Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Christ died for our sins?

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed poses the question of how do we prove to postmoderns that Christ died for our sins? Now this is a tricky question, but here’s my take:

First, it depends on what you think “for our sins” (1 Thess. 5.10; Rom. 5.8 etc) means in terms of atonement theology and I would strenuously argue in favour of substitutionary and representational models of atonement (note Wallace GGBB pp. 380-89 who suggests instances were hyper overlaps with anti).

Second, it depends on what you mean by prove. I can cite several NT verses to show that Christ died for us in a redemptive way, which is at one level proof; but it is unlikely to be persuasive to postmodern Peter or postmodern Patricia? They might say, “Well, that’s just your interpretation!” or “That’s true for you, but not for me!”. Or they might even try to deconstruct my exegesis and say that my atonement theology is merely the attempt to impose on them feelings of guilt so as to force them to conform to my Christian ideology. Or those with a hermeneutic of suspicion might say that ascribing a redemptive function to Jesus’ death is an instance of cognitive dissonance whereby the early Christians compensated for the death of their leader and for their smashed hopes by regarding Jesus’ demise as a planned act of God that constituted their deliverance.

Third, my tentative solution is to perceive the cross as the crucial moment in three intersecting stories: the penultimate climax of the Jesus story, the hope of the story of a world gone wrong, and the prequel to the story of the Christians. We don’t prove anything about Jesus’ death, rather we tell the stories, and invite participants to identify themselves within the story. We urge Peter and Patricia to enter into our narrative world and pose the question to them, “Is this story, your story?” And ask, “Do you sense the goodness of creation, a goodness now marred, tainted and poisoned by evil and yet, the world still groans for deliverance? Do you see in the human race the icon of something beautiful and glorious and yet now tragically broken with a rapacious appetite for terror and a lust for destruction – do you even see glimpses of that at times in the darkest corners of your inner being? Can you define evil, name it, know it, explain your innate fear and hatred of it, and describe why in a world without absolutes it still seems so inexplicably wrong, like it wasn’t meant to happen? Do you see in the cross just another dead Jew, one of many, from Golgotha to Auschwitz? Or can you see what I have seen, what I have heard, what I have felt – on that wretched piece of wood hangs not a tragedy but a triumph, not the vanquished but the victor, not a failure but our future, power in powerlessness, and hatred trounced by love. In the cross can you feel your rebellion conquered, your thirst quenched, your penalty paid, your soul quickened, and your defiance crumble? Can you close your eyes and see yourself walking towards that cross, edging closer and closer with every step, and reaching out with your hands to hold it, to shake it, to grasp so you can share its weight, its ugliness, its despair, and its agony, to reach out and embrace it and cry in defiance “this cross is mine, my death, my sin, my condemnation, my annihilation”? And to then open your eyes and see a world . . . reborn. Is this how the story really goes? Is this your story? If so, Christ died for our sins.


Ben Myers said...

Thanks for this moving and eloquent post!

Scot McKnight said...

Nice Mike. Thanks. Dump into one of my "post a comments" to help us all.