The message about the cross announces the death of Jesus Christ as the decisive event for the life and death of human beings and the world in which they live. In this message there is to be found a focusing on the proclamation so that it is hard to imagine it being more focused or a more notable proclamation: God for the ungodly! Life for those threatened by death, for those enslaved by death! The hope of salvation for a humanity which is hopelessly lost in a slough of despond of its own making! Liberating truth for people who suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18 ) and who, in the way they handle truth, entangle themselves and their fellow human beings in a deadly sham existence (p. 1)
Eberhard Jüngel, Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith. Trans. Jeffrey F. Cayzer (T&T Clark, 2001)
Guest Blogger: L. Ann Jervis
Note: When beginning an extended discussion with a particular book, such as At the Heart of the Gospel, we invite the author to participate in the dialogue for our accountability and to enrich the discussion. In the following comments, L. Ann Jervis responds to the “nagging Christological question” I posed last week regarding atonement and participation:
I think that Paul takes conformity to Christ very seriously: the lives of those ‘in Christ’ are to follow the pattern of Christ’s life – in our faith, which is Christ’s faith, and in our lives before our physical deaths, which are to be lived in Christ’s suffering and death and in hope of Christ’s resurrection.
Where Christ and those ‘in him’ differ is that Christ is the one who made possible what believers can know; and that Christ has already experienced what we can only hope for. Continue reading
“[T]he Gospel is wrapped not just in joy, but also in affliction” (p. 16).
Today, we begin our discussion on human suffering by way of L. Ann Jervis’ book, At the Heart of the Gospel: Suffering in the Earliest Christian Message (see “Up next” below for preview). Before proceeding let me say a few words about our topic.
This will not be an “ivory tower” interaction with the issues, questions, and challenges surrounding human suffering. I have and continue to walk with many people who suffer greatly and I do not take their pain lightly. In fact, it is because of the gravity of human suffering – its gravity for our Maker and therefore its gravity for us – that we take it up here. We might say something like this: to reason well theologically about human suffering contributes to theologically rich life in the midst of and for those who suffer. Continue reading
Peter Schmiechen makes a straight-forward claim in his final chapter of Saving Power: “theories of the atonement do in fact inspire particular forms of the church” (354). In other words, what a particular church believes about the nature of the atonement, and which language it uses to witness to it, influences the way that church does life together and lives for the world around her.
The connection between the two, atonement theology and church life, is formed by the way in which one understands “what God in Christ does and how the benefits of this event are transmitted to us” (355). Because most people think of atonement theories as only dealing with what Christ has done, how the benefits of God’s saving power are communicated to believers is neglected. Theories remain abstract without considering their impact on church life and mission.
Since we have been discussing atonement theology as of late, let me highlight a recent evangelical contribution that I found valuable: Alan Spence’s Promise of Peace(T&T Clark, 2006).
Spence contends for an overarching theory of atonement, or “master story” (20) which holds together Christ’s multifaceted work. Whereas some find the various atonement theories capable of working together (e.g. victor, mediator, and exemplar) Spence sees them as actually competing and “comparatively self-contained” theories. We need instead a unified theory of atonement that can encompass all the biblical imagery.
Which model does he find capable? Continue reading
Put yourself in the following situation: You have the cure for a desperately painful disease of which everyone suffers. Yet, in order to explain the disease and prescribe the cure it requires you to find a language with which everyone can relate – a language that enables the diseased (alienated) to find touchstones that relate to them.
This is the situation into which H. Richard Niebuhr believes he must speak: A modern world that has no use for religious language, diverse faith communities unable to relate to one another, and those outside of or alienated from Christian faith. So Niebuhr writes “for the unbeliever and those in the faith community who still engage in the struggle for faith” not using language dominated by doctrinal or religious usage but places the conversation in the “tension of belief and unbelief, trust and mistrust” (Saving Power [SP], 263). Continue reading
We turn our attention now to Peter Schmiechen’s appraisal of Athanasius (Chapter 5).
As it relates to atonement theology, Athanasius is good for North American Evangelicals for at least two reasons (both of which are emphasized by Schmiechen). First, Athanasius moves our focus away from personal forgiveness and freedom from sin. Certainly these are powerful marks of the new life in Christ, but the presence of God in Christ is “not simply the means for accomplishing liberation and forgiveness.” Continue reading