Not every day you read a book that asks if we have the gospel wrong as christians, and proposes a new way of reading the bible… (Hmm, maybe there’s too much of that kind of books in some circles…) But this one called ‘the God imagination‘ by misional Church thinker Jonathan Brink more or less tries to argue for that thesis. Supsicious as a I am of people who think that they can re-invent the wheel without having it to be round I didn’t know what to expect. Especially with the esotheric-looking cover and title… But I know Jonathan Brink as an interesting Christian blogger, and if the book would’ve been new age I wouldn’t have bothered reading it.
So the book tries to look at the nature of atoment, and to frame the problem that Jesus came te solve.Jonathan does this by thoroughly going through the whole narrative of the bible, starting with the genesis accounts of the fall, and seeing what happens. Pointing out that the problem that had to be solved was not located in God or the devil, but in the first place in ourselves. The separation we experience from God, the self, our fellow human and the rest of creation is not reality, it’s a lie that’s been rooted deeply within us. ‘The God imagination’ then is the process in which we learn to see the Truth. And Jesus came to teach that truth, and be the ultime example and sacrifice.
So where penal substitution portrays a wrathful God who needs to punish someone before He can forgive, and in the Christus Victor view jesus gives himself over to Satan in our stead, according to Jonathan the problem is located elsewhere, namely in ourselves. It’s not that God (or even the devil) needs a sacrifice so that we can be forgiven; we are the ones who need it.
The main point of the book is that we need to look through Gods eyes, with what he calls ‘the God imagination’, to restore the image of God within us, to uncover our dignity that establishes us as good. To abandon the false and limiting identities, the victim or perpetrator mentalities, idols and comparisons, and to embrace the freedom that is found in grace, the courage in loving, and the wholeness in being. And that ‘the fullness of life resides in the act of love’, which is the judgment of good, and any act that validater, holds or restores a persons dignity to wholeness. Like Rom 13:8 says.
I might not agree with everything in this book, but the overall point he makes is not one that can be ignored, and it’s an important book to wrestle with, and to sharpen ones view of the story of the bible, the atonement, Gods justice, and the condition of mankind. And in the debates about the atonement Jesus brought us on the cross, this is a voice that should be given a place at the table!
I’ll end with a quote:
Jesus is giving us perhaps the most unorthodox idea ever presented. We often think that the way to overcome evil and death is to refuse it, to deny its power in our life and even pretend it’s not true. Our resistance to evil and death actually fuels its power over us. To deny its existence is much the same as covering it. Our primary concern is its capacity to fundamentally change us. We assume that if we experience it, it will make us evil. We cover what is true, pretending to hide it, and in doing so, partner in our own demise.
What Jesus is revealing is that the way to overcome evil and death is to surrender to the presence of it. By surrendering to the presence of evil and death, we’re destroying its hold over us. We’re calling it out and addressing it for what it really is. We’re being honest that it exists in our lives. And it is only then that we can overcome it. It is only by surrendering to the reality of evil that we discover we are not changed by it. It is only by surrendering to death that we can discover that it is not our end. (p 153)