Jesus Creed

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David Opderbeck on That Soul-Sort Narrative

posted by Scot McKnight

David Opderbeck is known to all readers of this blog; he weighs in today on the soul-sort narrative I have done on Brian McLaren.

 

That Other Soul-Sort Narrative:  The Problem of People as Targets

We’ve had some good and robust conversation about Brian McLaren’s “soul-sort” narrative.  Many of us resonate in some way with the problem Brian identifies, even though we can’t go down the road of his solution.  

 I say resonate “in some way” because I suspect that, for most of us, the problem isn’t that there will be a final judgment — a “sort” of “souls” in which some people will be separated from God and judged.  In fact, I think most people intuitively know that judgment is a good thing.  There can be no “justice” without “judgment.”  God would not be “just” or “good” if horrific crimes — such as Priests and parents sexually abusing children, Hutus killing Tutsis families with machetes, Thai girls being sold into sex slavery — were never judged and punished.  The same is true for the multitudes of seemingly petty acts of violence, lies, and corruption in our world — husbands cheating on their wives, children spitting in the faces of their parents, businesses lying to their customers, and on, and on, and on.

I wonder:  how many of you have had moments of existential angst in which you have thought, “almost everything I do in life is ultimately meaningless, apart from witnessing to the gospel?”  And how many of you, somewhere deep down, have believed that your primary task in this life is to convince everyone else to think, believe, worship and live pretty much like you?


I suspect that, for most of us who are Christians, the
problem also isn’t that God’s plan of redemption runs exclusively through
Christ.  When we take the bread and
the cup during communion, when we meditate on Christ’s cry of “my God, my
God, why have you forsaken me,” we understand at some deep gut level that
only in this way, only by God Himself becoming man and bearing the full weight
of evil, could atonement be made for, and victory achieved over, the terrible
weight of sin.

The vague discomfort many of us feel, discomfort which at
times bubbles up into despair, I think, is about how we believe the power of
the Cross is made available to the
world and about our own roles in that
process.  Many of us have grown up
to believe that people are basically targets for the marketing of the
“gospel” and that nothing in life really matters other than
“telling people about Jesus.”  It is a sort of “Christian nihilism” about life in
this world.

There is no doubt that the logic of the “Chick
Tract” gospel, the “evangelism explosion,” the “Four
Spiritual Laws,” and so on, produces the beliefs I described above.  And there is no doubt that this logic
has fueled Evangelicalism at the popular level at least since the Great
Awakenings.  This  is the kind of
“soul sort” narrative that I believe cries out for correction.

The spirituality produced by this kind of soteriology is a
perduring sense of crushing obligation, interlaced with tired resignation, and
underwritten by a gnawing doubt that this whole project is a delusion in which
a tiny, tiny handful of people convince themselves that they alone among the
billions of souls in the world are “chosen” or “special.”  This resignation, obligation, and doubt,
turned inwards, produces bitterness, anger, and defensiveness.  Does any of this sound familiar with
respect to North American Evangelicalism? 

This kind of spirituality, produced by this kind of
soteriology, causes us to view people as “targets” rather than as
human beings.  Brian McLaren made
an observation like this in one of his early books that literally moved me to
tears.  Tony Jones described
something similar in one of his books about his early experiences in campus
ministry.  Their honesty about this
is what first drew me to the emerging church conversation a number of years
ago.  Oh, to be free of the feeling
that every moment with an “unbeliever” is at heart a fraught,
spiritually supercharged encounter with someone “other,” one of the
“lost,” in which my primary objective, perhaps my only meaningful
objective, must be to “win” a convert!  Oh, to be free to relate simply to others around me as human
beings, to understand their religious and social views and practices
respectfully on their own terms, to enter into the concerns of their lives
without making judgments, to explain gently and lovingly the basis for my hope
in Christ, and to leave the future in God’s hands, with great hope in God’s
goodness!  Oh, to follow Jesus in a
way that flows out organically from my being, to take up his “light”
burden and yoke, to be as Jesus at
the table fellowshipping unselfconsciously with sinners!

Alternatively, many others will opt for a spirituality of
blithe selfishness — one which simply ignores the problem and focuses
primarily therapeutically on self.  
Out of this therapeutic spirituality a self-contained sub-culture
emerges to provide products and services that allow adherents to reassure
themselves that they are, in fact, special.  Does any of this sound
familiar with respect to North American Evangelicalism?  Oh, to participate in significant and
subtle expressions of culture that are honest about the human experience and
honest with God!

So, what sort of
soteriology can produce this different kind of spirituality?

 Is it necessary to give up on the notion
of “judgment” altogether? 
Is it better to think of “God” as some sort of benevolent
spirit that infuses the evolving consciousness of the world, rather than as the
transcendent Triune God of historic Christian theology?  Is it best to think of Jesus primarily
as a moral teacher rather than as the Christ who made atonement for sin?
 

I think the answer to these last three questions is a
resounding “no.”  In
fact, I think the only way forward is
to recapture a thick understanding of the Triune God and the atoning work of
Christ.  In my view, the tragic
irony of popular evangelical “soul sort” spirituality is that it
ultimately has very little to do with the Triune God, the power of Christ’s
death and resurrection, or the justice of God’s judgments.  More on that in a later post.



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Mick Porter

posted April 14, 2010 at 5:05 am


David, you raise some excellent points.
I was once part of a movement that acted as if it was the One True Church, and was entirely geared towards evangelism (actually, recruiting). One story: there was a female member who was somewhat mentally disabled; she would still walk the city streets with us as we went out in pairs inviting people to church. One of the guys became concerned for her salvation – since she wasn’t actually doing the inviting. They started to pressure her to not just accompany us, but to stop strangers on the street and invite them. That seems like another lifetime ago…
Absolutely, the solution is to better understand the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, and to better understand God’s justice/judgment – particularly in respect to justice being good news to victims. I made a short video of a friend’s testimony of his attempts to proclaim the gospel to the immensely broken.



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rodney neill

posted April 14, 2010 at 5:47 am


test



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Your Name

posted April 14, 2010 at 6:03 am


Why does God need to be placated/appeased with the blood sacrifice of his Son in order to avert his wrath and anger on a sinner…no wonder many people are turned off by this satisfaction theory of the atonement and seek other ways to understand it!
There is innumerable different theories about the ‘afterlife’ both within Christianity and also other religions…it is haed to be confident in one approach amidst so many other competing claims about the reality of the heaven, hell, judgement and afterlife.
If I had future knowledge that a plane was about to crash killing all the occupants on board I would do everything in my power to warn the passengers not to board that flight….if I thought people would have to endure eternal agony and pain in hell then the most loving thing I could do would be to continually warn them of such a disastrous and horrible fate unless they repented. I do not believe in hell thank God!
Rodney



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DRT

posted April 14, 2010 at 7:31 am


I can state it more strongly than you did. Now, most of my life feels meaningless without the gospel. But the definition of the gospel is the critical element. I have now defined the gospel as living in true relationship with others, as Jesus demonstrated. And evangelizing that others too can find meaning in living in true relationship with others.
Our western minds tend to think of the self and the others as the point of the relationship. I now believe the relationship is the point, not the self and not the other. I believe that is the gospel.
Therefore, the sort that goes on in “the judgment” is the degree to which the relational aspect of God is witnessed by us. The measure you use will be the measure you get. There is no I, only the relationship with the other, including God.
So the judgment is not a judgment in the terms of the language of our day, it is not a judgment of the individual, it is a judgment of the relationship, the love that we have shown we are able to embody and that maturation of love will continue in the next life.
Imagine that we develop the real skill that Jesus taught us, to love. And this development of the relationship will be that which enables us to experience heaven and God and others in the next life. God will not have to judge in the traditional sense, it is us who will experience the judgment of God in the truth of the relationship that we have built through the example of the Christ.
IMHO.
Dave



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Nitika

posted April 14, 2010 at 7:41 am


David,
You write well and get straight to the heart of the matter.
Several comments come to mind… First my solution to this “existential angst” (heavily influenced by Dallas Willard) is to be continually mindful that Christ is alive and well, and quite capable of ongoing instruction and correction. In encouraging people to become disciples of Christ, we need not get some formula just right or tick all the boxes. We introduce to a person, and the relationship from there is mainly up to those two people.
Second, I think of the evangelism situation in Asia, where westerners have invested expecting to reap ten souls for the price of one. The damage that is done to both the bearers and hearers of this high stakes “good news” is horrendous. And there are literally whole people groups who want nothing to do with Christianity because they see (rightly) how foul this type of exploitation is.
The disillusion that has come with exposure these situations is (like you) what got me interested in the emerging conversation. I’ve resonated deeply with the critique, but the answers that work in “real life and ministry” have been slow. I recently read Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God, who talks about a kind of powerless discourse. I think he’s really on to something with that, but he didn’t elaborate very much so I’m still looking to flesh it out in practice.



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Phil

posted April 14, 2010 at 8:55 am


Powerful observations David, I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t read McClaran, I’ve heard him a few times at Willow events and I couldn’t understand all the fuss. However, if going down a Universal road is his answer, I don’t agree, but I do understand his critique. I’m moving from pastoring to church planting because I want to reach people, not with the 4 spiritual laws, but to introduce them to the true King. The relationship’s up to them. I’d like to be thought of as the burden free church or the church of rest, church of wholeness:>).
There is a powerful podcast this February at Asbury Seminary of Dr. David Benner talking about wholeness and the soul. It’s going to take multiple listen to take it in.



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Scotty Miller

posted April 14, 2010 at 9:07 am


Advertising and marketing has indeed taught most of us the that we are a target. They/we don?t trust it. Our shrinking of the Gospel and the “existential angst” caused by worrying whether or not someone has crossed a certain line has led us to model much of our evangelism off of this though. We find ourselves feeling that we need to somehow be some kind of evangelistic superhero but we tend to look more suspicious than not and we find ourselves tripping on our own capes. Our obsession with getting people across that line tends to work itself out into finding out how little one has to do to cross that line. But if what we are after for ourselves and the world is a relationship with Jesus, conversion is in fact a process, and what that means is that the discipleship that doesn?t happen in the suspicious advertising model of evangelism is important then maybe it looks more like a relationship with us. Like those on the other side of that line first trusting us and our modeling of what a life in Christ can look like.
We can not regenerate, elect, or preserve until the end anyone. We can incarnate. And encourage. If Christ is victor. If the Father sees all and knows all and is indeed like the Jesus we find in the gospels. If he is at the right hand of the Father speaking on our behalf and the Spirit is indeed here at work then worry we shouldn?t. Hell and final judgment are a bit vague in scripture?to me. I worry about filling in the gaps too much. But justice does matter. How am I coming alongside of the spirit and making that come about and how can I bring my non-Christian friends along side us going that direction. If we are vectoring towards Christ and we have indeed rooted in and down with unbelievers then I think that we may find them vectoring that way too at some point. And yes that line we were so worried about just may get crossed along the way .



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Joey

posted April 14, 2010 at 9:28 am


“Is it necessary to give up on the notion of “judgment” altogether?”
No, but I’d like to qualify that. We don’t give up on judgment but reframe it to be more biblical and less based on western judiciary practices. I struggled with this in college when I spent a good deal of time focusing on Micah 6:8. I wondered how one could both do justice and love mercy. They seemed incompatible. I was lead, though, to Romans 3 – God’s perfect act of justice. And what was it? The ultimate act of mercy – dying on a cross for those whom he loved.
Judgment absolutely has to be framed in our understanding of Jesus’ work on the cross. He defines justice.



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Bob Porter

posted April 14, 2010 at 9:38 am


David, Thanks for this post!
Scotty #7 – I really appreciate your contribution.
I agree that relationship is key. One of the tacks I have taken is to emphasize that salvation is composed of two major themes: the new birth and transformation. These are both relationship driven. But, somehow the transformation bit has simply not received the kind of emphasis it deserves in so many cases.



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Travis Greene

posted April 14, 2010 at 10:01 am


Joey @ 8 is correct



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Taylor

posted April 14, 2010 at 10:05 am


Wow, excellent post. The rebuilding that evangelicalism needs is found in Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar wrote that while the threat of hell exists, and should be preached, we may still hope and pray for the salvation of everyone. If we can hope then it must be a remote possibility. How else do we reconcile the warnings of hell in the NT with other epistles that state that Jesus is the savior of everyone, especially those who believe. Or still other verses that claim God is not willing that any perish. It’s absolutely not universalism, but it is a thorough dismantling of calvinsim. I’ll call it the 3rd way, and it’s the gospel I’ll be preaching to my kids.



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Jayflm

posted April 14, 2010 at 10:14 am


I hold to this very tentatively, but where Scripture has led me over 25 years of study is to:
1)See that the penalty for man?s fall is ultimately to die (Gen. 3); that is, to perish (be destroyed both body and soul). Within that framework Scripture further reveals individual judgment at a time of God?s choosing based upon what is done in the flesh. But after this judgment is meted out, the verdict of Genesis 3 will be carried out. They will be utterly destroyed.
2)View God?s redemptive work, first through Israel and then through Jesus, as His gracious choice to offer restoration from the effects of the Fall to mankind. People are given the opportunity to participate in this restoration through the proclamation of the Gospel. Salvation, as I understand its emphasis to be proclaimed in Scripture, is to eternal life, not from eternal (ie: everlasting conscious) punishment.
3)Thus I find a freedom to relate to people of all sorts, respecting their decision to trust Christ or not, but deeply saddened that so many have, like Jerusalem in Jesus? day, turned aside from ?what would bring you peace? (Lk. 19:42). There is a continuing effort to call people to repentance and faith, but not the sort of overwhelming burden that sucks the joy of the Lord out of our spirits.



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AHH

posted April 14, 2010 at 10:28 am


Amen.
I would add that IMO modern conservative Evangelicalism tends to see our neighbors in TWO ways. Yes, as “targets” for evangelism as David describes. But also often as “adversaries” in the context of the “culture wars”. Sometimes one or the other (I doubt Pat Robertson had any interest in evangelizing the Supreme Court justices he wished would die), sometimes both simultaneously. This has all sorts of negative consequences, some of which David describes and some of which Brian McL has described.
I think the “missional church” movement has the right tack on this — being God’s agents of blessing and reconciliation with our neighbors rather than viewing them primarily as target-objects or adversary-objects. So to David’s trinitarian approach to deal with the very real problems Brian points out, I would agree but would also want to add a “missional” component.



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 10:32 am


Jayflm (#12) — I think what you’re saying is true at its own level. However, your point #2 presents a problem: in what way are people everywhere “given the opportunity to participate?”
Let’s be honest and realistic: the vast majority of people in the world have no meaningful opportunity to hear about Christ. The natural theology of Romans 1 is condemnatory, not salvific. And this leads to your point #3: yes, when you “give a reason for the hope that is in you” you can then respect the other person’s freedom to enter into or not enter into that hope. But then, there are literally billions of people left who haven’t even heard your reasons. Shouldn’t you just move on to the next one, and the next one, and the next one…. Why waste time on any sort of relationship with an unbeliever?
Someone I know was a missionary in China for a year, doing street evangelism. The organization he went with — a major evangelical missions organization — trained him to spend no more than 15 minutes or so with any one person. If the prospect didn’t respond positively within that 15 minutes, it was time to move on. There were billions to “reach.” He thought this was a perfectly valid strategy. It struck me as perverse.



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 10:34 am


AHH (#13) — Amen back at ya! I am studying “Missional Theology,” after all…. Hopefully I can explore what I think “Missional” means for soteriology (or better what soteriology means for “Missional”) in another post).



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 14, 2010 at 10:36 am


I hearing saying, at least in part, is that the Gospel of Evangelicalism has become reductionist and caught in a spiritual/material dualism. I think that is a far better critique of Evangelicalism.
In “Making the Best of It,” John Stackhouse writes about a Human Vocation and a Christian Vocation. Each consists of two commandments.
Human Vocation (Creation Commandments)
* Cultural mandate – Exercise Dominion, care of creation, building the human habitat.
* Live the Great Commandments – Love God and love neighbor as our self.
Christian Vocation (Redemption Commandments)
* New Commandment – Love one another as Christ has loved us … Christian community.
* Great Commission – Go and make disciples.
The Human Vocation is permanent while the Christian Vocation is temporary … it ends at the consummation of the New Creation. The purpose of Christian Vocation is redemption of the Human Vocation. Yes, that includes personal salvation, but we aren’t merely saved from sin. We are saved to God to be sent out in mission according to these two vocations.
The whole soul-sort thing and judgment has to be seen in the context of this larger agenda God is working.



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Richard

posted April 14, 2010 at 10:51 am


I would tend to approach this similar to the line of thinking Joey has proposed earlier. I think setting justice against benevolence/mercy is a false dichotomy that we make under western-judicial readings.
Solomon is acclaimed for justice (1 King 3) when he returns the baby to the correct mother and it never mentions him punishing the woman that stole the baby or either woman for being prostitutes. Jesus, the fullness of God, acts mercifully in taking the shame and punishment of the woman caught in adultery (John 7-8 a la Kenneth Bailey’s reading) but was his mercy unjust? Surely not. Instead he proclaims justice to the nations and refuses to break bruised reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks. And he will faithfully bring forth justice on the earth. (Isaiah 42)
In my brief study of Scripture I’ve found that if shalom/restoration is the purpose/end then justice is the means and I don’t think it’s a “sorting” justice. It’s a restoring justice that allows Jesus to demonstrate mercy to the oppressed blind beggar and Zacchaeus the oppressive tax collector (redundant in that day and age) that collaborates with the Romans. Is there significance that Luke records these events back to back (even if they weren’t chronological)?
And the main opposition to this is that we assume that the repentance that is required to receive this restorative justice has to happen on this side of physical death (often based off of one verse in Hebrews and one parable from Jesus regarding the rich man and Lazarus) but I can’t help but wonder if the gates of hell don’t prevail and death is overcome, what would stop God from leaving the gates of the New Jerusalem open for all eternity so that others might recognize the wasteland they’re in and enter into his presence and be made new?
Sorry for rambling.



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Scotty Miller

posted April 14, 2010 at 11:05 am


It seems that our views of Hell and judgement are greatly coloured by our understanding of the work of Christ. Specifically at the cross. Have we been holding onto and thus presenting only one or two aspects of the atonement? I believe having in our minds the whole mosaic of the aspects of atonement would be helpful here.



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Jayflm

posted April 14, 2010 at 11:14 am


David(#14), you will notice that I did not say ?everywhere?. Nor can we say ?at all times?. I?m trying to come to grips with what the Bible says, not answer questions to which it doesn?t seem to offer answers. Based upon point one of my observation from Scripture(#12), the ?wretched urgency? is ratcheted down somewhat. People will die. They will be judged justly according to their works. God will somehow apply His justice, and then they will be annihilated. Is this as pleasant as an open door to heaven for all? No, but neither is it the (extrabiblical?) monstrosity of everlasting conscious torment for all outside of Christ.
Passages such as Eph. 3:10 hold the church up as a cosmic witness to God?s wisdom. Somewhere in that we have to see that He is up to something bigger than we can grasp, and we are graced to be a part of it.
As for your acquaintance in China, his approach is abrupt, but it does have a good bit in common with how Paul dealt with the Jews on his missionary journeys. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say ?I came first to you, but now I?m going to go to others who will listen.? Is that the approach all need to take? Not at all! Most of us are not to work like that. But we must admit that there is a biblical precedent for some sort of ?quick strike? approach to evangelism.



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John W Frye

posted April 14, 2010 at 11:28 am


When Jesus was praying in Gethsemane, what exactly was in “the cup” that Jesus asked his Father to take from him if possible? Was it love? I forget.



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Travis Greene

posted April 14, 2010 at 11:35 am


Michael,
There’s much to appreciate in Stackhouse, but I find his notion of 2 separate commandment categories, some of them (particularly relating to Jesus) temporary, to be deeply troubling, and the result of a flat and somewhat backwards way of reading of Scripture.
What we know about creation is revealed in Jesus’ re-creation more than what is revealed in the OT. Jesus’ kingdom is what humanity should look like, and always would have if not for sin. Stackhouse, I think, puts the cart before the horse in looking to the OT for what a generic “humanity” was for, and then to the NT for Jesus/the church as restorers of that.
A little off-topic for this, but the implications for purpose/eschatology/evangelism are profound.



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Lynn Williamson

posted April 14, 2010 at 11:43 am


Oops! Fact checker alert. Actually, the Hutus were the ones who abused and massacred the Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. This is the opposite of what the author of the article wrote in paragraph 3.



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Scotty Miller

posted April 14, 2010 at 11:44 am


We should not assume before getting to know someone and meeting them where they are that what we are presenting sounds in anyway ‘good’ or like ‘news’ at all. Not all situations are the same but when I was working a coffee shop in Dallas, in a ethnically-diverse neighborhood just down the street from Criswell and DTS that was home to many poor artists but is now being gentrified, groups would come in from the burbs for a ‘quick strike’ passing out of tracts and I would be there to see my friends reactions. I would ask them what they thought which did lead to meaningful and edifying conversation but for the most part the ‘quick strike’ method in that setting seemed more of a hindrance or a wall than any kind of a bridge.



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 11:51 am


It’s interesting that a number of comments are focusing on the nature of the cross and the atonement. I think that’s an important focus. However, I differ with those who think the “satisfaction” aspect of the atonement is a problem. I want to develop this at greater length than is possible in a comment, but I think “justice” always requires “judgment” and that “judgment” always requires “violence.” A truly postmodern narrative without any “violence” occasioned by the “difference” of “judgment” cannot, IMHO, accomplish “justice.” Therefore, I think the satisfaction theory of the atonement is vital to understanding the power of the cross. When I first read Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, I found it lyrically beautiful.
But, as others have noted, satisfaction is not the only Biblical picture of the atonement. A robust soteriology needs to link satisfaction and the Christus Victor theme. In my view, the key theological move with respect to the atonement is not to do away with satisfaction, but to ask, “how great is the Victory?” But I’m getting ahead of myself…



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 11:53 am


Lynn (#22) — this is why blogs are “edited” by the reading community. (Blog Adminstrators: please fix the post.)



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Joey

posted April 14, 2010 at 12:08 pm


Dopderbeck @ 24
“I think “justice” always requires “judgment” and that “judgment” always requires “violence.””
I think you’d be hard pressed to blanket that statement over all examples of “judgment” and “justice” in scripture. The examples Richard in #17 cites don’t include violence and, in fact, reframe justice and judgment to look a lot more like mercy than violence. I think that is what Paul is getting at in Romans 3:
Romans 3:23-26
“23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Though there is “violence” in this act it is the violence of sacrifice not of condemnation or punishment. That has to shape our understanding of both “justice” and “judgment”.



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johnfouadhanna

posted April 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm


David, thoughtful and well-said as always, with much room for potential engagement.
One particular point, among many others, is I think our inability to appreciate a diversity of approaches. We all tend to think everyone should be just like us. Those who are evangelistically zealous sometimes make it seem that all Christians should take the same approach. Those who aren’t comfortable doing so think the evangelist types are too aggressive, even unloving, etc.
Those I know who can do that cold type evangelism are also loving and generous in numerous ways, and do draw people to Christ. Those who are uncomfortable in taking this approach shouldn’t feel pressure to do so, as God the Holy Spirit has not wired them in that way. They’d rather serve their neighbor and allow for a natural development of a relationship wherein the hope that is within may emerge. I thank God for their love and generosity. All of us are a work in process, getting some things wrong along the way, struggling with sin, even as we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
That’s all for now.



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Richard

posted April 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm


@ John Frye 20
Yes actually, it was love. At least according how I understand Paul in Romans 3 (esp. v. 21-26) and Jesus in John 15 (esp. v. 12 and 13).
Related to that wrath at the cross…
@ Dopderbeck 24
How are you using “violence” here? My initial response is that atoning victory of Christ is all the violence that was ever needed. And it was violence he took on himself, not violence he inflicted. It’s the crucified Messiah we worship, the Lion of Judah that is truly the lamb of God, slain but resurrected. If that sacrifice is sufficient, why would any additional blood need to be shed by God? Unless you’re using “violence” in a non-physical sense, as in the word of God that cuts to the marrow and pierces our hearts.



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Luke

posted April 14, 2010 at 1:16 pm


This is a fantastic post. It resonated with me deeply and is written beautifully. I grew tired of looking at people as “targets” and not humans. I think justice demands judgment as well, but where I differ from some is that I don’t explain it as if God gets “pleasure” and “glory” out of it. It’s not like he’s vindictive and sadistic. I’m guessing he does it with tears in his eyes as he sees people who have his image lose that image little by little every single day. I have some trouble with penal substitution as well. I don’t doubt that Jesus was somehow our “substitute” and that forgiveness of sins is made possible, but the idea of God’s wrath being appeased via taking it out on Jesus being a NECESSITY is what gets me. Perhaps it’s all just semantics.



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Taylor

posted April 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm


@ John Frye 20 Well, I agree with your direction but we’re still left with the question of how broad was Jesus’ work. Will God save a majority or is or faith a desperate mission to pick off a few for salvation?



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 1:23 pm


Richard (#17 and 28) and Joey (#26) — I’m using “violence” to mean any act by one agent that limits another agent’s freedom. This may involve physical injury or bloodshed, but not necessarily.
In the story of Solomon splitting the baby, there was most certainly “violence” involved: the King took possession of the baby away from both of the women and presumed the capacity to dispose of the baby in his own discretion. The women were not free to act however they wanted to act.
In the examples of the woman at the well and Zacchaeus,and various other examples from Jesus’ ministry, recall that in the Gospel narratives the Pharisees are most offended by Jesus’ presuming that he had authority to lift the restrictions and punishments of the Law and offer forgiveness. As you note in #28, Richard, ultimately the basis for this is the fact that Jesus takes upon himself all of the violence of God’s judgment of sin. This is, precisely, the satisfaction / penal substitution aspect of the atonement.
We should note here that the Christus Victor aspect of the atonement also involves “violence.” Here is how Paul describes it in Colossians 2:13-14:

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

“Victory” requires “taking away,” “nailing,” “disarming,” “making a public spectacle of,” “triumphing over.” This is imagery drawn from the Triumphal Processions of Roman Generals. Yes, the paradox is that Jesus’ victory comes from self-sacrifice rather than from aggressive war — but it’s a paradox exactly because this self-sacrifice is the means of Jesus’ assertion of authority over evil and sin. All assertions of authority entail “violence.”



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 1:27 pm


BTW, I don’t claim any great originality with respect to my construal of “violence” and “justice.” A fantastic book: Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition (Baker Academic 2004).



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Tim

posted April 14, 2010 at 1:47 pm


Why “sorting” makes me nervous:
Hutus sorted Tutsis
Nazis sorted Jews
Stalin sorted opponents
bin Laden sorted infidels
Sunni and Shia have sorted one another
Pharisees sorted sinners
Zealots sorted Romans
Babylonians sorted Judeans
Assyrians sorted Israelites in the north
Christ judges/conquers “sorting”. He defeats sin, death and the demonic, not by inflicting violence but absorbing violence, apparent failure turning into surprising victory.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm


Travis #21
I’m not sure exactly what your objection is. Clearly we we can’t understand the O.T. except through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But we also can’t read Jesus without the O.T. It is base out of which Jesus is working.
I’m uncertain how Jesus’ contradicts what Stackhouse identifies as the human vocation. Jesus seems to assume the cultural mandate all throughout the gospels and explictly reiterates the Great Commandments as the core of ethical teaching. (Furthermore, I don’t think Stackhouse sees human vocation purely as O.T. material.)
But, by definition, when redemption is complete, redemptive work is done. There is no longer a need to be communities that witness to the world thorough our love for each other because everyone is now in the community. There is no need for the Great Commission for there is no one to go make disciples out of. This work is temporary. That doesn’t make it secondary or unimportant. If the work humanity has been called to is simply to participate in the Church’s redemptive work, then humanity has no mission/purpose as of the consummation of the new creation.
Redemption and restoration means that something has been restored and put back into its proper status. Too much of Western Christianity has distilled this down to being about relationship lost and restored. Relationship, yes, but we we’re also appointed to a mission of acting as God’s co-regents over creation. Redemption is about relationships AND mission. I think it is the reduction to relationships that contributes to the objectification of people into targets for a message rather than a holistic view toward redemption.
I don’t see how this is deeply troubling.



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm


Tim (#33) — the list you provide is a true parade of horribles. But this is also true:
The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sorts slave owners
The United Nations Convention Against Torture sorts torturers
Civil rights laws sort bigoted employers
International War Crimes Tribunals sort war criminals
Homicide laws sort murderers
Fraud laws sort con artists
Family law sorts abusive parents
All law, all judgment, all justice, involves sorting. There is no peace without sorting, because otherwise the slave owners, torturers, bigots, war criminals, murderers, con artists and abusive parents are unrestrained. Sorting is not the issue. The issue is the principle on which the sorting is based.



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:23 pm


Michael (#34) — I agree that a robust theology of vocation is one of the correctives we need. I liked John Stackhouse’s book very much and I resonate with his broader epistemological perspective.



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Taylor

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm


Tim @ 33 there’s just one problem with your analogy, the people you listed are human beings.



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Tim

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm


dopderbeck- true, there is a proper sorting. You are right.
taylor- true, they are human beings, not God. You are right.
I have confidence in God’s loving, gracious sorting. I do not have confidence in human sorting. I am nervous about how human beings have interpreted God’s sorting, especially Christian interpretation. The book “Constantine’s Sword” details the long history of Christians sorting Jews with dreadful consequences. The genocide in Rwanda occurred in the most “Christian” nation in Africa at the time. This really humbles me.
I have lived among people who sort people into two categories, saved and damned. I hear how the “saved” talk about the “damned”. I hear how polarized people, even today, talk about their opponents.
So I agree with your corrections. You are both right. And I wish I could adequately communicate why I am still not comfortable with “sorting.” It still feels dangerous to me.



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Tim

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm


P.S. Sorting + God + violence= ??? It is the “solution” to this equation that still terrorizes me.



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Scotty Miller

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm


Indeed those that Tim @ 33 mentions are human and I get dopderbeck too, but when I begin to focus too much on God’s judgement (soul-sorting) I begin to be judgmental. I used to be a heavy drug user. This is true and when I say it you get a certain picture in your head of me. Another thing that is true is that for a season I was a dealer as well. All that happened just a couple of years after being baptized in the church I grew up in. Years later and after having walked with the Lord for sometime now I find myself back in my rural-Indiana hometown in relationship with some of those kids, now adults, who I got high with and dealt to. Some of whom were young back then and I was the one who introduced them to drugs. Some of them are in jail now. Some addicted to meth. Some have found Christ. So, we have the users, the dealers, and those who have left that life to live with Christ but all I know is that have been all of them and I am still here and God is up to something. Yes, there is judgement from God in the scripture…violent even…but if our most highly concentrated image of what God is like is Jesus then what I see is a merciful God a God who chooses to make life out of death. If my filling in the gaps in scripture about final judgement paints a picture of him that is counter what we see in Jesus maybe we’ve misunderstood. Or maybe I’m just misunderstanding the trajectory of the conversation….and I’m sorry for my rambling if I am.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:54 pm


Tim, et al,
Two points:
1. Can life be lived without some sorting?
2. Is “sorting” the same as “violence”?



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Scotty Miller

posted April 14, 2010 at 2:56 pm


sorry for the typos and atrocious grammar :)



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Joey

posted April 14, 2010 at 3:17 pm


@ 31 dopderbeck
Thanks for clarifying your definition of violence. I have a few questions if you don’t mind clarifying:
Am I right in hearing you say that violence is necessarily part of judgment?
Am I right in hearing you say that, although the violence of the cross is inflicted upon Jesus, because judgment always entails violence there will come a time when that violence is exercised over those being judged?
So when you take the example of Solomon and the two women fighting over a baby, yes there is violence in the equation but the true justice comes not from violence but by avoiding violence, even to the point of the true mother offering to give up her relationship with the child for the sake of the child’s life. The “judgment” was not itself violent.
The cross was extremely violent. But, as Richard pointed out it was self-inflicted, or at the very least sacrificial, rather than God inflicting violence on others as punishment.
Is God going to the cross necessarily satisfaction/PSA? Could it not be that Jesus took on the affliction not as a “substitution” but as a conqueror? Of course he is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world but he was also the resurrected who defeated death, the final destination of sin. When the resurrection is involved doesn’t that cause us to reinterpret passover? Doesn’t that cause us to reinterpret atonement similar to the way that Abraham had to reinterpret atonement when God stayed his hand as Isaac lay on the altar?
I admit that violence is part of the equation but so far all we have seen are examples of violence being reframed rather than executed to those being judged. I don’t doubt a judgment. Jesus doesn’t have a sword in his tongue because he’s into body mod. But I contend that until we reflect upon justice through the lens of Jesus’ perfect execution of it, the merciful cross, our understanding will be shallow.
Maybe you’re suggesting the same thing and I’m just not seeing it clearly.



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 3:26 pm


Scot (#41) — obviously I think some sorting is required for a justice. And all sorting — all differentiation — is a form of “violence” in the sense that postmodern pluralists use that term. This is why postmodern theorists are so focused on “the other.” Otherness = sorting = violence.
To my #35 I want to add this: with respect to “sorting” and “justice,” at least the following matter:
(a) the criteria by which the sorting is done;
(b) the authority of the person doing the sorting; and
(c) the outcome of the sorting.
I think (b) is something that can be helpful to the problem Brian McLaren and others (including me) wrestle with — the tendency to be arrogant or hypocritical or even violent when there are categories of “saved” and “damned.” We human beings have no authority to do that final sort. Only God does.



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm


Joey (#43) asked: Am I right in hearing you say that violence is necessarily part of judgment?
I respond: Yes.
And Joey (#43) asked: Am I right in hearing you say that, although the violence of the cross is inflicted upon Jesus, because judgment always entails violence there will come a time when that violence is exercised over those being judged?
I respond: The question here, which is a core question in Christian theology, is who benefits from the expiation of God’s judgment in Christ? Scripture seems to say pretty clearly that not every person ultimately benefits. The Bible’s terrible imagery of final judgment is terrible precisely because those who are ultimately separated from God are bearing themselves the wrath (just judgment) of God. This is my prong (a): what are the criteria for this sorting?
Scripture (and experience) tell us that everyone deserves judgment and that the transfer of judgment to Christ is only grace. How does God decide who receives this grace? How, and to what extent, can human beings know that someone is or is not the recipient of this grace? These, I think, are the real questions we need to explore in order to provide an apologetic for the sorting of final judgment and a humble and good missional relationship to our neighbors.



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Joey

posted April 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm


1. Can life be lived without some sorting?
No, but I think the Christian has to reassess what sorting is. It isn’t good enough to sort according to the standards we’ve inherited from the world. As dopderbeck points out, we aren’t the ones who do the ultimate sorting. The precedent for God’s sorting, though, was established at the cross.
2. Is “sorting” the same as “violence”?
According to dopderbeck’s definition of violence, I guess it is. But again, what is violence for a follower of Jesus? Is it a violence of sacrifice? Is it a violence turned upside down? Is it a violence reclaimed and redefined by Jesus?
I’m not suggesting universalism as much as I’m suggesting that God’s justice looks a whole lot like His mercy and how we understand that will shape what we see as our Kingdom purpose here on earth.



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Travis Greene

posted April 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm


Michael @ 34,
It’s the separation that’s troubling to me. I don’t think we can know what humanity’s original mission is/was other than from Jesus as revealed in the NT. Stackhouse talks a lot about reading Scripture narratively, which I really resonated with, but then (in my opinion) privileges Genesis and the OT in general over the NT. Or at least flattens them, which is still not quite right. I’m certainly not attempting a Marcionite jettisoning of the OT, but holding the testaments in symmetry seems wrong to me. The New Testament gets the last word.
I don’t think we can separate the missio Dei into “creation” and “redemption”. He is restoring what was lost, but in some ways we won’t and don’t know what was lost until he restores it. That, to me, is the best and only really useful meaning of total depravity.
As for redemptive work being done…yes and no. We won’t be witnessing to the world. But we will be witnessing to each other, all the time, as the angels do circling God’s throne in Isaiah. And if the church is foretaste and anticipation and not just witness to the coming Kingdom, then nothing (or very little) it does will be obsolete.
I’m with you on creation, mission, vice-regency, all that. I just don’t think any of it can be separated from the specificity of Jesus and the cross into some generic humanity with a generic God. This also gets into issues of nonviolence, which I know we don’t agree on. But Stackhouse, it seems to me, is cantilevered pretty far out on a foundation of mostly-inferred “creation commandments” to be relativizing specific redemptive commands of Jesus. Which I think is what he is doing by using the idea of a “cultural mandate”, in which he includes all sorts of things I don’t think are in the text, to argue for use of violence.
In short, we don’t look at creation to give us content for what the redemption will look like. We see the redemption, and that tells us what creation is meant to be, what humanity is meant to be, and what the unified mission of God is and was since before the formation of his people, which continues after the eschaton.



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Tim

posted April 14, 2010 at 4:07 pm


Scot,
You ask: Can life be lived without sorting?
No. I agree that proper sorting is necessary, and the Lord is qualified to carry out this sorting. I confess, “Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.” I believe that one day God will eliminate evil, bringing in a new heaven and a new earth.
You ask: Is “sorting” the same as “violence”?
In theory, no. In practice, I have become an agnostic. Look at the actual history of the “sorters.” Too many times I have been suckered into “if we just get rid of THEM, then we will have eliminated evil.” Who is getting sorted out? Where is the line drawn? Why is it always THEM and not US who need to be sorted out? The “sorting narrative” that leads to actual healing and real, concrete peace, personally and globally, is what is needed to convince me. Show the history to this Doubting Timothy.
This Sunday, this first reading is Acts 9. Saul was an obvious candidate for being “sorted out.” He was a murderer and a terrorist! Yet the risen Lord confronted him and “sorted him in”.
The Gospel reading is from John 21. Peter the Denier is another obvious candidate for being “sorted out”. Yet the risen Christ “sorted him in”
Troubled Tim



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Scot McKnight

posted April 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm


Some thoughts on violence:
1. It’s the new trendy word of abuse: if you want something to look bad, use the word violence for it. It’s a pejorative term.
2. Very few define violence when they use it; it has become trendy in postmodern literature to use it for “othering” someone.
3. But Hans Boersma deconstructed the term in his book on violence and the cross by showing that love is violent according to many definitions. Election, in other words, shows up in such definitions as violence.
4. One major thought: Jesus and James both condemned language of judgment/condemnation, but both are also filled with morally discerning language that others the disobedient and privileges the obedient. That sort of moral discernment is not violence.
5. So, to ask if God is violent requires that we define our terms: Does God judge? (Is that “violent”? No.) Does God love all and act in mercy toward all? (Yes, does this not redefine what violence genuinely means? Yes.) Does God not teach his people to act with moral discernment? (Yes, and that is not violence and it is not condemnation/judgmentalism.)
6. I agree with David Opderbeck: there is no such thing as final justice without judgment, and the cross is simultaneously an act of grace and justice and judgment. There is, then, no forgiveness with a just foundation of forgiveness. Our forgiveness only taps into God’s just forgiveness.



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Richard

posted April 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm


If sorting is just part of reality/life, what are the criteria for sorting?
How does the analogy of first-fruits (blessed to be a blessing, chosen for serving, etc) play into this idea of sorting? I’ve wondered about that for quite some time. If Christians are firstfruits (a la Romans 8 or James 1), who are the rest of the harvest?



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Tim

posted April 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm


Scot,
@49… wow! beautifully articulated and wonderfully grounded in scripture!
I hope I am not guilty of a trendy use of the word “violence”. I cannot offer an abstract definition of my use of the word.
9/11/01 + the Holocaust
From outside the Muslim faith and from within the Christian faith, I condemn the rhetoric and the murders that resulted from the rhetoric. May I be forgiven for being overly sensitive towards sorting language? I keep hearing “never again,” but there is 1994 and Darfur, more recent history that haunts me.
Thanks for the conversation. I bow out now.
Troubled (trendy?) Tim



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dopderbeck

posted April 14, 2010 at 4:57 pm


Scot (#49) — on your #5 — I think it’s hard not to say God’s judgment is “violent” — but I agree that maybe it’s best to resist the term because of its pejorative connotations. Still, Christ the Rider on the White Horse exercises force in his judgment.
Now, on your #6, here is IMHO the crux for our theodicy / apologetic: the doctrine of election. Why is it that, insofar as we can tell, the vast majority of humanity, billions of people, have never effectively heard of the grace available in the cross of Christ? And why is it that even most of those who hear something of the cross don’t really understand it or aren’t situated through upbringing or preconceptions or other barriers to receive it? We must account for this problem honestly, if we are not to be universalists, and it comes down IMHO to election:
– does God elect some to salvation and some (most) to perdition (Augustine, 5-point Calvinism)
– does God elect to save those who respond affirmatively to the proclamation of the Gospel (Arminianism)
– does God elect everyone in Christ, such that only those who affirmatively resist (if any) ultimately are lost (Barth, Balthasaar (?))
All of these approaches to election have their own ways of answering the theodicy / apologetic problem we’re dealing with. Interestingly, “Missional Theology” seems to be groping towards some kind of alternative – as in Christopher J.H. Wright’s idea that the Church is “elected for mission.” Thoughts?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 14, 2010 at 5:19 pm


Travis #21
I’m not sure exactly what your objection is. Clearly we we can’t understand the O.T. except through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But we also can’t read Jesus without the O.T. It is base out of which Jesus is working.
I’m uncertain how Jesus’ contradicts what Stackhouse identifies as the human vocation. Jesus seems to assume the cultural mandate all throughout the gospels and explictly reiterates the Great Commandments as the core of ethical teaching. (Furthermore, I don’t think Stackhouse sees human vocation purely as O.T. material.)
But, by definition, when redemption is complete, redemptive work is done. There is no longer a need to be communities that witness to the world thorough our love for each other because everyone is now in the community. There is no need for the Great Commission for there is no one to go make disciples out of. This work is temporary. That doesn’t make it secondary or unimportant. If the work humanity has been called to is simply to participate in the Church’s redemptive work, then humanity has no mission/purpose as of the consummation of the new creation.
Redemption and restoration means that something has been restored and put back into its proper status. Too much of Western Christianity has distilled this down to being about relationship lost and restored. Relationship, yes, but we we’re also appointed to a mission of acting as God’s co-regents over creation. Redemption is about relationships AND mission. I think it is the reduction to relationships that contributes to the objectification of people into targets for a message rather than a holistic view toward redemption.
I don’t see how this is deeply troubling.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 14, 2010 at 6:18 pm


BarryH,
As you may well know, and I suspect you do, justice has been a major part of atonement theories from the beginning. Some like to lay blame on this to Anselm (as if he were the first) and then historicize it into nothing but medieval justice system, but there is one profound verse, and it comes at the heart of Paul’s own theology:
Romans 3:25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 3:26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus? faithfulness.
Here I take it that Paul himself saw that God had to be just in the justifying process.
A verse that is often ignored in the attempt to pin this all on Anselm. Know that I have argued for a large sense of atonement, that satisfaction theory isn’t the only game (or golf club) in town (or in the golf bag), but neither can we cut out what is already there.



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John L

posted April 14, 2010 at 6:29 pm


David and Scot, really thoughtful post today.
Expanding on (#14), ?there are literally billions of people who haven’t even heard your reasons.? ..the vast majority, in fact, over the last two millennia. I read Paul?s ?natural theology? of Rom 1 as both a universal warning and a promise, as does roughly 70% of Christendom today which acknowledges a “grace that saves” to those seeking truth outside of the Jesus story.
Some comments have noted that the “missional conversation” is a response to this deep, collective discomfort with religious and soul-sorting. Count me among them. What manner of deity myopically “saves” a few people in limited temporal-historical pockets? While I understand how a certain NT reading can arrive at this kind of highly exclusionary soteriology, it sounds more like the myriad local-tribal gods throughout history (think Indiana Jones) than the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Spirit of pure love and perfect justice that permeates the NT.
Admittedly, I often feel like Rodney (#3). Yet I cannot deny the power of the cross in my life, and ecclesial history in general. I?m unable to reduce atonement to a propositional argument, yet am moved to speechless tears by the thought of such unconditional love. I respect the various interpretive communities built around different soteriology (penal, ransom, satisfaction, moral-example, etc.), yet convinced that the cross is designed to be greater than our mere definitions of it. Perhaps atonement is the purest exhibition of love precisely because it cannot be effectively reduced to propositional understanding. As Scot (#49) implies, it embodies violent love.
So how does this translate back to the original problem of soul-sorting? The ?fourth way? (#52) might be suggesting that we abandon religious identity; that following Jesus is actually a freedom FROM religion and all of its metaphysical sorting and posturing and marginalizing and compartmentalizing. We no longer view ?those people? as targets, but rather as fellow strugglers. We are without judgment or premeditated agenda, yet naturally frame our understanding in the language of unspeakable atonement, for we have found no greater love. Faith becomes a rhythm of life, rather than a duty, a ?calling?, a career, or any other assumed identity that sets us inorganically apart from others.



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Brian

posted April 14, 2010 at 8:24 pm


To pick up another theme from the post?
As David suggests, the soul-sort narrative often plays out in a manner that diminishes the rest of life. At my church there is a steady trickle of comments from the pastor over time about how various things that seem to be important really aren?t relative to getting to heaven when we die. There is some truth to what he says in this regard, but the conclusions that are drawn lead to the absence of any robust theology of ordinary life.
The narrative also leaves an absence of any robust theology of the church. Disciples are simply people who make other disciples. Everything is either subordinated to institution building, or else is pushed aside as a distraction from the gospel.
I would go so far as to say that even Jesus Christ is diminished. It is common to hear people speak of knowing about Jesus without knowing him. The soul-sort narrative easily leads to the reverse – people knowing Jesus, but knowing little about him.
The irony is that this narrative reduces the scope of the very cross that is supposed to be at its center.



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Emily

posted April 14, 2010 at 9:58 pm


This is a wonderful discussion! This post really resonated with me.
David writes: ‘There can be no “justice” without “judgment.” God would not be “just” or “good” if horrific crimes — such as Priests and parents sexually abusing children, Hutus killing Tutsis families with machetes, Thai girls being sold into sex slavery — were never judged and punished.’
In my conservative Lutheran background, we never talk in these terms, because we maintain that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ In other words, it doesn’t matter if you are a perpetrator of genocide or a saint, we are all equally deserving of punishment in hell for eternity. And we are the enemies of God from conception–I have heard hints of MacLaren’s “Monster God” in church on this topic. I have heard discussions to try and console women who’ve had miscarriages that their babies aren’t in hell. And I heard a pastor literally once say, “The worst thing I ever did for my children was to conceive them.” He was trying to be provocative (I hope!) but our church endorses the theology that underscores that statement. Existence = damnation.
David further writes: ‘The spirituality produced by this kind of soteriology is a perduring sense of crushing obligation, interlaced with tired resignation, and underwritten by a gnawing doubt that this whole project is a delusion in which a tiny, tiny handful of people convince themselves that they alone among the billions of souls in the world are “chosen” or “special.”
This is the church I grew up in! I recently read about “sinking ship theology.” That’s us! We alone are the few in the lifeboat as we watch the Titanic (everyone else in the world) going down to Hell. And the more evangelical among us are trying desperately to get some more into the lifeboat, while the more fearful among us think all those evildoers on the Titanic are attacking us and trying to take us down with them.
So finally David asks, “Is it necessary to give up on the notion of judgment altogether?”
I would agree, by all means no! But I think the outcome of the judgment needs to be redefined. We all stand judged as sinners, but Christ has taken our sins away! And his righteousness is now credited to us. The judgment comes against evil, and evil will be condemned and destroyed. That may involve some of the evildoers, but my great hope is that Christ’s atonement will work in all hearts, reconciling all things to Him, and purging all people of evil, making each person a new creation.
With this mindset, I have no need for soul-sort. And the Gospel actually becomes Good News that I would actually want to tell someone. And it answers my “Why me?” question:
2 Corinthians 5: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Seeing myself as Christ’s ambassador to spread the message of reconciliation is so much more inspiring that telling people in the grocery store line that the are sinners deserving of eternal punishment, which they can avoid if they just covert to my religion (I’ve actually heard evangelism messages that advocate stopping people in the grocery store line and getting them to admit they are sinners. Ugh!)



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scott leonard

posted April 15, 2010 at 12:44 am


All right, my two cents…..Dops, that was a powerful and beautiful post. It had a healthy measure of truth in it. Oh that things powerful and beautiful with a measure of truth could require no analysis, no discernment. Oh that Jesus didn’t, when approached that night by Nicodemus, ‘treat’ him more like a human being instead of givinmg him the ultimate ultimatum. If Jesus hadn’t invited the disciples, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men”; if He hadn’t, in final instructions, said, “Go and preach the gospel to every creature;” if He hadn’t said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come,” then Bill Bright could have avoided his ignoirance of popular TV and music, spending more time there and less time training world-changing target masters.
If I was satan and truly wanted to take as many to hell as possible (yeh, I still believe that), one thing I would do is raise up as many voices as possible within the camp to ridicule those who are trying to rescue people before they cross the final line.
Go ask 50 mill Chinese believers what they think of your thoughts. Thank God no one got to folks like brother Yun before he helped launch the aggresive evang of the house church movement in China. They don’t have the luxury (or the temptation) of spending time speculating on the alternatives to plain old fishing for men and preaching the gospel to every creature.
I despise rudeness among folks like demeaning legalistic street preachers. I want to call them out on their rudeness. but I have seen firsthand the lives of many mainstream people (in all strata of life)turned 180 degrees and seen those lives go on to become gracious world changers because of people committed, like Dawson Trotman, to sharing the story with at least one person a day.
If you think folk like billy graham ad daws and bill bright and James Kennedy and Luis Palau have not been involved in literally millions of beautiful, genuine conversions, you have your head in the sand. We all need to be more relational. I cry out to God for it regularly.
Was Jesus being impersonal when he talked about a sower throwing seed out there? Or was he just teaching guys like Phillip how to quickly get in the chariot and share the truth with folk like the eunuch while there was time.
My plea is for people like Brian McLaren to stop ripping pages out of our Bibles! Deal with the texts instead of positing theories that sell books to those who won’t read the texts.
Everyone has truth. Oprah has it, Mao had some. The task of our day, as it has always been, is to discern the error and take every thought captive, whether it is popular or not.
If I have completely missed your point, I am deeply sorry. But I don’t think I have and I believe the truth of what I speak is apparent.
God Bless



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dopderbeck

posted April 15, 2010 at 9:20 am


Scot L (#58) — good pushback. Nothing I said should be construed to reduce the imperative to preach the Gospel. And you are quite right that the preaching of the Gospel, although it is “good news,” is also always a confrontation with the “power and principalities,” both spiritual and societal, that bind, oppress, and rob life. I’m grateful that there are street evangelists and so on. Clearly, God uses them often.
But when Jesus talks about “the gospel of the kingdom,” do you think he would reduce that to the “four spiritual laws?” Clearly not. And when Jesus offered “who’s in and who’s out” parables, did he emphasize strategies and decision cards? No. Did Jesus or even Paul ever give us a neat, systematic, easily reducible system of eschatology? Not really.
So, I’m not suggesting evangelism isn’t vital. What I’m trying to suggest is that we need to have a holistic theology of and vision for the Mission of God.



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John W Frye

posted April 15, 2010 at 9:22 am


Richard (#28),
You’re kidding, aren’t you? Jesus was actually praying for th Father o take “the cup” of *love* from him? Nonsense.



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Joey

posted April 15, 2010 at 10:12 am


John W Frye (#26)
Well, kind of. The image wasn’t intended to be stretched though. The act was ultimately an act of love, I think you’ll agree. On the surface it was a violent and volatile act. I hardly doubt Jesus was asking to not love God’s children but what was in the cup was never an issue. It was simply Jesus understanding the weight of love and ultimately submitting to his father.



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keo

posted April 15, 2010 at 10:14 am


What troubles me about “target theology” and the billions going to hell construct is the part about the billions going to hell *UNLESS WE* go tell them about Jesus. Really, doesn’t this mean that WE are responsible for the eternal damnation of billions?
Where in the Bible do we see a clear warning to the church that these lost souls will be our fault? It seems to me that such a horrendous consequence of our inaction or our lack of skill should have merited some explanation.
What we have from Jesus’ lips instead is stuff about not worrying, and how to fast, and lots of other great stuff — but completely irrelevant if most of his audience was going to hell.
I confess that I’m finding Barth very appealing these days. Jesus death somehow paid for the sin of the world — even those who never hear this message clearly presented.



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dopderbeck

posted April 15, 2010 at 11:39 am


keo (#62) — you hit on what I believe is a critical point: the ethical question presented by what you’re calling “target theology.” One of my favorite missional theologians, Leslie Newbiggin, put it this way, in his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society — which is THE must-read for this conversation, IMHO:

“We must look first at the strictly exclusivist view which holds that all who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are eternally lost…. If it were true were true, then it would not only be permissible but obligatory to use any means available, all the modern techniques of brainwashing included, to rescue others from this appalling fate…. If we hold this view, it is absolutely necessary to know who is saved and who is not, and we are then led into making the kind of judgments against which Scriptuer warns us. We are in the business of erecting barriers…. We are bound to become judges of what God alone knows.”

I think Newbiggin makes some important points here about the ethical problems presented by target theology. Now, to be clear: Newbiggin does not accept religious pluralism. A central point of his book is the unique Lordship of Jesus Christ and the reality of sin and the doctrine of election. As I’ve alluded to a couple of times, I think we need to do a full post or two on these aspects of Newbiggin’s missional theology.



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dopderbeck

posted April 15, 2010 at 11:40 am


argh! close blockquote after “God alone knows.”



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keo

posted April 15, 2010 at 2:19 pm


dopderbeck (#63), Interesting Newbiggin quote.
I accept that my society is religiously pluralistic, but I don’t accept that all religious roads are equally valid or true. Jesus and his death on the cross are the keys. I think the real issue is our lack of understanding of the mechanism of salvation, and perhaps the timeline, too. Jesus — yes. Through baptism, or a sinner’s prayer, or a life of good works — not so clear. Before we die, or when we see God clearly after we die, or perhaps even after a purification in hell for a time! — not so clear.
I am convinced that much of our denominational squabbling is argument over the mechanism and that is sad. Especially when Jesus says so little about it (nothing, perhaps?) in the scriptures. “I am the way,” sure, but that’s not a recipe to follow.



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pam w

posted April 15, 2010 at 2:33 pm


Thanks David. Great conversation, and I appreciated your input to this entire thread. When I was reading the comments in this one this morning, I was going to bring Newbiggin to the table, then you did. His writing, and particularly that book helped me see the larger framing story in my culture of which I am not aware. That is the crux here. There are narratives we grow up with in our families, cultures, communities that are not conscious. We step out of that culture and look back and see things from new perspectives.
I agree the ‘people as targets’ perspective is one of the consequences of the soul-sort narrative Brian describes. I am one who grew up with and went to seminary with that narrative. Not that it would have been the intent of ‘thoughtful, reputable scholars’, but it was the larger framing story that was ‘caught’ in the conscious and unconscious collective. I was on staff with Crusade, and can underline many of the stories here.
One thing I noticed in these conversations is that those of us who had theological training, but were not working in a Christian setting seemed to resonate with what Brian was saying. The people that helped me see how our theology was playing out in the pews and ‘on the street’, are my friends in the corporate world in sustainability who are trying to make sense of the Christian world that is against environmental sustainability and justice issues (I’m not saying they all are, I’m saying that is the way the loudest voices have framed Christianity in that space) They definitely see this ‘theos’ narrative as they look in on our culture. Many grew up in Christianity, but left because of the way this narrative plays out.
I agree the ‘people as targets’ perspective is one of the consequences of the soul-sort narrative Brian describes. I am one who grew up with and went to seminary with that narrative. Not that it would have been the intent of ‘thoughtful, reputable scholars’, but it was the larger framing story that was ‘caught’ in the conscious and unconscious collective. I was on staff with Crusade, and can underline many of the stories here.
There is a fuller Gospel to be embraced and lived out if we are to truly walk in the Way of Jesus and participate in the work of the Kingdom in this life. And it includes judgement and a sorting of some sort by our Triune Creator.
I did want to circle back on a comment you made a couple of days ago. I checked with a Moltmann scholar who said he definitely held to the “Kingdom of God” being both now and in the future. He is definitely not an ‘only now’ liberation theologian who believes the work of the Kingdom is only political.



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Michelle

posted April 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm


Is the bottom line of this discussion on the construct of the ‘biblical narrative’ this: Does it describe/present a God that I can trust?
Now it seems the questions are going this direction:
Can i trust a God who judges.
Can I trust a God who uses violence (in whatever sense)
Can I trust a God who sorts?
Can I trust a God who uses the word wrath?
What if this was the discussion? What if you could only answer yes or no?
(forgive me if i am being to simplistic)



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keo

posted April 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm


Michelle (#66)
I’m not sure that is the bottom line for me, but I would answer your list of questions with “Yes.” I can trust a God who does all those things IF some other things are true: If this God is consistent. If this God is fair. If this God is loving. What the Bible presents is Jesus as God incarnate, and he strikes me as trustworthy.



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