Our Reasonable Faith 13

This series is by RJS
We have taken a hiatus in the series on Tim Kellers’ book The Reason for God, not out of lack of interest, but out of pressing time constraints and travel. The last several chapters are well worth discussion however, and we resume today with Chapter 13: The (True) Story of the Cross.
The Gospel of Christ – the good news – is wrapped up in the story of the cross. This story however causes a great deal of consternation in our western world. Why was sacrifice required? Why did Jesus die? Isn’t the appeasement of the wrath of God best classed as divine child abuse — a remnant of an older more primitive society?
To be fair, Keller never uses the term “wrath of God” in this chapter, and he casts the story of the atonement in terms that bear little resemblance to typical presentations of penal substitution. So what does he say?
First: Forgiveness always requires sacrifice. When we forgive we bear the consequence, the suffering, ourselves rather than demanding retribution. No one “just forgives” any grievous wrong. How much more then for God? God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself. This was not just an example – but an ultimate act of forgiveness. Of course Keller does go a bit beyond this as well: …this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that some day he can destroy all evil without destroying us.p. 192
Second: Real love involves a personal exchange. More than this, genuine life-changing love requires substitutional sacrifice, benefiting the other at the expense (large or small) of ourselves. When the needs of the other are large the sacrificial cost – the expense – is also large. …how can God be a God of love if he does not become personally involved in suffering the same violence, oppression, grief, weakness, and pain that we experience? p. 195 The answer is that God can’t – and the Christian story is that the God of love does become personally involved. God, in the place of ultimate power, reverses places with the marginalized, the poor, and the oppressed. p. 196
According to Keller the story of the cross involves forgiveness, sacrifice, substitution, justice, mercy, reversal, and identification. God for us. The act – the historical event – is the turning point in human history.
Of course this is not a popular view in our world today. Keller opens this chapter with a quote from Ghandi in An Autobiography

I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept.

This leads to the key question from this chapter – what is the Story of the Cross? How would you describe the importance of the cross? Is the importance in example? in story? or is it more? What do you think of Keller’s view of forgiveness and love involving exchange?

  • Peter

    Having just finished “A Community Called Atonement,” and starting a second run through it along with “Violence, Hospitality and the Cross” (which I find wonderful, but much more difficult to read), how could I respond to these questions except to say that all of this is true (example, story, exchange, etc.) and Keller’s description of forgiveness and love involving exchange reminds me of Miroslav Volf’s “Exclusion & Embrace.” “The Reason for God” has just been added to my to-do list, but my family is reminding me to use the library and not purchase it!

  • Ranger

    I like how Keller did this chapter. Hes clearly a supporter of a substitutionary atonement view, but I feel that he made it clear that his view is not the only one, and that we can learn from the differing views of the cross.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    The wonderful thing about God and the stories of God — both OT and NT — is that they give space for the variety of cultural life stories concerning love that suffers for the benefit of others.
    I do find, however, that covenant — and especially hesed (as covenant keeping) provide essential context for understanding the cross. And I find it very interesting that there are so many cultures that understand the “tribal” nature of hesed/covenant … whereas the individualism of Western culture has lost that sense, and with it the understanding of what it means to look out for the best interest of the other — whatever it costs — knowing that otheres are looking out for you.
    In the case of the cross, it is the ultimate example of hesed, as God, through Christ, looks out for us at huge cost. I am grateful for those who use a wide angle lens when viewing the cross.

  • RJS

    Ranger,
    I was rather surprised reading this chapter, as I had thought that Keller would be much more explicit or monotone on the cross as the sacrifice of Jesus satisfying the wrath of God. However, the chapter really downplays this dimension, while not denying it as part of the complete picture.
    Is Keller merely softening the description to avoid alienating the audience he is trying to reach – or do we see a genuine breadth in view on God’s act of atonement?
    Frankly I can (perhaps) give intellectual assent to the ideas of “penal substitution” — but it doesn’t hit me where I live, give me a sense of awe, or motivate me to change the way some of the other pictures do.
    Substitutionary justice – a legal transaction…so what.
    Forgiveness, sacrifice, mercy, reversal, and identification — wow! These lead to a desire to follow the Messiah.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    RJS,
    If it weren’t for substitutionary atonement, would you see the cross as necessary for forgiveness, sacrifice, mercy, reversal, and identification?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    How would you describe the importance of the cross?
    The cross is the center of Christianity. Take away the cross and all you have is more rules and some nice stories.
    The cross is, primarily, about substitutionary atonement. God paid our debt so we didn’t have to. (This isn’t wow?)
    The cross is also an example. Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And then He loved us on the cross, showing us just how much true love requires.
    The cross is Jesus seizing the world back from Satan (or at least the first step of it). Paired with the resurrection, we see the cross as Jesus defeating death for us. There is so much packed into the cross, I doubt we’ll ever get it completely.
    RJS said above (comment #4) that she was surprised by Keller’s approach and wonders if Keller genuinely has a broad view of the atonement. I think most conservatives have a broad view of the cross.
    They think it’s first and foremost about substitutionary atonement, but that other stuff is there too. The problem arises when modern liberals try to emphasize some other facet to the exclusion of substitutionary atonement (e.g., “divine child abuse). They react very strongly and come off as having a more narrow view than they really do.
    That said, I think Keller handles this topic fairly well. This book has been described as Mere Christianity for postmoderns, and this chapter is probably a good example of that. He explains atonement in a way that is faithful to the Bible and tradition without phrasing it in a way that is going to run off PMs.

  • RJS

    ChrisB,
    At risk of being overly controversial – giving gut reaction, not academic theological reasoning (no proof texts):
    Interpreting the cross as “God paid our debt so that we don’t have to” leaves me cold — the legal transaction to satisfy justice and wrath has never moved me or left me with a sense of awe. This is how I interpret “penal substitution”. Laws can be changed – and don’t even seem all that uniform in Scripture.
    On the other hand the love of God, forgiveness of God, faithfulness of God, leaves me awestruck. As Keller says – true forgiveness is costly; real love requires identification and sacrificial substitution. This is way more powerful than legal transaction.
    Now I think some of the distinction here is semantic – but some is probably more fundamental.

  • Ben Wheaton

    RJS,
    I don’t think it matters what you “feel” about the atonement, it matters what it actually is. If subsitutionary atonement leaves you cold, then perhaps there’s a problem. Or maybe not, I suppose phases come and go. But to be blunt, if it weren’t for penal susbstitution I would probably not have remained a Christian. It’s that conception of the atonement that has me on fire, and for me distinguishes Christianity from all the other religions most clearly.
    Having said that, Keller has probably acted wisely in this book by using the perspective he has on the atonement. It’s also true that evangelicals have neglected the other aspects of it, and it’s good to see Keller expanding and focusing on these other aspects.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    RJS, I guess my point is that “the love of God, forgiveness of God, faithfulness of God” is part and parcel of the substitutionary atonement. Apart from that love, etc, God would not pay the debt for us. At least that’s the way I’ve always seen it.

  • RJS

    ChrisB
    Is the primary problem solved by the cross debt that must be paid?
    Or is the primary problem solved by the cross rebellion that must be forgiven so that reunion can occur?
    I am not saying that it is either/or; one to the exclusion of the other. But most of us tend to put primary emphasis on one or the other.

  • Dana Ames

    I’ve been listening to a delightful, exceptionally well-qualified bible teacher, Eugenia Constantinou. She says in Orthodoxy people do not speak of the cross without the resurrection. I think this makes sense. Penal substitution is one very focused aspect of atonement theology, but it is not the whole, even (especially?) in Paul. Keller’s expansion is good, very good. (Why don’t some of the people who hang out with him pick up on the greater breadth and depth of his thinking?) But it still falls short of the resurrection as being the center of Christianity, per Dr. Constantinou and N.T. Wright. The resurrection is the defining thing- and must be spoken of with the cross. The salvation picture is bigger than how an individual’s sin gets dealt with. Unfortunately I can’t remember the source, but I ran across this idea recently: There’s a reason why Jesus was crucified at Passover and not at the Day of Atonement.
    I could, conceivably, be a part of Keller’s church, were it not for his position on women in leadership. But he never comes across as condescending, and always seems to be honest and civil in stating his convictions. I respect and appreciate that a great deal.
    Dana

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    RJS, I guess I’m confused. The debt is primarily the rebellion. I don’t think I’m following you.

  • Travis Greene

    Here’s the problem with penal substitutionary atonement being the only, or even primary, way of understanding the cross:
    When I was young, I understood the story of the cross as Jesus dying for my sins so I can go to heaven. But I thought the resurrection was kind of a cheat. It means something if Jesus dies for your sins. If he knew he was going to come back anyway, what does it matter?
    Now nobody, of course, taught me that. And when we are young I’m sure we frequently misunderstand theology in ways that adults wouldn’t. But throughout my childhood, the cross was at the center of my faith, and the resurrection an afterthought, and secretly a bit of a letdown.
    But Dana is absolutely right that you cannot separate the cross and the resurrection. You also cannot use the resurrection merely as proof that Jesus was who he said he was, so therefore what happened on the cross counts. The resurrection means a new time has come for the world. The resurrection means Christ has defeated death. The resurrection means that God has vindicated the way of Jesus, and said an ultimate no to the way of Caesar and the world.
    And yes, Jesus died for our sins. He was the sacrifice so we could go before the Father and be declared clean. But that, by itself, just isn’t the gospel of the Bible. It’s not even primary. It’s very, very important, but at this point, I don’t think we have to worry about emphasizing it too little.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Travis said: And yes, Jesus died for our sins. He was the sacrifice so we could go before the Father and be declared clean. But that, by itself, just isn’t the gospel of the Bible. It’s not even primary.
    The problem with your theory is that Jesus said He came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” And Paul claimed this was “of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
    The ability of people to misunderstand the atonement does not invalidate it.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    Travis,
    I had the same things taught/emphasized to me growning up, and secretly asked the same questions about the resurrection, even into my twenties. With the gospel explained as it was to me, the resurrection seemed very fortunate for Jesus, but not necessary for what God was doing, since the cross assured that the debt had been paid, and that’s what it was all about.
    I think it’s fair to say that if our experience is common (whereby people are getting the impression that the resurrection seems unnecessary to the work of God), there’s been a distortion of some degree or kind.

  • RJS

    ChrisB #12,
    I don’t think so – isn’t the debt the consequence of rebellion and separation from God? So I see penal substitution as emphasizing the fact that the consequences are wiped out – important, but not the whole story, not even the most important part of the story. Shouldn’t the emphasis actually be on forgiveness, sacrifice, reversal, and identification – God for us, restoring us to union with him and establishing his covenant community?

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    RJS (16),
    I agree with what I think you’re getting at. I always think of the explanation given for why Jesus was to be called “Jesus”–because he would rescue people from their sins (not just the consequences of them, but their sins that inevitably produce the consequences). As John later says, no one who believes continues in sin, because the Spirit keeps them safe. Just thinking of ‘sin’ generally as failing to love God and others appropriately and thoroughly, this is very, very good news to me!

  • MarkE

    RJS:
    Why can’t our understanding of the cross be as simple as Jesus got crossways with the religious authorities of the day and they killed him? The importance being not on the fact that this happened, but on what he came to show and teach: love is primary and the kingdom of God is accessible to all. He believed so much in this message that he was willing to die for it rather than cease telling it. That is pretty impressive in itself.
    Mark

  • http://www.kinneymabry.blogspot.com Preacherman

    Wonderful thoughts Scot.
    I enjoy this discussion.

  • Dana Ames

    ChrisB (14)
    Mt 20:28 comes at the end of the episode where James and John’s mother asks for special privileges for her sons, and the rest of the disciples being angry about that. The point is that relations between believers should be on the basis of serving one another, not lording it over one another, *because* God himself did not lord it over.
    The passage you linked to from 1Cor is a prime example of Paul speaking about the cross and resurrection together. This whole good news (v.1) in which we stand and through which we are being saved (v.2- the gerund indicates it is happening progressively) is that Christ died *and* was raised “in accordance with scripture”, as the whole point of the narrative of the Jewish scriptures- the climax of history.
    Nobody’s talking about invalidating atonement. We do want to understand it because it is so important. It’s really, really big.
    Dana

  • Scott M

    Jesus did not come to make bad human beings good. He came to make dead human beings live. Jesus defeats the powers on the cross by absorbing the worst the powers can do. And the last power is death. Through Jesus’ death on the cross and Resurrection the Triune God shattered the gates of Hades. The fundamental problem with both the satisfaction and penal substitution theories is that they ascribe a problem to God that God needs to solve on the cross. And the problem they ascribe to God is essentially the problem of the platonic “good” when confronted by moral failure. I just don’t buy the whole package.
    I don’t agree that God had to do something in order to forgive or that forgiveness requires sacrifice. In fact, I would say that when we forgive we relinquish our rightful claim to recompense or retribution. That’s inherent to the nature of forgiveness.
    I suppose I do agree in some sense that real love involves actually giving or doing something for the other that is for the good of the other. I’m not sure I would call that an “exchange”. That sounds more like a transaction. But it certainly involves actively willing good for the other. This is love, that while we were yet sinners [while we were still in bondage to death] Christ died for us.

  • Travis Greene

    ChrisB, I’ll reiterate that I am not interested in discarding or invalidating the atonement. But a right understanding of the cross cannot lead to a neglect of the resurrection.
    T @ 15 and 17, you’re dead on.
    MarkE @ 18, what you say is true (and basically the moral example theory, I think), but not enough. The same thing could be said of Socrates, or any Christian martyrs, or Abraham Lincoln, or Bonhoeffer. To say that Jesus was a wonderful moral teacher who took on the powers-that-be and paid for it with his life is true, but it doesn’t lead anywhere. To say that he disarmed and destroyed these powers with his death and resurrection, and is redeeming the world held captive by them (and you can be part of that redemption) is Christianity.

  • MarkE

    Travis:
    But what if I believed what I stated about Jesus’ death AND followed him through his teachings? Would I be a “Christian”?
    Grace and Peace,
    Mark

  • RJS

    Mark E (#18),
    Impressive yes, perhaps even inspiring – but not powerful, and not Christian. Here I play with language a bit – but Jesus as “Christ” is God’s anointed redeemer or Messiah. A man who believes in an agenda (theo-humanist agenda?) to love your neighbor as yourself, and believes in this enough to die for it impresses and shames us all, perhaps even inspires a subset of us to better behavior – he but doesn’t change the course of history.
    History – even church history – is full of stories of altruistic martyrs. They don’t change the world – but merely leave ripples in time that rapidly damp out.
    I am convinced that there are three things we cannot give up on and remain Christian: Incarnation, Sacrifice (the cross), and Resurrection. We will get to resurrection with the next post on Keller’s book.

  • Nathan W

    Scott M #21: “Jesus did not come to make bad human beings good. He came to make dead human beings live.”
    Is there really a need to drive a wedge between these two? I’m not sure either Matthew or Paul would be want to distinguish too sharply between the two. The Jesus of the first Gospel seems awfully interested with the repentance of bad trees, that they might be good trees and bear good fruit. Paul in several places connects sin and death in mutually reinforcing ways, doesn’t he?
    More to the main point of your post, I can’t help but sense that our reluctance to attribute emnity to both sides (God and humanity) rings untrue throughout the witness of the Scriptures, thought admittedly the accent falls on our hostility, not his.

  • Robert E. Mason

    RJS, what does a sense of awe have to do with a theological notion? The cross is not about our subjective experiences, but about restoring our objective standing before God, however it is done—identification, sacrificial substitution, legal transaction, or restoration. At bottom these are all metaphors that tease out different nuances of an objective fact, or as Scot put it different clubs in our golf bag.

  • Doug Allen

    MarkE,
    I share your understanding of Jesus and agree with RJS that we are not Christians within the orthodox meaning that is important to Scot McKnight and RJS whom I both admire and who have changed my previous somewhat negative view of Christians as legalists who argue ad infinitum to the point of obscuring Jesus’ message of loving God and loving one’s fellow man. There is a book, actually several, by Marcus Borg (see Amazon books or other)which makes the distinction between the “pre-Easter” Jesus and his message which is the Jesus Creed and the “post Easter” Jesus which is the orthodox Christian message. I think you may find a Christian home with your beliefs, if that is important to you, by reading Marcus Borg (academic biblical scholar and self-identified Christian) and in many Christian churches. On the other hand, you may find a home and friends here too as you come to appreciate the generosity of spirit, scholarship, honesty, and theological struggles these Jesus Creed bloggers bring to the table.
    RJS- Sorry for the off topic, but I didn’t want MarkE to feel abandoned, not that your comment was in any way unkind.
    Doug

  • MarkE

    Doug:
    Thank you for your generous response. Actually, I thought of Borg when I read RJS’s response. Is it fair to say that Borg would not be considered a Christian by her definition (am I getting this right, RJS?).
    My issue is less about believing in the incarnation and resurrection and more about viewing the meaning of the cross in a more simple and straightforward way. Appreciating his profound teachings does not require that he be downgraded to just a just a good moral teacher. Is it fair to assume that a person can trust Jesus’ teachings while not being fully persuaded by other meanings of the cross and still enjoy the benefits that come with that trust?
    RJS:
    Lots of people have changed the course of history. I may be showing my ignorance of the OT by asking whether viewing Jesus as the Messiah requires that the cross be understood as more than I have suggested?

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Robert,
    Objective and subjective, but surely more than our objective standing … it’s certainly more than that. We are subjectives and more than objectives, so I’d put the subjective before the objective and any atonement theory that is not inherently subjective/relational/interpersonal simply isn’t the atonement we need.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    MarkE #28,
    Your question there limits. Of course not, but is this the fullness we find in Jesus and the earliest Christians? I think not. They saw a massive redemptive event in the incarnation, death, and resurrection, and they saw more than an act of love for others … that love prompted that massive Christ-event but it was more than just getting caught at the wrong time at the wrong place. They saw the Christ event as the event that brought the whole Story of Israel into fullness.

  • MarkE

    Scot:
    I guess I am trying to figure out what is it that is redemptive. Is it his teachings (and us following them) and/or the events (what he did)?

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    MarkE,
    The NT places all emphasis on “Christ” — life, death, resurrection and gift of Spirit — that is redemptive. Our being “in” Christ puts us into the redemptive work of God and as we participate in that, we participate in what God is doing redemptively.

  • Travis Greene

    “Is it fair to assume that a person can trust Jesus’ teachings while not being fully persuaded by other meanings of the cross and still enjoy the benefits that come with that trust?”
    Absolutely you will get great benefits from following Jesus’ teachings. And I trust enough in the Spirit’s ongoing work that I think if you follow him even under your current understanding (which I would say is inadequate), I think you’ll begin to understand the things you’re unsure about. Anselm called it faith seeking understanding.
    To answer your last question, I think it’s what he did and who he is that’s redemptive. His teachings are what that redemption looks like as it’s carried out in and for the world. I’ll leave that open to correction by others. But it’s probably better not to separate them. In any case, I don’t think anyone can, or ever could, really follow his teachings without what he did, and who he continues to be.

  • RJS

    Robert (#26),
    I don’t think that theology or theological notions are simply statements of objective facts, like – oh, mathematics or chemistry. As persons created in the image of God, theological notions should inspire awe and worship – this is in our very being. Faith is spiritual, not simply rational assent to rational facts. So part of the problem I have with “penal substitution” is the fact that it is often presented as a legal transaction, a dry matter of fact exchange.
    On the other hand I received an e-mail this afternoon from a pastor and friend pointing out that my response may be, in part at least, a function of position and upbringing as an educated middle class professional. Those from other backgrounds express to him a sense of a need for judgment and a greater appreciation of and need for the justice and mercy aspects of atonement (I paraphrase).
    I also think that getting the theological notion 100% right, or even mostly right, is not the issue – most people have probably always had a view of the story of the cross that is at least partially wrong. We are not called to pass a test on the theological workings of atonement – ultimately we are called to faith and to follow. Thinking about the intellectual issues is only of value as it or if it leads us to awe, worship, obedience, and action (subjective and objective).

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/our-suffering-and-the-cross/ Anonymous

    Our Suffering and the Cross « The Upside Down World

    [...] June 26, 2008 by Rebecca Trotter Over at Jesus Creed, a regular comment box writer who goes by RJS has been doing a series of posts on a book called The Reason for God. It has been a great series, but for whatever reason, today’s installment particularly struck me. It discusses Chapter 13 of the book, which is The (True) Story of the Cross. IMO, there is a tendency on the part of evangelical Christians to view the cross as simply a matter of forgiven sins and little else. OTOH, there is a tendency in some progressive circles to see the cross as foolishness – almost an embarrassingly outdated myth. While of course, I agree much more with the evangelical view of the cross, it seems to me that it actually reduces the cross to frame it as simply a quid pro quo for our sins. In the discussion at Jesus Creed, RJS presents part of what the book has to say in regards to the issue of sacrificial/substitutional nature of Jesus’ death on the cross: The Gospel of Christ – the good news – is wrapped up in the story of the cross. This story however causes a great deal of consternation in our western world. Why was sacrifice required? Why did Jesus die? Isn’t the appeasement of the wrath of God best classed as divine child abuse — a remnant of an older more primitive society? . . . Forgiveness always requires sacrifice. When we forgive we bear the consequence, the suffering, ourselves rather than demanding retribution. No one “just forgives” any grievous wrong. How much more then for God? God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself.” [...]

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/our-suffering-and-the-cross/ Rebeccat

    For me, almost as important as the issue of atonement and such is how the cross changes our relationship with suffering. Through Jesus we can see suffering as redemptive and avoidance of suffering as potentially problematic rather than automatic. I just blogged about it.
    Link below, fwiw.

  • Gilley

    We have great difficulty understanding the trinity before the incarnation…. how much more then to grasp how the dynamic between the Father and Son had changed during his time on the cross. To what extent do we confuse God’s wrath towards us with God’s wrath towards sin?

  • Doug Allen

    MarkE,
    If you were asking me whether Marcus Borg would be considered Christian based on RJS’s three essential criteria-
    “I am convinced that there are three things we cannot give up on and remain Christian: Incarnation, Sacrifice (the cross), and Resurrection,” then I’m the wrong person to ask! But fools rush in…
    and I’ll do my best. Borg definitely considers himself a Christian, and I believe (I might be wrong here?)he affirms the above three criteria, but in a way that makes most orthodox Christians uneasy. As an English major and poet I find Borg’s interpretations of scripture thoughtful and inspirational; he sees that scriptural language is usually like poetry, rich in metaphor and with levels of meaning and much ambiguity so that, like poetry, the reading is an experience, not a manual. The experience differs from person to person. For me, that experience is beautiful and inspirational. Jesus comes from a tribal religion with many, many laws and a priestly class who emphasize the orthodoxy of those laws. Jesus, amazingly, with little education understands the tribal nature of his religion and carefully (and cleverly in order to keep preaching) rejects much of the orthodoxy in order to proclaim a transcendent God and message of transforming love for all mankind, and even some teachings, if I could possibly follow them, that would leave me naked of hubris and clothes! This is the big bang made flesh- the miracle that moves me, not the Christian doctrines that arose about him. However, most others have a different and more orthodox experience of scripture that is transforming their life the way my experience of scripture and Jesus is transforming mine. What I find sad is that so many are threatened by the variations of religious experience, as William James might have said. Sorry MarkE to “rush in” and give such a long non-answer to your question.
    Doug

  • mariam

    #37 Good point. I think that some people who have trouble with the view
    of substitutionary atonement do not have a robust notion of the Trinity
    - that is they get caught up in the notion that God the Father is this
    mean guy ordering his son to his death, to satisfy his bloody-minded
    sense of justice. They are stuck in the idea of God being 3 persons
    and forgetting that God is also One, that it is the Triune God making
    the sacrifice, not just the loving God (Jesus) appeasing God the Father (the mean OT guy). This is a narrow view of substitutionary atonement which appears to be shared by some liberals and conservatives and it why many progressive, liberal or even soft-hearted evangelicals can’t accept it. I like the way Keller puts it above.
    Two questions I often see evanglicals struggle with – which goes back to an earlier post in the “Reasonable Faith” series. If there is no “fall” why did Jesus have to die? This is often the only reason some evangelicals cannot accept the theory of evolution. Secondly, if there is no hell why did Jesus have to die and what was he saving us from? And I think that we set up a problem for ourselves when we get ourselves so wrapped up in the notion of the atonement as penal substitution. When we end up with notion that the fall or hell is necessary so that Jesus had something to die for I think we have our theology backwards. I don’t think Jesus saves us from God the Father, but from ourselves. I do believe that Christ “paid for our sins” but I think the wrath he was trying to satisfy was not God’s – after all He was God, why couldn’t he “just forgive” us and be done with it – but ours. It is our anger and sense of justice that he is satisfying so that we can forgive each other and be born again into a new life where we are free to love one another. WIthout God’s help we cannot “just forgive” and we get caught in an endless cycle of anger, vengeance and hatred. It is we humans, not God, who are the bloody-minded ones. The cross accomplishes everything that is important about our faith (if I go with RJS’ essentials:
    1. Incarnation – God knows us because He became us. God becomes so human that He believes He is lost “My God, what have you forsaken me?” He know our weakness, our doubt and our suffering and He does not find us entirely responsible for the harm we do. “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” We can trust God because he knows us – and loves us anyway.
    2. Sacrifice: God pays the blood price we demand for sin, which allows us to forgive our enemy. He pays the blood price we know we deserve because we have also been the author of harm and it allows us to forgive ourselves and be confident in God’s forgiveness, if we ever doubted It. So determined is He to express his forgiveness that He pays the price we think He demands. Jesus through his example of sacrifice shows us how far love and forgiveness may be asked to go. We also know, however, that no sacrifice done for love, will not be recognized by God. Jesus told us this before his death but his resurrection confirms it.
    Resurrection and Redemption:
    Jesus’ resurrection shows us that God will redeem and create beauty out of suffering and evil. Through the lens of the cross we see that God is constantly recreating and redeeming this world. We see that suffering can be blessed. Through the cross we know that sin and death are ultimately defeated. Even if you do not believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Christ, what death in human history has brought more hope to mankind? Is this not the miracle – that this seemingly ignoble and senseless death would become a symbol of hope and redemption for billions of people – that 2,000 years later it is still the most important symbol of our faith.

  • MarkE

    Thank you, Doug!

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    I’m glad a few here are reading Marcus Borg’s writings about these stories. I think he does a wonderful job helping us understand the differences between the historical elements of these stories compared to the non-historical elements (the post-easter Jesus). Evangelicals often try to force the reading of whole bible through the filter of John’s more mythical Gospel story. The result is an unrealistic version of faith.
    If you limit Christianity to only those people who accept superstitious beliefs then you’ve given Christianity a looming expiration date. It would be like returning to days when church based Christianity on the belief in an Earth centered Universe. [Sorry Mr. Galileo, you're not a Christian any more if you insist on rethinking orthodox understandings our world]
    This should be simple. Christians are people who’ve chosen to follow Jesus’ teachings (the way). Some take the stories literally, and some don’t. Either way, we make the stories about Jesus the center piece of our spiritual development (our personal character, attitude, and ethics). Christians may have a variety of metaphysical beliefs. They may be theists, deists, pantheists, panentheists, agnostics, or even atheists. I don’t see any need to force people to declare certainty about things that can’t be proven in order to follow Christ. Christianity can be perfectly reasonable. We don’t need to abandon reason or ask people to pledge belief in unbelievable things. We pledge our fidelity to a way of life that we find best explained in these stories about Jesus.

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith,
    It might surprise you to find that I’ve read Marcus Borg, fairly extensively even — enough to have realized weeks ago that most of the ideas you expressed here were coming from his books.
    But – I still hold that Christianity requires belief in some “unbelievable” things.
    First and foremost in God as creator – theism. Please don’t intentionally misread this as “young earth” or even progressive creationist – as anyone who reads here regularly will know that this is not my position.
    Second in Jesus as Messiah or Christ, that is as God’s annointed redeemer. Jesus did not just teach, not just provide example, he also acted – providing the historical turning point.
    Plenty of “perfectly reasonable” people will agree.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS (#42),
    Borg mostly repackages much of what has been a common understanding in the last 2 centuries of biblical criticism. I do like his books, but personally I’d probably lean further toward someone like John Shelby Spong. Either way, they mostly agree on the bulk of the scholarship. Borg is a big more of a traditionalist when it comes to holding onto the language of scripture and orthodox traditions.
    I agree that Jesus also acted in accordance with his teachings. I mean to include our need to follow his actions when I suggest following “the way”. His teachings are instructions for actions. He lived them out and we should too.
    What is the basis of your exclusive definition of Christianity? Why draw such a hard line around things that can’t be proven?
    Or, why not make even more rigid lines? How about claiming that only people who are certain God is a male being can call themselves Christians? Should we limit it to those who believe heaven is “up in the sky” and hell is “down below”? I think we can find sound biblical evidence that the authors of scripture believed those things to be true. Therefore, I guess we must adopt their beliefs verbatim if we want to be Christian, right?

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/our-suffering-and-the-cross/ Rebeccat

    Really and truly, I have no problem with someone like Spong or Borg deciding that we ought to really take Jesus’ teachings as a demonstration of the way, jettison all the unbelievable stuff and live in love and blah blah blah. I just wish they would have the moral and intellectual integrity to admit that by taking this view of Jesus they have removed themselves from the realm of any sort of historical Christianity. Their beliefs are much closer to some of the gnostic sects than anything the early church fathers believed or Christians have professed for the last 2000 years. If they really believe that the rest of us are in error and that they have found the “real” or best way to define and follow Jesus’ mission and teachings, then boffo for them. Follow your heart and all that. But it is profoundly disrespectful of the faith of Christians as they have understood and practiced it for 2000 years to insist that their new ideas must be understood as part of that faith tradition. I would never go to a mosque and declare, “I don’t think the Koran was actually given by divine revelation, but I believe that it teaches good things. So I am a Muslim. You must accept me. It is the future. Besides, you don’t want to show yourselves to be narrow minded superstitious zealots, do you?” Yet this is exactly what Borg and his ilk are trying to do. Others may be willing to play these sort of dishonestly manipulative games with people who want to insist that I accept the rejection of the basis of my faith as a legitimate expression of my faith. I however am not. (“if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins.” 1 Corinthians 15:17) So, sorry, if insisting that there must be some sort of integrity to Christian believes which includes foolishness and myths like the resurrected Christ, then count me as an embarrassingly narrow minded, superstitious, exclusionary zealot following a faith doomed to death. (Wasn’t God supposed to be dead by now, anyway?)

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith,
    I guess I have a pretty restrictive definition – I’d say that a Christian is a follower of the Christ. If a person denies that Jesus is the Christ — that person is not a Christian.
    Why do I hold to such a hard line? With respect to the term Christian – because a term is only of value if is actually describes a distinguishable group. In this case I tie the definition to the root of the word.
    More fundamentally, why am I a Christian within my definition of the word? Because I think the essence of the Christian story is that God acted. This is the pivotal act in history. We rest in the assurance of that act and move forward. Mankind collectively is powerless to live the message and teaching of Jesus except through the power of God.

  • Robert E. Mason

    Wow! I offered a little demur to RJS’s emotional response (inspires awe) to a theory of the atonement, and I received two thoughtful response from heavy hitters at Jesus Creed; RJS (#34) and Scot (#29). I must have touched a nerve.
    I think that the significance or truth or efficacy of a theological notion is independent of what I may fell about it or of what emotions it may arouse in me. That is what I meant by subjective. Scot uses subjective in a grammatical I-THOU sense, and I quite agree with him. An objective standing before God absence an interpersonal relationship with Him would be an impoverished notion of the atonement.
    I distrust feelings as a guide in the realm of thought or reason. Plato taught that one of the functions of reason is to keep our emotions under control. Plato likened the soul to a chariot that was being pulled by two great steeds, one white and one black. Reason stands in the chariot reigning in the horses, keeping them on track.
    In his correspondence, C. S. Lewis often advised his correspondents (not in the legal sense) not to gauge their standing before God by the way they are feeling because feeling are influenced by so many things outside of their control. I may be feeling out of sorts because the ham and eggs I had this morning are not digesting well.
    G. E. Moore spent some time at Columbia University during WW II. One evening Bertrand Russell was scheduled to give a talk on the BBC. Moore’s wife asked him, “don’t you feel we ought to listen to Russell on the wireless tonight?” G. E. responded, “feel ought? I wonder if ought feels soft or hard, cool or hot, rough or smooth. I don’t think we can feel ought, but I do think we should listen to Russell.”
    Scientist and mathematicians often talk about the elegance of a theory or formula. If everything else is in place—evidence and logical proofs—elegance is one more reason for accepting the theory or formula. But elegance absence evidence and proof does not cut much ice. Likewise an awe inspiring theological notion absence scriptural warrant and sound reasoning does not cut much ice.
    Peace

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Rebeccat (#44),
    you said:
    “I just wish they would have the moral and intellectual integrity to admit that by taking this view of Jesus they have removed themselves from the realm of any sort of historical Christianity.”
    Actually, it is clear in our historical records that these types of discussions were in existence well before the Roman strain of Christianity became dominant. So they are clearly within historical Christianity.
    As for trying to tag us with the label “gnostic”. Be careful that you don’t get too attached to the gospel of John before you realize it is loaded with gnostic mysticism. In fact, Borg’s take is much less gnostic because it is much less mystical. Superstitions are not discarded by scholars because they are hard to believe in. They are carefully considered and only seen as “symbolic” when there is clear evidence that they were intended to be symbolic and if there is no evidence for their historicity.
    you said: “But it is profoundly disrespectful of the faith of Christians as they have understood and practiced it for 2000 years to insist that their new ideas must be understood as part of that faith tradition.”
    You will NOT find anywhere that Marcus Borg has insisted everyone embrace this view. What he clearly says repeatedly is “believe what you want about ‘IF’ these stories happened. Now let’s talk about what the stories mean”. We can emerge together by moving to a place “beyond” the old modern scripture wars. We should be able to find a place of peaceful cohesion there. These types of views have been part of Christianity and part of the active debates from the earliest days all the way up to today. I see no reason to exclude these people from the big tent of Christian faith.
    RJS (#45),
    I agree Jesus is the Christ. I agree that God acted. Now that we agree, lets talk about real ways that terminology and symbolism might be lived out in the world. I think we can find plenty to agree on if people stop trying to exclude, divide, define, and oppress.
    peace

  • RJS

    Progressive Faith -
    This is pointless, because you have said that you think that the act of God is a myth only believed by the credulous. You have said that Christians may have a variety of metaphysical beliefs. They may be theists, deists, pantheists, panentheists, agnostics, or even atheists. I don’t see any need to force people to declare certainty about things that can’t be proven in order to follow Christ. (#41)
    I categorically disagree with this statement. To believe in the Christ of God one must certainly be a theist.
    We agree on many things – but this is not one of them. One can pledge fidelity to a way of life that best explained in these stories about Jesus without being Christian. We can even discuss what this means – and perhaps agree on much of it.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS (#48),
    I think you are settling too quickly on only one idea of
    God’s existence. Add to the issue that nowhere in scripture does anyone articulate their specific view of the divine other than through metaphorical language. Nowhere in scripture does anyone “see” God or describe him directly. If anything, the descriptions imply something beyond our ability to comprehend it. Can you be so sure that all authors of scripture and even the historical Jesus had the same understanding of God’s existence that you do?
    What might it mean to “believe in the Christ of God”. Can’t you at least hypothetically imagine 3 or 4 different meanings of the term “christ”? I can’t see how you can take that statement without nuance. Words like Christ, messiah, and savior have had so many meaning to jews and christians in different centuries that it seems shallow to speak the terms without more specific nuance.
    If you are so set on the concept of theism, then can you describe this theistic God with any degree of “realism” (to get back on topic). What would it mean for God to be real? Would it mean God is natural? How about physical? Do you prefer the term spiritual? If so, what does spiritual even mean and can you describe it in a way that doesn’t leave the category of realism?

  • RJS

    Ah — what passes muster in your definition of realism? No…God is not constructed of quarks and leptons, matter or even antimatter, so I seriously doubt that I can describe God in a fashion that would not – as you put it – leave the category of realism.
    We can nuance things quite a lot – including what is meant by Christ or Messiah. We can discuss the historicity of the gospel accounts of Jesus and the nature of the Bible. But we can’t make red into blue by redefinition – nor a square into a circle. We cannot pretend that the existence of God is an inconsequential detail in Christianity.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    RJS,
    I never said the existence of God is “inconsequential”. I’m not sure where you got that.
    What I’m getting at is that you freely admit knowledge about the nature of God’s existence is beyond your(our) capability. Yet, you are emphatic that to be a Christian a person must declare certainty about the nature of God’s existence. How can you assert such certainty when you are clearly not certain what God is? I’m not sure how you can be so bold about something so ineffable.
    Any claim about God’s existence is hollow if you can’t then say anything certain about that existence. If you can’t describe what God’s existence means, then what good does it do to profess certainty in your claim? For that matter, what is it you are even claiming when you say you believe God exists? Your claims seems dishonest to me. To be agnostic seems like a more humble assertion. It may actually be a higher view of God to admit it is beyond our capacity to describe.

  • mariam

    Progressive
    Marcus Borg was the writer who made it possible for me to step inside the broader circle of Christianity, because when I started on this journey of faith I was an atheist but I needed God. In particular I needed Christ. I remember weeping when I read Borg because he made faith possible for me, and I needed what Christ had to offer me so badly. It is my belief that God opens many gates for us so that we can find Him/Her even when we can’t believe. I owe a debt of gratitude to Borg and I often pass on my “Heart of Christianity” to someone who is having trouble reconciling faith and reason. Marcus Borg was one of my “gates”, but I didn’t stay at the gate. I kept walking. Who knows where the journey will take me? Maybe at some point I will need Borg again. But he and I differ subtly when we say that it is not necessary to believe in the literal miracles to see the truth in the metaphor. When he says it is OK to believe in that the miracles really happened but it isn’t necessary, what he means is that if you believe that they happened you are probably wrong but it is OK if it works for you. And he goes to some length to deconstruct those literal stories. When I say that I mean I prefer to believe they did happen, but if you can’t believe in that right now, or ever I agree that the underlying truth of that story is more important than working out the literal details. Nevertheless I think the metaphor without the belief in miracles is weaker and offers less hope. It may be enough, but it isn’t what it could be.
    I have been reading Sara Miles’ “Take this Bread” and there are a lot of similarities with my own conversion experience – the catharsis and flood of tears whenever I was in church (and dare I say it, the sense of God’s presence); the sense of being inexorably led to a path that I could follow (the Anglican Church? Why on earth there? What was that about? If I had rationally decided on the best fit for me it would have probably been the Unitarians or some other group where I could remain comfortably atheist but admire Christ’s teachings); the startling and painful sense of God speaking to me from scripture and from the sermons (sometimes I felt like that song “Killing Me Softly” – that the priest had read my mind and was speaking directly to me). Now this can all be explained rationally, of course, and often when I am uncomfortable with what has happened I do. But!! I leave room for miracles. Just as I don’t think we can ever know exactly what and who God is, that God is infinitely bigger and more mysterious than anything we can define or imagine, I also believe that we may not be able to ever fully comprehend the wonders and mysteries of this universe. That what we perceive with our senses may only be a very dim approximation of reality. So while I think it is good to remain humble with our theology and always leave room to admit we’ve got it wrong, I think we also have to remain humble in our understanding of how the universe (or God) works and leave room for the possibility that God (however we may define that entity) works, at times, in ways that to our limited understanding, can only seem miraculous.
    I choose to believe in God. You are right that I have no proof that God exists but I need God, I long for God, so I assume God exists. If I can assume that, I can also assume that miracles can sometimes happen – even that 2000 years ago, one man overcame death somehow and became one with the Divine. Yes, it is also a metaphor and I have no problem accepting that it may not have literally occurred and it may be story created by (but nevertheless true to) a group of grieving people desperately hoping and longing for God. If it was finally discovered that the literal bodily resurrection of Christ never occurred my faith would not be shaken beyond redemption. (If I discovered Jesus never really existed – well, I would have trouble with that.) But I want to believe and I have enough insecurity in my ability to know everything about the universe, that I can believe that in a universe of infinite possibilities, one man was crucified died and was buried, but on the third day he rose again and ascended into heaven.
    I don’t think you need to worry about whether RJS or anyone else thinks you are a Christian or not. There are groups of “Christians” who would argue RJS must not be a Christian either. And she can’t worry about that (and my impression is that she doesn’t). But just as Christians whose view of their faith is so rigid that they can’t admit any but the narrowest of theologies, we can be like that a bit on the Liberal, rationalist end as well, by not allowing the possibility for miracles, by saying that if Science can’t explain it, it can’t be possible. What we need to do in this journey of faith is surrender, surrender to the possibility of God, surrender to the possibility of personal redemption and transformation, surrender to hope. Take the risk of looking foolish and open our hearts to God, even if it means ignoring (or transcending) our brain sometimes.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Thanks for sharing your story Miriam!
    I do understand people all across the spectrum of Christianity can be divisive. I hope you’ll recognize that I consistently make room for people on both sides of this particular debate. Debate and discussion does not mean there is any lack of respect. I find these discussions very fruitful. My issue with RJS was not with her beliefs but with her exclusion of others and her unwillingness to think more deeply about the terms and symbols she tossed around as if they had only one possible understanding.
    As for the possibility of miracles, I’m always open. But the problem you’ll have is again in the area of definition (language). The problem with using the word “miracle” is that it divides the world into natural and unnatural. I don’t see a divide. Last week I cut my arm and guess what, this week it is healed. Why isn’t that called a miracle? I don’t have a problem calling things miracles. I have a problem if you claim that anything in the natural world is NOT a miracle.
    back to the topic of reason…
    The point at which religion ventures into the area of “unreasonable” is when it confuses faith with an ability to claim certainty in the absence of evidence. That would be a textbook example of being unreasonable, right? I don’t see any need to do that. There is no biblical evidence that Christians are commanded to be superstitious or obsessed with supernatural things that were uncommon to the people of that day. You might try to point to the NT idea of being a “fool for Christ”, but that reference relates to a lifestyle of selflessness and sacrifice that seems “foolish” to others who live in selfishness. It is not about holding superstitious beliefs that were uncommon to society. The first two centuries were filled with superstitious beliefs. Christianity absorbed many Pagan and Jewish superstitions. I don’t see any reason to think early Christians had different understandings of the possibility of miracles than anyone else in that era. Their struggle to believe in Jesus’ resurrection was not a struggle to believe resurrection happens, but a struggle to acknowledge the inevitable resurrection had started with Jesus and it might play out different than expected. That is one huge mistake that N.T. Wright makes in his arguments. If anything, their task was to convince people that the resurrection would be more “natural” and happenin time rather than a “miracle” poured down by an external deity. In many ways, the Christian claims of God’s new kingdom are a demystification of the idea of resurrection.
    Christianity does at times cross over into the realm of unreasonableness when it tries to demand superstitious beliefs as a requirement for entry and ignore evidence that discredits those superstitions. I think that superstitions can help some people and I would not exclude those people from the umbrella of Christianity. However, I would consider it unreasonable to ignore any of our most current data from the equation. Superstition is clearly part of Christian history, but it is more honest to recognize that claiming certainty in something without evidence is not something we can call “reasonable”.
    There is little evidence in the bible that we are asked to be certain about the nature of God. In fact, the bible is very elusive from start to finish about God. This is why Jesus teaches about God through metaphorical parables and why Jesus’ followers taught about his effect on their lives through symbolic narratives.

  • mariam

    I agree with most of what you say and I agree that the word “miracle” implies a divide between the natural world and the supernatural (I prefer that word to unnatural). I agree with you in a sense that we see in creation “miracles” everyday that are part and parcel of the natural world and observable and explainable in rational terms. I think it is possible that all the “miracles” ascribed to Jesus’ birth, life and death all have rational explanations. But I think it is important to a lot of people to believe in miracles that go beyond rational explanations, that most of the time God works within the rules of the universe, but occasionally He/She doesn’t and in those rare times that God shows us His transcendence of the natural world the message he has for us is hugely important. A miracle is God saying, “This is really important. Please listen. I have turned the natural world on its head for a moment, so you will know that it is me talking.” For a lot of people the “miracle” is how they know it is God talking and while I often remain skeptical of miracles (the sort that are “unnatural”) I leave room for them

  • Scott M

    I heard Father Stephen Freeman talk about a Russian priest he met who said something to him that stuck in his mind. The priest at one point said, “You Americans! You talk about miracles like you don’t believe in God!” The point being that in the West, miracles are often taken as evidence that God exists, that something is going on “up there in heaven” and God is “intervening” in this reality. It flows from the deeply engrained Western perspective of the deist divide between our the “ordinary” or “secular” realm and the divine realm. Father Stephen uses the analogy of a two-story universe rather than a one-story universe. Those in the West who discount miracles are also, though, largely mired in the “secular” perspective of reality. Obviously, I liked that story enough for it to stick in my head.
    BTW mariam, I recently read “Take This Bread” and loved it. In loaning it to a friend who likely will not relate to it as much as I did, I had a hard time describing what it felt like to read that book. The best I could come up with was this. None of the details of Sara Miles’ upbringing, life experiences, conversion experiences, and experiences through the process of conversion actually directly correlates with anything in my life or conversion. And yet, as I read it, I connected on multiple levels. I understood and could relate to almost everything she experienced. It’s hard to explain. I bugged a few friends I share my thoughts with probably to death by quoting chunks in emails as I read it. It’s hard to describe. One thing she captures very well is how strange it is for some of us to find ourselves Christian.

  • http://www.faithprogression.com Progressive Faith

    Well said Mariam!
    I get a bit nervous when someone thinks God is literally intervening or wost “talking” to them. Usually that means something really bad is about to happen that benefits them at the expense of others (like flying a plane into a building, expelling a whole race of people from their homes, or justifying genocide, slavery and economic inequality).

  • Scott M

    I would say I tend to feel a little nervous whenever anyone talks about God in terms of “intervening” or not “intervening” as statements of category. In either instance, they seem to be talking about a God who is not everywhere present and filling all things and a reality which can somehow be held separate from God.

  • mariam

    Progressive,
    It’s OK. I get very nervous too. When push comes to shove, I’m almost always in the “rational” corner. And when a “miracle” does appear to happen, when God does appear to speak to us I think we need to give our head a shake and look for rational explanations first. The times when I thought God was “speaking” to me (don’t worry, I didn’t hear any voices or see angels or anything) his messages were about trust, love, forgiveness and perseverance, so even if I’m wrong about the messages being from God, it’s not like I will be strapping on a bomb any time soon:)
    There was one more thing that I wanted to say. I think God takes us as we are – the religiously rigid who need certainty of belief, the fearfully skeptical who are afraid of letting go of the rational world even momentarily. When Thomas simply couldn’t believe his eyes, Jesus didn’t say, “That’s it, leave. I can’t have doubt among those I have given the privilege of establishing my church.” He took his hand and showed him his wounds. When the disciples were afraid when there was a storm at sea, Jesus did not say, “Alright, row back to shore now, because obviously none of you is worthy of being my disciples”. He said “Why are you afraid, you who have little faith?” And he calmed the seas so they wouldn’t be afraid. In each case Jesus is more concerned with obtaining their trust than rebuking their lack of faith. So, while I personally believe that the acceptance of the possibility of miracles may give us a richer faith, I don’t think God will cast us out of the circle if we have a hard time believing in them.
    Scott,
    Miles’ conversion experience echoed with me in a lot of ways. I too wandered into an Anglican church for no particular reason and found myself weeping uncontrollably and struck by the presence of “something”. I too kept going back to make sense of the experience on the one hand and hungering for it on the other, and found myself each week crying and hearing God speaking to me and not being able to rationally explain that phenomenon. I laughed at her descriptions of the reactions of her intellectual atheistic friends and family because my experiences were similar. I was not prepared for the intensity, for the way my heart took over my mind and I still don’t even try to explain that aspect of things to my doubting family. I remember saying her exact words: “People think/will think I am turning into a religious nut. I am turning into a religious nut.” I haven’t finished the book yet, but I am really enjoying it.


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