Thursday, 12 April 2007

What's it all about? The Emerging Conversation

I realise that not everybody has the time and intelligence to keep up-to-date with what's going on in the Christian world. This is the first in a series called "What's it all about?" I will give a brief but accurate assessment of a trend that might be bothering people who are too dull or indolent to look these things up for themselves. I'm starting with that hot topic the Emerging Conversation.
Lots of different people are involved in this conversation. But neither they nor I know quite what it's all about. Emerging types believe that the best way to win the postmodern world (trendy eh?) is to copy the postmodern world. Bad stuff like absolutes have to go now that we have outgrown old Enlightenment epistemology (that's bad).
Emerging voices don't believe in gospel truths like penal substitution. They tend to say that Christ was offered as a ransom to Satan. This makes the cross much more acceptable to postmoderns who don't like the idea of sin and judgement.
Because Emergents view the Bible through postmodern lenses, they can't really tell you what it means. What matters is what the Bible means to you. Any attempt at responsible exegesis is viewed as manipulative power play.
So, now you know.


Simon Hardwick said...

Emerging types believe that the best way to win the postmodern world (trendy eh?) is to copy the postmodern world.

Crikey David! I thought you said this was to be an accurate assessment of the emerging church not a misrepresentation!

David Sky said...

It is accurate. What's your problem?

Simon Hardwick said...

*refuses to take the bait*

Oh dear...

Looney said...

David, Simon is apparently trying to understand the postmodern viewpoint at the moment. Thus, we must read and discuss postmodern philosophers who are as intellectually profound as a babbling drunk.

I recommend, 2 Peter 2 as the proper place to start for understanding the postmodern viewpoint.

David Sky said...

Simon is chicken na na na na naaah!


Great minds think alike. But you'd better be careful quoting scripture on a theology blog because you'll be accused of proof texting.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Just got a link to your blog from Exiled Preacher. This could be interesting methinks...

Chris TerryNelson said...

Penal substitution is gospel, eh? Tell me where you find "penal" in the Bible, and I'll be convinced. Till then, keep substitution (Romans 1-4) and incorporate participation (Romans 5-8) and then you'll have a fuller understanding of atonement.

I have issues with the emerging church as well, but they're on par with my issues with conservative evangelicalism. Both rely too heavily on the philosophy of the world to do apologetics/have conversations to gain credit. Postmodernism is just hyper-modernity, which keeps the human being at the center of all inquiry (idolatry).

David Sky said...

Oh come on now, Chris. That's just silly. Do you deny the doctrine of the Trinity because the word isn't found in the Bible? That's Arian logic.

The idea that Christ bore the penalty of sin is intrinsic to the atonement. He died for sinners. Death is the penalty for sin is it not?

I embrace both the subsitutionary and participatory aspects of the cross. "Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). We died with him (Rom 6:3-6).

Chris TerryNelson said...

I don't equate the Doctrine of the Trinity with "the Gospel," and thus the fact that there is no verse that makes it so means it's not a problem for me. There is no verse in the Bible that would equate your "penal substitutionary" view with the Gospel, because that's all it is - a view.
The only thing equivalent to the Gospel is Jesus Christ himself.

David Sky said...

I would say that without the persons of the Trinity we have no gospel. Is not the gospel the good news that the Father sent the Son to redeem us, that we might receive his Spirit?

If you must have a poof text, what about 1 Cor 15:3. This is the gospel (15:1) - "that Christ died for our sins...". As I said in the previous comment, this statement is an expression of penal substitution.

That Christ died for sinners is not a "view", it is a vital component of the gospel.

Chris TerryNelson said...

Thanks for your comments, and for entertaining me with a proof text. Your point about the Trinity is logically obvious - we could even say that if there were no God there would be no Gospel. However, that's not what I'm getting at. The point is that the Trinity is a doctrine, and doctrines (and all theological language) are to maintain a certain humility from the object of their inquiry (God and his works). Thus, penal substitution is a theory; Christ's death on our behalf is a work of God. I don't want to mix the two categories up. Just because I believe Christ died for me doesn't mean I must believe in penal substitution. And here's why I don't believe in penal substitution (and that it's the Gospel):

First of all, it's important to remember that there is no "orthodox position" on atonement as far as I know within church history.

Second, to bring the Trinity into this, the problem with penal substitutionary theory as I understand it is that it posits God as wrathful prior to sending Jesus (sending Jesus occurs after the Fall, and thus it is an infralapsarian view of election which I reject). When Jesus dies for us, God then becomes gracious to us and offers us salvation. This is problematic because God has loved us from the very beginning (1 John, etc.). Furthermore, penal substitution moves towards tritheism because Jesus becomes an offering and not our Lord and Savior who is One with the Father. Christ is the High Priest, the One who offers himself (Hebrews).

Third, from a more scholastic philosophical viewpoint (Aquinas) if we believe God is simple (God's aseity) and not divided within himself, then penal substitution theory creates a division within God's being by positing God the Father as wrathful and the Son as loving (or separate agent which causes the Father to love).

Fourth, penal substitution overplays Christ as "sin offering" (I use that term to keep our Jewish roots vs. Latin judicial "penalty"). If Christ is God, he has to be more than just a substitution on our behalf. Substitution is necessary for atonement theory, but it is not sufficient (hence my emphasis on "participation"). I like your language of redemption because I think it captures more of the scope with what Christ is doing as the primary acting subject.

God loved humanity from the start, and that's why Christ elected himself to redeem us before the world was created.

Chris TerryNelson said...

BTW, thanks for adding me to your blog list. I'd love to learn more about your criterion for "sound as a bell" and "dodgy."

David Sky said...


First of all, links. "Sound" = agrees with me, "dodgy" = disagrees. You may have noticed from the first posts on this blog that not everything here is to be taken too seriously. If you would like to be "sound" just agree that I'm right. If you'd prefer not to be labelled dodgy, I'll either remove the link, or maybe drop the categories.

Next, your point regarding penal substitution. If you construe this to mean that the wrathful Father is made to love us once he has been appeased at Calvary by the Son, then I'm not surprised that you have a problem.

If we go back to Romans 5, we find there that Christ's death for sinners is the great demonstration of the love of God. He died for us because God loves sinful human beings. At the same time, because we are justified by Christ's blood, we are saved from God's wrath through him. (Rom 5:8 & 9). The death of Christ appeased God's wrath against sinners. 1 John 4:10 also teaches this (I defend the use of "propitiation" in the verse).

Let me quote John Stott,

"It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself in the person of his Son who died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it in his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us. Here is no crudity here to evoke our ridicule, only the profundity of love to evoke our worship".(The Cross of Christ, IVP, p.175)

Thanks for your comments!

Aric Clark said...

postmodern philosophers are as intellectually profound as a babbling drunk

careful Looney you're showing your ignorance again.

Chris TerryNelson said...

Thanks for at least showing that Jesus does not propitiate the Father. Whew!

Stott: "It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated."

God does not need creation to be God. God does not need anything, least of all propitiation.

Tom Smail writes a thoughtful response to your quote by Stottin his book Once and For All which I have put up on my blog.

Looney said...

"God does not need creation to be God. God does not need anything, least of all propitiation."

Um, aren't sacrifices for propitiation? Isn't Jesus - the Lamb of God - the ultimate sacrifice? So if the sacrifice wasn't to propitiate God, then who was it to propitiate?

David Sky said...


The atonement, including propitiation is only necessary because God has chosen to save sinners through his Son. The atonement is a contingent absolute necessity. Contingent because God was free not to save sinners - we are saved by nothing but grace. Absolute because it was only by the atoning work of the Son that God could save sinners.

Chris TerryNelson said...

I still find trouble with this word "need." God has chosen to do this, but only out of freedom. If we understand necessity, we can only understand out of the fact that God has chosen to do x.

I think we need to clear up terms here, as things are getting muddled. What do we mean by propitiation? "Jesus propitiates God's wrath." Propitiation in english can mean appeasement, concilition, atonement, expiation.
Secondly, the greek term that could be translated as "propitiation," hilasterion, occurs four times in the New Testament: Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10. It has been translated as "means of expiating sin' in the NEB, and 'atoning sacrifice' in the NIV.

Propitiation language is good in that it wants to bear witness to the wrath of God, but I don't think it does a decent job. Propitiate requires a personal object and entails a change of attitude in the person propitiated. But the New Testament has an idea of atonement that does not allow for a changing purpose and a changing God. God is unchangeable. Thus, if we're going to talk about the wrath of God, some other word needs to be found. Self-sacrifice and reconciliation are much more helpful categories I find.

Chris TerryNelson said...

My good friend Peter Kline wrote this comment on my blog regarding Barth's view on atonement:

"Right, but Barth does not have an abstract notion of God's wrath, it is the fire of God's love, for him. God's wrath is not satisfied in an abstract sense but in a very concrete sense as a satisfaction of his love for the creature. God is propitiated in the sense that his loving aims for creation are upheld through the removal of sin by the death of Jesus. God is angered not as an egoist, but as a father, and therefore what is ultimately satisfied in Jesus' death is God's love, not his wrath. Jesus bears the wrath of God, for Barth, but the Father is not set against the Son in this event, there are unified. God's wrath poured upon Jesus is the supreme act of love for us, and Jesus' acceptance of death in God-abandonement is the supreme act judgement upon us. The Father and the Son both exercise judgement and mercy, wrath and love. As the Father abandones the Son, he welcomes us even as he judges us. As the Son freely gives himself up to this adandonement, he judges us even as he welcomes us. And if we move to consider God's eternal act of election, we see that the Father/Son relation has been eternally ordered toward this event. God's wrath only arises as something that he has determined to take upon himself in his Son. God's wrath arises only as a determination of his love. Therefore the Son's acceptance of it, far from introducing a rift into God's being, is the fullest expression of God's being we have."

J. K. Jones said...

Mr. TerryNelson,

“There is no verse in the Bible that would equate your "penal substitutionary" view with the Gospel, because that's all it is - a view.” Really?

“… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all … Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief…”

From Isaiah 53

Chris TerryNelson said...

J.K. Jones,
Thank you for quoting that wonderful passage.

There's absolutely no bible verse you can throw at me that will equate penal substitution with the gospel. Penal substitution is simply a lens, and it certainly does take Isaiah 53 seriously (which I do as well).

The Gospel is more than just a mere ascent to intellectual datum or historical fact. The Gospel is a much richer than that - it is the Person of Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, his ascent to the right hand of the Father, and his High Priestly work intercessing on our behalf.

Penal Substitution gets his death right in many ways. Bravo for P.S.! But there's more to Christ than just his death. And there's more to the Father than just holiness. When the work starts to eclipse the personhood of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, that's when things get dangerous. Never separate Christ from his work!

Once again, I'm NOT saying Penal Substitution is a wrong view to take on the atoning work of Christ. But to call a theory about the meaning of Christ's death "The Gospel" is to make a serious mistake. Paul preached "Christ crucified," but "Christ crucified" meant much more to him than simply God fulfilling our end of "the bargain." If the work of the cross was the equivalent of the Gospel (the whole Gospel), then it follows that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John made huge mistakes in writing all that fluff outside of the Passion. Of course, we know that it can't be fluff - it is all Good News.

Chris TerryNelson said...

Oh, and let us not forget Christ as the Word, the one who was with the Father speaking the world into existence (John 1). We forget that before Abraham was, Christ was "I AM." Before creation, Christ was with God. He was and is God.

J. K. Jones said...

Mr. Terry-Nelson,

For a theory to be valid, it must take into account all of the particular facts the Bible gives us. It gives us facts, arranged in prepositional sentences. It uses words to communicate. Everyone who has ever told me that words were inadequate because of my own particular biases and culture has used words to tell me that. Their argument seems difficult for a small town boy from West Tennessee to follow.

Now that we have established logic in a back-handed fashion, let’s move on to the traditional understandings of a penal substitutionary atonement. Most of the theologians I have ever read talk of the active and passive obedience of Christ. His active obedience involved following all of the particular requirements of the law (what you call “all that fluff”). It secures a righteousness He can see that we are credited with. His passive obedience involved suffering the wrath of God as the bearer of our sins. It expiates our real guilt for our sins.

Of course Christ was a Person. This is a key element of the gospel message. Only the eternal God-Man was capable of suffering infinitely in His soul for our sins. Or course Christ is active in the lives of those who trust what He said about how to live their lives enough to follow His teaching (repentance) and trust what He did for them to pay the penalty for their sins and give them a righteousness from God (faith). He is the risen Christ who lives to intercede on behalf of His people, securing a status for those who have faith that ensures confidence to overcome sin. He is the risen Christ who sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to lives which glorify God.

I do not know of any proponent of penal, subsitutionary atonement who would not affirm the facts related above (although I am sure some would quibble about my simplistic wording). But please do not come with any of this infernal nonsense about one aspect of a thing not being integral to the thing as a whole. Please keep in mind the Bible passages which equate this important understanding with the gospel. There are many places where this is affirmed (e. g. Romans 3:21-31; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Counted Righteous in Christ by John Piper details technical language issues that are beyond the abilities this country-boy engineering major.

We may have more in common than my original comment would indicate, but I believe significant differences exist. God bless you in your studies at Princeton.