Monday, October 13, 2008

Believe the Good News, 4

Ok, I've been pretty hard on penal substitutionary atonement the past few posts. And I know some of you have read these posts (sheesh, I'm actually assuming people read these) and think, what other way of looking at this is there? I am guessing that both of you who read my blog might think this because that's the reaction I often get from angry students who wish they heard some of this a bit sooner in life.

I'm tempted here to pile on a bit more, to unpack the ways psa as the only thing that passes for gospel distorts our notions of God. Like, for instance this unbiblical notion that the only way God can forgive is for someone to be punished--and with capital punishment no less.

But, let's let that alone, at least for now, and begin to explore what alternatives might look like. I've been exploring for a long time different ways to say this. Here's one way. Salvation is less a transaction, and more participation in an event. It is less a set of ideas to be believed and more a story in which to participate. It is more than just a change of status, but the offer of participation in a God-empowered way of life.

You'll notice the repetition of the word participation here. Participation, for my money, is the key word to describe the primary way the Bible talks about salvation. There are various benefits to this participation, including forgiveness of sins. Salvation is a multi-faceted thing. Beyond the language of participation, these facets have to be described or explained by way of pictures--metaphors and images, even theories (e.g. justification, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification).

Some authors who have noticed the limitations of psa have suggested that the correction is to simply use more metaphors or theories. Some even suggest using one image to kind of govern the others, for instance reconciliation. To me this misses the point. The images or pictures are always partial and contextual. There is no complete set of pictures that exhausts the meaning of salvation for all time and in all places. But salvation always involves participation in the life of God.

Remember, the two passages we noted in an earlier post (Mark 1:15, 1 Cor 15) that define gospel do so as the announcement of an event. Neither provides an explanation of the meaning of that event, a reticence associated also with early Christian creeds. But what would it mean to say that salvation is a participation in this event?

Notice Paul's pervasive use of participation language. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me." Or, "I want to know Christ, the power of his rising, share in his sufferings, conform to his death so that somehow I might obtain resurrection from the dead." Or, "But we have this treasure in clay jars...always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus might also be made visible in our mortal flesh." 

These kinds of statements could be multiplied and represent, I think, Paul's notion of the "word of the cross"--a logic, or mind, that sees the death and resurrection of Jesus as a script for Christian life. "The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). This also accounts for Paul's language concerning baptism, a joining or participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It's big stuff, and its all over the place.

The event announced in Mark 1:15 is the nearness of the kingdom of God. I want to spend more time looking at this event in future posts, but let's just say that the death and resurrection of Jesus functions centrally here as well. And the call of the kingdom is a call to participate in this event, "take up your cross and follow me."

Ok, we've dipped our toe into the water. We've pulled on a thread, and it has shown some initial promise. Let's see how far this thing might go. But I need to read Gadamer for class on Wednesday, so this will have to wait.


Cheryl Russell said...

GReat stuff here. Loving the participation aspect. Participating in relationship makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...


That's some deep stuff!!

Mark Love said...

Yeah, Zach, you need boots to wade around in what I'm spreading, unless you meant deep in a different way! Welcome to the blog.

preacherman said...

Wonderful post.
Thank you for sharing this with us.
I have been strengthened and encouraged.
Keep up the great work.
I hope you have a great week brother!