Archive for the 'Legalism' Category

So, after Brendt’s post last week, I thought my temptation to write an article on this would pass.  However, after a number of DM’s, Tweets, Facebook messages and some emails, I think it might just save me some time and lots (and lots) of repeating myself.  Additionally, a good friend asked me what was going on with all of this, and my reply was “it’s a long story” (which I probably owe her at some point, anyway), and current events seem to be surfacing this topic, as well.

Background on “Christian”

Andy Stanley started an 8-part series a couple of months ago at North Point Community Church, called “Christian”.  The overarching premise is that “Christian” is a malleable word (a poor adjective) that can mean most anything these days.  It was a word given to Jesus-followers by outsiders, not the followers, themselves.  What the followers called themselves, and what Jesus called them, is much better defined: disciples.  As such, we, as followers of Christ, ought to try to live up to what Jesus expected us to be (disciples), not take the squishy road of “Christian”. [I highly recommend the entire series, FWIW.]

  • Part 1: Brand Recognition – This is the basic premise of the entire series, relayed above, where Stanley lays out Christianity’s reputation, outside the church as “judgmental, homophobic moralists, who think they are the only ones going to heaven and secretly relish the fact that everyone else is going to hell”, and then goes on to describe the difference between “Christian” and “disciple”
  • Part 2: Quitters – Picking up from Part 1, Andy tells the story of Anne Rice – leaving the church, rediscovering her faith, and then disavowing “Christians”, saying “Today I quit being a Christian.  I’m out.  I remain committed to Christ, as always, but to being ‘Christian’ or being part of ‘Christianity’.  It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.“  Stanley then goes on to describe the defining characteristic given to disciples by Jesus (see 1 John 4:7-8), that should differentiate us from the world around us, so that we don’t settle for the brand “Christianity”.  Key quote: We give up our leverage in society when we opt for anything other than LOVE.
  • Part 3: Insiders Outsiders – Andy follows the evolution of the early church – from a small, persecuted minority to a movement that toppled the Roman Empire.  He points to this event in time as a point where Christians stopped leveraging love as their distinguishing characteristic, and started leveraging other things – like political power – to impose their faith on others, by threat or force.  He examines how Christians should treat those outside the faith, and that we should not expect those who don’t follow Jesus to live as he commanded his followers to live.  (This sermon shared points with the incredibly good 1-sermon series last summer, The Separation of Church and Hate.)  Over time, though, Christians morphed the Great Commission into “Therefore, go and impose my teaching, values and worldview on all nations, threatening them with judgment and destruction if they don’t obey everything I have commanded you.“  The main point he comes to is that we are to judge disciples (who are acting against his commands), not outsiders (who never signed up to follow his commands).  [He uses Mark & Grace Driscoll's appearance on The View as an example of how to demonstrate this.]
  • Part 4: Showing Up -  The Sunday before Easter, Andy preached this sermon on how disciples should live – as salt and light – in the world.  He traces this from the experience of the early persecuted church, up to how we ought to live now – where how we treat one another and how we treat those outside the church (by “showing up”) – is to be such examples of Christ that when people see us, they see what he is like.  This is messy, and is not always immediately (or ever) visible to us, but our good deeds should shine in such a way that others speak well of Christ from seeing how we act.  “The way we act may make them feel guilty, but it should not make them feel that we are condemning them.”  (i.e. it should be their conscience that convicts them, not our criticism.)
  • Part 5: When Gracie Met Truthy – In a theme common here, Andy touches on the tension that exists between grace and truth.  His basic premise, spoken several times and several ways:  “A tension exists between grace and truth.  If we try to resolve that tension, in either direction, we lose something.”  He goes through multiple examples in Jesus’ ministries where Jesus, described by John as the perfect embodiment of grace and truth, gives both grace AND truth.  For example, in the woman who committed adultery and as brought before him, Jesus response was “I do not condemn you” (grace) and “go and live in sin no more” (truth).  As Brendt quoted this sermon, “… people may misunderstand your grace towards sinners as somehow condoning their sin, but that is not the case.“  This was a very good, but very difficult lesson (and the source of the controversy, covered below).
  • Part 6: Angry Birds – This sermon covers similar territory the previous week – this time via Jesus’ teaching, whereas Week 5 dealt with Jesus’ actions.  It examined Jesus’ teaching to the disciples about how to treat sinners, followed by the story of the Two Lost Sons (sometimes called The Prodigal Son).  In the first part, he says that if Christians are doing what Jesus did and following what he taught, we, too, should end up attracting the “tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes”, which will likely result in the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law to mutter that we’re associating with the wrong sorts of people.  Even though we have more in common, and nearly identical theology, to the ‘Pharisees”, the way we live our belief – if we’re doing it right – will likely result in the sinners feeling welcome and the self-righteous feeling … self-righteous and put out.  Basically, as Stanley follows on, we should be modeling the role of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
  • Part 7: Loopholes – This sermon continues on, examining how “Christians” (and, to some degree, non-Christians) try to use “loopholes” which allow our own sinful behavior, while condemning/damning the sins of those who are different than them.  He contrasts this with what Jesus taught – “Love God, and love your neighbor – all other laws flow from/are subservient to these”.  In the context of loopholes, Andy sums this up – to the Pharisees – as “Don’t you dare take a verse or a passage of Scripture and use it to unlove someone else, you hypocrites” and then continues: “Disciples don’t look for workarounds or loopholes – ‘Christians’ do that – Disciples ask ‘What does love require of me?’“  [I loved this particular bit, as well: "'Christians' use the Bible like a mace - 'Disciples' use the Bible like a mirror."]  If you only have time for one sermon in the series, I’d go here.  Very challenging stuff.  Stuff I often suck at.  Stuff that will make you uncomfortable.  Stuff that doesn’t require you to compromise, but requires you to love people who are not like you.
  • Part 8: Working It Out – In the final sermon of the series, Andy picks up from the final question of Week 7:  What does love require of me? In it, he notes that the people who have shaped us the most are either a) those who really loved us; and b) those who really hurt/abused us.  Originally, Jesus gave us a new commandment: Love one another.  Our defining characteristic was to be how we love one another, but over time it has evolved from being more about how we behave to being almost completely about what we believe.  If we want to re-brand “Christian” to become synonymous with “Disciple”, we need to follow the new commandment he gave us.  “We represent the commander, not the commandments.”  He finishes up the series by talking how to prepare ourselves to live in love: 1) Don’t do anything that will hurt you; 2) Don’t do anything that will hurt someone else; and 3) Don’t be mastered by anything.
  • All in all, this was an incredibly good series, and one that is challenging (for good reasons).  I encourage you to watch/download/listen to it all.  Twice.

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Shawn & BrendtMeet Shawn. Shawn was my best friend in high school.  (That’s him on the left at his graduation, and me still looking 12 after my first year of college.) When we were in our fundy Christian high school together, Shawn was planning on being a pastor. He even preached a few times in our weekly chapel service. We lost touch a couple years after this picture, but I caught up with him on the phone about 5 years after college. When I asked what he was doing (work-wise), he hemmed and hawed a bit before finally “admitting” that he was a social worker in the county where he lived. He was happily surprised that I wasn’t disappointed (in him) that he wasn’t a pastor.

I asked if he was doing what he believed God wanted him to do and he affirmed excitedly that he was and gave me a couple of recent examples in which he had seen God working through him at his job. Then I noted to him that being a pastor was a logical choice back when we were kids, given the environment that we were in. Back then, it was made clear to us (caught, if not necessarily taught) that a man who wished to truly follow God’s will for his life — and Shawn did want that — would be in “full-time Christian service”. This pretty much limited the options to (1) preacher, (2) missionary, or (3) Christian school teacher. A woman had the options of #2 or #3 or (better yet) the spouse of any of those options. There was lip-service paid to the legitimacy of the “Christian businessman”, but the overall influence showed that it was merely lip-service to the guy who actually paid the bills, er um, tithes.

In short, if you weren’t one of the big three, you were a second-class Christian.

Fast-forward to today. I saw a video whose overall theme still has me a bit puzzled, but it had a particular thought in it that conjured up the same tired old images of second-class Christianity. In addressing the Christian viewer about having heard and believed the gospel, the speaker threw a frickin’ bone to those who may have heard it differently than he did:

even if it’s a gospel that a guy like Barnabas would preach, as opposed to an apostle like Paul

Say what? When did Barnabas get ranked below Paul in anything?

If anything, in those days, Barnabas had a better grasp on grace than Paul did (Acts 15:36-39), something of which Paul apparently later repented (2 Timothy 4:11). But I digress.

I was so confused that I felt like I had to keep listening, in the desperate hope that he’d explain that gem.

The speaker’s text was Acts 11:19-26. I’m going to divide the passage into a few pieces so as to comment on the story as it progresses.

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

OK, so we’ve got unnamed guys (”from Cyprus and Cyrene”) who were preaching Jesus and leading people to the Lord.

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.

Hey, this sounds pretty cool. Go check it out, Barney.

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Barney confirms that it is way cool. And he encourages them in their faith.  A few good things are recorded about him, and apparently his influence led to others finding Jesus, too.

Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Hey, Paul, you gotta see this! And so Paul comes and the two of them stay there for a whole year, teaching.

So, we’ve got a movement of the Spirit that starts with guys that the Bible doesn’t even bother to name, then Barnabas gets to throw in, and then Paul does too. It definitely seems that this whole thing is all about God, both from just the general gist of the story and that whole “the hand of the Lord was with them” thing in verse 21.

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ !!!! Wrong !!! Thanks for playing.

This isn’t about God. This is about Paul. You see, according to the speaker, the reason that Barnabas went for Paul was because the people at Antioch wanted to know more than Barnabas could teach them. And Paul knew the Scripture better than Barnabas and had actually had a (brief) physical encounter with Jesus.

Yeah, I’m not sure what bodily orifice the speaker got that one out of, either. Is it possible that there was such a need/desire and that Paul could better fulfill it? Sure. But nowhere near with the factual certainty that the speaker classified it.

Oh, and the disciples in Antioch being called “Christians” — that was a direct result of Paul teaching them.  (See previous bodily orifice reference.)

When it comes to doctrine, Paul could kick anyone’s asterisk-dollarsign-dollarsign. So it’s really a toss-up as to whether this junk is Paul-olatry or doctrine-olatry. Either way, though, it ain’t good.

In short, Barnabas was (in the speaker’s mind) a second-class Christian. I guess the unnamed guys were third-class. So brush up on your doctrine, boys and girls. Otherwise, you’re disappointing God.

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Ephesians 2:4-6 (NKJV – emphasis mine) — But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together …

I have noted before on my blog that legalism mocks God’s grace. If we are raised in a home that doesn’t perform “worldly” externals, and all Christianity is about is not doing those “worldly” externals, then God hasn’t really saved us from much — we weren’t dead in our trespasses; we just had the sniffles.

A couple weeks ago, Neil wrote about labels, and how they can be helpful at times — and downright useless and silly at other times. The latter issue was the larger portion of his post and (although he didn’t initially identify it at the time of the writing), I was one of the people that he wrote about who had been incorrectly and unfairly labeled. (He later went back and filled readers in on who the label-ers were. ‘Twas a hop, skip, and jump from there to figure out who the label-ees were.)

Unfortunately, for any “fact-checkers” out there, the background of my incident can’t be accurately checked, as the moderators of the site on which I was labeled chose to conveniently excise large parts of the exchange in which either (a) I made a strong point or (b) they looked foolish in retrospect. But that’s not why I’m writing this, anyway …

I was attempting to answer the question “Is Francis Chan emergent?” by noting that the important question was not whether or not someone had attached a label to Chan, but whether or not what he teaches/writes is the truth. As the questioner appeared to truly be researching Chan, but coming up empty, I pointed her to a couple of book reviews and a brief (and, for me, convicting) video by Chan.

(For what extremely little it was worth, one of the book reviews included a quote from Chan that pretty much answered her irrelevant question.)

Having just made the point that the issue was truth (not labels), the very next comment — by a moderator, no less — asked me if I was emergent. Quite frankly, I was stunned at how incredibly and thoroughly he had missed my entire point. I felt like tapping the mic and asking, “Is this thing on?”

I temporarily evaded the question, as it was no more relevant for me than it was for Chan. However, after a while, it became obvious that I was never going to get that point through, even though I repeated it numerous times in different ways. So I just (metaphorically) threw up my hands and answered their question. I worked off a list of teachers/writers that one of my accusers had provided, and (I’m sure to their utter shock) largely agreed with their stances on these men.

But then I “messed up” and dragged God into the conversation (what was I thinking?):

Bottom line though: While none of those men are on my bookshelf, I do not think God incapable of using them to speak truth to me.

The responses to this statement (all of my others “disappeared”) made things abundantly clear — they were so utterly focused on these men, that they totally (dis)missed God. One can only come to the conclusion that they do think God incapable of using those men.

There was even a great, though certainly unintended, illustration of this. One of the moderators has an image in his signature line — riffing off of President Obama’s “Hope” slogan — that says “Hopeless” (complete with the same logo in the “O” as was in the original). While no fan of the president by a long shot, I have to note that this image says infinitely more about the moderator’s view of God than his view of the president.

I ran across a post on another blog today about some truly horrific people — murderers, drunkards, adulterers, pimps, prostitutes — the scum of the earth. Oddly, they’re all characters cited in Genesis, many of whom were greatly used by God. And some of them don’t even have the “good” testimonies of how they did all that bad stuff before they met God, and walked the straight and narrow ever since.

The phrase “another gospel” (riffing off Galatians 1) has been perverted in its overuse to mean “that with which we do not agree”. And, to be sure, I saw that phrase used often in the discussions surrounding Chan and others. But to claim (even indirectly) that God is incapable of using anyone requires not only the ignoring of large portions of Scripture, but an outright mockery of God’s grace and the heart of the gospel message.

That, my friends, is truly “another gospel”.

Galatians 1:9 (NKJV – emphasis mine) — As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

Don’t blame me — I didn’t say it.

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Love your neighbor...[This is a repost of an article from a couple of years ago]

Marty is a fairly nice guy.

Certainly, he has his foibles: he drinks a bit, is harsh on the kids, has some problems with racial bigotry and the like. For many years, he was married to an unfaithful spouse. She slept around and was quite disrespectful of the entire institution of marriage. Finally, enough was enough, and Marty divorced her.

Years and years have passed, but every year on the date of the divorce, October 31, he pulls the family together for a rip-roaring divorce anniversary. It’s such a grand occasion where everyone in the family can come together and remember what a whore his ex- was, and how great it is that he traded her in for a new model (who, arguably, is not much better than the previous one, but just not as blatant about it).

Sounds like a grand old time, eh?

I have lots of friends who have gone through a divorce, and not a one of them do I know who consider the anniversary of their divorce to be a time to remember, let alone celebrate. Marty and his family, though, they revel in it, creating entire ceremonies around how great it was to give the old skank the boot.

Obviously, I’m dealing in allegory here, but I find it completely unsurprising that the same folks who celebrate the day of the greatest ‘divorce’ in church history, Reformation Day, are the very same ones who are pretty much tone-deaf when it comes to hearing Christ say ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. It all fits in the same flawed ’system’ they bought into when they traded one flawed spouse for another.

I also find it funny that these same folks will curse the harvest festival celebration which falls on the same day because of its ‘goulishness’, yet they will dress up and give out candy as an historical German figure known for writing such things like:

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Last weekend at my local congregation here in Indiana, our sermon topic was on “From Legalism to Liberty” – part of an expositional series going through 1 Corinthians.  Pastor Steve Reeves had a number of excellent observations (other than the ones that pertained to me, of course!).  Actually, I would say his comments pertain to a large number of topics we discuss here – and to all parties involved.

For me, one way you can tell if you heard a good sermon – if you’re still pondering application to your own life a week/month/year later, it was a good sermon.  And for me, this was one…

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Sometimes the headlines of the check-out line tabloids are so outlandish they become funny. You almost want to read the article to see what they are really talking about… though I never do, not wishing to fall for the obvious ploy.

In a similar vein, I did check out a post at CR?N that linked to another post at Apprising (I cannot bring myself to type the word “ministries” in connection with that site,) The headline in both cases is Contemplative Eugene Peterson Discourages Reading the Bible. In the latter site the headline reads in all caps, as if shouting out from some self-imagined wall.

The only problem with the headline is the fact that in the very quote offered as proof Peterson discourages Bible reading he is promoting Bible reading. DOH! My first inclination was to say Ken Silva is lying about Peterson, but when the quote you offer negates the claim of your headline, that’s not lying, that’s something else all together. (I also think Silva uses “Contemplative” as an insult – though I don’t know why since it’s biblically encouraged.)

Headline/article alignment at Apprising ______ and CR?N – FAIL!

Apprising and CR?N understanding of a man’s simply caution about misreading the Bible - FAIL!

Silva being caught in his own egocentric cultural bondage while accusing the brethren of promoting spiritual bondage – WIN! (…technically the latter is also a failure, and probably the saddest aspect of the whole affair, but as irony it is a win)

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We’ve recently had a comment from a Armchair Discernment Ministry to the effect of:

If you OUTRIGHT Deny Penal Substitution then you are twisting God’s Word and are changing and twisting the content of the Atonement and the Gospel itself. [...]

A person who claims to be a Christian AND openly denies and reinterprets the clear words of scripture regarding Christ’s atoning work on the cross is doing the same thing that the Mormon is doing but they are doing in regard to the Gospel itself. That person is redefining the gospel and what Christ accomplished on the cross and has set up a false idol and a false gospel.

Now, besides the obvious fallacy in such thinking (since PSA, as a theory, didn’t exist for the first 1000-1500 years of Christianity), such rigid, dogmatic certainty about matters like this (particularly when used in an attempt to excise entire groups of Christians from the body of Christ) become another Gospel, entirely.  So, with that in mind, I think it is probably incumbant to repost the group project from last year, where we outlined the various orthodox positions on Jesus’ atonement, and link to a key follow-up regarding exclusionary practice in adherence to PSA.

There has been a great deal of discussion lately on the subject of “atonement”, sin, and the nature of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. In many cases, adherents of specific views of atonement (particularly the theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement) have taken a dim view of groups of Christians who do not hold to identical views – in some cases, suggesting that the “correct” view (theirs, of course) is required both for evangelizing and for salvation.

Fortunately for Christians throughout the centuries without such ‘enlightenment’, systematic theology does not save, but rather the Grace of God and the mysterious work of salvation made possible through the cross and the empty tomb. In reality, many theories and ‘word pictures’ have been used throughout the history of the church to describe this work, and there is room for liberty in differences of view. Despite this liberty, though, there is need for some boundaries…


In Charleston, S.C., there was a bridge that was rather narrow, and was somewhat frightening for many motorists to cross. Once, during a period of repairs, the outside rails of the bridge had to be removed. Immediately, this bridge went from 2 functional lanes to a single lane, causing all sorts of traffic snarls, because people were afraid of falling off the edge. The rails, when in place, were not very capable of stopping a determined car from going into the water, but they gave some sense of security to motorists.

One of the lessons we can learn from this is that boundaries, contrary to popular opinion, are not always restrictive. Rather, boundaries clearly delineate how far you can be without going over the edge, leaving much more functional room within their borders. Unlike those who acted as if there was only room for one lane on the narrow bridge, once guardrails were in place, there was room for multiple lanes for cars to cross. The bridge, itself, did not change – it did not become wider or narrower. In fact, it became safer AND more efficient.

In the case of atonement theory, it is important that we establish the ‘rails’ – the primary one being that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was required in order to bring salvation to mankind. The second rail would be that man could not find salvation by his own means. These rails rule out “all paths lead to heaven” and “if you’re good enough, God will accept you”, and other universalist/semi-universalist views of atonement.

Atonement Views

The Views of Atonement

1) Ransom View of Atonement
This view of atonement, held as the dominant theory in the church for its first 1000 or so years, was first described by Origen. It teaches that Jesus’ death paid a ransom to Satan (whose accusation held humanity to his claim after the fall of Adam and Eve to sin).

Because Satan’s claim against humanity was just, it required God, who is a God of justice, to pay a ransom price in return for man’s release. God paid this in the form of Jesus, on the cross. However, since Jesus had not sinned, he had not earned death, so it could not keep him. Thus, man was redeemed by God and his ransom of Jesus to Satan, and Satan could no longer make a claim upon man. (If you’ve read (or seen) C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you’ve seen an allegorical story which was written to follow ransom theory.) Christus Victor (see #6 below) is often seen as similar/identical to the Ransom View, though it (CV) takes a more holistic view.

2) Satisfaction View (Anselm’s View) of Atonement
St. Anselm, however, did not like the ransom view, because it placed God in a position of debtor to Satan. Instead, he put forth a theory of atonement called the “Satisfaction View”. In his view, man has defrauded God of the honor and glory due to Him through sin – trying take God’s place, ourselves. Jesus, though, brought full honor and glory to God in his life, and then through his death ’satisfied’ the difference due between man and God.

In this case, Jesus’ substitution is that he suffered for us. In his view, men and angels owe a debt of honor to God. This debt cannot be paid if sin has been committed in their life. Jesus, because lived and did not sin, was able to pay this debt of honor that none other could pay. By dying, though, he suffered in our place to pay that debt of honor.

This theory of atonement was further refined by Thomas Aquinas and codified as the dominant theory in the Catholic church. Even so, like Ransom Theory, it was not considered to be a required belief for salvation, but a secondary matter.

3) Penal Substitution
In Penal Substitutionary Atonement, sin is a crime against God, for which the punishment is death and separation from God. Jesus, because he did not sin, could take this punishment upon himself and absolve those whom he chose from this punishment. In this view of atonement, God punishes Jesus in our place (which is different than substitution where Jesus suffers for us rather than being punished in our place) – if we are one of the elect.

Interestingly, this is the first view of atonement in which the emphasis on Jesus’ atonement was made specific to each individual’s sin, rather than as a general atonement for the sin of mankind. Since Jesus’ crucifixion happened at a specific point in time, it could only cover the sins of people God had chosen at that time for it to cover. Thus, Calvin also had to borrow from Augestine’s theories of double-predestination. Additionally, to distinguish itself from the Satisfaction View, the Penal Substitution View teaches that Jesus was not satisfying a deficiency in mankind, but rather that he was satisfying God’s wrath.

This is the first view of atonement that was codified as a core doctrine in many churches, rather than being of secondary concern. (Thus, the full emphases on sin, punishment and hell become prerequisites to understanding what to believe before one can become a believer.) This is the primary view in Calvinist/Reformed churches, and is a driving force behind much of the criticism of the Emerging Church Movement, which tends relegate the individual’s view of atonement back to its historic place as a secondary doctrine.

4) Governmental View of Atonement
This view of most closely associated with Arminianism and found a home in Methodism. It is similar to the penal substitution view to some extent, but the biggest difference is that the cross is not seen as the exact punishment for sin, but rather it is God’s way of publicly demonstrating His displeasure with sin. So Jesus is still a substitute in this view, but what he is substituting for is different than the penal substitution view. It wasn’t a substitute for punishment, but rather a substitute for the necessity of punishment. This way the moral nature of the universe is maintained.

This may seem like a game of semantics, but it gets down to the scope of the atonement. In this view, forgiveness is available to all who turn from sin. It is as if the president would offer a blanket pardon for all criminals with the only condition being they ask to be released. A prisoner who refuses to ask to be released will not be released. Additionally, the atonement is viewed in a more communal sense im this view. The church has been pardoned, but one may freely choose to enter into or walk away from this pardon.

Not surprisingly, this view has its share of detractors, mostly from Calvinist/Reformed circles. Some common objections are that this view leads to perfectionism, moralism, or other works-based thinking. Others say that it denies total depravity because it assumes mankind is able to see Christ’s sacrifice and turn from its sin.

5) Moral Influence View of Atonement
This moral influence view is an offspring of the governmental view, to a degree. This view is often referred to as subjective, opposed to objective, because it doesn’t really attempt to answer the question of what of actually happened at the cross, as much as it tries to explain why it happened. In the view, the cross demonstrates Jesus’ self-giving, His complete abandonent to God’s will, and His complete devotion to God for the sake of the world. His death is seen as the completion of the message He spoke during His life on earth. It shows us the self-giving nature of God’s love.

When we are touched by this love, it inspires us to follow in Christ’s steps. By looking at Christ, we will naturally start to act like Him. We will be devoted to God’s plan, and we will serve other self-sacrificially. This view, along with the Christus Victor view, seems to be gaining a bit more prominence. It is not surprising, given the way these perspectives lend themselves to being told in a more narrative style.

6) Christus Victor

Borrowed from the title of Gustaf Aulen’s 1931 book meaning Christ the Victor. In his book Aulen builds a historical case for the “classical” view of Atonement, more commonly know as Ransom Theory. He argues that most of the church misunderstands what the early church fathers believed about Ransom Theory. In Aulens view and definition of Ransom Theory it differs from the common view of Ransom in that Christ was not paying a ransom to the devil but rather rescuing humanity from the bondage of sin and death.

When viewed with this perspective God is no longer indebted to the Devil but rather God is sovereign over everything, including the Devil, and chooses to rescue humanity. As Aulen states it “The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil”


Each of these views fits within the biblical guardrails for explaining the meaning of Jesus death, burial and resurrection, with each explaining a different aspect or ‘word picture’ for the atonement. In reality, none of these is likely to be 100% true in trying to explain the inner workings of God.

To some, the prospect of such acceptance of multiple biblical views may be troubling, and the tendency is to want to stake out a single ‘lane’ (accepted atonement theory) and place the guardrails around it – effectively attempting to add human limits to further narrow an already narrow ‘bridge’. Fortunately, it is as the Apostle Paul tells us:

if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

In Conclusion

One of the greatest persecutors of Christians, Nero Caesar, insisted that people burn incense to him as lord, and take his mark upon them in order to be accepted into Roman society. Too often, Christians – whether of the ODM persuasion or not – tend to grasp onto one specific, systematic explanation of an aspect of God – be it atonement, grace, free will/predestination, etc. – and create their own idol of that theological explanation, insisting that it be accepted as the only way that a “true Christian” can believe.

The means to prevent this behavior, though, is not to suggest an “anything goes” mindset with no boundaries. Rather, we should establish the few clear boundaries that exist within Scripture and be gracious and accepting of those who may not agree with our most closely held theories, but whose own theories still remain within those boundaries. In many cases, like with Atonement theories, it may be that all of the theories explain a different aspect of the whole, even if individually they are holistically deficient.

[NOTE: This article was a group effort, written by Phil Miller, Chris and Chris L]

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Discern Your Doctrine (Mark Dever)

Trevin Wax: What is at stake in this debate over justification? If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours, what would they be missing?

NT Wright: What’s missing is an insistence on Scripture itself rather than tradition . . .
Kingdom People (NT Wright) or here Unfinished Christianity.)

I spent some time yesterday, a little more than an hour, listening to a speech by Mark Dever. The speech was delivered at the 2007 New Attitude conference-a conference featuring the likes of Joshua Harris, John Piper, Albert Mohler, and CJ Mahaney, all well respected Evangelical Christians. Dever’s speech, or sermon if you like, is titled Discern Your Doctrine. It is worth the hour to sit and listen to it. I will provide a synopsis and attach a few brief comments before concluding with a call to love.

As most of you know by now, or have wondered, I am a member of the so-called Restoration Movement Church of Christ (not a Capella; that is, my church uses instruments in worship). Our ‘movement’ (we have eschewed such cumbersome boxes as ‘denomination’ or ‘tradition’ thinking them too slow or stagnant; we are a ‘movement!’). Our movement has, at least at its inception, been controlled by an unofficial creed, not called a creed, but a slogan. Actually, there have been several of them along the way, but I think the one I will mention stands as the most prominent. So it was much to my surprise when listening to this speech by Dever that I heard him quoting our slogan and then wrapping his entire speech, or sermon if you like, around it: “In opinions liberty, in essentials unity, in all things love.” Why you…that’s our slogan!!! (spoken as a remarkably Homer Simpsonesque threat.)

Well, it is a fascinating idea; although, it is necessarily, as I have read recently in a history of the Disciples of Christ (Disciples of Christ, a History, Garrison and Degroot) a flawed idea. But I digress. This slogan is the hub around which Dever built his speech even though he didn’t really get to the slogan until the end of the speech and then attributed it to some Germans (!) instead of to my beloved Restoration Movement forefathers. In leading up to this fascinating announcement of what should motivate all of our discernment activities, Dever makes six rather important points. I found that the first 2 were the most important and took the longest (if I recall he spent about the same amount of time on the last 4 as he did the first 2), but I will list all six points he made and offer only the briefest of points about each.

First, he asks: Do we follow commands in order to purify or unify? Here I found Dever’s most compelling argument. He notes that Jesus himself said we must ‘be on our guard’ against all kinds of teachings and teachers. In other words, discernment is not a bad idea. In fact, we should discern because if we don’t we are likely to fall into all sorts of dangers. Dever points out, however, that discernment always runs the risk of extremes and that there are basically (I hate the word basically) two opposite, but equally dangerous, extremes.

On the one hand, some tend to be too inclusive for the sake of unity. These are folks who ramble on about things like ‘no creed but Christ, no book but the bible’ (Ha! Another RM creed…slogan.) These are folks who think doctrine doesn’t matter all that much as long as we are united, answering Jesus’s prayer for unity (John 17), etc. Dever says these folks might be just as judgmental as anyone else because they tend to ‘undervalue God’s truth.’ Ooooh. That stings.

On the other hand, some tend to be too exclusive for the sake of purity. He says, “They are ready to quickly declare something wrong, or someone wrong or maybe even declare someone not a Christian. They neglect the wideness of Gods love that he shows in Scripture. They neglect seeing examples of his work when he has been at work.” He also said, that “we threaten our humility when we become self-righteous about this.” He noted that “truth and humility are not enemies” and that “knowing the truth will humble us.” He warned about those who are so exclusively concerned about purity that they think they have a “prophetic ministry of correction.”

In his second point he asks, “What are some common fights that we Christians have?” He goes on to note many and concedes that the list is virtually endless. I won’t bore you; his list is impressive.

In his third point he asks, “What are we together for?” In this point he notes that different levels of agreement are needed for different levels of cooperation and that agreement is not essential in all areas in order for Christian fellowship or evangelism to exist.

In his fourth point he asks, “What are the things we must agree upon?”  That is, what are the essentials that we, as Christians, must necessarily agree upon to be considered Christians? I thought his best point here was when he noted that all of us will be “corrected at some level.” But I think the gist here was that there are some doctrines that can be dismissed (bad choice of words here) without sacrificing Christian orthodoxy or severing Christian fellowship.

His test pattern for discerning such agreement for essential doctrines is as follows:

1. How clear is this doctrine in Scripture? (I assume here he means ‘to me’.)
2. How clear do others think it is? (that is, other Christians)
3. How near is it to the Gospel? (that is, which instructs us about salvation)
4. What would be the doctrinal and practical implications if we allowed disagreement on this particular issue?

I think this is a fine test, and when it is done Dever concludes that there are three areas upon which we must agree as Christians: God. Bible. Gospel. Of course, within these terribly vague ideas he breaks it down even further. Not only must we agree about God, but we must believe certain things about God. Not only must we believe in the Bible, but we must believe certain things about the Bible. Not only must we believe in the Gospel, but we must agree what constitutes the Gospel. (Here I think the flaw of ‘in essentials unity’ becomes apparent.) Dever narrows the Gospel down to 1 Corinthians 15:1-9:

1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1 Corinthians 15:1-9

He notes that for 14 chapters Paul had pointed out all the unnecessary things that divided the Corinthian church and points out that here, in chapter 15, is the one thing we should stand for: ‘Contend for this truth,’ Paul seems to be saying. Here is the Gospel in a nutshell, the essentials upon which we must agree. Thus Paul reminds the Corinthians of this core of beliefs.

In point five, Dever asks, “What are some things we may disagree about?” He cites Romans 14:22: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” He also takes four test cases and notes that we can indeed disagree about some things without compromising faith, the Gospel, or Christian fellowship. Encouraging indeed. (His section about ‘egalitarianism’ is rather brilliant.)

In his last point, Dever asks, “How can we disagree well?” Again, Dever makes two solid points to consider when having a conversation with someone with whom we disagree. I should ask: 1. What can I learn from this one with whom I disagree? Well, this requires a great deal of humility, and can be difficult to navigate since we may have to finally admit that we are wrong. 2. What do I owe this person with whom I disagree or who disagrees with me? Again here is required a great deal of humility. We owe them love. We owe them respect. We owe them the courtesy of making it evident that we care about this person and that we are not just trying to win an argument with them. In other words, we should try to understand what they are saying. I think this point often gets lost on me. Much of the time, I care more about winning an argument with someone than I do about the person. This is dangerous ground upon which to tread.

So what is the point here? I think the point is clearly this: Disagreement is not bad; discernment is required. Those who point out our errors are not our enemies. “The opposite of your friend is not your enemy, but your flatterer.” So it is good, it seems to Dever (and I agree), that there are those who are willing and able to engage one another in hardy, healthy debate and conversation. Disagreement is not the end of the world, and there are some areas where our error clearly needs to be pointed out in order that we might be saved (Jude). However, it is better to engage in debate and conversation with humility, with love, with an eye and ear for learning and not just winning. Best line in the speech was this, “We want to be known for what we are for rather than what we are against.” (Hmmm…someone recently wrote a post about this very point.)

Here’s what the apostle wrote to the church at Ephesus:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16

If some are given to this and some are given to that, I think this means that the Lord fully expects we will correct and rebuke one another (and often Scripture may do that very thing). Scripture may bite hard, but we should not. (Although someone said to me the other day: “I’m not nice when it comes to gross misrepresentations of the genuine Christian faith. And, I’m not supposed to be.” Indeed!) This does not mean, however, that we abandon the overarching command to love. Love. Love. Love. This is what distinguishes the church from everything and everyone else in the world (as far as organized religion is concerned). If we are not known by our love for one another, then we will be known for something else. And if we are known by something else, can we legitimately call ourselves Christians? Can we who fail to love even begin to think we have a right to do evangelism and call people into this story? (I’ll say this, there are times when I know I am loved more by people outside the story than I am by those inside the story. There are times when I love those outside the story more than those inside it.)

So, “In opinions liberty, in essentials unity, and in all things love.” It seems to me that love can go a long, long way towards correcting our errors-and who among us desires to remain in error? Dever ends by quoting from John Wesley, “I shall thank the youngest man among you to tell me of any fault you see in me. In doing so, I shall consider him by best friend.”

It remains to be seen, however, if love will win the day, especially in the world of blogs where, for example,  just the other day, a couple of the writers here were called Pharisees because we “make grace too wide.” It remains to be known if love truly conquers all. It remains hidden as to whether or not we can love. Maybe there is something to this slogan after all. It remains to be seen if we will be known by our love and not our hate. It remains to be seen if love can truly bring together those who are concerned with unity and those who are concerned with purity and conclude that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Maybe Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone weren’t wrong to adopt this slogan and hoist it high even if the opinions and essentials part is practically impossible. And maybe, just maybe, if we pay attention, close attention, to love we will see that what matters most is not our opinions, not our essentials, but our love.* After all, Jesus himself said that it was by our love for one another that the world would know we are his disciples.

Not opinions. Not essentials. But love.

And so it remains, can we disagree and still love? Can we disagree and maintain Christian fellowship? Will we love? How will we be known? Can we discern with more concern for the person than for winning? I ask all who visit and read: Can we, will we, discern with love?

Will we love?

*Which is not to say that we abandon essentials at all, but does mean that we should be far more concerned about humility. Fact is, I could be wrong. We could all be wrong. And all theology is a matter of opinion. Maybe there is something to the vaguery of Dever’s ‘God, Bible and Gospel’ regardless of how we formulate our opinions about these essentials from Scripture. Maybe there is something to grace after all and its wideness is not the real problem, but its narrowness.

**word count 2494

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And at times, our problem too:

Dogmatism As Christian theologians we are likewise faced with the temptation toward dogmatism.  We run the risk of confusing one specific model of reality with reality itself or one theological system with truth itself, thereby ‘canonizing’ a particular theological construct or a specific theologian.  Because all systems are models of reality, we must maintain a stance of openness to other models, aware of the tentativeness and incompleteness of all systems.  In the final analysis, theology is a human enterprise, helpful for the task of the church, to be sure, but a human construct nevertheless.

- Theology for the Community of God by Stanley J. Grenz, 13.

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