Monthly Archives: February 2010

Psalm 51 and atonement theories


Last saturday I was attending a bible study from our youth grou, and at a certain moment we were discussing a part of psalm 51, which was projected unto a screen. Seeing the last part I had some thoughts that may have brought the discussion totally off-topic, and it already was lost in escalation so I kept silent. But somehow I do regret that now, so I will write down my thoughts now for the readers of this blog…

I will start with the bible verses from psalm 51 (for some reason the verse numbers are different from the dutch version but that isn’t important here):
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.Renew a right spirit within me.  11 Don’t throw me from your presence, And don’t take your holy Spirit from me.  12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Uphold me with a willing spirit.  13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways. Sinners shall be converted to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation.My tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness.  15 Lord, open my lips. My mouth shall declare your praise.  16 For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering.  17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The first verses are very familiar to me since we do sing a Keith Green song based on them in our church… But that’s not the point now. This psalm is said to be written by King David after he committed one of the worst crimes of his carreer: He had seen a beautiful woman bathing so he sent her man who was an officer in his army on a mission that would kill him, so he could take his wife… So David here is both a murderer and an adulterer. But eventually he comes to see what he has done (with help of the prophet Nathan) and he repents, and that is the moment this psalm is composed. So the context of these words is clear: the whole psalm is about salvation from the point of a serious sinner who has repented and wants restauration. It’s about how God forgives (and remember, this is long before Christ and the cross)

Now those words were on a screen, and I thought about the ‘basic evangelical story’ of atonement that I have heard so much, about the cross of Jesus: Man is a sinner, and God cannot just forgive him, sin is to serious for that, and someone needs to get punished. So God needs bloodshed and to punish someone to be able to forgive humans. Hence all those sacrifices in the old testament, in which the animal is a substitute for the sinful man that suffers death it his place.  But those offerings were not good enough in the end so Jesus had to come to give His blood, and take the punishment in our place, so once and for all with this one sacrifice God would be able to forgive us…

I’ve always found it a very strange idea that God would demand blood to be able to forgive us, but for long it was just a mystery that I did not question much… Even though I had philosophical and theological questions about it and did I also know some bible verses that seemed to say something totally different about God needing blood and sacrifices to be able to saveus, like Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Atonement seemed to me more like a restored relationship than the payment of a punishment to God before He would be able to forgive us. The penal substitution atonement theory is unquestioned and seen as the basis for Christianity by much evangelical and (neo-) reformed Christians…

Later when I read more, I found out that it is not the ‘one and only biblical truth’, but just one of the many stories that tries to explain how Jesus’ cross saves us. There are different theories of atonement, but that’s something I think most evangelicals are not aware of, unles they have studied serious theology. But still most of us are familiar with another version of the atonement story, and I still have objections against that particular version I am affraid. It sounds too pagan to me, and it makes God a bit weak in my eyes… It is very strange that an all-powerful God would not be able to forgive us without punishing and killing something. But even though the bible is clear that Jesus’ cross brings us salvation, it is not that clear how exactly this happens, and in the long history of the church there have been different versions and explanations of the atonements story, and different methaphors have been used to explain it.

Even if they may be not aware of it, there is another version that most people in evangelical circles do know: the powerful picture used in C.S. Lewis’ narnia story: Edmund the traitor is a sinner, who has become rightful property of the witch (evil) and then the Lion Aslan (Jesus) gives himself in Edmunds place to the Witch to be killed. And then death gets reversed and evil is defeated… 2 older atonement views can be explained from the narnia story, which is not exactly a coincidence: Lewis was a professor in medieval literature, and he did not hold to the penal view of substitutionary atonement himself… What is needed in the story is not that someone is punished, but that the sinner is saved from his bondage to evil, and rescued from the destruction that comes with being enslaved to evil.
The first theory is the so-called ransom theory: Jesus gives himself as a ransom in our place, to be taken by the ‘other side’ (satan, death, evil,…) So what’s the difference now? We still have the same sacrifice idea, and Jesus who takes our place, but something is reversed: it is not God who wants to see the sinners blood, but who loves us sinners and sacrifices Himself to the evil from which we have to be saved that does not want to let go of us. Jesus gives Himself over as a ransom to that evil (in our place!) to release us. Another related theory from the early church, looking from a slichtly different angle is what is now called the Christus Victor theory, in which the emphasis lies on Jesus who could not be taken by death, and who reverses death, and so has victory over evil in which we all can share… So here we have a very strong resurrection theme, which is not unimportant: Christianity has no meaning without the resurrection, in which we share!

Other theories of atonement have been proposed in the church history. The aforementioned penal substitution story, which is favored by much evangelicals and (neo-)reformed originates from the ‘satisfaction theory’ from Anselm in the eleventh century. Another theory is the moral influence theory, that says that Christs sacrifice was needed to give an example of faith and obedience to inspire man to be obedient to God. So here the sacrifice of Jesus is important as the culmination of obedience to the law of love, in which Jesus gives His life… (No greater love than he who gives his life for his friends…)

But like I said, all of these theories, and various others, are just theories to explain how Jesus saves us. Not all of them are focussed on the cross and resurrection: the orthodox church says that the incarnation already has saving power, and the anabaptists tell us that following Jesus’ words and living as his disciples will save us. And some pentecostelism will learn us that it is the Spirit who came with pentecost who saves us here and now in a lot of situations.

Most of these views date from long after the time of the first church and the New testament writers, so none of those can be seen as ‘biblical’ (Calling the penal substitution  ‘the only biblical version’ because it can be illustrated with some bijble verses is poor theology, and denies a lot of church history). I like to see them as different windows looking on something that is too big to comprehend with our human mind… The important point is that Jesus has saved us from destruction by taking our place, and has conquered death, so we can share in the resurrection..

And even more: it makes no sense to be saved jsut in theory. If we are saved from the bondage of sin and destruction, and reconciled with God, we have to embrace life and step out of what is destructing us… We have to live a life that is again living in harmony with Life, and the world arounds us needs that too…

shalom

Bram

Jesus saves, or the red pill out of Babylon?


You might or might not like this song, but I’m affraid I  do. And for more than just the quirky industrial rock aesthetics. I always get some chills, some kind of apocalyptic feeling of urgency over me when I hear the words Brian sings. As if someone is telling me, matrix-wise to use the red pill , that I happen to have with me, but always forget that I can take it…

Run away from all your boredom
Run away from all your whoredom
and wave Your worries, and cares, goodbye

All it takes is one decision
A lot of guts, a little vision to wave
Your worries, and cares goodbye

It’s a maze for rats to try
It’s a maze for rats to try

It’s a race, a race for rats
A race for rats to die

It’s a race, a race for rats
A race for rats to die

run away
run away

So I get the feeling I should run, even though I don’t know where to, and take the red pill, and pick up my bed and leave all things useless and harmfull, and look for the light and go for it. Let’s call it an escape from Babylon system, the soulless monstruosity which turns us into less than humans, and reduces us to the part of a machine. A machine that may even be a suicide machine that could consume the whole planet and turn it into shit while all we do is just endure the status quo of our great civilisation.

But for some reason I never get far. I have my dreams of getting away, and maybe I might even try, but it’s no use. The sad truth is that I can run away as far as I want from Babylon, everywhere I could go I’ll still have Babylon in my heart, and if I’d find unspoiled territory I’d only contaminate it with the very thing I’d try to get rid off…

It’s like an addict who tries to stop his drugs. One decision may be enough, but like a marriage which is not one moment of vow but a whole life of living that vow together, I do not seem to be able to make it real. I’m not strong enough, and I don’t know what to do, I’m programmed by the patterns of Babylon…I seem to stay in nomansland in the best moments, and I’m just asleep or actively participating in Babylon in the worst ones… From the viewpoint of  human being I’m pretty hopeless…

I need help. And I know that the only One who can really help me is the one who is not from Babylon. The One whose Kingdom is the one place I long for… The Prince of peace, bringer of salvation. To use great Christianese words that may be totally meaningless in the real world if we don’t watch out how we (ab)use them.

I’m a christian. I’ve been one all my life, even though there were moments that I’ve been struggling. I believe that the core of christianity lies in Jesus as God incarnate, and that Jesus saves us. Now that statement can be interpreted in very different ways. Sometimes I’ve been told things that seem like it only means that after this life we won’t go to hell, and nothing else. Just some mystical change in the heavenly realm, but nothing else. God does not intervene much… I find that kind of deism very tiring I’m affraid.

In the pentecostel church as a kid I learned that God does intervene, but it was totally cut loose from salvation as far as I could see. Even when YHWH saves the israelites out of Egypt, that is not salvation. Salvation is going to heaven. But then in a lot of places salvation seems to mean a lot of things. The example of the israelites taken out of egypt surely is a form of salvation… I do believe that salvation is more than just going to heaven after this life. I believe it is connected to the coming of Gods Kingdom, which Jesus announced, in and through our lives. I believe in salvation as a process, ongoing salvation, which ends in being with God forever, but that’s not the only thing there can be said about it…

Jesus  invades our life when the Spirit fills us. Where the light is the darkness cannot be. Where the Spirit is Babylon cannot exist. Where perfect love is, there cannot be fear. But that’s just theory for me. Just as the assurance that after this life I won’t go to hell. It doesn’t change my life. In the worst case I could be the irritating protestant who avoids to do anything good because then I would be trying to be saved by works… But that’s just nonsense. Being saved also is a process of being changed, of bringing the Kingdom into our lives, so that ‘His will can be done on earth as in heaven’. and then we wil automaticly do those good workd, not to be saved, but because being a new creation is not theory, or at least, it ought not be…

Shane Claiborne says somewhere (roughly parafrased) that when Jesus says ‘follow me’, that he invites us into a new way of Life. And that’s what I need. I need Life, for me and for this starving world around me. I need salvation, to pass it on to this poor planet… We are lost. and if Jesus is not being saving us here and now, what sense does it make to discuss about atonement theories and soteriology and whatever academic subjects we can make out of it? Does it make sense to discuss about all those things, or are we just called to follow?

And like John Wimber asked: When are we gonna do the stuff? I’ve been a christian all this time, and it’s still mostly theory, even the commandment to love is not being very actual in my life all the time. I’m still at the beginning of my way. And maybe I need to take the red pill daily; and convert time after time. But I believe Jesus saves! And I want to take new steps in that faith!!

Jesus,
learn me to follow You,
and to live Life,
and to bring salvation
to this broken world

Father,
Let Your kingdom come
Let Your will be done
on earth
as it is in heaven

spirit
flow through me
and let me be transformed
to the patterns of Jesus

Jesus can get Babylon out of me, and send me back into Babylon as an ambassador of light.

I pray He does, for nothing else would make sense for this life

shalom

Bram

Bram Cools radio


The last.fm radio is something very cool: you can give a band name, and the program will play songs that are similar to that artist… The problem is that you now have to pay for it…

But now there is already something new. I found it when I was checking the internet for my own mp3′s: go to duck.fm and you have the same option. It works through a searcher that accesses free streamable mp3′s around the internet. So now again I can freel listen to the music that sound similar to mine… In theory that is. But the first 5 songs that came out when I tried the Bram Cools radio were very good:

Bram Cools – beautitudes
danielson – smooth death
psalters – momamic
the encyclopedias – to be floating
sufjan stevens – jason

you don’t hear that kind of music on any radio… We need a radio here in Belgium playing lo-fi, poorly recorded indie, christian underground, and the likes. I will be glad to be the DJ…

peace

Bram

Avatar and the core of the christian view on marriage


edit: this can be seen as a follow-up to the posts about the emerging joneses and my anarchist marriage‘ and ‘post-human broken sexuality vs the beauty in this innocence

So I gave in to the pressure of following the hypes of the current western culture, and went to the cinema to watch that one movie everybody seems to have an opinion about these days – avatar. And in fact I liked it much more than I ever expected to… The alien biology and ecosystem was intriguing to my curious kid-like biology-obsession, and the 3D experience was overwhelming! There sure is a lot that can be said about Gaia-pantheism, colonialism, capitalism, militarism, white guilt, and Pocahontas, but I don’t have the time and the energy to do that. And others are already doing that and will continue to for a while I guess… But I still had to write more on this blog about marriage, and the movie gave me inspiration.

The na’vi of Pandora, an alien tribal race looking a bit like like long blue cat-like humanoids, are very interesting in that respect:  They are are monogamous creatures who mate for life. Their mechanics of reproduction are similar to that of humans and Terran mammals. When an appropriate mate has been selected, the male and female Na’vi will connect queues (something inside their braid, which can connect their neurons with those of other beings) to create an emotional bond that will last a lifetime. The intertwining of queues is both highly erotic and profoundly spiritual, but does not in itself lead to reproduction.

Traditionally, once a Na’vi male has passed the tests on the path to manhood and has been accepted into the clan as an adult, he is not only allowed to make his bow from the wood of the Hometree, but he is also expected to choose his woman. After the woman has been chosen, the new couple are mated before Eywa (their God, in a Gaia-pantheïstic sense, or the common consciousness of all the life on the planet). After the resulting embracing and kissing, the couple is sent to sleep by Eywa, and the two dream hintings of their future together. The couple will experience the pleasure of Tsahaylu (the bond) from the moment of connection, until they awaken and have completed mating, when they disconnect and return to the clan, mated for life.

The connection does not automaticly mean that Eywa accepts the couple and mates them: Once the bond is made between the couple, the ultimate in intimacy, pleasure that is unfathomable to humans, causes the somewhat unwillful sharing of the couple’s good memories, and is a sign of Eywa’s acceptance. If a couple can be foreseen to not have a pleasant or happy future, Eywa has been known to reverse the feeling produced by making Tsahaylu, a sign to the couple that mating would only, in simple words, ruin their lives together, and therefore prevents the mating, because of it’s life-long span.

What is so interesting about those blue aliens? Well, I do tend to think that they may give us a clearer picture of the essence of marriage. Surely, homo sapiens isn’t stricly monogamous most of the time. But I as a Christian believe that we were meant to be. Marriage is something that was created into the  human blueprint, even if we deny it…

So When the pharisees want to discuss divorce within the realm of the mosaic law, Jesus refuses to play that game with them, and instead of pointing at the (God-given!)  law, he goes back to the creation of man and woman, to  genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh.” Marriage was meant to be part of humanity from creation on…

The phrase ‘one flesh’ has a double meaning: it has a sexual meaning, but it also means that the 2 become one life unit, they become a  family, in which children are born and grow in a loving environment. So sex and marriage, or becoming a family, are meant to be synonyms. Sex in the hebrew culture is seen as the sealing of the marriage covenant, which is exactly the reason why it shouldn’t be played with lightly… Paul says somewhere that having sex with a prostitute is wrong, not because there is no relationship as we would think, but because even then you become ‘one flesh’ even when there’s no chance in the world that you’ll ever start a family with that prostitute…

So I do not believe in pro-marital sex. If it’s really pro-marital it is a timing problem, an earlier sealing of the covenant, which may complicate everything… But if it doesn’t lead to marriage, it is in fact an aborted family . and it is very clear what’s wrong about adultery I gues…

Another thing that I liked about the na’vi is the spiritual dimension of marriage. The na’vi are mated by Eywa, just as we Christians believe that we are joined together by God (‘what God joins together, man shall not separate) and I not only truly believe that, I can wholehertedly affirm that from my own experience. God brought me and my wife together, and is the one who joined us. Not the priest, or the belgian state… We were brought together firstly  by Him, and then by our own vows and the way we live them out for the rest of our lives. The rest are affirmations, which may be practical and needed, but not the essence…

One note, I think we should have the same realistic way to look at divorce. A dicorce is the final affirmation that something is going wrong, and that the marriage is broken, but before that there  most likely already is a problem for a long time, and that problem  is a sin against marriage already. It’s not that everything is okay until you are married and then you are a pariah and sinner. A damaged marriage with continuing destroying habbits  can be as harmful, and as devastating, also to ones relationship with God… And we should not make divorce the worst of all sins, those people are broken already most of the time, and condemnation will push them farther away from God… And we should not forget that the worst of all sins, above all sexual sins, is pride. which we all are guilty of from time to time…

And if I look around in this fallen and broken world, I see that the institution of marriage is dead for a lot of people. Lots of people have a ‘one flesh’ relationship and even a family with children, that may stay together for life, but they will deny that they are married. This is utter nonsense and a case of ‘it quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, makes eggs out of which little baby ducks come, and is in fact a duck, but until we have a paper which says that it’s a duck we can’t call it one’…

But we don’t need to revive an institution or any human construct. If the culture changes, we need to re-evaluate those things, and maybe just get rid of a lot of ballast… We need to go back to this simple basis for marriage. Our cultural contextualisations are just that. And they can lead our attention astray from the core of what marriage is intended to be, or they can make it difficult for a couple to join each other in marriage, or they can loose their meaning in a given society…

But what we need is to get serious about love and sexuality. Sex is designed to make a bond, though when you have sealed and broken such bonds without love it is likely to not work this way anymore in ones life. Sex without marriage is not a sin because we make the bible say so, but because it is harmful.

And we are called to show the people among us the reality of love through our friendships, relationships and marriages. May we all grow in this…

shalom

Bram

‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa


I was reading this article (it was linked by Christine Sine on her blog) about ‘cage fighting for Jesus’. And I just don’t know what to think about this… The first reaction is just one of total disconnect. I’m just not the type of man who would ever be interested in violent sports, so I guess I’m not the target audience anyway. All things macho are just something that I can’t take serious I’m affraid… But there are more serious doubts about this kind of stuff that I have on a more theological level.

It’s a problem that I have with the whole movement of ‘male christianity’, especially in the USA. In fact, most of it seems totally intermingled with the American culture too for my european eyes anyway…

Thr first problem is that you cannot push people into exact gender roles. Men can also be totally differen from other men, and women from other women, and sex is only one factor. For example; the difference between me and my wife is a lot smaller than the difference between me and some other man (let’s say driscoll, Eldredge and those Christian fight club dudes), you just cant lump people together because they are of the same sex… You cannot force your own preference and stereotypes on people just because they are male or female. Especially not if those stereotypes are just cultural, and not even part of my culture (sorry Mr. Driscoll, your gender roles are not biblical, just american) when I read the men are from Mars book, I sometimes recognised myself in the men fom Mars, sure, but at other times I did find myself more in the description of women, or I felt like coming from Jupiter or maybe Sedna

When it becomes a male-female dichotomy, and the other sex becomes something bad that can be used as a derogatery word (like Driscolls word ‘chickified’) something is wrong. This is sexism, and there is no place for it in the church. ‘Bad masculinity’ is nothing like femininity…

But there is something more that bothers me about the whole ‘be a man, be violent’ stuff. Let’s take for example the qoute at which I finally stopped reading the book ‘wild at heart’ by John Eldredge, after not recognising myself in it from the beginning on. “Jesus is no pale-faced altar boy with his hair parted in the middle, speaking softly, avoiding confrontation, who at last gets himself killed because he has no way out. He works with wood, commands the loyalty of dockworkers. He is the Lord of hosts, the captain of angel armies. And when Christ returns, he will be at the head of a dreadful company, mounted on a white horse, with a double-edged sword, his robe dipped in blood. Now that sounds a lot more like William Wallace than it does Mother Teresa. No question about it, there is something fierce in the heart of God.” (p 19)

The critique of Mother Teresa was too much to read on through a book that already troubled me. I guess eldredge just uses her as a caricature, but I’m sorry, she may be a woman, but she may be more Christlike than all those Jesus-cavemen lumped together… And if for some autistic reason a woman can’t be an example for you, then take St-Francis, or our belgian St-Damien of Molokai, or Stephen in acts… Jesus was God, the Almighty, who laid of His power, and came as a baby, and suffered with us. When they came to arrest Him, the disciples started fighting, but he rebuked them and healed the ear of the soldier who was wounded by Peter. so if Mark Driscoll says “I cannot worship a guy I can beat up”, he misses the point entirely. He came to be beat up, and worse…

The fighting of the good fight is a methaphor, (just as the double-edged sword) It has nothing to do with our fleshly muscles, and endorphines and adrenaline… No, those are things of the flesh, which are not the core of the Kindom fo God, which comes

Not by might, nor by power,
but by my Spirit says the Lord…

I believe Jesus didn’t came to teach us violence. Hhe didn’t say ‘blessed are the bruise-makers’ (or even the cheesemakers) but blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the Children of God. He doesn’t break the bruised reed or quench the smouldering wick, and we are called to follow in His way.

The Kingdom of God will not come through Martial arts… But through His strength when we are weak. And that may be impopular for us who want to be strong and in control, but in the end, we are to be weak, so He can be strong through us… And if our false idols of so-called manhood have to go in that process, so be it…

Shalom

Bram