For whom did Jesus die? Ultimately, Jesus died for God.
I have found that statement is a bit jarring for some people. “God doesn’t have any sin,” is a common reply. That response illustrates how easy it is for us to focus so much on one particular glorious truth that we miss a bigger reality being revealed.
When discussing the atonement, people typically debate whether Christ died for all people or for the Church only. To be clear, I am not talking about that question. I however want to point out what each view has in common–––each one only talks about the atonement in terms of the benefit gained by humans. What is the most common answer to the question, “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” To save sinners. This reply is undeniably and wonderfully true. Yet, if this is the crux of our atonement theology, we slowly move away from a God-centered theology.
How we tell the story determines our story.
I recognize that people might get offended at that suggestion. Keep in mind, however, that no one aims at having a man-centered theology. Perhaps, using different verbiage would help. How about the phrase “man-oriented”? That is the language I use in my book, Saving God’s Face.
How one categorizes human society and identity influence his or her theological categories. These starting points and guiding principles lead the interpreter to notice some details in Scripture while dismissing others. Consider a very common way of discussing biblical theology, via creation, fall, redemption, consummation. Arguably, this division uses soteriology and puts greatest emphasis on humanity’s role. That is, being “man-oriented” tells the biblical story from mankind’s perspective— being created, sinning, being redeemed, and being with God forever. What if the story were told from the perspective of what God does? Though there is overlap, there may well be distinguishing emphases. Perhaps, the story could be retold as: God created. God entered into covenant. God incarnated in Christ. God commissions his Church to glorify him among the nations (p. 44).
I add in a footnote,
To be clear, the phrase “man-oriented” is in no way pejorative. Certainly, rendering the biblical narrative in terms of “creation, fall, redemption, consummation” is biblical. However, the perspective one uses to tell the story tends to highlight different things. One tells a story differently in order to make different emphasis. Many who use the markers “creation, fall, redemption, consummation” are indeed God-centered. The term here makes a narrative point. By analogy, a sentence directs attention to its subject. Yet, passive sentences have the implied subjects, which minimizes or ignores the actor in the sentence. Thus, the sentence “Humans were created” is accurate but does not highlight the fact that God created.
Jonathan Edwards and John Piper have had a tremendous influence on how I read the Bible. I am grateful for the God-centered focus in each man’s preaching. In writing SGF, I wanted to go further. I wanted to find out what happens if we let such a perspective permeate and shape every single aspect of our theology. How would certain formulations and emphases change?
Ultimately, what was at stake on the cross?
I don’t want the Church nor myself to turn “God’s passion for his glory” into simply another doctrine to be affirmed among others. Many of us affirm that God wants to glorify himself, but practically speaking, it seems most of what we say makes much more of people. How can help it along that God’s glory would fill our lives and theology as the waters cover the sea?
One step in that direction is to recognize that “glory”-language is just another way of talking about honor-shame. Accordingly, it would help us to understand better how honor-shame cultures work. As we get a grasp for the inner logic of honor-shame cultures both in history and around the globe, we gain clues and sharper instincts to consider a broader range of issues related to the atonement, not the least of which is God’s own “face.”
In chapter 2 of SVG, I discuss the problem of “assuming the gospel.” A similar problem faces us here. We can easily “assume God’s glory” as an important part of the Bible. Eventually, what can happen to assumptions? We don’t talk about them and we forget them.
God’s glory is both the foundation and the goal of our faith. I pray we would make every effort not to lose sight of this.