Rejecting Christ’s sacrifice

Liberal Catholic intellectual Garry Wills has a new book out entitled Why Priests?:  A Failed Tradition in which he makes the rather un-Catholic argument that Jesus institute the priesthood.  But he goes farther, giving a Catholic version of what many mainline Protestants and even some supposed evangelicals are saying:  That Christ was not sacrificed for our sins.

From Dennis Drabelle’s review in the Washington Post:

Wills also attacks the belief that Jesus’s death was a sacrifice. The main difficulty here was pointed out by Abelard in the 12th century, in a passage quoted by Wills: “It seems extremely cruel and evil to demand the death of a person without guilt as a form of ransom . . . and even more for God to accept his own Son’s death as the means of returning all the world to his esteem.” Wills aligns himself with a “new body of Christian thinkers . . . [who are] escaping the imported cult of human sacrifice initiated by the Letter to Hebrews.”

While biblical scholars debate the complexities of Wills’s reasoning, the ordinary reader can venture at least this far. If Wills is right, he puts to rest two of the biggest anomalies in Judeo-Christian thought. The first is the tension between the notion of God as love and the notion of God as a needy tyrant whose ego must be fed by worship and sacrifice (animals in the Old Testament, Jesus in the New).  [The second is the alleged contradiction between Jesus's message of humility and egalitarianism with the establishment of the priesthood.]

via ‘Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition’ by Garry Wills – The Washington Post.

Notice that this way of thinking also implictly denies the Trinity!  God did not pick some ordinary human being to sacrifice.  The Second Person of the Trinity was the sacrifice.  That is, God sacrificed Himself!

To speak of a tension between a loving God and God as “a needy tyrant” (horrible to say) is astoundingly wrong-headed.  The real tension is within God’s love.  He loves, so He is wrathful against those who do not love.  How can He save them?  God became incarnate and took their transgressions into Himself.

The crucified God, in Jurgen Moltman’s term, is also what resolves that most insistent modern obstacle to belief, the problem of evil.  Instead of positing a deity who looks down impassively from above on pain, misery, and evil, Christianity teaches that God entered into the darkness and somehow–by the profoundest miracle–took them into Himself in a kind of divine immolation.  And then He rose from the dead.  All for us.

Why are so many ostensible Christians rejecting such good news?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://theoldadam.com/ the Old Adam

    The theology of Glory is still on the march.

    God set up a cross. Nope. Can’t have that.

  • Gary in FL

    How about we read the book first.

  • kempin04

    There is nothing new under the sun, and the heresies that arose in the first three centuries of the church continue to recycle under new labels. For those who remember their Church history, this is Marcionism.

    So I guess the old axiom does hold true that when we forget history, we are doomed . . . to repeat it.

  • Eriks

    Because the cross makes no sense (is the only thing that makes sense), we try in our infinite arrogance to posit a logical solution that is no different from any other works-based religion, all in the name of… compassion?
    “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21 ESV).”

  • http://pekoponian.blogspot.com pekoponian

    Is it un-Catholic to say that Jesus instituted the priesthood? I thought that was their belief?

  • fjsteve

    This article is completely sophomoric:

    While biblical scholars debate the complexities of Wills’s reasoning…

    Seriously? I haven’t read the book the but reasoning stated in the article is decidedly simplistic. If a scholar spends more than half a minute on that he’s probably got an axe to grind just like the author.

    If Wills is right, he puts to rest two of the biggest anomalies in Judeo-Christian thought.

    If… If Willis is right, he puts to rest??? That’s a self-defeating argument. The fact that the question of “if” had to be posited means the supposed anomalies haven’t been put to rest. Am I right about this?

    [The second is the alleged contradiction between Jesus's message of humility and egalitarianism with the establishment of the priesthood.]

    Is that really one of the “biggest anomalies”? Maybe it’s because I was raised Protestant but I’ve never counted this as a problem with “Judeo-Christian thought” so much as a problem with Rome.

  • http://thinkingwithareformedmind.blogspot.com Steven Mitchell

    As I told a friend last week, after Wills appeared on WNYC and The Colbert Report to promo his book, ‘Gary Wills has always been a front-runner for the prize of Worst Catholic Ever. He’s definitely been campaigning hard for that post this past week.’

    I can understand those Catholics who would like to reform the Roman Catholic Church. Even though Luther wasn’t successful in getting it to reform as much as was necessary, the Counter-Reformation did see the Church change in a number of different ways. But I don’t understand those who consider themselves Catholics and then deny virtually every distinctive of the Roman Catholic Church, not to mention orthodox theology in general. Is it just a desire to mold an already-existing and incredibly powerful institution in one’s own image?

  • SKPeterson

    Good question Steven @ 7. It is one of the oddities of modern Christianity that many Lutherans are more historically Catholic than many who look to Rome as the center of the Catholic faith. It seems that many Roman Catholics, especially here in the U.S., aren’t very Roman nor very Catholic. Yet, they will look at us Lutherans as being the schismatics, as if paying lip service to Rome, or the pope, or adhering to a minimal congregational attendance is somehow definitive.

  • tODD

    SK said (@8):

    …as if paying lip service to Rome, or the pope, or adhering to a minimal congregational attendance is somehow definitive.

    No offense to faithful Catholics out there, but, well, yeah — with an emphasis on fealty to the Pope. And Rome itself propagates this idea. Witness its “ecumenical” efforts of the past few decades. I’m oversimplifying, but it seems to me that, as long as you recognize the Pope, you can get away with all sorts of non-Catholic beliefs (which will be papered over with some kind of explanatory/exculpatory document or twelve).

    If the Roman Catholics wanted to crack down on heresy in their own ranks, they could. But then they wouldn’t be nearly as big a church, would they?

  • fws

    This RC Pastor is trying to work out a truth with his reason.
    And he has failed just as reason will Always fail here.

    This pastor needs to have the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms!

    This Doctrine is nothing else but a way to properly Distinguish Law and Gospel and it looks like This:

    God´s Eternal Will is that the fruit of Fatherly Goodness and Mercy be done among men.
    “I desire Mercy and not sacrifice.”
    God rules ALL things, in order to make his fruit happen.
    God uses two kingdoms… or two powers to accomplish his Eternal Will.

    On earth, in all that we can see and do , and that is sense-ible to us:
    God makes mercy and goodness happen in Old Adam by extorting it out of him and by killing him: with the instrument of the Divine Law.
    God uses the Divine Law:
    written in the Reason of all (rom 2:15)
    in order to write the work of the Law in the heart.

    But how?

    God uses the conscience in Reason to work contrition (latinate for “grinding down”) and repentence ( in old adam: re-formed life) in the heart.
    The Divine Law in Reason Always and only kills and accuses the heart to do this.
    So what does that process look like according to St Paul?

    Reason, veiled by the “veil of Moses”, as st Paul describes it in Colossians, informs the heart that Virtue can happen only by self-sacrifice in our flesh-born-of-flesh selves. And this is most certainly true! The Veil of Moses is the Opinion of Reason that we can balance Justice´s scale by the moral choices we can DO in thought, word and deed. These are the rules of courtroom law. This process looks the same as pagan Aristotle describes in his Ethics: Old Adam becomes virtuous by DOing virtuous thinking and doing until it becomes a habit.Until it becomes second nature.

    This IS true: God judges us according to what we DO in the earthly kingdom.

    This earthly, Old Adam kingdom includes all that we can sense in thought, word and deed.
    Veiled Reason knows that Justice Always demands the sacrifice of Death. Someone must become “dead to rights” for justice to happen.

    But then, seemingly as paradox, something happens that is Gods Will.
    This something cannot happen without sacrifice, but also this: it is the opposite of sacrifice.
    God desires not this sacrifice and death that is His work of the Law.
    God desires ….. Mercy!
    So how does God pull the rabbit of mercy out of the hat of justice using the wand of the Law?

    This way:
    As Justice grinds us down, it makes our hearts long for mercy and love be done to us.
    Remember that Mercy is the opposite of what we deserve for what we have done.
    It is the opposite of what Justice demands.
    And having mercy done to us makes us learn to desire that same mercy for others. Sometimes.
    The story of the two Prostitutes and Solomon´s Justice of cutting the baby in two shows how this happens:
    The mother dies to her rights…. so that the baby receives….mercy!

    But now here is THE unitary point that Two Kingdoms seeks to drive home:
    THIS process is all Old Adam.

    In Other words:
    No Christ and No Holy Spirit are necessary to work all of this out of the Natural Man with his natural law in his reason.

    And God´s intent here is not the sacrifice that is, litterally our very life. It is ALL we know.
    God´s intent is for mercy to happen among men. And it does!
    The first article of the Creed in the Small Catechism lists all these goodnesses and mercies.
    it is God who makes them all happen just as I have just described.

    God WILL make this all happen whether we get with the “program ” or not.
    Sacrifice..mercy… sacrifice.. mercy. Rinse and repeat. Romans 8 death of flesh-body.
    If we “get with the program” and do these Old Adam works willingly, God promises earthly happiness and a long life. If we don´t “get it”, then God will send us plagues and punishments and government and parents and church to make us do them. And if even none of those methods work, then the hangman awaits!

    And Mercy does feel like Gospel, or like “christianity” at it´s essence!
    But it is not. Why not?

    Because of this importante Fact:
    No Christ and NO Holy Spirit are necessary for this mercy and goodness to be done in the Earthly Kingdom. Only the Divine Law is necessary. t Paul teaches this . Romans 2:15.
    Natural Man, flesh born of flesh, infused by God in his reason with Natural Law is able to both know and do ALL of his with his natural powers and free will.

    But the Law simply will not go away. It will always and only accuse and terrify and kill us.
    The more we succeed in doing or fail to do, the Law always get´s its man by stabbing it in the heart. The Law promises so much but it never really gives us anything at all.
    It just demands, and then demands some more, until it demands our very life either through despair or pride which always precedes the fall.

    But the fact is that the fruit of the Law, which IS Mercy DOES feel like the Gospel.
    And that is no accident. Please read on.

    This is still ALL Natural man. Natural Law.
    And what is it that St Paul says that the Natural Man, with his natural law (rom 2:15) can not receive?
    Two Spiritual Things: The Law preached spiritually. The Holy Gospel.

    This Natural Law is preached apart from Christ. And it Always produces two kinds of responses from sinners:
    Pride or epicurean despair.

    But….

    Then Christ comes. And he brings us the Heavenly, or spiritual kingdom.
    God produces the SAME Mercy in this kingdom. And no sacrifice is necessary!
    How does he come and how does he do this wonderful thing?

    First Christ sends a preacher. A “sent one”. The spiritual kingdom does not come outside of this event. This is what the Apostle´s creed calls the coming of an earthly government of Old Adam called the Holy Catholic Church. Preachers are the rulers of this government that is entrusted with the Old Adams that enter into it of their free will.

    And that preacher first does something that terrifies us.
    Christ himself, through the preacher, removes the Veil of Moses from the Law.
    When this “Veil of moses ” is removed, the Law is driven like a stake , straight to our hearts.
    Christ himself now teaches us the Law “spiritually”:
    The Law cant be done by anything we can DO in thought, word, and deed.

    Reason is veiled, mercifully, to this fact.
    Mercifully?
    Without this veil, natural men would all be found hanging by a rope in their garages.
    They would despair. Life on earth would be quite impossible.
    Humankind would become extinct.

    This is why it is that only Christ himself can reveal and unveil this Divine Law through his “sent ones”.
    These “sent ones” can be found only within an odd , very visible, earthly government that the Apostle´s Creed calls the Holy Catholic Church.
    This earthly government, that will perish with the earth as will all that is of Romans 8 “flesh-body”, is odd, in a visible way.
    How visibly odd?
    It is a government that is bounded by no geography, culture, language, race or anything else that normally defines a governed group. Further this: It is not defined by any external rites, rules, or ceremonies save, alone, preaching and water wine and bread and palm on pate.
    One first entering , would have no clue as to what it is that the governed share in common!

    And what IS that unveiled Divine Law that the preachers that bring with them this odd Holy Catholic Church?

    It is this terrifying Law:
    The Law preached “spiritually” is spirit-ual precisely because God demands a spiritual keeping that is for us to do all we do from the very bottom of our hearts. That is to say, precisely this:
    It is not about DOing. It is about being given new heart movements that, by very definition, exclude any kind of DOing or effort or exercise or self-conscious thought.
    This keeping of the Divine Law results in a fruiting in acts that are so spontaneous that we are unaware that we do them and dont even have to work at them!
    That fruit is… Mercy!
    This is….The SAME mercy that is the intended fruit of the Law.
    But here: this mercy happens as spontaneous combustion that requires no sacrificial doing or self-sacrifice that is mortification.

    And with this preaching, our hearts are terrified.
    We experience what both Judas and St Peter experienced in our hearts.
    We despair and want
    to simply die.
    We don´t do this Lawkeeping.

    But it is far, far worse, and our situation, we now realize, is far more desperate and hope less:
    we can´t DO this Lawkeeping because there is no DOing we could do, that could keep such a demand!
    How can one CHOSE to love or feel? How can we make our heart feel what it does not?
    But now we know these three things: God demands what we cannot DO, and… his demand is just. And so we deserve what Justice demands for what we fail to do.. and.. We CAN´T do it!

    “Men and brethren , what shall we DO?” is what we cry when this terrifying Law strikes our hearts!

    But this is what we, also Lutherans, often miss:
    This spiritual preaching of the Law is to preach the Divine Law by preaching, exactly, what?

    The Law preached in a “spiritual way” is nothing other than the preaching of what?

    To preach Christ Crucified to preach the Law Spiritually!
    And this is THE most terrifying Law there is!

    This Law… especially THIS unveiled Law, preached apart from Two Words, produces pride or despair.
    This is why THIS unveiled Law, this spiritual Law, must ONLY be unleashed when Christ himself teaches it by sending us a preacher.

    But why is that that THIS Law must always and only be revealed by a “sent one”in a church?
    This “Law unveiled” must always be accompanied by something else……

    This can only happen in this way:
    At the same time this terrifying Law is unveiled, Christ himself tells us that his being Crucified is…
    “for ME””. And a true “sent one” knows that it is THIS preaching that is THE very preaching he was sent to preach! It was not the spiritual Law that is his purpose. That spiritual Law is to serve those Two Words.
    And so a true sent one will know to NEVER therefore, sever that Spiritual Law he preaches from those Two Words.

    they will promiscuously offer those Two Words of Promise to everyone and anyone unconditionally.
    He will encourage the teaching of that other Natural Law , but leave that Law to be the job of parents and society and government, and so natural law exhortations will be primarily to encourage those other governments to do their duties and perhaps show them how best to do that and so do that earthly Mercy that God demands and is his Eternal Will.
    But that Mercy that the preacher speaks of we can identify as quite diferent from earthly Mercy. How? The Mercy that the Preacher preaches that is Christ Crucified,”for YOU!” is quite useless in the earthly kingdom except to God and a terrified conscience.
    We should think in our minds that this Mercy that the preacher preaches is as far removed from that other earthly Mercy that is the fruit of sacrifice, and that is God´s Will as the Earth is removed from the furthest star. This is true even though it is a fact that it is the SAME Mercy that God is the Author of.

    Question: “Men and brethren, what must we DO?”
    Answer: “Nothing at all. Repent! Believe and… be Baptized! Trust in the Promise that is for you and your children.
    Drop dead to DOing to get right with God and simply hold God to his Promise.
    Only then are you free to do the Mercy God demands without sacrifice being necessary.
    Those SAME Words of God that are terrifying Law have become sweet Gospel. It is, exactly at this point, when water that has a Promise connected to it is applied to a sinner personally that one enters into a new kingdom that is not the Earthly Kingdom of Old Adam.
    That Kingdom fully excludes ALL that we are sensible to and can DO.
    How could this kingdom include any of that stuff? That stuff is already, fully, included in that other earthly Visible Kingdom that includes even the Holy Catholic Church (see Apology art VII & VIII).
    The Apostle´s Creed refers to this kingdom as the “communion of saints”.
    This kingdom can only be found within the visible bounds of the Holy Catholic Church. Yet it is invisible. The Holy Catholic Church is a threshing floor where Christ himself separates out those who have been baptized who trust the Promise in their hearts from those who still are of the opinion that they can balance the ledger with God by something they can …DO. This is to separate out those who are full of either pride or despair over doing and look for Life in such doing, from those who have pride and despair over doing, and yet: they hide all their doing inside the Doing of Another in faith. In faith. Doing is excluded when we say “faith”.
    This Gospel creates a Faith that is strengthened and grows right in the middle of those terrors of Conscience that come from knowing that it is we who Crucified Christ, and that we fail at doing what God demands of us.
    So then, with those Two Words, a new heart and a new man is created in us , alone, by the power of those Two Words alone. “for YOU!” God makes a Promise. Faith holds God to his Promise. Faith, alone, receives the Promised Mercy.
    Then, as a result of that new heart, God is now able to do something else!
    The prophecy in Jeremiah 31 is fulfilled! How?
    Into the new heart of our New Man, God can , once again , write, also, the Divine Law into our hearts and not just in our Reason. Only then can new man, again do Good Works as did father Adam before the fall… from the bottom of our new man heart!
    Now Mercy and Goodness ARE new man. But how?
    Not as second nature that is the force of habit learned by discipline and self-sacrifice.
    No. Now: As first nature! That looks like this:
    No self-sacrifice is needed for the virtue of mercy and goodness to happen! New Man now wills from the heart that this happens. This is because we are hidden inside that One Sacrifice that is not only sacrifice but is also Mercy.
    And Hebrews tells us that that One Sacrifice, alone, has the power to end our own self-sacrifice and all other sacrifice that Justice demands…. forever!
    But the Old Adam still clings to new man. Now like an unwanted parasite who remains us-in-the-mirror-of-the-Law.
    Therefore, the new man must make Goodness and mercy happen through the agency of his arms and legs and willpower and mind and soul and very essence and nature… in short.,,,out of his Old Adam!
    Please read Formula of Concord art I to see what this looks like.
    So new man takes up the two edged sword of the Spirit that is God´s Word!
    He first takes up the edge of the Gospel to trust that all his good Works are sanctified because they are all hidden in Christ, and then….
    he takes up the Law side of the sword to , literally, kill himself doing Good Works for the good of his neighbor. New Man takes up the Law to beat his “recalcitrant ass” of an Old Adam into doing Mercy for others.
    He knows that no mercy and goodness can happen out of his Old Adam without the discipline of killing him with the Law.
    ALL we can see, until our death, is this Old Adam in us doing the Law by cooercion, now by OUR new man coercion joined to that of the HS. Until we die. So we know of this new man , alone, by Faith in God´s Word. Apart from God´s Word , ALL we are sensible to is … sin and death. Romans 8 body-flesh.

    Lord have mercy! +
    come quickly Lord!


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