passages out of the Bible to his slaves to put the stamp of God’s word on his authority as a master. I remember reading in Frederick Douglas’s autobiography that the crueler a master was, the more scripture he would quote. It made me wonder about the theological legacy we’ve inherited in white American Christianity from our slave-holding ancestors.
My great-grandfather Luther Weigle [pictured here] was the dean of Yale Divinity School and chair of the translation committee for the original RSV Bible. He incurred the fury of the fundamentalists when he chose to translate the Hebrew word almah in Isaiah 7:14 as “young woman” instead of “virgin.” They actually burned RSV Bibles and sent the ashes to him in the mail. The reason? Isaiah 7:14 is referenced by Matthew’s gospel as an explanation for Jesus’ virgin birth. But Isaiah 7:14 also refers to the “young woman” who was Isaiah’s prophetess wife and definitely not a virgin. In Isaiah 7 and 8, she bore Isaiah two children with prophetic names related to their immediate historical context. Does the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth depend on translating almah as “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14? Only if Isaiah 7:14 is expected to function as a prooftext for that doctrine, which raises a larger question: to what degree should Old Testament prophecy be used as prooftexts? And if Isaiah 7 is allowed to have less than a perfectly mapped correspondence to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, then can we apply the same hermeneutical boundaries to the relationship between Isaiah 53 and the circumstances of Jesus’ death on the cross? Continue Reading
For many of us who grew up evangelical, the word “compromise” has always been a bad word. It means to allow non-Christian values and influences to corrupt your devotion to Biblical truth. Frank Schaeffer, the son of the evangelical leader who started the modern Religious Right, claims that our government shutdown and its Tea Party architects cannot be understood apart from this fundamental characteristic of the evangelical ethos. Insofar as the Tea Party is an evangelical phenomenon, I think he may be right. Evangelicals are raised to be a people of no compromise. And it all starts with an understanding of Jesus’ cross that makes God into Darth Vader and turns us into cookie-cutter stormtroopers devoted to His imperial cause. Continue Reading
For the second weekend of our sermon series “Love Actually,” we talked about philia, the form of love that is friendship. James 4:4 says, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” When I was young, I presumed that becoming Christian meant most fundamentally leaving your old friends behind. You showed Jesus that He was number one by who you were willing to stop hanging out with. Since that time, I’ve come to understand James 4:4 differently. “The world” does not describe a group of people we’re supposed to stop being friends with but a way of perceiving people that does not allow for the authentic friendship that we learn from Jesus. My sermon audio is here, with more thoughts added below: Continue Reading
You can’t say the N word anymore. You get sued if you racially discriminate in your hiring process. White kids grow up listening to rap music and (if they’re not too “Christian”) going to public school with the black kids. We have a black president. How dare you say that racism still exists in America? Right? White people are very defensive and paranoid about racism, which has come to mean little more than saying “politically incorrect” things when you’re drunk or otherwise off-guard and getting Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to bring their beloved TV cameras to your front door. This trivialization of racism as having to do with little more than “speaking correctly” is one of the reasons that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream has been deferred. But the main underlying problem is that the backlash against the civil rights movement that began in the early seventies has created a radically individualist moral vision in which Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself is basically meaningless.
I’ve been reading a very stimulating and provocative book by Pauline Biblical scholar Michael Gorman called Inhabiting the Cruciform God. Gorman argues that the central point Paul has to make is that Jesus’ cross reveals the nature of God and that the way we are justified and reconciled to God is by joining Him in His cruciform existence. Gorman claims that to Paul, God is not the triumphalist emperor/military hero that popular American evangelicalism wants Him to be, but rather someone whose nature is to continually empty Himself for the sake of others, the most perfect illustration being the cross itself. This got me thinking about heaven and hell in a very different way that is partly inspired by C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce but in one way, the opposite of Lewis’s metaphor. Continue Reading
Dear hitherto unknown friend,
I have been invited into conversation with you by Kile Jones of the “Interview an Atheist at Church” project. My hope is that you would write a response that I could publish on my blog and we could carry on a dialogue of sorts for my readers to witness. I want to confess first of all that I’m completely unsure of how to proceed in this conversation. What I typically say to atheists is that I probably don’t believe in the god that you don’t believe in either, which I realize is probably pretty patronizing. I don’t want to be patronizing and I don’t want to presume that my words can convince you to convert to my faith, though admittedly I’m wired to have the agenda of evangelism somewhere in my head in most conversations I have with non-Christians.
I recently read a post by fellow Methodist blogger Talbot Davis critiquing the pursuit of “inclusivity” in United Methodism, which he interprets to be a strategy for church growth. Davis shares that his church has achieved a large, inclusively diverse population because of the exclusivity of their doctrine. Well I wanted to raise the ante on Davis’s claim. I don’t think churches should have inclusivity as a goal at all; I think faithful kingdom living requires that we exist exclusively for the excluded.
I was frustrated when I took this picture last night from the fifth row at the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert because I wanted a picture of the eagle that is the symbol of “Free Bird,” one of my favorite songs of all time, but there was a big old Dixie flag underneath it so I couldn’t share it on my facebook page. The reason I decided to share it now is because many people who look like me get offended when they hear other people say that today, in 2013, it still isn’t safe to be black in America.