Saturday, 25 April 2009

opinion for St Mark

Giles Fraser Church Times No tasks left for the risen Jesus

Christopher Howse Telegraph The earth and the Son of Man

Several items from the Guardian’s Comment is free section.
David Bryant Guardian: Comment is free Face to Faith Tolerance of other faiths is not enough - we must strive for true acceptance
Chris Liley Guardian: Comment is free Why I chased the BNP from my cathedral
Giles Fraser St George the immigrant

Jonathan Sacks Times Credo: Sunday shopping has not made us better or happier

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 25 April 2009 at 4:42pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Rabbi Sacks piece is a gem.

I was so moved when he spoke of the Sabbath whether kept on Saturday or Sunday- so generous of him.

I well remember the way Sunday was seen & observed as the Sabbath (and known as Y sabath in Welsh. I remember varying degrees of observance. My school teacher, was also a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Wales; and his wife prepared the Sunday lunch the day before.
It did feel very special, thouh I had no idea it must have been already on the way out, even tyhen.

We spent most of the day at the Chapel, one way and another, from early morning until 9 or 10 pm.

It was wonderful.

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Saturday, 25 April 2009 at 5:38pm BST

The Giles Fraser article ...

What an infuriating article. I've agreed before now that there is something wrong when evangelicals hardly seem to have any use for the resurrection ... but that's no reason to throw out Christ's death on our behalf. Indeed, if the Resurrection means anything significant for us, so must the cross. If Christ shows us our future in the resurrection, which he has won on our behalf, surely the cross must show us our depravity, and yes, God's wrath.

Also, 'one reading amongst many'. Yes, but still a reading and one that deserves a deal more sympathy and constructive engagement than this ...

This just looks like 'fundamentalist baiting'. It's not helpful.

Posted by: Matt on Saturday, 25 April 2009 at 6:47pm BST

Thanks Giles, for the tip connect with Kalimoros and others. I had a strong hunch we believers globally were not all, nothing but Calvinists or Southern Baptists, USA style; or Anglican Mainstream style.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 25 April 2009 at 7:33pm BST

"his wife prepared the Sunday lunch the day before"

I am told that strict Sabbeth keeping was the origib of Boston baked beans - you set them over a low fire to simmer overnight. By Sunday supper they would be cooked.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Saturday, 25 April 2009 at 8:58pm BST

Sorry Matt. Where in this article do I say that the cross isn't important? Where is the 'throwing out Christ's death' bit? All I say is an extended version of 1 Corinthians 15:17 - if there is no resurrection then we are still in our sins. Penal Substitution fails by that criteria.

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Saturday, 25 April 2009 at 10:38pm BST

My background was very Evangelical (Brethren), and the Resurrection loomed (is taht the word) very large and was seen as the completion of the Cross --seems rather Catholic with hindsight !
The old chorus seems to express the balenced truth :

Living he loved me
Dying he saved me
Buried he carried my sin far away
Rising he justified freely for-ever
One day he's coming
oh Glorious Day !"

How's that for heilsgescichte ? !

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Saturday, 25 April 2009 at 10:52pm BST

Matt: 'surely the cross must show us our depravity, and yes, God's wrath.'

I cannot see the logical necessity of a connection between the two halves of this statement. Perhaps I'm missing something?

Posted by: mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) on Sunday, 26 April 2009 at 12:13am BST

Thank goodness Canon Fraser attacks PSA this time, and not simply "sacrifice."

Posted by: BillyD on Sunday, 26 April 2009 at 3:09am BST

"What we need is to give St George a new look: the patron saint of inclusion and hospitality and welcome, slaying the dragons of racial hatred and nationalistic chauvinism. This St George may have to wear his religious colours less ostentatiously than the Bishop of Rochester would prefer, but his values would be entirely Christian nonetheless." - Giles Fraser, on Saint George -

Giles Fraser's piece - together with that of David Bryant in The Guardian - urges us to ease back on fundamentalism is our presentation of the Good News of Jesus as Saviour and Redeemer of all.
These articles recommend that we Christians need to examine our tendency to proslytise people of other faiths - at the expense of being humble enough to accept that God may be working in them as well as in the Church.

I have a remembrance of a certain evangelical group in the diocese calling for the removal of a cathedral altar frontal, which depicted, amongst other - mostly Christian - symbols, sacred writings from other religious systems, which could be said to cohere with the teachings of the Bible. What many had interpreted to be an openness to the wisdom of other religious traditions, this small group saw as an insult to the Christian heritage of our cathedral and of the Church in general.

Needless to say, the altar frontal remained to demonstrate the reign of God among all peoples of the world, where insularity can sometimes be seen by non-religious people as exclusivist, rather than an invitation to meet with Christ in the complexity of a religious and secular world.

Tolerance is only the first base in our contact with people of other religious faiths than our own. Perhaps then we need to move on to share our 'sacred ground' with them, and being open, at their invitation, to share insights that they may have for us - as believers in the God and Father of us ALL. Jesus seems to have had no difficulty in making himself 'at home' with people of other religious beliefs, so why should we, his followers, seek to maintain a degree of separation that he may never had intended?

This does not mean that we have to lessen our devotion to the Jesus we know and treasure. It does mean that we can allow God to be God - in ways other than we might ever fully know or even understand.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 26 April 2009 at 3:20am BST

Maztt, I think you have missed the point, which is that there are many, many significances in Christ's death on the cross which do NOT involve penal substitution - as witness the Orthodox position. The include the victory of Christ over sin and death, and his sacrifice of himself, which does not need to involve penal substitution. Hebrew sacrifice is not generally a substitution of the animal for a sinful person or people.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Sunday, 26 April 2009 at 9:13am BST

At last an excuse to turn that 'skinhead' photo in the Church Times into something more respectable...

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Sunday, 26 April 2009 at 4:48pm BST

I would refer Giles Fraser and others interested in Anselm to the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon on April 23, 2009 celebrating Saint Anselm of Canterbury. As always the Archbishop has something thought provoking to bring to us.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. David Paton on Sunday, 26 April 2009 at 8:11pm BST

I do not normally post here, but Giles Fraser's 'proof texting' from 1 Corinthians, and some of the rest of his article, cannot go unchallenged. He writes, in reply to Matt, "All I say is an extended version of 1 Corinthians 15:17 - if there is no resurrection then we are still in our sins. Penal Substitution fails by that criteria."

But in its context that verse links back to the extended argument beginning in v 1 and leading through v 3, "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you ... By this gospel you are saved ... Otherwise, you have believed in vain ... For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ..."

Paul's point is that if there is no resurrection, as some are saying, then all else he has preached falls: "we are found to be false witnesses about God" (v 15). Then "our preaching is useless and so is your faith (that Christ died for your sins)" (v 14).

It is resting far too much on this single verse, and Giles must surely know it, to say that it alone is sufficient to settle the case against penal substitution. It is, I have to say, as insufficient as his similar proof texting from Hosea 6.6 in his original article.

As to Alexander Kalomiros (not Kalimoros), if Giles genuinely gives credence to what he has to say, then Giles has sawn off the branch (Western 'Protestantism', in Kalomiros's terms) on which he himself sits. Certainly if Giles accepts what lies at the heart of Kalomiros's essay, that "Atheism is the consequence of Western theology", we must ask why he is a 'Western' theologian at all.

Posted by: John Richardson on Sunday, 26 April 2009 at 11:12pm BST

While theosis is the distinctive Orthodox position, it does not follow that PSA is rejected. the official site of my local Orthoxdox oarchiocese puts it this way:
"What is called for therefore today is a complementary understanding of redemption so that the fullness of humanity's true existence might be realized. Only when the Orthodox understanding of redemption is taken seriously can the whole ideal of redemption be credibly presented today. All too often, the West speaks of juridical models at the expense of other models. On the other hand, the East is all too often tempted to speak of redemption solely in Incarnation and deification terms. Both perspectives are necessary for a complete and wholistic understanding of redemption. In a world where our struggles often seem hopeless, where our life seems meaningless because death is ever present, the good news and foundation of our hope is that Christ has overcome death and granted life in the tombs."

Posted by: John Sandeman on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 12:23am BST

No John - these scriptural references were not proof texting, they existed to accompany the main argument (that evangelicals haven't got anything soteriological for the resurrection to do.) Interesting that you seem unwilling to take on that main contention.

And Pluralist - thanks for the cartoon. And you are quite right: I am not really a liberal at all. Yes, I am deeply committed to political liberalism and hold freedom high up in my league table of values, but old style theological liberalism of the e.g. Maurice Wiles variety - no, that's not me at all.

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 7:09am BST

You always know you've scored a direct hit when you lure John Richardson out of his lair.

Posted by: madeline bassett on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 11:01am BST

Well Madeline, you've cast the first stone as Jesus asked .. who will be second?

Posted by: Rosemary Behan on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 11:48am BST

Giles, the central problem I see in your essay is its proposition that the theology of Penal Substition (which you attribute to "Evangelicals") hasn't "got anything soteriological for the resurrection to do".

Added to this is your additional (though not necessarily related) thesis that "penal sub­stitution is a very bad thing indeed", meaning, I take it, not just that it is a wrong headed but morally wrong.

However, a thing - the Ascension for example - may have a role in soteriology without having (in the narrow sense) a 'soteriological' role, and here is where I think you are too harsh on the Western theological tradition and are over-reading Paul.

If we are talking specifically about Evangelicals, Tom Wright has shown how Evangelical theology has failed to engaged fully with the resurrection, but he agrees with penal substitution. I think Wright, too, over-eggs the pudding in places, but his, I think, is a more fruitful approach than the 'either PSA or resurrection' approach in your essay.

The problem with the appeal to Kalomiros is that he identifies penal substitution as being the Western tradition - both Catholic and Protestant. One must therefore say that either he has misunderstood things, insofar as there are other (and better) Western traditions, or that he is essentially right, and that although this is the Western tradition it should be abandoned.

I'm not quite sure which you were advocating - unless you merely wanted to say, "There are people who dislike PSA even more than I do," which may be true but doesn't take us very far.

Ironically, I posted my comment having just preached on Paul in an earlier part of 1 Corinthians: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."

We are, I think, a long way from that!

Posted by: John Richardson on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 1:12pm BST

Rosemary, I'm surprised you think that verbally twisting someone's tail is that same as stoning them to death. It's as though they gathered to tickle the woman caught in adultery.

Posted by: madeline bassett on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 5:17pm BST

Glad to see Giles Fraser refer to The River of Fire. I always had problems with PSA. It was a great comfort to see that it was, as I had always suspected, more a prodcut of the Reformation than anything at the core of the Gospel, and one can be a Christian and still have huge problems with it. I find it funny that for many who hold close to PSA, to speak against it is to speak against any understanding of Atonement that includes ideas of punishment. The two are not the same. It's as though PSA has been so loudly touted as at least at the core of Atonement theology if not the sole way of understanding Atonement, that they cannot see that it is actually quite extreme and there are, always have been, other ways to understand it. What is the attraction of a faith that starts from the premise that all human beings are criminals through no personal fault, and that the only way to cure that situation is for God to commit some bizarre act of infanticide/suicide in order to calm Himself down enough to let the criminals off with their crimes? I'm with the Orthodox on this one: painting The Lover of Mankind out to be such a monster is at the root of the death of faith in the West, at least the death of faith in Christianity.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 5:39pm BST


We are indeed a long way from that. And I am still not sure what your answer is to the main contention that PSA gives the resurrection no work in human salvation. True of false?

Is "may have a role in soteriology without having (in the narrow sense) a 'soteriological' role" an answer or just theological double Dutch? Come on.

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 6:29pm BST

I am no adherent of Calvin, but I think he easily answers the charge that attributing the atonement to the death of Jesus makes the resurrection superfluous:

"Our salvation may be thus divided between the death and the resurrection of Christ: by the former sin was abolished and death annihilated; by the latter righteousness was restored and life revived, the power and efficacy of the former being still bestowed upon us by means of the latter. Paul accordingly affirms, that he was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection, (Rom. 1: 4,) because he then fully displayed that heavenly power which is both a bright mirror of his divinity, and a sure support of our faith; as he also elsewhere teaches, that "though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God," (2 Cor. 13: 4.) In the same sense, in another passage, treating of perfection, he says, "That I may know him and the power of his resurrection," (Phil. 3: 10.) Immediately after he adds, "being made conformable unto his death." In perfect accordance with this is the passage in Peter, that God "raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God," ( 1 Pet. 1: 21.) Not that faith founded merely on his death is vacillating, but that the divine power by which he maintains our faith is most conspicuous in his resurrection. Let us remember, therefore, that when death only is mentioned, everything peculiar to the resurrection is at the same time included, and that there is a like synecdoche in the term resurrection, as often as it is used apart from death, everything peculiar to death being included."

Posted by: rick allen on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 7:17pm BST

"or that he [Kalomiros, the EO theologian] is essentially right, and that although this [PSA] is the Western tradition it should be abandoned."

Ignoring, for the moment, the contention that PSA is THE Western tradition---

So what? What if Kalomiros (and theosis) IS essentially right? Does that mean that Fr. Giles (or I) have to leave the AC, and ask to be received/chrismated as an EO?

It has long been the contention of many Anglicans, that Celtic Christianity (and its heirs in the AC) *didn't* have the radical rupture w/ the East, that Rome did (whether Rome *or* Constantinople accept that POV!)

I believe it was that "liberal" JP2, who claimed that The Church needed "both lungs, East and West, to breathe": if that's true for the RCC, how much MORE true should it be for Anglicans?

Alithos anesti, Alleluia!

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 7:52pm BST

John Sandeman, the Orthodox, while they can at times thunder against the faults of the West, are also incredibly circumspect in other areas. There is indeed no explicit "PSA is wrong" in their statement, I grant you. They are far too nuanced for that. But I don't read any support for it either. I am fascinated by the strength with which some people defend PSA. I have always found PSA repulsive, at least as it is expressed by many of its adherants. I don't deny the penal elements in our traditional understanding of Atonement, but PSA goes, for me at least, way too far. I think at times that it borders on blasphemy. I have never gotten an answer as to why it is so attractive to those who hold it practically, and sometimes explicitly, to the exclusion of all other interpretations. Not only that, but there's the attitude that it is an all or nothing thing, that a person can either swallow PSA whole or reject it entirely, as though there is no way to consider the penal elements of Atonement without making God into what appears to me to be quite psychopathic. It does tend to lead to idle, and not very helpful, musings on the psychopathology of people who can read the Gospels and see there a God who is not what the Orthodox call Him: the Lover of Mankind, but is in fact Himself the enemy from Whom we need salvation. It certainly has implications for how we deal with others, and THAT has implications for how we preach the Gospel. And, the question still stands, what is the purpose of the Resurrection in PSA? If it is the punishment that brings about Redemption, surely it is accomplished when Christ dies on the Cross. The Traditional understanding is that the entire "Christ event" so to speak, brings about the redemption of all Creation, it is not just some legal transaction whereby we buy off God with another's suffering. That Cosmos transforming power overwhelms me at times. Seen in comparison, the legal transaction of PSA just leaves me cold. What's so inspiring about torturing an innocent God to death so that that same God can stop being angry at His Creation?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 27 April 2009 at 8:13pm BST

Giles, the answer to your question is "false". However, I am not up for an argumentative exchange, especially not here. If you're interested you can e-mail me via the Ugley Vicar blog.

Briefly, the death of Christ pays the penalty for our sins. God raising Christ to life brings him (as human) and us (in him) into new life, beyond sin and death. There's more, but that's it in a nutshell.

Posted by: John Richardson on Tuesday, 28 April 2009 at 8:26am BST

I'd like to see a human who can live after being dead. Some divine being masquerading as human might do it, but by any definition I know once you're dead you're dead.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 12:41am BST

"Briefly, the death of Christ pays the penalty for our sins. God raising Christ to life brings him (as human) and us (in him) into new life, beyond sin and death. There's more, but that's it in a nutshell." - John Richardson -

One might ask: "What good would the forgiveness of our sins have done, if it did not lead to our attainment of 'life eternal' in God?"

"If Christ be not raised from the dead, then is our faith vain" - Saint Paul.

It does seem a little contentious to suggest that the resurrection of Christ is not as vitally important to the Christian salvific enterprise as his crucifixion. If he were not raised then what sort of faith would Jesus have inspired in his immediate followers - and, indeed, in the rest of us - to whom the resurrection event is fundamental to our idea of soteriology?

I think sometimes that the theological word-game is just that - a preoccupation for scholars, and hardly helpful to people who are struggling for some assurance of the relevance of Christianity in a world of faith relativities.

Christ is Risen! Christos Anesti! the cry of the Redeemed! Alleluia!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 1:59am BST

To Fr Ron - I basically agree that it would be "contentious to suggest that the resurrection of Christ is not as vitally important to the Christian salvific enterprise as his crucifixion" - as indeed the incarnation is vitally important, as is the obedience of Christ, indeed 'the whole Christ', if I can put it that way.

There is some value in trying to distinguish the 'parts' in our understanding, provided they are seen as parts of a whole. So I take it that Cur Deus Homo, which Giles dismissed, was primarily interested in the reason for the incarnation (as the title suggests), addressing dynamics of the crucifixion as an explanation of that. Hence he wrote, "Unbelievers habitually raise this particular problem as an objection to us, while derisively terming Christian simplicity a foolish simplicity; and many believers repeatedly mull over this same problem in their minds. I mean the following problem: For what reason and on the basis of what necessity did _God become a man_ and by His death restore life to the world (as we believe and confess), seeing that He could have accomplished this restoration by means of some other person (whether angelic or human) or else by merely willing it?"

If Anselm were posting here today, I guess his first question to Giles would be "Then why did the Word become flesh?" rather than, "Then why did Jesus die on the cross?" (For which, incidentally, I'm sure Giles has an answer.)

Personally, I think there is a particular importance in understanding the crucifixion because of its 'whole of life' implications for a 'theology of the cross'. This is why I think it is not just a word game, but it can easily become another kind of game. Unfortunately the blogosphere does not lend itself to constructive disagreement.

Posted by: John Richardson on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 10:58am BST

"I'd like to see a human who can live after being dead."

As I'd like to see the human being who can prove to have lived a previous life, or who can prove to have received direct revelations from God, or any of the other things that various religions teach about humans and our relationship to each other and the numinous. What's your point? That religion teaches things that do not accord with modern scientific understanding of how the world wags? That's not exactly a profound insight, Pluralist! Sounds to me like you're trashing something for not being what it doesn't purport to be in the first place, rather like saying football is pointless because it isn't opera.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 3:57pm BST

My point is it's superfluous (Ford). You can't have it both ways (of course Christianity tries to have it both ways). So what if there isn't a previous life either? I'm interested in a claim that a human being, dead for a time, then wasn't. I'm happy (or unhappy) to say not so. A real human being of flesh and blood that when it hits a door gets hurt.

Why does religion have to base itself on the impossible? In order to be victorious? Let's start instead with human consciousness, an amazing thing in itself. More and more I'm just agreeing with Richard Dawkins where he says this universe is fantastic and amazing in itself, from what we know. Now I don't go to Richard Dawkins for my theology, but I do want to go with existence as it is, and make something of that.

I'm not asking Christianity for a one-up-on-the-rest, or for a game of scholarship Numberwang, but whether it has insight into the human condition. Do its myths point beyond the one-up-on-the-rest to something else? If it is just scholarship Numberwang then it's a waste of time. Then I'd rather find a space and sit in silence.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 4:33pm BST


Thank you for responding. I think what I wanted to say was not that you were ‘throwing out the cross’ but rather ‘throwing out Christ's death on our behalf’. This seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be the consequence of your distinct lack of enthusiasm for penal substitution.

I’m not making, or asking you to make, any defence of any formal models of atonement. I do think that the sweeping dismissal of penal substitution is unnecessarily drastic though. It would be interesting to hear what from that model you would affirm.

I didn’t really follow your comment about 1 Cor. 15:17 ... or rather I did, but ... well never mind. Surely it doesn’t follow that this verse must mean Penal Substitution fails? One simply would need to say something along the lines of ‘if Christ is not raised, he is not the Son of God, and not therefore able to effectively bear our sins’. See, easy :)

Or, perhaps, that the Resurrection is a demonstration that death and the source of its power – sin – has been defeated. If Christ is not raised, then obviously sin has not been defeated, because death has not been ... and so yes his death in our stead must have been ineffective. It's not difficult to plausibly connect Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 15:17 with a theology of substitutionary atonement. Indeed, doesn't Rom. 4:25, suggest we should do?

Hmm. I suppose what I’m always anxious to see, if I encounter some one shooting down penal substitution – which, incidentally, I personally think should not be the sum total of anyone’s theology, but can be constructively and critically engaged with – is how the language of Christ dying for our sins is then to be dealt with.

Posted by: Matt on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 7:01pm BST

John Richardson, I find your argument on the dfifferent aspects of soteriology (29 April @10.58) eminently reasonable. My main worry on this thread is that some people seem to be dividing up the varying situations which all go to make up the theological reality of the Word made flesh in Jesus and awarding points as to their relative importance.

Yes, of course, if we were to critically examine the various elements, we might be tempted to say that the actual Incarnation of Jesus was more important than any other. But why would we have any need to do this? This is why I am concerned that a casual reader of this blog might be led to deduce that, for instance, the Crucifixion of Jesus was more important than his Resurrection.

Paul, I think, gives equal emphasis to both.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 11:37pm BST

"Why does religion have to base itself on the impossible?"

That's the whole point of it!
Religion does not believe it to be impossible.
And it sees no need to be constrained by the scientific understanding of people. Why should it?

You are free to ask your own questions of Christianity. But there is no reason that it should limit itself merely because you have decided that, for you, there is nothing beyond our own intellectual capability.

If the numinous is a waste of time for you, do sit in silence.
But it could just be because you take your own intellect too seriously, not because all the rest of us are silly morons.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 30 April 2009 at 11:35am BST

Perhaps, Adrian, you misunderstand the scriptures, or, project something on them not intended by the original writers.

I firmly believe that Our Lord rose from the dead in the fullness of his being. I don’t believe that this resurrection was corporeal, any more than I believe that Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharistic sacrifice is corporeal. Many scholars believe that the Transfiguration was originally an Easter Resurrection story. Jesus’ body is transformed. I believe that this transformation is spiritual, just as His Presence in the Holy Mysteries is spiritual. Because something is spiritual does not make it less real; in fact, one can argue the opposite.

Posted by: Kurt on Thursday, 30 April 2009 at 1:13pm BST

"Why does religion have to base itself on the impossible? In order to be victorious?"

Because religion is about things that cannot be documented, studied, analysed, or proven. Religion speaks to another part of our humanity entirely. That question is much the same as asking why does music have to concern itself with audible things, or painting with visual images. Victorious over what? Do you really see religion as being about getting one up on everybody else?

"whether it has insight into the human condition."

For me, the solidly Incarnational theology I have encountered in very left wing Anglocatholic circles has an awful lot of insight into the human condition. It's one of the reasons the conservative accusation of faithlessness among liberals is so maddening. And, yes, human consciousness is an amazing thing. Religion is one way of engaging with it, a way that is not scientific. In essence, religion is about impossible things because it is about impossible things and it is the way it engages those impossible things that show insight into the human condition. Sorry, Pluralist, I come across quite nasty to you at times, and it isn't deserved. It's just that we are such opposites that everything that informs the core of my religious beliefs is something the you either sneer at or dismiss. I suspect the the same applies to you with regard to the things I sneer at or dismiss, though I still don't understand where you are coming from enough to be sure.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 30 April 2009 at 2:43pm BST

"how the language of Christ dying for our sins is then to be dealt with."

Our Sin made us captive to sin and death. Christ joyfully mounts the Cross to do battle with those forces and free us. That's just one way He could "die for our sins". What I don't understand is how PSA can be understood in terms of sacrifice. The only instance of something bearing the sins of others in Jewish tradition was the Scapegoat, and that wasn't sacrificed per se, but sent into the desert to die. Christ is connected with the Passover Lamb, He is never called the Scapegoat. And why is it that the supporters of PSA react so vehemently to those who have troubles with it? I have often said I think the penal elements of Atonement are important and cannot be ignored, but that I think PSA goes way too far, yet conservatives always react as though I am rejecting any kind of Atonement at all, as though PSA is the only way.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 30 April 2009 at 3:40pm BST

"Christ joyfully mounts the Cross to do battle".

You must be reading a different bible from mine. In mine, he is fully human, not a hero from a boy's medieval adventure novel, and he prays to his Father that he may be spared this cup if possible.
He doesn't "mount" anything, but is painfully nailed to the cross.

While I don't go along with those who see him as a "mere" human, he was fully human too, not a God clad in man's clothing.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 30 April 2009 at 5:23pm BST

"Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; Therefore, let us keep the Feast.........."

This Easter antiphon, for me, expresses what I perceive to be the reality of the salvific action of Jesus Christ, and which is re-presented every day on Christian altars around the world. The word 'sacrifice' expresses what the Church throughout the ages has seen as God's remedy for our sins.

As the old Prayer Book tells it: "A full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction; for the sins of the whole world"
- has already been made: "by his one oblation of himself once offered". This, in the context of Christ's subsequent resurrection and ascension, seems to me to be an eminently satisfactory explanation of what we, as Christians, are wont to celebrate.

The word 'sacrifice' does not need, necessarily, to be described as the extortion of a 'penalty' - especially at the demand of an angry God. Jesus' own words about the death of the seed being the enablement of new life, might be a more accurate description of what he was to achieve by his own sacrifical death.

"But now is Christ risen!" Alleluia! He is risen indeed. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 12:51am BST

Erika. I'm not passing judgment on anyone else's intellect or such, nor would I call others morons.

Tell me, though, what is the difference between being "mere" human and fully human? For me, human is human. I don't know half a human or less than a full human. Presumably Jesus is different because he has (presumably full) divinity. How does that make any difference if he is supposed to be either fully (or mere) human?

As for a spiritual resurrection, that is also an imposition upon the tomb and body emphasis in the gospels, but assuming it is spiritual then that's not sufficient. Is it an objective, spiritual, resurrection, by which a person retains consciousness (and so goes about like a ghost, but carries the appearances of wounds) or is this a subjective spiritual set of experiences in the minds or agreements of some apostles and a story which nicely gets Jesus beyond resurrection and yet still present (odd that distinction) for the sake of the early Christians to whom he is still present in the ritual meal etc. but unable to meet them in person any more?

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 1:30am BST

The key alternative in the matter of the atonement is whether a loving God in Christ is overcoming everything that can separate us from God or whether a God who demands justice be done is appeased by the sacrifice of the Son in our stead. There are fundamentally different anthropologies at work here. In the first, we are a loveable but wayward lot who persist in turning away from God; in the second, we are pond scum, for our righteousness is like rags before the Lord.

The first model is about relationships; the basic model is a friendship to which God calls us. The second is a courtroom model, about justice, fault, and blame, in which we are on trial and doomed to be found guilty unless Christ serves our sentence for us.

The first model is embodied in the teaching of Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote, "This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because we fear punishment, like slaves; not to do good because we expect repayment, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by enforcing some business deal. On the contrary, disregarding all those good things which we do hope for and which God has promised us, we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful, And we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing truly worthwhile."

The second model is embodied in the rhetoric of Jonathan Edwards, who wrote, "The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God."

I'll take Gregory over Edwards any day, but your mileage may differ.

Posted by: jnwall on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 2:53am BST

The answer to your question depends completely on whether you can entertain the idea of the existence of God.

Christians generally do believe in God as a reality.
So there is this man, who is clearly a human being. Something about him is as no man before him as been, and as no man after him will be. Somehow, there is a symbiosis between him and God that allows all we can know of God to be realized in him, and that allows him to speak with an unparalleled authority about God.

People who call him “merely” human ignore this incredible thing that happened between him and God. There is a kind of negativity in the word “mere” that tries to reduce his impact to something entirely mundane.
That’s why I prefer “fully” human.

You can then interpret this either as Jesus being born as God incarnate, or as Jesus having been a normal human being chosen by God and assenting to God with his own free will to become that extraordinary, God-infused, God-surrounded man.

In the same way, the resurrection stories can be read and believed and infused with meaning at a number of levels, depending on your temperament.

Of course, without a belief in God, and the possibility of a… shall we say 4th dimension that we can tap into but not with existing scientific tools, the whole discussion about Jesus and the resurrection is pointless.

I know you rebel at the thought that faith cannot be proven. But as you said to Ford in a different context a while ago – that’s your hurdle, you jump it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 10:42am BST

“As for a spiritual resurrection, that is also an imposition upon the tomb and body emphasis in the gospels, but assuming it is spiritual then that's not sufficient.” Pluralist

Well, perhaps it’s not sufficient for you, Adrian, but it is just fine for me. The Gospels differ in their accounts; some might be said to emphasize the “physical”, others clearly do not. But this is to be expected; after all, how does one “explain” a miracle?

Posted by: Kurt on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 12:41pm BST

OK Erika, have it as your fourth dimension, out of science (and therefore history and anything else).

As for the spiritual, let's start again. Accepting it is spiritual, is it objective spiritual, the chap returns as a kind of ghost that makes decisions and has an appearance, or a subjective experience to do with culture, expectations of a near end, interpretations of Messiah, the beliefs about resurrection, the lives of apostles with their food rituals, the rearranging of these to form some sort of sense in the new but still expectant situation, but written for early Churches? Objective or subjective?

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 5:26pm BST

"painfully nailed"

The language of "joyfully mounting the Cross" to do battle is the language of Christus Victor. It is poetic, and meant to cover the idea that He willingly accepted His role in the battle with our captors. The "painful nailing" WAS a part of the battle. Why? Can't say.

"less than a full human."

Actually, pluralist, you know a huge number. If you accept that God made us in His own image and that we fell from that state of grace, none of us are "fully human". Not that that makes us some kind of subhumans, either, it's not the whole "depravity" thing you find in PSA or TULIP Calvinism. It's that we are not what God made us to be. In the same way that we would say, somewhat poetically, that a person with a long term injury is not fully "whole". To be fully human, then, is to live fully the life God made us to live, to share fully in Him. And Jesus at the Resurrection is said to have a "resurrection body". What that means is that He has fulfilled all the acts that restored Creation to its original state. He is living IN the Kingdom, so to speak. So His body is "fully human" in the sense I spoke of above. It is made of the redeemed matter of Creation made anew, not the fallen matter of Creation as we have known it. Is it that you are thinking of the Resurrection as a body coming back to life? It isn't that at all, at least it isn't a body coming back to the life we know, but coming back in the Life of the Kingdom. It's about a body being restored to New Life.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 8:37pm BST

In a way, Ford, you conclude the conversation. Although I do know what you are talking about, I don't know what you are talking about.

I'm not much bothered about Calvinism one way or the other, it's the very lack of anchor of actual meaning in the notion that we 'fell' from a state of grace whatever that may be. Don't tell me: as I say, I know what you are talking about. We did not fall from anything. We are what we are, have become what we are. Myth is just a creative way of talking about human value, but it has no anchor. Erika put it into a fourth dimension, but I'll wait to see what may be in other dimensions when these things are discovered, should they be.

Science takes place in observation in three dimensions, and so does history. Anything in history is scientific. Anything in science is historical. But when I talk about art I'm talking differently, and so with myth. In terms of this telling me something 'happened' then I don't know what you are talking about.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 8:59pm BST

“So His body is "fully human" in the sense I spoke of above. It is made of the redeemed matter of Creation made anew, not the fallen matter of Creation as we have known it. Is it that you are thinking of the Resurrection as a body coming back to life? It isn't that at all, at least it isn't a body coming back to the life we know, but coming back in the Life of the Kingdom. It's about a body being restored to New Life.”-- Ford Elms

Well said, Ford; very well said!

Posted by: Kurt on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 9:04pm BST

"What's so inspiring about torturing an innocent God to death so that that same God can stop being angry at His Creation?" - Ford Elms
"A full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction; for the sins of the whole world"
Thank you Ford Elms! Your summary of some Christians' belief, and the quote by Fr. Ron Smith from the old Prayer Book (echoed in Rite One TEC 1979 BCP) leave me cold.
According to the wonderful opening of John's Gospel, God the Son was with and part of God the Father from the very beginning. From the very beginning, God the Son knew the plan of Creation and Salvation. God created humanity in God’s own image, but humanity continually sins, so God the Son comes to us, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, so that God the Father can be satisfied, in the crucifixion and death of Jesus of Nazareth/God the Son, that finally a perfect sacrifice has been made for the sins of others? A sacrifice ordained from the beginning? To me, the logic of that is circular, self-fulfilling, and staggers my imagination. It's cruel and sadistic.
I believe Jesus of Nazareth was so filled with God's presence that to Jesus, God’s Kingdom was already here. I believe his teachings, his spirit, his charisma (common meaning of the term), the presence of God in him, so inspired the followers of Jesus of Nazareth that upon his crucifixion (for political crimes), after the initial fear and denial, they joyfully spread his Good News, that God is with “all” of us. Jesus’ followers were willing to risk everything, sacrifice everything, to spread Jesus' word, and to share his joy.
Jesus' death could not defeat Jesus’ life. Jesus' death could not defeat Jesus’ spirit. That, to me, is the Resurrection.
At the last supper, Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me". The Eucharist is a continuing, living, and loving memorial of the man, his teachings, and his belief in God's all-embracing love.
The New Testament has been summarized as "God is love". Such a God does not need human sacrifice.

Posted by: peterpi on Friday, 1 May 2009 at 9:49pm BST

"Objective or subjective?"

I actually don't understand the difference. Because something spiritual is, by definition, only accessible to those who are touched by it, all you can say is that it is subjectively experienced as an objective reality.

It really is not measurable with the tools of science. That doesn't mean it isn't "real" in a meaningful way, it's merely a different reality that some appear to be able to tap into while others remain limited to the physical.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 2 May 2009 at 9:41am BST

Pluralist, I am not trying to tell you what to believe. I have enough trouble trying to figure out what I believe and how to put it into practice. If the mythology of Christianity, or of any religion, doesn't speak to you, if the innate subjectiveness and abstraction of it are things you just can't accept, that's fine, you are hardly alone in that. But you are using a frame of reference that will never allow you understand religion. Religion isn't an "alternative" to science or history. It sees things in a different way and has a different purpose from those things. It's as though you wanted to have a conversation with a bunch of Germans, refused to speak German, then rejected everything they said because it wasn't compliant with the rules of English Grammar. You might not like the language, you might disagree with or outright reject it, but if you don't speak the language, you won't understand the conversation. That's all. If the whole shebang just seems like nonsense to you, that's fine, but just because you don't see things this way doesn't mean others can't, much less that it oughtn't be meaningful to them. So, you will necessarily have difficulties with how the Church does this or that, because you reject the language and the concepts that make such behaviour meaningful. You can't expect to understand something if you reject the language and ideas used to express it. Sorry, that's just how it is.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 5 May 2009 at 8:38pm BST

"Erika put it into a fourth dimension, but I'll wait to see what may be in other dimensions when these things are discovered, should they be."

They're very unlikely to be discovered by people who reject the appropriate tools for enquiry.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 6 May 2009 at 10:40am BST
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