"the conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God and the absolute imperative of evangelism are not in dispute in the common life of the Communion."
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Christ Died Because of Our Sins, Not For Our Sins
from Ed Bacon, rector
Is God’s capacity to forgive limited or is it measureless and lacking desire for retribution? Did Jesus die because of our sins or did he die for our sins? In this debate about the nature of God, Jesus actually had quite a strong point of view. Jesus’ image of God was one of unconditional love as he described the forgiving
parent in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Quoting Hebrew Scripture (Hosea 6:6; by the way, don’t ever let someone tell you that “the God of the Old Testament is a God of punishment”), Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9: 9-13).
Much of institutionalized Christianity has taught a theology that disagrees with Jesus. Rather than seeing God with a powerful eagerness to forgive simply because of the nature of God’s love, which has no need for bloodthirsty sacrifices, the church has often expressed a competing theology (based on an 11th century theory of St. Anselm referred to as “substitutionary sacrificial atonement”). That theology has held that the very essence of Christianity is that without Christ’s sacrificial
death on the cross, “we would forever be guilty, ashamed and condemned before God.” (Mark Dever, “Nothing but the Blood,” Christianity Today, May, 2006, p. 29, quoted in Borg, Marcus, Jesus; Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, pp. 267-268)
The Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser, says about this theology, “the idea of God murdering his son for the salvation of the world is … morally indefensible. It turns Christianity into cosmic child abuse.” (Giles Fraser, “Cross Purposes,” The Guardian, April 4, 2007) Furthermore, Dr. Fraser (the Vicar of St. Mary’s Church, Putney, in London and lecturer at Oxford) argues that it promotes a heretical theological basis for the death penalty, refusing to believe that pure and simple forgiveness without punishment can ever be a proper response to sin. Such a conditioned form of forgiveness is the basis of retributive understandings of justice (a debt has to be paid off in full) instead of restorative understandings of justice. Restorative
justice has been at the heart of Desmond Tutu’s ministry in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa -- “No Future Without Forgiveness.” This is why it is important for us to reexamine this skewed theology of justice-as-revenge which also functions aggressively beneath a foreign policy that initiates unjust, immoral wars of choice and then calls on religion to bless those wars.
I would like for us to make some occasions to discuss these matters as a faith community. In our reassessment of an injurious theology certain
hymn texts and Eucharistic prayers need to be examined. Thus, on May 13, Elaine Pagels and I will lead a conversation in the Rector’s Forum about these matters. On June 10, James Carroll will be here to offer his resources to our reflections. In addition, Giles Fraser will be in residence at All Saints in October for additional teaching. Finally, we are inviting Marcus Borg to be with us in 2008. I hope that you will join me in these efforts to bring our theology into alignment with that of Jesus.
Borg, Marcus, Jesus; Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary
Carroll, James, Constantine’s Sword; The Church and the Jews: A History. (Read especially the last section of the book on Church Reform)
Fraser, Giles, http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/giles_fraser/
Pagels, Elaine, Beyond Belief; The Secret Gospel of Thomas
Terrell, Joanne Marie, Power in the Blood? The Cross in the African American Experience
MAY 6, 2007
THE NEWSLETTER OF ALL SAINTS EPISCOPAL