Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Many Problems of Popular Christianity

There are many problems with popular Christianity. Popular Christianity being the form of "Christianity" that helped to put the Republican party into power. The most serious problem is the understanding or misunderstanding of atonement theology. Here is the very conservative theologian Greg Bahnsen discussing his version of atonement theology.

How can a guilty sinner avert the just condemnation and wrath of God? How can he be set free from the penalty he deserves?
I just don't get this obsession with the idea that the wrath comes from God. I believe in wrath. Wrath exists. Wrath is human wrath.

There's this quite bizarre notion, credited to Anselm, that humanity has sinned and violated God's seemingly arbitrary laws and thus offended God greatly. This sin is somehow of infinite nature, so it requires an infinite penalty. Humanity is not infinite, thus can't pay the penalty to God. So God, deciding that he does in fact need this infinite penalty paid to Him, needs someone of an infinite nature to pay the penalty. According to this view of atonement God concocts a plan by which He sends his son Jesus to die on the cross and pay the penalty for us, dies in our place. Thus all we have to do is "believe" in Jesus and our sins will be forgiven before God. The problems with this theory are enormous. Let me begin a list.

  1. This theory has absolutely no understanding of what the atonement liturgy in ancient Israel represented or was about.
  2. Why are we assuming that God likes to see people die?
  3. Why does the "God" of this theory need human sacrifice?
  4. Why does God need to punish us when we're quite good at punishing ourselves?
  5. Why are so many Biblical passages so blatantly misinterpreted to support this theory?
Atonement was the renewal of the eternal covenant. The covenant was what held creation and the human community together. Atonement was the ingathering of peoples. In the ancient rite of atonement there was no wrathful deity. It was the deity coming forth from the holy of holies carrying His blood to restore all people into community.

Throughout the Bible human wrath is on the verge of breaking out. The war of all against all. An example is Phineas killing the apostate Israelite and his Midianite wife in Numbers 25:10-13. He was given the covenant of peace. He committed an act of atonement. A plague of violence was about to break out, but instead of using his own blood to achieve atonement he used someone else's, but nevertheless he put the sins of the community onto his two victims.

I wish I had more time to fully expound on what atonement means, hopefully I'm giving you little glimpses of what the Anselmian idea of atonement is covering up.

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