Which Side of the Cross Are You On?

Scot McKnight made an interesting observation this week:

But the Abelardian and Girardian have an oft-missed sinister side, even if you may object to my saying so. In these theories we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death. We end up being the good guys, the victims, while the bad guys — Roman and Jewish leaders, the gutless disciples, the whole damned human race — are the ones who put him there. We, on the other hand, know better. We’re innocent, they’re guilty.

Being that I’m writing a book on the atonement, this caught my eye. I’ve got chapters in the book on both the moral exemplar theory (Abelard) and the last scapegoat theory (Girard).

Scot is right, and wrong.

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Satan Is Real, Just Ask Jesse Pinkman

ALERT: Spoilers ahead.

It will take some time for those of us who watched Breaking Bad to absorb the layers of that show, and the near-perfect ending of the series, aired this week. When the show began, Walter White was a high school chemistry teacher, struggling with cancer and mounting bills — and, we soon discovered, a tragic personality flaw that led to him missing out on being a rock star chemist and billionaire. Jesse Pinkman was a ne’er do well dropout druggie with a penchant for nothing in particular, except maybe a quick buck.

When the show ended this week, much had changed. It turned out that Walt was not just a guy who started out a couple degrees off course and got swept into a dark underworld that he couldn’t escape. In a final and belated bit of self-awareness, he tells his former spouse, Skylar, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was, really … I was alive.” Previously, he’d told himself and anyone who would listen that he was doing it for his family. But he wasn’t.

And, as viewers, we began to see that over time. Walt had several opportunities to extricate himself from the drug trade, and do so cleanly, but every time he chose to stay in. And the longer he stayed in, the more people got sucked into the gravitational black hole that was his life. In the end, dozens of people died because of Walt. Skylar was reduced to a chain-smoking bag of bones. And Jesse…

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Initial Thoughts on René Girard

In the past couple years, I read a lot about René Girard, I’ve listened to numerous interviews with him, I’m consulted the Girardian Lectionary numerous times, and I’ve had innumerable conversations regarding Girard’s thought. But only now am I diving into Girard’s writing itself. I’ve begun with I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, a book with one of the the worst covers you’ll ever see:

That cover notwithstanding, Girard’s writing is airy and approachable. This book lacks scholarly footnotes, having only footnotes from the translator. Those are particularly helpful when running into words that are unique to Girard, or at least when his use of a word is unique.

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A Better Atonement: The Last Scapegoat

Every Wednesday during Lent, I’m going to explore an alternatives to the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement, the dominant theory of the atonement in my part of the (theological and geographical) world. You can read all of the posts, and my past posts on this topic, here. I’ve got an ebook on the subject as well.

This ebook is available now

The most recent major player on the scene of atonement theories is one developed by an anthropologist/literary critic who is still alive: René Girard and the scapegoat theory. But before getting to the atonement, we need a little background on Girard’s thought.

René Girard is a professor emeritus at Stanford University and one of only 40 members, or immortels, of the Académie Française, France’s highest intellectual honor. Girard’s breakthrough, according to James Alison, is this:

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