Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Letters to Emerging Christians

posted by xscot mcknight

Dear Holly,
It was good to hear about your mission year and how you are following that up with an interest in the kind of lifestyle Shane Clairborne, a Protestant Francis, advocates. I have some questions for you about such matters, but I want to get to your question before I run out of time and space. You say that your mother told you that the emerging church doesn’t believe in substitionary atonement, and you’ve asked me if it does.
I say this all the time, but it is only because I have to: the “emerging church” doesn’t have a creed or a doctrinal statement that all emerging churches and Christians affirm, so the answer comes down to “some do, and apparently some don’t.” Let me explain.
The best way I have seen to express the “atonement” (the doctrine that explains what God has done for us in Jesus Christ — especially at the cross) is to say that Jesus lived and died with us, instead of us, and for us. It seems to me that we are now living in a time when Christians seem to want to rally around one of these instead of all of them.
So, some focus on Jesus identifying with us — and they talk about Jesus as God Incarnate, and they see Jesus as our Brother, and they find great solace in knowing that God became what we are. He became human, experienced pain and joy, felt isolation and companionship, knew disappointment and fellowship, suffered betrayal, and — this is where it is all headed — he went to the cross and experienced suffering at such a level that we know God knows what we are going through. I believe this aspect of atonement is very true and one of its greatest strengths is that it brings the life and death and resurrection together into the atonement. Some in the emerging movement attach themselves to this view.
Others in the Church have focused on Jesus’ cross as something he underwent instead of us. That is, he was our substitute. He died our death; he died instead of us; and the curse he experienced — God’s wrath against sin by way of death (physical and eternal) — he undertook instead of us. This is called the substitionary theory of atonement; some call it penal substitution — emphasizing wrath against us experienced by Jesus. If you combine “with” us and “instead” of us, you can also use the word “representation,” but I want you to know that “representation” has a checkered history and some evangelicals get upset when someone says they think Jesus “represents” us. I like this term, but I think we have to be careful how we explain it. He represented us both by dying with us (inclusive) and by dying instead of us (exclusive representation).
Here is how I see the emerging movement and the “instead of us” theory. Some grew up where this was the only thing taught, and some say they grew up hearing only of an angry God who poured out his wrath on Jesus Christ, and they think that gives the wrong idea. They think the death of Jesus was an act of grace and if that is not seen, then the cross is misunderstood. As a result, some have completely chucked the idea of substitution. It is a mistake to chuck substitution. If you read Romans 1-5 you will see an emphasis on death as the “punishment” (penal term) for sin, and you will see that Jesus died instead of us so that we can be saved from death and given life.
Others want to emphasize the benefits of Jesus’ death, the “for us” part — that he died to forgive us, to reconcile us to God, to give to us a new paradigm for living (learning to die to self and sin and live to God). Many in the emerging movement, I suspect, would land here — and they might think that trying to explain how God did what he did in the cross to be beyond our comprehension. They know it works; they don’t know how.
In my view, the atonement involves each of these: Jesus died with us (identification), instead of us (substitution), and for us (benefaction). We need each, so let’s teach each.
So, now I’m asking myself your question again. If we simply admit that the emerging movement doesn’t have a doctrinal statement, I think you could tell your mom that you understand there is diversity in the movement on this issue.
I’m wondering if you have heard anything in your gathering that gives you solid indication of where they stand on atonement issues?
Well, back to Shane. I haven’t read Irresistible Revolution and now wonder if I should.
Blessings,
Scot
About these letters: These are letters I’m cobbling together from letters, e-mails, and conversations with emerging Christians. I will pull them all together and send them to three or four persons, but they reflect conversations and letters over the last two years.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(28)
post a comment
Chase

posted November 29, 2006 at 7:07 am


Scot, another insightful letter! I appreciate your thinking here. What would you think of the statement, “Jesus lived with us and died for us.”? I believe Jesus died with us and for us, however, I understand the Scripture’s emphasis (as of first importance) that he died for us and we are called to die with him that we might live unto God. I would lvoe to hear your thoughts on this, specifically the above statement whenever you have time. I am grateful for your time investment into people- thankful for your blog.
Chase



report abuse
 

John Lunt

posted November 29, 2006 at 8:02 am


Great letter, Scot. I like how you bring in so many dimensions of the redemption story. I think you state where I stand much better than I could have. Thanks
By the way, you should read Shane’s book. It’s terrific. I disagree with some o f his politics but man he has a great heart.



report abuse
 

Trevin Wax

posted November 29, 2006 at 8:05 am


Thanks for posting this letter. This is a great intro to atonement theology. I will definitely remember the “with us,” “instead of us,” and “for us” motif. We do injustice to the biblical witness whenever we chuck one of these or emphasize only one of these.



report abuse
 

Gloria Pope

posted November 29, 2006 at 9:17 am


Here I am again very grateful for these summaries of overarching principles. Your work is like a scaffolding that I continue to hang important imagery and information on. I feel more alive in my soul as new thoughts and paradigms begin to form and shape my theology. Thank you, sir.



report abuse
 

paul

posted November 29, 2006 at 9:46 am


thansk for your easily understood view of the different theories of the atonement. as i work with high school students, many of them are interested in this topic, yet it is difficult to find easy ways to begin the conversation…thanks.



report abuse
 

Scott Andreas

posted November 29, 2006 at 10:13 am


Scot — Thanks for writing. I have a standing offer to buy a copy of “The Irresistible Revolution” for anyone who thinks they’ll read it. It’s a great “missional primer” for people beginning to push their faith into concrete action. You’re certainly far beyond it, but it’s a good, quick read.
Feel free to take me up on it if you’d like.



report abuse
 

Alex Linebrink

posted November 29, 2006 at 10:34 am


Scot –
Great summary! I’ve often heard this question (more in form of accusation), and even myself have been accused of forgetting about these profound results of Jesus’ death. I think it stems from the missional focus of the Emerging Church, which tends to focus on the life of Jesus and His teachings in a historical context. This sometimes leads to taking all emphasis off of something very important – His death.
I guess we always have to be careful that when we stand for one thing we don’t accidently find ourselves standing against something else!
-Alex



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted November 29, 2006 at 10:34 am


Scott,
Thanks. Kris read it and filled me in on the details as she read it.



report abuse
 

nick

posted November 29, 2006 at 10:35 am


“they might think that trying to explain how God did what he did in the cross to be beyond our comprehension. They know it works; they don’t know how.”
Christian that refuse to use the brains they were given. I’ve been told by so-called “spiritual leaders” that trying to understand such things as atonement is seeking “to put God in box” or “figure Him out”.
Yea well I’m sorry that I am passionate about knowing God as much as I can. You’re right a non-critical, elementary kind of understanding of Truth is much better.
They don’t want you think too much, because that would be dangerous or self-righteous.
Defending difficult doctrine with mystery shows that you don’t think critically and is just a lame excuse for believing a contradiction or foolish notion.



report abuse
 

Lukas McKnight

posted November 29, 2006 at 12:07 pm


Suave there, Nick; I point you over to Ted Gossard’s blog today which reminds us that it’s OK to say I don’t know. I don’t understand everything about how God works, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t put any thought into it. We all find ourselves at different places with God, and I think it’s necessary to listen to and respect each other with that in mind.



report abuse
 

James Petticrew

posted November 29, 2006 at 12:48 pm


I can’t remember where I read it now but I remember JI Packer of all people warning of reducing the cross to a series of “doctrines” and instead talked of models of atonement. Alister McGrath’s work at an academic and popular level I think is very good for showing the impact that the metaphors of atonement should have on us. The danger is of course pushing these metaphors to far, so we end up asking who the ransom was paid to? (God or Satan)or if Jesus paid for our sins therefore he must only have died for those who accept what he has done = limited atonement.
I want to keep a good deal of mystery when it comes to the atonement, I want stand before the cross in wonder and awe, not think I have it all sewn up in my mind



report abuse
 

nick

posted November 29, 2006 at 2:47 pm


Lukas,
i don’t disrespect people simply because they say they don’t know, and are open to others searching deeper.
what i disrespect is when people say they don’t know and belittle others who do more exploration into difficult doctrine than they do. They want people to believe that seeking to understand difficult doctrines like the atonement is a selfish or impossible task, and should be accepted as divine mysteries.
in other words, what they leave to mystery, they want everyone else too also, because they think that’s the way it is supposed to be.
they try to lay a burden of guilt on seekers that are too inquisitive for their sake, saying they are “trying to figure out God”. are you that kind of person?
don’t you think that is demeaning to those who are sincerely seeking truth?



report abuse
 

Mark Galli

posted November 29, 2006 at 2:59 pm


Scot,
Nice explanation. I get so weary of people who, in reaction, want to act like substitution is not in the New Testament, as well as those who act like it’s the only atonement theory.



report abuse
 

Terry Tiessen

posted November 29, 2006 at 4:21 pm


Thanks, Scot. A very fine letter. Maybe you can clarify just one thing for me. You summed up your belief very nicely: “In my view, the atonement involves each of these: Jesus died with us (identification), instead of us (substitution), and for us (benefaction). We need each, so let’s teach each.” I agree.
From other postings, I know that you are an Arminian. That has me wondering why you do not find it problematic to affirm both that Christ died “for” all and that, in so doing, he died “instead” of them. A number of Arminian systematic theologies in recent years have given up on the substitution because they believe (rightly, I think) that universalism results if Christ dies instead of everyone. Why do you not agree with them?
Thanks,
Terry



report abuse
 

Terry Tiessen

posted November 29, 2006 at 4:27 pm


Forgot to check the box when submitting my message and can’t find a way to subscribe without a new comment. Sorry.



report abuse
 

Lukas McKnight

posted November 29, 2006 at 4:36 pm


Nick-
I would never disrespect anyone, either, for having an answer; I think we need to be open to everything that everyone has to offer in regards to questions like this. All are in different places, and none is better than another. I agree that it is demeaning to those that are “sincerely seeking truth”, but don’t assume the people who subscribe to mystery are not inquisitive. I think that can be seen as equally offensive and unfair.



report abuse
 

nick

posted November 29, 2006 at 7:47 pm


true, but some are more inquisitive than others, are they not? that’s not saying they are morally superior, but people are different. we should just accept each other for our individual inquitiveness.
when people ascribe to mystery they should not try to impose this on others. and when people seek for more comprehension they shoud not impose this on others.
but i prefer to never stop seeking to understand by ascribing to mystery, and i think this is the best way if our goal is to know Truth. i think ascribing to mystery is basically giving up. that doesn’t mean i disrespect people that ascribe to mystery, just that i think they could go deeper.



report abuse
 

Bryan Riley

posted November 29, 2006 at 8:23 pm


This is a great explanation of Christ’s purpose. And, there are many scriptures that would support each of your points. Thanks.



report abuse
 

Robin Rhea

posted November 29, 2006 at 11:37 pm


Nick,
I am as fundamental as anyone reading these comments, and I love substitution and want to nail down every piece of theology I can, but you are way too critical of Scot. He has done a seminary level job of briefly laying out three positions eloquently. I agree that it would be beneficial for people to take an “I don’t know how” position, but I do the same thing. I believe in predestination and complementarianism, and when people ask me why God would choose some and not others, or why he would place men in positions of authority, I am forced to answer, the answers to those questions lie within God’s mind, not mine. So my theology has areas where I am forced to plead ignorance and apparently other peoples view of the atonement contains those spots.



report abuse
 

Robin Rhea

posted November 29, 2006 at 11:38 pm


Sorry… be beneficial for people *not to* take an “I don’t know position”



report abuse
 

Nick Mackison

posted November 30, 2006 at 3:35 am


Scot
Do you think that the penal substitution view is foundational to the others? From what I can gather, there was some interchange at WTS over this. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
PS Is there a link to the talks?
In Jesus



report abuse
 

Mike Clawson

posted December 1, 2006 at 12:05 pm


What about “Jesus died because of us”? That is, God didn’t kill him, we did. Jesus willingly suffered the worst oppression sinful human beings had to offer. He was a victim of all the violence and hatred and betrayal of humankind had to offer, but by responding to it with peace and forgiveness and ultimately resurrection he overcame evil with love. And set the stage for us to do the same.
Maybe that’s just a variation of “Christus Victor” (which I’m not quite sure fits into your schema either… did you intentionally leave it out, or did I just not recognize it in one of your three options?)



report abuse
 

Mike Clawson

posted December 1, 2006 at 12:20 pm


Also (on a different train of thought), I’ve heard a lot of evangelicals get really offended and upset by Steve Chalke’s description of penal substitution as “divine child abuse”. However, what I haven’t heard from them is an actual explanation of why penal substitution isn’t divine child abuse.
I’m not saying it is (or it isn’t). I’d just like a clear answer to “why not?” How does God punishing an innocent person for the sins of others just to satisfy his own wrath not equal “abuse”? If God wanted to forgive us, why didn’t he just forgive us? How does it help anything to make someone else suffer for our sins? I know the standard response is that sin requires a punishment, but why? Didn’t God set up the system in the first place? Couldn’t he have done it differently? And even if someone has to be punished, how does it make things better to punish an innocent? Seems like that just increases the injustice in the world. How does it make anything better?
I’m not saying that I’m personally ready to chuck substitutionary atonement. I’ve just not yet had any evangelicals give me good answers to those questions. Typically they just seem to get angry that people are even asking such things and then just restate the doctrine again without addressing the questions.
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted December 1, 2006 at 12:33 pm


Mike,
On #22: I would put Christus Victor, the paying of the ransom price of captivity in order to liberate us, with the “for us” theme but it could also be “instead of us.”
On #23: I don’t get those questions at the end, but I assume it’s something everyone else will catch.
First, it’s not Chalke; that stuff comes out of feminist theology.
Second, part of this hinges on your meaning of “abuse.” If abuse means unjustified violence against someone, then it can never be fair to describe the atonement as abuse.
Third, the Bible — say Rom 8:32 (“God [Father?] did not spare his own son”) — sees the atonement, the death of Christ, as an act of the Father sending the Son into the world to live, to die, to be raised and to send the Spirit. So, his death can’t simply be assigned to the opponents of Jesus.
Fourth, the problem I have with “divine/cosmic child abuse” is that it is rhetorically dangerous: who can defend abuse? No one. The better question is this: Is it justifiable — and on what grounds — to call the death of the Son, as an act of the Trinity, an act of the Father’s abuse of the Son. Didn’t Jesus say he gave his life willingly? If he did, can it ever be justifiable to call it an abusive action? Not in my mind.
The issue then is that the game is played with a nasty word: if you call penal substitution divine child abuse — this is rhetorical labelling if ever there is an example — then you win the game because no one wants to defend abuse.
The singular problem here is the overemphasis of penal subst in evangelical/Reformed theology. The backlash is the misguided and mistaken labelling of that theology as divine child abuse. Both need to get more biblical.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted December 1, 2006 at 1:01 pm


Mike,
It dawns on me that you’ve asked a 1st Century question: Why, then, did God have a Messiah that got crucified? That was the question those like Paul faced. What do you think?



report abuse
 

Ryan O

posted December 1, 2006 at 1:45 pm


I would like to add to the abusive child issue that Scot McKnight is addressing. I think abuse by the divine father of the divine son shows a problem in our understanding of the Trinity. I think you touched on it briefly in post 24. It gets me wondering, if the Father and Son are intimate and united as I get from reading the Gospels then I think you are right to point out the abuse fallacy from that angle. However, the abuse argument does raise issues for the penal substitution guys. As an argument in response to “hyper-penal atonement” view I can see where it might arise. I think the “hyper-penal” view kinda puts Jesus and the Father in opposition almost. The Father, as God of wrath must be appeased, and so the sacrifice, His own son, like some pagan Baal, is offered for us. This is also faulty understanding of the Trinity. This is pretty informative discussion for me, thanks to all who are participating. I know I am way out of my depth here, so feel free to constructively criticize.



report abuse
 

Mike Clawson

posted December 1, 2006 at 11:31 pm


Thanks for the response Scot and Ryan. It still doesn’t satisfy my questions though. I guess issue is this whole idea of God’s wrath needing to be “appeased”. Why would the death of someone, anyone, especially an innocent “appease” God? Is God so blood thirsty? That seems like a pretty frightening and unloving view of God. Again, if God’s wrath is the problem, can’t he just “get over it” – i.e. choose to forgive? Why does he need to take his anger out on someone? Do I really want to worship such a violent God?
I understand what you mean about “abuse” being inflammatory language, but I think it springs out of an analogy between human parents and God. Basically the “story” of penal substitution is that because of our sin God is angry with us. For him to maintain his justice and holiness, He has to take his anger out on someon (i.e. someone’s gotta pay). We should be the ones paying, but instead God sends his Son, who never actually sinned, and takes out his anger on him instead.
The analogy then, is to imagine what this would look like in a human family: a parent that gets so angry with their children when they screw up that they have to physically hurt them in punishment. And then, when one child screws up, instead of punishing them, the parent chooses to beat up the elder son who did nothing wrong. Would we call that good parenting? Would we say “Well, someone’s gotta pay, and isn’t it noble that the elder child is willing to take the punishment of the younger siblings?” Or would we say “That parent has some serious anger issues and probably needs counseling.”
So I think the “divine child abuse” question comes out of question about why we would hold God to a lower standard of mature, ethical behavior than we would hold other human beings to.
Inflammatory or no, I still think it’s a good question. And one that I still don’t have a good answer to.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted December 2, 2006 at 8:54 am


Mike,
You illustrate the problem: the way you have described penal substitution is with violent rhetoric that prejudices the case against it. Is this fair to the view? In other words, you define penal subst as violence/abuse and then illustrate it with that. Is that the way it is defined by its proponents? Not at all. I suggest read JI Packer’s “The Logic of Penal Substitution.” Agree or not, it is the standard.
First, you’ve defined the “penal” part as “wrath.” No, the punishment/penal part is death; wrath is divine reaction to sin and historic manifestation of discipline and judgment. Some overdo the wrath, make it the penal part, and they are mistaken. It is involved, but it is not the punishment. Paul is a “thanatologist” — concerned with death as the problem and punishment for sin.
I believe you’ve imagined it in a way that makes it look ridiculous. In other words, it is a caricature. You ask if God is “bloodthirsty” — you imply that is what God is and then who would defend that? No one. I don’t think God is bloodthirsty. No one who defends penal subst talks like this. It is only fair to the view to define it as it is defined.
Second, the proper rhetoric is to see it as God entering into our punishment (death, including wrath) instead of us in order to free us from that punishment. From beginning to end every metaphor of atonement must be seen essentially as an act of grace.
Third, penal substitution rhetoric is grounded in justice rhetoric: God is just; how God works must be just; penal substitution trades in that rhetoric.
Fourth: you ask for me what is the most powerful question: Did God have to do this? Couldn’t he just forgive? Does he hold us to a moral requirement — to forgive — that he himself does not perform himself? In other words, does God ask us to drop our grievances without justice but then himself only drop grievances after expressing wrath?
As I said before, I think this is the question some Christians asked from the start. Why did Jesus have to die? They explored various images, one of which was justice (Anselm by the way did this all through the image of God’s honor).
Now back to your question:
My own view is that our forgiveness often, if not always, involves an element of justice. To resort to your unfortunate analogy — that of child abuse: Do we ask an abused child to forgive her father without resorting to justice? I don’t think that is right, and you probably don’t either. I do believe some acts of forgiveness involve absorption of wrong without recourse to justice, but not nearly as often as some think.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.