Friday, 23 September 2011

Giles Fraser and Substitutionary Atonement

 I heard Giles Fraser talking about justice and retribution on  thought for the day this morning. I like Fraser's ideas and I wasn't surprised to hear that he rejects the whole idea of a wrathful God who must be appeased by his son paying the price for sin, or as Fraser says,
" retribution is the model of justice which underpins the way many Christians have understood Christ's death on the cross, or as the hymn says "there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin."
Fraser then goes on to reject this model as "wrongheaded" because Jesus himself rejected the idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for  tooth. A God of love, he says, operates out of forgiveness, and that is what the cross is all about.
The theology of the cross is certainly complex. I see it as a multi- faceted symbol which yields a number of meanings. Like Fraser, I am not keen on the idea of propitiation, of a wrathful God demanding blood, but I do  not think that means that we should throw out the concept that Jesus "died for our sins" or "paid the price", because that is essentially what the cross is about. I do not understand why people perceive that Jesus "paying the price" on the cross is an act of vengeance on the part of God.  If the Father and the Son are one, then when Jesus suffered, the Father suffered too. The cross is a symbol of God absorbing anger within the Godhead as an excruciating alternative to inflicting it on humankind.

The cross is about sacrifice, but it is the sacrifice of both Father and Son, not the sacrificing of one at the expense of the other. The cross offers a new type of sacrifice, or to paraphrase Star Wars, "It's sacrifice, Jim, but not as we know it." This is not the old blood price of more pagan thought, it is not the need to placate an angry and capricious deity but it is about  the divine modelling a love so great that it would endure rather than retaliate and woo rather than demand.

22 comments:

  1. Thank you Jonathan, that means a lot.

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  2. I am like you, Suem. I don't want to get rid of the concept of Jesus dying for our sins because it is helpful to many people including myself. I've had various ideas over the years and your post added to them. I think the whole thing is far more complicated than Giles Fraser suggests and I keep coming back to the nagging question, "What right do I have to get rid of a judgemental God when it's not me who is being raped by rebel soldiers or dying of starvation because of the greed of multinationals?"

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  3. If the Father and the Son are one, then when Jesus suffered, the Father suffered too. The cross is a symbol of God absorbing anger within the Godhead as an excruciating alternative to inflicting it on humankind.

    The cross is about sacrifice, but it is the sacrifice of both Father and Son, not the sacrificing of one at the expense of the other. The cross offers a new type of sacrifice, or to paraphrase Star Wars, "It's sacrifice, Jim, but not as we know it." This is not the old blood price of more pagan thought, it is not the need to placate an angry and capricious deity but it is about the divine modelling a love so great that it would endure rather than retaliate and woo rather than demand.


    Thanks Sue, that's brilliantly put. Critiques of penal substitution like those of Fraser are simplistic, almost caricatures. You've struck to the heart of it - the atonement is a transaction (for want of a better word) within God Himself. All 3 persons are deliberately involved (see Heb 9:14).

    I sense I may be shamelessly stealing some of that paragaph.

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  4. Thank you, David. It is nice to know that we can find some common ground:) I have to say that I do find Fraser's theology a little simplisitic at time (I am wondering whether to blog about his resignation today or tomorrow...)
    You are welcome to use the ideas here, ideas become our own. If you quote a chunk from the passage , then I would appreciate you acknowledging it - obviously only if it is printed or online, in a sermon or something is fine:)

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  5. I hope you won't mind me saying this, David, but if I am right the church you attend and work in does not allow women to teach or be in authority over men? (Please forgive me if I have got this wrong BTW.) It seems rather ironic therefore that you wish to use my ideas and/ or expressions theological ideas and "shamelessly steal" them - to pass off as your own?
    I don't mind you using the post in the way I've said, it's just something I would like you to think about...

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  6. Sue, I can gladly assure you that the irony is only due to your misunderstanding of what complementarianism entails.

    The apparent restrictions on teaching in a mixed congregation are about where authority is vested, not ability. As you know, we have 3 women on our staff team of 6 and I can happily affirm that they're all brighter and sharper than me - I'm a bit of a dolt really. They make great observations all the time, some of which make it into sermons and all of which shape my theology one way or another.\

    Again, the problem here is a very stereotyped (might I even say "blinkered") view of what complementarians both believe and practice.

    and, for clarity, I have no intention of "passing your work off as my own". I just saw a great observation and (like many people, I assume) thought it was worth repeating to others.

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  7. If they make it into your sermons or theology, David, then they have "taught", showing women do teach and lead men in theologicaland biblical matters - it just isn't acknowledged as such in complementarian churches, which is both unjust and a great waste of talents for all involved.

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  8. Sue, I fear that's a very constrained view of the issue. ISTM that you're insistent on understanding complementarianism a certain way.

    And yet you're having this conversation with a complementarian. He should know, perhaps ever better than you do, what he actually believes and what it looks like in practice.

    Could it possibly be, since he does not behave the way you expect him to behave, that the problem is not with complementarianism itself, but (at least in this instance) with your own understanding.

    The alternative, of course, is that you understand it far better than those who try and live it out day to day.

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  9. David, if we were to say of any ideology that those who believe in it have the final say on its validity then a facist, Nazi, feminist, communist could all say that they "understand" their ideology better than an outsider and so the outsider is not in a position to criticise or analyse it. As it happens, I am not an outsider to complementarianism anyway as I grew up in an evangelical, charismatic environment during my teeens and saw it in practice.

    You also assume that I "expect" male complementarians to behave in certain ways - perhaps you think I think they are brutish and violent or something. Well, I don't! I have met many women who believe in submission who are very strong minded and actually totally wear the trousers in their marriages! The same is often true of Islamic women who choose to take the veil. I am sure there are men and women who conform to the stereotypes, but I don't assume all, or most do. I have met some men and women in this day and age for whom it is a kind of play acting as much as anything - take the likes of Michelle Bachman, for example, who are actually hard as nails and very ambitious.

    But I note you have not answered the point I make in my post above, which is not about complementarianism per se, but more about the fact that women clearly do teach and lead you in your thinking. Given that we are clearly capable of teaching and edifying men, and in fact do so, why should that not be acknowledged, valued and those talents be developed. A response of, "Good idea - I'll pass it on in my sermon" seems to me dishonest, hypocritical and unjust?

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  10. well Sue, we're at a bit of an impasse. I'm a classical complementarian who sees no problem with learning all sorts of great stuff from women.

    You don't like what you think should be my position, and then if I don't hold to your stereotype you accuse me of dishonesty, hypocrisy and injustice.

    I suspect that part of the problem is that you still see complementarianism as having something to say about the worth and ability of women. I'm sorry if that's ever been modelled to you - in some ways we can't help but perceive things that way; we live in a world where we're all, especially women, told that our worth is measured by what we do, not simply who we are. FWIW I reject such a concept - and I strive to raise my daughter to understand that she has wonderful worth irrespective of the role she chooses to take, no matter what others will tell her.

    Complementarianism asserts that God has ordained that men should take the leading responsibility in home and church. So, as a specific example, many women may have all sorts of profound insights - but God has ordained that men should teach those things in a mixed congregation. Personally, I think acknowledgement of women's giftings and abilities is actually part of that authority/leadership.

    You don't agree - fair enough. But I think it's a little uncharitable to accuse me of the things that you do. You have very little idea of what it looks like for me and those entrusted to me and I am very convinced that squeezing what little you do know through a narrow stereotype does neither you nor myself any favours.

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  11. I am glad that you raise your daughter to understand that she is wonderful irrespective of the role she chooses to take. If that role is to be a priest who teaches and leads both men and women, I hope you will give her your wholehearted support?

    I am not quite sure what you mean when you say that I "accuse you of things that I do"? I also think it strange that you say I have "narrow stereotypes" about complementarianism, this really is your assumption. What stereotypes do you think I hold?

    I have already told you that the point I am raising with you is not complementarianism as an ideology or way of life, but the suggestion that using women's teaching in your teaching, while simultaneously saying women are not equipped by God to teach men, is a double standard and a kind of double think. Why not cut out the middle man (so to speak) and allow women to exercise their God given ability to teach and lead men themselves?

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  12. What stereotypes do you think I hold?

    This one:

    saying women are not equipped by God to teach men

    Thing is, I've never made that claim, nor do I know any complementarian who does. Yes, it would be a double standard if we held that view. The point remains this, simply having an ability does not mean that ability (as proficient as it is) should be exercised in each and every arena. I'm sure this must have been explained to you before.

    Complementarians are convinced that:
    1 God has gifted many women profoundly, just as He has gifted men.
    2 God has ordered our common life so that those gifts should be exercised in their proper contexts.

    For us this is a matter of obedience. You keep asking us to go against something that we are convinced God has spoken clearly on.

    Now why is that so hard to understand? There are a massive number of women who have read the Bible and come to these conclusions. They're not suppressed or denied their worth, they joyfully get on with serving as they understand they should - just as men get on with their particular roles, difficult as they may also be.

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  14. You are getting tetchy and strident, David. I wonder why?

    If you believe that women are equipped to teach men in church (which was clearly what I meant) then let them do so.

    You have still not answered my question about the double standard of using women's teaching in your teaching (in a church context)when you believe that women are not equipped to teach men (in a church context.)

    I know you have, as you say, been convinced God has spoken clearly on this matter - but you might well be mistaken! Just as a "massive number" of men and women believe in complementarianism, so a massive number - more I guess - do not. So, why not do what I suggested in the first place, which is to think about the issue? I am not asking you to come back to me with an "answer", but I am sincerely asking you to bear it in mind and think it through carefully and prayerfully over however long it takes you.
    Blessings!
    Sue.

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  15. You are getting tetchy and strident, David. I wonder why?

    you make me laugh! I posted a comment on this thread to affirm something you wrote and you turned it into an attack on my theology. And now you accuse me of getting tetchy! Hilarious.

    If you believe that women are equipped to teach men in church (which was clearly what I meant) then let them do so.

    But I don't believe that women are equipped to teach men in church. I don't think the issue actually has anything to do with being equipped despite how many times you keep reframing the question. On the contrary, in my last comment I deliberately drew out a distinction between abilities and roles. It is a little frustrating that despite my clarity on this matter you still appear unable to get what I'm saying.

    You have still not answered my question about the double standard of using women's teaching in your teaching (in a church context)when you believe that women are not equipped to teach men (in a church context.)

    Not at all, I just don't share your assumption that ability automatically leads to an exhaustive role.

    I know you have, as you say, been convinced God has spoken clearly on this matter - but you might well be mistaken! Just as a "massive number" of men and women believe in complementarianism, so a massive number - more I guess - do not. So, why not do what I suggested in the first place, which is to think about the issue?

    No I am going to get a little tetchy. What you have just written assumes that I have not thought about this matter. Once again you throw around stereotypes. What on earth makes you think I have not considered this matter in great depth? What makes you come to the conclusion that I have not thought about it? Can you please explain why it is that you make this accusation that I have not properly considered the matter? Further, you go on to argue that I have not considered it carefully or prayerfully. Again, on what basis do you make this claim? It appears to me to be entirely uncharitable of you. You portray those who disagree with you as unthinking, inconsiderate, undisciplined in their thinking and prayerless. Perhaps you might find a better way to have this conversation?

    I find it an interesting position for you to take given the fact that you have, so far, consistently misunderstood what my position is. I have clarified on a number of occasions but you pay little attention to what I write.

    Again, I made a brief comment about how helpful I found your comment to be. You used that as an excuse to launch an attack on my complementarianism which has now become an accusation of being
    unthinking
    inconsiderate
    undisciplined in thinking
    prayerless

    now, it is just possible that all of those things are true. But, on the other hand, they might not be. And, at the end of the day, to make accusations like that simply on the basis that I don't agree with you (rather than any actual evidence of those traits) is most uncharitable. I've tried to answer your question and clarify your misunderstandings of my position but I get this in return. Fair enough. If you're convinced that's the way to further this discussion then sadly I will have to bow out.

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  16. Hi David

    I don't know how you or your church operate. Like Sue I've had experience of the 'equal but complementary roles' teaching, though, and I do think it raises some problems.

    I was once in a church where the elders came to me and said they had been unable to complete the mission statement they'd been working on and needed my help. I thought at the time that if they needed me to complete such an important task, God was telling them something! They later asked me to join the eldership.

    I don't agree that the Bible teaches leadership in a mixed context ought always to be male. Deborah led the whole country of Israel as God's appointed judge, and that was in the patriarchal Old Testament. Hulda occupied the office of prophet in Isaiah's time. God told Abraham to do as Sarah told him. And the world used for Eve as a 'helper' in the creation account is the word for an equal or superior who helps, not a subordinate.

    In the New Testament Jesus' mother Mary was clearly a pretty bossy character, and overrode Jesus' wishes at Cana. Mary Magdalene was chose to be the first witness to Jesus' resurrection, even though a woman's testimony was not legally valid. That's why she's called 'the apostle to the apostles.'

    Paul instructs women to cover their heads when attending synagogue, as the men did, to show that they too had authority. We see in Paul's epistles that his general principle was 'in Christ there is no male or female'. He was very sensitive to culture, though, and when writing to places with strict rules segregating the sexes he would vary his instructions accordingly.

    Roman women were powerful, and in Romans he lists a number of women with important leadership roles in the church. Phoebe was a deacon, Junia 'of note among the apostles' (some translations 'a noted apostle'. Priscilla was ranked before her husband Aquila.

    Which is what you'd expect. What sort of God would give leadership abilities to women - some of England's best monarchs have been female - and then forbid them to use these abilities? That would be just capricious.

    Iffy Vicar

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  17. A wise decision, David. When one feels compelled to rant and rave in such a manner, it is usually a sign that it is time to bow out.

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  18. Do you know what, let's not. Instead, I'd be very grateful if you could explain for me on what basis you accuse me of being:

    unthinking
    inconsiderate
    undisciplined in thinking
    prayerless on this matter.

    Those are big and uncharitable claims to make. I think you should provide at least some basis for them.

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  19. I've never used a single one of those words or accusations against you, David. They are words and phrases you have used yourself. If they reflect the picture you have seen from the mirror that my words have held up for you then that, my brother, is very much your problem and not mine.

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  20. for the record:

    unthinking: "So, why not do what I suggested in the first place, which is to think about the issue?"

    inconsiderate: "think it through"
    undisciplined in thinking "think it through carefully"
    prayerless "think it through ... prayerfully"

    Since you obviously consider I have yet to do these things. Else why would you suggest that I do them?

    Why did you suggest I do these things if you did not already consider I was doing them? If you did not consider I was already doing them, then why so tetchy and defensive about the observation now? It's all too easy for you to throw out the implications about me, I think you should have the integrity to own them and take responsibility for them. Or is this the way you handle this issue every time - by suggesting that your opponent hasn't actually properly thought about these matters, let alone carefully and prayerfully?

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  21. Dear David,
    I don't really understand why you have a problem with being asked to think about something? As Iffy Vicar said in the post above,
    " I thought at the time that if they needed me to complete such an important task, God was telling them something!"
    I too feel that if you wish to use women's insights in your teaching, then God might well be wanting to tell you something!

    When I ask someone to "think about something" it is far from an insult! It implies they are capable of rational thought and that they have an open mind. We learn and change throughout our lives - surely you cannot believe you have nothing left to learn? As for prayerful thought - how else should a Christian think but prayerfully?

    If you, in truth and integrity, felt you had thought and prayed through this issues, why could you not just say so with dignity instead of flying off the handle? ( Does this mean I think you have acted without dignity and unreasonably - well, yes, in this instance I think so, although I have no idea what you are like generally and so it is not a judgement on your whole life and being!)

    I too could make a list of insulting things you may or may not have implied, such as "Is that so hard to understand "= she lacks intelligence. The difference is that I can't be bothered to rise to such comments, mainly because your approval or disapproval actually mean very little to me either way.

    I think that we had better leave it there! I can't see this conversation going anywhere and it is most unedifying, as well as being a waste of my precious time and probably of yours. I will not be publishing any more of your comments on this thread, but I wish you well and hope you will be able to walk away without any hard feelings?

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