A discussion on the ‘atonement’

Pete Enns (very bad person and was ‘sacked’ cos he could not affirm inerrancy… so very BAD) is a very smart person but makes many things simpler for the rest of us and hosts podcasts on The Bible for Normal People and the one at the top of the list (Episode 273) is an interview with Jennifer Garcia Bashaw and gives helpful summaries on various theories on the atonement. A skim through summary. Maybe the most popular, penal substitution, gets zero votes and if you add my vote to hers then we have to work out the total of 0+0.

She leans heavily on what is becoming very popular – the end of scapegoating – interesting… my opinion – very attractive, but probably too influenced by a recent understanding that is read back (the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement does not operate in this way).

So, I am still pretty much sitting with the defeat of the powers – with the power of sin (singular, not the sum total of my sins plus yours) and death – being central to that. The work of God as human on our behalf (so not substitutionary and not dualistic of God and the devil in battle… so podcast guys, make a bit of a correction to the section where you talk of the weakness of Christus Victor being dualistic.

Rebuild the Temple

The early disciples had a strange relationship to the Jerusalem Temple for they seem to have continued to visit the Temple, so for example we read in Acts 3 that Peter and John were going ‘to the temple at the hour of prayer’. When Jesus had spoken about ‘not one stone remaining on another’ those words came as quite a shock to the disciples. The building was awesome, immense and impressive. The Temple was a subject of conversation among travellers within the Imperial world. ‘But have you seen the Temple in Jerusalem?’ would be a comment when a traveller was recounting what they had seen as they travelled across the Roman world. The Temple site occupied around 20% of the entire footprint of Jerusalem – this was not so much a city with a Temple (Canterbury with its cathedral is a city with a cathedral) but a Temple with surrounding buildings. The reference of Jesus to ‘my Father’s house has many [store-]rooms’ is based on the historic Temple with its many storehouses.

The shock of it coming down certainly indicated the end of the age, in our culture something like the detonation of an atomic bomb, with a significant before and after. The trauma of AD70 was intense… The great hope was of God delivering Jerusalem with many prophetic voices asking the people to stay firm. In the midst of the years of assault the Roman armies withdrew as Rome central was in crisis – imagine how those who believed the prophets would have rejoiced. However Jesus had warned about such ‘false prophets’ and once Rome stabilised they returned to finish the work and the end result was utter destruction. [I am deeply concerned that a considerable part of the prophetic movement globally is caught in that position currently – when I hear of ‘go back’, ‘God will vindicate’, or I read of the rejoicing when an intellectual proclaims a return to biblical foundations I get a tad worried, for the prophetic is not about yesterday but about tomorrow. Yesterday might stir faith but it is faith for ‘a new thing’. I see parallels between Jerusalem and today – the crisis we are in is to bring us through to something different, to landscape that is all-but unrecognisable.]

There is a hope for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem that is held to by some Zionists and Christians influenced by Dispensationalism, but seems so unlikely to me. There is no hope found in early Christian literature of the hope of the Temple being rebuilt that I am aware; Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple is never specified as being in a specific location, other than the city shall be called ‘The Lord is there’. Ezekiel’s vision fuels John’s vision in Revelation 21 of the New Jerusalem, the city that comes down with dimensions that fill the whole earth, and John says ‘I saw no Temple there’… The old Jerusalem was a Temple with a city around it, and any visitor would say ‘I saw the Temple’ for there was no way that one could visit the city and not see the Temple. John’s statement is in total contrast. A city without a temple! Or as we read we know the city is both a city and a temple. The eschaton has no hope of a third temple.

One final text that is quite powerful are the closing words of Matthew’s Gospel known as the Great Commission. Matthew begins his Gospel with the Genesis of Jesus Christ, he often then writes of Scripture being fulfilled, then comes to the close with the Great Commission:

Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Let any of those among you who are of his people—may the Lord their God be with them!—go up.

OH, did I get the wrong quote? Maybe not. The last words of the Writings (2 Chronicles) – the ‘Great Commission’ of king Cyrus, to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem… ‘Go to Jerusalem’ from the place of Exile, and may God go with you… OK here comes the quote,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

The direction has always been the radical opposite, Jerusalem… to the ends of the earth, Jerusalem to all exilic places; temple building, but not with stones one upon another. Presence – now what does the Presence of God look like / feel like? The Presence is the evidence. Presence with, among not simply for people and certainly way beyond a power to act on people. There is a Temple being rebuilt, and maybe these next years will see a ‘temple’ that we are convinced will remain intact being removed one stone from another? I am not an iconoclast, but I do believe in a journey into the unknown, hence the promise of ‘I am with you always’ is so important.

A podcast worth watching

Here is a podcast of Mike Morrell and Thomas Oord… Worth digging into as Mike posts a set of questions to Oord. From a list of questions three are picked out:

  • Can faith traditions actually help reverse our runaway climate catastrophe, or do they only hurt the cause of ecological healing?
  • Can I affirm the wisdom found in other faith traditions while being rooted and grounded in the Way of Jesus?
  • How can I embody a counter-cultural faith in light of rising Christian nationalism, and the worship of power over love?

Helpful – also to get into Oord’s mind if anyone has never read his books or found it difficult to access.

All Israel… who?

Anything but conclusions

Toward the end of Paul’s (definitely not) aside on Israel in Rom. 9-11 he says ‘all Israel will be saved’. It has been an anchor point for the claim that at the end of this age there will be a mass turning of Jews to their Messiah… however, to hold to such a view logically would only involve Jews alive at the coming of Jesus, thus all those who had lived before that would not be ‘saved’. A further issue is that the phrase, sometimes translated ‘and then’ is NOT a temporal phrase (kai houtos, has to be translated ‘in this way‘). There is no time reference in what he writes but the means of ‘salvation’ coming is what he has been consistently writing about in these chapters. The question is ‘how’ will all Israel be ‘saved’ not when.

And a twist I am trying to think about is the distinction between ‘Israel’ and ‘Jew’. The work of Jason Staples in ‘The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism’ argues that the two are not synonymous, with ‘Jew’ referring to those who belonged to the Southern kingdom and Israel referring to the bigger entity of the 12 tribes. This morning I was reading Paul’s defence before Agrippa and took note of what I had not seen before:

I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain… It is for this hope… that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead.

He was accused by Jews and he claimed his hope was the hope of Israel! [I am thinking this might give yet another twist to ‘Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time?’.]

The northern kingdom (the ‘ten tribes’) ‘disappears’ with the Assyrian exile leaving (eventually post-a trip to Babylon) Judah, Benjamin and some of Levi, the ‘southern kingdom’ that had been faithful to David and his line. Generally speaking that is what is referred to as ‘Judah’ and gains the description ‘Jews’. Then we can add so many twists but how about this one: Ephraim and Manasseh are elevated to the position as tribes. They are the sons of Joseph and ‘Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On’. Joseph’s wife: an Egyptian and from a dodgy spiritual line!! Ethnic purity – NOT. [And Jewishness comes through the mother’s line?]

‘All Israel’… and not ‘all those descended from Israel are Israelites’… wow, all a tight knot that is not simple to undo(!) but leading surely to where Paul is headed in these chapters – ‘so that he might be merciful to all’. And ALL is a big term.

I have some unpicking still to do but it seems Paul is not arguing for some great future event but a process that is ongoing that we should not reduce to being able to produce some physical DNA results as evidence. The hope of Israel, the twelve tribes… Paul, from the tribe of Benjamin, becomes an apostle to the non-Jews (Gentiles), so that the ‘hope’ of God might be fulfilled, that of a transformed world, in which the hope of Israel will also be fulfilled. Israel is bigger than Jewishness; Israel is ‘dirtier’ than ethnicity. And above and beyond it all God’s ‘hope’ is bigger than my hope, or the hope of Israel.

I have no direct conclusions as yet on the tight knot, but ‘in this way’, in God’s way there is an eternal ever expanding reach toward all of humanity.

Resurrection appearances

As per many of you I have been reading of the resurrection this morning. None of it reads as if the disciples were having a series of hallucinations, nor is the belief simply in ‘he is alive’ but that ‘his body is not to be found in the tomb’… resurrection.

There were so many cosmic occurrences that surrounded the death and resurrection of Jesus and one that has caused puzzlement is the tombs that were emptied in Jerusalem:

The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many (Matt. 27:52,53).

It has puzzled some commentators and the report is reduced to a ‘theological’ statement separating it from a historical event (R.T. France) – partly because it is only recorded in Matthew. But the language is so similar to that of the language used for the resurrection of Jesus with the ‘appeared to many’ statement.

I think Matthew is very careful in his language – the tombs are opened at his death, but it is only after his resurrection that they are raised. This is not a ‘Lazarus’ resurrection’ but an experience of the resurrection, something that is our hope beyond the grave and seemingly always coinciding time-wise with the parousia of Jesus. Something happens that causes a very real disruption to time in this event.

The dramatic, visible shift to time, the physical manifestation of the ‘new creation’ was present. Our challenge is that ‘new creation’ is here; that we do not have to simply wait for linear time to arrive at the future.

The early disciples did not suffer from hallucinations; they did not need to imagine he was alive; they were rooted in the experience something has visibly and tangibly changed. Easter Sunday – then and now.

A community that eats

I heard recently that the ‘magic’ of Jesus was ‘meals and miracles’. And yesterday I gave a cursory glance at the 72 being sent out – meals and miracles were to go hand in hand. Today this text:

For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here in a good place, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor person. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into the courts? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

What comes to mind? If you are like me then for many years I kinda imagined a ‘church’ setting with formal or even informal seating but that a notable person comes in and everyone makes sure that they have a decent seat. However… that necessitates a building of some sort and fails to grasp that the context of the meal was huge in the first Century. Huge in both the Graeco-Roman and the Jewish world, and where people were seated at the meals was a big deal, based on a hierarchy. Maybe the nearest we have in our culture is something like a wedding reception – to some extent where people are seated is important. In the culture we are engaging with in the New Testament hierarchy was ever-so-present in these settings. Think about the words of Jesus:

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host, and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Lk. 14:7-11).

The banquet is set out hierarchically – the place of honour. Jesus then follows this on to describe how meals were to operate with his followers:

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Lk. 14:12-14).

In the world of that day the concept was to invite those who were important then give them a place of honour and guess what – they would repay you the honour. The instructions of Jesus over meal invitations was nothing short of a political resistance to the status quo and a turning of the world upside down! The meal table, and for sure Jesus was as much in trouble for his meal table practice as he was for his teaching. The whole aspect played out in the wider non-Jewish world with meals that honoured Caesar and the gods, look after those who carried power and influence and you too could climb the ladder socially and be successful.

This again plays out in the meal that honoured the Lord. I appreciate that there are now traditions such as mass, eucharist, or more lower church terminology such as communion, but the NT setting (‘tradition’ could be a Pauline word for this) was of a meal. It might be termed the agape meal, it was based on the Passover meal, but also sat totally within the wider meal context of that era. At the Lord’s table no place of honour was to be reserved for the rich and famous, everything was equalised. In that setting each person brought what they could for the communal meal and of course the wealthy could bring the wine and finer cuts, the poorer among them (many from the slave class) by contrast could not bring too much. But it was all presented and declared to be the ‘Lord’s table’ then all were invited to eat and drink. In Corinthians this demonstration of equality was not present, so he simply said that ‘when you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper’. The old divisions were maintained, those who had much consumed much while ignoring the others – and surely this must division, this failure to see the wonderful equalisation through the cross, has to be at the heart of ‘whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner’.

What a community Jesus imagined. This is the gift to the world. Meals, or whatever might carry a similar meaning in our setting, being the gift. And miracles – for in the absence of this egalitarian demonstration in Corinth Paul indicated that ‘for this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died’. Sobering words, and the opposite would bring words of hope and healing.

The magic of Jesus – meals and miracles. The lamb with the wolf. The gift to society – a Jesus’ people who do not offer the best seat to the one who is categorised as important; a people who live in a new creation and see no one according to any category, other than the creational / new creational description of ‘image and likeness’. A Jesus people who might not rise to the places of influence, but as our first quoted Scripture above says ‘Is it not the rich who oppress you?’ Not simply the individual rich person, but the system that rewards a pattern of living and that is not the pattern that is to be among us.

A video on the ‘Second Horizon’

I recorded an interview that Steve Watters did with me a few days back and it is now uploaded to YouTube. I have also an expanded written piece (10000 words) that go with it. The pdf article is in more detail, the video picks up why I believe Matt. 24 (maybe famous for such statements as ‘wars and rumours of wars’) is not written addressing our future but the future of those who were the immediate recipients of the words of Jesus. He made it clear that all the signs he gave would be fulfilled within the lifetime of ‘this generation’. In the pdf I also give my take on Paul’s rather cryptic reference to ‘the man of lawlessness’, again a fulfilment in the period 66-70AD seems to fit this best. The pdf is found here – read or download:

Eschatology: The Second Horizon

I will set some dates soon when for those interested I will give a short reflection on the material related to Matt. 24 and then – well who knows where the discussion will go – hopefully not to ‘wars and rumours of wars’!!!

Power or… weakness

Simon Swift wrote me a few days ago with what follows that I have published as a post with his permission. We might react when we read ‘the weakness of God’, but we struggle (or should) when we read about ‘the power / all-powerfulness of God’. Simon wrote:

Over the last few weeks I have been drawn to the idea of the weakness of God as an alternative to the power of God. This is the idea that Jesus went to the cross in powerlessness.

In church we often sing of the power of God and there are lots of images of a small child with a large lion behind them in a kind of, ‘My Dad is bigger than yours’, way. I wonder if we miss something important when we fall into this type of thinking.

Recently I watched a news article in which a middle aged Palestinian woman on the west bank while attending a protest march was asked if they should continue an armed struggle. In her answer she stated that, ‘The rest of the world only knows power.’ This is the power of empire is about domination and control with the ultimate sanction of death for those that oppose it.

The best definition of love I have ever heard is: Making room in your own life for someone else to be themselves. This does carry a risk and makes you vulnerable; a weakness that can be exploited for sure but it is also the way of freedom, creativity and growth without the control that power tries to exert. It is I believe what Jesus practised. A good example is the woman who anointed his feet at the dinner party; talk about an awkward moment but Jesus loved her enough to let her do it and even defended her.

Jesus seems to have refused to side with power. At the forty day fasting he refused it; When arrested he refused to use the power he had (legion of angels); His sermon on the mount included teachings on what to do when someone had power over you (turn the other cheek etc.) All seems to show he chose, and invites us, to walk the narrow path of weakness. Ultimately the cross is the best expression of this; allowing death to take him but not hold him. Not so much he defeated death but went through death and came out the other side; now death cannot touch him.

I feel that we should not confuse power and weakness. In a lot of action films there is a cliche where the hero is fighting the bad guy. At some point the hero seems to be losing and the evil dude stops to monologue on how weak the hero is, usually because he has loved ones or friends he cares about and in his attempt to defend them he has made himself vulnerable. Of course as usual in Hollywood, the hero then finds some extra strength and goes on to defeat the bad guy so we can have a happy ending to the film. This seems to nicely show what weakness is about: love and caring for others.

The Church unfortunately has often opted for the easy option of power and has been corrupted by it. When it has done so it has joined in with empire, tragically losing its way off the narrow path. No wonder there has been so many reformation and revivals! As Christians is power all we know? Perhaps in these troubled times where we see power being used in devastating ways, we should stop calling ourselves Christians and instead become the People of Easter choosing not sides but becoming instruments of reconciliation. That though invites misunderstanding and persecution and we will have to decide if we are ready for that.

A Reflection That Asks a Question

An image so clean, so pure, we sing
Dressing him in clothes of white and gold
With strength to wield a sword
It hides the wounds we give him

Do you dream of being a courtier
To a king sat in grandeur
With jewelled crown and silver sceptre
An aura of majestic power

Look in the mirror, ask your reflection
Are you a thief who would be courtier
To a king lifted up naked and bruised
Who’s crown draws blood for you to drink from

Would you hear his invitation
To share in his glorious pose
Or mock in indignation at his critique
Of power and its grotesque exhibition

Pretty close

So Jesus came proclaiming ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ – really close.

I said recently that the solution to the Gaza / Israel conflict is not difficult. Of course by that I did not mean it is likely to be solved or that I have any skills to offer into the mix, but that the Jesus-way is always close. It is the way of reconciliation, the way of peacemaking, of meeting – whether that is at the ultimate level of meeting in Jesus name, or simply in the name of humanity, for humanity (and ultimately true eschatological humanity) is in the midst.

The kingdom of heaven ultimately comes down – and the Greek for ‘at hand’ is translated metaphorically well with ‘at hand’ but it is the verb ‘come near’. It does not simply arise from the earth, though the land groans for it, it has to arrive from heaven, and one day it will arrive in fullness from the throne of God out of heaven and ‘descend’. The trauma that the earth holds and we tap into releases memories that hold the past so that they repeat in the present; our eyes have to go higher and in doing so our sight horizontally changes. Palestinians (many of whom of course have Jewish blood) and Israelis are family at the ‘big’ picture of ‘one ancestor’ and ‘one God’. Can they see one another? Sit in a room and hear the story, the trauma that they relate to, sit where the other sits. In that sense we are always so close to the kingdom coming.

Of course I am not suggesting that the solution is simple, but I am struck by how close the kingdom is, and how close the ‘non-kingdom’ is. The history, the guilt, shame and trauma of course does not give way easily. The good news of the Gospel is that the cross which occured at the low point (the fullness of times) makes it possible. I am continuing to pray into ‘God is waiting for a human movement’ as we need to move beyond something that is transcendental, and something that is beyond human, to something that is incarnational.

So close. And as we approach Christmas – demonstrably close.

Different approaches

I have been reflecting (arguing within my own head?) about how there are different approaches to engagement and focusing in on the business world, as that is where Gayle is focused in at this time. I don’t know if it would be helpful to put it on a spectrum though one approach I consider is dubious / out of bounds so to put it on a spectrum would not be helpful, but for a moment let me suggest we might use that as a way in.

  • Involved in business but it is a ‘trojan horse’ as the real issue is the spread of ‘the Gospel’.
  • Kingdom business that has a different set of values toward mammon, employment, fair wages, working condition, effect on the planet, thus the business is explicitly Christian.
  • Involved in business and immersed not with the agenda of evangelising, but of helping create an environment for healthy inter-relationships, that promote humanisation and each person becoming the best (a better?) version of themselves.

No guess for which one I remove from the spectrum! The first gives me enormous difficulties as the real motivation is hidden. Of course in situations where one is called to be involved in a geography where there is no freedom for Christian expression of faith business might be the only way in. And in every situation, regardless of the approach, we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us. If our hope is not ‘I go to heaven and not hell’ (not the hope of the NT) we need to work out what our hope is and how we express it. Assuming we can get beyond life is evangelism to good news is living energised by the Spirit, then of course all of life becomes sacred and nothing we are involved in becomes ‘secular’.

There is significant space for the second approach, but sticking the adjective ‘Christian’ or ‘kingdom’ in front of business is not enough. By our fruit we are to be known. As indicated in the bullet point on some very key issues there has to be a difference. Maximising profit was always prohibited in Scripture; marginalised benefitting from what we are involved in, at no cost to them, was always desirable; and we need to add – though biblically it was always there – the improvement of the planet is highly necessary. If such a business is ‘Christian’, truly kingdom (not perfect, but redemptive within all aspects of the world God has made, thus moving things in a ‘New Jerusalem’ direction) then we might be able to use the metaphor of ‘light’ to describe it. That certainly was a metaphor to describe the calling of Israel and one that Jesus used of himself and gave to the disciples. Light to light up a path, to show the way. So I think there is a place in God’s economy for this approach.

The third approach is a challenge. Salt enters (for salt would be the metaphor for this) and is largely unseen. But the purpose of the salt is to bring about change, and if the focus biblically is on the salt of the dead sea it was to promote good growth (high in phosphates hence a fertiliser) and to hinder disease (used to protect the environment from human excrement). If that was the central purpose of salt (we can add the savouring of food etc…) then what we have here is the binding and loosing activity – what is permitted and what is forbidden.

No surprise that I favour the last two. All of the above challenges our world-views, our eschatology and our views regarding the good news of Jesus. Or maybe we can reverse that: our world-view, eschatology, and our view of the good news of Jesus will help us critique how we consider we should be involved in the world.