Letters to Paul, II: language in the Emergent Church...

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(Tim: Building on his series on Jonathan Edwards and the Atonement, here's another series--numbers one, two, three, four, and five--by our American African correspondent, David Wegener. But first, a note from David on the purpose of this series.)

Paul is a Zambian Christian leader, a graduate of the school where I teach. I’ve taken him as representative of one of my students so I can have a face to look at in my mind as I write these letters.

Often my students puzzle over what they hear coming from the church in the west. Much of their background has led them to accept without question what comes from western Christians. "After all, they brought us the gospel and keep coming back and helping us." My exhortation to Paul is the one given by his namesake: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21).

Letters to Paul: Let’s Stop Trying to be More Holy than God

Dear Paul: Certain Christian leaders in America are spreading confusion on the doctrine of the atonement. They don’t like the way the Bible and the Christian tradition have put things about the death of Christ so they’re proposing “new models,” “a new way of thinking about the death of Christ,” “a new vision,” “an exciting proposal that retains the best of the old and recasts it with a fresh perspective.”

Notice the emotions that come from the way they express themselves. It all sounds so promising, so inviting, so reassuring. It makes you ready to reject the old and accept the new, not for any real reason, but just because of the words they use...

This helps to train us to accept things, not for any reason based on truth content, but on the basis of our feelings.

Anabaptist Christians are pacifists. Their church is called a peace church. They hate violence and wonder how Christians can be for Jesus and for violence. They say war is evil and wrong. The Christian must always choose the way of non-violence in personal relationships and in public policy. The regenerate do not go to war.

This means they have to answer problems raised by the pacifist code of conduct they’ve found in the Bible. How could God call His people to kill all the Canaanites? How could it be the will of the Father to bruise [kill] His Son? How could salvation come from the blood [death] of Christ? They’re worried about God’s image in our (God-hating) culture. They’re worried people will think less of God because of the bloody atonement.

One Anabaptist author (Denny Weaver) has written a book on the atonement entitled, Keeping Salvation Ethical. Writers like him style themselves as guardians of the atonement. They want to make sure that our belief about the atonement is ethically pure. They don’t want God to do something they consider wrong in saving us (like killing His Son). That’s violence and that can’t be right. God would never do that.

But God doesn’t need such guardians of the atonement of Christ. We don’t need to worry about whether His plan of salvation is “ethical.” His holiness is absolute and the only standard for what is holy or “ethical” in our world. Let’s stop trying to be more holy than God.

I’ve been reading an essay by Jonathan Edwards on the atonement. Edwards would tell the Anabaptists they are missing the unimaginable grace and condescension (His stooping low) of God. “The Lord was pleased to crush Him” (Is 53:10). These Anabaptists find only shame in God’s salvation through a violent atonement. Actually it is the high point of God’s glory.

Yours with thankfulness for a violent atonement, Rev Wegener