Sunday, June 27, 2010

Goes Good Together

I really enjoy the writings of Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology.  I consider George McDonald to be my theological guide in many ways.  So, when Beck writes about McDonald... I am having a good day.

His latest post - George McDonald: Justice, Atonement, and Hell - articulates thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a while.  Specifically, that our typical Christian concept of Justice does not capture the heart of God on the subject.  Very often, it sounds like scales being balanced, or someone getting what's coming to them, exacting a pound of flesh - an eye for an eye.  However, Beck echos in his article a thought that I heard N.T. Wright say a year or so ago.... Justice is when things are put right.

Beck says:

This twofold notion of justice--an act of reconciliation requiring the participation of victims and perpetrators--is at the heart of MacDonald's notion of God's justice and atonement. This is the notion that sits behind his "universalism." That is, God just can't ship people off to hell to earn the label "just." Neither could we view hell as a manifestation of God's justice. Because hell doesn't heal the wounds of sin. Hell doesn't mend. Hell doesn't bring peace. Hell doesn't atone.

I couldn't agree more. The problem with Hell, as it is evangelically interpreted, is that is offers no redemption, no hope, no peace. This runs completely counter to the message of love, hope, and redemption spoken of by Christ. It offers only brokenness. A story that ended badly.

He later says:

A further problem with the allure of substitutionary atonement--to have Jesus suffer the consequences of my sin rather than me getting into the hard work of repentance and reconciliation--is that it is selfish, a theological product of my sin. Substitutionary atonement is an attempt to cling to my sin ever more tightly! Let Christ suffer the consequences of my sin so I don't have to make amends and restitution. I'm off the hook as it were.

I don't think many evangelicals would say they do not have to do repentance or reconciliation, but the underlying thought that all of my wrongs are "paid for" does cause us to often leave those words in their rhetorical state. It becomes less urgent.

I highly recommend the entire article.


Redlefty said...

Had a great talk about this with our 7yo last night, as she brought up a desire to be baptized.

Over the next 20 minutes we went over a range of topics but underneath it all kept emerging themes of MacDonald. Our take on this is so very different from our church's teachings, so this will take a few years to help our daughter navigate as she finds her own reasons and understandings of the path she'll choose.

Great post!

Andrew said...

That is cool Red!.

That "so very different" has really been hitting me of late. I was reading over our church statement of beliefs and was realizing that, not only do I not believe some of it, I actually stand in opposition to much of it.

I was reading over our "mother church" statement of beliefs and it actually includes a line about not bringing up other doctrines in opposition to the statement of beliefs that might cause dissension.

Interesting times we live in....

Redlefty said...

I think I've said here before that my church's "What We Believe" pamphlet has 22 numbered, essential statements in it.

I'm on board with seven of them.

Of our 1,000+ members I doubt that more than a few dozen agree with all 22 statements. So is it our agreement that makes us a church, or is it something else?

Andrew said...

Do you feel your church is open and discusses their disagreements? Or do you find they avoid those topics?

Redlefty said...

Avoid at all costs. I've talked about this with our senior minister and one or two of the elders.

The funny part? They're closer to my beliefs than they are to the 22 official statements.

Bob said...

So, Andrew and Michael, what do you do? Do you stay where you are and agree to disagree?

It's the not even being willing to discuss a different point of view that's bothersome.

Good post; interesting points to think about.

Redlefty said...

For now I'm staying. We have some nice friends there and I don't mind staying silent on most of this stuff. Because if they aren't ready it doesn't matter what I say anyway.

As Andrew's newest blog post hints at, I no longer require doctrinal agreement to consider someone a brother. So I might as well enjoy the fellowship at our church and focus on the good things, because I'll never have a group I agree with anyway! :)

Besides, it provides for excellent discussion points with our kids, and helps us teach them that no religious organization controls their thoughts. They are truly free.

p.s. -- by playing things gently and lovingly, I still get asked to teach classes and give sermons. My summer vacation schedule will prevent me from speaking this summer, but perhaps in the fall I'll get another chance.

Andrew said...

I am not sure yet what route my family and I will take, but it wouldn't surprise me to find we are no longer attending a year from now. I think over certain technical disagreements (trinity, innerancy, etc) I would shrug it off. I have to admit though, it has become spiritually draining for me to be part of a community that is exclusive; that folks join us (Christianity) or they will be tortured forever.

In addition, over time our "community" has become less and less at our church, and more in our neighborhood and local theater company. So, we don't have the draw of friends so much.

Where that leaves us for church, I don't know. There are not a lot of church choices in Salt Lake City, most tend to be pretty theologically conservative, what few there are.

To be honest, I have been thinking about our attending our local Mormon Ward... at least on and off. I don't agree on many theological points, but we agree on many life points... and I know almost everyone there cause our ward is pretty much our little neighborhood.

So we are in church limbo... not ready yet to leave, but not comfortable staying... do we go somewhere else? or just take a respite from the whole thing for a while?

Don said...

I found Dr. Beck about five years ago. He's great! Makes me think (sometimes more than I want). He a brilliant man. I would love to meet him someday, as he lives only about 130 miles from me.

Anonymous said...

Loved the part about substitutionary atonement, my sentiments exactly. I find that theory functions in not dealing with sin, but 'scapegoating' from one's past and sins. In fact, I am not sure that theory is asking people to consider their resulting behavior at all...and I am not on board for that.

I believe the good news is we can change - if we take to heart the teachings and put the real work in - which starts with an action of change and grief - repentance. I believe in a full responsibility position myself, what we do wrong we also try to make right.

Andrew said...

Society - Agreed, it does weird things to teachings like the sermon on the mount... as if Jesus were saying 'Look, I don't really mean for humanity to do any of this... my sermon here was just one of many ways I could spend the afternoon"....

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