Month: April 2018

Substitutionary atonement

The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is often taken by western churches (and most atheists) as being the only view of salvation. This is far from true – something I will explore as I attempt to define the topic.

Overview of substitutionary atonement

This form of atonement starts with the idea that God is both just and angry at us for our sin. Therefore he punishes Jesus to satisfy his anger and we get the benefits – if we believe. In many cases, if we forget to believe, fail to believe, or just don’t hear about it then we still get the punishment of his anger for all time.

Technically speaking, substitutionary atonement is the name given to a number of Christian models of the atonement that regard Jesus as dying as a substitute for others, ‘instead of’ them.

There are different theories that come under the umbrella term “substitutionary atonement”. Four of the more well known are:

  • Ransom theory.
  • Christus Victor.
  • Satisfaction theory.
  • Penal substitution.

Criticisms of substitutionary atonement

Where do I even start?

There are many competing views of the atonement and whole forms of Christianity (Universalism, for one) where this doctrine is seen as holding no water at all.

Any doctrine that took a look as hell as eternal conscious torment and concluded that it does not fit with concepts of God’s justice, love, and mercy tend to reject substitutionary atonement.

Emma Higgs makes the argument on Patheos far better than I ever could. But she is far from the only one to do so. Australian Anglican minister, David G. Peterson quotes John Goldingay saying:

For example, in 1995 John Goldingay edited a volume of essays entitled Atonement Today. Goldingay himself denies that there is any link between atonement and punishment in the Old Testament and argues that the improper linking of punishment with sacrifice in much Christian thought is particularly due to a misunderstanding of Isaiah 53.

Objections include:

  • Devine child-abuse
  • Murders mobs as the will of God
  • Punishing the innocent as an affront to true justice
  • Moral guilt is not transferable
  • Anti-trinitarian aspects (angry God vs innocent Son)

Substitutionary atonement and the Axioms of Faith.

As with most widely held doctrines, it can be reached via Axiom zero. However, no form of the atonement can be said to be axiomatic itself. I will not be assuming this form of the atonement to have been in any way proven or established as a given. Not least of all because I have many unanswered or unanswerable questions regarding it.

How I intend to use the phrase “substitutionary atonement”.

As substitutionary atonement is – for better or worse – pretty much a core doctrine of the church I am going to have to talk about it directly. When I discuss substitutionary atonement, I expect that I will focus on penal substitution. The range of objections to this doctrine deserves better investigation and will, therefore, be a topic I return to frequently.

It is time to remove pharisaical influence from our doctrine

We talk about “my church”, “my pastor”, and “my ministry”. These things are not yours.

Our church is our family. Our church is where we are pastored (nurtured) and where we minister to (nurture) each other. 

The difference is between a place where you take for yourself and a place where you care for others. One is a club for Bible geeks and the other is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This pharisaical toxin in our thinking is inherited from the trace amounts of pharisee presence in our church culture and wider doctrinal teachings. Pharisaical influence is like leaven (yeast) of Galatians 5:9 – any is too much. The church is suffering from a yeast infection.

I suggest that it is time to remove pharisaical influence and rethink the way we think about “church”.

Agnosis demands humility

Agnosis means “I don’t know everything” because I do not. It is the antithesis of the idea that “the Bible clearly says…”

Jesus (Iesou) seemed to understand that the great truths of God are hidden from the wise and learned. In Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21-22, He thanks the Father for doing this.

In a post titled “The lost art of humility: homosexuality and usury“, the writer of Undeception says:

…no human may legitimately claim or imply the unimpeachability of his opinion merely by adorning it with the words, “The Bible says…” in place of the more accurate statement, “I interpret certain passages of Scripture to mean…”; to grant that even knowing what the Bible says is no guarantor that one knows the meaning or value of what it says.

This, I would suggest to you, is exactly the principle of Agnosis that I wrote about before.

If we accept that man is flawed and that we are men, then we must conclude that we are flawed. Therefore, If it is true that we are flawed it follows that our reading of the Bible – no matter how seemingly accurate – must be flawed. If it is flawed, it is yet to be perfected. If yet to be perfected then all of the following must be true:

  • Our understanding of scripture must be examined periodically (John 5:39)
  • One or more parts of our doctrine will be errant (Matthew 7:3)
  • We may be unable to see where the flaws are (1 Corinthians 13:12)
  • We cannot rely on our understanding of scripture but on Christ alone (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • In all things charity (love) and humility are vital (Proverbs 17:9)

Proverbs 16:18 teaches us that pride is always destructive. Therefore any doctrine proudly held up as perfect will crumble in time.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

We would be fools to think we have gotten everything right. Our only recourse is towards humility. Maybe the Calvinists are right; perhaps the Orthodoxy is most correct, it could be the more liberal universalists are on to something, or perhaps the purest truth is known only to a madman preaching on a hillside. Whatever our doctrinal position let us embrace those who have a different understanding as brothers first and foremost as the scriptures direct.

A Biblical view on Brexit

I feel that the church has been lacking a sound biblical perspective on Brexit. While I doubt that I am the one to write a definitive study, here is what I have decerned from scripture.

Polling from Lord Ashcroft showed that nearly 60% of those that identified as Christian voted to leave. Why?

According to Christianity Today:

A host of blogs, websites and claims of ‘prophetic words’ have fuelled a fear of the European Union’s apparent spiritual side. A minefield of ‘prophetic’ websites, many of which border on the extreme end of conspiracy theories, warn of a supposed darkness in the EU project.

I want to take a clear-headed look at what the Bible really has to say.

Spiritual Darkness?

The focus of concern for evangelical writers claiming “prophetic insight” is a belief that the EU has an evil spiritual power.

They point to the EU symbol of a women riding a bull and say that it is idolatry or point fearfully towards the imagery of Revelation. Others point to the EU’s building in Strasbourg and claim it is based upon Pieter Bruegel’s painting of Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Therefore, we are told, the EU is in open rebellion against God.

According to Christianity Today:

The central point of this wariness is around the European symbol of a woman riding a bull. The icon was chosen by the EU based on the Greek mythical story of Europa and adorns many EU official residences, buildings and documents.

But for some charismatic Christians the symbol is reminiscent of a biblical apocalyptic warning that spoke of a “woman sitting on a scarlet beast” in Revelation 17. According to Revelation, the woman on the beast is the mother “of the earth’s abominations” and will be destroyed by God.

Examining the prophetic

Let us take a quick refresher on how to examine the prophetic with Godly discernment.

Why prophecy must be carefully decerned

1 Timothy 4:1-2 warns us of deceptive spirits and demonic teachings:

Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.

With such a stark warning, we would be fools to accept these claims of God-breathed truth without examination.

Is it encouraging?

1 Corinthians 14:3 tells us, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation.”

This is the first test of any claimed prophecy. Does it build up?

Christianity Today:

Despite the desperate efforts of evangelical Christian Tim Farron, a vague notion that the EU was anti-Christian persisted among Christian communities […]

Rather than feeling encouraged Christians have reacted to the EU with uninformed fear. A thing shall be known by its fruits and so far I have to say it does not look promising for these “prophetic” claims.

I have to conclude that these claims fail this test. Most of these prophecies fuel fear and distrust. They seak to pull down the EU and do not seek to build anything in its place.

Is it consistent with scripture?

Let me tell you this up front it is unbiblical for one of faith to fear the icons and myths of the past. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that He that dwells within you is greater than any that dwell in the world.

Titus 1:14 tells us to pay no heed to myths. 2 Peter 1:16 is likewise scathing of fables:

For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur.

1 Timothy 1:3-4:

As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. Such things promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith.

Yet myths and speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan have been emphasised by Christians frightened like little children by a dusty old icon.

1 Timothy 4 advises us to “reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness.”

Pointing to icons with fear is not becoming of those adopted into the faith.

Does it promote the fruit of the spirit?

The fruits of the spirit, such as peace, patience, and love should be multiplied by God breathed prophecy. Do these calls to Christian action lead to good spiritual fruits?

So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. (Romans 14:19)

John 3:20 tells us, “everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed.” What has come to light is just how completely the Leave campaign lied. Ephesians 5:11 says to not associate with such deeds but expose them.

Again, I’d have to say no. Instead of peace, Brexit has given rise to racism, poverty, and uncertainty about the future. Brexit brought division to the country. How can we of the Faith be yoked with such deception? 2 Corinthians 6:14 says to do no such thing.

Examining the scriptures

Now we have examined claims of prophecy let us look at what the Bible has to say about our relationship with our neighbours.

Building up our neighbours

Romans 15:2-3 starts by saying, “Let each of us please his neighbour for his good to build him up.”

Does Brexit in any way build up the UK’s Europian neighbours? It is hard to see how it can. In fact, there are those among the leave camp hoping to see the total destruction of the Eurozone. That is the very opposite of building up. Don’t forget what Leviticus 24:19 says about he who harms his neighbour.

1 Corinthians 10:24 says “Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person.” I wonder if, through Brexit, we have failed to do this.

God’s commands regarding foreigners

Central to the Holy Law of God is justice for all – both native and foreign.

Deuteronomy 10:17-18 says:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing.

Central to Brexit is a closing of borders to refugees. These two things are not compatible. You cannot serve two masters.

Lies or truth?

It is the thief that comes to kill, steal, and destroy. The aims of Brexit are separation, division, and a destruction of the EU.

Proverbs 12:22 says this:

The Lord abhors a person who lies, but those who deal truthfully are his delight.

The Father of Brexit was lies and deception. John 8:44 is clear on the nature of such a father.

You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

How can something driven by deception and lies be the will of God? If God desired the UK to depart the EU surely it would bring glory to the Father if this was done openly, honestly and in truth?

Love your neighbour and the Brexit divorce

James 2:8 says:

But if you fulfil the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing well.

How can UK Christians claim to love their neighbour and be part of divorcing and rejecting them?

Was the EU unfaithful to us? No.

Why, then, are we seeking separation from our EU partner to whom we have committed? To trade with other nations. Would not Luke 16:18 show us to be adulterers if we do that?

Christ’s prayer for us

In John 17 you can read Christ’s prayer for His followers. Not that we are removed from the world but that we remain in it.

Even if you accept the highly doubtful claims of “spiritual evil” in the EU surely our Godly duty is to remain there and be salt and light? Salt that has lost its saltiness is not good for anything but to be trampled underfoot.

If the UK truly were a last bastion of Godliness (and I doubt that it is any better than anywhere else) then how can we be salt and light to an EU we have rejected?

Conclusions on Brexit and the Bible

When thousands of desperate souls came to France seeking hope and justice from the UK, Christians had a historic opportunity to put into practice our faith. Instead, we chose to close our borders.

We did not speak out for those that have no voice. A light was not shed for those in need.

If Christians are concerned about spiritual darkness, we should be galvanised into action by the injustices of people being driven to use food banks to feed themselves. Outraged at the racism and hate that followed the Brexit vote. We should be loudly vocal about the thousands that are driven to the brinks of suicide by a benefits system expensively persecuting the poor and disabled.

Our silence speaks volumes and it condemns us.

It seems to me that the move towards Brexit is an attempt to divide us from our neighbours and frustrate the will of God. If that is the case, Brexit will ultimately fail. How it fails will determine the price we must pay for our arrogance and fear.

We Christians that voted for Brexit sided with messengers of lies, oppression, and injustice. We were deceived by fearful words. Now we must repent and rebuilt our bridge to the world.

We have forgotten our God.

When we see refugees in need and do nothing, we have forsaken our faith. When we see Muslims and other minorities persecuted and do not cry out, we have forgotten our God.

Jesus himself taught us that if we fail to serve even the least of these, we fail to serve Him. Therefore, we forfeit all right to worship God as long as we continue to refuse aid to our neighbours. Is it not written that when we turn away our ears from hearing His laws of mercy and justice, even our prayers are an abomination? Likewise, do we not know that only those of clean hands and a pure heart may stand in His Holy Place?

He says to us through His profits, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” yet we have failed to show mercy. The Father is willing to show us mercy for this sin – Jesus himself taught us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy“. Do not forget that judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? Therefore, until we show mercy to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, we have no claim to righteousness and no expectation of mercy.

The Lord our God hears only the prayers of those that do what is right. It is He that says, “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.

When we turn a blind eye to the suffering around us, when we silently approve of the death at our doorstep, that blood is upon our hands. Our God said through His prophet, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I look the other way; when you offer your many prayers, I do not listen, because your hands are covered with blood.

Is it not written that there is a curse upon those that withhold justice from foreigners? Remember His Holy Law which says:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

His blessing upon us is by the same measure with which we bless others. It is written, “Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.