Saturday, June 17, 2006

Reflections on the God blog wars

The past week of back and forth debate between myself, Adrian Warnock, Peter Kirk, and assorted other newcomers and regulars to the Daily Duck has been lively, informative and revealing. Thank you to all who have participated, you are wekcome back whenever you want to pick my brain or any of the other resident unbelievrs and heretics. I've learned quite a few things which I'd like to share with my readers.

For one, you should never assume that your blog does not have much visibility. I've never considered the Daily Duck more than a minor amphibian in the blog ecosystem, yet that didn't stop Adrian Warnock, who is a major force in the God blog realm, from sighting me on his radar scope when I commented on a post of his. Note to self: read what you write before clicking "publish". Second note to self: add a page view counter to the blog. We might actually have enough traffic to sell ad space for poker lessons.

Secondly, I learned how contentious the subject of atonement doctrine is among Christians. Especially among the non Catholic variety, who don't have the luxury of relying on whatever the Pope says. Though my post was the instigating spark that set off Adrian's weeklong series of blog entries debating the question of whether God killed Jesus, once the debate got rolling it was purely an in-house debate. Peter Kirk valiantly tried to steer the discussion toward me on a few occasions, but the unbeliever in their midst was summarily ignored. I feel cheated! What's the use in lobbing rhetorical grenades if you can't draw even a little hostile fire? I'd have to give Adrian's blog a "D-" in salvation preparedness. There I was, in their midst for a whole week, and nobody tried to save me.

Growing up Catholic, I was really never presented with all the competing theories of atonement, nor even told that there were competing theories. It was interesting to learn, via Peter Kirk, that there are actually four. Now forgive me if I am impertinent, but any doctrine that spins up that many competing explanations has to have some serious flaws to begin with. It obviously is at odds with our basic human moral instincts, and the extent to which the debaters on Adrians's blog, those who take Adrian's side at least, are taking great pains to butress their position with both Biblical references and human reason seems to point out what a sore point within the evangelical community this question is.

I discovered another Christian blogger picking up on Adrian's post, one Mark Lauterbach:
Over at Adrian Warnick's BLOG there has been a fascinating discussion of the phrase, "The Father killed Jesus on the cross." You may find it interesting to look it over. There are three things apparent from the discussion:

1. There is a true skepticism re: the matter of sacrifice and atonement in our culture. The discussion began with a critique of the idea as preached by CJ Mahaney at New Attitude. That critique was offered by a skeptic. Tim Keller has noted that this is one of the most frequent objections he hears to the Christian doctrine of sacrifice -- "why doesn't God just forgive? It all seems so primitive." That is one side to the debate.

2. There is a growing questionning of the centrality of substitution as the key truth at the heart of all apostolic preaching -- that Jesus stood in my place, he bore the judgment due to me. That critique comes from "evangelicals."

3. There were a number of folks who struggled with how the sovereignty of God is worked out in the details of life.

What strikes me as I read the debate is how important it is to distinguish between the three. The first requires an apologetic for God's character and ways and a deconstruction of the morality of the person who thinks sacrifice and atonement is primitive. No one does that better than Keller. The second requires exegetical study and argument. I do not speak to unbelievers questions in the same way as to believers.

The first is not surprising and the ministry of explaining the reasons for why God does things is what Francis called "giving honest answers to honest questions"

The second is concerning. If "orthodoxy" now includes a minimizing of the substitutionary death of Christ, then where are the boundaries?

The third concern takes far more careful discussion and explanation than can be done in a comment section of a blog.

The entire debate revealed the weaknesses of the blogosphere as a forum for such communication . . . .

As I noted in my original post on the topic, the doctrine of the Atonement hearkens back to a set of moral norms of an archaic and barbaric age. The defensiveness displayed by Adrian and the other God bloggers just shows how out of sync this doctrine is with the moral climate of our age, both for believers and unbelievers.

25 Comments:

Blogger Adrian said...

Duck
First off, may I apologise. Like you I was not really expecting the explosion of hostile comment coming from those who claim to be christians - although I should have known better since the atonement has certainly come up on my blog before. So, as a result we have perhaps neglected you. Some of the arguments are however no doubt of some relevance to you though, as it would seem to me that there are two questions for you -
1. Does the bible teach this scandalous doctrine?
2. Why should I believe what the bible teaches?

We have focussed on question 1. My post "What did I mean?" may be helpful. I would also like to DARE you to listen to both my sermon on the atonement and the original audio from CJs talk. For, faith comes from hearing.

Anyway, just for the moment (and I realise this is hard for you to do as an unbeliever!) I wonder if we could leave aside question 2 (we can come back to it!) and I would love to know your opinion as an external observer about question 1. Do you think that we have demonstrated that the bible supports CJs original comments which sparked all this off?

My sermon on the

June 17, 2006 11:38 PM  
Blogger Exist~Dissolve said...

Duck--

I, for one, enjoyed your comments over at Adrian's place (and not just because you happened to say something complimentary about one of my posts).

I think you raise a quite penetrating point in this current post about the relevance and meaningfulness of the "atonement" language that is often bounced around. In some ways, I would agree that a lot of atonement language which is used is completely unintelligible to the modern human, and this not simply because there is a giant gap between the culture in which Christ's death occurred and was described and ours. However, I would also submit that a lot of this is a modern, Protestant problem and that the historic, Christian understanding of atonement is, ironically enough, more intelligible to the modern mind. If you would ever like to discuss these ideas further, let me know.

BTW--love the blog. I'm adding it to my favorites, and I look forward to your continued reflections and thoughts.

June 18, 2006 12:13 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Adrian,

I took up your challenge and listened to your sermon this morning. I'd have to say that it has been some time since I last spent a Sunday morning that way.

First off, I'd have to say that you are an excellent speaker. Growing up Catholic, I was used to the notoriously horrible sermons that the Catholic clergy are known for. Not horrible in a fire & brimstone way, but horrible in just how boring, unfocused, rambling, repetititive and uninspired they were. You certainly put them all to shame, as well as any of the TV ministers I have ever listened to.

I took good notes, and will post a detailed review on the Daily Duck soon.

Cheers!
Duck

June 18, 2006 8:26 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Exist-Dissolve,
Thanks for your compliment and for putting the Daily Duck on your blogroll! I hope you become a regular commenter here, you have a very unique and insightful point of view.

June 18, 2006 8:46 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I am confused.

At the beginning of Duck's inquiry, I'd have thought that for Christians any antisubstitutionary argument would wreck on the parable of the Gadarene swine.

Now I find that many commenters ascribe no more authority to Scripture than I do -- namely, none.

June 18, 2006 1:21 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

Duck,
Thanks for taking the challenge - and thanks for the politeness of your initial thoughts. It is nice to be able to have discussion like this civally! If you do want to hear part 2 of the sermon it was preached this morning and is already up on my blog to download here. I pray that the sermons will be of benefit to you and many others!

June 18, 2006 4:12 PM  
Blogger Vynette said...

Before debating endlessly about 'secondary' issues such as 'atonement' and 'did God kill Jesus?' etc, the 'primary' issue should be resolved once and for all.

And what is that? Well...duck for cover...

'Uunbelievers', generally, believe that Christian church doctrines are actually based on the Bible. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The 'Yeshua HaNotzri' of the New Testament should not be confused with the God-man 'Jesus Christ' portrayed by the Christian Churches.

They are as apart as the poles!

Monotheism was a practice peculiar to the Israelites of Old Testament times - "YHVH our god is one god." (Deut 6:4).

The New Testament is emphatic that God has never been seen by the human eye:
No man has seen the father at any time (John 1:18, 6:46)
Whom no man hath seen or can see (1 Tim 6:16)
No man hath beheld God at any time (1 John 4:12)
(God is) eternal, immortal, invisible (1 Tim 1:17)

These texts were all written after Jesus' death. Taken singly or collectively, they completely refute the teaching that God suddenly took on the form of a man.

When the scripture writers testify that they have 'seen' God, they are writing in a 'spiritual' strain.

Thus it is possible to 'see' God by doing good (3 John 1:11), or by being pure in heart (Matthew 5:8).

These doctrines about the 'divinity' of Jesus arose from early church fathers' ignorance of Hebrew modes of thinking and expression. 'Virgin Birth', Trinity, and the various 'Divinity' teachings are all demonstrably false and can be proven so by recourse to the very documents on which they claim to be founded i.e. The Old and New Testaments.

June 18, 2006 5:02 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Vynette:

These doctrines ... are all demonstrably false and can be proven so by recourse to the very documents on which they claim to be founded i.e. The Old and New Testaments.

Why do I get the feeling that, depending upon where one looks, these doctrines are also demonstrably true. Hard to explain all the miracles without some sort of divinity hook, isn't it?

Presuming, of course, that one can "prove" anything with the Bible (which translation)?

June 18, 2006 7:34 PM  
Blogger Vynette said...

Hey Skipper,

I repeat, none of the doctrines I mentioned has any foundation in the OT or NT.

It is quite easy to explain the 'miracles' if one takes seriously the New Testament writers' portrayal of Jesus as the 'personification' of the Word of Eternal Life, with plenipotentiary powers delegated to him by God.

According to the New Testament, Jesus had full authority to speak and act in the name of the Hebrew God YHVH. This delegation of power conferred no 'divinity' status upon Jesus - as he spelled out when not speaking 'ex cathedra'..."of myself I can do nothing"

The imposition of pagan mythology, cum Christian theology, upon the Hebrew Bible is the root cause of the mind-boggling complexity and confusion we have before us today.

As to translations, the similarities outweigh the differences by many orders of magnitude.

June 18, 2006 7:57 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

As I read the OT, the Hebrews were not monotheists. Not often, anyway.

June 18, 2006 10:30 PM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Duck, thank you for this. But I must say I am surprised that you say that "nobody tried to save you". I did! At least that was a major purpose of what I was writing. I was trying to show you that there is a way round the the artificial theological barriers which some people have erected. Such barriers cannot stand when they are not in the same place that the Bible has erected barriers, and especially when they are built across the door which God has opened into his kingdom. For, however much these people may rant in the pulpit or in the blogosphere, God has "placed before you an open door that no-one can shut", or to change the door metaphor within the same chapter to one which is probably a bit more exgetically sound, he says "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me" (Revelation 3:8,20 TNIV).

June 19, 2006 3:03 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Vynette:

According to the New Testament, Jesus had full authority to speak and act in the name of the Hebrew God YHVH.

From whom?

Giving "... full authority to speak and act ... " is, in effect, the same as giving that person the position.

In a previous life, I was a unit commander in the military. When I had to travel, I gave my second in command full authority to speak and act in my absence -- he became the commander during such periods in every sense of the term.

Jesus is literally God's son, in a way no one else can claim. He had specific authority to speak and act on God's behalf. He had the ability to perform miracles. Many would say, with some justification, that saying Jesus wasn't God is a distinction without a difference.

Regardless, a substantial part of the problem is with the whole notion of atonement itself. That there are nearly a half dozen reasons given as justification is a strong indication that theologians are subsituting their own handwaving for an factual content the Bible might have.

And that is disregarding the apparent target audience for the act: all of humanity.

It is surpassing odd that some 90% of humanity had no clue of the what, never mind the why, behind Christ's crucifiction until Prince Henry the Navigator (who studied navigation, which was the spark for the European age of discovery and colonization.)

As for the similarities between translations greatly outweighing the differences, that is undoubtedly true. But given the exigencies of language, it doesn't take very many, or very large, differences to greatly alter meaning.

June 19, 2006 3:46 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter
Yes, you were. Sorry! I was just being a little facetious, to make a point. I just thought it odd that the controversy would swirl the greatest around those people whose views were the most closely aligned.

June 19, 2006 5:57 AM  
Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Now Duck, I believe you and I have met before years ago on discussion boards (Roger's, in particular) ... I think I may have seen you quacking off into the distance. Though I can't be sure if you're the same Duck. But I do have to wonder if you really wanted to "get saved"? And if you don't think you need to get saved, then why exactly the call for people to try to save you? And I ask myself, if he doesn't want to get saved then what kind of game would that be? (Other than "entertaining for the Duck".) Maybe you really do want to believe; Lord knows.

Don't get me wrong, I pray for you and would gladly have a conversation with you or with any honest inquirer for that matter. I suppose I'll just ask one question on my way out: Do you have any basic objections to Jesus' picture of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25?

Take care & God bless

June 19, 2006 7:16 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

WF,
I've gone by "Duke" on the AOL religious boards back in the 90's, but I only started using Duck since I started this blog in October of 2004. I don't know who Roger is.

The whole thing about wanting to be saved was a joke. I'd have thought that was glaringly obvious from the way I posted it. I don't want to be saved, I don't recognize any condition of unsavedness from which I would need to be saved. It is a non-issue with me. I'm debating Adrian and the others for other reasons, mostly because I enjoy debating religion and philosophy.

But thanks for the good wishes anyhow! I never turn down good wishes.

June 19, 2006 8:42 AM  
Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

I think some of the conversations from Christians are unnecessarily defensive. Atonement is a thing that a lot of Christians don't get. I thnk they're unnecessarily defensive about blood, death, and redemption -- none of which are going to go away as revelant topics so long as human beings keep doing the things we do.

Your comment box is showing as about 1.5"x1". Reminds me of the old "Write comments/complaints here" boxes which were 1 square centimenter ...

June 19, 2006 9:16 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I did not fail to note that it was on Father's Day that a mass parricide
of Church Fathers was committed.

We started a few days ago by knocking off Augustine and (by implication)
Ambrose, and now we learn that the profoundest scholars in the center of
Jewish intellectual life didn't understand Jews.

Small hope, then, that a group of mere bloggers can dope it out.

++++

weekend fisher, how do you account for the fact that your God unchose so
many? Practically everybody, in fact.

It isn't just skipper's objection that 90% of people were not exposed to
the offer. About 99% of the people in the area where the offer was made
were not allowed to accept.

June 19, 2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Harry, I can't answer for Weekend Fisher's God (although I think he is the same God as mine), but the God I believe in does not "unchoose" anyone, for he "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4 TNIV). Anyone's imagined God who chooses that certain people will not be saved is not the Christian God, for he is not the God of the Bible, of Christian tradition and theology, even of the Reformers - not even of Calvin, who was not "Calvinist" enough to believe this doctrine. No, God wants everyone to be saved, even you, Harry, and Duck. If you two don't want to be saved, God doesn't force you, but that is not his choice but yours.

June 19, 2006 3:06 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

"I'd have to give Adrian's blog a "D-" in salvation preparedness. There I was, in their midst for a whole week, and nobody tried to save me."

Duck, perhaps they did, as Kirk said, and you didn't pick up on it. :)

But, Christians are supposed to be 'the light of the world'. You should be able to see them living (speaking) a godly life, apart from the worldly ways. I think you will find that at Adrain's, or I certainly have.

June 19, 2006 3:48 PM  
Blogger Vynette said...

Hey Skipper,

"Many would say, with some justification, that saying Jesus wasn't God is a distinction without a difference."

Many may say this, but I say that these 'divinity' doctrines:

impose a barrier between Jesus and the rest of humanity

misrepresent the values Jesus stood for

falsify the issues that brought him into collision with the priests

conceal the motives of those who caused him to be crucified.

But, most of all, these doctrines conceal the fact that the same issues and the same principles are just as much alive today as they were in the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

By means of these doctrines, the leaders of organisational Christendom have achieved, on an intellectual level, what their predecessor priests in Jerusalem had hoped to achieve on a physical leve, that is -
THE COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF THE MAN JESUS OF NAZARETH AND THE PRINCIPLES HE STOOD FOR!

June 19, 2006 4:41 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter Kirk, your god certainly unchose my people -- the Philistines, Egyptians, Babylonians etc. -- and I have a long memory.

A strangely loving god you have, who persecutes helpless creatures for millenia, then changes his mind and says, 'Ooops. Never mind. You can worship me now.'

No thanks. I still have my self-respect.

June 19, 2006 4:50 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Vynette:

By means of these doctrines, the leaders of organisational Christendom have achieved ... THE COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF THE MAN JESUS OF NAZARETH AND THE PRINCIPLES HE STOOD FOR!

So, in other words, all we need do is live our lives according to the last six commandments?

Hard to disagree with that. It is also hard to see much need for the atonement, or the emphasis on proper fealty, rather than a well lived life.

June 19, 2006 8:46 PM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Harry, you are opening up another issue there, that of people who have never heard the good news about Jesus, because they lived before he came or because disobedient Christians failed for centuries to obey Jesus' last command to take this good news to the ends of the earth (although in fact they didn't do as badly as Skipper suggests in his comment about Henry the Navigator - there were many Christians throughout Asia before his time, although admittedly they had not got to America). I won't try to address this issue here, because I already raised it in a recent posting on my own blog. I would welcome further discussion there.

June 20, 2006 3:21 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Vynette, you make an interesting point by suggesting that the church has achieved "THE COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF THE MAN JESUS OF NAZARETH AND THE PRINCIPLES HE STOOD FOR!". Orthodox Christian teaching insists that Jesus is fully God AND fully human. But in practice many Christians have played down the human side of Jesus and see him only as someone to worship, not also as an example to follow and imitate, as he is presented throughout the New Testament (e.g. John 15:18-20, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Hebrews 12:1-2). Thus their teaching has lost the proper balance and needs to be corrected. The problem with what you are saying is that it pushes the balance to the other extreme. Instead we need to remember that Jesus is both the perfect human example for our lives and the powerful Son of God who is alive today.

June 20, 2006 3:33 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: As I read the OT, the Hebrews were not monotheists. Not often, anyway.

Sure we are. Nothing but and fairly militant about it. But we are also supple and sophisticated and willing to play around with expectations.

June 20, 2006 6:59 PM  

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