Saturday, 31 March 2018

Opinion - 31 March 2018 - Easter Eve

Markus Dünzkofer pisky.scot The Eucharist is a dangerous thing

Ben Pugh Church Times Ransom, substitute, scapegoat, God: is there one doctrine of the atonement?
“No, there are only theories”

Rosie Harper ViaMedia.News Apologies, Forgiveness and IICSA

Editorial The Guardian view on Easter: it would take a miracle

The Guardian Good Friday around the world – in pictures

Simon Jenkins The Guardian Happy Easter to you. Now let’s nationalise our churches
“Church buildings should revert to places of congregation, comfort and enterprise – through liberation from the church”

More primatial Easter messages
Archbishop John Davies
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali
Archbishop Fred Hiltz
Archbishop James Wong
Archbishop Paul Kwong
Archbishop Moon Hing

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 31 March 2018 at 11:00am BST | TrackBack
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I heartily recommend the piece from pisky.Scot

Posted by: Kate on Saturday, 31 March 2018 at 11:56am BST

Thanks, Rosie Harper, for an excellent article. It made sense, and it made me think. Always a good thing - if a dangerous one!

Posted by: Janet Fife on Saturday, 31 March 2018 at 4:41pm BST

I truly enjoyed Dr. Pugh's examination of Jesus of Nazareth and atonement. I thought he laid out the various theologies well, without judgement.
I've always been troubled by "penal substitution". If I have sinned, I need to be the one who does the atonement. If I have broken a civil law, committed a crime, no other person can go to the judge and say, "Your honor, let me serve in this poor man's place". I must do the time or pay the fine.
Likewise, if I have sinned before God or people, I must make the amends. No one can do it for me.
This whole notion that Jesus of Nazareth was conceived, grew up, preached his ministry, then was brutally executed on the cross so that God would be satisfied makes God out to be cruel and barbaric.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Saturday, 31 March 2018 at 8:02pm BST

peterpi - the whole point though of most atonement models is that we cannot do for ourselves what needs to be done. We cannot pay the ransom, defeat the powers of evil or set ourselves free - or pay the penalty if you add that model. Almost all atonement models are substitutionary, not just the penal model. To hope to deal with our sins ourselves is Pelagianism. The good news is we don't have to.

Posted by: Charles Read on Saturday, 31 March 2018 at 9:54pm BST

"This whole notion that Jesus of Nazareth was conceived, grew up, preached his ministry, then was brutally executed on the cross so that God would be satisfied makes God out to be cruel and barbaric."

Unless, of course, Jesus himself was God. Every act of forgiveness--which relieves you of any obligation to atone--is a sacrifice of self.

(Without the least intention of being snarky): I hope you are having a Happy Easter.

Posted by: rick allen on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 12:56am BST

Re Ben Pugh"WHY did Jesus suffer under Pontius Pilate?" Thankfully we no longer need to look at contorted patristic/medieval hocus pocus theories for an answer.

The death of Jesus the Palestinian Jew is notable not because it was extraordinary but because it was so absolutely ordinary. He died as a victim of state torture and the deprivation of the most basic of human rights by a mercantile imperial power, as commonplace today as it was then. If the cross has any meaning today it is as a challenge to Christians to be in complete solidarity with those who are deprived of their human rights.

Making the death of Jesus exceptional in some way, the centre of a hero cult gone berserk, lets those who profess to follow the gospel off the hook, in terms of being in solidarity contemporary victims in society.

Surely, given recent institutional church history, making the connection can't be that difficult.

But then, this comment is from someone who is done singing from the institution's song book.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 1:30am BST

It's always good to read a piece that acknowledges the necessity of a variety of angles on the atonement. There is one Christ who saves utterly and comprehensively. That we are incapable of saving ourselves seems rather the whole point of the scriptures; Jesus is indeed very Good News!

Posted by: Evan McWilliams on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 9:09am BST

No reactions, as yet, to the Guardian's reference to "the Myth of the Resurrection" or Simon Jenkins' suggestion in the same paper that (Anglican) churches should be "nationalised". Similarly unsympathetic (to Christians) thinking about Easter also appeared in the "Independent". Race meetings and other events which in the past would have been unthinkable on Good Friday: no wonder Lord Carey says that Christianity is under siege in this country. I applaud the saving of redundant churches, although saddened that they inevitably happen, still sometimes lovingly cared for by local people.
Unless I have misread him, Simon Jenkins hasn't considered the fact (or meaning) of a church being consecrated and the sacred host usually being reserved there. Many churches have separate function rooms which are used for a very wide range of activities - by no means confined to church ones - and they already provide the kind of outreach which Simon Jenkins wants to promote.
The wider issue of how churches and cathedrals should be structurally maintained, and who should pay, doesn't have an easy answer. But it is no solution to use churches for purposes which are incompatible with their proper role as churches.

Posted by: Rowland Wateridge on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 10:06am BST

I really wonder if all CofE churches were "secularised", which seemingly would be the ultimate goal for Simon Jenkins, whether he would feel that nothing whatever had been lost from all those buildings? Having said that, I think most parish clergy, like me (responsible for 5 mediaeval churches and one Victorian one) would be only too happy to find a way of compelling the state, in whatever way, to embrace full responsibility for their upkeep.

Posted by: shamus on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 4:09pm BST

Canon Edward Probert, acting dean at Salisbury, is quoted in The Guardian as saying, “Jesus plumbed the very depths of human suffering. We have to take up the cross and follow him and identify with the suffering of the world.”

Now there is a first rate theology of the cross and 'representative' atonement.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/01/salisbury-easter-nerve-agent-russians-skripal-tourists-frightened

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 4:22pm BST

I have to say I took the Guardian to be using "myth" as a category statement rather than a statement about truth or otherwise. The notion of a "true myth" as regards the Gospel should hardly be a novel one to Christians.

Posted by: Jo on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 6:23pm BST

I second Rick Allen's reply to peterpi: penal substitution starts to make sense when you remember that judge is the substitute.

I would add that it makes even more sense when you remember that Christ and we are not separate unrelated parties; rather we are "in Christ". The genuine union of Christ with believers is fundamental to the New Testament. When Christ died, he takes our punishment because we are truly in him. And when he rises, we rise too - because we are in him. It is indeed very good news!

Without saying that this is true of peterpi, I suggest that the real problem many have with penal substitution is not the "substitution" but the "penal": we don't want to believe that our sins deserve punishment, nor that God is that kind of God. But I observe that the Bible throughout seema to assume that they do and he is - and reacts with joy and praise.

Posted by: peter leach on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 8:37pm BST

That made huge sense to me, and a kind of relief to here something that makes sense, and is for me, spiritually practical, with real-life application that can only be gospel for all our suffering sisters & brothers - in Syria, the Rohinga- and in all places and times.

For me, much theologising makes little real sense, and there's nothing I can do with it or use it for.

Thanks Rod Gillis.


C.f. Rod Gillis on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 1:30am BST

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 9:33pm BST

Charles Read,
"we cannot do for ourselves what needs to be done. We cannot pay the ransom, defeat the powers of evil or set ourselves free"

In the USA Reform Jewish (called Liberal Jewish in many countries outside the USA) liturgy for Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), it says, if you have sinned against your fellow brothers and sisters, and seek forgiveness from God, God does not atone until you make efforts to heal the damage your sin caused. Then God will forgive. But if you have sinned against God, and you change your ways, and ask forgiveness, God will forgive.
There is a tension between God the all-just and God the all-merciful. Some denominations focus on the all-just. I feel the penal substitution model is an example. God the thunderbolt-hurler, God the Sea of Reeds drowner, needing a body to sacrifice.
But to see Jesus of Nazareth's crucifixion as “Jesus plumbed the very depths of human suffering. We have to take up the cross and follow him and identify with the suffering of the world. (Rod Gillis, quoting Canon Edward Probert)” emphasizes the all-merciful God.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 10:56pm BST

Peter Leach,
The "substitution" part of penal substitution is precisely the problem for me with that model. If I sin, it is I who must change my ways, seek to undo what I have done, ask forgiveness of God, plus ask forgiveness of my neighbor if need be. Jesus of Nazareth did not commit my sin, he cannot take my place, no more than my wife can say to a judge, "Your honor, let me serve in prison in place of my husband for the crime he has committed."
Plus, monotheism says God IS. God is pure being, has always existed and will always exist. So, in Christianity, the Second Person of the Trinity has always been, from the beginning. That Person was there at the creation of humankind, in all humanity’s imperfection. For God the Second Person to sacrifice himself as a human being on the cross to satisfy God's (the First Person?) need for a sacrifice to atone for humanity's sins seems circular and capricious.
No, dying on the cross to suffer our fate seems a better model for the crucifixion.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 11:08pm BST

TA readers may have avoided the Easter Message of the Archbishop of Uganda. There are good historic reasons for that, but the message he gives here is very important.
A prominent lay Anglican MP has called for husbands to beat their wives. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-43372304
The Archbishop could not be more clear in his condemnation of the MP: "Listen to me carefully. The position of the Church of Uganda is that domestic violence is always wrong. Always."
There have always been concerns in Uganda and elsewhere on the judgementalism in the East African Revival, but there has been a consistent thread in the EAR of commitment to the equality of women alongside support for women's ordination. That needs to be remembered. Sometimes they shame other churches.
I hope his message is heeded becsaue if acted on it will save lives.

Posted by: Philip Groves on Sunday, 1 April 2018 at 11:23pm BST

I don't know who wrote the print headline on the Guardian leader, but I think it's safe to take it as a classification rather than a statement of untruth.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on Monday, 2 April 2018 at 11:04am BST

Dear Phil, Thanks for your post. Domestic violence is embedded in some cultures, so we need to tackle it at a very deep level. I will never forget a young Kenyan woman saying to me. "How do I know he loves me if he doesn't beat me." We need to show people alternative methods of communication, both when expressing love and when expressing anger or frustration.

Posted by: Anne Lee on Monday, 2 April 2018 at 2:27pm BST

If I had children and they kicked a ball through a neighbour's greenhouse, I would go and knock on the neighbour's door, apologise and offer to pay for the damage. Chances are, my neighbour would accept that. I would want to do it, not just to protect my children, but because I would want my neighbour to be able to move on as quickly as possible, for his sake.

Why would my neighbour accept my apology and offer of payment? Was he terrible wanting an apology and payment from someone? Chances are, he would have forgiven anyway, but my apology and contrition - even though I wasn't the sinner - makes forgiveness easier, quicker. The penal substitution hypothesis is usually written that the Lord wouldn't otherwise forgive, but it needn't be.

Posted by: Kate on Monday, 2 April 2018 at 3:18pm BST

I've got reservations about the penal substitution model - I have a feeling it's rooted in a particular cultural context, that of the absolute power of the monarch - but especially i'm puzzled at the absence of what might be called 'The Passion of the Christ' thinking in the early centuries.

There is little early dwelling on the physical sufferings of Christ beyond 'passus et sepultus est'. Nor do I find it represented in early Christian art - images of the tortured Christ are signally lacking so far as I know: I'm very willing to be corrected, but the Johannine Christus Rex seems predominant, if not universal; similarly the poetry of Venantius Fortunatus and of the Rood poet point the same way.

The first references I could find really making something of a devotion to the suffering Christ, rather than to the 'God is reigning from the Tree' theology of (I think) the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, are in the ninth-century writings of Candidus of Fulda (an unfortunate name, I agree).

I'm no theologian - my knowledge of the Christian faith gives out in AD461 and the death of Leo the Great, though someone told me a bit ago that there was once something called a Reformation. Nevertheless, I can't help but think that the penal type of substitutionary theory rather depends on a view of the cross as a place of punishment rather than of theophany.

I have always found (Rood,39-41, passim) 'Then the young hero stripped himself, eager to mount the gallows; there he would set the human race free*' infinitely more moving and capable of inclining me to repentance and thankfulness than 'And on that cross, when Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.' (I was told yesterday that Stuart Townsend refuses to permit the modification of that line, btw.)

* There are translations which rather tendentiously offer the word 'ransom' here.

Posted by: David Rowett on Monday, 2 April 2018 at 6:40pm BST

The "penal substitution" is the only thing one ever hears in many of our Sydney churches (e.g.on Easter morning when the Gospel read at the BCP Holy Communion I attended was St John 3, not a resurrection story) - and this is almost always the theme in funeral sermons, &c. Dean Rashdall's thorough study of the subject is sufficient for me and, following Abelard, his emphasis on the influence of the passion and death of Jesus. "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all". But so much that is said seems to ignore the fact that Jesus proclaimed God's forgiveness before he went to the cross, and the psalmist did the same perhaps a 1000 years before - notably in Psalm 103. I myself do not think much in terms of "forgiveness" at all : there are many things I have said and done that I deeply regret. But they happened and one cannot change the past. One can only seek to make reparation wherever and to what extent that is possible, and to live one's life by God's grace seeking to care for "God" encountered in many ways and to care for one another. Like many people now, the idea of seeking to be "saved" from hell and the very idea of life beyond this one no longer has any meaning for this old, agnostic, but still enthusiastic priest and follower of Jesus of Nazareth - still active in pastoral ministry as long as that is possible. (But I still keep thinking and wondering.)

Posted by: John on Monday, 2 April 2018 at 10:13pm BST

Picking up John's Sydney observation, a colleague is covering a nearby parish where the priest's out of action at present and found herself choosing hymns for Easter Day from their (two) hymn books, both modern charismatic evangelical. Easter hymns were almost completely absent from both compilations. Loads and loads about being at the foot of the cross, but hymns majoring on the Resurrection were remarkable for their absence.

Posted by: David Rowett on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 9:32am BST

David Rowett's comments on early Christian imagery and the missing emphasis on Christ's sufferings are intriguing.

If I may risk comparing the sublime with the (almost) trivial, there may be something of a comparison with English detective fiction between 1914 and c. 1965. When the horrors of the two world wars and the suffering they inflicted were fresh in people's minds, novelists usually shied away from giving all the gory details. People had had quite enough of violence and had seen enough blood and terrible injuries not to need it spelling out.

Similarly, did early Christian writers perhaps not say much about the sufferings of the crucified because they had all seen or knew of such tortures? When roads were lined with crucifixions no one would need to be told what it involved.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 12:00pm BST

Before we debate the atonement we should debate what is our position as sinners before a holy, just, loving and merciful God. Are we agreed that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God?
Phil Almond

Posted by: Philip Almond on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 12:11pm BST

It's interesting to compare Jewish and Christian notions of atonement as in earlier comments. I'd have thought it one of the fundamental differences between the two religions -- that Christians believe that Jesus set aside the Jewish notion of atonement, that the individual has to make atonement for the sins each has committed, and replaced it with grace, the undeserved freely-given forgiveness.

The differences between Christians are how that undeserved, freely-given atonement and reconciliation is brought about.

I'm even less of a theologian than David Rowett(!) but my take is that substitutionary theories of the atonement (and most especially the penal substitution theory) are much too legalistic, and -- at least if we're not careful -- represent the sort of legalism that Jesus warns against. Whereas, what Jesus talks about is God's generosity and the reconciliation that is there for the asking and for the taking, and that spells life in all its fullness, if only we can see it, if only we can try and live it.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 12:12pm BST

Philip Almond asks "Are we agreed that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God?"

In a word, no.

No, we are certainly not all agreed on this. At the very least you'd have to define what you mean by "wrath" and "condemnation".

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 12:16pm BST

"Before we debate the atonement we should debate what is our position as sinners before a holy, just, loving and merciful God. Are we agreed that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God?"

No. Why would God bring me into existence and immediately condemn me? It doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 3:52pm BST

I know I'm a very long way from being perfect, but the idea of the 'wrath and condemnation of God' is not one I can engage with at all.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 4:25pm BST

Janet F's suggestion is an intriguing one, but I'm not sure it accounts entirely for the 'crucifixion-as-theophany' theology of John. Nor does it account for why it took 500 years after the abolition of crucifixion for it to be felt necessary to embark upon this radical new path - it's not as if the later classical period was any the less bloodthirsty than the fourth century. Nor does it explain why the East has consistently shunned the penal substitution take on things.

All in all I have the feeling that something's going on which is about cultural shifts, as Janet suggests, but I'm not enough of an anthropologist/ historian to have a clue what they might be. I do know that trawling a bit of Northern European writing after about 1200 reveals next to no sign of the Christus Rex of earlier writers. The San Damiano crucifix is suggestive of some such theology, but I'm not an art historian either! Any offers, anyone?

Posted by: David Rowett on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 5:21pm BST

I may well deserve the wrath and condemnation of God, but the poor little dying neonates whom I attended when doing chaplaincy in a Special Care Baby Unit didn't seem obviously to do so - perhaps I was missing something and ontologically all humans are sinful (let's hear it for Ps 51).

All of a sudden Dante's Limbo seems positively charitable....

Posted by: David Rowett on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 5:56pm BST

"Before we debate the atonement we should debate what is our position as sinners before a holy, just, loving and merciful God. Are we agreed that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God?"

No. Why would God bring me into existence and immediately condemn me? It doesn't make sense."

Kate on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 3:52pm BST

Thank you, Kate! I agree completely.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 6:38pm BST

It seems as if the Sydney evangelicals have influenced the Guardian's picture editor. There was a photograph of (clearly) a Good Friday procession in (significantly) Salisbury I think. The caption was 'Christians in an Easter Sunday procession.'

Posted by: David Emmott on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 9:01pm BST

A number of years ago I was in Avila in Spain and it so happened that there was an exhibition of crucifixes in the parish church, many of them the life sized objects of devotion so often seen in churches in such countries as Spain. What was fascinating was how beautiful I thought the ones from the twelfth and twentieth centuries were. They were uncluttered and simple works of art. However, from the late thirteenth century onwards the theme of the suffering of Christ began to emerge, with some of the blood splattered depictions of agony so grim that I double checked the labels to see if the Hammer House of Horror might not have had a hand in them. As Philip Sheldrake once put it, prior to the thirteenth century the emphasis had been on the risen Christ, but increasingly, in the C14th, C15th & C16th centuries, the figure of the suffering Christ came to dominate as a much greater emphasis was placed on the humanity of Christ. The culture of every age colours what in scripture touches our hearts.

Posted by: Nigel LLoyd on Wednesday, 4 April 2018 at 8:10am BST

Kate, isn't birth necessary for a soul? Isn't that the argument allowing abortion? It has no soul or humanity until birth? So if God wants to save the eternal spark of humanity, it has to be born, even if it has the "birth defect" of sin at that moment. A defect that like others cannot be treated until after birth?

Posted by: Chris H. on Wednesday, 4 April 2018 at 3:11pm BST

The reason why I and many others oppose abortion is because we believe that the soul and body are united before birth.

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 4 April 2018 at 7:21pm BST

"Before we debate the atonement we should debate what is our position as sinners before a holy, just, loving and merciful God. Are we agreed that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God?"

No. Why would God bring me into existence and immediately condemn me? It doesn't make sense."

Kate on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 3:52pm BST

Thank you, Kate! I agree completely.

Make it three, me too, it's idiotic.

Posted by: Lorenzo on Thursday, 5 April 2018 at 8:34pm BST

What I increasingly cannot explain to myself is why if God wants to forgive human beings (all or some) he cannot simply do so by fiat. If God is all powerful why does he need this sacrifice paraphernalia? Why substitution or ransom or victory over the devil etc.? I know all the stuff about justice and mercy but frankly it doesn't add up. The nearest anyone has got to the beginning of an explanation is my old colleague Michael Winter's idea that the death (and life) of Christ is a kind of sacrament of divine forgiveness, that it is a kind of outward manifestation of what is going on inwardly. But even that is not really very satisfactory. And I agree with my friend Nigel LLoyd about the iconography. He probably doesn't agree with me about this, but in fact I find crucifixes and even crosses increasingly unhelpful.

Posted by: Richard Franklin on Thursday, 5 April 2018 at 9:32pm BST

Point taken that I may have inferred an unintended meaning in the Guardian headline, but there was more to the article than just '"the Myth of the Resurrection".
How can the charge be made that the foundational document for 'modern anti-Semitism' is St John's Gospel - or, for that matter, any of the other Gospels. They all contain the same factual account of the Passion with minor differences (those are hallmarks of authentic, not manufactured, evidence) - and it seems perverse of the Guardian to single out St John for special criticism.
If one considers Nazi-Germany as an extreme example of 'modern anti-Semitism' clearly the Gospels and other Biblical writings don't even enter the equation. And, I venture to suggest, that the same is equally true of current manifestations of religious and racial discrimination in our society.

Posted by: Rowland Wateridge on Thursday, 5 April 2018 at 11:12pm BST

Richard, I totally agree about crucifixes and crosses. Venerating the instrument of Christ's suffering seems perverse in the extreme.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 6 April 2018 at 1:03pm BST

I think John's Gospel is singled out for its repeated blaming of "the Jews" for the plot to kill Jesus, as opposed to the other Gospels that attribute it to a party within the Jewish religious establishment.

Posted by: Jo on Sunday, 8 April 2018 at 7:24pm BST
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