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Atonement, Violence & A Vengeful God Concept


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From my observation, it seems a vast majority of Liberals are turned off from liking Christianity because of the Atonement theory. They view the atonement as the vengful God Yahweh forcing Jesus, God's offspring, to die a violent death to pay for everyone's sins. While I CAN and DO see their point and their objection..there are many points to ponder on this topic. First, is it truley that God FORCED Jesus to die a violent death? Or does the scriptures indicate that Jesus willingly choose to do this? Secondandly, and very importantly...is their a Progressive/Moderate way to still embrace and believe that jesus DID raise from the dead and thus maintain the HOPE of the resurrection story..withOUT connecting a vengful God concept to it?

 

What are you guy's thoughts and views on all this?

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Good Evening, Beach...

 

This raises a few very fundemental questions concerning the Christian faith as it is presented in the 21st Century by mainstream denominations. In my discussions with people in general ouside of church membership, there seems to be an underlying problem of relevance and credibility with the canons of the Christian faith, let alone the inability of people to relate to ceremonies and traditions. Fact is, the Christian denominational churches, including the Roman Catholic church, don't really have much that is new to offer people of today...there isn't much of a draw to the faith. People would rather place their beliefs elsewhere, either in an alternative philosophy or in a general set of abstract elements.

 

Fundemental cornerstones of the Christian faith such as the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Trinity, the nature of sin, etc. are no longer accepted by many people on the basis that such cornerstones simply are stretched to the point of being unbelievable. The stories of the New Testament are treated as fact by the Christian church, but faith and history are not the same. Niether are faith and science. The conflict between modern sensibilities and a faith several thousand years old have not only produced an exit from Christianity, but an inquiry as well. Jesus and Biblical scholars are taking on these issues using an approach in understanding Jesus from within a historical and cultural context. This questioning has begun to reformulate the Christian faith for many people, including myself. I'm perfectly comfortable with the understanding of the New Testament as being writings of mostly legend and myth...and why shouldn't our faith have legends and myths? These stories provide us with a glimpse into the 'style of faith' over the ages. I am also perfectly comfortable with an understanding that Jesus was not of devine birth, did not die for the sins of the world, but was a radical Jew whose ideas and teachings resulted in his execution. I don't center my faith around Jesus as God, but as Jesus the Teacher. For me, Jesus isn't about being devine, but about teaching me a way of life and a faith in God that is reflected in that way of life.

 

This is a very different way of imaging Jesus. And it is very controversial, too. It almost led to my resigning from my Christian denomination church because of the social backwardness of the leadership over the role of women and gays in the clergy. Jesus teaches us to include all, to show love and compassion to all, not just to some. When we focus on the teachings of Jesus and not on the mythology of Jesus, we find the shift becomes more than many people bargain for...including those who consider themselves devout. Suddenly prejudices are challenged and the politics and economics of empire are challenged. Not exactly what many people who consider themselves Christians want to face. As long as the focus is primarily on the mythology of Jesus, the real meaning of his teachings can be watered down. There's a lot at stake in keeping Jesus a mythological figure. And many people no longer can accept that image. Where will this lead? I don't really know for sure. Perhaps a broad discussion of these questions in a larger sense among all of Christian faith. Perhaps a schism that will see some denominations deserted while others may come down on their members in order to enforce the Official Vision. We will shall see. But a faith that can withstand your own questioning and still can provide you with a path in life is worth having. Thanks for the post...good topic.

 

Russ

Edited by Russ
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Hi Beach, Russ,

 

I don't know much about what the various denominations now teach on Jesus' atonement, but I hope the more moderate ones at least have discarded the view of the cross as a "blood price" for humanity's sins. There is no real support in scripture for the idea of God forcing Jesus to sacrifice himself. What the gospels do show is that Jesus purposely allowed himself to be killed, rather than overcome his enemies. We can trust the Son of Man, the suffering servant who gave us power over him, we know he feels our pain.

 

To me the progressive view of atonement (the original one, before churches distorted it) is that we needed to be reconciled to God, God didn't need to be reconciled to us. Jesus revealed that God is not a vengeful tyrant but the loving father of the prodigal son. Jesus died to be at-one with our mortality and anguish, so that we could be at-one with his resurrection, however you care to interpret it--a renewed sense of life or hope or self-esteem. I like the way Spong puts it, "to be in Christ is to come alive...in Christ we are touched by a love that will not die." IMHO, one can also be a progressive Christian and take the view that Jesus rose from the dead, not as a resuscitated corpse but in a whole new mode of being. However the bible narrative is meaningful to you, is what counts.

 

Jesus wanted us to have more life and freedom on a personal level, and also as Russ said, compassion for others, inclusiveness, questioning, the politics of empire, etc. If we can see in Jesus' atonement a liberation from our own fear, guilt, depression or whatever, we have more to give others.

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From my observation, it seems a vast majority of Liberals are turned off from liking Christianity because of the Atonement theory. They view the atonement as the vengful God Yahweh forcing Jesus, God's offspring, to die a violent death to pay for everyone's sins. While I CAN and DO see their point and their objection..there are many points to ponder on this topic. First, is it truley that God FORCED Jesus to die a violent death? Or does the scriptures indicate that Jesus willingly choose to do this? Secondandly, and very importantly...is their a Progressive/Moderate way to still embrace and believe that jesus DID raise from the dead and thus maintain the HOPE of the resurrection story..withOUT connecting a vengful God concept to it?

 

What are you guy's thoughts and views on all this?

 

 

I find it very hard to believe that God can have two faces as the Bible would have us believe. One face is the violent vengeful, unpleasant monster, the other is the touchy feely just and loving God. I don't think I like the idea of a two faced deity. The idea that God was willing to use Jesus, his supposed son ,as a blood sacrifice is a horrible idea and I can't say I believe it to be true!

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Transferrance is a basic human attribute, whether we like to recognize that or not.

 

Considering the pagan origins of all of our beliefs, if one looks back far enough, G-d as Janus is not so difficult to reconcile with the overall approach to the subject of G-d as told in the Bible's testaments. After all a testament is a description of what humans observe around them in the world, and you must admit that the stories of the bible exhibit both personality traits in G-d's actions.

 

But like you, I tend to focus on the NT version of G-d. I believe that's mandatory if we are to have hope for the future of us all.

 

flow... ;)

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I relate to rivanna's view. I agree 100% that the fundamental churches/faith groups DO obviously use the whole gory guilt trip to paint a vengful and morbid view of God..which I don;t agree with...but on the flip side..if one's liberal views goes so far left that everything becomes merely a 'positive' 'MYTH'..and thus as Paul said in Corthians to the Epicurians.."if then Christ did NOT raise from the grave..then...-" where's the hope?

 

Let's say you are a liberal Christian, and you follow Jesus' teaching because of the pure social justice found in the sermond of the Mount, The Golden Rule...which is all good, of course..but..you do NOT subscribe to the idea of the resurrection/that Jesus actually rose from the grave..thus..you do not view Jesus as anything more than a good moral teacher who died long ago..then the problem is..where is the HOPE? The re-asurance..that there is an after life hope? What makes Jesus' path stand out different than Buddha's?

 

I am a type of Progressive/Moderate Christain who does believe in the resurrection..but for one, I do not believe YHWH FORCED Christ here..but they he choose to come here. I believe the way the fundie churches have guilted people out with gory sacrifice story is wrong emotionally abusive and minipulative..I also tend to think that because the fundie church fathers have painted the Hebrew God YHWH as such a harsh vengful God IS WHY..church goers felt that had to believe in a trinity. They had to reconcile the contridiction of the vengul harsh father God old the Old Testament WITh the kinder, more gentle Son, Jesus...But yet there ARE lots of Scriptures in the Old testament discribing YHWH as a caring nursing mother.

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thus..you do not view Jesus as anything more than a good moral teacher who died long ago..then the problem is..where is the HOPE? The re-asurance..that there is an after life hope? What makes Jesus' path stand out different than Buddha's?

 

For me, faith is about the religious life in the here and now, and our relationship with God in our everyday lives--not about the hope of an afterlife. I would go further than just say that Jesus was a good moral teacher; I would say that he was particularly endowed with the divine presence that exists within the world and within all of us. In his life he demonstrated how the divine presence within us manifests itself. That's a pretty powerful lesson.

 

On the other hand, I find myself turned off by a religious sensibility that focuses on the afterlife, when what it's about is getting into heaven. Many years ago, I had proselytizers come to my door; the very first question out of their mouth when I opened the door was whether I knew I was going to heaven. The fact that this was the very first question they asked summarized in nutshell the sort of religious paradigm that I simply don't accept.

 

What makes Jesus's path stand out differently from Buddha's? As a religious pluralist, I believe that there are many paths to God. As a product of Western civilization, and as one who was brought up as a Christian, I am naturally drawn to the Christian tradition. There is nothing wrong with people finding God through the path that works best for them, in my opinion.

 

I also tend to think that because the fundie church fathers have painted the Hebrew God YHWH as such a harsh vengful God IS WHY..church goers felt that had to believe in a trinity. They had to reconcile the contridiction of the vengul harsh father God old the Old Testament WITh the kinder, more gentle Son, Jesus...But yet there ARE lots of Scriptures in the Old testament discribing YHWH as a caring nursing mother.

 

I believe that there are elements of mercy and justice for the meek in the Old Testament, just as there are elements of cruel judgment in the New Testament. The complexity of the Bible and the people who wrote it mirrors the complexity of the human condition. There is good and and to be found in people's understanding of God, which they recorded in the Bible, and it was an understanding that evolved over time. Jesus was a devout Jew who had the Old Testament as his scriptures, and the loving mercy that he expressed was not absent from the Old Testament. It is possible to find biblical justification for a lot of different theologies, in my view; the fundies just happened to pick out the interpretation that suits a rather dark and unpleasant image of God.

Edited by Mystical Seeker
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I have this very interesting book called Leaving The Flock. It is an interesting account of this gal who grew up in the Assembly of God church. Later when she's a teenager her folks moved to Socal and she joins the Jesus People (evangelical Christian Hippie) movement during the 1960's and joins a Calvary Chapel church. The story ends with her turning liberal atheist..and stating that basically '2' things turned her off from a Judeo-Christian belief:

 

1. sexism

 

And as she put it...

 

1. "The dangering of either hellfire threats and guilt trips of Jesus for punishment..and the dangling of heaven rewards."

 

I CAN and DO she her point. But my question is: MUST a belief in Jesus as everyone's Savior & an after-life HOPE be based on the "dangling of threats of punishments or coexing people with after-life rewards? MUST it be THIS way? We all KNOW the fundies MAKE it be THIS way..but MUST it be this way? The author of the book Ten Wrong Things I Learned From A Conservative Church was raised In the First baptist and Southern Baptist Church. He become a Progressive Christian and yet he still maintains a belief in the resurrection. I am not saying I think ONE MOST belief in the resurrection. I know many great PCs and LCs they do NOt subscribe to the resurrection belief...I am just suggesting the possibility that one COULD be a Progressive christian and belief in the resurrection withOUT being a dangling punishment vs.reward minipulation issue...Although to explore precisley HOW and WHy this COULD be would be an interesting subject to research.

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But my question is: MUST a belief in Jesus as everyone's Savior & an after-life HOPE be based on the "dangling of threats of punishments or coexing people with after-life rewards? MUST it be THIS way?

 

Hello, Beach...

 

Keep in mind that we're dealing with a human construction...not fact. The system of rewards and punishments in faith is as old as faith itself and is a very archaic, and negative, way of controlling behavior. I personally reject such images of God and Jesus as insulting props meant to manipulate the faithful and enforce 'accepted' social norms. How dare anyone portray God and Jesus in such a degrading manner! The images of God and Jesus portrayed by mainstream denominations not only turn people away, they create an image of God and Jesus that serves as self-justification mechanisms for sexist policies, wishy-washy social positions, exclusionary attitudes towards gays, etc. etc. God is the God of All People...loving, forgiving, compassionate, understanding...Jesus is the Teacher of the way of Life that leads to God through peace, brotherhood, inclusion, acceptance, love, and compassion. The emphasis on Jesus as God and not Jesus the Teacher acts as a diversion so that we don't ask why our churches and so-called 'Christian' politicians claim to believe in the Prince of Peace while actively supporting the Dogs of War. When we begin to focus on a loving God that is part of each and every one of us and upon Jesus' teachings instead of the scary stories and magic nonsense as presented by the Denominations, we will then begin to free ouselves from human religious props and constructions and begin to build a true Spiritual Faith.

 

Russ ;)

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Beach & all,

 

I would imagine that many progressives identify with the way Marcus Borg describes resurrection, saying the path of transformation is that of dying to an old way of living, and entering into a new way of being. Sort of covers it for all the major faiths.

 

As mystictrek pointed out, Jesus was not focused on afterlife but on this life.

 

On your original point, about atonement theory--there probably is a link between the bloodthirsty fundamentalist image of God, and violence, martyrdom, child abuse, etc. Not provable, but a logical association.

 

As you pointed out there are many examples of grace and compassion in the Old Testament God, from Isaiah, psalms, etc. God is not two-faced, but does appear to grow from the old to the new testaments....though His/Her essential nature remains the same, IMHO.

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One doesn't have to see the purpose of an afterlife as one of punishment and reward. The Egyptians did see it as punishment and reward. Maybe they gave that to the Hebrews, in contrast to earlier parts of the Old Testament, where it seems one was only punished in this life and rewarded by long life and many children.

Of course eventually one sees the contradictions in that, bad people who do well and good people who do poorly, so one can then see the afterlife as a way to have justice, to even the score.

 

Somewhere the idea of judgment got in here, then an atonement to escape that judgment. Is it real? Ask God. That's what I found all these fundamentalist images to do to me, to drive me to Him, even though I never embraced them. I still took them in as a possibility. And while one can argue against them rationally, as in, "what kind of God would do that?" I don't see such terror leaving my mind except by God assuring me He loves me directly. He would never hurt me. He tells me so, in the context of an ongoing relationship that lets me believe that.

 

God tells me it's not His purpose to even the score, that it never was. It was a message that appealed to those oppressed by Rome, but it is human vengeance, not His. Whatever vengeance He has, maybe He'll need to express it at some point, maybe He won't. It certainly won't threaten ordinary people. No one who worries about punishment need fear it.

 

So what was the atonement? Was it a device to bring people to God? God tells me nothing is so planned out in advance. If Jesus was an atonement by example, it was still about love and having the faith not to run away, even if He wasn't the Passover lamb per se, even if it wasn't the death of a perfect man that was required, but a spiritual leader, to draw people to God. Is even that fair? No, it's not. My life hasn't been fair. No one's life is fair. People get stuck on what's fair and become atheists. Everyone does his or her part, and the whole is enough.

 

It is for love. Sometimes love means scaring the hell out of people. God says if He had planned it all, He would have planned fear of hell to have fewer side effects, but He doesn't plan things that way. He travels with us, before we were born, after we die. The Bible is wrong about objective things, such as in Genesis or in the relationship between sin and disease. People were wrong to think they could understand spiritual reality just from the Bible. Many people continue to cling to that. They are hard to dismiss without dismissing God, too. But it can be done. God will help in that.

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Even though I myself an not a Universalists, never-the-less, let's examine Bishop Sponge's view, in which he subscribes to the idea that "Jesus is EVERYONE's Savior," whether they know it or not. What Sponge is saying here, in in this inclusive version of the Savior is CONTRAST against the traditional fundamental Savior concept. How so? Because in the Fundamental Evangelical Protestant version of the Savior...they 'claim' that Jesus IS the world's Savior..but..in reality you find out that they REALLY mean that in their view...ONLY Evangelical Protestants are saved..and Jesus is really 'THEIR' Savior....

 

The inclusive view of the savior that Sponge discribes Jesus really IS Everyone's Savior..NOT jut the evangelical Protestant's Savior..Not JUST Protestants and Not just the Christians..but EVERYONE's including the bahia's, Gaundi, ect. While obviously, Spong IS a Progressive Christian and thus Progressives and Moderate Christians of all types like to read his books...still, many Progressives may not concure with his view about Jesus as savior..even if..this version of the savior IS all inclusive..which Is in STARK CONTRAST to the far right's version. The question is WHY?

 

Well, we have already examined the issue "revenge & attonement" as well as the issue of "dangling after-life rewards or punishments." True, but in Sponge's views...he offers NEITHER of these in connection to his inclusive view of Jesus as Savior. In light of this..what your view on all this?

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Beach--

 

Are you talking John Spong, or Sponge Bob Square Pants?! (just kidding)

 

Your topic keeps evolving. To me it seems that being a universalist is part of the 8 points of Progressive Christianity.

 

I've read 3 of Spong's books, my favorite is This Hebrew Lord because it concentrates on the life and character of Jesus. "To bring the love that creates wholeness is to be the saviour of humankind." I guess that amounts to calling Jesus a universal savior. It's true that Spong doesn't believe in heaven or hell; instead, he paints a very attractive portrait of Jesus as the ultimate example of divine love embodied in a human being. Spong writes well about the qualities Jesus had that drew others to him...his contagious compassion, his wisdom and courage, his teaching and healing. We don't need to be bribed or threatened to connect to Jesus, but we do need to be inspired by something in his life, whether it's the resurrection or his healings or teaching, the parables, the Beatitudes --whatever we relate to personally. At least that is my understanding.

 

btw--my approach to PC is different from most people here probably, I didn't come from a fundamentalist background (though I'm sort of a refugee from some abusive types on Beliefnet-!)-- my parents are both atheists though we went to Congregational church sometimes. My belief in Christ came later, in my thirties, mostly through reading and a few signficant others.

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I really enjoy Bishop Spong's style of writtings. Infact, I have saved many articles he has written on Beliefnet and stored them in my files. Well, I am not sure if there is a name for my belief..but what I precieve is we have the far right fundamental view in which everyone must believe correct now about Jesus or you are eternally "bleeped". Which I completely reject. Then there is universalism where everyone is oddomatyically saved...My belief is ..contrasting to the far right..that EVERYONE gets a FAIR chance at salvation. I believe that if you die before accepting Christ..you DO get a second chance..Thus is where I guess it's like spongs' belief where he says, "Jesus is everyone's savior."

 

As far as heaven and hell. I believe hell simply means to cease to be..and as far as a possible after life..I believe that you can get the new heavens or new earth..or one can simply live just this life..but there is no eternal punishment.

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I was looking at the book discussion that turned into this thread. There are these writings that Aletheia suggested:

 

Amazon.com - The Nonviolent Atonement by Weaver

 

Online article at CrossCurrents - Violence in Christian Theology - Weaver

 

Online article at Mennonite Life - The Violence of Satisfaction - Weaver

 

I don't have the URL's to make them links, but they are links in that discussion. I was reading the middle one today. It's interesting. So often liberal Christianity is like traditional Chritianity, only altered just enough to get away from some dogma that some find objectionable. So there is the idea of atonement by example for those who doubt substitutionary atonement.

 

If I understand Weaver correctly, he's going much farther. He's saying it's fine to say the devil or the Romans killed Jesus, not God, and that the reconciliation between God and human was not in Jesus' death, but His resurrection.

 

It made me think of something I wrote yesterday about love. Yet another way of seeing the atonement would be to see it in the present, to see it in how any one of us comes to God, becomes free of false theology and can accept God's love for what it is. Jesus is certainly as example for that. Maybe there's some further spiritual truth in that, too, maybe substitutionary atonement, but the work isn't completely finished in the past, despite the Bible quoting Jesus as saying, "It is finished". Maybe the atonement is only finished when someone comes to love God and accepts God's love. I like that. I know what goes on in the present. It's not as mysterious as something so far in the past. And there is this issue that Jesus may have died for everyone, but if some never make the slightest move toward God, does it matter that Jesus died for them? If there never was a hell apart from one's natural death, maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe the only atonement that matters is something set up by Jesus and God in the past, but carried out between an individual and God in the present. I like that. Someone else must have already seen in that way, right? Does anyone know?

 

I'm sure there are many ways to look at atonement.

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Hello All,

Enjoyed all the wonderful posts in this thread.

On the point of the difference in the God portrayed in the Old testament and New Testament I would say that for the most part the God of the OT portrayed as jealous, prone to anger, requiring blood sacrifices, vengful and other human character traits is nothing more than the ego of man writing about a God from a very low level of his own consciousness.

 

One who resides in fear see God as the great punisher. One who resides in anger sees God as vengeful. One who resides in love sees God as loving. Having said that.... It is beyond me why the Christian church after Jesus's teaching about a God of infinite love and Mercy and Peace decided to include the OT in their new religion. Perhaps Proverbs and Psalms would be appropriate and maybe Genesis but..... Even humans today when coming up with a new last will and testament have the sense to discard the old one. Otherwise it would be confusing and not called new.

 

Anyway, for whatever reason, it was done and many Christians today continue to struggle with two testaments that cannot be reconciled as coming from the same source. There seems to now be too many insertions in the NT to validate the OT that it will be difficult to ever change. It seems to me that Inspiration can be found everywhere in stories and in many books other than the Bible. Perhaps in time 'blind acceptance' of words in a book will be seen for what they are...... Bondage and letters that can kill rather than make alive. Still, on a positive note, one can find in the Bible some pointers to that which original teachings pointed to and that which can be found when one seeks truth with all their heart.

 

Love in Christ,

JM

Edited by JosephM
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Ok this took me a while but I researched that link that Riv gave me..and then I simplified it down and added my own twist to it and here's what i came up with...

 

The Problem of the Far Right Christian's 'Assumption' of What 'They' Think' The Ransom of Christ Means..And The Harm Their Assumption Causes

 

It begins with the assumption that God demands a performance of perfection. this far right assumption turns liberal minded and more moderate minded people off from wanting to learn about Christianity. Paul in contrast says we can't come to God through law but only through faith. If there is one thing that Paul stressed over and over it is that God never wanted us to come to him through performance and works and law, but always from day one wanted to be in a relationship with us. When Paul speaks of "atonement", he simply means our reconciliation seen in relational terms, not legal ones. Similarly, Paul does not see sin in a legal framework as a "transgression", but in relational terms as "separation" (Eph 4:18), and "alienation" (Col 1:21). Sin means being estranged from a relationship with God, and salvation entails being restored into that relationship.

 

Paul describes himself as "as far as legalistic righteousness - faultless" (Phil 3:6). Yet he goes on to say that he considers this accomplishment to be "rubbish" (v. 8). compared to being in a relationship with God in Christ through grace, and he does not try to encourage people to follow the way of law , but to enter into the freedom of the way of grace though the Spirit. Why? Because Paul knew from his own life that his zealous, flawless keeping of the letter of the law led him to be, in his own words, "a blasphemer, a persecutor, and violent man… Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15).

 

His former religious legalism led him to being hateful and abusive. Paul knew first hand the severe damage legalistic fanaticism could do in one's own life and in the lives of others, which is why he was so opposed to legalism later (cf. the entire book of Galatians which is a treatise on the dangers of legalism replacing grace). It took an encounter with the risen Jesus and a community that loved its enemies to turn him around, but once he (literally) saw the light, he became an outspoken champion of the way of grace over law.

 

The Concept of a Savior For Spiritual Moderates & Progressives

 

Jesus does not identify with a legal system, he identifies with the lamb, the victim. He is not by any means the model law-keeper, but instead models the perfect relationship with God - Father and Son. When the law required that a woman be stoned to death for committing adultery (Lev 20:10), he forgave her instead (Jn 8:3-11). He forgave people freely even though this was a direct affront to the temple priests (Mk 2:6-7 Mt 21:15, 23) who required a sacrifice to grant God's forgiveness (Heb 5:1-3). Jesus required none. Jesus does not side with the religious authorities but shocks and confronts the religious establishment as he defends the outcast, the rejected, the untouchable. He models what it looks like to live by the Spirit of grace. He does not show us a lawgiver God who demands perfect obedience but instead reflects God's heart of compassion towards us, especially those marginalized and rejected by the System.

The Purpose of the Law

 

Understanding the cross/stake/ransom from a legal perspective ignores the fact that the eternal model for God's dealing with humanity is relationship. Even the heroes of the Old Testament are not noted for their moral perfection but for their faith - for their trust (cf. Hebrews 11). The convenant promise that God makes with Abraham is not of law but of a trust relationship (Galatians 3:6-9). It bears repeating: the law was not an eternal model but was a relational word spoken prescriptively into an existing fallen culture to curb their hurtful and abusive behavior and ultimately point them towards God's way of love in a personal relationship. The law was never intended as a substitute for a relationship with God, for "If a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law" (Galatians 3:21) But rather the law points us to faith: "Now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law" (3:25)

 

How Paul And Jesus Condemed The Religious Far Right Of Their Day & Their Oppressive Man-Made Laws

 

Both Paul and Jesus in their criticism of the law were not attacking Judaism with which they both identified deeply, but how sin had taken that law and turned it into something that caused people to draw lines that kept others away from God and justified self-righteousness. They were speaking out against the deadly spirit of legalism. Paul explains that the law was intended to lead us into relationship, to prepare us for grace, yet for many of us, including Paul, the law led to legalistic "Phariseeism" - a hurtful, self-righteous judgmentalism rooted in law not in love. Rather than seeing where the law pointed - towards love and a living relationship with God - Paul had mistakenly focused on the law as an absolute system, as an end in itself. By obeying this system, by performing, by doing and believing the right things, he hoped to be able to gain God's favor, but instead ended up with a toxic and abusive faith. "I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring me life actually brought me death" (Romans 7:10). Paul cries out then "Who can save me from this death trap!" (v 24) and the answer he finds is grace.

 

We've finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to perform holy outwards acts…God sets all right who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.

Jesus said he came "not to destroy the law but to fulfill it" Just as we need to be reconciled to God and put in a right relationship to him, so does the law. The law is a good thing, but it cannot replace a relationship with God, but must intead point us towards that. Whether it is the Jewish law, or the doctrines of the church, or our own striving to make sense of the world, these laws and principles and systems must be subordinate to God and to Love. They must point us to God rather than replace that relationship with rules.

 

They must encourage us in our search for Truth rather then claim to have a monopoly on it.

 

Many Christians have effectively done away with the Jewish law only to replace it with their own man-made rules of behavior and doctrines of "right belief" derived from the New Testament. The problem is not with Jewish law as opposed to Christian law but with any law that acts as a replacement for our being reliant on God to lead and rule our lives. Every law needs to come under the lordship of Christ. Our relationship in God is rooted in entering into what God does not in what we do with our plans and systems and principles. Love is central, and we and our systems and laws and all of life need to be reconciled to Love. And in that place of reconciliation, in that place of knowing our unconditional worth as human beings rooted in God's creating us in his image, we need to love others, and see that our institutions, our laws, and our systems work towards that as well.

 

The Temple System

 

We now turn to the temple system which was the center of religious life for the Old Testament Jews. Satisfaction-Doctrine traces the need for sacrifice back to the temple sacrifices so it is important to understand them from a Jewish perspective rather than a Pagan one. We will therefore be looking at the concept of temple sacrifice in the Old Testament and the temple as it is understood in the light of the New Testament. The book of Hebrews tell us that the temple was a reflection of the heavenly realms, but the real model is the heavenly one. = New Jeresulem."[The temple priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven…The Kingdom of God.

 

But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another." (Hebrews 8:5-7) In the time of Jesus the third temple rebuilt by the infamous Herod the Great had become a corrupted institution. The Sadducees, a religious group of the wealthy, who collaborated with the Romans in order to keep their power base, now controlled the Temple. This is the scene where Jesus kicks over the merchant stands and money-changers' tables in the temple area and says "You have made the house of my Father into a den of thieves!" (Mt 21:12-13)

 

The temple which had a monopoly on forgiveness through the required sacrifices had turned communion with God into a franchise shutting out the poor and dooming them to a life as outcasts and untouchables. The temple had strayed from its original purpose, just as all good things can stray from their purpose and become corrupted. Instead of pointing people to heaven and drawing them close to God it shut the door in the face of the poor. Just as with our lives, the restoration of the temple involves at the same time a repentance of where it has become opposed to God's purpose, and a restoration back into that purpose. The book of Hebrews says that the cross means the end of the entire temple sacrificial system which was only a shadow of the real thing (Heb 10:1) and is declared inferior (Heb 8:6-7) and obsolete (Heb 8:13). Now that the real thing had come there was no need to for the model. On the cross the temple veil that separated us from the Holy of Holys was torn in two. The dwelling of God was now in the hearts of His people (Eph 2:21-22) Thus the fulfillment of the temple through the cross meant its subversion into God's Kingdom. By making forgiveness available directly through grace, the temple's monopoly claim on franchised forgiveness was subverted. Through Christ's "coup de grace" we now have direct access to the Holy of Holys.

 

Jesus led the way for us vicariously in the ultimate sacrifice, taking on the life of a servant, aligning himself with Love, and enduring suffering for the sake of the poor and the captive. Here we have a very different concept of what “offering” means in relation to Jesus - it is not about him offering his life to appease and angry God, but about his entire life being a fragrant offering of selfless servant-love as he cared for the least and the poor. The offering that God gave in Jesus was not just about his dying. The offering God gave the world in Jesus consisted of his entire life , of his example showing us God's way of love, revealing for us God's heart of compassion towards us. The life of Jesus is God’s gift to us in order to draw us close to himself. Jesus' entire life was a sacrifice as he took on the life of a servant caring for the poor and the forgotten. We too are called to bring our lives as a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1) not only "negatively" by renouncing hurtful things in our lives, but also "positively" by living the life of other directed love that Jesus embodied. Jesus death was not the offering, his entire life was. The cross was the culmination of this entire life of "cross bearing" as Jesus stood up for love even to the point of suffering and death

 

It should be clarified that from a Jewish perspective the purpose of the sacrifices was never to appease God, which is a Pagan concept, but to cleanse us (cf. Heb 9:13-14) and draw us near to God. In Paganism there are many gods: the god of war, the god of harvest, the god of fertility and so on. These gods do not represent the embodiment of goodness (which is a monotheistic view of God) but were more like a heavenly counterpart of earthly kings and dictators - very powerful and just as ruthless, temperamental, and despotic. The Pagans presented offerings to these tyrant gods to appease their wrath so that the gods were kept happy and would not decide to wipe out their crops or send a plague when they are in bad humor. Sadly many people today have adopted a similar image of God as some angry authority figure in the sky who we need to appease lest we be punished.

 

The Jewish concept of monotheism however says that there was only one God who was the embodiment of goodness, justice, and mercy. Yahweh is not a celestial tyrant like these other false gods who present a false image of authority based on oppression. Yahweh does not need a bribe to convince him to be just or merciful because he is the very definition of justice and mercy. God does not need an appeasement to forgive. On the contrary Jesus tells us that Yahweh is our model for loving our enemies:

 

" But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous..." (Math 5:44-45, 48) The idea of appeasement is based on a pagan concept of god-like power - on a hurtful conception of what power and greatness are. HereThe biblical conception of god-like power that we see both in Jesus and the prophets however is about justice, which means defending the small. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" Like the passion of a parent who is willing to sacrifice anything to get their child to safety. Or to take a recent example, like the firefighters who sacrificed their lives in the World Trade Center. This model of sacrificial love is what inspired the nonviolent movements of Gandhi and Martin Luther King

 

It is not about us reaching out to God in a legal performance system, nor about the human Jesus performing in that legal system to appease God, but about God reaching out to us in grace. In keeping with Jesus' entire "upside-down kingdom" where the smallest is the greatest, where God values most those which society labels the least, where the greatest is the servant, the entire system of man reaching up to God is reversed as God reaches down to us. Not only about the ransom & resurrection of Jesus, it is about restoration of all things through God's Kingdom.

 

"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you" (Colossians 1:21)

 

"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice". (Hosea 6:6)

 

God is not a distant judge in the sky. The sacrifice was for us, not for God. Jesus did not die to appease an angry God; Jesus died for you and me, so we would finally wake up to the fact that God loves us and always has. We are called to participate in together with Christ. We do this by taking on the life of service that Jesus exemplified (Phil 2:4-8; 3:10) defending the oppressed and standing up for what is right (1 Pe 2:19; Ma 5:10) .

 

The Fundamental Church Abuse of Guilt

 

The problem is that the church has tended to emphasize only moral guilt when speaking of sin. There are many other things that separate us from God, from life, and from love. For some people it is a deep seated sense of self-hatred, for others it is a sense of hopelessness and doubt. . Jesus encountered each person differently, looked into their heart and said to them what the Spirit told him to say so that they might find life. We need to do that too, not with a formula, but through the spirit meeting each person at the point of their need with the Gospel.

 

Sin is not merely about how we individually hurt ourselves and others, but also about how our institutions, societies, churches, families, and communities can also become corrupted and hurtful. We need to be redeemed, but so do our institutions and communities. Thus, the HOPE of the coming of God's Kingdom..ON EARTH as it IS IN Heaven. It is vital in seeing this institutional aspect of sin that we do not develop a victim mentality. When we do this we allow the powers to have dominion over us. We allow the system to dictate to us who we are. Forgiveness for moral debt is a very real and important aspect of this, but the victory over sin death and the devil that Christ purchased on the cross/stake is much larger then that. He has secured a way out of anything that could separate us from him, from every prison. When we feel secure enough to be honest, we can all admit that we have need, that they do not have to all together. For all of us there is something that separates us from life that we need to boldly and honestly face, an area of our lives that we need to allow Jesus into.

 

Healing From Religious Fundamental Abuse

 

Even if we are hostile, God's response is not to crush us as we might expect, but to break the cycle of estrangement and rivalry with the transforming power of love.

In addition to struggling with self-worth, another equally common reaction to a hurtful environment is to react violently to it. Take the example of a person raised in an oppressive religious environment: This person may "escape" from a repressive religious environment but still carry its scars. They feel extremely threatened by the hurtful image of authority and God they were taught, and to protect themselves they erect a defensive wall that keeps out hurt, but keeps out love as well. They become "strong" in order to survive. Weakness cannot be allowed, need cannot be admitted. They remain a victim, a captive, because the place has changed but their heart has not. In their struggle against the oppressive image of authority they come to see God as a threat, an enemy seeking to crush them, and in reaction to this they hit back in rage, hurting themselves and others. The term "sin" which is so problematic for our generation simply describes all these different kinds of alienation to Life.

 

These conditions can just as easily describe someone inside the church as someone outside. This is not a matter of being converted to a religion, but being reconciled to Life. Many people inside the religion of Christianity still are estranged from life and alienated from God's love. Often times precisely because of a toxic faith environment encountered in the church. God seems distant to them; they feel condemned and unfulfilled. I know many people like this, people who are trying to break free from the yoke of legalism and spiritual abuse and enter into a grace-oriented understanding of Christianity. Whatever religious credentials we possess, whatever our condition is, God looks at our hearts and encounters us individually, personally, just as we are. Even if we are hostile to God, reacting destructively towards life, violently reacting to the authority images we struggle with - God's response as revealed in Jesus is not to crush us as we might expect, but to break the cycle of estrangement and rivalry with the transforming power of love.

 

The way that we take hold of salvation is not by following a formula, but through opening ourselves up to a relationship. We open our lives up to allow Christ to come in and rule in our hearts and lives, and as we live together with him at the center of our lives his love will transform and heal us. Our security does not rest in having it all figured out, but rather in belonging to the one who does. The ransom and resurrection of Christ is not God punishing the human Jesus, but Jesus revealing the compassionate heart of God to us. Jesus reveals to us who God has always been. God has always suffered with those who suffer, God has always intimately known our condition. God has always been close to the broken-hearted. The ransom & resurrection does not change God at all, but it demonstrates very vividly who God is and always was. It shows us his shocking nearness, his scandalous love for us. It is a window to heaven that gives us a glimpse of God's radical love sacrificing for us and conquering death. It is a vision of grace in action. If you want to know what God is like, then look at the personality of Jesus.

 

The Relfection of God's Nature & Personality As Seen Through Jesus

 

The entire life of Jesus, which culminates at the cross/stake reveal a radical transforming picture of who God is. Jesus comes to the earth, loving the forgotten, healing the wounded, and liberating those oppressed by darkness and oppression. "He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that he might become the one who is first in all things; and through him to reconcile again to himself all [other] things by making peace through the blood [he shed] on the cross/ torture stake, no matter whether they are the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens. " (Collosians 1:18 & 20) What does it mean to make Christ supreme? To make his way, who he was and what he embodied ours. The way is Christ. The point is not so much to describe the God-like qualities of Jesus but much more to describe the Jesus like qualities of God. God is like Jesus.

 

Jesus reveals God's heart, the core of who he is. Jesus is the very reflection of God's personality. If you have seen him, you have seen the Father. What is God like? He is like Jesus. Jesus reflects "image of the invisible God" is not merely a concept or an idea such as seeing God as justice or God as love. The revelation that Jesus gives us is of an entire life. So that in answer to the question what is love? We can say , Look at the life of Jesus - that is love. Similarly if we want to know what Godly justice is about, Jesus is our model of that. Moreover Jesus was not just a life long ago, but is alive now. He is not a static life trapped in a book but is the living Word of God. Jesus is the Truth. We can never have a monopoly on Truth. Yet, we should strive to live in a constant relationship of openness and listening, continually letting the real living Christ transform us.

 

The Way..Of Social Justice & Restoration Of ALL Things

 

Christ gave his life standing up for what he had stood up for his whole life - caring for the least. We are liberated from the hold of an oppressive environment and our own self-hatred and reconciled into a loving, intimate relationship with the living God. Jesus life and death was not the fulfillment of a legal system, it was the fulfillment of the relational model of love. Jesus fulfilled the true law by modeling perfect humanity. Jesus framed his entire ministry in the terms of the "kingdom of God". Scholars universally agree that the message of the kingdom was the central theme of Jesus' teaching. Whether he was touching the untouchable, fellowshipping with the rejected, bringing hope to the broken, or healing the afflicted, all of these acts were framed in the terms of the kingdom - liberating people from Satan's grip. For example, Jesus diagnoses a crippled woman as one "whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years" (Lk 13:11,16) and says to her "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." (v 12) all of these acts are understood by him to advance God's reign of compassion. He had come to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, freedom to those in prison. Thus the early churche's understanding of Christ's death and resurrection as "overcoming death, sin, and the devil" was parallel to how Jesus understood his entire life ministry. The cross/stake was the culmination of Jesus' entire life ministry to advance the kingdom of God.

 

Jesus shows us what it means to be truly human by modeling what a life lived in submission to the God of love looks like. Jesus' way was the way of love, and Jesus knew full well that if he stayed on the road he was on, defending the poor and confronting spiritual corruption and evil, God did not cause Jesus' death. Hate killed Jesus when he stood up for love. But God used this tragedy to bring about life. God had a plan. Through the way of suffering, Life overcame Death. Jesus was not just a martyr for a cause, his death was the way that led to resurrection - the restoration of all things.-Acts 3:21 It was the way of the cross/stake that led to life and the resurrection and victory. In Aikido one uses the force of an attacker's blow to In God's economy evil was defeated not with violence but with nonviolence, not with the power of hate but with the power of love.

 

In God's economy, evil was defeated not with violence but with nonviolence, not with the power of hate but with the power of love. Life defeated Death. God raised Jesus from the dead so we could see that in the final analysis love is stronger than hate and death. From the hand of She´ol I shall redeem them; from death I shall recover them. Where are your stings, O Death? Where is your destructiveness, O She´ol? Compassion itself will be concealed from my eyes. " (Hosea 13:14) It was through the resurrection that death was overcome and where love emerged as victor. It was in the power and hope of the resurrection that the first-century church set their hope that they too would be raised up. It is about liberation. It is about revolution. It is about God's battle to break through to us with his love.

 

It is not simply that we have hope of life after death (we do), but that Life is alive and at work in us now , even as we are still in a world that is not redeemed and even as we ourselves are not fully redeemed. Thus the resurrection, rather than promoting escapism, tells us that it is part of ushering in the hope of the coming of God's Kingdom...on earth as it (already IS) IN heaven, the reconciliation of all things - in every area of our lives, our relations, our societies, and our world.Matthew 6:9, 10; Acts 3:21.

 

The resurrection may not change our present situation: we may still experience a hurtful world of injustice and suffering. But we have hope in a negative society , like an anchor for our soul, holding us to Love, connecting our hearts with God's heart. (cf Heb 6:19-20). It is not escapist but fully life-embracing. It is a faith that does not take us out of the world, but overcomes the world, and places us in that world fully engaged, daring to care for ourselves and others, working to alleviate suffering and fighting injustice. We live between the "already" and the "not yet" of the resurrection and the Kingdom of God..which already IS IN heaven and thus also shall come to be ON EARTH.

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Beach,

 

Wow, that was a lot of condensing work, glad you related to the article.

 

It must be hard to heal the damage done by fundamentalist churches, if clergymen perpetuate an image of God as a harsh demanding judge. Maybe alot of preachers are convinced that people in general don't get enough discipline growing up, and need to experience it in church as bribes and threats? I don't know. Seems like one thing Progressives have in common, as Marcus Borg points out, is that we feel victimized in some way, bondage or alienation, rather than a primary sense of guilt. We all get programmed with the "performance principle" to some extent in our families, in school and jobs--alongside the nurturing love we are raised with, hopefully. It's parallel to the law and the grace that interweave throughout the old and new testaments. Maybe I'm being too simplistic, but I think the message most Christians need to hear is that instead of trying to earn God's approval we need to see ourselves and each other not as achievers but as receivers, in a child-parent relationship to God.

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I was thinking the other day how irocically odd be true it is that there ARe alot of moderate, progressive and even liberal individuals IN very fundamental/conservative far right churches/faith groups..they are In there cause they simply do not realize that they have a choice.

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