Generally speaking, there are about 8 or so atonement theories out there, with variants. To me, it’s easier to divide them into two groups.
One group of atonement theories postulate that the problems primarily stem from personal dimension of people (who are fundamentally perverse), and of God (who is fundamentally angry about people.) What Jesus did was more or less redirect the focal point of God’s anger to himself, thus getting us off the hook. The main idea is that of legal transaction.
The other group of atonement theories postulates that the problems to be solved are of systemic nature. They lie with both with human psyche individually (egotism) and socially (systemic oppression and scapegoating). There is also a cosmic dimension to the problem statement (decay and death). What Jesus did is he absorbed the individual, the social, and the cosmic sin (and therefore death), triumphed over them, and created a mechanism of being able to tap into the power to overcome all those.
I would submit to you that the second group of atonement theories has much more coherence and explanatory power. Also, the 2nd group is the one that leads you to living like a responsible, fully empowered representative of God in every area of life. It’s the only one that can underwrite consistently replicable results, and not just occasional haphazard “victories”.
I really like the Jedi. To me, they are a very good representation of what I want to mature into with God. Put Jesus Christ and his power in place of Jedi’s concept of force, and we have here a great metaphor for a holistic teaching that captivates the heart, uses the mind, works with great power, guides you on the path of righteousness, preserves you in your holiness, and keeps you away from pride, greed, lust, and just about any other sin.
Here are the reasons why they way of the Jedi captures my heart:
- They are persons of honor. They don’t have a moral code that they adhere to in a slovenly fashion. They have an honor code that they are trained to follow as a matter of heart conviction, no matter the cost.
You cannot simultaneously state two things:
1) that God personally causes (directly or though one’s agency) and approves (or wills) everything that happens in the world, including all the evil,
2) and that God is love.
The two are in irreconcilable conflict, and no amount of religious sophistry and verbal calisthenics can make this equation balance out.
The reason that the hyper-sovereignty view of God at the expense of God being love appeals to so many is that humans lust after power and control after their fellow human beings. That’s part of the fallen human nature. Vulnerability is perceived as a general liability, and about the only place one can afford to be legitimately vulnerable in a modern increasingly secular world is on a tear-stained recliner in the psychoanalyst’s office.
One well-known evangelical preacher said this not too long ago:
“In Revelation, Jesus is a pride-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”
Wow. Really? Mr. Preacher must have forgotten that Jesus WAS beaten up, hung stark naked on a blood and faeces-stained wooden pole in front of his own heart-broken Jewish mother, in a culture where revealing as much as one’s knees while running was considered shameful for a male. If that’s not utterly vulnerable, I don’t know what is.
The kind of love which stands above division, judgment, and offense is usually fairly difficult to cultivate and practice. When it becomes our heart culture, however, it has a very real potential to open people up to what we have to say. Then we can usher those we thus love into the very presence of Jesus, so that he can do through us for them what no educational or correctional institution can. But we can get to that point only when we begin with unconditional love and acceptance on the most fundamental human level, before anything else can be offered.
Am I there? Not quite yet, but I know that I am on my way there. I also experientially know that place of judgmentalism and misplaced pride which is the polar opposite of agape-love. That’s a place to which I have absolutely no intention of ever regressing to.
We love playing it safe and talking in generalities. But what if we allow ourselves to get more specific with more general statements such as “God so loved the world”? What would that look like? The poem below attempts to unpack that Scriptural verse within the context of years 2016-2017.
A few days ago I had a conversation with a young lady, a daughter of our family’s friends. She wanted to stop by to get a couple of pics and a short story for her school project. My wife and I decided to make it a dinner occasion at our place. That young lady is a follower of Jesus. She is also passionately political, and you could peg her fairly solidly on the left side of the political spectrum. (If you want to use that cumbersome and unflavorful measuring stick on a human being, that is. If you try to ever use it on me, by the way – I guarantee you will make a mistake every time you do, regardless of whether you try to place me right, left, or even center. That measuring stick simply doesn’t know what to do with people like me.)
I remember a time when she stopped by a church event where I happened to be a year ago. She and her similarly-minded sister were surrounded by a small group of older piously indignant evangelicals. The two of them pretty much had to endure an hour-and-a-half-long “straightening out” session from the group. They valiantly defended themselves. I wasn’t part of that strange circus, but I was close enough to hear what was going on. In the year that followed, I’ve rarely seen those two young ladies come back to church. (If I were them, I wouldn’t have come back after that, either.)
I do take interest in politics. But I have grown wise enough over the years to discuss my political views mostly in private conversations with even-keeled people who have learned to think for themselves. I could never compress my mind on complex issues into tweet-size slogans anyway, which is what a lot of people seem to prefer these days.