The Nonviolent Atonement: Brian McLaren and James Alison on Violence, God, and Mimetic Theory

[Editor's Note: This post, by Adam Ericksen from The Raven Foundation, is the second in our new weekly series on Mimetic Theory.]

I’ve been excited to tell you this ever since July…There has been much anticipated within mimetic theory circles for the conversation between Brian McLaren and James Alison and I can now tell you that it has been posted! You can listen to the podcast over at Homebrewed Christianity by clicking here. I first need to point out that this recording never would have happened without Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders of Homebrewed Christianity. At the last minute we were scrambling to find a way to record the live Internet broadcast of the discussion. Brian called up his friend Tripp who graciously dropped what he was doing so he could record the conversation from his home-base. And so Brian, James, the Raven Foundation, and the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (COV&R) are all extremely grateful to Tripp for recording the conversation and to Bo for editing it and introducing it in the podcast.

The conversation took place at the aforementioned COV&R conference held at Northern Iowa University back in July. Just for clarification, in his introduction Bo mistakenly states that it took place at the Wild Goose Festival. This is an understandable mistake. James and Brian both attended Wild Goose, so it could have happened there, but it actually took place at COV&R.

Here are some observations about the conversation that I’d like to make:

  1. James Alison is awesome.
  2. Brian McLaren is awesome.
  3. James Alison + Brian McLaren = A boatload of awesomeness.

I know. I know. Those three points are highly technical and difficult to understand, but, alas, I can’t think of a better way to describe this conversation. I downloaded the podcast yesterday and have listened to it twice. There are some minor problems with the audio that go away pretty quickly, so don’t let them distract you from this amazing conversation about the impact mimetic theory has on transforming our understanding of God, the Bible, and the Atonement from violence to nonviolence. One of the most important things I heard from Brian is that:

… the work of mimetic theory, and the work of people like you all in this room, I think is profoundly important because there are not many ways out of the violence in the Bible. I’m not aware of any ways out of it that solves any of the problems that mimetic theory does.

One of the most important things I heard from James about the Atonement is:

If, in the objective model, Jesus did something like an offstage, backroom deal with the Father of some sort in order to pay for our sins and then left us with morals, then we really are stuck…I think it’s probably better to be atheist than it is to be stuck with those gods. The real question is, “How might it be possible to imagine Jesus going up to his death as being quite simply an act of generosity from God who knows no violence toward us at all? What is the shape of that self-giving toward us in our violence?

Those are the important questions you will hear James, Brian, and participants at the COV&R conference discuss in this podcast. So, click here to listen to the conversation at Homebrewed Christianity, then pull up a chair, grab some coffee, and enjoy the discussion between two of the most important thinkers bringing mimetic theory and a nonviolent understanding of the Atonement together.

For more on Mimetic Theory, The Raven Foundation has just launched a premium blog at Patheos, Teaching Non-Violent Atonement: Mimetic Theory’s Wisdom for Transforming Christianity in a Violent World, with resources for group study and much more.

About Adam Ericksen

Adam Ericksen is the Education Director for The Raven Foundation. He writes blogs and films vlogs on the Raven Foundation website that explore the intersections of mimetic theory, the news, religion, and popular culture. He is also a youth pastor where he engages young people with Christian tradition, mimetic theory, and youth culture.


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