In conclusion to my blog posts over at The Missio Dei Blog on the “Open Source Atonement,” I end with these words on Jesus death…
I ended today’s sermon with a quote from a book that has radically changed my understanding of Jesus’ saving work on the cross, and is a perfect image of “Option #3.”
Dr. Andrew Sung Park writes, “Jesus’ blood was not shed to pay human debts to God; rather, it was shed to restore the integrity of the victims through God’s justice and compassion. Jesus came not to appease God’s wrath but to manifest God’s intention to restore humanity. His blood demonstrates that even God’s chosen one suffered, was put to shame, and was victimized. Contrary to the sin-punishment principle, Jesus came to vindicate suffering victims and to restore their human dignity.”
The Moral Exemplar theory offers a vision of Jesus’ death as the purest example of faithfulness any human has ever lived. Jesus was faithful to God’s lure unto death. Jesus was not just a nice guy that died, but the perfect “image of the invisible God” revealing what the Kin-dom is all about. It opens the door to new possibilities, to new adventures, to new windows of healing, justice and liberation.
The early Church fathers that understood the death of Jesus in this light saw the atonement not as an obsession of guilt, personal sin and divine violence, but a clear image into the heart of God –relentless loving faithfulness. As Bruce Epperly says, “We must admit our own tendencies to turn away from God’s vision and God’s constant creative-responsive love which bears our pain, laments our injustice, feels the cost of abandonment and oppression, and seeks healing in the most chaotic and painful situations.” God’s love outlasts political rulers, the religious elite, and the disciples’ stupidity, and continues a work of transformation. “This amazing love inspires us to love in the example of Jesus, being open to God’s call even in the midst of chaos, conflict, and pain. We can “practice” atonement by choosing to become aware of the suffering of our world and responding in acts of solidarity, justice, and comfort. The Cross of Jesus models a love that faces suffering and seeks healing in the midst of pain”
So why did Jesus die? Jesus died because he loved the hell out of the world and it got him killed.
Over at The Missio Dei Blog I’ve been working through Atonement Theories (why Jesus dies on the cross). I’ll be preaching this upcoming Sunday on 3 different understandings of the cross. I’m calling it “Open Source Atonement” in hopes that like open-source software (such as Wikipedia) the community and I can, together, find a healthy way of understanding Jesus’ death by looking at a variety of theologies, traditions and historical perspectives. Here’s a glimpse at the first two posts, check out the third tomorrow. Feel free to comment and add your voice to the conversation!
In theological circles this theory is called, “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” which is a fancy way of saying Jesus died in your place to appease God’s wrath. On the cross, Jesus suffered under the weight of God’s judgment so that we wouldn’t have to.
The feminist in me would call this, “cosmic child abuse.” An angry God wanted to kick someone’s butt so He (this theory is usually colored in masculine language) killed His own son instead of us. Terrifying.
This theory picked up speed in the 1500’s during the Reformation with theologian John Calvin who worked with some earlier theological arguments birthed (out of bloody wars) around year 1000. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) in his work Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became a Human Being) grapples with the death of Jesus, and generates the Satisfaction Theory of Atonement.
(Side Note: Images of Jesus’ corpse did not appear in churches until the 10 century.)
Anselm, a privileged young man who left his home at 23 because of his abusive father, got caught up in the middle of a holy brawl between the King and the Pope, who fought for Christian allegiance (Brock, 266). In the midst of anger and violence, he wrote in length about Jesus’ gift of death (not the gift of life, which was a central theme to earlier Christianity’s). With Anselm, God took pleasure in death. He even made the argument that dying for God was the highest of achievements, as it would be imitating Jesus (Anselm, 160). He never really mentions resurrection, but why bother when your sole purpose is to die anyways?
Anselm’s theology crystalized the religious foundation of the Crusades, “Peace by the blood of the cross.” As Rita Brock puts it, “killing and being killed imitated the gift of Christ’s death, the anguish of his self-sacrifice and the terror of his judgment” (Brock, 270).
So why did Jesus die? Jesus died to appease his angry daddy.
Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian and many other church fathers saw Jesus’ death as a payment of ransom to Satan. They argued that God purchased (“bought with a price”) humanity back by exchanging Jesus’ soul for our souls and Jesus’ body for our bodies. They believed that Adam’s fall made us all captive to Satan, Jesus therefore gave himself as our ransom from Adam’s stupidity. God purchased us with the blood of Jesus!
But, and this is a very big but, this theory has some serious holes (this is by no means exhaustive):
So why did Jesus die? Jesus died because God used him as a trump card in a cosmic board game!
More on open-source HERE.
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