Wednesday, January 9, 2008

atonement, evangelism and us (part 2)

This was originally a comment on the previous post, but in order to facilitate discussion and keep the comment box from being tediously long I decided to enter this as it's own post. Please don't refrain from commenting on the previous post, there is still more to talk through there. Here I want to offer some summary of our discussion so far and pose two questions.

First, here is a summary of our discussion so far. I think we can agree on three main points that I think everyone has emphasized.

(1) The views are not mutually exclusive. There is a sense in which each view is found in the NT. We don't need to rule one out at the expense of the others. Still, the discussion is not nullified, but only enriched by developing each view.

(2) The views are not "biblical" categories, but theological reflection on the biblical texts. Also, my characterizations of each view are a little off, but mostly correct. Anyway, it is important to start with the biblical text and move to reflection. I think my paper will begin by examining the major metaphors for atonement. Next, I plan to engage the specific language of atonement. There will obviously be overlap in sections 1 and 2. The third section of my paper will be theological reflection on atonement. In the third section I’ll engage more of the secondary literature of atonement theories. Also I’ll evaluate the theological significance of atonement. So, as of right now the paper will be about 50 pages long :-). The major metaphors as I see them so far (and I'm not too far into my NT inductive study) are Scapegoat, sacrificial Lamb and (I agree with Michael) triumph over the powers. The atonement language includes: “redemption/ransom” ἀπολύτρωσις/λύτρον; “justification/justify” δικαίωσις/δίκαω; “reconciliation/reconcile” καταλλαγή/καταλλάσσω; and “atonement/atone/atoning sacrifice” ἱλαστήριον/ἱάσκομαι/ἱλασμός. I’m open to suggestions here as well as additions to the language and metaphors. I’m also considering “righteousness” δικαιοσύνη
for a key word. Thoughts?

(3) Penal Substitution is a funny title for a theological theory. I let you all ponder on why I think it’s funny.

Now, let me speak to something both Jordan and Michael brought up. Both of you mentioned the importance of atonement theory being in continuity with the life of Jesus. I agree. In fact, in my readings of the gospels (through Mk and Lk so far) for the inductive study one finds the "Christus Victor" (CV) almost exclusively. Particularly, the exorcist/healing activity seems to point to CV. It is also very interesting that the exorcist/healing activity is intimately connected to “faith,” consider this in relation to Paul’s connection of faith and justification! I was so interested in this “discovery” that I even sent an e-mail with some of these initial thoughts to the esteemed Mark E. Moore. He affirmed my data with some cautionary remarks (the e-mail was less specific). His response was,

"One must also recognize that most of Jesus’ important concepts were not correctly developed until after the resurrection. This would include Jesus as king, Gentile inclusion, abrogation of the law. You can’t argue any of these from Jesus own praxis, though his words do point forward to all of them."

I don't know what he means by "correctly developed," perhaps I might have said "fully developed." But he's about to get a PhD. so what do I know. I also don't know that you "can't argue any of these from Jesus' praxis." It seems to me that all of these elements are present in Jesus' praxis. Regardless, Mark's point was simply that we cannot make the Gospels our only source of information about Jesus, particularly Christology. I agree wholeheartedly, but it doesn’t eliminate the connection Jordan, Michael and I are pointing to.

I want to offer two main questions:

(1) What are your thoughts on Mark's statements? (It's fun to pick apart an e-mail he wrote in 30 seconds huh).

(2) Back to one of the initial questions: With what we have said, how does our view(s) of atonement affect how we evangelize? This is where the rubber meets the road so I’d like to spend some time here.


Alex said...

I'm very interested to see where your studies of "hilaskomai/hilasmos" will lead you.

Michael DeFazio said...

1. I think examining "righteousness" as a keyword is absolutely crucial. One of the helpful (though of course not biblical) taxonomies I've come across (in McClendon) is seeing the various views as Godward, humanward, and evilward. (That may have come up in the previous post; I can't remember.) In this schema, PS would qualift as a Godward view - it changes something in the way God is disposed toward us. Of course I think there is this dimension to the atonement, but I think it would be better served by looking into the concept of God's justice/righteousness in its covenantal (i.e. biblical) context.

2. Yeah, I suppose it's important to acknowledge that we can't just go from the Gospels, but the reality is that throughout Church History the opposite mistake has been made. The Gospels have been neglected as sources of "atonement theology" for a long time, which is part of why we have the confusion we have (I think). I think we all recognize that it's not an either/or issue, but we must allow the various sources to speak their piece before we put them in their place. I also wonder what Mark would say about the fact that the Gospels were written after the resurrection. Obviously they describe events that took place before the resurrection, but they are certainly history read through that particular lens. It maybe doesn't change much, but it's important to keep in mind.

3. I'll just brainstorm for a bit on your last question. Here are some of the ways I see atonement influencing evangelism:

- It impacts the nature of our urgency. I almost said the degree of our urgency, but I think that would be wrong. If the primary problem with human beings is that they have offended God and are thus on a path towards his wrath - in other words, if the main problem is that all individuals are going to hell when they die - then we will have a certain urgency in our conversations with individuals about them "crossing the line." While questions of what they do next are important, they probably won't seem as urgent to us. On the other hand, if the problem is that humankind and human beings are held captive to the powers of evil and sin, then freeing from that captivity - not only initially but increasingly as they re-become persons in God's image - will be no less urgent.

- I suppose I'm assuming that it impacts our understanding of the nature of sin. I think I said something about this before, and it may not seem immediately 'practical,' so I'll just mention it here. I've been reading some things that talk about being 'saved from hell' versus 'saved from sin'.

- It impacts what we're offering people. "You need to confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior so that you are no longer in danger of spending eternity in hell." Or, "You need to stop living in ways that compound the problem and become part of the solution, i.e., God's missional kingdom/community/people.

- It impacts what we're demanding from them as well (which is the other side of what we're offering them). What it actually means to "become a Christian" depends to some degree on what Jesus' death accomplished.

I don't feel like the stuff I'm saying right now is very helpful, so I'm going to stop. I'll resist deleting it all. More anon...


Alex said...

How's the paper coming?

Unknown said...

Well Alex since you asked. The paper is coming along nicely. I'll give you more details in person later.