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:
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”.
…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 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.
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.
The roadmap for the body of Christ to end poverty was set out in the Deuteronomy and Acts. Yet somehow we still miss it.
What is poverty?
Poverty is a trap. It means not having enough and what you do to cope with that need.
Poverty is a trap because it disadvantages the entire family. The children are less likely to do well at school. In fact, most children who grow up in poverty fail to attain any qualifications worth a damn. As adults, they are trapped in low paying jobs and their children will inherit the same trap.
Poverty is a trap that damages society. Children that experience poverty are more likely to engage in crime, antisocial behaviour and drug use.
We Christians should be doing something about that. Instead, we either are trapped ourselves or grow fat and offer to “pray for the poor”. James 2:16 points out just how worthless that is, for a poor person.
There are numerous methods (or metrics) for assessing doctrine. By this, I simply mean that we have a wealth of tools for evaluating the quality of our faith.
There are few, however, that are as simple or effective than the one I wish to share. This particular tool for assessing doctrine does not require years of study. It does not even require months of study. It is a tool that any Christian can apply right from the get-go.
The fruit of a doctrine
That is the metric of the character the doctrine inevitably leads to. A doctrine that is righteous should lead to righteousness. If a doctrine is loving then it should lead to love. While a doctrine that leads to pride, factions, conflict, aggression, condemnation, and all those other bad things must, self-evidently, be bad.
This stems, from Matthew 7:15-20 which tells us “by their fruits you will know them”. Given axiom zero (that all scripture is good for teaching), we can know that this has something to teach us. Specifically, that the fruit of a doctrine must be good for it to be considered a good doctrine.
What is good fruit?
Now Galatians 5:22-23 shows us what fruits we should be looking for when assessing doctrine:
A doctrine that leads to these sorts of characteristics must, at the very least, be good even if it is not perfect. Yet a doctrine that leads to the opposite is fatally flawed.
Why this matters?
Too frequently we Christians have been quick to insist that a doctrine is right because we say “the Bible says” and yet the very attitudes it leads to are anything but Biblical.
Such characteristics as found in Galatians 5:20 such as hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, and factions. These are the symptoms of a doctrine or belief that are at odds with the character of Christ. They lead to the sort of behaviour I call “trolling for Christ” – which we need to stop doing.
If at any time we find our belief leading us towards hostilities, strife, and dissension then it is our belief and not those of others which needs to be assessed. I can assure you that if we are not readily assessing doctrine that we preach then others will do it for us and be far less kind when they do.
If you need a scripture for this act of self-assessment – 2 Corinthians 13:5 directs us to examine ourselves.
Let us examine our own doctrines to be sure that they produce good fruits and be ready to uproot any that have failed to yield good fruit.
One of the many things that disturb me about practitioners of modern Christianity is a reliance on translated text without a mind towards the source material.
When Christians insist that “the bible is clear” on some topic and then point to the English language edition for support – that worries me. It worries me because any translation is difficult and something is always lost in the transition.
I have read Galatians 5:9 where it says that a little leaven makes the whole loaf leaven. What if the translators were pushing an agenda? My theology would have that agenda in it. What if some vital clue was lost? What if some bias was introduced? My theology would be off-kilter too. What if a subtle point was obscured? How would I know I had missed it?
As a complete amateur in the field of linguistics, I am wholly dependant on the translation notes of the likes of Thayer and Strong. I have my suspicions that Strong may have had an agenda with some of his translations. When Strong gives the possible meanings of a word, there is often one (the one that is used) that sticks out as being quite different to the other possibilities. That bothers me. The best I can do is trust but verify.
The Bible was not written in English
I hope it does not come as a surprise to you to learn that the Bible was not written in English. (It was not). The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek and first translated into Latin. Anyone who reads any of those languages fluently is going to have insights that we, who only read English, lack.
I have learned that some parts of the ancient Hebrew are so obscure that without the Latin version for a comparison, translation into English is only so much guesswork. “I guess my theology is right” does not sound all that trustworthy.
How do I know that what I am reading is what the original author intended?
1 John 4:1 says to test every spirit. I take that to mean: Test every message that is preached. By test, I mean:
Look and check to see if it measures up.
Think about it logically.
Study and make sure.
Be as certain as I can be.
I cannot do that with Hebrew and Greek. The best I can do is check multiple translations and the translation notes. Anything I come up with must be subject to the caveat that it is based on other people’s interpretation. It could be flawed.
Trolls for Christ
Today, we have (what I hope are) well-meaning Christians hounding all and sundry on the Internet bombarding them with the English language translated scripture. Some are doing it in a way that borders on trolling. If there is one thing we can agree on scripture does not teach us to “troll for Christ”.
When the recipient of this Christian trolling knows scripture – in the original Hebrew – better than the Christian, all they are doing is making us all look stupid. When these people also offer a humble and gentle rebuke we have a choice expressed in Proverbs 9:7-9 – learn and be wise or demonstrate our lack of Christ-like-ness.
Humility is the only refuge
When it comes to debating scripture, teaching it, preaching it, or in any way talking about it – our only refuge from looking like fools is to remain humble. Unless we are fluent in ancient Hebrew and Greek, we are dependent on the translation work of others. We see only through the darkened glass of others, to quote 1 Corinthians 13:12.
To pretend we do not suffer from agnosis – a lack of knowledge – is both proud and very, very stupid; not to mention, self-deluded. Have you not read Proverbs 16:18 which says what pride goes before?
For that matter what about Psalm 138:6 and James 4:6? God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. I will leave it to you to work out if “trolling for Christ” is humble or proud. (Hint: It is not humble at all).
I think it is the time that we Christians climbed down from our high horse and gave up the pretention that we are in any way experts. Proverbs 17:28 says that “Even a fool who remains silent is considered wise”. Let us be wise.