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October 29, 2007

Hymn 43

Oh father high in heaven -- smile down upon your son
Who's busy with his money games -- his women and his gun.
Oh Jesus save me!

Before Christopher Hitchens, before Richard Dawkins, there was Jethro Tull and their leader singer flautist Ian Anderson. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the band's taking the name of the inventor of the seed drill. (You gotta love the British: an equivalent American band not only would have been worse musicians -- they would have probably named themselves after something a lot less important: for instance, their feelings.)

My middle-aged self finds Hitchens' and Dawkins' arguments unconvincing. (A friend of mine told me that at his recent Georgetown debate, Hitchens' "big gun" was an attack on the idea of substitutionary atonement which, in his estimation, discredited the Christian idea of God as barbaric and unjust. Apparently, no one in the audience seemed to be aware, or at least didn't tell him that this is but one of many Christian interpretations of what St. Paul meant when he wrote that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself -- Christianity no more rises and falls on the truth of this idea than democracy rises and falls on the results of an election in West Bromwich. Next question?)

My younger self, however, was disturbed by what Tull had to say about my religion, in particular, the album Aqualung. (Christians weren't the only religious folk Anderson and company managed to offend: some Hindus believed that Anderson's characteristic pose mocked Krishna.)

Lyrics like this:

And the unsung western hero killed an Indian or three
And made his name in Hollywood
To set the white man free.

and this:

Feeling alone
the army's up the rode
salvation à la mode and
a cup of tea.

not to mention this:

So lean upon Him gently
and don't call on Him to save you
from your social graces
and the sins you used to waive.
The bloody Church of England
in chains of history
requests your earthly presence at
the vicarage for tea.

rocked my adolescent (yes, I am that old) faith. Then I realized that, one, Anderson and company had no more proof of what they professed than I did about what I professed and, two, most of their complaints were directed at what Christians did or did not do. Then, as (sigh) now, a lot of what people think about God isn't the product of evidence, much less God's self-disclosure, but, instead, what they infer from how Christians, especially the loud ones, live.

That's why the study that Regis and Allen (my liege) previously blogged on came as a no surprise to me. I doubt that people think that loving your neighbor, forgiving your enemies or turning the other cheek are bad ideas -- it's that they don't like Christians, at least in the abstract. (Not that they actually know any: a one-on-one encounter with Allen or Martha would no doubt be as life-changing for them as it was for me.) My middle-aged self has long since given up trying to assign blame for this state of affairs. Not because I don't have a hypothesis or twelve about why this is the case but because I realize that, as Jesus told St. Peter, it's none of my business -- I'm busy enough keeping my life from resembling a later Steely Dan song (no way I'm linking to a specific set of lyrics) and hoping that I don't inspire some Ian Anderson-wannabe out there.

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Comments

Dan Gill

Jethro Tull had lyrics? I loved the music, but I couldn't catch the lyrics most of the time. And I never got to read the liner notes.

Roberto Rivera

Oh yeah, Dan, they had lyrics, many of which I dare not post here -- not because they're dirty but because they're sacrilegious.

But the music! Oh that music! The guitar solo in "Aqualung" with its layers of sound. Anderson and company knew what they were doing.

labrialumn

Hmm, a band named "Cyrus McCormick" or "Hiram Moore" or "John Deere" ;-)

Actually, Hebrews tells us that the covenant-atonement model is the correct one, as it is the one taught by God in Scripture.

Ken

Um, "Christianity no more rises or falls" on the concept that he who knew no sin was made sin for us, that he died on our behalf (*huper*, the word Barth called the most important in all Scripture) bearing our sins?

Penal substitution is the central hub of the Christian doctrine of atonement. There are many associated spokes such as the Christus Victor model that in themselves describe aspects of Christ's work. But take out the hub and the spokes fall apart.

Jason Taylor

"Um, "Christianity no more rises or falls" on the concept that he who knew no sin was made sin for us, that he died on our behalf (*huper*, the word Barth called the most important in all Scripture) bearing our sins?

Penal substitution is the central hub of the Christian doctrine of atonement. There are many associated spokes such as the Christus Victor model that in themselves describe aspects of Christ's work. But take out the hub and the spokes fall apart."
------------------------------------

My Dad, a sunday school teacher, and his dad, a preacher have a rather homely maxim, "It is better not to know, then to know what isn't so."

In other words making blanket statements about things we can't understand leads one into the danger-of being wrong. And of being dissillusioned when we find that out. There are a lot of things we don't understand and we should say "I don't know" more often.

Saying "I don't know" more often also makes you seem less arrogant to others. I confess I have long resented Calvinists for the way they seem so caviliar to the fate of the "reprobated". However Armenians can't be completly right because Free Will is variable depending on where a person is born and raised. Moreover the coralary of Arminianism is also rather arrogant as it can be interpreted as blaming a heathen for being born a heathen("he should have known,etc"-true enough, but would you have?). So the only logical-not to mention, decent-belief is "I don't know".

Likewise I can see the basic principal behind substitutionary atonement, that both wrath and love must be satisfied. As an amateur historian I can understand that. Too many times in this century has "mercy" been used to promote injustice(ask a Communist what he thinks should happen to the DAUGHTER of the "evil capitalist" whom he is freeing the exploited workers from)for me to be fooled by mercy-without-justice. So I can understand why justice must be satisfied as well as mercy. However I can't QUITE grasp the need for this method to satisfy justice. So I have to assume I don't know. "I don't know" won't always satisfy. However it is better then other methods. It will make a person wiser and incidently more pleasant to be around.

That is not to say "there are no absolutes". Nor is it to say "we don't know anything". Nor does it forbid making guesses or postulating theories. But it does leave a humble margin for error.

Ken

Jason: Perhaps I will exercise humility by saying that I don't know how your remarks pertain to my statements that you quoted.

Ron

Hey Jason,
Obviously you've put a great deal of thought into it, but are you certain that you are not "rationalizing" for what you refuse to accept?? The answer is ALWAYS there. Noted psychologist William James said, "There is no more miserable human being than the one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision and saying, 'I don't know!'"

Jason Taylor

"Hey Jason,
Obviously you've put a great deal of thought into it, but are you certain that you are not "rationalizing" for what you refuse to accept?? The answer is ALWAYS there. Noted psychologist William James said, "There is no more miserable human being than the one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision and saying, 'I don't know!'"
---------------------------------
Refuse to accept that Christ died for me? No I accept that perfectly well. I just don't think much about why.
And it does not follow that because I say we should be prepared to say "I don't know", that I am saying "I know nothing".
And whether or not I am "rationalizing" does not affect the validity of my statement, but only my own psychology which is enough for me to get on with.
As for William James, how in the world can one be a psychologist and not be willing to say, "I don't know." The human mind is far more complex then any regular subject of science.

Jason Taylor

Jason: Perhaps I will exercise humility by saying that I don't know how your remarks pertain to my statements that you quoted.
-----------------------------------
You are saying, "it rises and falls". Does it. We know THAT Jesus died for us. And in a sense substitutionary atonement is supported by scripture. But the entire ramifications are not explained either in the Bible or the Nicean Creed, so given that you cannot quite say for sure that "it rises and falls". You can only say it is important.
The nature of Christ's sacrifice IS ultimatly incomprehensible and we can only get bits and pieces.

Ken

Jason: The "rises and falls" phrase was a quote from Mr. Rivera's main post above. His words were part of a more or less throwaway aside, but I thought it important to affirm the centrality of the substitutionary atonement to the Christian gospel.

You wrote that substitutionary atonement is "in a sense" supported by Scripture. "In a sense"? I take it you have not availed yourself of classic works on the subject by Smeaton, Morris, Packer, or Stott (my apologies if I have incorrectly surmised). May I suggest the very recently published book "Pierced for Our Transgressions," by Jeffrey, Ovey, and Sach? I believe that a close study of this work will amply repay your efforts and help you toward a biblical understanding of the doctrine and its place in Christian teaching.

Jason Taylor

"Jason: The "rises and falls" phrase was a quote from Mr. Rivera's main post above. His words were part of a more or less throwaway aside, but I thought it important to affirm the centrality of the substitutionary atonement to the Christian gospel.

You wrote that substitutionary atonement is "in a sense" supported by Scripture. "In a sense"? I take it you have not availed yourself of classic works on the subject by Smeaton, Morris, Packer, or Stott (my apologies if I have incorrectly surmised). May I suggest the very recently published book "Pierced for Our Transgressions," by Jeffrey, Ovey, and Sach? I believe that a close study of this work will amply repay your efforts and help you toward a biblical understanding of the doctrine and its place in Christian teaching."
---------------------------------
It is not necessary for me to understand. Only to accept Christ and Him crucified. I am satisfied with doing so. Other things have bothered me from time to time, but not that. Therefore to me it would primarily be an intellectual exercise rather then the fulfilling of a need. If you are different, well, you are different.
I have no intention of downgrading messrs Smeaton, Morris, Packer, or Stott seeing as I haven't read them. My point was that a little intellectual humility with regard to theology, goes a long way. It wasn't a point about defending or attacking the principle of Substitutionary Atonement as such but saying that there is more to it then we can grasp. I don't see why that should be a supriseing thing to say. Is it really so odd to say that a fisherman or peasant or child can be just as much a Christian even though he has not read the works of Smeaton, Morris, Packer or Scott?

Ken

Jason: At what point does "a little intellectual humility" become anti-intellectualism or even a retreat into pietism? At what point do we give up loving God with our minds as well as our hearts, souls, and strengths? At what point do we stop studying to show ourselves approved?

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I see in your several responses here something of the Zeitgeist that insists "I don't know" is the proper frame of mind for humans, and that claims to knowledge (even in part) are arrogant. It seems to me as though you are telling me "I don't know, therefore you can't know and you shouldn't be acting as though you can or do know. Furthermore, it is better not to know." That spirit is foreign to the Scriptures, my friend.

Look, I won't quarrel with your lack of intellectual interest, if that's what it is, in substitutionary atonement. I think you're impoverishing yourself not to investigate the spiritual riches that are yours for the taking. But what I take issue with is your making statements that attempt to throw the doctrine into doubt (e.g., subsitutionary atonement is "in a sense" supported by Scripture) when you acknowledge that you haven't made a study of the matter.

Joy

Good grief! In reading the article, I realize that there will always be someone who will try to trivialize the meaning of Christianity, but in reading the comments, I think everybody is over thinking Christianity. God sent His son to die for our sins because He loved us. It's hard to comprehend but we don't have to understand, just accept it. "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." That's good enough for me.

Ken

Joy: Then why did the Holy Spirit inspire the books of Romans and Hebrews?

There is much to be said for a child-like faith but not much for a childish faith. The apostles exhorted us to leave milk behind and go for the meat, the solid food (see Hebrews 5:11-6:3).

Jason Taylor

Jason: At what point does "a little intellectual humility" become anti-intellectualism or even a retreat into pietism? At what point do we give up loving God with our minds as well as our hearts, souls, and strengths? At what point do we stop studying to show ourselves approved?

--------------------
My word! I am the last person to accuse of anti-intellectualism. I have always thought I am a little bit of an intellectual snob. However even I know that it is not required to know the history of every cell of every tree to recognize a forest.
And it is those who have intellectual pretentions who need this reminder most. Those who need to be reminded to use their minds are not intellectuals.
And not pondering every single issue does not make me a Fideist.

Ken

Jason: It is, however, necessary to recognize that a substantial collection of trees represents a forest, rather than, say, a grove or a copse.

One does not have to know a subject exhaustively in order to have an adequate grasp of it. On the other hand, one cannot possess just a surface familiarity with a subject and then expect to be taken seriously when making unsubstantiated claims on that subject.

Since you haven't said, I'll ask: Are you backing off your earlier statement regarding the Scriptural support for substitutionary atonement?

Jason Taylor

I am neither backing off nor not backing. my prime motive was elsewhere. I "felt" a tinge of overconfidence coming through the statement of it's essentialness. Such perceptions are easily mistaken of course and I would be happy to know that I am wrong as well in this case.
Errors often come in pairs, so that those who seek to avoid one error are trapped in another. I have seen Christians who seemed anti-intellectual to me as well. But intellectual overconfidence must also be avoided and this is a reminder.

As far as substitutionary atonement goes , I think we are at cross-definitions(the source of many disagreements). What I am trying to say may be more that saying any interpretation of it's implications is the one to chose is more then we know. Below is the doctrine as given by wikipedia*.
Any or all might be true. Probably all cast some insight. And I doubt that any or even all explains it fully. In any case neither scripture nor the Nicean Creed supports one single interpretation blatantly, to the exclusion of the others.
________________________________
*Substitutionary atonement is a doctrine in Christian theology which states that Jesus Christ died on the Cross, as a substitute for sinners. It stresses the vicarious nature of the crucifixion being "for us" and representational Christ representing humanity through the Incarnation.

The word atonement is a theological term that is used to describe the substitutionary work of Christ. The word occurs in the KJV in Romans 5:11 and has the basic meaning of reconciliation. The word often is used in the Old Testament to translate the Hebrew words kipper and kippurim, which mean “propitiation” or “expiation.” The word atonement encompasses Christ’s work of redemption on behalf of his people. The center of Christ’s work, the main event to which the whole Old Testament pointed and to which the whole New Testament expounded, was Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Christ’s death is the very heart of the Christian faith. It is the central theme of Scripture.[1]

A distinction is often made between substitutionary atonement (Christ suffers for us), and penal substitution (Christ punished instead of us) which is a subset of substitutionary atonement. Both affirm the substitutionary and vicarious nature of the atonement, but penal substitution offers a specific explanation as to what the suffering is for: punishment.

A central component of substitutionary atonement is the element of Jesus' intentions to die on the cross to pay for the sins of mankind, as stated by Jesus in John 3:14-18 [1] and John 12:27-33 [2], as compared with theories that Jesus' death was unanticipated by Jesus and/or purely the fault of the Romans and/or the Jews alone. The Muslim faith claims Jesus as one of its most important prophets, but diverges sharply with Christianity on whether Jesus was actually crucified, rejecting the concept of substitutionary atonement by Jesus' death on the cross.

All of the Church Fathers, including Justin Martyr, Athanasius and Augustine incorporate substitutionary atonement into their understanding of the cross. However, the specific interpretation as to what this suffering for sinners meant differed to some extent. It is widely held that the early Church Fathers, including Athanasius and Augustine, taught that through Christ's vicarious suffering in humanity's place, he overcame and liberated humanity from sin, death, and the devil.[2] Thus, while the idea of substitutionary atonement is present in nearly all atonement theories, some argue that the specific idea of satisfaction and penal substitution are later developments in the Latin church and in Calvinism.[3]

All branches of the Christian faith embrace substitutionary atonement as the central meaning of Jesus' death on the cross, while some differ in their larger atonement theories. The Eastern Orthodox Church incorporates substitutionary atonement as one (relatively minor) element of a single doctrine of the Cross and Resurrection, the Catholic church incorporates it into Aquinas' Satisfaction doctrine rooted in the idea of penance, and Evangelical Protestants interpret it largely in terms of penal substitution.[2]
_______________________________________

Ken

Not bad, for a Wikipedia article. I wonder if you might get a better effort from Theopedia. Will have to look it up.

For what it's worth, no serious advocate of substitutionary atonement (SA--penal or otherwise) maintains that this is the ONLY way that Scripture describes the meaning of Christ's work. Other theories such as Christus Victor or the ransom theory (in some form) are certainly there as well. But a serious study of Scripture should lead one to the conclusion that SA is properly regarded as the central idea presented there and the others important facets or less central ideas. About the only main theory of the atonement that is not suitable is the governmental theory.

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