Coloring Outside the Lines

Coloring Outside the Lines September 2, 2018

Morgan Guyton recently offered a helpful challenge to a widespread conservative Evangelical way of thinking about sin. He writes:

No evangelical will ever admit to being a legalist because it contradicts our theology of justification by faith, but if your only understanding of Christian morality is “The Bible says…” then you have a morality of coloring inside the lines. Even if you think that our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice saves us from God’s legalistic authoritarian expectations, you still think that God’s expectations are fundamentally legalistic and authoritarian (as opposed to being based in something like a benevolent concern for our wholeness, in which case Jesus’ atonement would have a different function)…

Jesus doesn’t save us from a monstrous God who damns people to hell for coloring outside the lines. Jesus saves us from being monsters who draw normative lines that make life hell for others. The lines that matter are the boundaries required by human dignity. Those who truly know God’s mercy have no reason to prove their “biblical holiness” by damning people for coloring outside the lines.

That last part is so memorable, so succinct yet powerful, that I thought that it deserved to be turned into a meme.

See also Fred Clark’s post on why Evangelicals should be disturbed that, when it comes to issues such as refugees, they are not even “just like everyone else” (which would be bad enough in the context of their theology), but actually worse than others. That suggests that their theology, rather than being correct and transformative, is in fact toxic and diabolical in character. And so Fred’s words in his post seem apt:

Anti-refugee attitudes are not due to a gap in American Christians’ “education” or to some bit of information they’ve unwittingly overlooked. They’re due to a fundamental failure of spiritual formation.

No amount of information or education is going to persuade these anti-refugee folks to follow Christ. They must be born again.

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  • John MacDonald

    I’m familiar with the Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement. Can someone post a link explaining what the Progressive Christian Theory of Atonement is? I’m still trying to understand the latter.

    • There is definitely no one progressive Christian view on this topic, and while some might not think in “atonement” terms at all, some might actually be quite close to some Evangelical views on the matter.

      Might be a good topic for a blog post!

      • John MacDonald

        I think that would be a great topic. I hope you write it. It’s always important to analyze and clarify the grundbegriffe, especially for the Padawan Learners like myself 🙂

        • The Mouse Avenger

          Padawan learners, eh? 🙂 I love the way you think! ^_^

          • John MacDonald

            Padawan Learners are still Apprentices, but sometimes can have great skill and power in their own right, Like Anakin Skywalker under the tutelage of Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones.

    • robrecht

      Excellent question. The penal substitution theory of atonement is perhaps the single worst degradation of the Christian message in my humble opinion. Parts of it are rooted in second temple animal sacrifice metaphors that were later formalized into a medieval satisfaction and honor theory by Anselm. Metaphors have meaning within contexts but trying to systematize them into theological doctrine is misguided. The two largest strands of theological thought that have militated against this tendency are found early in the writings of Irenaeus and later in work of Abelard. Irenaeus saw creation and redemption as part of the same unified impetus of God. Thus the fall was not so disastrous since we were only children at the time and did not fall that far. God continued to teach us and bring us toward that salvation that we were always destined toward. Christ would have become incarnate as part of this process even if Adam had never sinned. The moral influence or exemplar view of the atonement was pervasive in various degrees and forms among early Christian thinkers but it crystallized into clear opposition to Anselm’s satisfaction theory in the writings and detractors of Abelard. It basically teaches that we are saved by following the example of Jesus, his moral teachings and the example of his witness to God’s love and truth expressed in his willingness to die as a consequence of his teachings. Thus various ‘progressive’ views of atonement consist in part of recapturing early and traditional views of that were later marginalized by Anselm and especially by many of the later Protestant reformers and theologians.

      • John MacDonald

        It basically teaches that we are saved by following the example of Jesus, his moral teachings and the example of his witness to God’s love and truth expressed in his willingness to die as a consequence of his teachings.

        So, what are the “Core Ideas” being exemplified by Jesus’ life, and the “Core Of His Ethical Teachings” we are supposed to pick up on and emulate?

        • robrecht

          Love of others, not being hypocritical, not judging others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, lending without expecting a return, recognizing one’s own failings, taking care of wounded Samaritans (or other outsiders), pray for the sick and heal them, etc, speaking truth to power, especially when any of the above mentioned evils are being imposed. No divorce. No oaths. Read the gospels and create your own list. I’m sure I’ve left some out. Paul’s letters sometimes give an indirect sense of how he tried to encourage such behaviors in the communities he founded or visited. The letter of ‘James’ is also good. Trying to realize all of the above ideals in a practical manner is not realistic, but they represent some of the ideals of the Kingdom of God that we should be striving for in our relationships, in our communities, and in society.

          • John MacDonald

            No divorce

            ?

          • robrecht

            Considered one of the more reliably historical teachings of Jesus by EP Sanders and John P Meier, and others. The potential exceptions are much disputed, of course, from various confessional perspectives, but it seems to me the weight of evidence favors a very restrictive teaching by Jesus with a few loopholes introduced by Paul and Matthew in the 1st and 2nd generations after Jesus.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, I do know the divorce prohibition is a good candidate for being an authentic teaching from the historical Jesus. My point is that no one should take this precept seriously. And, if we can simply ignore this precept regarding divorce, why do we have to take seriously others like “clothing the naked?” Or do we just subjectively pick and choose which ones of Jesus’ precepts to follow based on which ones give us warm fuzzy feelings, and follow those prohibitions of Jesus about matters that give us cold prickly feelings?

          • robrecht

            Personally, I think we should take the prohibition of divorce very seriously, though I too would not be absolutist in the face of extremes such as physical abuse, serial adultery, extreme mental cruelty, etc. I think it may be fundamentally based on the unjust treatment of women in Jesus’ society. Thus one might suggest a most general principle of something like ‘divorce should not be a proceeding that imposes injustice upon the other spouse’. There’s a very wide spectrum of different ways of trying to be faithful to Jesus’ and other moral teachings in a practical manner in today’s societies. Everyone does in fact pick and choose what they believe and what they do; that’s not to say that everyone does it well.

          • John MacDonald

            [I] think we should take the prohibition of divorce very seriously

            – Why? For instance, two people get married, and realize in a year or two it isn’t working. So, they split. No big deal.

            Everyone does in fact pick and choose what they believe and what they do; that’s not to say that everyone does it well.

            – How do you know you are doing it well and that others who run counter to your program are not doing it well? For instance, how do you know your stance on the abortion issue is the correct one?

          • robrecht

            Why? Because divorce can oftentimes be a very devastating and unjust situation for one of the parties. Not so in the situation you mention above.

            How does one know? I believe we should follow our own individual conscience, hope that it was well formed by our parents and siblings in our childhood, but be open to acknowledging one’s own subjective failings. How? Listen to the teachings and opinions of others, trying to be honest with oneself and others about differences. Ultimately, I cannot know that my own views are right, but I can at least know when I have not followed my own conscience and try to learn from such situations.

          • John MacDonald

            So your Philosophy of Ethics is to follow your “conscience – compass” and “hope” it points you in the right direction?

          • robrecht

            That is not the extent of what I said above. Read the rest of my reply.

          • John MacDonald

            You said

            “I can at least know when I have not followed my own conscience and try to learn from such situations.”

            As I said, your position is to hope your moral compass points you in a “warm fuzzy” direction and points you away from a “cold prickly” direction, and that it becomes better at providing a comfortable feeling in the face or moral dilemmas over time. An excellent characterization of Moral Relativism..

          • robrecht

            You’re still skipping over what I said here: “… but be open to acknowledging one’s own subjective failings. How? Listen to the teachings and opinions of others, trying to be honest with oneself and others about differences. …” Hopefully that saves me from an overly individualist reliance on one’s own conscience. Thus we also have a responsibility for developing a well formed conscience in dialogue with others, including at some level perhaps only indirectly through others the study of moral philosophy. In my own case I have studied more philosophy than most and do not consider myself to be merely a moral relativist, ‘though certainly one must oftentimes weigh various values and needs relative to each other. Don’t you agree?

          • John MacDonald

            I think our moral compass is informed by our culture, preferences, values, point of view, biases, evolution, etc. Our moral compass directs us “relative” to things like this. But, as Padme said about the Senate in Star Wars, “people disagree,” such as on the abortion issue, or the different interpretations of 9/11. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrM0dAFsZ8k That said, even a child knows you are being a better “friend” when you are doing things for someone else rather than yourself, and that people are accountable for poor choices.

          • robrecht

            Although the YouTube video is not playing on my phone, I agree with everything else you said here. Do you imagine it contradicts anything I have said above?

          • John MacDonald

            No, I think we’re pretty much in agreement!

          • John MacDonald

            not judging others

            – What about the way Jesus judged the moneychangers at the temple?

          • robrecht

            What about it? If historical, maybe Jesus was having a bad day and failed to live up to his own ideal or maybe he considered the temple abuses to be more egregious than whatever he meant by not judging others. I don’t have access to a time machine so that leaves us to figure it out as best we can.

          • John MacDonald

            You said a follower of Jesus should not judge others. But Jesus was clearly judging others with the Temple Tantrum.

            And no, the temple incident never happened. There would have been guards at the temple specifically to prevent just such a disturbance.

          • robrecht

            If you don’t believe it happened, then there’s no issue. If it did, see my suggestions above.

          • John MacDonald

            For the sake of argument, let’s say Jesus did something at the temple that didn’t incite the guards. Maybe Jesus swore at the moneychangers. Clearly, then, there would be nothing wrong with a Christian doing something similar.

          • robrecht

            Not necessarily. Recall one possibility I mentioned above: maybe Jesus was having a bad day and failed to live up to his own ideals. Does that mean that I should consider the ideal worthless? But let’s say that I too was overcome by anger and also swore at the money changers, would that be right or wrong based only upon whether or not Jesus had done so? That seems like a rather shallow view of morality. I don’t think the moral exemplar theory of the atonement is intended to place shallow limitations on our moral reasoning.

          • John MacDonald

            This wasn’t the only time Jesus lost his temper. For instance, remember the incident with Peter:

            Turning and looking at His disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” 34 (Mark 8:33)

            Jesus had more than one “bad day.” lol

            I don’t think the moral exemplar theory of the atonement is intended to place shallow limitations on our moral reasoning.

            If the ultimate arbiter is our own moral compass, what does it matter what Jesus did or didn’t say/do?

          • robrecht

            I’ve already said that to judge something to be right or wrong based only upon whether or not Jesus had done so seems like a rather shallow view of morality. Nonetheless I do value Jesus’ teachings and life.

          • John MacDonald

            Nonetheless I do value Jesus’ teachings and life.

            I value Plato’s teaching, but I don’t consider myself a Platonist. Why do you self-identify as a “Christian”?

          • robrecht

            In part because I was raised as one. In part because of experiences I’ve had in prayer and in personally rewarding service to others. In part because I find Jesus’ teachings to be quite profound, especially when understood in their Jewish context. I would prefer if Christianity had never gone its separate way from Judaism, because I could just as comfortably consider myself as Jewish as Christian. Likewise, I suppose, if I had more personal experience and knowledge of various forms of Buddhism, Islam Baha’i, etc.

          • John MacDonald

            I like the way you put that. Just as we need to learn to coexist with one another, maturing as a human being means, in part, learning to coexist within oneself.

          • jekylldoc

            One flaw in the way the moral exemplar theory is used is a kind of separation of Jesus’s passion and execution from his ministry and his inauguration of the kingdom. I am coming to believe they are of a piece. That Jesus deliberately provoked the authorities in order to get himself executed. Why? Because the whole theology of the Messiah and redemption was hopelessly mired in military and political power, of the Maccabean sort.

            He had lived and taught a theology of friendship, community, service and healing, not to mention non-violence and forgiveness. And the culmination of this was to confront the whole structure of temple power, partly as a demonstration of faithfulness to truth, but moreso as a repudiation of truth being defined by those wielding power. By dying a martyr’s death.

            The reconciliation which the ancient Day of Atonement was about does not only happen as some kind of transaction about sin. It also happens by bringing God’s view of things into focus for us. The moral exemplar approach needs to include taking what Henri Nouwen called “the downward path.” Until we are ready to just be human beings, we will always be putting barriers between ourselves and others, and so between ourselves and God.

          • robrecht

            All theories have flaws, at least all theological theories, but I do not understand why you say “One flaw in the way the moral exemplar theory is used is a kind of separation of Jesus’s passion and execution from his ministry and his inauguration of the kingdom. …” It seems like your own next paragraph perfectly illustrates very well how Jesus’ passion is directly related to his ministry:

            “He had lived and taught a theology of friendship, community, service and healing, not to mention non-violence and forgiveness. And the culmination of this was to confront the whole structure of temple power, partly as a demonstration of faithfulness to truth, but moreso as a repudiation of truth being defined by those wielding power. By dying a martyr’s death.”

            Very well said. I think this is part and parcel of the moral exemplar theory. I don’t think this requires that he provoked his own death, just that he remained true to his role however he may have understood, and there I think we need to remain flexible on this given the limitations of our historical methodologies and sources.

          • jekylldoc

            I’m not an expert on Abelard or the moral exemplar theory, but in the presentations I have seen of it, it tends to avoid the passion and crucifixion (much less the resurrection, which is God’s ultimate act of atonement). All the focus on instruction and forgiveness. I don’t think Abelard would have dared to say that repudiation of military power and might was an integral part of Jesus’ example, even though it is right there in the Sermon on the Mount.

          • robrecht

            Nor am I, but some historians point to elements of the exemplar theory among early church fathers so one does not need to focus exclusively on Abelard. Likewise, when doing modern theology one need not focus exclusively on past theologians, even church fathers.

          • jekylldoc

            Yes, excellent. So, I like my expression of the moral exemplar approach to atonement better than I like the explanations I have seen of it. Sounds a little more prideful, but it doesn’t require that I cast aspersions on others. 8,)

          • John MacDonald

            jekylldoc said: That Jesus deliberately provoked the authorities in order to get himself executed. Why? Because the whole theology of the Messiah and redemption was hopelessly mired in military and political power, of the Maccabean sort… He had lived and taught a theology of friendship, community, service and healing, not to mention non-violence and forgiveness. And the culmination of this was to confront the whole structure of temple power, partly as a demonstration of faithfulness to truth, but moreso as a repudiation of truth being defined by those wielding power. By dying a martyr’s death.

            What about Jesus’ desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus didn’t want to suffer/die?

          • jekylldoc

            Boy, I tell you, if I had decided like the Berrigan brothers to go break into a missile silo and throw blood on the controls, I would be praying something like that the night before. “Isn’t there some easier way?”

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          • John MacDonald

            Jesus reportedly taught:

            21Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

            As a Christian, have you done this?

          • robrecht

            Actually, I did try to do this as a Franciscan monk for some 14 years. It’s definitely not for everyone.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, the point is that Jesus’ life and teachings are merely suggestions, and so there is no reason to adhere to any of them besides personal taste. Jesus was one itinerant teacher among the tidal wave of others that inhabit human history.

          • robrecht

            I am certainly not opposed to listening to other moral teachers. Did you think that I was implying otherwise?

          • John MacDonald

            As a Christian, you seem to perceive an authority with Jesus that other teachers don’t have. After all, you call yourself primarily a “Christian,” and not a “Platonist,” for instance.

          • robrecht

            I must confess to trying to be Christian in some sense, ‘though with a substantial amount of heresy and moral failure such that other Christians might not want to acknowledge me as one. I also like a number of things I’ve read in Plato’s works, the Talmud, Spinoza, Sufi mystics, Voltaire, Vonnegut, etc. Are you asking me to choose one teacher to the exclusion of all others? Why would I want to do that?

          • John MacDonald

            Would you say the way you “relate” to Jesus is different than the way you “relate” to Plato, or is Jesus “just another guy” whose ideas you’ve found interesting? I’m trying to uncover (a-letheia) why you self-identify primarily as a Christian, and so only as a follower of Plato in a less “life characterizing” sense?

          • robrecht

            I already answered above, if not to your satisfaction perhaps because you have a preconceived idea of what else I must not be saying as part of my ‘self-identification primarily as a Christian’, as you put it. I don’t think I’ve ever said that ‘I self-identify primarily as a Christian’. I have said that I am no more Christian than Jewish insofar as I am well informed about these worldviews. As a matter of historical accident and personal biography, I am indeed more familiar with Christian theologies, but also have become relatively well educated in the Jewish scriptures and traditions, and only to a very limited extent somewhat familiar with the other religious or philosophical worldviews I mentioned above. I would not say Jesus is ‘just another guy’ but nor would I say that about Shammai or Hillel or Baal Shem Tov or Buddha or Plato or Socrates or Einstein. We’re dealing with some very uniquely interesting thinkers or even geniuses who have had enormous influence on the lives and worldviews of others.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, when you clarified that in a comment, I said: “I like the way you put that. Just as we need to learn to coexist with one another, maturing as a human being means, in part, learning to coexist within oneself.”

          • robrecht

            There may be something amiss with the timing of comments as a search does not find any such comment of yours on this page.

          • John MacDonald

            I said that in response to the comment you made which started “In part because I was raised as one. In part because of experiences I’ve had in prayer…” I also upvoted that comment.

          • robrecht

            See it now. I’m not very familiar with Discus. Apparently a page-refresh doesn’t show all new comments. I hope I didn’t inadvertently downvote some of your comments. I hit the down arrow a few times because it is next to the worst ‘Reply’ and I thought that was how one replies.

          • jekylldoc

            Well, not exactly. Jesus seems to have engaged in a very political act. By fulfilling Messianic prophecy, then getting himself executed, it appears Jesus was inserting himself into the stream of history, but in a most unusual way. His teachings urge us to “learn to coexist within oneself” by learning to live for others. At the end of his earthly life, Jesus took a drastic step to enact a drama reflecting the essence of those teachings in a very political context.

            The mantle he seems to have deliberately taken on, that of “Messiah” (Judas Maccabeus was one of those), was envisioned as a political and military figure. Jesus asserted, with his own choices (not just words) that restoration of communion with God does not happen by overthrowing empire but by the inner transformation of surrendering material and ego priorities for the most important priority.

          • John MacDonald

            So you would say Jesus’ precept against divorce is more than just a suggestion that no one needs to take seriously?

          • jekylldoc

            Oh, yes, of course. One ought to learn about it, like how the patriarchal rules about land made women so dependent, and what alternative he was preaching against. One ought to take it to heart, realizing that it is not easy to make a lifelong commitment work and we need to learn skills and sacrifice pride and think ahead and otherwise really get the blessings that come from seeking something meaningful in life. And if after all that, it turns out that marriage is hurting the couple rather than helping them, then we ought to be thankful that we live in a more productive age and women can survive without the man supporting them (or with alimony and child support, if that’s called for), and that Jesus is merciful.

          • John MacDonald

            What do you mean “Jesus is merciful,” and how does that relate to his prohibition against divorce?

          • jekylldoc

            I mean that Jesus was not about enforcing rules. He was about helping us to see spiritual truth. As far as I know he never did anything that could be considered enforcing a rule. He taught a kingdom based on serving others and explicitly refused to be made a judge.

            So we have to muddle through, not because Jesus wasn’t clear enough with laws, but because what God cares about is our hearts, and not the submissiveness of our hearts but the caring we can manage for others. If we have tried, and tried again, and don’t see any healthy way forward with a marriage, then we may have to go separate ways. Two of the couples closest to my wife and I are going through something like this currently, and I can’t imagine relating judgmentally to them. In neither case do I think I know some kind of answer that would make things work. We just try to be there for them.

          • Brianna LaPoint

            No divorce leads to spousal abuse. Great job, and considering Paul was single and never married it seems you picked out an incel for your guru.

          • robrecht

            First, this was a brief summary of Jesus’ teachings. Second, I think you must have missed the obvious exceptions I mentioned, eg, physical abuse, mental cruelty, etc.

    • Triggerman1976

      I’ve yet to see anyone who identifies as a “progressive Christian” say that there is such a thing as a need for atonement because the god that I often see forwarded is not portrayed as holy and unapproachable.

      • Bones

        True….atonement reflects the sacrificial views of the culture in which the Bible was written ie both pagan and Jewish societies understood the notion of ritual sacrifice hence why we have the Book of Hebrews and Jesus referred to as the Lamb of God.

        I would argue that the term is meaningless for those of us who don’t live in those cultures and the whole notion of appeasing god/s with blood/offerings is barbaric.

    • Bones

      Hi John, I think many of us would relate to a liberation theory of atonement where Jesus’s death exposes and defeats the evils and oppressions of the world and initiates the fight for liberation.

      Oscar Romero wrote before his assassination

      “There can be no freedom as long as there is sin in the heart. What’s the use of changing structures? What’s the use of violence and armed force if the motivation is hatred and the purpose is to buttress those in power or else to overthrow them and then create new tyrannies? What we seek in Christ is true freedom, the freedom that transforms the heart, the freedom the risen Christ announces to us today, “Seek what is above” (Col. 3:1). Don’t view earthly freedom and the oppression of this unjust system in El ­Salvador just by looking down from the rooftops. Look on high! That doesn’t mean accepting the situation, because Christians also know how to struggle. Indeed, they know that their struggle is more forceful and valiant when it is inspired by this Christ who knew how to do more than turn the other cheek and let himself be nailed to a cross. Even submitting to crucifixion, he has redeemed the world and sung the definitive hymn of victory, the victory that cannot be used for other ends but benefits those who, like Christ, are seeking the true liberation of human beings. This liberation is incomprehensible without the risen Christ, and it’s what I want for you, dear sisters and brothers, especially those of you who have such great social awareness and refuse to tolerate the injustices in our country.… Lift your hearts on high, and consider the things that are above!

      Dear young people given to violence and vice, you who have already lost your faith in love and think that love can solve nothing, here is the proof that love alone solves everything. If Christ had wanted to impose his redemption through armed force or through fire and violence, he would have achieved nothing. That would have been useless; there would be only more hatred and wickedness. But going straight to the heart of redemption, Christ tells us on this night, “This is my commandment: as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” And he says more: “So that you may see that these are not simply words, stay with me tonight when I will sweat blood as I observe the evil of humankind and the pain of my own sufferings! And tomorrow you will see me carrying the cross like a silent lamb and dying on Calvary. Be assured that I bear no resentment toward anybody. From the depth of my soul I will cry out, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’” Let us reflect, sisters and brothers, on this personified gesture of love. And when we are tempted to act with vengeance, resentment, cruelty, or selfishness, let us not consider the sad example of people who hate one another. Rather let us raise our eyes toward the love that becomes lamb, that becomes food, that becomes Passover, that becomes covenant.”

      That’s what the crucifixion means to me….see also Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream…and I have seen the mountaintop….

  • Al Cruise

    Jesus saves us from being monsters who draw normative lines that make life hell for others. Very well said. Christianity exists only through the lens of Jesus . You wouldn’t study Bob Dylan’s music through someone who covers his songs. Do not study or try to understand Christianity through the lens of people like , Frank Graham, Robert Jeffress, James Dobson and others like them. Anyone of sound mind and common sense, can on their own , understand the key points Jesus is trying make, in what an heir to the Kingdom to of God is like. You can do this on your own, and you do not need a Pastor to tell you.

    • John MacDonald

      What, in your interpretation, are the “key points” Jesus is trying to make about what an heir to the Kingdom of God is like?

      • rrhersh

        No need for “interpretation.” Asked, and answered by Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

        • John MacDonald

          So the message is simply a move from an emphasis on purity to an emphasis on Love (ἀγάπη). Do all Christians interpret this Love in the same way? Is there nothing more to Jesus’ message than a movement beyond purity to Love?

          • Neil Brown

            Purity and love do not, primarily, describe the citizens of the kingdom but rather describe the path to get there. The discipline of purity is far more important than the state of purity (and is actually possible, unlike the later). This hasn’t changed, though the particular manifestations of purity that we might focus on today may be very different to those our forefather struggled with.
            Love doesn’t replace purity, rather it is a particular purity that is often emphasised by Jesus. ἀγάπη is a selfless love. Purifying from self is a constant challenge.

    • John MacDonald

      And, how should “[a]nyone of sound mind and common sense, …on their own” understand the Atonement issue?

      • Neil Brown

        If I answered that, I would be no better than the Grahams, Jeffress, Dobsons of this world. If you have sound mind and common sense, then “seek, and you shall find”. If you don’t, I am sorry for you but cannot help.
        There is a reason that Jesus came as a story-teller, not as a theologian. It is the stories that he told and that he lived which speak to us, not the abstractions we take out of the context of story, and give names too.
        If some of these stories don’t make sense, just push them to the side of the plate and move on. If some parts do make sense and seem wholesome, eat heartily and let them become a part of who you are.

        • John MacDonald

          So your position is that anyone can be immersed in the essence of the message simply by reading stories, but yet can’t extrapolate and communicate the essence of them? I’m skeptical, to say the least.

          • Neil Brown

            You are skeptical – excellent! It is only by seeking that we find, and the one who is convinced doesn’t bother to seek.
            The message is a person – Jesus the Christ. Can you communicate the essence of person?
            My wife, my children, my siblings, my colleagues, my friends would all likely identify different “key points” about who I am – there would be overlap, and there would also be differences. This isn’t because I am multiple people, but because I have multiple relationships.
            My relationship to Jesus is different from yours, and from everyone else’s. I’m happy to tell you about mine and to hear about yours, but neither should be seen as anything like the “essence” of who Jesus is, or what he wants of us.

          • John MacDonald

            So then, you are saying there is no overall essence or theme, just Jesus the Person, who is appropriated differently by every different individual? It sounds like you are divining the parable of the blind men and an elephant, which originated in the ancient Indian subcontinent, from where it has been widely diffused.

            Here’s a question: Is every individual free to appropriate Jesus in any way they want (e.g., to justify slavery), or is there an ESSENCE to Jesus’ message that runs counter to slavery?

          • Neil Brown

            Isaiah records God telling him “My ways are higher than your ways”. Even higher than an elephants eye, I would suggest. I think that parable of the elephant is, in a small scale, a good picture of God. As long as the blind men keep their ideas to themselves, they will all be incomplete, to the point of being wrong. If they share their individual understandings, assume that each other are genuine despite their differences, and try to find a picture that encompasses all that they see, then there is a chance they will each get a clearer picture of God (though each picture will still be different). Of course, none will be completely accurate, but they may be clear enough that they could mount the elephant and go for a ride (mounting up on wings as eagles – again from Isaiah).

            Slavery is a broad term. On the one hand there is “abject slavery”, which is a good description of the state of Africans who were kidnapped and imported in the Americas in recent centuries. It also can describe the treatment of prisoners of war, and similar circumstances.
            On there other hand there is economic slavery – the practice of trading your future labour to cancel debts and provide food and shelter for your family. That is a hard life, but starvation is a hard death. In modern western countries, we have bankruptcy laws and social security which effectively prevent economic slavery (or at least, make the worst excesses illegal).

            While I still what to avoid the word ESSENCE, there are recurring themes in the bible narrative and in the teaching and behavior of Jesus. One is importance of love – for neighbour, for the marginalized, for the enemy. I cannot see how it would be possible to reconcile abject slavery with the theme of love.
            Economic slavery could be seen as an expression of love – a hard life is better than a hard death, and if it is all you have to offer, it might be loving to give it.
            Another pattern we see in the bible teaching is that it doesn’t teach about public policy, but about personal behaviour. So there is no teaching about whether you should have slaves (economic bond-servants) or not, but there is teaching about how you should treat such people if they exist.

            But what you actually asked is “Is every individual free to …”. And my answer is “yes, absolutely”. Freedom is a strong theme throughout the bible – I might even come close to allowing that it is essential! The story of Adam and Eve has freedom as a key element – they weren’t puppets or robots, they were free to choose. Freedom continues throughout. (“Choose this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house….” – Joshua).

            All choices have consequences – as such they are both a blessing and a curse. The bible doesn’t teach what you *must* do – that would invalidate the principle of choice. Rather it gives guidance how to avoid the worst consequences, and how to avail yourself of the greater blessings.
            In general, we learn how to live by copying people, not by following rules. So Jesus is a person we can copy, not a rule we can follow. If we emulate him, and others copy us, his kingdom grows and we all benefit.

          • jekylldoc

            “Is every individual free to appropriate Jesus in any way they want
            (e.g., to justify slavery), or is there an ESSENCE to Jesus’ message
            that runs counter to slavery?”

            I like this question. I think we all tend to think there is an essence to moral truth, and that any sage worthy of the name ought to be able to spell it out for us. But consider the possibility that “the journey is our home.” That is, that for all the inspiration in Buddha’s Eightfold Path and Jesus’ teachings, what matters to our spiritual transformation is that we set out on the journey and stay with it, despite our discouragements.

            When we learn to find our bliss in this process, rather than in perfection or perfect enlightenment, or in particular material goals, we become an agent of transformation of others and thus of our society as a whole. Atonement is “whole-making.” We don’t ever reach a state of such excellent spiritual health that we make no mistakes and never disappoint others. But let me turn your origional question around: do you think someone is making an honest effort to follow Jesus if they are using Jesus-ianity to justify enslaving or abusing others?

          • John MacDonald

            But let me turn your origional question around: do you think someone is making an honest effort to follow Jesus if they are using Jesus-ianity to justify enslaving or abusing others?

            By analogy, many Christians adhere to Prosperity Theology, and feel they are genuinely following Christ by pursuing that route.

          • jekylldoc

            The Prosperity Gospel followers that I know are profoundly wounded human beings. Evidently they were taught worm theology, and some version where the more you grovel and abase yourself, the more God likes you. Yecch. So the Prosperity message comes to them as hope.

            I pretty well despise the theology, but I appreciate the hope. What can I do?

          • John MacDonald

            The Prosperity Gospel followers that I know are profoundly wounded human beings.

            I think you’re overgeneralizing a bit, lol

  • Nimblewill

    Please define “evangelical!” I consider myself one yet do not adhere to PS theory of atonement.

    • jekylldoc

      Are you part of a denomination or movement which calls itself evangelical but rejects Penal Subtitutiary Atonement? If so, I would like to hear about it.

      • Nimblewill

        Nope just an individual.I also lean toward all eventually being saved through the blood of Jesus. I’m just hopeful though, not dogmatic.

        • jekylldoc

          Well, that’s pretty cool, too. I kind of feel the original version of “salvation” leaned toward a re-making of heaven and earth, to bring the peaceable kingdom. Swords into plowshares, lions and lambs. I find myself thorough uninterested in the afterlife, but that’s probably a flaw in my constitution.

          • Nimblewill

            I grew up Southern Baptist and still go to a Baptist church. If they knew what I believed they would probably kick me out. God got bigger than my Baptist upbringing. There’s a lot we don’t know about the afterlife. All seems to be speculation. Tom Wright seems to have a pretty good grasp but I’m not completely convinced either way.

          • jekylldoc

            “God got bigger than my Baptist upbringing.”
            Well, imagine my shock. Lol.

          • Nimblewill

            Do you live on Jekyll?

          • jekylldoc

            Sorry, not even sure what you refer to. I think of the moniker as a reference to the RLStevenson story with Mr. Hyde. Is there a place named Jekyll?

          • Nimblewill

            Its an island off the coast of Georgia! I figured if you did you were a Baptist yourself.

            https://www.jekyllisland.com/

          • jekylldoc

            Huh. Looks like an interesting place. I come from a “holiness” background (once described to me as Nazarene theology with Baptist polity) and went to an American Baptist Church when I first left home for independent living. But we changed to UCC and now live abroad where ELCA was the closest we could find. Definitely not evangelical but I still respect my evangelical friends from my youth.

  • Triggerman1976

    Got to love it when people set up straw men.

  • robrecht

    Wow, 84 comments generated largely by dissatisfaction with and alternatives to the penal substitution theory of the atonement among people trying to be thoughtful about the import of the teaching of Jesus. That should tell us something.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Jesus never saved christians from acting like turds to non believers. That is a fact.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    I get that there are people that think christianity is being a better person. But how is telling other christians what they are doing wrong better? To me, its about living by example, and most christians would rather point fingers at christians they disagree with, than do anything that makes them really stand out, like helping people in need, or showing compassion without expecting to convert someone. Thats just how i feel about it. Perhaps i am not the only one that feels that way, otherwise christianitys core members would still top out at 91%