Tag Archives: atonement theories

It may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition (pt II)

For those who missed part 1, this is part 2 of my reaction to the viral ‘hating religion but loving Jesus’-video that everybody even remotely christian and even their atheist bulldog seem to be posting on facebook nowadays. Part one, in which I elaborated on definitions of the word ‘religion’ is here, and should probably be read before this one…

After the semantics it’s time to go to a problem that’s way more serious, and dig deeper in the message itself: It seems like Jeff Bethke makes his way of being a christian, and thus the gospel, antithetic to everything he denounces as ‘religion’ (which seems to be all that can go wrong with Christianity, and all he dislikes about some other christian groups) which makes the word ‘religion’ useless.

So let’s look at some of Bethke’s statements:

Now back to the topic, one thing I think is vital to mention,
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums,
One is the work of God one is a man made invention,
One is the cure and one is the infection.
Because Religion says do, Jesus says done.
Religion says slave, Jesus says son,
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.

I still do not know what Bethke’s definition is of religion, but it seems like his ‘religion’ is something really really bad nonetheless, and actually a very good scapegoat to dump all the problems of Christianity and the rest of the world on, sometimes leaping into ridiculous exaggerations. The above part is a good example.

I disagree completely with some of his statements… Religion is not the infection. Or doesn’t he agree that God himself instituted the religion of the Jews? Which would be very strange for a bible-believing evangelical, like he seems to be. Okay, religion did get infected with a lot of bad things (just like the Christian religion) but the problem was not ‘religion’ but the things infecting it. It’s a very weird deduction actually… Will you get rid of your child when it has a disease?

But it goes a lot further:

This is what makes religion and Jesus two different clans,
Religion is man searching for God, but Christianity is God searching for man.
Which is why salvation is freely mine, forgiveness is my own,
Not based on my efforts, but Christ’s obedience alone.
Because he took the crown of thorns, and blood that dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, that’s why we call it grace.
While being murdered he yelled “father forgive them, they know not what they do”,
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
He paid for all your sin, and then buried it in the tomb,
Which is why im kneeling at the cross now saying come on there’s room
So know I hate religion, in fact I literally resent it,
Because when Jesus cried It is finished, I believe He meant it.

I know the “Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man” theme, and there’s something to that, but still I don’t completely agree. It’s easy to say, but in the end the Jewish religion was also instituted by God when He, and not some evil people or delusional demons, but God Himself gave the laws to Moses! So I don’t see his logic why he can renounce and literally resent religion as a whole here, or proclaim Jesus and religion two different clans. And Jesus never abolished the laws, he fulfilled them, transcended them. But He surely never went denouncing them as evil. And religion-bashing is not the way to further the gospel.

It almost looks like the problem of the new atheists. They see a problem with fundamentalist religion and so keep the fundamentalism and ditch the religion. The anti-religion rhetoric does put all the blame on whatever ‘religion’ is supposed to be and then declared Jesus something completely different.

But there is something more that’s troubling in his approach. Now look at the above presentation of the gospel? What’s missing?

Firstly, like more evangelicals tend to do, the resurrection is completely ignored for some weird reasons, as if a ‘good Friday only gospel’ will ever be complete. But let’s not go into that, and also skip the idea that ‘Jesus thought of me’ while on the cross for now… And how he sees the ‘it’ that has been finished at the cross as ‘religion’ is beyond me.

But now we come to probably the weak point of common ‘born-again theology’. We are born-again because our sins (or the punishment for it) have been taken away by Jesus on the cross and now it’s all finished…. But that’s just the beginning. We have a whole life of growth before us. Being a spiritual baby alone is not enough. It’s even quite risky, babies are vulnerable beings that cannot survive without aid from others, and that are meant to grow into adulthood. (so they can make babies themselves, spiritually I mean) We are saved, and we are being saved, the bible used both, and they must be in tension. Salvation is not one moment, but an ongoing process that will never be perfected in this life, and something we have to bring to the world around us.

Sin is not just a problem that needs to be forgiven, Jesus destroyed the Power of sin, the infection that the fall brought has been recapitulated when He overcame the powers of evil, sin and death which were not strong enough to take him. Sin is something much more serious than just an offence to God, it’s a destructive force that pervades the whole universe…

Jesus didn’t finish all things at the cross, he started them. The resurrection was the beginning of the New heaven and earth. We are not just reconciled to God, but called out to proclaim the Kingdom of God ourselves. We gain a whole new life in Him, we are called to follow Him and further that Life in this fallen world. Which means action and a changed life, and the word ‘relationship’ implies that too.

And this is the last big problem with the ‘relationship with Jesus’ idea, which is actually quite troubling if you think about it. Sarah Moon has pointed to it in her excellent blog post. The view on relationships one would derive from this theology would be a very defunct one. Firstly nothing at all is said about what the relationship with Christ means in the poem, so we have to read between the lines if we want to know what he means. The hints in the beginning where he describes what religion is not are not that bad, but there’s no connection at all to the main dish, which is the atonement theory in the end, that seems to trump all, and doesn’t even try to say what our part is. 

There seems to be not that much about how to maintain the relationship in this view. Don’t we need to do certain things to keep a relationship healthy. Just accepting something from someone will never makes us lovers as far as I know… And being ‘in love’ with Jesus all the time is not a relationship. A relationship requires effort, interaction, and sometimes blood, sweat and tears…

In the words of Sarah who expressed it more eloquently:

Relationships are about action, not just desire. That action will look different in every relationship, just as different people approach religion in different ways. But if I “love me some Jesus,” then I’m going to do things for Jesus. I’m going to love the people that Jesus loves. I’m going to help him accomplish his task of redeeming a hurting, broken world. I’m going to embrace rituals and ceremonies and organizations that bring me closer to him and that provide an outlet for me to love his people.

This “love for Jesus” that so many evangelical churches support seems like the immature love of a 13-year-old girl scribbling  on a bathroom wall a heart and the name of her crush.

I’m tired of settling for that shallow, intangible, romantic emotion of being in love with Jesus.

Let’s get off our asses and love.

What do you all think?



Substitutionary atonement and Christus victor

I was reading this article by Mark Galli of Christianity today on ‘the problem with christus victor atonenement‘, and, to be honest I found it a very strange article.

Update: While I’m writing here about the nature for substitutionary atonement, the framing of the gospel in christus Victor atonement like explained here by Ed Cyezewski is equally important, or even more important. Why do I always miss the most important part??

Firstly he does seem to impose a dichotomy between Christus victor atonement and what he calls ‘substitutionaty atonement’, and secondly he does seem for some reason to equate the second term with ‘penal substitution atonement’.

What’s behind the lingo and why do I find this strange? Let’s start with the second one. ‘Substitutionary atonement’ means in simple words that Jesus saved us by taking our place. That surely is an important idea in christian theology, from the beginning on, but it shouldn’t at all be equated with the so-called theory of penal substitution, which says that Jesus died in our place to take the punishment for our sins. The latter one is a relatively new invention in the history of Christianity, dating from the time of the reformers, and one only embraced by some protestants. Even the satisfaction model of Anselm, one of its precursors, did not see Jesus taking punishment in our place, but doing penance in our place as far as I understand. This article by Derek Flood on substitutionary atonement and the church father, which I linked to before, is very interesting for those who have time to read it all… The problem is that some christians for a reason unknown to me seen to equate the gospel with the idea of penal substitution. (what was the gospel then for all christians in the first 1500 years?)

I never really understood substitutionary atonement in the penal way, and I still have a lot of problems with that theory. (Some version of it could rightly be called ‘divine child abuse… God punishing Jesus in our place because he isn’t able to forgive us otherwise) but yet I’ve always seen the atonement as substitutionary. Jesus died for our sins.

Growing up as a pentecostel kid my idea of atonement was that Jesus on the cross endured all sin, disease and pain of the world, in our place. He absorbed it, and there destroyed it, and then rose from the death. That’s clearly substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal.

The second thing that shaped my understanding of atonement is probably the story of Edmund in the narnia book, who betrays the others and gets enslaved by the witch. Aslan then gives himself in Edmunds place to get killed by the evil one. This could be called classical Ransom atonement,(Jesus liberating us from enslavement to the devil by taking our place) which is probably the most important atonement theory of the first millenium, and it’s purely a substitution model of atonement, but still not penal substitution.

Now for the dichotomy Galli creates, I don’t know where he gets that idea to separate Christus Victor from substitutionary as if they can be opposites..I would think that Christus victor atonement and this Ransom motif are closely connected and two sides of the , same coin. Jesus on the cross suffered evil, sin and death in our place, and destroyed it and came out as Victorious!!

And here do we come to something else Galli seems to overlook: the definition of justice (and sin). Penal substitution seems operates on the idea that God needs to punish because He is just, and that He can’t forgive without having punished someone (and so Jesus taking the punishment in our place) but I don’t see why this would be. Why would the omnipotent God not be able to forgive? The problem with sin is tha it destroys, not only individuals and their relationship to God, but the whole of creation, and so it needs to be destroyed. There also is a lot of power in the Eastern orthodox emphasis on Jesus destroying death. But the question here is how do we view Gods justice: Is justice punishing the bad guys (everybody in this fallen world) or is it first and foremost setting things right? I would go with the second one, and say that Gods justice first and foremost is restorative, not only for individuals but for the whole of creation!

For those who like to read more on this discussiopn: Read more here on the covenant of love blog for the first post in a series on the subject. I also have a quote  from Scott Morizot (who I respect for his knowledge on the orthodox church and the church fathers) from a comment on the Jesus Creed blog:

Galli’s post is interesting. If Christus Victor is “clearly a secondary atonement theme” and substitutionary atonement is the primary and dominant theme, why did it take the Church a thousand years to come up with the latter? From an historical perspective, the claim seems absurd. I would also say he clearly misses the point even of the Orthodox prayer he quotes. The “consequent wrath of God” is not interwoven into it. The prayer thanks God for his goodness and long-suffering and for *not* being angry.

There’s a reason Passover is and has always been the dominant theme. The Paschal lamb in the Exodus story guarded those protected by its blood from the angel of death — from death, not from the collection of a debt for sins committed. So Christ breaks the bonds of sin and death and frees us from the powers who used them to enslave us for all time.

It is, I suppose, possible that some Protestants are taking some of the Christus Victor themes in a more shallow way than they have traditionally been taken. I don’t particularly have an opinion on that. But Galli’s characterization of the traditional Christus Victor view of Christ and the atonement is flatly wrong.

To finally close this post:  as we’re coming closer to Easter we shoul realise that the big day is not good friday, but easter. Christus Victor should be very important for all Christians, unless they have a truly ‘good friday only’-gospel.

Jesus is Lord, and Victor over death, sin and evil

He who was God, became the least of us and suffered with us

All praises to the slain lamb!!



related posts:
Rethinking my childhood atonement theory
Psalm 51 and atonement theories
Rob Bell on atonement or the bible versus (reformed) tradition

Rob Bell on atonement or the bible versus (reformed) tradition

I was reading this article on Mike Morrells blog, about some preaching on aworship conference hosted by David Crowder. Looks like they had a very interesting and diverse worship conference over there, with not only Mr. Crowder, but also people like Matt Redman, Gungor,  the Welcome wagon, Derek Webb, and Rob Bell. Especially this last name still is very controversial for some people I think, and it seems that his talk about ‘the use of words’ has stirred something up in some people. Now when I read the article by Bob Kauflin @ worship matters, I get the impression that Mr. Bell has been on the more extreme side of his creative self, doing a vague talk about contextualisation and finding new ways as a poet to express the truth of the bible in new words.

He seems to have been saying something about finding new ways to communicate the gospel, and more specifically the atonement:

The Friday morning speaker was Rob Bell. His premise was: Words can be used in lots of ways. He reminded us that the Bible is made up of different literary genres, which should be interpreted differently. But he went on to suggest that the metaphors Scripture uses to describe Christ’s work on the cross are varied and influenced by the understanding of a particular audience, and that we’re responsible to come up with other creative metaphors to describe the purposes of the atonement. While I appreciate relevance and clear communication, developing our own metaphors for the atonement potentially undermines and distorts the gospel. Yes, it’s important to recognize and communicate the vast and multiple effects of Christ’s death and the resurrection, and yes, Christians can overemphasize theological precision and definition at the expense of actually communicating the good news. But every description of Christ’s work on the cross is connected to our need to be forgiven by and reconciled to a holy God. If we fail to communicate this, we have failed to proclaim the biblical gospel. To better appreciate why all metaphors for the atonement are ultimately grounded in penal substitution (Christ taking the punishment we deserved as our substitute) I’d highly recommend Pierced for our Transgressions, In My Place Condemned He Stood, or the article by Mark Dever, “Nothing But the Blood.”

But ‘deveolping our own methaphors’ and vague contextualisation thoughts are not exactly the first thing that I find when I look up what other people write about Robs talk on the fantastic worship conference (see here and here for a summary) The part about atonement is deeply rooted in bible verses from Pauls letters (like mostly, but Rob is very good at hiding his biblical back-up behind poetry and creative explanations) Rob is pointing to the way Paul in the bible uses a lot of methaphors explaining the atonement, and Mr Kauflin is narrowing down to the penal substitution version, influenced by his own particular tradition.

I’m sorry, but whatever your tradition says, penal substitution still isn’t the only way the atonement Jesus acomplished at the cross could be explained. In fact this way of explaining the atonement is only half a millenium old. I know some Christians see the atonement in terms of Jesus taking our punishment and God pouring out His wrath on Him and not on us, but that’s not the way in which Jesus sacrifice has been explained by Christians before the reformation. Ransom or Christus Victor ways of explaining the atonement are much older, and still present in evangelical thought (or in the classic narnia story).

The difference is not unsubstantial. In the old view Jesus is giving himself over to evil/death in our place as a ransom, which can not hold him. In the penal view Jesus’ sacrifice is to God himself, who needs to punish in order to be able to forgive. There are other views too, but I’m not getting into that now. I only want to point out that there are different views in the church.

(For an interesting rebuttal of the quoted book’pierced for our transgressions’, read this interesting but very technical article by Derek Flood, that shows us a lot about the church fathers views on atonement, and the way they have been misquoted in that particular book. )

So while I got the idea that Rob was more into cultural recontextualisation in postmodern context stuff with his talk about atonement methaphors (which is fine by me, even our way of wording penal substitution originates from such a thing half a millenium ago) the thing Rob is doing is starting from how Paul speaks about atonement. Which is interesting, since all the theories built around it are from hunderds of years after the New Testament was written… even from after the apostles creed… so they cannot at all be the core of the gospel.

In fact you can’t be more biblical than this: looking at how Paul uses different methaphors for atonement… If you don’t like someone going back to the bible te come up with something that is a lot broader than your tradition might say, maybe it’s time to evaluate the place your tradition has. Especially if you have a tradition that doesn’t like tradition at all like all reformation churches do for obvious historical reasons. If you don’t like new ways of saying what the bible tries to communicate, let at least the bible say what it wants to say, instead of giving your tradition the last word over someone who reads things in the bible that don’t agree with it.

Those are different things. I can understand that some people don’t like finding new ways to communicate the Truth, but it’s a wholly different thing to censor the bible from the lens of your tradition. That would be even more dangerous than miscommunicating the Truth of the gospel out of clumsiness…



book review: Jonathan Brink – The God Imagination

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:

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)

Amazon page



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!!

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

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

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