Saturday, August 28, 2010

What About the Unevangelized?

Tough Questions for Christians #17—Never Heard of Jesus

Tough Question #17

If people who have never heard of Jesus get into heaven, this means they have a free ticket in, without Jesus. So why ever tell these people about Jesus? Why send missionaries?

First I want to speak to AZ’s assumption that the God who sends people who never heard of Jesus automatically to hell. What is the matter with God taking those whom he had judged as sinners, just like all humanity, and so sending them to their rightful place—hell—just like all humanity? Maybe because God is a God who is supposed to love all people and merciful to all, and if he sends people to hell without a chance, then he is neither merciful nor just? Oh, that may be the reason. In other words, as AZ says, that “God is a monster.”

So what about the other option? That these people are automatically going to heaven? Well, then we have another problem, which AZ clearly speaks about. It would seem that missionary or evangelistic activity would actually damn people, not save them. So this means that somehow Jesus is a benefit to these people. What could it be?

A lot of Christians have an assumption that our entrance in heaven or hell depends on our belief in Jesus. After all, that’s what they were taught from the time they first were introduced to Jesus. “Believe in Jesus, eternal life” right? John 3:16 seems to say that pretty plainly.

But when the Scripture, including John, speaks to the time of actually entering either heaven or hell, they speak about judgment day. That’s the day (or days, depending on your eschatology) when God decides whether one has eternal life or not. And all throughout Scripture, it doesn’t say that this day is based on one’s faith, but rather on one’s actions. John 5:28-29 says, “An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” In other words, “heaven” is obtained by doing good actions and “hell” is deserved by doing bad things.

Many Christians will say, “Yes, but Jesus says, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one whom He sent’” By this they mean that the only work that counts is belief. But clearly that’s not what Scripture says. In fact, the best description of judgment day is Matt. 25:31-46, otherwise known as “the sheep and the goats”.

In this judgment, Jesus describes sheep who help out His “brothers” with practical hospitality, and they are shocked that this is sufficient to get them into the kingdom. On the other hand, the “goats” who refused to practice such hospitality were sent to hell for their heart-heartedness shown by their inaction.

Thus, there will some people who “believe” who will not enter. And others who do not “believe” who will enter. Pretty much everyone is surprised. Because entering heaven or hell isn’t technically about believing in Jesus, but acting in judgment or mercy (Luke 6:36-38). Why do we need to believe in Jesus? Because it is supposed to help us to be merciful, and thus get us into heaven.

Unfortunately, many Christians have equated believing in Jesus with joining a church, with being a part of a segment of society, with signing a doctrinal statement or praying a certain prayer. Thus, “believing in Jesus” isn’t what it was originally intended to be. Originally, it is recognizing Jesus as Lord and thus obeying his commands to love, to forgive, to help one’s enemies, to give to the poor and to assist one’s enemies in need. Since the church is so often the opposite of what Jesus taught, we can say that believing in Jesus, for them, is just the opposite of what Jesus meant.

Because of this, just as Jesus said, many people who think they are in the kingdom will be shut out. Those who have the greatest assurance, will obtain the lowest circle of hell, meant for hypocrites and traitors.

So people who didn’t hear about Jesus? If they live a life of mercy without Jesus, then they’re in. Just as Paul said, “When Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” Or, those who do good are good even if they don’t know the right reason to do good. While those who do evil will be treated as the evil they are.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What is the Sign of True Christianity?

Tough Questions for Christians #16—False Gods
Tough Question #16

I wish I would have written this one. It is insightful and it leads to a basic truth most Chrstians miss.

AZ gives a question from Lazyperfectionist: Cults such as The People’s Temple and the Branch Davidian have pretty orthodox beliefs, pray and read their Bible. They have regular worship. But they are considered to be “false” while most churches are “true”. We consider ourselves to be “real Christians” while many others are “false.” Why? What easy answer did these “false” churches miss, yet God made it clear enough to everyone.

The answer is both simple and profound. Love. Most Christians miss love. They can read about it and talk about it and pray about it, but they don’t do it. Jesus says this, “They will know you are my disciples by your love.” John said, “If anyone claims to love God but hates his brother the truth is not in him.” There are a lot of other passages in Paul, James and others. And it is more complicated than that as well. We need to have humility and follow the teaching of Jesus. But the obvious test is love.

So what happens? First, Christians deny what Jesus says. They focus on minutia instead of the important things of Jesus. Then, Christians justify unloving acts. They say it really is love, just not the normal way one considers love. Then Christians deny that love is all that important. That some things are more important that caring for others, helping the poor, supporting the weak. That sometimes— or more than sometimes—killing and maiming and destroying people is necessary. That the poor should not only be ignored, but harmed.

It happens in all churches at one point or another. Their distinctive becomes more important than caring for others. They will justify their hatred and injustice. And when that happens, they have become a worshipper of a false god. Because the true God of Jesus is one that tells us we should always be merciful and loving and compassionate and caring. We can screw up and fail to be this way and Jesus can forgive us. But if we begin to justify our hatreds, prejudices and killings, to cover them up with nice sounding theology or platitudes, then we have become worshippers of a God other than the God of Jesus.

Either we love, or we worship Satan. Pretty simple. But it makes the church a den of hypocrites. Well, then, so be it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why Doesn't God Heal Amputees?

Tough Questions for Christians #15—Amputees

Tough Question #15

AZ’s question here is pretty simple. Christians claim to do a lot of miracles, but not re-attaching limbs. Or having them grow back. Why not? Jesus reattached an ear, shouldn’t Christians be healing severed legs or whatever?

Well, yes, actually they should. It isn’t “simple faith” as AZ says, but strong faith that’s required, but why not? We should be praying for radical healings including the reattachment of limbs. The only thing that stops us is our faith. Or lack of it.

Also, there are claimed healings of amputees. There are some who deny they really happened, that’s fine, but don’t say that Christians claim they can’t or don’t happen. Instead of just saying certain miracles don’t happen, check them out.

However, I think it would be fair to say that God heals only a few amputees. Only a few people born blind or deaf. Why is this? Because in Jesus’ day, healing had to do with forgiveness. The crippled and blind had no place in the temple, and thus, no place before God. Jesus healed to give the message that God is forgiving and granting an opportunity for all to come to Him without hindrance. Thanks to Jesus and His disciples, the message has gone around the world that God’s doors are open to all, if we would but submit to Him. That was a new message in Jesus’ day, but not so much now.

Now the real question that many ask is: Does God really care about us? Does God really exist? And if God does exist, does He have the power to really change our lives? The answer to these questions could be answered to some people’s satisfaction by the healing of an amputee. But not most people. God is speaking to people individually about this, not in some mass media event. Mass media doesn’t save people. God’s Spirit speaking to each one’s heart—that is what brings people to trust and faith.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kill Your Kids for Christ

Tough Questions for Christians #14—Kill Your Kids for Christ
Tough Question #14

What a wonderful insight! “If the age of accountability is true, then the best thing any Christian can do is to become an abortion doctor”. This is just beautiful reasoning.

AZ’s argument goes like this: If there is an age of accountability, then this means that any child who dies goes to God and lives with Him eternally. But wait too long, and they will be condemned sinners like the rest of us and the chances are good that they will go to hell. So why not kill them before they reach the age of accountability? That will guarantee their place in heaven, and if we really love our children we would be willing to sacrifice ourselves for them.

And the reason this isn’t right gets right at the heart of Christian anthropology. In the OT, children are owned by their parents and their fate are their parents fate until they become an adult, then their fate is dependent on their own actions (Ezekiel 18). Thus, the child (and wife) of a sinner is killed with the sinner, unless the child is an adult, at which point the child is only accountable for his or her own actions. Head of household is everything and everyone’s fate in the household is dependant on the actions of the household.

Jesus indicates that each person has their own fate before God. So a woman can be repentant and not face the same fate as her husband (Luke 17:33-34). But a child, so Paul says, is “made holy” through the believing parent (I Corinthians 7:14)—but so is the unbelieving spouse. In other words, Paul says, the whole family is sanctified through the one believing person. So this isn’t exactly age of accountability. It is the fate of the household being determined by one person.

Of course, almost no believers accept that today. This is why AZ said that it isn’t a biblical idea, but a theological one. So why is what AZ saying wrong?

First of all, we all know that killing IS wrong, and killing children is an abomination. It is a morally reprehensible act and if it is an emotional morality, so be it. Killing is to be in God’s hands, not humans’, and thus people’s fates are determined by God, not people. Well, at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The fact is, a lot of humans DO kill, in God’s name or otherwise, and a lot of people kill children. And those people are going to be punished by God, whether they claim to be killing for God or Jesus or the American Way or whatever else people think is reasonable to kill others. They are taking upon themselves the act that God reserves for Himself. God created us so He has the right to kill us. We are all made in the image of God, so if we kill each other, we are killing God’s image, a form of deicide. Thus to kill any human is an affront not only to humanity, but to God himself.

Secondly, to kill a child is to steal their true future, whatever it may hold. To kill someone to save them is the worst form of taking away someone’s God-given sovereignty or freedom. To not trust someone with their own life is abominable.

Third, if a parent or guardian kills their own child, they are breaking their own God-given responsibility. The main task of any leader is to protect and keep from harm those under their care. And the most weak are to be given the most care. If we kill the weak under our care—whether children, elderly parents or helpless relatives of any sort—then we have betrayed their trust in us. We have acted in a way unfaithful to them, because we have harmed those we should have protected and cared for.

Overall, this is a heinous act, as we all know. And praise God, this is one of the few areas where people’s confused theology didn’t overcome the morality that is written on their hearts.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Was God Reluctant to Save Us?

Tough Questions for Christians #13—Why was God reluctant to sacrifice Himself for sins?
Tough Question #13

AZ presents a complex theological question: God is omniscient and knows all things ahead of time and planned for himself to die for sins. But he waits 4000 years to do it, offering a lot of other options before that. Why is God reluctant to do this?

I think AZ is partly right here. God really is reluctant to have Jesus die to establish God’s kingdom. He could have done it sooner. But two things: first of all, God primarily wanted us to establish our own sovereignty and bless the world ourselves. It’s like raising a kid—you want them to do things themselves. You want to see them walk on their own, go to school on their own, establish their own projects and eventually get a job and decide on a spouse on their own. It is only with great reluctance that we, as parents, step in and do for our kids what we hope they can do for themselves.

This isn’t to say that we could die for our own sins, but God was hoping that it would be a one hundred percent human, with no divine, that would establish His kingdom. He called many people to attempt it: Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah—but they all failed. They proved too weak for the task. So He finally sent His Son Jesus. Sure, Jesus, the human, wouldn’t want to suffer torture and humiliation. No human would. But God wasn’t reluctant to suffer. Only reluctant to pay for his kid’s mistakes. He waited until the other options failed.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Can God Do Evil? Has God Done Evil?

Tough Questions for Christians #12—What could God do that would be considered evil?

Tough Question #12

AZ has a short video this time. He speaks of the evil that God has done. Killing millions in a flood, killing someone for looking the wrong way (not sure about this one), creating the Ebola virus. So, he says, if these are examples of God’s mercy, then what is evil? What could God possibly do that would be more evil than this?

A couple theological problems, here. First of all, in Scripture it is clear that God is not merciful to everyone. Evil people, the oppressors, etc. are punished by God, often with death or hell. So to be complete theologically, we have to say that God is merciful to the merciful in the long run. He is kind to the faithful. Others who do evil to others he’s not so kind to.

Secondly, God punishes people for seemingly small things because of their heart, not the action itself. Just as Jesus said in Matthew 5, a person who looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her—oh that’s what AZ means! Not looking the wrong direction, but with the wrong intent! Anyway, the issue is that the man deeply desires to have sex with her, to rape her and the look is the action he is displaying. He is sent to hell for his intent, because he intends to fulfill the action, not because he is just thinking about it. So the man who touched the ark. Probably—we don’t know—it wasn’t his innocent act of touching that was problematic, but his intent of being disrespectful. This would probably cause other problems for AZ, but there you go.

As far as God’s sovereignty, God never promised that issues wouldn’t come up or disasters wouldn’t happen. He’s not in control of all that, and He didn’t plan it ahead of time. But He could stop it. Instead, he put humanity in charge of the world to take care of such issues. Yes, He could stop it, but we’d have to ask. Or we can try to take care of it ourselves. That’s all good for God. But because he gave us authority isn’t evil.

So what could God do that was evil? Killing the innocent, creating genocide in His name, despising those who do good. Some claim that God has done this, but I say that people have done this in God’s name. Jesus opposes all this, and he is the best representative of God on the earth. I trust his interpretation of God.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Did Jesus Command All Unbelievers To Be Killed?

Tough Questions for Christians #11-

Killing All Unbelievers

Here, AZ quotes Luke 19:27, where Jesus is quoting the nobleman in his parable of the minas, “As for those enemies of mine, come and slay them in my presence.” AZ mentions that it doesn’t matter whether Jesus is speaking for himself or God, the point is, Jesus is commanding that all unbelievers be killed.

This is another case where a broader understanding of Jesus’ teaching would nix the question before it is asked. There are two parables being told, the familiar one about the nobleman leaving his servants with money which they were supposed to invest. The second, however, isn’t as well known because the Matthew version (“parable of the talents”) is more familiar to us. This is about the nobleman attempting to be the rightful king over his country and his own countrymen denying him his right. At the end of this, he has those who opposed him slaughtered. This seems really harsh, and this is the point—the nobleman is supposed to be harsh, unyielding, to make Jesus’ point.

First of all, the timing of this final scene of the parable is clearly judgment day after Jesus’ return. The nobleman left for a time and then returned. At the time of his return, he first judges his servants for their faithfulness. Then he turns to those who opposed him who should have supported him and he has them sent to hell. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any reader of the NT.

What does come as a surprise, both to AZ and most Christians, is that it is not unbelievers that are destroyed like this. Rather, those of “his own nation” who did not accept him as king. Matthew has a similar passage when he quotes, “"I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 8:11-12). It could easily be about the Jewish people who rejected Jesus’ kingship, but “sons of the kingdom” isn’t exclusive to that. It also includes those who deny Jesus’ lordship in the Christian church, whether in word or deed. There will be many surprises on the final day as to who is in and who is out. Many who feel confident in their shallow belief will find themselves weeping, while others who perhaps never considered themselves believers will be welcomed in the kingdom.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tough Question 10-- Jesus' Return and Animal Sacrifices

Tough Questions for Christians #10—Animal Sacrifices after Jesus’ Return
Tough Question 10

So AZ is reading his Bible again! This time, it’s Ezekiel 41-48, where the battle of Gog and Magog happens and the Temple is rebuilt. Most interpreters see this as being the battle of Armageddon, and the temple rebuilt describes animal sacrifices and sin sacrifices being instated. So why have them if Jesus’ death is sufficient?

This is another excellent question, and my answer has a few points:

First, Jesus’ death is the reality, animal sacrifices are the example. This doesn’t say anything against making sacrifices. In fact, James told Paul that he needed to do an animal sacrifice, and Paul willingly agreed—Acts 21:18-26. Animal sacrifices as a gift of thanks to God makes a lot of sense, and is a good form of worship, as well as an excellent opportunity for a BBQ!

Second, there is some question as to the placement of the Gog and Magog battle. Is it after the 1000 year reign of Jesus as Revelation places it? Is it the battle of Armageddon? I’m not worried about that. But from Ezekiel’s perspective, in looking at history as we do, he would probably see Herod’s refurbishment of the temple as fulfillment of his prophecies about the temple. Ezekiel is seeing the temple in heaven and measuring it as a standard for the temple on earth. Those measurements were supposedly used by the rebuilders of the temple in the first century, and so Ezekiel would see that as being fulfilled then. How that relates to Gog and Magog is questionable, and those who study prophecy know that prophecies are always fulfilled in general terms, but the connections between the texts aren’t usually fulfilled.

I want to talk about the nature of prophecy here as well, but I think I’ll hold off for another time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Atonement and Sacrifice, Part 3

4. Covenant-making sacrifice
In Hebrews 9 there is a longer passage that compares Jesus’ death with Moses’ sacrifice at Mt. Sinai: “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU." And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.”

Now, in this case, the death of Jesus really is being compared to the sacrifice Moses offered. But what sacrifice is this? It is the one made after the children of Israel received the Law, and they were making a covenant with God that He would be their King and they would be his obedient vassals. Thus, it is a kingdom-making covenant. Thus, this sacrifice, more than sin offerings or day of atonement offerings is to be compared to Jesus’ death. For both Moses’ offering and the death of Jesus was to create a covenant—read “constitution”—that would form the government. Jesus himself used the same language as Moses when he said, “this blood of the covenant” at the last supper.

The death of Jesus, then is the formation of the kingdom of God, even as the Passover sacrifice—the sacrifice of release of oppression—and the Mosaic covenant sacrifice—the sacrifice of establishing a kingdom.

Why, then, does the author of Hebrews emphasize the necessity of blood? Why is blood necessary to establish a covenant? Well, the author only says that a covenant, by which he means a will for inheritance, can only take effect after the death of the writer. That doesn’t make sense in either Moses’ or Jesus’ case, but it does establish a principle of death for all covenants. Specifically Jesus’ death—thus blood—was necessary to show the injustice of the established leaders. They had to prove their evil intentions by killing the innocent anointed of God.

In summary, Jesus’ atonement is connected with sacrifices, but the kind of sacrifices that are mentioned, and the emphasis that is placed on each sacrifice all lend itself to the Ransom theory (Christus Victor) or the Anawim theory of atonement instead of any of the other main theories of atonement.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Atonement and Sacrifice, Part 2

2. Sin sacrifices
Hebrews 7:26-28 alludes to sin sacrifices—“ For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

This passage is not actually about the sacrifices themselves, but the distinction between levitical priests and Jesus. Jesus didn’t have to offer a sacrifice for himself, because He was already innocent. Instead, Jesus offered up himself. There is an implication that the sin offering was inadequate, but Jesus’ was complete, but this isn’t saying that Jesus’ death is LIKE the sin offerings, but rather UNLIKE them.

3. The Day of Atonement
In Hebrews 9, Jesus’ death is compared to the high priest’s sacrifice, specifically on the day of atonement, which is only offered once a year. The main point being made is that Jesus is greater than the high priest because the high priest is in God’s presence only once a year, while Jesus, after one offering, is eternally in God’s presence. The point is his greatness compared to the high priest.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Atonement and Sacrifice, Part 1

As was explained in previous posts, the death of Jesus is deeply connected with the sacrifices of the Hebrew Scriptures. But, as was pointed out, the sacrifice of Jesus is not compared to the scapegoat sacrifice, but other sacrifices. Let’s look quickly at the two sacrifices Jesus’ death is compared to.

1. The Passover Lamb
There are a lot of passages that compare Jesus’ death to the Passover sacrifice, not least the passages that call Jesus the metaphorical “lamb”—John 1, Revelation 5, for example. The fact that all the gospel writers make an important point that Jesus’ death was in proximity to the Passover celebration (with John saying it happened at the time of the lamb’s butchering, and the other gospels saying it happed the next day, at the Passover meal). It is clear that Jesus’ death is being compared strongly with this sacrifice. Also the fact that Jesus’ blood is emphasized relates strongly to the lamb’s blood that was put on the door as a signal to the angel of death.
What is the Passover sacrifice? It is the opportunity to be released from slavery and oppression. It is the sign that those under the blood are not to be punished as the rest of the empire, which is under the curse of death. And it is that same night that the people of Israel was released from one empire into God’s kingdom.
It is no wonder, then, that Jesus’ sacrifice is compared to this sacrifice and not others. Because Jesus’ death is, more than anything else, the initiation of the Kingdom of God. It is a rejection of the kingdom of this world, and thus the punishment of death that rests upon it all. And it is the desire to be transferred to God’s kingdom. All of this happens through Jesus’ death, the lamb of God. Interestingly enough, in both sacrifices, there is a recognition of the oppression of the rulers and the necessity for them to be deposed.
Thus, the fact that the main sacrifice Jesus’ death is compared to is the Passover sacrifice means that Jesus’ death has more to do with a transfer of kingdoms than a substitutionary atonement, which is never mentioned in the Passover texts.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What I Believe About The Atonement-- The Anawim Atonement

Well, it's about time for me to say what I actually believe, huh?

a. Humanity has surrendered themselves to be ruled by powers instead of God himself, and God rules through the powers who rule through governments, corporations, institutions and families.

When Adam ate of the tree, he surrendered himself to the power of death, to be ruled by it instead of God (Genesis 2-3; Romans 5:14, 17). All nations are given over to powers in heaven (Deuteronomy 32:8). Israel gave themselves over to other gods, and so to be enslaved by their nations (Judges 2:11-19). Gentiles surrendered themselves over to other gods, to worship them, and so to be enslaved (Romans 1:18-32). The Jews surrendered themselves over to the Law, but because they could not consistently obey it, they were enslaved by it (Romans 3:9-21).

It is not just that humanity has sinned, but that we have allowed ourselves—by our own choice—to be enslaved to oppressors, to sinners, to haters of God in either words or deeds, and so we participate in their deeds. We are a part of a system of oppression, and we participate in it willingly, because we know of no other way to live. Sometimes this system of oppressions calls itself by the name of “law”, sometimes by the name of “religion”, sometimes by the name of “government.” Today, systems of oppression might call themselves “capitalism”, “the military complex”, “employment” or “political parties”.

b. These powers rule the world through the rule of judgment—that every sin deserves a just punishment.

The law of the powers is that the end of sin is death (Romans 3:23). Anyone who disobeys the law is cursed (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-28; Galatians 3:10); Before anyone dies, they are enslaved to sin (Romans 6).

Because we are under oppressors’ power, we find ourselves subjected to their rules. God wants to show us mercy, but we have chosen to put ourselves under the unmerciful. These powers represent God and so they destroy us in God’s name, but this is not God’s plan for us. He wants us to live under mercy, not judgment. We are enslaved by sin, Satan declares that we should die for our sin. Just like Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:30-40), as long as we remain in a system of judgment—that wrongs done against society must be punished by death— in all justice, we must agree with that decree against us.

c. Jesus died to prove the injustice of these powers because they are just as willing to punish the innocent as well as the guilty.

God declared that any power—spiritual or earthly—that oppresses the poor, especially the innocent, will be destroyed by Him (Psalm 82; Exodus 22:21-28; Deuteronomy 19:10). Jesus died to prove the elders and priests to be unjust, disobedient rulers of God’s people, and so the target of God’s just judgement (Mark 12:1-12); Jesus died to defeat the powers who ruled over us due to our sin (Colossians 2:12-15); Jesus’ death takes away the power of the devil over the enslaved (Hebrews 2:14-15); Martyrs’ deaths defeats Satan (Revelation 12:9-11). All of these oppressive powers are proven guilty because of their willingness to destroy God’s chosen, innocent, poor Son.

d. Given the proof of the injustice of these powers, God sets aside the powers as rulers over people and vindicates Jesus through raising him from the dead and establishes Jesus as ruler of the world at the right hand of God.

God sets aside unjust rulers and replaces them with the lowly and poor (I Samuel 2:8-10; Luke 1:52-53; Psalm 37:9-11; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 14:7-11). Jesus is the lamb who was slain is worthy to take on all earthly power (Revelation 5:1-10); The one who innocently died God established to rule (Isaiah 52:12-53:14); Jesus humiliated himself as lower than anyone, and so was raised over all (Phil. 2:6-11); Jesus established forgiveness of sins and so rules next to God (Hebrews 1:3-4); God raises one on the third day to indicate vindication (Hosea 6:2).

e. Those who accept Jesus as their king are allowed to live under the rule of Jesus, being pardoned for what they did under oppression, in the utopia of God with God’s spirit.

Believe in Jesus the Lord Messiah and you will be delivered from oppression and slavery (Acts 15:19; John 17:3; 20:31; Acts 2:36; 16:31; Romans 3:22; 5:1; 10:9; Galatians 2:16). Baptism is the sign of commitment to Jesus as Messiah for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 10:48; Romans 6:3-7) God calls us into a fellowship through Messiah Jesus (I Corinthians 1:9). Believe in the gospel and be ready for God’s kingdom (Mark 1:15).

If we give fealty (faith) to Jesus as our Lord, then we enter God’s kingdom. Baptism is the sign of this fealty, passing through Jesus’ death so we can receive His life. To be a part of Jesus’ kingdom is to be set free from all other oppressors—sin, death, Satan, governments and evil authorities.

f. The law of Jesus gives grace to everyone who repents, no matter how many times they repent.
God rule forgives those who confess and repent under His rule. (Psalm 32, 51; Ezekiel 18; Luke 15; Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:15-30; Luke 13:1-5; Acts 2:38; I John 1:9.) Under Jesus’ law, the repentant are forgiven, no matter how many times they sin (Matthew 18:15-22; Luke 17:3-5). Everyone who shows mercy to others will receive mercy from God (Matthew 5:7; Matthew 18:23-35; Mark 11:25-26). Those who love all, not judging others will be the object of God’s love and not judgment, for they will be as God is (Luke 6:27-36).

To be a part of Jesus’ kingdom is to live in God’s grace. This is grace both received and given in equal measures.

g. Those who live God’s life and suffer for it under the powers are set up by God to take the ruling place of the powers.
Those who humble themselves will be raised and those who exalt themselves will be humbled. (Matthew 18:4; 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14) We are to continually live out Jesus’ death in our lives by displaying His humility. (I Peter 2:21-24; Philippians 2:3-11; Ephesians 5:25-30; Colossians 1:24) Even as God raised Jesus from the dead, so we will risen if we are united in Jesus’ death through baptism and suffering (Romans 6:3-11; Romans 8:16-18). The one who suffers unjustly for God will be raised from the dead and experiences God’s utopia (Psalm 22; 37; Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23; Romans 5:3-5, 8:17).

To have faith is not simply a one time belief, but it is a lifestyle of following Jesus, choosing humility and suffering, all for the cause of being merciful to others. If we live the kind of life Jesus had, as well as embracing His Lordship, we will receive eternal freedom and joy.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jesus' Theory of Atonement

Matthew 22: 28-46
Jesus said, “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard.' And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, 'I will, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?"
They said, "The first."
Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.
"Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?"
They said to Him, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons."
Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES '? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion in theological circles about the reason for Jesus’ death. The idea of God demanding innocent human sacrifice for the justification of the masses just doesn’t seem ethical or just to many theologians. So people have been looking for other ideas, both ancient and modern, about what the death of Jesus was really about. Some say that Jesus was paying off Satan for the nations. Some say that God was demonstrating that nonviolent resistance is a more powerful weapon than violence. Some say that Jesus was showing how humans could demonstrate the sacrificial love of God. But all of these ideas have one thing missing: none of them look to Jesus for the reason he was dying.

The parable above is the only detailed explanation Jesus gave to his death and why it is significant. The parable of the managers is found in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 21, Mark 12, Luke 20), and it stands at the crux of Jesus discussion with the elders and priests, who ended up sentencing Jesus to death. Because of this parable, in all three gospels, the elders and priests attempt to arrest Jesus to put him on trial, but only stop because of the crowd, which establishes their reasoning for obtaining Judas’ services. Thus, this parable not only explains Jesus’ thoughts for why he should die, but also why his killers thought it necessary to kill him.

Location, Location, Location
As a background to this parable, we need to understand what Jesus had recently done. First, he entered into Jerusalem on a colt, with his disciples (from Galilee) declaring him to be the king of Jerusalem. This was done to fulfill biblical prophecy that the Messiah, the proper king of Jerusalem, would come on a colt. The next day, Jesus went into the temple and ordered the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple, which the high priest specifically allowed them to do. Thus, Jesus was acting as an authority in Jerusalem. When the ruling priests and elders of all the Jewish people confronted him on his actions, he responded with the parable above.

Super Powers
The Sanhedrin and the High Priest were the rulers of the Jewish people throughout the world. This had been the case from the time of the Maccabees, when a priestly family took over the rule of Judea. Even the Romans, who had control of the land, recognized the power of the Sanhedrin and priests and so tried to direct the Jewish people by determining which of the family of Aaron would be high priest. So while the Romans and the Herods had political control of the physical resources of Israel, the priests and Sanhedrin had rule over the law and religious life of the Jewish people—thus, over their hearts. They were the real rulers of God’s chosen people.

Jesus understood this, and so he didn’t openly confront the Romans, but leveled his political concerns on the priests, the Sanhedrin and on the religious and political parties of the Jewish peoples—the Pharisees (powerful in Galilee and the diaspora) and the Sadducees (powerful in Jerusalem and in the Sanhedrin).

The other thing that was understood is that if a Davidic king ruled over the Jewish people, this would be king not only over God’s chosen people, but he would be God’s chosen emperor over the world, according the prophecies of Daniel. So to claim to be the rightful king of Jerusalem is to claim to be the replacement for Caesar. One of the common names for emperor, whether Roman or Jewish, is Son of God.

So, What’s The Point?
Now to the parable. Jesus uses the idea of the vineyard from Isaiah 5, where the vineyard is used as a metaphor for God’s nation. Jesus uses this idea and then adds the idea that the rule of God’s nation was “leased” to a group of managers. These managers are clearly meant to be the priests and elders who were currently ruling the Jewish people. These managers received a number of messengers from the true ruler of God’s people—the prophets who spoke for God. The prophets insisted that the managers give God the true proceeds of his people—obedience, the doing of God’s will.

Matthew especially emphasizes this aspect of obedience by placing the parable of the two children just before the parable of the managers. The two children heard the will of the father—for the people of Israel it is Jesus’ message, to do justice to the poor, to love your neighbors no matter who they are, to sacrifice oneself for love. But the managers rejected this message and so abused and killed the prophets.

So, in the parable, the owner decides to send his son. This is the Son of God, the king of God’s people, the emperor of the world. The current rulers, however, desire the rule of God’s people for themselves. So they kill the Son. In the parable, the purpose of the death of the Son is not to see the Son resurrected and rule again. Rather, it is to show the unworthiness of the rulers of God’s people.

Jesus is accusing the rulers of being the murderers of God’s messengers, the murderers of God’s emperor and the rejecters of God’s will. Because of all this, Jesus says, they will be rejected as God’s rulers. Not just rejected, Jesus says, but destroyed. Because they have killed God’s chosen ruler, he will come and destroy these upstarts—the priests and Sanhedrin, and all of the symbols of their rule, which is Jerusalem and the temple.

In a sense, with this extreme accusation, Jesus was setting himself up to be murdered. He knew that the priests and elders would receive this as a statement of enmity and rejection on Jesus’ part. And so they would work behind the scenes to kill Jesus.

There is one other aspect that we have to recognize here. That Jesus is saying that his death not only is the level which causes God’s rejection of the unrighteous rulers of His people, but it is also the cause of a new set of rulers to be set over God’s people. Rulers who will give to God what he wants—obedience to God. These are rulers who have proven themselves by being persecuted as Jesus was. Rulers who display their faith through enduring devotion in the midst of humiliation, sacrifice and suffering.

What did Jesus really begin with his death? He began a process of religious power and leadership. The leaders who claim to speak for God will come from the anawim, and they must be respectful of the anawim. If the leaders reject or persecute the anawim, then God will reject those leaders and set them aside, replacing them with leaders who will allow the anawim to have a place of leadership. Jesus himself IS emperor, the ruler beside God to rule the whole world. But Jesus’ representatives are not the popes, bishops or synods made up of the wealthy and powerful. Rather, they are among the prophetic who live out God’s will among the poor, choosing to be poor themselves. And if the leadership of God’s people refuse to listen to these anawim, then Jesus will kick them out of leadership and establish a new people. He has done it before, and He can—and will—do it again if necessary.

The Summary of Jesus’ Atonement

The humble will be exalted, the exalted will be crushed.
In other words, the leaders of the world who destroy God’s appointed, innocent rulers will be destroyed. Jesus was destroyed by God’s representatives on earth—the Priests and the Sanhedrin. God’s dismantling of these corrupt religious rulers began with the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was appointed as the “cornerstone”, the head of God’s people, sitting beside at the right hand of God in heaven, officially superseding the High Priest’s role on earth. As these institutions continued to persecute and kill Jesus’ people, then God destroyed those institutions in 70AD, and they have never come back.

Jesus is saying He came to die so that He can be placed as the human head of God’s kingdom. This is the opportunity for us to leave behind our fear of unjust rulers—whether it be religious rulers, governments of the world, sin, death or Satan—and to replace these rulers with the One truly loving, powerful ruler of all the earth. If we surrender ourselves to Him, to the only God-established cornerstone of the earth, then we will be a part of God’s kingdom, freed from all oppression. This is the gospel of the cross.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Smoking Gun of SAT

We have already shown that Substitutionary Atonement Theory isn’t necessary to believe in. Also we have shown that there isn’t a single atonement theory that discusses all the significant biblical issues and themes that are related to Jesus’ death. In this section, I want to be more direct. There are significant theological issues that are problematic with Substitutionary Atonement Theory (SAT) as it is presented by evangelicals today. These problems are not obvious, on the surface, but given some thought these problems actually limit God’s sovereignty, justice and His mercy.

I am going to bring up some serious issues. I am not saying that proponents of SAT can't possibly answer most of these problems. Nor am I saying that to hold to SAT is opposed to the truth of God. What I am pointing out is that SAT has some very difficult problems that need to be addressed. To simply deny these problems are there only perpetuates the weakness of SAT. In light of these problems, I determined that it is better to discover a more biblical form of atonement theory. However, another theologian might determine to retain SAT, but deal with these issues head on. You decide how you will deal with them:

SAT claims that everyone is born in sin
In the classic form of SAT, every person is born into sin, and thus punishment because of Adam’s sin. It is a sin nature that is passed on to every human being. Thus, each human is born headed toward hell. However, God’s word disagrees with this perspective. In Ezekiel 18 it clearly teaches that no one will be punished for the sins of one’s father, but only for his or her own sins. Paul also teaches in Romans 2:8-10 that God does not punish a person in accordance with their race or birth, but only according to their own deeds. Thus, it is possible, for one who is born to the wrong parents to live a life so righteous as to be pleasing to God (Romans 2:14-15). To call a person a sinner from birth is simply unbiblical.

SAT claims that God forgives after punishment
It says in Scripture again and again that God is merciful and forgiving, that forgiveness is a part of His nature. But SAT claims that in order for God to forgive in justice there must be an elaborate punishment and only after the punishment is God able to forgive. This claims that God is unable to forgive unless there is death. This also implies that there is a law of punishment that is greater than God’s forgiveness. Can God not forgive who He wills? If that is the case, then why have a sacrificial system that establishes a false punishment? Why is Jesus established as the scapegoat for all sin? Scripture is clear—God has authority to forgive those who He wills. Jesus’ death somehow helps humans receive God’s forgiveness, but it is not due to God’s inability to forgive. Rather, it must be about humans being made worthy to approach God.

SAT claims that God’s wrath can only be quenched by death
SAT has a strange notion of sin that is anti-intuitive. It claims that every sin is to be punished by death, without regard to what kind of sin it is. Certainly Paul claims that anyone who is under the law and disobeys it is cursed, thus worthy of death (Galatians 3:10). But Galatians and Habakkuk both claim that life can be gained by one who lives by faith, regardless of the law. But what about those not under the Mosaic law? Are they under the curse of death for a single sin of childish rebellion? What about a sin that is repented of? Rather, it seems that the kingdom of God is excluded to those who have a character of evil, especially unrepented evil whether one is in Jesus or not. But a single sin here or there can be repented of and forgiven. (I Cor. 6:9-10, Heb. 10:26-30; I John 8-10). God’s wrath is not so severe that eternal torture is the just penalty for each and every sin.

SAT seems to claim that God accepts human sacrifice
SAT is based on the idea that all OT sacrifices were temporary, a sign pointing to the perfect sacrifice which is Jesus. If sacrifice is substitutionary, then it would seem to indicate that sacrifice was imperfect until a completely innocent human being is sacrificed to appease all of God’s wrath on humanity. There are a number of theological problems with this. First, it seems to indicate that God, although declaring in the past that human sacrifice is unacceptable (Exodus 13), in reality, it was okay as long as the sacrifice was completely without sin. Hebrews 2:24 indicates that Jesus being a human was significant, and SAT implies that it is because God really desired a human sacrifice.

SAT claims that the Innocent can be punished for the guilty
Also, it is important that the sacrifice be innocent. For substitutionary atonement to take effect, a guiltless human being must be sacrificed to appease God’s wrath. Thus, instead of Jesus, could each family have a scapegoat human whom they could kill, which would be the perfect sacrifice for their sins? Of course not, this is wicked thinking. But why then is Jesus considered a perfect sacrifice for humanity’s sin, and him being a human and innocent. This brings a question about God’s justice in general: is it ever just for an innocent person to be punished for a guilty party? Certainly an innocent person can pay bail, but can they pay with their own jail time or their own execution? Is there a single court that would find it just to kill an innocent person in the place of a guilty one? Is God’s justice so separate from human justice that this makes sense? Is this the practice of a merciful God?

SAT claims that punishment is irrevocable
SAT has the idea of God that it doesn’t matter who is punished, only that punishment is meted out. The punishment must be done, death must be accomplished. But who dies isn’t so important. We can trade an innocent person for a guilty one. We can trade the Son of God for all humanity. All of that is insignificant. The important thing is that someone is punished and the punishment is torturous enough.

Again, all of this is opposed to Scripture. God is just, and He sees clearly all men. Thus, God punishes individuals for their sin, or, more specific, their character. Jesus’ death is not some magic or ritual. God rejected ritual sacrifice many times in the Old Testament (Psalm 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:11-17; Isa. 66:2-3; Jeremiah 6:19-20; Amos 5:21-28), saying that what He really wanted was a contrite heart and repentance. Jesus came declaring repentance, not a substitutionary sacrifice. Thus it is repentance that God seeks, not any sacrifice. Jesus, yes, was the perfect sacrifice, but not because of some ancient law or spiritual code. Rather it is because Jesus’ death and resurrection leads us to repentance. The only question is, how does it do that?

It is not fair to dash an atonement theory to the ground and to bring up such biblical precedent without having a theory to replace it with. In the next four sections, I will propose an atonement theory that will attempt to have a broader look at Scripture, and encompass all the biblical themes of the main three.