Silence is Often Golden – On Why I Should Not Use Social Media to Encourage Christian Disunity

UnknownIn the light of various posts last week regarding the “Strange Fire” conference hosted by John MacArthur, and the response to it by Mark Driscoll who stood outside the event giving away copies of his book to people attending the conference, I posted several blogs (written by others) regarding these events on my own Facebook page. I did so with a minimum of personal comment. I confess that I am conflicted about posting these kinds of items, much less passing along my comments on them. Why?

First, I am reminded to consider what the Apostle Paul says about love. When I do this I am always forced to hit “pause” and slow down. Here are his memorable words (1 Corinthians 13:4–7) in case you’ve forgotten:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (NRSV).


The Scapegoat Who Finally Removes All Our Sin – Part Two

UnknownThe four Gospels describe in specific detail how Jesus died during the Passover Feast, not Yom Kippur. So how do we explain this (seeming) problem? I submit that the date on the Jewish calendar was Passover when he died but the events that transpired look exactly like the Old Testament Day of Atonement.

Let me explain. Jesus is arrested and brought to the high priest to be examined. The high priest accuses Jesus of blasphemy, placing what is said to be the guilt and sin of the Jews upon him when in reality all that these various leaders are doing is transferring their own guilt upon Jesus in a mock display of power and symbol. Jesus is then led away like a scapegoat to the place called “the skull.” It was a wilderness; a dump where criminals were taken to die. Here is what I see – the Gospels tell you that this is Passover, but the storyline says this is not just a Passover lamb but this (he) is a scapegoat. When Jesus breathes his last breath

The Depth and Extent of God’s Forgiveness is Displayed in the Atonement – Part 1

imagesYesterday I wrote about atonement as forgiveness. I showed that there truly is a substitionary aspect of the atonement that must be grasped. This is because our sins actually require the paytment of a debt, or what has been called a ransom price. These elements are all clearly present in the ancient faith, both in the Old Testament system and in the New Testament Gospels and epistles. Debates about “how” this debt was paid, or “to whom” it was paid, generally tend to get us off track. Let me take this point a bit further.

I earlier referenced Matthew 18 and the payment that comes about through the canceling of the debt, or through forgiveness. But this debt theme in Matthew 18 seems to refer to money. The point of the story is clearly meant to take us beyond a monetary debt. Consider the sin of adultery as just one poignant and powerful example, especially since this particular sin demonstrates the whole aspect of violating and breaking a God-ordained covenant.

A person trusts their marriage partner deeply but they

How the Enlightenment Took the Church Away from Jesus & Him Crucified

The ancient church did not debate ideas about “appeasing the wrath of God through Christ’s death.” The Christ they worshiped, as we’ve seen, was the victor over the powers. They expressed this in their worship. This can also be discovered in their hymns, in baptism, in their preaching, at the eucharist, and in the recorded prayers of the earliest Christians. It runs like a scarlet thread throughout. If this were understood at all I believe the present evangelical wars about the atonement would be stopped almost instantly.

UnknownMany examples of my point about the early church can be offered but one that has helped me is found in the oldest prayer of thanksgiving we have that was said over the bread and wine in the eucharist. It is the prayer preserved for us by Hippolytus in The Apostolic Tradition, a work written around A.D. 215. This particular prayer points to the theme of Christ’s victory. Here is an important sample of this ancient faith congregational prayer:

Fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people, he

Ancient-Future Faith: What Has It to Do with the Atonement?


The Holy Spirit seems to be working new convictions –based on ancient ideas about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit – into the younger evangelical generation. My generation was attracted to the details of mastering a theological system and often thought in either/or terms about what was true and false. I was trained by evangelicals who were drawn to the details of theological debate while they were (often) passive about social concerns like peace, war and justice. My generation of evangelicals gave us the Moral Majority and a host of culture warrior Christian spokesmen. (They were mostly “males” so I use the word “men” here intentionally!) My formal training was shaped by science, philosophy, and communication theories. We built churches that were attractional and shaped by programs that fed (not always intentionally) our consumerism. The new generation is geared toward change and dynamic ways of expression. (These are generalizations, I admit, but they are helpful when understood correctly.)

Well over a decade now my late friend Robert E. Webber wrote, “The kind of Christianity that attracts the new

How Shall We Understand the Atonement?

814099_5It must be stated, before we even consider several of the ways Christians have traditionally understood the atonement (the meaning of Christ’s death) and its relationship to our sin(s), that all Christians believe this great central truth – Christ’s death reconciles us to God. Whatever else you read, or think you hear me saying in the next few days, please return to this statement and believe me when I say I stake my entire salvation on the death of Christ for my sins.

The word atonement is itself an English translation, as several noted in their comments on my posts last week. But the word atonement is not a bad word because it is an English translation, even though it is a word far too easily misunderstood. That Christ gave his life as a ransom for mankind’s sin is crystal clear in the teaching of Jesus (cf. Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45). What is not nearly so clear is what this ransom (sacrifice) means. This is especially true in terms of the payment that was made and the person

The Atonement Debate: “Why Did Christ Die?” Part 3

images-1The centrality of Christ’s death on the cross has influenced everything we believe as Christians. Make no mistake about this simple fact. Even our language is influenced, giving us words like “crucial,” which literally means “pertaining to the cross.” When we say something is crucial we are making the point that this is central to our belief, argument or practice. Evangelicals have rightly argued that the cross is central. The debate is not here but rather about a point of interpretation.

One of the most famous proponents of evangelical theology about the atonement was the late Australian scholar Leon Morris. (I had the privilege of taking a class under Dr. Morris at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the 1970s.) In an article on the atonement Morris said, “The atonement is critical; it is the most central doctrine of Christianity” (New Dictionary of Theology. InterVarsity Press, 1988, 54). images-3He goes on to say this does not mean “other doctrines may be neglected” (54). My question is simple – “Is the

The Atonement Debate: “Why Did Christ Die?” Part 2

images-2When I read the USA Today story about conservative Christians debating the use, or non-use, of the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied” (in a popular modern song) I decided to go back and read views of the atonement that I could find in the early church fathers.

One of the earliest quotations I discovered comes from Clement of Rome (c. 96): “Because of his love for us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave his blood for us by the will of God. He gave his flesh for our flesh, and his soul for our souls.”

The martyr Polycarp (c. 135) said Jesus Christ “bore our sins in his own body on the tree.”

Justin Martyr wrote: “The whole human race will be found to be under a curse. . . . The Father of all wished his Christ, for the whole human family, to take upon him the curses of all, knowing that, after he has been crucified and was dead, he would raise him up . . . . His Father wished him to suffer this, in order that

The Atonement Debate: “Why Did Christ Die?” Part 1

JesusOnCrossA recent dispute over the meaning of the atonement has sparked an outbreak of charges, and countercharges, among Protestant leaders. This particular dispute, not unlike so many in Christian history, arose from a line in a popular song. At issue are various theories of the atonement, not the simple confession made by all Christians from the earliest Christian era. We hear this simple faith confessed in the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried.

That’s it – pretty simple and straightforward: Jesus Christ suffered under Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. It would be some time later, indeed centuries later in many cases, before major debates arose about the meaning of these simple words.

Today the atonement is often a matter for intense debate, especially among conservative Protestants. More than fifteen centuries of time have allowed Christian thinkers to offer various doctrinal interpretations of what “Christ’s death”

The Gospel of the Kingdom (7)

images-4What we have seen, especially in Matthew 16, is that the church and the kingdom are not the same thing. The church preaches the kingdom. In the words of a 20th century theologian the church is the outpost of the kingdom in a neighborhood or community. The church serves the kingdom’s mission. As a messianic voluntary association the church “carries our Messiah’s agenda, just as other voluntary associations carried out Caesar’s agenda” (Heaven on Earth, 176). But what are the “keys” that are mentioned here in Matthew 16 with regard to the gospel of the kingdom that is entrusted to the church?

Streett correctly suggests that Jesus is “not specific [but] they [the keys] likely represent the good news of the kingdom, which calls on people to repent and believe” (Heaven on Earth, 176). The church is “at the center of Christ’s kingdom plans from the time of his ascension to his return at the end of the age. He uses people to carry out his mission” (Heaven on Earth, 177). Binding and loosing relates to being bound