A Better Atonement: You’re a Pig in a Poke

Singer-songwriter Roger Flyer has submitted this take on the atonement (lyrics below the video):

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A Better Atonement: Nothing Is Solved by Murder

This week, as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter, we’ll have a post every morning about the atonement. Some by guests, and I will round out the week with a couple reflections. And don’t forget to check out the Storify and Tumbler, both tracking atonement this week. You can read all of the posts, and my past posts on this topic, here.

Today, David Lose connects the traditional story explaining Jesus’ death with one of the cultural touchstones of this year.

Recently, two of my favorite subjects seem about to collide in an usual but interesting way: 1) The Hunger Games, the book I felt so lucky to stumble upon when it was first released and now is the mega-mega-blockbuster of print and screen. And 2) the atonement, which I’ve been working on in earnest since I first did a 6-week adult forum on the cross twenty years ago using film clips (Star Wars, Schindler’s List, Gallipoli, etc.).

The collision, in some ways, seems almost destined because of the remarkably similar plot lines. Not sure you’re following, even if you read (or seen) The Hunger Games (or maybe especially if you’ve read The Hunger Games)? Then try telling me which of the two stories this plot line summarizes:

Out of chaos is formed a covenantal society between a greater power and a lesser one. When the lesser one refuses to render due honor and obedience to the greater – in actions labeled rebellion – they bring upon themselves the wrath of the greater power, a wrath that can only be satisfied by bloodshed. The climax of the story comes when one representing those to be punished volunteers to take on the wrath of the greater power.

Okay, so which story is it? Is it the story of the oppressive Capitol’s punishment of the districts for rebelling by creating the Hunger Games – a yearly event combining the worst elements of the Roman arena and Survior – and Katniss Everdeen’s brave and voluntary substitution of herself for her sister? Or is it the story of God’s righteous wrath at human sin, wrath that would result in the damnation of all living humans were it not for the brave and voluntary sacrifice of Jesus as he substitutes himself for humanity and takes the penalty for our sin?

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A Better Atonement: Maybe I Was Wrong about Original Sin

This week, as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter, we’ll have a post every morning about the atonement. Some will be by me, and some by guests. And don’t forget to check out the Storify and Tumbler, both tracking atonement this week. You can read all of the posts, and my past posts on this topic, here.

Today, Dallas Gingles challenges my argument that Original Sin is a doctrine, fabricated by Augustine, without biblical or rational justification. Regardless of silly quotes by GK Chesterton, I don’t buy it. But I thought I’d let Dallas provide a Nieburhrian counterpoint.

First, let me say thanks to Tony for the opportunity to guest post in this conversation about atonement and original sin. I’ve enjoyed the conversation, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

I often hear theologians or pastors describing a conversation with a skeptical or hurt person who says, “I just can’t believe in a God who destroys lives, hates sinners, looks like the G.O.P,” or something similar. The minister responds, “I don’t believe in that God either.” Similarly, I don’t believe in the version of original sin that Tony doesn’t believe in in A Better Atonement. However, I do want to defend original sin.

The version of original sin that I want to affirm starts, like Tony’s, with St. Augustine. Unlike Tony, I want to locate the upshot of the doctrine, not in contrast to Pelagius, but in Augustine’s refutation of the Manicheans, and his political thought. Roughly put, the Manicheans believed that evil was a material substance in the world. The convoluted process by which evil was confronted and combated included the bowel movements of faithful believers.

Augustine’s account of evil as a privation—a no-thing—is a direct rebuttal to the idea that evil exists: is a “thing.” Humans will wrongly and humans love wrongly. In so doing they undo their being—they un-become, so to speak. This undoing is finally an undoing of human relations—of the Human City. As Jean Bethke Elshtain has noted, no one has recently captured this idea better than J.K. Rowling with her portrayal of the character of Voldemort.

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Reading Gagnon: Getting Ready [Scot]

This week, Scot Miller is blogging about Robert Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, which many readers of this blog are sure will convince Scot and me that we’re wrong about the gays. -TJ

To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of Robert A. J. Gagnon until I read a comment on Tony’s blog giving credit to Gagnon for presenting “overwhelming evidence of the Bible’s unequivocal opposition to homosexual behavior.”

I have since discovered that Tony’s commentator is not alone in his praise of Gagnon. In fact, so many people seem to appeal to Gagnon in defense of the traditional notion that homosexual practice is a sin that Tony thought that someone should address Gagnon’s magnum opus, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (2001).

Since regular readers of Tony’s blog know that Tony has many books to read on his desk and his bedside and his easy chair, he asked me to review Gagnon’s book.

First of all, Tony and I would like to thank Rev. Joseph Hedden, Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Reformed Church of the United Church of Christ in Export, PA, for letting me borrow his copy of Gagnon’s book. Pastor Hedden is a gentleman and a scholar and a generous soul for lending me a book which he purchased for $39. (I took very good care of the book, Joseph, and I promise to return it as soon as I’m finished blogging about it.) Please check out Pastor Hedden’s blog at hills-church.org.

Before I launch into my review of Gagnon (I hope to post five more times about the book), I think it’s important for me to disclose how I am approaching Gagnon’s book.

In his classic work, Truth and Method (2nd rev. ed), Hans Georg-Gadamer argues that understanding requires developing an awareness of one’s biases, that “all understanding inevitably involves some prejudice” because prejudice is inescapable (Truth and Method, p. 270).

Each of us begins in a particular place at a particular time with particular assumptions. It is part of the human condition that we already bring these fore-understandings and anticipatory judgments to every act of interpretation.

So having a prejudice isn’t necessarily bad; indeed, Gadamer rejects the idea that prejudice something necessarily negative, for one can have good prejudices, like the prejudice to be open to the meaning of a text.

The problem is when one is unaware of one’s prejudices and substitutes one’s own prejudice for understanding the object of interpretation. So it is always important to be aware of one’s situation in approaching the text. (If you’re interested, Andrew Crome of the University of Manchester has a helpful discussion of Gadamer and Prejudice in Interpretation.)

I would like to disclose three of my prejudices I brought to my reading of Gagnon. Since this post is already too long, I’ll offer the first of my prejudices in this post, and two other prejudices in my next post.

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