Here is excerpts from a blog post of  Richard Beck at Experimental Theology. Richard is looking at George MacDonald’s sermon Justice. It is a great read:

MacDonald wants to push back on that notion [of equivalence between the “punishment” of sin and God’s “justice”], to suggest that justice is a far richer concept than punishment. And if this is so, no amount of punishment in hell gets God closer to achieving justice. To illustrate this MacDonald has us consider someone stealing our watch:

Suppose my watch has been taken from my pocket; I lay hold of the thief; he is dragged before the magistrate, proved guilty, and sentenced to a just imprisonment: must I walk home satisfied with the result? Have I had justice done me? The thief may have had justice done him—but where is my watch?

The point here, obviously, is that a “just” result can’t be found through punishment alone.

The doctrine of substitutionary atonement feels right to us because, as victims, we want wrong-doers to be punished. It’s emotionally satisfying. We want people to go to hell.

In short, the appeal and logic at work behind subsituionary atonement is really just a symptom of an evil impulse within our own hearts. But this evil impulse doesn’t describe God’s justice. God only punishes as a means, not as an end in itself:

It is no pleasure to God, as it so often is to us, to see the wicked suffer. To regard any suffering with satisfaction, save it be sympathetically with its curative quality, comes of evil, is inhuman because undivine, is a thing God is incapable of. His nature is always to forgive, and just because he forgives, he punishes.

A further problem with the allure of substitutionary atonement–to have Jesus suffer the consequences of my sin rather than me getting into the hard work of repentance and reconciliation–is that it is selfish, a theological product of my sin.

Substitutionary atonement is an attempt to cling to my sin ever more tightly! Let Christ suffer the consequences of my sin so I don’t have to make amends and restitution. I’m off the hook as it were.

If I hate the sin in my heart how is substitutionary atonement good news? It’s only good news for people who love their sin but want off the hook.

Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly. One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him.

But the question is still out there, how does MacDonald see Christ as our atonement? Toward the end of the sermon he offers his positive view:

I believe in Jesus Christ. Nowhere am I requested to believe in any thing, or in any statement, but everywhere to believe in God and in Jesus Christ…
Jesus, our propitiation, our atonement. He is the head and leader, the prince of the atonement. He could not do it without us, but he leads us up to the Father’s knee: he makes us make atonement. Learning Christ, we are not only sorry for what we have done wrong, we not only turn from it and hate it, but we become able to serve both God and man with an infinitely high and true service, a soulservice. We are able to offer our whole being to God to whom by deepest right it belongs. Have I injured anyone? With him to aid my justice, new risen with him from the dead, shall I not make good amends? Have I failed in love to my neighbour? Shall I not now love him with an infinitely better love than was possible to me before? That I will and can make atonement, thanks be to him who is my atonement, making me at one with God and my fellows! He is my life, my joy, my lord, my owner, the perfecter of my being by the perfection of his own. I dare not say with Paul that I am the slave of Christ; but my highest aspiration and desire is to be the slave of Christ.

There is a great question posted at Kingdom Grace that has got me thinking:

Is it or has it ever been God’s intention to punish mankind?

I gladly call myself a Christian Universalist or an Ultimate Reconciliationist. I have to be. Even though I do not know if it is true or not, I do know that there are enough verses and concepts throughout the scriptures to make this position at the very least possible if not probable. So I have to put my hope where God puts his hopes. It is his will that NO ONE should perish. Ultimately all creation will be reconciled, things in heaven, on earth and under the earth.

I would almost say that if you did not at the very least have a hope that Universalism is true than you are not a Christian. Of course I don’t and won’t say this, but  I do think it from time to time.

This is not to say that I am not human. I would like to see some roast eternally, but in reality, these are few and far between. Most I’d just like to see hurting for a weekend or two.

My stance is that “righteousness and justification comes through the faith OF Christ and that he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world. We will all be justified by grace through faith. And we will all be judged based on our works.”

If Jesus’ life is any indication, it is us religious types that will be judged harshest! God’s people, first Israel and now the church, have always been the first to be judged. Our purpose here on earth is to be a beacon of hope and to manifest the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. Share the gospel? Yes. But as a demonstration. Our purpose, from Abraham on down, was to be God’s blessing to the nations. And it is my firm belief that Matthew 25 is about seeing Jesus in “the other”. Jesus uses the Pharisees own doctrine of exclusion and subverts it, turning the tables and challenging them with there own eternal destiny.

So my answer is: No, It never was God’s will to punish. There will be judgment but I believe it will not be punitive but restorative judgment.

Thanks for your gracious response, John. Just to clarify: I am seeking to distance myself from a vicious, violent, and as you say, monstrous image of God. Nobody thinks they hold such a view, and I imagine that nobody consciously does.

But … I wonder if we can try to imagine what it felt like for Jews during the pogroms in Europe to have Christians call them “Christ-killers,” to burn, kill, and exile them … I wonder if we can try to imagine what it felt like for the Native Americans in our own history to be called savages and Canaanites (thus placing them in a category for “biblical genocide”), and then to watch our ancestors systematically steal their lands, relocate them to reservations, eradicate their culture, and so on. We could similarly try to imagine what it was like to hear the gospel from the same people who were colonizing … Then I wonder if we can imagine what it feels like today to be Muslim, or Hindu, or gay, etc., and become the focal point of fear, rage, distrust, fury, disgust, and so on … again, in the name of God and “Jesus.” I wonder if we can imagine what women feel like when the Bible is used to tell them to be quiet and do what they’re told … again, knowing that you probably don’t do this, but a lot of men still do, and even more used to do so even a few decades ago …

On top of my intellectual and spiritual responsibility to interpret the texts wisely and responsibly, I feel an ethical responsibility to interpret the texts with “the other” in mind. Perhaps that will help you understand where I’m coming from.

I don’t think the 6 line narrative (as I described it) is biblical – you may. You may not think that narrative – as I described it – is common; I do. You may not think the Christian faith has portrayed a monstrous image of God to the world very often; I wish that were true but don’t believe it is. I imagine you think that eternal conscious torment can be held without producing the ugly social consequences it has for “the other” in the past; that’s not a risk I can take. But If you share my concern that in the present and future we don’t portray – in word and deed – a monstrous image of a violent God to the world, then we can work together on behalf of “the other,” and I’m glad for that.
a comment(#78) by Brian McLaren on a post by Scot McKnight (emphasis mine)

I only wish I could be so succinct. This is the third post by Scot in a very heated dialogue on Brian’s portrayal of Christianity’s God and gospel in his new book, ANKOC.

For those not familiar with Brian’s 6 line narrative, it is:

  1. Eden/perfection,
  2. Fall,
  3. History/condemnation,
  4. The offering of salvation,
  5. Heaven/return to perfection or
  6. Hell/eternal punishment

Another commenter states: “a real atonement also requires things like real[punitive] judgment”

I ask, “Why?”

“to address the systemic and individual evil rampant in human reality”

How about the systemic and divine love and forgiveness rampant in God’s reality as revealed in Christ.

Why cannot God JUST forgive? Why must the Almighty “come in Wrath to destroy the Devil and evil men”? This same God who will smite his enemies requires me to love mine. This same God who will allow some to be consciously tormented eternally – either through His ‘good will’ or by sitting back and letting it happen seems to require more from me. Besides, forgiveness that is the result of Christ’s work on the cross is no forgiveness at all, it is appeasement. We have Christ dieing on the cross to appease an wrathful God.

I struggle to believe that our theological beliefs and doctrines have no effect on our attitudes or actions. This “conventional soul-sort” theology can’t but help lead us to an us/them mentality. I am not putting a morality value judgment on this us/them, however, taken to the extreme we see the actions against Jews, native Americans, gays and Islamic people as Brian pointed out in his above comment.

Scot’s posts and the resultant comments have been relatively civil in the often divisive McLaren War resulting from his new book.

If seeing the kingdom grow in our life and world was our real priority, how might that change the way we think about our gatherings and what we do to help equip people to live the life Jesus offered us?

This week’s podcast -just two guys talking- comes to you from The God Journey.

EASTER BONUS: I include with this podcast, this talk by one of the God Journey guys. I is the fourth talk in a must listen to 8 session weekend that purposes:

to help people break free of the bondage of religion and embrace an affectionate and life-changing relationship with the Father, through the work of the Son and in the power of the Spirit

THE DELIVERANCE OF GOD: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul” by Douglas A. Campbell has just been added to my wish list. Here are a couple of quotes  from a book review that gives you a hint at the reason why:

All works of scholarship begin with a problem, some crisis, controversy or conundrum. Campbell’s area of scholarship is Paul, his letters specifically. As you might imagine, Pauline scholarship is awash in controversy and debate. We won’t go into those debates in depth. I barely understand many of them. But to give you a taste let me present three:

The Meaning of Pistis Christou
What we know for sure is that Pistis means “faith” in Greek and that “Christou” means “Christ.” So far so good. But in the Greek there is some genitive ambiguity concerning how the two noun’s–faith and Christ–are to relate to each other. Martin Luther, and those who followed him, translated Pistis Christou as “faith in Christ.” But a growing number of scholars (e.g., Richard Hays, N.T. Wright) have argued that the proper translation of Pistis Christou should be “faith of Christ.” Wow, so much hanging on the switch from “in” to “of”! But it really is a huge change. Specifically, the change moves us from an anthropocentric view of salvation to a Christocentric view. In the former, the human person is the locus of salvation. I, Richard Beck, must have faith in Jesus Christ. My act of faith functions as the key to unlock salvation. In the latter view, it is the faithfulness of Jesus that unlocks salvation. Christ’s faithfulness saves me.

Paul’s Soteriological Inconsistency
Pauline scholars have argued that Paul’s soteriology, his view of salvation, is hopelessly muddled if not outright contradictory. To be sure, this might be unfair to both Paul and the canon. Paul might not be aiming for logical consistency. Plus, Paul might not have written everything we attribute to him. Regardless, it is worrying that Paul, the great theologian of the faith, might be confused or contradictory. For example, when scholars read Romans they see inconsistencies between the soteriology presented in Romans 1-4 and the soteriology presented in Romans 5-8. Of course, not everyone sees these inconsistencies, but as with the Pistis Christou debate, this is a location of scholarly controversy.

The Characterization of Second Temple Judaism and “Works of the Law”
When you hear the Jews described in church, and Paul’s life as a former Jew, they are described in a fairly stereotypical way: The Jews were trying to “earn” their salvation through “works of the Law” (Torah obedience). In short, the Jews were legalists. And this legalism was a source of great pride as many Jews felt that they were, indeed, “blameless” before God. Now, this characterization of the Jews has important soteriological functions. Namely, “Christian” salvation through grace is, at root, a rejection of legalism through works of the Law. Grace is the opposite of legalism. In short, the Christian notion of grace requires a backdrop of Jewish legalism for it to make sense, to be something “new and improved.” The trouble is, is this characterization of the Jews a straw man? Specifically, there is a great deal of biblical and extra-biblical evidence that suggests that legalism wasn’t really a problem, for Jesus, Paul or the Jews. Now, legalism was a problem for Martin Luther, his monastic attempts to save his damnable soul. But scholars have argued that Luther’s problem wasn’t the Jew’s Problem. Nor Paul’s. Nor Jesus’s. And, once again, there is debate about all this. It’s another location of controversy in Pauline studies.In sum, these are three examples of the debates within Pauline scholarship. There are many more and Campbell reviews them all. Exhaustively.
read more…

and from part II

why is God so harsh? Why isn’t his nature more kind, generous and forgiving? Humans don’t demand perfection from each other. We forgive. God, apparently, doesn’t. And it’s not clear why, in light of Justification Theory, God couldn’t be this way. Why couldn’t God be forgiving and nurturing in light of our transgressions? Not that God would be a pushover, but at least God would be nice and reasonable given that he’s working with human beings, creatures that frequently make moral mistakes because, like any animal, we get scared or confused. The trouble for Justification Theory is that if God were like this–nice and reasonable–then the salvific machinery of [the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus] is rendered moot. God doesn’t require the blood sacrifice of Jesus because God is intrinsically forgiving.
read more…

At the very least, Richard Beck‘s initial reviews of this book (part I and part II) have set the hook in my mind. I have been struggling with this image of God that makes a certain televangelist’s comments on Haiti seem not only reasonable but also logical, even required, in order to keep up continuity.

The need to uphold this theory may also be why people respond to the push back on this televangelist’s comments with “One does have to wonder ‘what’s up with Haiti?’ “, “we cannot say what God would and would not do” and even “God has done this type of thing in the past, why do we not think He could do it today?” These push backs always come with the “not that I think He is behind it, but…” If this is the image of your God, why don’t you just grow the balls to say that “God demands justice and maybe Haitians got what they deserved! End of story.”

Sorry. End of rant. Read the reviews and let me know what you think about all this.

Dave Schmelzer asks, “What do you think? Is it possible for people outside of Christianity to be saved through Jesus?”

The Christianity of today is very different than the Way that the disciples followed. Jesus and his disciples were very much Jewish in their religious practice. They were of a different sect then the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zeolots of the first century Jewish religion, but they were Jewish non-the-less.

Then along came Paul. Paul asked the same question that was posed by Dave above: “Is it possible for people outside of the Jewish religion to be saved through Jesus?” The answer? YES!

With the influx of Greek believers came the Greek form of Christianity that is our heritage in the west. Most of what we know as Christianity today is the result of theologians working out their ideas of God within a greco-roman worldview. Today’s theologies have more in common with Plato and Aristotle philosophies then they do with the ancient Hebraic worldview of Jesus and his disciples.

So either we are in the wrong, or salvation comes through faith in Jesus alone; regardless of worldview or religion: Hebrew, Greco-Roman Christianity, Muslim, Hindu, etc.

That said, however, I do think that faith in Jesus would change/ transform the worldview in which it is birthed, just as it transformed the early Jewish religion and just as it has transformed western philosophy. If there is no transformation – in the long run – than it would be fair to question the validity.

Why is it we insist on focusing on SIN (law) instead of Christ and His Kingdom? Are we really that much different than the Pharisees of old?
Comment by Spherical on Pragmatic Eclectic