Y is for Yes (an alphabet for penitents)

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”” (Matthew 26:39, NIV)

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”” (John 10:18, NRSV)

Yes was Jesus’s answer to God in submitting to the cross. Yes is God’s answer to us through the cross.

It was late in the evening as Jesus knelt in the garden, full of dread at what awaited him— the desertion of the disciples, night time trials, beatings, flogging, mockery, and derision from law enforcement, the rejection of his people, and death on a Roman cross. Luke’s gospel tells us that he the sweat on his brow as prayed was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He was in anguish, anxious about the horrors he’d soon face. He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” He knew how hard it would be and part of him didn’t want to do it.  But then he adding his yes to God, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

When he refused to offer a spirited defense of the trumped up charges against him, he was willfully accepted his fate. Nobody took his life from him. He laid his life down of his own accord.

✝✟✝

Why the cross? Why did our salvation take this shape? If you spend time in Christian circles, you have probably heard debates about the nature of Christ’s atonement—the way the cross saved us from our sin. The dominant theory for Evangelicals since the Reformation is a penal understanding: God is just and therefore must punish sin, we are sinful deserving of death, Jesus—both God’s Son, and sinless human—took our punishment for us on the cross. This is just one understanding of the work of Christ, but there are others: Christus Victor and Ransom models(Jesus’ victory over the powers), Moral Influence and subjective models(Jesus dies on a cross to make vivid the love of God for us), the Satisfaction model (like penal substitution, but more focused on God’s honor),  Sacrifice, mimetic atonement (Jesus breaking the cycle of  mimetic human violence), and variations on each of the above.

I don’t have a definitive answer for why the cross. I know that there are caricatures of God we need to avoid in whatever atonement theory we ascribe to or construct (i.e. ones that make the crucifixion seem like divine child abuse, and those that deny the unity of God in His plan for salvation) and I would say the cross is some combination of all the above. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19). The Triune God was acting to welcome humanity back into their (His) embrace.  In the wisdom of God, this was the plan, God’s  yes.

✝✟✝

My seven-year-old daughter asked recently, “Why do we call it Good Friday when it is the day Jesus died?” Anyone who has grown up in the church has asked that same question. Today could have just as easily been called Bad Friday, the day we killed God. We call today good because of what the cross accomplished, the way Jesus’s death opened for us. There he hung—his arms stretched out while his body slumped forward, a”Y”— God’s yes for us.

 

Union with Our Atoning Christ: a book review

Many recent treatments of the atonement questions the dominance of forensic model in evangelicalism. There are few cranky Reformed folks that are piping out the centrality of penal substitution, but many are hunting for other models (i.e. Christus Victor, or Moral Influence, non-violent models, etc) or proposing a multi-metaphor, mosaic approach (see, for example, Scot Mcknight’s A Community Called Atonement).  Andrew Purves also questions the dominance of legal models, but he does so through a sustained engagement with three major theological voices from the Scottish Reformed tradition: John McLeod Campbell, Hugh Ross Mackintosh and T.F. Torrance.In Exploring Christology & Atonement, Purves examines each thinker’s contribution to atonement theology and Christology. While these theologians are not exactly the same in approach (Torrance and Mackintosh had their criticisms of Campbell, and Mackintosh had been Torrance’s teacher), they represent a common trajectory. Each theologian sets the atonement within the context of the relations between Jesus, the incarnate Son, with the Father. The result is that union with Christ becomes the guiding idea for properly understanding God’s purpose for the Cross and its result.

9780830840779Purves is  one of my favorite pastoral theologians. His Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation and the shorter, more accessible The Crucifixion of Ministry explored ministry in the image of Christ, allowing the cruciform nature of ministry and what it means to minister in his name. Purves teaches Historical Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary [Edit: Purves is now Emeritus Faculty at Pittsburgh]. In his earlier volumes he showed the practical fruit of engaging biblical, historical and patristic theology. That goal is not far off in this volume either. Campbell, MacKintosh and Torrance were first-rate theologians (Campbell was not a professional theologian but a pastor). They were also men-of-faith mindful of the implications of their theology for ordinary believers.

In seven chapters, Purves walks through the thought of these theologians. His first three chapters explore Christology, setting the atonement within the context of Christ’s Union with God and his representative union with humanity, “The Magnificent exchange is to be thought of as Jesus Christ as he unfolds himself out in saving ministry by which he joins us to himself in his human nature and us to him. Union with Christ is embedded as one work within the magnificent exchange as by the Holy Spirit he binds us to himself in his human nature to share his benefits” (124).

In the next three chapters, Purves examines Campbell, MacKintosh and Torrance in turn, exploring how each move away from Jesus being merely a satisfaction for God’s wrath but the cross being the way in which God in his love unites us with Himself.  These chapters are sympathetic-critical. Purves acknowledges aspects of their theology that are underdeveloped (such as, for example, Campbell’s pneumatology) but also gives them the benefit of the doubt, following the trajectory of where their theology leads.

Campbell’s emphasis is on how the incarnation in the atonement affects our union with God, “The atonement is not punishment for sin but rather a spiritual and moral access to the Father through Christ’s confession our sin and through union with Christ, having adopted us as ‘sons’ of God” (145).  While Christ’s atonement is vicarious, and in some sense substitutionary (in our stead), this is not conceived as a primarily legal exchange but ‘morally’ or ‘spiritually’ (152-53).  MacKintosh also moves us beyond the legal metaphors as he explores the nature of divine forgiveness. For MacKintosh, “The death of Jesus has significance for reconciliation only when considered in the light, and as expression, of His life” (183). The cross is the culmination of how he lived, Jesus already made our sins his own in his baptism and bore our transgressions throughout his earthly ministry. Jesus death reveals both God’s condemnation of sin and “God’s absolute revelation of love toward sinful people” (183-184).

Torrance’s chapter shows how clearly he stands in the tradition  of Campbell and MacKintosh and reveals that he is more than simply Barth’s acolyte. Torrance explores the interconnection of Christology and atonement, expoloring the kingly, priestly and prophetic nature of Christ’s redemption (208). He grounds Jesus’ priestly ministry in the ontological relationship between Father and Son and Christ’s hypostatic union (216).  In  Christ’s atonement, God is the primarily actor in the atonement, both in the human and Divine dimensions of his person, (220-221). “The divine Logos united himself with our human nature, revealing himself within our humanity, but also within our humanity enabled us to receive his revelation personally in love and faith and understanding” (230).

The last chapter serves as a postscript exploring how each of these theologians were concerned with how their theology worked out practically and pastorally.

My awareness of each these theologians and their work  is minimal. I have read a little Torrance, had MacKintosh’s book unread on my shelf, and had not heard of Campbell before picking this book up. As such, I probably didn’t get as much out of this book as I could have, but appreciate the window that Purves provided into the theologies of these three churchmen. I also appreciate their joint emphasis (and Purves’s) on union with Christ in the atonement and how the cross is more than just a satisfaction of God’s wrath but his means to make both his Love visible and accessible to us. I give this four stars

Note: I received this from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Suffering Servant and the Good News: a book review

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology edited by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser

The prophet Isaiah has long been mined by Christian interpreters of the Bible for its Christological significance. This is especially true of the ‘Suffering Servant’ passages from the latter part of Isaiah. In this multi-author volume edited by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser, examines Isaiah 53 in light of the gospel with an eye towards how this passage can bring Jewish people to faith in Jesus Christ. Despite Isaiah’s status as a Jewish prophet and his prominence among Christian interpreters, this passage is almost unknown among Jewish people. Written to pastors, missionaries and lay leaders, this book is intended as a resource for those who are ‘preaching  and teaching this profound passage and using it to reach unbelievers with a message of redemption (28)’.

The book is organized into three parts. Part one discusses the various interpretations of Isaiah 53. Richard Averbeck surveys Christian interpretations of this chapter (focusing especially on contemporary interpreters). Having examined the competing views, Averbeck argues that the first-person language does not imply the personification of the nation of Israel but one person acting on behalf of the nation.  Michael L. Brown discusses the history of Jewish interpretations of this chapter (showing how the corporate interpretation has often been posited to obscure the messianic implications and how this chapter points to Jesus).

In part two,  Isaiah 53 is placed within a biblical-theological framework. Walter Kaiser argues that the Servant language in Isaiah 53 should be read as a messianic designation and that Jesus understood his ministry in this context.  Michael Wilkins examines the gospel accounts, concluding that Jesus saw himself as the Servant, and the gospel writers also made this identification. Darrell Bock examines Acts 8 (Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch) and how Isaiah 53 in that context, illuminates Jesus’ death.  Craig Evans discusses allusions to Isaiah 53 in the New Testament material from Peter, Paul, John and the book of Hebrews.  David Allen’s chapter sets Isaiah 53 within a cultic context and argues for the significance of substiutionary atonement in understanding the passage. Robert Chisholm rounds out part two by discussing salvation and forgiveness in this chapter and arguing that according to this passage, the beneficiaries of  the Servant’s suffering are both Israel and the nations, that the ‘illness’ described in the chapter imply Jerusalem’s destruction, exile, injustice, death and war, that the breach of the covenant is the fundamental sin for which the blameless Servant suffers,  and that the Servant’s suffering and death provide the means toward divine forgiveness.

Part three addresses how to communicate this passage evangelistically. John Feinberg discusses how Isaiah 53 can be used to articulate the gospel message to ‘postmoderns.’  Mitch Glasser focuses his chapter on how Isaiah 53 can be used effectively in Jewish evangelism (his point is not to debate, or beat Jews over the head with a proof text, but using this chapter to open up a fruitful dialogue). Lastly, Donald Sunukjian gives practical advice to preachers for preaching an expository message based on this chapter (with an eye towards it’s structure).  Each of the chapters of the book are summarized in Darrell Bock’s conclusion (and quoted extensively) and the book also includes in the appendices two sermons from Donald Sunukjian which illustrate a couple of different homiletic approaches to the text.

As is the case with other multi-author studies, there is some overlap in chapter content; however the authors are remarkably united in purpose and theological commitments. These are some of the best and brightest of conservative Biblical scholars and they thoroughly examine this passage in light of historical interpretation, biblical theology, literary structure, and linguistically. You need not agree with the authors on every point (I’m not sure that I do) to appreciate the care and attention in which they craft their argument. I think they make a good case that a individual, substitutionary, Suffering Servant reading of the text, is faithful understanding of the text, and that this passage does point to the significance of Jesus’ work.

But what I appreciate most about this book is the compelling case made here, that Jesus understood his life, ministry and death in light of the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. Scot McKnight, in the King Jesus Gospel made the provocative claim that many evangelistic presentations by evangelicals completely ignore the Old Testament in their articulation of the gospel.  In The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, the authors prove that for these scholars at least, this is not the case. The gospel of Jesus Christ includes the way Jesus fulfills the hopes of Israel.  By seeing the significance of this passage for Jewish people, we gentiles also come to a fuller appreciation of the gospel story and Christ’s work.

So I recommend this book to pastors and teachers who want to communicate the truths of this passage. I certainly plan to refer back to this book in my preaching and teaching from this passage.

I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for this review.