Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Christology and Science 2 (RJS)

posted by xscot mcknight

The second case study in LeRon Shults’s book Christology and Sciencedeals with atonement and cultural anthropology – a topic if anything more controversial than incarnation and evolutionary biology. How should we articulate an understanding of the atonement appropriate for our day and age – and what role (if any) should studies of human nature, human history, and human culture play in our understanding of the atoning work of God through Jesus?
[SMcK adds: one of the highlights of this summary is that it points to the developmental nature of how we do theology. It points also to the importance of language. What the Bible shows is an ongoing series of expressions of God's atoning work, not one of which ever completely exhausts what atonement is and does. Thanks RJS for this stimulating summary of one of the finest theologians in the world today.]
Again Shults puts it quite bluntly: “A reforming Christology should articulate the saving power of God in a way that actually facilitates reformation. Continuing to depend on ancient and early modern philosophical and legal categories for explaining the Christian experience of salvation in our late modern context obscures the Gospel and alienates our disciplinary neighbors.” (p. 107)
(Ok ? I am stepping out of my depth here, so if those with more knowledge and background find fault with my use of terms it should lead to interesting discussion?)
Like expressions describing incarnation and sin, the various descriptions of the atonement did not develop in a vacuum. The objective realities of human culture and context and subjective influences of particular cultures and circumstances influenced the ways in which the atonement was and is framed and understood. Shults discusses the history of ideas relating to atonement in terms of three pairs of concepts: Particular and Universal; Law and Order; Us and Them.
Particular and Universal: Expressions of the atonement develop in the context of understanding how a particular human (Adam, Jesus) influences the being of an entire class (humanity). The Logos assumed humanity, became united with humanity and healed humanity. A thread of universalism permeates the writings of many early church fathers as a result of this understanding of the nature of the atonement — what has been assumed as a class has been healed. Views of atonement changed when the human nature was reconsidered as an attribute of a collection of individuals rather than a reality in and of itself.
Law and Order: Cultural assumptions about law and order had a strong influence on the development of atonement theories as well; ransom, satisfaction, substitution, governmental ? expressions of the atoning act of God through Christ that rely on the overriding concern of justice and in many cases justice with mercy. Philosophical shifts and changes in the very structures of our societies and communities undermine the usefulness of these expressions.
A taste of Shults’s way of expressing it:

The proper theological response here is not the facile adaptation of the political power of the church to the latest social theory. The radically redemptive reconciliation that is connected to the agency of Jesus creates a kingdom that is not “of this world” although it is transformative “in the world.” Jesus’ way of acting challenged the idea that human flourishing could be achieved solely by following the rules of “the law.” It cannot be achieved by conformity to any particular human theory of jurisprudence. (p. 81)

Us and Them: Modern sociology has explored the role of differentiation (us vs. them) in culture, with socio-biologists suggesting that need to differentiate us and them is not cultural – but rather biological, a trait that enhances the survival of the species. These disciplines bring some insight into expressions of atonement.

Unfortunately the philosophical hardening of the categories us and them has registered an effect on many traditional theories of atonement. … The irony is hard to miss. Here the doctrine of at-one-ment is precisely not about reconciliation and union, but about the violent exclusion (and in some theories the endless torture) of the other. … The question here is not whether there are (or should be) differentiations but whether a harsh separation between us and them ought to be the driving force behind the Christian doctrine of atonement. (p. 86-87)

Scot should be writing this synopsis ? if you want an overview in somewhat less academic language try Embracing Grace and A Community Called Atonement. Many of the ideas emphasized by Shults are also present in these books. (Not that there is total agreement; but there is a thick common thread.)
Shults makes the point that we need an expression of the atoning work of God through Jesus that takes into account the entire story — the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — not emphasizing any of these to the exclusion of the others. We would also do well to realize the role that context and culture has played in traditional articulations of the atonement as we wrestle with how to understand and express the atonement in our day and age. Jesus did not come to every place ? every time in an ephemeral way, but to a specific time and place within history. The broad task of defining atonement should integrate the insights from sociology and cultural anthropology along with Biblical exegesis and theology and church history.
Now to the question: I am interested in your thoughts here. Shults claims, and I agree, that culture influences our thinking about the atoning work of Christ, and that Christology should articulate the saving power of God in a way that actually facilitates reformation. So … what aspect or understanding of the atoning work of Christ hits you where you live (i.e. “facilitates reformation”)?



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Kyle

posted September 9, 2008 at 2:06 am


Like I said in the last discussion of this book, I think this book is too brief at times. His historical analyses make this point. I completely agree that our formulations are culturally shaped, but since his responses to the historical articulations are so brief I really feel that he poorly made this point (although I agree with it). I would also contend that our historical formulations are Spiritually shaped as well though, which doesn’t seem to receive much credit in this work (potentially for his fear of alienating the other disciplines who deny the Spirit’s guidance?).
I do want to take up one point where you say, “A thread of universalism permeates the writings of many early church fathers as a result of this understanding of the nature of the atonement.” Do you mean universalism as the universal extent of the atonement, or do you mean universalism as a particualrly type of soteriology? When we use the term it usually refers to the latter, and if that is the case then I don’t think the point (which I can’t remember Shults making) can be defended. Whereas you clearly see universalism in Origen (early 3rd centurty) and Gregory of Nyssa (late 4th century), outside of those two early church fathers, I would argue its hard to contend the that the thread permeates their writings, and it is particularly hard to make this claim in regards to the apostolic fathers. Now, if you instead meant to say that the belief that the atonement had universal benefits permeated Patristic writing, then I agree completely. But I disagree that universalism permeated many of their writings.



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T

posted September 9, 2008 at 7:46 am


RJS,
If you’ve stepped out of your depth, rest assured that you’re in deeper than most of us can handle! For those of us closer to shore, we can barely see you! ;)
I think I do get at least some of Shults’ point, though. For me (maybe ironically as a lawyer) I’m not one who thinks I’ve got to give/explain/demonstrate to someone the so-called ‘bad news’ of God’s legal condemnation before I can articulate the good news of Christ. I like this: “A reforming Christology should articulate the saving power of God in a way that actually facilitates reformation.” One of the ways I think about Christ and offer (articulate) what he’s about to others is as a ‘Way’–the clearest and best Path that God has given to us all to follow; Following him, becoming the kind of person he is, is how humans can be part of God’s reconciling of all things instead of their continued fracturing. One can’t just receive atonement from God then go practice something else with his fellow man. Atonement with God and man is a path we are invited (and commanded) to learn to walk with Christ, and he has blazed the trail. The one who hears what Christ says to do and learns to do it, that one is blessed and is a blessing.



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Brian McL

posted September 9, 2008 at 7:51 am


RJS: I think I’m going to dodge your question directly because I’m curious about something. I’ve not read the books so I’d like your feedback on this question: is Schults contradicting himself?
For example, it seems that the essence of his work is to state that we must reform theology based upon our contemporary understanding of the sciences. In other words, the old metaphors/descriptions don’t work.
However, in your summary today he speaks of the “not of this world” nature of the kingdom and actually warns against adapting any social theory (of any age) to explain the kingdom: “not the facile adaptation of the political power of the church to the latest social theory…It cannot be achieved by conformity to any particular human theory of jurisprudence. (p. 81)” Does this negate his premise…or am I completely misreading him? (I admit, it is over my head!)



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JKG

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:42 am


RJS,
I think that the greatest challenge to a contemporary western cultural understanding of atonement is having an awareness (1) that there is any wrong to be atoned for and (2) that I have had a part in creating or facilitating that wrong. Our culture goes to great lengths to allow us to excuse any action of our own and blame others for the wrongs we have suffered. We have outsourced our guilt.
JKG



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RJS

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:47 am


Kyle,
Origen and Gregory of Nyssa are certainly the two big ones on universalism. I am not enough of an expert to go much beyond this on short notice. I think universalism and universal benefit are both part of the picture when considering the atonement.
On the guidance of Spirit – I can’t speak for Shults, although I doubt he would deny such a role, or suppress it out of fear of alienation. However – I would argue that the role of the Spirit was then and now. The Spirit did not act at one definitive time in history to inspire the NT and patristic writers to understand and express the atonement (or incarnation) in the one and only correct way. Neither did the Spirit uniquely inspire Calvin or Luther (who threw out or devalued some patristic concepts). The Spirit acts today guiding our grappling with the gospel and the atonement and our articulation of this concept if we seek and listen. This may seem too nebulous and uncertain to some … certainly there is a drive for certainty and authority in much of conservative Protestantism. But I find the evidence inescapable – we have, not magic book, universal propositions and neat legal transaction, but church in relationship with God guided by the Spirit.



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BRBJR

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:53 am


I, too would like to hear the response to the universalism question.
I think that too many times we presume that the Bible and its context is so different than our current historical context and, that unless we fill in those gaps, we are missing a great deal of Truth.
The fact is, atonement in all aspects mentioned by the book, is not only mentioned in the Scriptures, but is present in the current culture of Roman rule. NT writers were constantly using the Particular/universal, Law & Order and us/them distinctions and contrasts. Though coming through a distinctly Jewish culture, it was nevertheless presented against a thoroughly Roman backdrop. Modern society of this present World is no different and neither is the Atonement. The same dynamics are in play.
So, the study of these dynamics is nothing more than a continuation of the process engaged in by Jesus and the Apostles in the very early NT period.



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BRBJR

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:57 am


I, too would like to hear the response to the universalism question.
I think that too many times we presume that the Bible and its context is so different than our current historical context and, that unless we fill in those gaps, we are missing a great deal of Truth.
The fact is, atonement in all aspects mentioned by the book, is not only mentioned in the Scriptures, but is present in the current culture of Roman rule. NT writers were constantly using the Particular/universal, Law & Order and us/them distinctions and contrasts. Though coming through a distinctly Jewish culture, it was nevertheless presented against a thoroughly Roman backdrop. Modern society of this present World is no different and neither is the Atonement. The same dynamics are in play.
So, the study of these dynamics is nothing more than a continuation of the process engaged in by Jesus and the Apostles in the very early NT period



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BRBJR

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:57 am


I, too would like to hear the response to the universalism question.
I think that too many times we presume that the Bible and its context is so different than our current historical context and, that unless we fill in those gaps, we are missing a great deal of Truth.
The fact is, atonement in all aspects mentioned by the book, is not only mentioned in the Scriptures, but is present in the current culture of Roman rule. NT writers were constantly using the Particular/universal, Law & Order and us/them distinctions and contrasts. Though coming through a distinctly Jewish culture, it was nevertheless presented against a thoroughly Roman backdrop. Modern society of this present World is no different and neither is the Atonement. The same dynamics are in play.
So, the study of these dynamics is nothing more than a continuation of the process engaged in by Jesus and the Apostles in the very early NT period



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Mick

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:57 am


This may be simplistic but I think of 1Jn4. This is love, not that we love God but that he loved us and gave himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins – and for the sins of the whole world. I have been loved to death and I am being re-formed by this generous, self-giving love. By grace, may I learn to love like this!



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ChrisB

posted September 9, 2008 at 9:00 am


what aspect or understanding of the atoning work of Christ hits you where you live?
The substitutionary part. It’s God’s willingness to take my penalty on Himself that makes it such an amazing thing.
And that is the part our society has the most difficulty with — probably because we’ve gotten so used to it. Once upon a time the assumption was that you had to work very hard to please (the) god(s) or to be (re)united with him/them.
After a few hundred years of Christian influence in the west, though, people have absorbed the notion of grace without the ugly part — i.e., all the stuff about sin and why we need grace.
So the popular assumption now is “of course God’s going to accept me — He’s loving and forgiving.” We have lost any notion that God is just.
I haven’t read this book, so I’m not criticizing him specifically, but I get twitchy when people start talking about re-interpreting the atonement because too often that seems to lead to dropping any talk about sin, punishment, and satisfying justice.
Sometimes instead of figuring out how to express the atonement in our culture’s terms, we need to teach our culture the proper terms. If they’ve forgotten about justice, then we need to teach them about it. Once they have the correct categories, then we can communicate with them in a meaningful way.



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RJS

posted September 9, 2008 at 9:17 am


ChrisB,
I think you are right, that our culture doesn’t see guilt and sin part and thus tends to minimize or deny this. Any view of atonement that starts with a basically good humanity needing an example misses the point. But I don?t see the strong emphasis on deep personal sin and depravity in the NT either. Certainly sin and repentance are important, but there is no “grovel in the dung heap” message – or if there is where?



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tripp fuller

posted September 9, 2008 at 9:20 am


As for universalism in the ealry church I would suggest Steven Harmon’s book “Every Knee Should Bow: Biblical Rationales for Universal Salvation in Early Christian Thought.” In addition to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa mentioned by Kyle above he also examines Clement of Alexandria (160-215 C.E.).
As for the question posed, I imagine the part that hits me where I live is something Shults focused on in the book – agency. God’s gift-initiated grace not only reconciles us to God but empowers and calls us to participate in the reconciling agency of God present in Jesus. His ability to describe the uniqueness of Christ’s agency while we are still invited into a similar dynamism with God is impressive.



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Jen

posted September 9, 2008 at 9:27 am


ChrisB – while there’s certainly a time and place for creating your own playing field, as you propose, there is a danger in that people can get carried away and forget there is a real world to deal with.
You could make a fairly good analogy to the fairy-tale classics we all know: Cinderella, Snow White, etc. These stories have been adapted FAR beyond their original intents, and while they strongly influence our culture, they are also influenced BY our culture, and by each culture that has used them along the way. Now, your folktale purist may come along and insist that there is only way to understand these tales, and that is within the original contexts, and certainly there’s a great deal to gain by learning German, studying the sociopolitical context of the Brothers Grimm, etc. But the success of educating an entire nation of youngsters in the proper categories for understanding their favorite princesses is a long shot. And what do we do with Disney – declare him an Emerging heretic and ban his version? Do we refuse to tell the story of Rapunzel until children have demonstrated competence in Huguenot French ways of thinking? Do we insist that the point of Little Red Riding Hood is that women should beware the advances of men lest they become prostitutes, or do we allow that later interpretations such as female competence (Red escaping on her own) or even the need for careful and thorough investigation of a situation (e.g. “Hoodwinked,” which came out in theaters in 2005), are legitimate?
Same general idea, although it’s easier to play with the language of a tale like Little Red Riding Hood than it is to loosen our grip on the terminology of the atonement.



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JKG

posted September 9, 2008 at 9:36 am


RJS,
I don’t think that recognizing the need for atonement requires groveling in the dung heap. It does, however, require reaching out for help. I have to know that I need help. I have to be able to put aside my own understanding and recognize that someone else may have a way out for me.
A healthy newborn baby does not understand the sacrifices its parents make for its sake, but it does reach out to them in its need.
JKG



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RJS

posted September 9, 2008 at 9:48 am


JKG
Yes – but was the help needed a legal transaction – or something much more that this?
It seems to me that some of our emphasis on guilt and substitution misses the boat because it is tied too much to individuals and individual guilt. The atoning work of God through Christ is so much bigger than this.



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ChrisB

posted September 9, 2008 at 9:48 am


RJS, I’m not sure I’d say grovel in a dung heap, but I think the NT teaches the extent of our sin, at least in part, in passages like the sermon on the mount and the first couple of chapters of Romans — showing us that God’s standards are much higher than we’d like to think.
Of course, Luther’s nightmare passage was simply the “greatest commandment.” If the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, then the greatest transgression must to be to fail to do that — something that I’ve never really done at all.
I’m certainly not one to say that the atonement was only about substitution (for that matter, I think most conservatives don’t think that, it just gets lost in the debate), but, like you say, if we miss it, we miss the point.
Jen, I’m not sure what you mean by “creating your own playing field.”
Teaching our culture about holiness and justice is a big job, but I don’t think it’s as complicated as teaching them “Huguenot French ways of thinking.” Frankly, I think (at this point) most of the elements are still in our culture, we just have to get them to think about them properly.
Though it’s certainly not the whole story, too much of the NT speaks about Christ giving himself as a ransom or payment for our sins. If we lose that, we’ve lost the gospel. If we can’t communicate that to our culture, it really doesn’t matter what we communicate to them.
BTW, there are many ways to accomplish this. I think when CS Lewis talked about “baptizing the imagination,” he was thinking along these lines — introducing through cultural media the ideas that people will need to have to understand the gospel.
He used Aslan to teach children about substitutionary atonement; we can use film, fiction, and music to teach them about justice and holiness.



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RJS

posted September 9, 2008 at 9:54 am


ChrisB,
Does Lewis use Aslan to teach subsitutionary atonement? It seemed to me much more like ransom, but maybe I am getting terms and concepts mixed. When I read Irenaeus my first reaction was that I finally understood Lewis.



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JKG

posted September 9, 2008 at 10:11 am


RJS,
Clearly Christ’s atonement is much larger than one’s personal salvation. But that is where the understanding of it begins. The awareness and appreciation of Christ’s work for the Creation is something that grows over time in one’s heart as much as in one’s head.
All of us willing to even approach this conversation have the benefit of looking at “Christ’s atoning work” from within the church. But what does it look like from outside our faith community?
JKG



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ChrisB

posted September 9, 2008 at 10:13 am


RJS, I guess you can make the case that Aslan’s sacrifice is closer to the ransom approach, but it teaches about dying for someone else’s sin — an idea that can be appropriated for substitutionary atonement.



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Jason Powell

posted September 9, 2008 at 10:22 am


Chris B.
Lewis did NOT promote Pen Sub in his books. Aslan’s death was a primary example of Christus Victor. Aslan’s willingness to die broke the curse of the white witch by tapping into “the deep magic”. The issue of cosmic evil had to be dealt with if Aslan’s creatures were ever to be freed. Same goes for us. Any atonement theory which ignores the fact that there was a serpent in God’s good garden that had to be dealt with is missing a large chunk of the cosmic scope of what Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection accomplished. The problem with Pen Sub is that it fully bypasses the bigger picture and narrows in too much on the individual transaction. I’m not saying our personal sin is now off the table and unimportant, but we must place our bondage to sin in the context of a broken universe that also needs redemption.



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Ranger

posted September 9, 2008 at 10:30 am


“The Spirit acts today guiding our grappling with the gospel and the atonement and our articulation of this concept if we seek and listen. This may seem too nebulous and uncertain to some”
That’s a great point RJS, and one I completely agree with. Due to culture, language and a myriad of factors the Spirit speaks to us in certain ways at certain times. Those are of course not contradictory, but may seem as such due to our limitations based on the criteria above. As such, we constantly need a fresh word from the Spirit and must seek fresh ways to share that word in our world.



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BRBJR

posted September 9, 2008 at 10:37 am


Jason,
Is it not significant that, although the impact of Christ’s redemption is universal, it is narrowed to the point of individually dealing with the original sinner?
Thus the titles The Second Man $ The Last Adam?



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T

posted September 9, 2008 at 11:20 am


I’ll go ahead and get in trouble. To become one with someone, to love someone, their debts become your debts, their burdens, your burdens. This is what God does, and requires that we do (it is “the law of Christ” as Paul says), and it usually costs the innocent party something. I think we start to miss it when our discussions of the atonement (the cross) don’t include our own (painful) participation in and continuation of that work. I’m all for giving Christ his due here, but we make a mistake if we think ‘the atonement’ God has in mind is localized to Jesus’ cross, or that our cross doesn’t play a role in making one out of many. Of course, none of us can satisfy “the debt” we owe to God, only Jesus could do that. But the point, even of an appreciation of ‘the depths of our depravity’, is that there are many similar debts we owe each other that are also impossible to pay and must often be painfully forgiven for atonement to happen. Love is for grown-ups. God has revealed what’s involved in it through Jesus–its costs and its glories. We must learn from Christ how to love even our enemies and give to them, as he did, and to continue the un-fracturing of relations. So, I guess I agree with ChrisB, that the “subtitutionary” part is the most powerful, but that loving our enemies, picking up our cross, etc. is intended to have a similar substitutional ‘atoning’ effect (not just our telling of how Christ sacrificed). Our own sacrificial love is a/the primary “articulation” and continuation of Christ’s work of atonement.



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 9, 2008 at 12:00 pm


I like the way he is “re-framing” theology, but it is Christian at core and leaves the issues of the origins of Christian faith alone…Theology has been the Church’s attempt to “re-frame” Christ’s life and message…there are many “re-framings” out there…this is the necessary task of philosophy…
BUT, what about the questions concerning the reality of Christian faith in the first place…within it’s proper historical context…Tradition developed out of a Tradition…and the original tradition is being questioned as to what that is…historically…
But, if you want a “content community”, one must find a way to understand the “gospel” so that others are pacified and find “meaning”…but the theological frame is based on faith and not on reason…
Reason’s questions are historical, cultural, social, political, “traditional”, …separating Tradition from real history is the discipline of historical science…



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ChrisB

posted September 9, 2008 at 12:11 pm


Jason, I don’t want to emphasize penal substitution to the exclusion of all else, but in looking at the other angles on the atonement, don’t forget that Christ loved me and gave Himself for me.



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Simon Fowler

posted September 9, 2008 at 12:17 pm


Thanks for being willing to take on and articulate this book for us RJS. It’s a fascinating and crucial topic.
Brian [#3] asks a very good question. I’m keen to know how Shults avoids that apparent contradiction without then appearing to achieve the apparent impossibility of a transcultural articulation.
On first reading I love this statement: “Christology should articulate the saving power of God in a way that actually facilitates reformation”. But I’m not so sure that ‘actual reformation’ is necessarily the litmus test of Christology properly articulated. We should expect that ‘actual rejection’ be an equally verifying response to true Christology. So what other verification do we have that Christology has been articulated truly? I don’t know, but I think it has to be tied to love and relationship (say, the Jesus Creed).
I agree with the need for culturally appropriate articulation of Christology. But I keep getting the feeling we’re overstating and overcomplicated the distances between cultures. Human beings haven’t really fundamentally changed much over space or time so isn’t the range of possibilities of the meaning of Christology somewhat constrained? Isn’t that what enables the gospel to so readily enter every tribe and nation?



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RJS

posted September 9, 2008 at 12:56 pm


Angie (#24)
You are right – Shults’s approach is Christian at the core and acts within the Christian tradition. He questions understanding and articulation, but not the basic Christian story.
Are you asking a question – about the basis or reason for that faith in the first place? About historical studies of Jesus and Christian origins?
And on the face isn’t separating Tradition from real history only the discipline of historical science if it is assumed that Tradition is wrong? More reasonably the discipline of historical science is to search for real history – which may or may not agree with Tradition. As this is Scot’s area of expertise not mine, he’ll probably correct me in some fashion…but I think that this important to remember.



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 9, 2008 at 3:56 pm


It is not a matter of proving “right or wrong” premises. It is a matter of truth and reason. Faith seeks to believe to create meaning for oneself and one’s community. Reason seeks to know to understand and seek to understand a wider context than one’s own community of faith.



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RJS

posted September 9, 2008 at 4:16 pm


Reason seeks to know to understand and seek to understand a wider context than one?s own community of faith.
There is an undercurrent and connotation here that you need to spell out. I would say that reason seeks to know and understand period. Real history is great – but you never get “real” history if you predetermine what counts as real. And this cuts both ways.
Certainly it is legitimate ask questions concerning the reality of Christian faith in the first place. That isn’t Shults’s aim in this book.



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Mike Mangold

posted September 9, 2008 at 4:46 pm


RJS-
Am I missing something not mentioned here? My original take on your posting was that scientific disciplines like sociobiology and evolutionary psychology will force us to reinterpret scripture (in this case atonement). Are you asking us if we agree with that or how that is to be done? If the latter, I think the common ground will be the mind and therefore is a subject of psychology. I find it pretty exciting myself and personally very ripe for “reformation.”



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:37 pm


Reason seeks to know and understand period. Yes, but, I was thinking in the context of Shults book. He is giving a reason for Christian faith. I don’t believe that there is much difference in any other tradition, as far as understanding within one’s context of a faith tradition…as far as the psychological aspects of identification. He does seem to undercut the evoultionary understanding of us/them mentality…but I would have to read the book to fully get the picture. Sorry, if I have mis-read what your review meant to say.



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Richard

posted September 9, 2008 at 10:58 pm


I find that the following is of revelence to the discussion I hope that others see it also.
Faith and Reason
Soren Kierkegaard
It is in the interest of faith to make a final, absolute decision. It is in the interest of the understanding to keep ”deliberation” alive. Just as the police would be embarrassed if there were no crimes, so the understanding is embarrassed if deliberation were completed. Faith wants the absolute; the understanding wants prolongation of thought.
There is only one proof–that of faith. It is impossible for a person to hold back his conviction and push ahead with reasons. If I actually have a firm conviction, then it is higher than reasons; it is actually the conviction that sustains the reasons, not the reasons which sustain the conviction. ”Reasons” can lay an egg no more than a rooster can, at most a wind egg, and no matter how much intercourse they have with each other they never beget or bear a conviction. A conviction arises elsewhere.
There is only one proof for the truth of Christianity–the inward proof, argumentum spiritus sancti (the argument of the Holy Spirit). The Apostle John intimates this: ”If we receive the testimony of men” (this is all the historical proofs and considerations), ”the testimony of God is greater” –that is, the inward testimony is greater. And then, ”He who believes the Son of God has the testimony in himself” (1 John 5:9,10).
It is not reasons that justify faith in God’s son. Just the opposite–faith in God’s Son is the testimony. Faith is the movement of infinity within itself, and it cannot be otherwise. Everything previous is preparatory, preliminary, something which disappears as soon as the conviction arrives. Otherwise there would be no resting in a conviction, for then to have conviction would mean to perpetually repeat the reasons. Faith itself is the testimony. Faith is the justification.



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RJS

posted September 10, 2008 at 4:09 am


Angie,
Shults is not giving a reason for the Christian faith. This book is not a defense, justification, or rationalization of Christianity. If anyone reads it as such, they will be sorely disappointed.
As a theologian Shults starts with Christian faith and is asking how Christians can think through it in the light of the “wisdom of our day” in contrast to the contexts of days gone by.
He also starts with the premise that the wrong answer is to assume the scientific, philosophical, and cosmological understanding of the NT writers (or OT writers) and earlier church thinkers is divinely inspired and unerring.
Thus (as Mike points out in #30) evolutionary biology, genetics, sociobiology, neuroscience, cultural anthropology, particle physics, … are all part of the matrix from which we work in our day and age. These may cause us to reform our way of thinking about key Christian doctrines and our interpretation of key historical events.



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 10, 2008 at 7:27 am


I FULLY UNDERSTAND YOU, RJS. It is taking science as the premise to base theology on…which changes according to scientific discovery. (My husband is a physist and won 1 of 100 Templeton awards for creating a course on Science/Religion). My husband discusses that we base “truth” on faith irregardless of what it is in…even science is based on theory as fact…that is if it works. But, there are many theories that work in physics depending on the outcome one wants…that means that beforehand things are pre-determined by the scientist…this IS IMMORAL IN THE SOCIAL REALM. Why do I say this? because hisorically science has driven some to “outcome based” societies….what do we have? Nazi Germany!!! We do not determine another’s life, that is IF we believe in a “personal God”,,,but EVEN IF NOT, isn’t there something that smacks of discrimnation, and man’s determination that we, as Americans, resist…Perhaps, American’s worldview is wrong…but is was based on Enlightenment principles…of all men are created equal…which is the basis of HUMAN RIGHTS…RESPECT AND DIGNITY. Perhaps we should dissolve how we understand human rights…based on THE SCIENCE OF ECONOMICS???. THE VALUE OF A PERSON’S LIFE IS THE ECONOMIC VALUE OF IT!!!!I don’t see how one can fullfill another’s “mission” for them…that is socilistic and communistic and doesn’t lend itself to motivation…so, perhaps, one should be “beaten into submission” to do one’s duty, or “trained unto righteousness” like ISLAM…all based on a faith that is unreasonable…What causes one to “give up his life”, what one has passion for…An individual’s faith cannot be determined by someone else NOR BIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS…SUCH AS EMERGENTS!!!!Impersonability does not motivate a PERSON!!!



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RJS

posted September 10, 2008 at 8:21 am


Angie,
You may understand me, but I clearly do not understand your point.



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Angie Van De Merwe

posted September 10, 2008 at 10:40 am


Thanks for responding RJS. My point is that reason is based on faith in something….Since faith can be based on reason, then, science determines how humans understand “life” (physical), but if reason is applied to organizational structures, then, individuals within that organizational structure, surely would be included in building “team-spirit” and not ignored, and determined before the individual in the organization has any input. That is what I mean.



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mariam

posted September 11, 2008 at 4:52 am


This is my understanding of the atonement and how it has helped me:
Jesus tells us constantly in the Gospels to forgive and love, not only our brother but our enemy. He tells us that sin is not just the action but the anger, lust, selfishness that precedes it. He tells us that we have no right to judge others because not one of us has the moral authority to do so. Instead we are to forgive one another and leave justice to God.
God has written his law on our hearts but we are still not able to not sin. We reach out to heaven but we have feet of clay. Yet our sense of justice demands that a price be paid for wrongs done to us and ours. So we are perpetually punishing one another. And in our hearts we know that we deserve punishment as well. We are “children of wrath” – still captive to our selfish lower nature, but righteously indignant at the sins of others and demanding satisfaction. We are caught in a perpetual cycle of sin, guilt, punishment and fear of punishment. This leads to every manner of evil.
The solution is forgiveness but forgiveness does not satisfy our demand for justice. And yet, when we condemn others we condemn ourselves. So God Himself in the person of Christ satisfies our demand for justice. He gives His life as a ransom for many, so that I can forgive you and you can forgive me and we can be born again, not only with our own debt cancelled but able to let go of the debt we are owed.
Sin causes the world to be out of balance. Christ’s sacrifice restores the balance. Even from his suffering on the cross, Christ calls for us to be forgiven, because, like children we do not know what we are doing. When I am forgiven I need not spend my time worrying about escaping punishment for the suffering I have caused and I can live in the truth and stand before God without having to cover myself. When I forgive you I can stop being angry about the suffering you have caused because that debt has been paid. I can put that behind me and work on becoming the person God wants me to be.
In the Beatitudes Jesus explains how those who suffer are blessed. They are blessed because they are also, through their suffering, paying for the sins of the world. Like Lazarus, their reward is not in the treasures of this world, but the blessing of God. Through his death Christ models for us bringing worth and meaning to suffering.
Jesus taught that the material things of this world are transitory and not worthy of our time and devotion. What is important is those things that are eternal. Unless we are able to let go of our obsession with avoiding pain and death we will always be held hostage to decay and death. But we have a hard time believing that because we are mortal and nothing seems more important to us than our survival in the moral realm. So Christ shows us that death is not the end by dying and then rising from the dead.
Christ’s death then atones for our sins and satisfies our demand for justice, making it possible for us to forgive ourselves and one another and be truly born again; it brings meaning to suffering and it disproves and atones for our disbelief in the possibiity of a life beyond this one. We are freed from the fear of death.



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