In yesterday’s post I asked the question how we can “prove” that Jesus died for our sins. Many of your responses were challenging and were, so I think, getting to the issue itself. I’d like to wend my way through to what I will call an “answer.”
First, I begin with Lyotard’s observation that postmodernity is against metanarratives, not because they are present but because the scientific mind of modernity thought it could prove that metanarrative by stepping outside that metanarrative to an objective world where the metanarrative could be independently demonstrated to be true. He was against the metanarrative because practitioners thought it could be proven by Reason. (I’m not Lyotardian specialist, but this is what I understand of him.)
Second, many within my own brand of Evangelicalism undertake quite often to “prove” theological affirmations in a similar manner. Some things can be “proven” in a similar fashion: for instance, the resurrection — many believe they can examine “nothing but the facts” and sort it all out and come to the rational, reasonable conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead. I will leave this idea alone because I tend to think this is the sort of thing that we can “prove,” though it might not be quite as scientific as we sometimes think.
Third, this sort of proof is simply not available when we begin to talk about “meaning.” That is, we might be able to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead, but we can’t prove in the same way (or with the same kind of “objective” analysis) that he was raised “for our justification” or that Jesus died “for my sins.”
Fourth, so what can we say? Let me offer what I think is a Christian framing of an answer. When we begin to talk at the level of “meaning” or, what many might call “significance,” we are dealing with what we might as well call a “metanarrative” or a “theological explanation.” Historical explanations are metanarratives that put events (some call them “discrete” but I have my problems with that view) into a meaningful narrative to make sense of them. The biblical narrative is that sort of meaning-inspired narrative. (Kevin Vanhoozer accepts the notion that Lyotard saw postmodernity fighting against modernity because of its appeal to Reason, but knows that there are other senses of the term “metanarrative.” I use it in the latter sense.) I can’t prove that Jesus died for me but I am confident it is true (and truth).
Fifth, this is where both Lyotard and Polanyi help us: both of them argued that metanarratives require commitment to a way of thinking and to an entire set of convictions for something to be demonstrated or to be knowledge in the sense of justified belief.
Sixth, I want to take this right back to Augustine who said that we believe in order to understand. Augustine has been used by many as a parallel (in this sense alone I suppose) to what is going on in the postmodern critique of modernity, and a parallel to such thoughts in Polanyi and Lyotard.
Seventh, this means that for us to believe that Jesus dies “for our sins” we have to be committed in faith to the “story of the Bible” — that the Creator God make us to be Eikons, that we are cracked Eikons, that God in his embracing grace gathers up the pieces of our lives and glues them together, in the context of a community, through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is our “story” or our “metanarrative,” and for Jesus’ death to be seen as “for our sins” we will have to embrace that story as our story. This means also that the “story of the Bible” is a Spirit-inspired work of God through the community of faith. (I admit, this is a lot all tangled together.)
Which means, and this I believe with all my heart, faith that Jesus died “for our sins” is the result of God’s grace.
(I just hope this doesn’t make me a Calvinist!)