Last year at the beginning of Lent I decided that rather than giving something up I was going to take something on. I would read Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion. What better way to journey toward Good Friday than by immersing myself in a serious theological reflection on the cross of Christ? I made it just over a hundred pages. I wish I could say I had a good reason for quitting, but I don’t really have one. I suppose I could blame COVID’s arrival in Lent 2020 and the way it colonized most of my mental bandwidth, but mostly it was just a combination of distractibility, apathy, and preoccupation with other (lesser) things. What can I say? The truth isn’t always flattering. Read more
Posts from the ‘Atonement’ Category
“I have a complaint to make.” The comment was made by a member of our church who periodically drops in on me Tuesday mornings. The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face signaled that this “complaint” was more of an observation or a conversation starter than an actual grievance. “We must have been the most “crossed” church around on Easter Sunday morning,” he said. “I counted at least four!” I thought back to our service and found that I couldn’t disagree. Read more
We often hear a steady stream of words about what Jesus “did for us” around this time of year, around this stage of Holy Week. Last night, at our church’s Maundy Thursday service, we shared a simple meal together and walked through the familiar story from Jesus’ arrest to crucifixion. We do the same thing each year, and each year something new stands out to me. This year, I was struck the things that Jesus didn’t do for us as he walked the tortuous path to Calvary. Read more
I sometimes think of strange things on the way to work. Today is April 8, 2014. Yesterday it was 20 degrees Celsius here in southern Alberta. This morning it is snowing. This seemed somehow wrong to me as I was driving down the highway this morning. Yesterday the window was open. Today the defrost is on and there is snow on the hood of my car. Yes, this is very wrong indeed.
As I was pondering the deep and mysterious wrongness of southern Alberta weather patterns, I began to wonder about other wrong things in our world. I began to wonder about how many things are said, each day, in our communities, cities, nations, and world, that are wrong. How many factual errors? How much sloppy and inaccurate reporting? How many people pronouncing upon things they know little about? How much of noisy chatter in Internet-land is simply misinformed and incorrect? How are we able to wade through all this wrongness and still function? Read more
A few months ago, a book with the ominous sounding title, The Explicit Gospel crossed my desk, quickly assuming its position among all the other sad, neglected books strewn around my computer. “What an interesting title,” I initially thought. Then I read the back cover and noticed that the recommendations came mostly from A-list members of the neo-Reformed crowd (Mark Driscoll, et al). My interest began to wane. I read the introduction where the author diagnosed the church’s problems as not preaching or adhering to an “explicit” enough gospel message. I began to suspect that I had seen this movie before. Another withering critique of the “soft” state of current preaching, of the mushy, squishy Jesus that people tend to prefer, of the social gospel, of the dangerous departure from salvation by grace alone, another clarion call from the young, restless, and Reformed to return to true biblical preaching. I haven’t gotten much further in this book. Read more
A few reflections on unrelated themes for a Wednesday morning…
I was having a conversation with a person this morning who has been navigating the murky waters of trying to discern the best treatment options for a health concern. One doctor recommends this, one recommends that, one tries to push pills, one recommends “natural” treatments, one article says this, another article says that. Often, the opinions are wildly contradictory. How do you make a good decision in the face of such divergent viewpoints—especially when the purveyors of this or that position almost invariably stand to profit, directly or indirectly, from your agreeing with them?
Who do you trust when everyone has a vested interest in convincing you that they are right? Read more
I have, over the last few months, had the privilege of regular interaction with a couple of young men who (independently) came to our church inquiring about baptism. In their own words, both know “next to nothing” about Christianity. They don’t know much about history or theology, the have read little more than a scant few verses in the Bible, they aren’t much interested in the latest controversial issues in the church, and (gasp!) don’t find my sermons terribly memorable. But they want to get baptized. They don’t know much about Jesus, but they want to come to him, to sign up to follow, even though they don’t have much of an idea what they are getting into.
(Come to think of it, how many of us really do?) Read more
Last night was spent at a local theology reading group hosted by a philosophy professor from the university in town. It’s an eclectic mix—a few professors, a chaplain (who was gracious enough to invite me!), history and philosophy students, Mormons, atheists, agnostics, and a handful of other positions on the way to or from faith, no doubt. The discussion was freewheeling, lively, and very stimulating. I spend a lot of time in “churchy” circles where I am supposed to be some kind of “authority” or, ahem, “expert.” It was nice to take that hat off for an evening and just explore some interesting questions with others. Read more
What does this have to do with me? These were the decidedly impious words that kept rattling around my cranium as I drove around town running errands after a local Good Friday service this morning. It had been a meaningful service—beautiful music, considerable time spent hearing Scripture, a dramatic portrayal of Jesus’ betrayal, “trial,” and crucifixion—but for some reason, the events we remembered this morning seemed light years away from my own life and experience.
Our community is in the middle of a four-week sermon series on the nature of the gospel. We are discovering that “the gospel” is an expansive and inclusive thing—perhaps much bigger and deeper than many of us have considered it to be at various points along our journeys of faith. The gospel is good news that goes far beyond individual souls and their eternal destinies, and has implications for all of life and all of the world. Read more
During my time in the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, one of the issues that generated a fair amount of interest and controversy was that of the nature of the atonement. I have devoted a number of posts to this topic over the last few years (see the”Atonement” category at the bottom of this page), and have found the atonement debates simultaneously stimulating (it’s just a flat-out interesting theological issue) and frustrating (we have not always been able to talk about this matter as civilly as we ought to). It is an issue that continues to generate considerable conversation, whether within Mennonite circles or in the larger church body. Read more
God’s self-giving goodness and his determined commitment to rescue and redeem his creation were demonstrated two thousand years ago on a Roman cross. This is the guiding conviction that animates Mark Baker and Joel Green’s exploration of the meaning and scope of the atonement in the second edition of Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts. Read more
This morning our provincial conference of MB churches has gathered in Surrey, BC to engage in conversation about how we understand the doctrine of the atonement. I’m unable to be there in person, but I’ve got one eye on the life feed of the presentations this morning. My other eye is on Miroslav Volf’s Against the Tide—in particular, an essay called “You Can’t Deal With God.” After telling the familiar story (told in the play/film Amadeus) of Antonio Salieri’s attempt to bargain fame out of God, Volf concludes with this affirmation of the character and work of God: Read more
Next month, the British Columbia Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (of which the church I serve at is a part) will be holding another event to further discuss some of our differences (or perceived differences) regarding how we are to understand the cross of Christ. The atonement debate has been simmering in these parts for a while now (I’ve reflected on it here, here, here, and here if you’re interested in any background). Some see a decreasing emphasis in the penal substitution component of what the cross accomplished, and think that this represents a compromise of the gospel. Others see room for locating penal substitution within a broader understanding of what was achieved at Calvary. This event is an attempt to better understand and talk about these differences. Read more
Controversy around the nature of the atonement continues to bubble beneath the surface in some corners of the Canadian MB Conference. Specifically, some have problems with a book by MBBS professor Mark Baker and Joel Green that questions the primacy of penal substitution and seeks to recover other important biblical metaphors that address what the cross accomplishes and why and how. Some think Baker’s understanding of the atonement ignores (or at least minimizes) God’s wrath and denies the fact that Jesus died as a substitute for our sins. There have been charges of heresy, and plenty of misunderstanding and miscommunication throughout the discussion. Read more
I spent the latter half of last week at a Canadian Mennonite Brethren study conference in Saskatoon, SK where the topic under discussion was what it means to “confess Jesus” in a pluralistic world. It was a good conference on many levels. If provided a chance to see my brother and many other friends (old and new) from around Canada, to listen to intellectually stimulating lectures, and participate in many interesting conversations. All in all, it was four days very well spent. Read more
Last week I finished Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement and I’m nearly finished Mark Baker and Joel Green’s Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. Both of these books have been very helpful in articulating a view of the atonement that is broad and deep enough to address the depth of our need as human beings and as a planet. Both deal with the various theories of the atonement, both examine the limitations of human language and the role of metaphors, and both look at the relevant biblical texts. Both offer ways of thinking about and living into the atonement that are profoundly hopeful. Read more