Monday, May 18, 2009

Giles Fraser appointed Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, calls "a disgusting idea and morally degenerate" that Jesus died for our sins

Giles Fraser has been appointed to the post of "Residentiary Canonry" of St. Paul's Cathedral, Downing Street announced today.

Last month the same Giles Fraser complained in the Guardian that the core Christian doctrine of the Atonement was "a disgusting idea, and morally degenerate."

"For too long, Christians have put up with a theory of salvation that has at its core the idea that God requires the sacrifice of his own son so that human sin can be cancelled," Giles Fraser wrote on April 11, 2009. "The fact this is a disgusting idea, and morally degenerate, is obvious to all but those indoctrinated into a very narrow reading of the cross."

If you hold to the Christian (and Anglican) doctrine of the atonement, then according to the new Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, you are "indoctrinated." He has a hard time, apparently, coping with "all that sacrificial imagery so commonly applied to the death of Christ."

And of course, he takes even further, calling Christians everywhere to "insist upon a non-sacrificial reading of the death of Christ."

If that's not enough, he then dismisses not only the Pope and the Roman Catholic approach to the Mass, but also those "evangelical Christians," who "remain committed to their theory of Christ being sacrificed to offset human sin."

Right. And today this man was made a canon of St. Paul's Cathedral. Read Giles Fraser's original essay from last month here. Another essay is here. Read more on his appointment today here.


FrDarryl said...

Blah. De. Blah. Blah. Blah. What a wally. Back in 1996, I heard someone up the road from Putney (Richmond) say something similar from the pulpit: 'I personally do not believe anything objective happened on the Cross.'

And what's up with +Chartres letting that 'southbank theology' heretic have a canonry on his turf? Fraser+ is Southwark for crying out loud:

Floridian said...

There are no words I can allow myself to use that can express my disgust, anger and disbelief that the Queen, Prime Minister, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of his Diocese and his fellow Canons and Priests allow such a person to hold office in the Church of England.

Fraser's statement is decidedly plainly unbiblical. He does not seem to know that the crucifixion was God's idea and a continuous theme from Genesis to Revelation.
He is either unregenerate, ignorant, extremely prideful or on drugs.

What is it about Brits and pride? First, this Fraser person says he knows better than God. Then Tony Blair new 'convert' to the Catholic Church has appointed himself the chief censure of the Pope and is busily organizing a religious think tank to rework all world religions into a hybrid conglomeration belief system that will accomodate homosex and abortion and thus create utopia, world peace, make eveyone nicer and end poverty.

There is something wrong with a system and structure that allows spiritually blind and ignorant clergy and people with unbiblical worldviews and agendas to take over and cause the ludicrous events and situations we have seen in the US, Canada, England and other Western provinces.

Because of our disobedience and idolatry, God has allowed the usual rod of correction to rise up. An invasion of Assyria/Babylon is upon us.

viejo said...

Question for Dean Fraser: Who is the parton saint of St. Paul's Cathedral?
What was his theology based on? Is this pointless? I think so.

Alice C. Linsley said...

St. Paul's understsanding of the Cross is central to his theology. His wordview places the Pleromic Blood of Jesus as the life of the world and the atonement necessary for entrance into the Kingdom of God.

When people speak against the atonement they reveal that they are without the Truth. There are 3 who bear witness to the Truth: the Spirit, the Water and the Blood. These are real and unchanging, unlike Giles Fraser.

Observer said...

Rowan must like him....

FrDarryl said...

This could be one of those ever-so, oldy-worldy skits whereby the Dean and Bishop did their quaint little knock-knock joke ceremony.

*Bishop solemnly raps his crosier on the door of 'his' Cathedral*

The Rt (but not Very) Rev'd the Dean of Saint Paul's, Graeme Knowles: None. Shall. Pass! *Offstage sound of armour clattering* Erm, sorry. Won't be a moment. *Offstage sound of sword being resheathed. Opens door a crack to peer out.* Who art thou?

The Rt Rev'd and Rt Hon. the Lord Bishop on London, Richard Chartres: You Episcopal superior, Decanus, and I most strenuously object to your proposed appointment of a notoriously heretical priest as a Canon in my Cathedral. What sayest thou?

Dean: I've told you once...

Bishop: No you haven't!

RMBruton said...

Bishop J. C. Ryle was once asked whether a time would ever come when it be necessary to leave the Church of England. What do you think he would have said to all this?

jim w said...

This is just another symptom of the total corruption of public institutions in this country (UK).

Dale Matson said...

Galatians 5:11-12
"11Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!"

Daniel Weir said...

Once again I find Christians who claim that Anslem's understanding of the Atonement is the only possible one. What Giles has rejected is not the Atonement but one understanding of it. He is neither alone in doing this nor deserving of the lable heretic for doing it.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr., with respect...

Whatever view one holds as a Christian can't evade the necessity of the Blood of Christ shed for the life of the world and for the forgiveness of sins.

Daniel Weir said...

Anslem's is not the only way to understand how the sacrifice of Jesus was for the life of the world and the forgiveness of sins. It just happens to have been the dominant interpretation for centuries. But ask any Franciscan about Duns Scotus and his understanding of the Atonement and you would hear something quite different from Anslem and the idea that God's honor required Jesus's death as satisfaction. And Duns Scotus is not some marginal figure but a Doctor of the Church. Or for more accessible interpretations, read Denny Weaver's "Non-Violent Atonemnt" of Gustav Aulen's "Christus Victor" or Douglas John Hall's "The Cross in Our Context." All of these theologians understand the Atonement in ways that are very different from the understanding that Giles Fraser rejects. I think the days of Anselm's being the dominant understanding are nearly over, and for that I am thankful.

Unknown said...

The deal is, Daniel, don't we have to sort of forget all about the Passover and the stuff about the "Lamb of God" and the context of the Hebrew scriptures in order to reinvent the "Cross in our context" today? Don't we sort of have to give the Jews a boot?

God's honor required Jesus' death? Really. His honor? Do you think God is some sort of Mafia Godfather who has to recover His honor by instituting a gangland slaying of a relative, just to show who's boss?

Did not God's love for you and me, made possible for us to know through the cross, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to save us, to redeem us, to see us free - set free when He rose again? Was Jesus correct to say that it He who is the way - not a way, but the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one, no, no one can approach God but through Jesus and His cross? Did He not pay the debt we could not pay?

What do we say of the literary juxtaposition of Passover and Christ's sacrifice on the Cross - that He is the Lamb, that He is the one the Passover litany speaks of - that He was slain as the lamb was slain the temple for the sins of God's people, that the lamb was slain and his blood covering the doorposts of the home so that the Plague of death would passover, that His blood covers us today and sets us free to live.

I grew up not believing in the Atonement. No, no - not at all. I was devout follower of Mary Baker Eddy who thought much as you do a hundred years before we were born - that Jesus did not die for sins, how arcane, how unenlightened, how in error - that he was a way-shower, he showed us the way, he is not the way, he did not die for our sins, for goodness's sake. That's superstition, that's error. I believed that as did my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother.

I believed in the Idea. "Christ, as the true spiritual idea, is the ideal of God now and forever, here and everywhere," Mary Baker Eddy wrote. That is what I believed. The Idea of Christ. Sin was an illusion, certainly not in need of some corporal body dying a torturous death. Jesus wasn't God - he was a son, just as you are, a son. That's what I believed.

And Mary Baker Eddy thought as you do, back in the 19th century, that finally everyone would get over all that atonement error and see the error of their ways. I believed it as well.

Here's what I believed:

"The word Christ is not properly a synonym for Jesus, though it is commonly so used. Jesus was a human name, which belonged to him in common with other Hebrew boys and men, for it is identical with the name Joshua, the renowned Hebrew leader. On the other hand, Christ is not a name so much as the divine title of Jesus. Christ expresses God's spiritual, eternal nature. The name is synonymous with Messiah, and alludes to the spirituality which is taught, illustrated, and demonstrated in the life of which Christ Jesus was the embodiment. The proper name of our Master in the Greek was Jesus the Christ; but Christ Jesus better signifies the Godlike. The 'Godlike' - not God.

That's what I believed. I believed this too:

"By these sayings Jesus meant, not that the human Jesus was or is eternal, but that the divine idea or Christ was and is so and therefore antedated Abraham; not that the corporeal Jesus was one with the Father, but that the spiritual idea, Christ, dwells forever in the bosom of the Father, God, from which it illumines heaven and earth; not that the Father is greater than Spirit, which is God, but greater, infinitely greater, than the fleshly Jesus, whose earthly career was brief."

Imagine my surprise to discover that He is Risen. He is Risen. Not the "Idea" of him, but the Lord is Risen indeed. Hallelujah!


Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr., All you have named are western theologians and quite recent, given the antiquity of Holy Tradition concerning Blood sacrifice for atonement. I'm not sayng that Anselm holds the only correct view. I'm not sure that we are able to fully grasp the mystery of the Pleromic Blood of Jesus, with constitutes Reality. You might be interested in thess essays:

Daniel Weir said...

I appreciate more than you can imagine how refreshing it is to have an intelligent and respectful discussion of theology on a blog.

A couple of comments.

1. Alice is quite right that the theologians I have cited are all western - and all white men to boot. However, the Eatern Church, as far as I know, and I do not claim to be an expert, has never adopted the dominant Western view of the Atonement. Although I cannot recall where, I once saw a condemnation of an Orthodox Bishop on a blog because he had put forward an understanding of the Atonement that was contrary to Anselm's. As I understand the Eastern view of Atonement, and my understanding is very limited, it is closer to the Christus Victor model. I would, however, insist that any model, and interpretation, mine or Anslem's, is going to be imperfect. The Atonement is a mystery, and, unlike, murder mysteries, Christian mysteries are not to be solved, but to be contemplated.

2. The idea that God's honor had to be satisfied is not my idea but Anselm's. In the context of medieval fedual society that idea made sense. In our context it certainly does not.

3. While Anselm was concerned about God's honor, later theologians were concerned about God's justice. Sin was a violation of justice and required punishment. Paul was clear that the wages of sin is death and that Jesus, who had not sinned, became sin for our sake and suffered death for us. The question for me remains whether or not the Father demanded Jesus' death. That is the question that Giles Fraser addressed in his column. I agree with his assertion: "No, Jesus is not a blood sacrifice to appease a vicious God. The story is not an endorsement of the idea that sacrifice brings peace with God but an attack on it. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," Jesus insists, going on to side with the scapegoats themselves." With this assertion Roman Catholic theologian James Alison would, I think, agree. One problem is that Fraser's column was far too short to do justice to this matter.

4. A question with which the Church has struggled for centuries centers on the idea that Jesus' death is a ransom payment or the payment of a debt. Where there has been disagreement it has been abouth to whom the payment was made. To Satan who held us in bondage to sin and death? Or to God for our sins?

5. The Lamb of God and Passover images cannot be dismissed. However, in the Exodus story the Passover lamb is not a sacrifice for sin and the marking of the Hebrew homes with blood is not an indication that their sins are forgiven. It is an indication that they are those whom God has chosen to rescue from slavery.

Finally, I would assert that we are foolish when we disregard or dismiss context. All theology is contextual and when someone claims that his or her theology is not they run a great danger of betraying the Gospel. Recognizing our contexts and the effect they have on our theology allows us to enter into dialog with Christians with different contexts and to see more clearly the Truth that is beyond our own contextually shaped undersstandings.

Unknown said...

I'm going to need to publish this in three parts.

Part One:

Daniel, I appreciate your comments too. Your comments are not written in the same "context" as the new canon of St. Paul's Cathedral who denounced those who hold the view that Jesus died to pay the debt we could not pay, who's blood has ransomed us out of slavery to sin as “morally degenerate.”

Before I get to question 4, I'd like to take a stab at question 5. As is often the case, Jesus fulfills the scriptures. The Jews were held bondage, held captive just as we are held in bondage, held captive by our sinful nature. That of course raises the question of whether we have a sinful nature. When I was in Christian Science the answer was "no." No, I did not believe we had a sinful nature, we had something that Christian Science calls "mortal mind," a deception of the truth that we are made in God's image, an illusion.

So if there is no problem, no sinful nature - perhaps anything from simple error that can be corrected through enlightenment or education or social action or a new revelation - then there is certainly no indication that we are held captive by anything other than our own minds

For Jesus however, he literally identified himself with the Passover Supper the night before He died. He came to ransom us, yes - but he also took the place of the lamb who's blood was spread across the doorposts so that the plague of death would not visit on the homes of God's people. He is the Passover Lamb, whose blood sets us free the plague of sin and death.

What does it mean to forgive sins? Jesus shows us in His own prayer that He taught us to pray. "Forgive us our trespasses,” says one version, "as we forgive those who trespass against us." We also have "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." And finally we have "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

Payment of the debt and forgiveness of sins are entwined, they are not compartmentalized - forgiveness of debts is indeed a forgiveness of sin. We owe a debt we cannot pay, a debt in our very nature.

Again, I did not believe that when I was in Christian Science. I thought it was in error. I thought it was a myth. Even as I began my conversion, I did not believe that I was a sinner. It reminds me that conversion can occur even without that basic tenet. That's what I thought - but what was happening was that I, like Mary at the Tomb, found Jesus is Risen, that He's alive, that He sent the Holy Spirit, that He's alive today, and He will return.

Still, I didn't grasp that I was sinner, in the sense that we are writing about here. I understood "mortal mind" and by the transformation of the mind in Christ, one lives a new life. I did not need to repent – I didn’t believe there was anything to repent from, not even for my belief in Christian Science. In many ways, that was not challenged in the charismatic renewal movement that I came through in southern California in the 1970s. Much of the teaching - at least on the surface or through eyes such as mine - did not focus on sin but on freedom. "It is for freedom Christ came to set you free," Paul writes.

But like the parable of the sewer of the seeds, seeds that are sown without going deep into the soil of repentance are so often blown away in the wind.

End of Part One

Unknown said...

Part Two

Part #2.

Which leads us to your question #4: God chose the blood not of on ox or a rabbit or a cow or any other living thing - He chose the lamb, the very same creature that is used in the sacrifices in the temple for the forgiveness of sins in Jewish worship. Even as the God's people were spared the plague of death of the firstborn - think about it, through the blood of the Lamb, God himself has spared us as well - through the blood of His firstborn, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lamb, He is the Passover Lamb, He is both - He delivers us out of captivity, as slaves of sin and He pays our debts, He ransoms us from the consequences of our debts, of our transgressions, of our sin. He parts the sea of sin and sets us free. It is an action of history. We mark the day.

We are held in bondage by our own fallen nature - not Satan. Satan is the deceiver and mighty powerful. He exploits what is all ready there. And we spend a lot of time in denial and he exploits our own denial as well. He is a crafty guy.

We are held in bondage by our own nature, fallen. We are not islands, and so the sins of the world press on us as well – a millennia of history. The whole of creation is fallen. We see glimmers of its original splendor in that we are made in God's image, we see through a glass darkly, we see glimpses of God's amazing handiwork, even creation - fallen as it is - reminds us of the Original. But even in its beauty, it is still a shadow of what it once was, as we are.

Sin causes us to lock the door from the inside. In the famous painting of Jesus at the door by William Holman Hunt, we see Jesus standing outside the door of an overgrown garden holding the lamp - but there is no handle to open the door. It is locked from the inside, inside our own hearts. We lock the door. Not Satan, not God. We lock the door.

God is holy. And He is just. We often pray for God's justice - but is that what we really want? Should we not pray for His mercy, for His justice is perfect? Is that what we really want? And He is holy - remember how His glory is so magnificent that Moses cannot look at Him and it's so transforming to be in His presence, that He leaves glory on the face of Moses. It's indescribable.

Sin holds us captive, as individuals and as the world. Satan is permitted to prowl through the world, looking for those to devour. We know that he's a defeated enemy, but he's still on the loose. God could wipe Satan and his minions out - but that would deprive people of choice. We would be like robots. How much choice we have again is the subject of great doctrine and mystery. But we know that Satan is permitted to prowl, though "someday baby you ain't gonna worry poor me anymore."

When I was in Christian Science I did not believe in the existence of Satan or the Devil or any of that. I thought it was myth, an illusion, a fabrication of mortal mind – at most, a metaphor. "Here you may see how so-called material sense creates its own forms of thought, gives them material names, and then worships and fears them," Mary Baker Eddy wrote. "With pagan blindness, it attributes to some material god or medicine an ability beyond itself. The beliefs of the human mind rob and enslave it, and then impute this result to another illusive personification, named Satan."

Satan then is just a creation of the human mind, but he's not real. If he is real, though, then all bets are off. We're in trouble.

But he is uncreative. He has no creative bone in his celestial body. He cannot exploit anything that isn't there. We are at his mercy. And of course, he has no mercy.

I knew God's love before I knew I was sinner. I knew God's love in Christian Science - that is one major element I have retained through my whole conversion experience. God is love. The simplicity of God's love remains. He is either love or He is not. But He isn't just "love" - He loves.

End of Part Two

Unknown said...

Part Three:

Daniel, did God demand that Jesus die? If you demand something from me, how would that color our relationship? What kind of relationship would we have if you demanded something from me?

But if I know you and I care about you and I know what you need to solve the problem you have and I can provide that solution, you won't need to demand it because if love you I will give freely.

We see that worked out on the big screen right now in the opening scene in Star Trek. George Kirk has taken command of the Enterprise as it's under attack from a Romulan captain gone AWOL. Hundreds of people are fleeing the Enterprise for their lives, including Kirk's wife and his just-to-be-born son, Jim.

He could flee with them, but it is certain that if he did that they would all be destroyed. He makes the choice to stay with the ship and provide an escape, paid with his own life, for his wife and son and eight hundred other people.

No one demanded that he do that - he saw the problem and the solution meant he must sacrifice his own life to save many.

If there is no sin, then there are no consequences. It's all an illusion. But if there is sin, there are consequences - and those consequences are so grave that we do not have the ability to pay them. Certainly the people fleeing the Enterprise did not have the ability to pay their way for freedom. But George Kirk did and he paid it with his own life - he took the consequences and the people were set free.

But for Jesus, we would need to take this scenario even farther - that even the Romulans would be spared. The Romulan captain had no hope, his world was destroyed and his pathway was despair and death that turned inward into vengeance. That is the picture I see when I hear God described as viciously demanding vengeance. That Jesus is God's victim, as though God is the one who nailed Him to the cross.

God did not nail Jesus to the cross. We did. We do. We're responsible for nailing Him to the cross. We're the Romulan Captain. Jesus had the power to not go to the Cross. He could have walked way - indeed, He was tempted to walk away. How else do explain His sudden turn on Peter, after commending Peter that "flesh and blood have not revealed that to you, but My Father in heaven," only to then turn around and say after Peter "forbids" Jesus from going to Jerusalem (and His death), "get behind Me, Satan." Not exactly an endorsement.

Obviously, it was a temptation. But Jesus resisted by His own choice.

We need to know the Hebrew Scriptures. We need to understand the context God works within His people, the children of Israel. God doesn't break His promises - the Jewish people are still His People. The Church hasn't supplanted that relationship, the Church fulfils it - it makes it fuller. He promised the Jewish people that they would be His people and He would be their God. He keeps His promises.

For Christians, I think, that means that we are foolish if we elevate our own context by underestimating or downright ignoring the Jewish context of the Hebrew Scriptures. God's Word stands in the entire Bible, not just the bits we like.

So I agree that context is important - but to understand the debt, to understand the sacrifice, to understand the ransom that was paid, to understand "it is for freedom Christ came to set us free," then we are challenged to understand the context of God's work through His people, Israel, through the Scriptures - Old and New Testaments.

That is our context.


Daniel Weir said...

I will respond more fully later, but for the moment I would point out that the sin offering commanded in Torah is most often a bull, at times a goat and, when a lamb, a female lamb. If the Lamb of God is to be seen as a sin offering, and not as the Paschal which Torah never identifies as a sin offering, then justifying that understanding by reference to Torah simply doesn't work. One could assert that in Jesus the Paschal lamb was redefined as a sin offering, drawing upoon John the Baptist's witness is the Lamd of God who takes away the sin of the world, but I would suggest that John's statement need not be understood as asserting that the Lamb will be a sin offering.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Eastern Church interprets the benefits of the Cross more metaphysically whereas the West tends toward a material view. With sin comes death, and with His Blood comes restoration of the life we were always intended to enjoy. Even the Church Fathers revered by the Latin Church hold this view. St. Jerome, for one.

Daniel Weir said...

A fuller response:

I agree that the clear link between Good Friday and Easter and Passover points to an understanding of the Christian Passover as deliverance from bondage – to death, to sin, to the principalities and powers of fallen creation. Where I would disagree with what seems to be your interpretation is in the assertion that the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb was a sin offering or that it was the power of the lamb’s blood that delivered the Hebrews from slavery. That was God’s doing and the sacrifice and the blood was simply an act of obedience to God and, perhaps, trust in God’s saving power. The Exodus story is, after all, a story of a very untrusting people. As has been said, it took a short while to get the people out of Egypt, but it took forty years to get Egypt out of the people.

Question that are often raised in discussions of the Atonement, “Who caused Jesus’ death?” and “Who required Jesus’ death?” The answer to the first is an uneasy one – unless we take the easy path of blaming it on the Romans or on the Jews. The answer is, in the words of one of my favorite comic strip characters, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Trying to answer the second question is where we get disagreements. It is the answer “God required it” that I reject. I do not believe that God required a blood sacrifice before our sins could be forgiven – Jesus forgave sins during his ministry without any sacrifice being offered. An answer with which I have some sympathy, but which I do not embrace, is that we required it, that we required that example of perfect love before we could accept that God loves and forgives us. I suspect that this answer is part of the truth about the Atonement, but I believe that there is more.

The Christus Victor understanding, at least I understand it, sees the Cross as the place of battle between Satan Jesus and, while Satan appeared to have won, God’s raising of Jesus defeats Satan. The one who died is alive again and alive forevermore. I would see a parallel between this and battle in war. (I’m reading a book about Lincoln.) The Father sends his Son into battle, no more desiring or requiring the Son’s death than Lincoln desired or required the death of the soldiers that he sent into battle. There is, I think, an inevitability about Jesus’ death, but not a necessity. This is what we sinful people do to someone who comes proclaiming the Father’s love for sinners. He upsets the status quo and we crucify him. We were free to accept his preaching, to repent – that is to turn back towards God – but we chose not to. We did not have to reject him – any more than Judas had to betray him of Peter deny. Those choices were theirs and ours, and they and we are responsible for them. And when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples his greeting of peace was not simply about not being afraid at the sight of a dead man who is alive again, but also an assurance of forgiveness. James Alison has said that for the disciples resurrection was experienced as forgiveness, and that is how I experience it.

In addition to the Christus Victor understanding, which I see as far better than the substitutionary understanding, there is in the Atonement, I think, a breaking of the ancient practice of scapegoating. Alison sees Cain’s murder of Abel as scapegoating. If only Abel were gone, Cain would enjoy God’s favor, and so Cain murders his brother. From that beginning the identifying and driving out and killing of scapegoats went on for centuries (and sadly, still does). In his offering of his life, Jesus takes the scapegoat’s place of shame and robs it of its power. In Christ we are freed from ever laying our sins on another. It is clear, I think, that we were wrong to lay our sins on Jesus, but he, out of love for us, accepted our actions, saying, “It’s alright, I forgive you. You don’t have to do this, it’s wrong, but I still love you and forgive you.”

Again, I thank you for the gracious nature of this exchange.

Unknown said...

Thank you Fr. Daniel - I must agree that this is far more of a fascinating conversation and finally getting to the heart of some of our deeper conflict - namely, "Who is Jesus?" and "Why did Jesus die?" Again, it was being covered by the blood of the lamb at passover who spared the plague of death on the households of the people of Israel. That Jesus comes to set the captives free we see in His resurrection.

At the heart of the matter, I think, is another question - do we need a Savior?

Savior is another word I did not know in Christian Science. In fact, when I was going through preparation for confirmation after my conversion, I was given a list of words to define from scripture. One of the words I did not recognize. I still remember it - I did not know what the word meant, I had "no context" for it, I'd never used it in a sentence, it had never been covered all the years I was in CS Sunday School.

That word was "salvation." I do agree with what you write here, Daniel: "This is what we sinful people do to someone who comes proclaiming the Father’s love for sinners. He upsets the status quo and we crucify him. We were free to accept his preaching, to repent – that is to turn back towards God – but we chose not to. We did not have to reject him – any more than Judas had to betray him of Peter deny. Those choices were theirs and ours, and they and we are responsible for them. And when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples his greeting of peace was not simply about not being afraid at the sight of a dead man who is alive again, but also an assurance of forgiveness." The questions still remains, did He save us? Is He our Savior? What did He save us from? Who is He, Who is Jesus really?


Daniel Weir said...

Thanks again.

One of the conversations that I often have is about the difficulty many of us have, not seemingly with Jesus as Savior, but with Jesus as Lord. I often want to be saved - usually from myself - but less often do I want to let Jesus sit on the throne of my heart. I would guess that the connection between that and the discussion we have had about the Atonement is that really letting Jesus be Savior means letting him be Lord. What I most need is to be saved from my own self - the old Adam as Paul puts it. To accept the gift of salvation means letting Jesus be, in the words of one of my favorite hymns, the star of my life.

I really do recommend Hall's "The Cross in Our Context." The passage that led me to read it is:
"The theology of the cross, which may be stimulatetd (as we have seen) by a certain kind of anthropoligical understanding, is nevertheless first of all a statement about God, and what it says about God is not that God thinks humankind so wretched that it deserves death and hell, but that God thinks humankind and the whole creation so good, so beautiful, so precious on its intention and its potentiality, that its actualization, its fulfillment, its redemption is worth dying for."

The problem that I have with so many of the substitutionary approaches to the Atonement is that they seem to have lost the Good News that the Father loves us very much.

Unknown said...

I do agree with you there, Daniel. The chasm is wide between Jesus as our Savior and Jesus as our Lord. It seems that we can be quite fickle, despite our best intentions.

I also agree with you that there can be quite a severity that can come across from those of us who hold to the view of the Atonement. I confessed I think earlier that I the one thing I retained from my years in Christian Science was the deep understanding that God loves us and you take it even further by saying that it is that the Father loves us very much. I do agree that this love can be lost - much in our own conversations and denouncements, by how we treat one another. I cannot tell you how often my own conscience is singed in prayer.

I think I often make the mistake of assuming that we understand as Christians just how much God loves us - how amazing is His love, what Good News it is. There is a temptation I think that when we see Jesus taking on the sins of the world, our sins, my sins - to not grasp how wide, how deep, how long is love of the Father. How could the Father turn away from His Son dying on the cross. How could He do that - but that His own nature is fully who Jesus is as well. God puts Himself on the cross for His people. It is our sins that killed Jesus, not God. He allowed it to happen - what greater love can there be than one lay down His life for His friends?

God bless you, Fr. Daniel and all of you who have posted here.


Alice C. Linsley said...

The Love is shown in the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. John's gospel and epistles make this very clear. To be "in Christ" is to be in that Love. To be in that Love, is ever to grow toward the Light.

This is the meaning of the witness of the Three: the Water, the Blood and the Spirit who bear eternal witness on earth even as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit bear eternal witness in heaven. Any understanding of the Blood that removes it from the context of the eternal Three is mistaken.

Thanks for an interesting discussion!

William Tighe said...

May I recommend a little (103 pages) book which, by coincidence, I happen just to have reread? It is *The Pattern of Atonement* by H. A. Hodges (1955) of which numerous cheap copies are available online through,, Alibris and the like.

Hodges (1905-1976) was for most of his adult life Professor of Philosophy at the University of reading. A Methodist by birth and upbringing, and a teenage Methodist lay-preacher, he became an atheist as an Oxford undergraduate, and then about a decade later he was converted to, as he put it, "the Catholic Faith as professed in the Church of England." He was involved in a number of Christian apologetic projects in the 1940s and 50s, and as such was associated with Dorothy Sayers, C. S. Lewis and others in that circle. He was also strongly Orthodoxophile in his outlook and was a life-long active member of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius.

*The Pattern of Atonement* is a very lucid philosophical/scriptural discussion of various "Atonement theories" and their biblical foundations and philosophical coherence. Alice, in particular, might be interested in his long booklet *Anglicanism and Orthodoxy* (1955; 57 pages) in which he argues that Anglicanism (or, rather, the Church of England) should more and more seek to recover "its Patristic heritage" (one might add, "free of Western Papal distortions, and Reformation counter-distortions," save that Hodges was the most gentle of polemicists) in order to be able, in the end, to be recognized by the (Eastern) Orthodox as (Western) Orthodox, and so be reconciled and reunited. That last hope has become an obvious impossibility for reasons that I need not mention here (although it has, at times, been embraced by at least one Continuing Anglican body, the "Anglican Catholic Church"), but *The Pattern of Atonement* retains its relevance and utility, not least in the context of the present discussion.

Anonymous said...

"Once again I find Christians who claim that Anslem's understanding of the Atonement is the only possible one."

This is pure straw-man-izing. I have never met a Christian nor read a book which alleged that Anselm's understanding of the atonement is "the only possible one." Those who preach and defend the Biblical doctrine of penal substitution (as I do) are well aware that Anselm's work, valuable as it was, was only a step toward unfolding the full-orbed Biblical doctrine.

And even those who reject Penal Substitution in favor of, say, a Christus Victor, Recapitulation, or Mystical concept of atonement should be well aware that truly "something objective" truly happened on the Cross.

If nothing of value happened there, then the problems of the Divine justice and theodicy would become (pardon my pun) excruciating. What kind of sadistic God would permit the death of His Son if it didn't make a difference?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Something so objective as to constitute all Reality.

Dr. Tighe, thanks for your excellent response. Hodges' hope that the C of E might be one with Orthodoxy by embracing the Patristic heritage (minus innovations) seems more remote than ever, I fear.

Daniel Weir said...

My problem is not only with Anselm, but with the assertion that "the Biblical doctrine of penal substitution" is the fundamental way to view the Atonement. I understand the arguments for it, and I believe that something objective happened on the Cross, but I remain unconvinced that penal substution is the best way to interpret what happened. As I read the history of theology in the Patristic period, it seems that few of the Fathers saw penal substitution as the way to explain the Atonement.

There is a good article, with which I don't entirely agree, in the latest Christian Century. It deals quite fairly, IMV, with the debates about the Atonement.

Anonymous said...

Fr Weir: You seem to be familiar with the arguments for Penal Substition, so I will not rehearse them here. (For those unfamiliar, the writings of Leon Morris, JIPacker, John Stott make the case quite well.) But I would bring up what the Risen Jesus asked the two disciples at Emmaus: "Was it not necessary that Christ should suffer these things and enter into glory?"

How do you explain this necessity? And do you agree that Jesus (God Incarnate) really said such a thing?

Daniel Weir said...

"Was it not necessary...?"

Yes, but I see the necessity in Jesus's faithfulness and not in the Father's requiring a blood sacrifice. It was necessary that Jesus remain faithful to his own self, to being who he is and doing what the Father had sent him to do, to the proclaiming of the Good News of God's reign, the Good News of God's love for us. There was, I think, an inevitable consequence to that faithfulness, as there is to our faithfulness, the world's hatred. And that means the Cross.

Again,I would suggest that there are other ways to understand the Atonement and other ways to interpret texts like this. To decide, as I have done, not to embrace penal substitution as a way to understand the objectove reality of the Atonement is not to be a heretic.

Unknown said...

I am not one who wants to shut down conversation by declaring opposing voices heretics. I do however want to challenge you on why Jesus had to die. It's not that God is mean and bloodthirsty - hardly.

In order for there to be justice, someone has to pay the price. Otherwise, there is no justice. If someone commits a horrific act - a truly horrific act, there must be a price for that act if there's going to be justice. Someone is going to have to pay.

Normally, it's the person who has committed the horrific act. In our own government system, we work hard on our legal system - flawed as it is - so that justice is truly served. We fall way below the mark so often, but that is the intention. Even to this day, we work through how to live out justice when it comes to the USA's own horrific past of institutional slavery. How do we see justice in our own recovery of that brutal part of our history?

But it can also be close to home - two siblings fighting over a toy and one breaks it. How is justice served - a parent must decide this every day?

We owe a debt we cannot pay. Our sin is a horrific, horrific barrier between God and humankind. God can love us all He wants, but there is no justice in that love. We have a rather sunny view ourselves these days - maybe it's time to have a group read of Heart of Darkness again. But it's an illusion - an illusion I know so well in my own religious upbringing.

9-11 was one of those historic moments when we realized that thinking nice thought was not going to cut it. And even education was not going to solve it - the leaders of those who carried out the 9-11 attacks were extremely well-educated. We could blame everyone in that religion - but that's a fallacy as well. And even in our own religious history we must come to understand that it wasn't the Jews that killed Jesus - we did. We all did. God didn't put Jesus on the cross - our sin did. And because it's our sin that put him there, His death and resurrection give us all new life. The choice to believe, however, is ours.

The amazing love of God is that He didn't resist. He took it. That's the amazing love of the Atonement. God had the power to jump right off that cross and wipe out Jerusalem. He didn't do that.

The disciples thought He was a failure. Yes, there's something in us that just recoils that such a Glorious Failure, as Rowan has been talking about lately, could prove to be the Redemption of the world. But so it is.

I push back, Daniel, understanding that I am not going to call you a heretic for disagreeing. I appreciate that your conversation here has been vastly different than Giles and his intolerant rhetoric. The paradox of the cross is a mystery - but at the end of the day I think we're still faced with the question, a question that we will face at the Day of Judgment, if we do believe that such a day is before each of us.

Are we guilty or not?


Fr. John McCuen said...

Allow me, if you will, to rush in where angels fear to tread. I will preface my comment by giving, as briefly as possible, a bit of my background. I'm also going to have to reply in two parts, as my initial message exceeded the allowable number of characters for a comment!

Having been a long-time member of the Episcopal Church (20+ years) before departing for seminary, and having served as a priest for just under 5 years after graduation from VTS in 1990, I could not go where the leadership of ECUSA at that time (and subsequently) was clearly heading. Our search for an answer as to where we could go kindled in us a desire for the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church; and so we became members of the Church through the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in 1995. Several years later, I was ordained a deacon; and, in 2002, ordained a priest. I have served God and His people at our parish in Phoenix, Arizona, since that time. As such, I agree with Fr. Daniel's assessment that the teachings of the Orthodox Church come to the question at hand from a different understanding.

bb, you asked the question, "Are we guilty, or not?" The answer is, of course, that we are guilty. This is not the problem. Rather, the problem is the association of guilt with justice, and the association of justice with punishment.

The Orthodox understanding of this doesn't emphasize the aspect of guilt. Where the Western Church has been profoundly influenced by the concept of original sin as taught by Blessed Augustine of Hippo -- a concept that might just as easily be termed, original "guilt" -- the Orthodox perspective says instead that original sin is what might be called, original "defect." In other words, we are not born guilty; we are born defective -- a defect introduced into our being, our nature, by the disobedience of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. Now, the inevitable result of this defect is that we sin; and so, when St. Paul says that all have sinned, he is correct; as he is also correct when he says that the wages of sin is death. Herein, I think, is an important root of the Atonement.

But what was accomplished by the death of Christ? The short form of the answer is found in the triumphal hymn we sing at Pascha (Easter, for those of you in the West): "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death; and upon those in the tomb, bestowing life." That is to say, we are born defective; this defect leads inevitably to sin; and sin produces death. By dying, Christ destroyed the power of death; and by His Resurrection from the dead with His material body, He has raised all the dead.

The Cross, then, is not so much the "pathway to heaven" as it is the end of death. With this is an Orthodox teaching that turns some of the theology we learned in the West on its head. It is not that sin causes death (although the result of sinning is death). Rather, death -- the fear of death -- empowers the impulse to sin. When we, with a will weakened by the defect in our being, ponder the question, "Is this life all there is?" we open the door to the fear of death; and when we answer the question, "maybe," we are about to cross the threshold into yielding to our passions, and so sinning.

Fr. John McCuen said...

(Part Two)

Having said that the Cross is the end of death, it needs to be said that this is true for both the sinner and the saint. If both are beneficiaries of what was done on the Cross, what, then, distinguishes the one from the other? Here again, St. Paul gives us a part of the answer. When we are baptized, we are baptized into the life of Christ Who has risen from the dead, and Who, in the fullness of His humanity as well as His divinity, has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The saint is someone who takes the potential created in him (or her) for this new life, and who lives in such a way as to realize an increasing measure of their new life in Christ, in which they show forth Christ more and more in the world. By contrast, the sinner does not desire to live in a heavenly manner, and so remains attached to this world and its ways. Both will stand before the Lord on the great and terrible Day of Judgment, and both will have to give an account of their lives; and both have the prospect of a blessed eternity in heaven, or an eternity of torment in hell -- from which death is no longer a release, as death has been destroyed by the death of our Lord on the Cross. Justice, then, is not meted out at the Cross; it is accomplished when the separation of the sheep from the goats takes place, as in the latter part of the 25th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

Sorry to be so long-winded. As a friend in seminary said, "It takes me two pages just to clear my throat!"

William Tighe said...

What Fr. John has written in his two most recent comments is implicit in the Orthodoxophile Anglican Hodges' book, *The Pattern of Atonement,* to which I referred above.

Hodges completely repudiates "legal fictions" as applied to the question of the Atonement.

Daniel Weir said...

I am thankful for Fr. John's contribution to this discussion.

I trust that there is nothing in what I have posted here that would suggest that I do not know/acknowledge that we are guilty. When I sing "Who was the guilty?...Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone thee." I don't cross my fingers. Recognizing my guilt and God's justice does not, IMV, mean accepting that God required someone be punished for the sin of the world.

The mystery of the Atonement is not, as if it were a whodunit, something to be solved. Rather it is to be for us, whatever thinking we may do about it - and we should do that thinking - a focus for contemplation. No matter who we seek to understand it, our understanding will always fall short, and we find ourselves in awe of the love which we see at Calvary.

plsdeacon said...

That Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection atones for our sins (that it restores us to union with God) is undeniably a Christian Doctrine. You have to believe in the fact of the Atonement. The Church has always said that.

Specifically how that happens is a matter of theory. The theory that Jesus pays the price for our sins has significant scriptural support.

Likewise that Jesus defeated the power of sin and death by submitting to death on the cross and being resurrected also has scriptural support.

My answer between these two theories (and the variations on them) is an unqualified "YES!" I believe that Jesus paid a debt that I owe and cannot pay. I believe that Jesus' death on the cross and my acceptance of that death will declare me "innocent" on Judgement day and I believe that he defeated the powers of sin and death on the cross. There is no need to choose between metaphors.

When I am in prison, I find that penal substitution holds great sway because the incarcerated understand (in a way that I do not) paying for crime (sin) and being declared innocent when you are, in reality, guilty. When I am speaking with middle class Americans, I find that many of them like the idea of paying a debt that they cannot pay because they have debts they cannot pay.

All metaphors about how the atonement works are simply that - metaphors. To reject one as "false" because it doesn't suit your sensibilities is arrogant and wrong. To reject the doctrine of "atonement" because you don't like one metaphor is simply sloppy thinking and says more about you than it does the atonement.

Phil Snyder

Daniel Weir said...

"All metaphors about how the atonement works are simply that - metaphors. To reject one as "false" because it doesn't suit your sensibilities is arrogant and wrong."

I agree with Phil. My concern is not about right or wrong metaphors, but about how compatible metaphors are with the Gospel. It has been argument from the beginning that penal substitution is a less appropriate metaphor, to use Phil's language, than others. I will concede the point that I make this argument, not because I think that it has always been less appropriate, but because it is less appropriate in the context in which I live and work. What started this interesting discussion was the question of whether rejection of a particular metaphor. e.g., penal substitution, was heresy.

A personal story about another theological disagreement. I have shared in a couple of sermons my own uneasiness about a literal understanding of the Virgin Birth. A colleague, without speaking with me about it, complained to the bishop about one of these sermons. One of the conservative members of the parish, who disagreed with me on this matter, wrote a letter to the bishop defending me on the grounds of the traditional freedom that Anglicans have had in discussion of theology. That parishioner left the Episcopal Church in 2003, but we remain friends and he describes himself as a member of the loyal opposition.

Unknown said...

Oswald Chambers once wrote something that had a great impact on me during my conversion out of Christian Science. He said that "doubt" was not wrong - that "doubt" means we're thinking. And that's a good thing.

It was very hard to doubt Christian Science. We are well indoctrinated in our childhood of what would happen if you doubt. That alone is a major indication that something was terribly wrong. God didn't put a mind in us and then expect us to behave like robots. He wants our faith to be real, in our hearts. Doubting is not the same as disbelief. Doubting, as Chambers wrote, means we're thinking. Doubters, from God's point of view, are welcome.

I don't think there's sin in thinking about the Virgin birth. It truly is an extraordinary event. I began in the opposite place, though - I began by believing it was purely a spiritual idea. That's where I started. My doubt went the other way, that God really became Man. That blew my whole Christian Science understanding into bits.

And yet it seems to make sense to me that if we question that God became Man and suffered the penalty of sin on our behalf, then we would also question whether He ever became Man at all - and Jesus is diminished to be the most extraordinarily enlightened human being who ever lived, or as we said in Christian Science, the "Way Shower," not the "Way." Not very God of very God.

I do believe we need to have freedom to discuss theology - and safe places with one another to express our doubts. But at the same time, as clergy but also I believe as lay leaders, if we lead others astray, if lambs who trust us are lead over the theological cliff, that's a terrible thing to do. I believe in spiritual retreats for clergy, for sabbaticals. I think they should be written into every clergy contract, we expect doctors to continue their education long after Med School. I think once the clergy are out of seminary, they are so often isolated beyond belief and their own theological growth is stymied and they grow spiritually cold. This is true for lay leaders as well, when we become so busy with the work of the church that we forget to actually worship and read scripture, and ask questions - and yes, even doubt. We too wake up one morning spiritually cold.

I am glad, Daniel, that you and the parishioner you mention remain friends. That's so heartening to hear! Again, I do not question your freedom to doubt - I think doubt is actually the first step toward renewal. We begin to admit that we don't know everything. ;-)

But that's just the beginning. We are challenged not to hide from God, like Elijah in the cave. Our doubt, left alone, can become like Elijah's cave, a place where we hide and God calls us out to listen to Him, to hear His still small voice break through the tumult of our doubts.


Daniel Weir said...

"And yet it seems to make sense to me that if we question that God became Man and suffered the penalty of sin on our behalf, then we would also question whether He ever became Man at all - and Jesus is diminished to be the most extraordinarily enlightened human being who ever lived, or as we said in Christian Science, the "Way Shower," not the "Way." Not very God of very God."

I trust that there is nothing in my comments that suggsets that I do not believe that Jesus is "very God from very God." I also have not, I think, suggested that Paul was wrong when he wrote that the wages of sin is death or that Jesus who had not sinned became sin for our sake. What I have questioned is the assertion that God could not or would not forgive sin without blood sacrifice. What is, I think, a point on which we agree is that Christ's Incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection are acts of love, wondrous love, love beyond our wildest hopes and imaginings.

plsdeacon said...

Fr. Wier,

There is a difference between "this biblical metaphor speaks to me more than that biblical metaphor" and "I don't like that metaphor, so it is not true." The first statement is one that acknowledges that the metaphor may speak to others and the second denies what Scripture says.

As clergy in the Episcopal Church, we promised to confrom to the "Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of Christ as this Church has received them. So, even when we have our doubts, we are bound to teach what the Church has taught, not what we happen to think or feel or believe at the moment.

Phil Snyder

Daniel Weir said...


I get a feeling that you are reading more into my comments than I actually wrote and it is hard to respod to comments that address something that I didn't write. A case in point: I never - never - stated that I thought any of the metaphors that we might use to explain the Atonement - or any other article of doctrine - isn't true.

As, I think, the only other Episcopal Church cleric involved in this disccusion, I can only assume that your second paragraph was directed at me, perhaps as a bit of brotherly admonition. I believe that the Episcopal Church has never made penal substitution the offical teaching for the Atonement. As to my own struggles with the Virgin Birth, it has been precisely the Church's teaching on the full humanity of Jesus that has led me to suggest that any understanding of the Virgin Birth that would tend towards denial of Christ's humanity needs to be reexamined.

plsdeacon said...

Fr. Wier,

I did not say or intend to imply that you held one metaphor to be wrong. You clearly did not say that and if I came across that way, I apologize. I was actually agreeing with you that different metaphors speak to different people. However, I was also saying that to say that a biblical metaphor is wrong because it does not speak to you (really aimed at Giles Frasier) is arrogant in the extreme.

The second paragraph is somewhat widely aimed. I've known clergy that teach what they believe (or doubt) at that moment in time and disregard what the Church has received on any topic. I've read sermons denying the physical resurrection of Jesus or that say that God inspired Mohammed to start Islam or any number of heresies.

I think it is OK to have doubts from time to time (we would not be human if we did not) and to re-examine our personal faith in light of the Faith of the Church. But, when we teach or preach, what we teach and preach needs to be in line with what the Church has already received (not what TEC may construe today or tomorrow). This is not aimed at you because I don't know if you are one of those clergy who make up their faith day to day (I rather doubt it, but I don't know).

If I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness.

Phil Snyder