Friday, August 25, 2006

Atonement and the Emergent Church

23 pages later, I'm done w/ my paper! I feel like a new man!

Here's a long snippet from the end...some views of the Emergent Church on the atonement...

Current Views of Atonement – Emergent Church Movement
Brian McLaren, who is a representative of the Emergent church, recently answered some questions directly related to atonement,

“Q: You wrote, ‘Which reminds us that none of us has a complete grasp of the gospel… It’s very dangerous to assume you’ve perfectly contained the gospel in your little formula.’ I think with all the other change going on, one thing we’ve got to hold firm on is the gospel.
A: What do you mean when you say ‘the gospel?’
Q: You know, justification by grace through faith in the finished atoning work of Christ on the cross.
A: Are you sure that’s the gospel?
Q: Of course. Aren’t you?
A: I’m sure that’s a facet of the gospel, and it’s the facet that modern evangelical protestants have assumed is the whole gospel, the heart of the gospel. But what’s the point of that gospel? (McLaren)”

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ displayed His glory and set mankind free from the bondage to sin in order to be reconciled into a relationship with Him by faith. He justified us before the law. He propitiated God’s wrath. The atonement is simply what the gospel is, and the point is that God worked atonement on the cross.

Brian Mclaren along with Walter Brueggemann recently endorsed a book called Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind. In his recommendation McLaren said, “It used to be that Christian institutions and systems of dogma sustained the spiritual life of Christians. Increasingly spirituality itself is what sustains everything else Alan Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality. (Jones, back cover)” In this book Alan Jones said, “Implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry God. Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine (Jones, 168)” Jones further said, “what does the image of the cross mean to me? It is a sign of the necessary crucifixion of ideologies in the face of concrete human experience – the crucifixion of power plays, the crucifixion of a god we think we can conceptually control. It also is a sign of humanity’s need to find someone to blame for its ills. When we suffer or are threatened, we look for scapegoats. Scholar Rene Girard suggests that scapegoating is the idée fixe at the heart of our culture. It is, for him, the mechanism on which society, culture, and religion are based. The murder of the innocent and our ability to make acts of scapegoating violence sacred seem to be built into us. The cross speaks directly to this dark issue of scapegoating. (Jones, 168)” He called the doctrine of atonement a “vile doctrine” and ruled it out as a “crucifixion of ideals.” McLaren and Jones need to work with how God developed the doctrine of atonement biblically and in church history and they would benefit from Aquinas. Their view is one step away from Anselm in the direction of universalism [similar to Abelard’s], and Aquinas is one step away from Anselm in the direction of orthodox Christian views that the Reformers relied upon. It would be easier for them to understand Aquinas in where their current thought process lies.

Another strong influence in the Emergent church, Steve Chalke, said regarding the atonement in The Lost Message of Jesus, “The church’s inability to shake off the great distortion of God contained in the theory of penal substitution, with its inbuilt belief in retribution and the redemptive power of violence, has cost us dearly. (Chalke, 30-31)” Steve Chalke went further saying, “[we have] come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son?' (Chalke, 182).” Penal substitutionary atonement is not a “distortion.” The only thing that this doctrine has cost us is our pride. In losing pride one gains humility, which is not a bad thing as the Lord said in Matthew 18:4, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. [ESV]” Chalke would benefit from Aquinas’ view of the atonement in seeing that mankind deserves the punishment that Jesus Christ received. Also, the passion was not a “sudden decision” to “vent God the Father’s wrath.” It was a volitional act of Jesus Christ, and it was preordained. Our sin is a personal offense against God’s justice.

Mark Dever wrote of a theologian, Scot McKnight, who is sympathetic to the Emergent church movement as well in his article Nothing But the Blood, in response to McKnight’s book Jesus and His Death, “[McKnight] assumes that the last phrase in Mark 10:45 – ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ – reports not Jesus’ original words but Mark’s theologizing. And while admitting that the idea of substitution is strongly suggested here, he finally rejects it. (Dever, 32)” The Emergent Church is primarily based upon postmodern thought. They claim autonomy from Modernism, but D.A. Carson clearly identified that, “…postmodernism [is the] bastard child of modernism: the genetic descent can scarcely be denied… (Carson, 26 footnote 71)” Later in Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church he discusses the Emergent church’s view of the atonement. He quoted Brian McLaren saying, “…substitutionary atonement doesn’t address the question if why, if god wants to forgive us, he doesn’t just do it. How can punishing an innocent person make things better? ‘That just sounds like one more injustice in the cosmic equation. It sounds like divine child abuse. You know?’ (Carson, 166)” Cosmic child abuse is hardly what happened on the cross. This is an example of misunderstanding what Aquinas bridged to the reformers, namely, that, “Christ by His death brought us back to life, when by His death He destroyed our death; just as he who bears another’s punishment takes such punishment away. (Aquinas, Q. 50 A. 1)” This is love and justice, not abuse.

The problem that many postmodernists have with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement stems from their belief that it is not relevant to the culture today. In his extremely popular book Blue Like Jazz Don Miller said, “I don’t think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel. (Miller, 111)” This is a very true statement, but the question remains, “what is the gospel?” Miller clarified what he meant by the gospel saying, “I realized, after reading those Gospels, that Jesus didn’t just love me out of principle; He didn’t just love me because it was the right thing to do. Rather, there was something inside me that caused Him to love me. (Miller, 238)” The Bible teaches that Jesus loves His chosen people without partiality (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25) and that He loves His people (John 3:16). Also, God propitiated His wrath from us by Jesus Christ’s work on the cross (Romans 3:24-25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). For Miller to say that the cross was only a display of God’s love to him because of some merit he has, and not because of the justice that took place on the cross is to contradict the biblical narrative. As Berkhof said, “If we represent the atonement as founded only in the righteousness and justice of God, we fail to do justice to the love of God as a moving cause of the atonement…If, on the other hand, we consider the atonement purely as an expression of the love of God, we fail to do justice to the righteousness and veracity of God, and we reduce the sufferings and the death of Christ to an unexplained enigma. (Berkhof, 368)” Miller said that the church is relevant only when it believes in the power of Christ’s gospel which he defines as Christ’s loving men because they have merit. Truth is relevant. Therefore, it is relevant to say that the justice of God was satisfied as well as the love of God was displayed in the death of Christ.

Oh, if you want the bibliography let me know I'll just email it to's too long to post:)

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