…but I’m not sure if I really want to remember!
I had the privilege of leading our congregation in the Communion part of the liturgy today at church. I thought about what I would say all week and tried to put a lot of work into it. Here are some of the thoughts I conveyed, plus some…
Because we take the Lord’s Supper every week, I’ve been more reflective on its meaning now than I ever have in my entire Christian life. Because of the constancy of my participation in this ritual I’ve had a number of ‘ah-ha’ moments. I’d like to share one of them with you.
One of the more meaningful thoughts I’ve had during the Lord’s Supper is articulated most clearly in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians:
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Here we observe that the Eucharist has two functions – 1. Remembering a historical event, 2. Envisioning a future event.
Remembering a Historical Event –
The Eucharist looks back to the saving events in redemptive history, particularly the cross, where the body of Jesus was crushed and the blood of Jesus was spilled out for us. But this remembering is more than merely a cognitive function. No, far from it, “remembering” in the biblical sense involves participation in the saving events of history, themselves: When Jesus says to do this in ‘remembrance’ he is calling on us to enact this ritual as a means of participating in the redemptive work of God throughout history. In other words, when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, when we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we become one with not only his death, but also those throughout time and space that have become one with his death. We are united with Jesus, and through him we are also united with the disciples at the Lord’s Supper. We are united with the Son of God, and through him we are united with the first century saints who lived in light of the resurrection. We are united with Christ, and through him we are united with the slaves leaving Egypt who placed the lambs blood on their doorposts. In remembering this act this morning, we are collapsing these sacred, historical events into the present and thereby claiming that story as ours – or rather, placing ourselves in that story.
Envisioning a Future Event -
The Christian church is not merely a people who look to the past as the ‘glory’ days. No, far from it, we are a people who are future oriented, waiting for the return of our King. This is why Paul connects the “in remembrance” with the “until he comes.” When we participate in this body and blood before us, we are staking our claim in the future. We are saying that the temporal sufferings, trials, idols, sins, and calls for allegiance in this life have no ultimate claim on us. We are a people who, in participating in this event, participate in the anticipatory story of a Returning King! When we unite ourselves to this returning King in this way we proclaim that his return, though having not yet occurred, is still an established fact. In doing so we are not only united with that King, but we are united with all people, everywhere, in all times who have this hope. And, again, we collapse the future, sacred time, into the present and claim the future of this story as ours – or rather, placing ourselves in that story which goes beyond this present moment and envisions the Kingdom of God come to earth.
So, in both the remembering of historical acts of saving grace and the anticipation of future salvation, this Means of Grace event collapses all time, space, and believers into the present, uniting us under one God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit by enacting the story of redemption in our midst.
Think on these things brothers and sisters.
Well, I guess the I don’t have to worry about the Phoebus being a Cubs fan! That’s right, folks, in the following story I will demonstrate that my daughter has a healthy disdain for all things Cubbies…and probably all things Illinois (sorry to Rachel, Josh, and Brenda).
The small triad knowns as the Fuerst family travelled from Wilmore, Kentucky to Fulton, Missouri early last month. The trip, if you know your geography, took us through the southern part of Indiana (blessed be Larry Bird) and the purtrid, monotonous, wastebasket known as Illinois.
I know, I know, many of your wonder, “What could be worse than driving through Illinois?” Well, I’ve got it – the sucktastic experience of driving through Illinois could only get suckier by travelling through Illinois SLOWER THAN THE EARLIEST AMERICAN SETTLERS! In other words, we encountered a traffic jam. Apparently the blessed State of Illinois decided Memorial Day weekend was the best time to start an interstate rejuvenating program.
So anyway, the Phoebus is quite good at sleeping during these long trips from KY to Missouri, but the stank of Illinois combined with the break-neck pace at which we were travelling through there apparently kept her awake.
She screamed for nearly the entire state…bloody murder, fighting mad, red-faced, OMG we’re gonna be stuck here forever kind of screaming.
All at once, she let out a huge, juicy, wet diaper dandy – AND WE WERE STILL IN THE TRAFFIC JAM!
Luckily we were relatively close to a truck stop. We pulled in there only to find out that the bathrooms were probably dirtier than the Phoebus’s diaper.
So, in good ole hick fashion, the wife and I changed the Phoebus, in 60 degree whether on the trunk of our car. B/c she had defiled her entire outfit (nay, the entire state of Illinois!), we had to strip her down naked. We, no doubt, confirmed what our lisence plate says – We’re from Kentucky!
The stanky mess was so bad it took both of us to clean her up and we’re pretty sure Illinois has not yet recovered.
So, as it turns out, the Phoebus is not a Cubs fan, hates Illinois like I do, and will not stop until she lets the entire state know that it is defiled and worthless.
The NT Times put out this list of the top 15 words sending us diving in the dictionary for a definition. I knew 9, see how many you know…
sui generis – Being the only example of its kind; unique:
- The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified.
- The theory or view that the self is the only reality.
louche – dubious; shady; disreputable.
laconic – using few words; expressing much in few words
I think some of the following questions/arguments are weaker than others, and I certainly think that there are some exegetical arguments that would make this case even stronger (we’ll get to those in later posts), but here is an interesting rundown of some of my main concerns about Penal Substitution…
In future posts on this topic I will spend more time on exegesis and my own thoughts, but for now I think Greg Boyd raises some good introductory questions concerning this topic. Boyd espouses a Christus Victor model of atonement, which, to me, is a much more viable option…but we’ll get to that later.
**On a side note, many of you may be too distracted by Boyd’s Open Theism to take him seriously. I would encourage you to see this as a separate issue which is not related to that issue. I want his arguments/questions to be taken on their own merits, not on the merits of whether you like his other theological views. In other words, for my Reformed brothers and sisters – don’t get distracted!**
If asked what Jesus came to do and how he did it, most contemporary western Christians would automatically say something like, “Jesus took the punishment from God that I deserved.” This is what’s usually called “Penal Substitution” view of the atonement, for it emphasizes that Jesus was punished by God in our place. His sacrifice appeased the Father’s wrath towards us and thus allows us to be saved.
This view has been the dominant view in western Christianity since the Reformation period, and it captures a profoundly important biblical truth. Jesus did certainly die as our substitute. And the cross certainly expresses God’s judgment on sin. But I have a number of unsettling questions about the idea that God had to vent his wrath on Jesus in order to forgive us. Here’s a few of them:
*Does God really need to appease his wrath with a blood sacrifice in order to forgive us? If so, does this mean that the law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the ultimate description of God’s character? And if this is true, what are we to make of Jesus’ teaching that this law is surpassed by the law of love? Not only this, but what are we to make of all the instances in the Bible where God forgives people without demanding a sacrifice (e.g. the prodigal son)?
*If God’s holiness requires that a sacrifice be made before he can fellowship with sinners, how did Jesus manage to hang out with sinners without a sacrifice, since he is as fully divine and as holy as God the Father?
*If Jesus’ death allows God the Father to accept us, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Jesus reconciles God to us than it is to say Jesus reconciles us to God? Yet the New Testament claims the latter and never the former (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:18-20). ). In fact, if God loves sinners and yet can’t accept sinners without a sacrifice, wouldn’t it be even more accurate to say that God reconciles God to himself than to say he reconciles us to God? But this is clearly an odd and unbiblical way of speaking.
*How are we to understand one member of the Trinity (the Father) being wrathful towards another member (the Son) of the Trinity, when they are, along with the Holy Spirit, one and the same God? Can God be truly angry with God? Can God actually punish God?
*If God the father needs someone to “pay the price” for sin, does the Father ever really forgive anyone? Think about it. If you owe me a hundred dollars and I hold you to it unless someone pays me the owed sum, did I really forgive your debt? It seems not, especially since the very concept of forgiveness is about releasing a debt — not collecting it from someone else.
*Are sin and guilt the sorts of things that can be literally transferred from one party to another? Related to this, how are we to conceive of the Father being angry towards Jesus and justly punishing him when he of course knew Jesus never did anything wrong?
*If the just punishment for sin is eternal hell (as most Christians have traditionally believed), how does Jesus’ several hours of suffering and his short time in the grave pay for it?
*If the main thing Jesus came to do was to appease the Father’s wrath by being slain by him for our sin, couldn’t this have been accomplished just as easily when (say) Jesus was a one-year-old boy as when he was a thirty-three year old man? Were Jesus’ life, teachings, healing and deliverance ministry merely a prelude to the one really important thing he did – namely, die? It doesn’t seem to me that the Gospels divide up and prioritize the various aspects of Jesus’ life in this way. (I maintain that everything Jesus did was about one thing – overcoming evil with love. Hence, every aspect of Jesus was centered on atonement — that is, reconciling us to God and freeing us from the devil’s oppression.)
* Not to be offensive, but if it’s true that God’s wrath must be appeased by sacrificing his own Son – or, if not that, sacrificing all other humans in eternal hell – then don’t we have to conclude that those pagans who have throughout history sacrificed their children to appease the gods’ wrath had the right intuition, even if they expressed it in the wrong way?
*What is the intrinsic connection between what Jesus did on the cross and how we actually live? The Penal Substitution view makes it seem like the real issue in need of resolution is a legal matter in the heavenly realms between God’s holy wrath and our sin. Christ’s death changes how God sees us, but this theory says nothing about how Christ’s death changes us. This is particularly concerning to me because every study done on the subject has demonstrated that for the majority of Americans who believe in Jesus, their belief makes little or no impact on their life. I wonder if the dominance of this legal-transaction view of the atonement might be partly responsible for this tragic state of affairs.
To me, these are all serious problems with the Penal Substitution view of the atonement. I do not deny that Jesus died as our substitute or even that it was God’s will to “crush and bruise” him (Isa 53:10). But we don’t need to imagine that the Father vented his wrath against sin on Jesus to make sense of these facts. One can (and I think should) rather see this as the Father offering up his Son to the principalities and powers to be bruised and crushed in our place, for this unsurpassable expression of self-sacrificial love is what was needed to destroy the devil and his works and to thus set humans free, reconciling them to the Father.
Bartlett, A. Cross Purposes (Trinity, 2001). This is a brilliant but challenging book, centered on Girard’s mimetic anthropology and scape goat theory.
Eddy, P. and Beilby, J., eds. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2006). Representatives from four major schools of thought debate the atonement. I espouse the “Christus Victor” model in this work.
Jersak, B. and Hardin, M. Stricken By God? (Eerdmans, 2007). An outstanding collection of essays advancing a non-violent (non-penal substitutionary) view of the atonement.
This is segment of the William Lane Craig debate with Christopher Hitchens on the existence of God. Enjoy…
We often assume the job of the worship minister is to “lead people into the presence of God.”
While on some level I understand what we mean by this, I also think there are some fundamental misunderstandings of both worship and God in a statement like this.
FIRST, the statement assumes that the presence of God is “out there”…wherever “there” might be. I’m afraid we have this abstracted notion of God that He is off in some distant, heavenly space far removed from our every day lives – almost like the God of Deism, only we can (sometimes) encounter our God on Sundays when we go into His presence.
But this is not the case. God is not “out there” somewhere waiting for us to invite him into our presence or waiting for us to come into his presence. God is with us, amongst us, inviting us to participate in what he is doing in the world. If the Bible teaches us anything it is that God desires to dwell among His people and within His people.
The practical implications of this faulty assumption are huge – It suggests God is not a participatory God. Rather, He is distant and removed from our everyday experiences and therefore offers little if any help. He is high and lofty in this view, to be sure, but He is hardly helpful or intimate.
SECOND, notice how this statement makes humans, not God, the primary actor. It is our job to approach God. It is our job to lead others into his presence. It is our job to make ourselves worth of his presence.
But the biblical story is of a God who acts on behalf of humans, who lifts them into his presence, who calls, woo’s, and dies for us. In the biblical story God, not humans, is the primary actor. He does not need us to come into his presence; He dwells, willingly, among us. He has condescended to come and be with us. We do not approach him, he approaches us.
Again, the practical implications are huge. If we are the primary actors and movers in worship, then worship is about us. It becomes about whatever style suits our desire or whatever method makes us feel good. But if God is the primary actor in worship, then worship originates and concludes with Him. He is the creator of the story we live in as we worship and therefore he is the beginning of worship. We worship out of that story, His story, and therefore worship is all about him, from first to last.
When we realize that worship originates in God’s activity, not ours, we are able to delight in worship for what it is, not how it makes us feel or what style of music is used during a service. Worship becomes more than about my emotion or even my own theological statements – it involves participating in the story of the Triune God to redeem the world. Worship does not originate in me and therefore is not dependent upon me to be accomplished through technique or effort – as if God needed something from me. When the story of God’s redemption is in me and I am participating in it, my worship is an overflow of God’s activity within me, within us.
Therefore, we do not need anyone to lead us into the presence of God. We need worship “leaders” who exemplify for us what it means to dwell in God’s story of redemption. This also means that worship “leaders” are not just music directors. The worship leaders position is democratized – that is, applied to the entire church. Everyone who participates in the redemptive story of the Triune God is one who proclaims the truth that God is the primary actor in the Christian story, not me!