Monthly Archives: May 2007

PFOT Being changed by Penal Substitution

I could not sleep for a while when I went to bed after writing 42: PFOT: The Introduction and 42: PFOT: Reflections on God’s Wrath. Why? Well I was thinking about a comment I wrote on the Coffee Bible Club Blog a few days ago. I wrote:

"Of course if through my searching (eg reading PFOT) I discover the Bible does teach that PSA is decisive over all other models then I will accept that." Link: The Coffee Bible Club Blog: Mark my words.

You may remember that I first found and linked to the Coffee Bible Club blog in 42: Aarrgghhh!

So what about this was keeping me awake? Well I started to worry about whether I was being entirely honest. Am I really open to the possibility of a switch to full on Penal Substitution if PFOT convinces me?

So here I want to acknowledge that I may have been over optimistic in my assertion that I would accept PSA as decisive over all other models of atonement if I discover the Bible does teach that. Now that needs to be read in the light of 42: PFOT: My starting position on Penal Substitution. So it is not that I deny Penal Substitution now, just that I do not accept it full on as both essential and central to the gospel.

Why this concern? I sincerely place scripture as the highest authority for my Christian faith, so why would I struggle to accept PSA in a full on way. The answer lies in a series of questions.

  1. Would full on PSA be compatible with my ministry as a Methodist Minister?
  2. Would I still be able to support and encourage women as equals in ministry as in the rest of life? Are there any examples of full on PSA supporters who believe in equality by gender?
  3. Would I still be able to be (moving towards being) a pacifist? Scripture has convinced me of the centrality of non violence to the teaching of Jesus and the early Church. But I don’t know any full on PSA supporters who are pacifists?
  4. Would I have to change my attitudes to people who are LGBT?

I would be really interested to know of people who hold these positions and find them compatible with full on support of PSA. For me all these positions have come (at least to some extent as a change to what I once believed) from scripture and the teaching of other people. Abandoning them would be a huge issue for me and I honestly don’t think I could do it. But then there is the supremacy of scripture. It is just that so far I have not met anyone who holds to full on PSA and who a) is a British Methodist minister b) supports women as equals in ministry as elsewhere c) is a pacifist and d) shows love and acceptance to people who are LGBT. Anyone willing to stand up and be counted?

If not then can PSA really be so central and essential to the gospel if holding it fully means abandoning so much that scripture, tradition, reason, experience and community has taught me so far?

PFOT: Reflections on God’s Wrath

Just been thinking some more about my struggles with the emphasis on God’s wrath that are so obvious in the foreword to PFOT as well as in much of the PFOT text and blog posts on Penal Substitution.

In "The Nonviolent Atonement" J Denny Weaver writes (p78) of the Wrath and God and the Love of God as two stances from which we view the salvation drama.

Thinking more on this. I just wonder to what extent the Wrath of God is actually the absence of God caused by human rejection. If God is all I hope he is, if he offers life both in all it’s fullness and in it’s eternity then would I not perceive his absence as his wrath. When he is absent there is no hope, no future, no love. Yet his absence is not caused by anger but by love, his love that lets me choose evil.

This understanding of God’s wrath as his absence seems to me to fit all the passages I have checked it against so far.

Just throwing some straws in the wind. Am I completely off my head?

PFOT: The Introduction

Continuing my series on the book "Pierced For Our Transgressions" after 9 previous posts I have reached the Introduction. Wow.

I have already commented in 42: PFOT: Use of Language on the way the introduction attempts to marginalise those who do not accept Penal Substitution (PS) and the way many other views are presented as supporting PS.

There is captivating beauty in the sacrificial love of a God who gave himself for his people.

Sure there is. But at least to me sacrificial love is not penal substitution. Sacrifice is not the same as substitution nor sacrificial love the same as punishment for sin.

That the Lord Jesus Christ died for us – a shameful death, bearing our curse, enduring our pain, suffering the wrath of his own Father in our place – has been the wellspring of the hope of countless Christians throughout the ages.

But what about all he Christians for whom the cross has been a wellspring of hope without the need for PS or the wrath of God? Now with a small edit notice how much more powerful and inclusive it becomes

That the Lord Jesus Christ died for us and was raised from the dead by God has been the wellspring of the hope of all Christians
throughout the ages.

It seems to me that would be (with some little work) a statement that just about all Christians would be able to adopt. As a statement it does not deny PS, it should be acceptable (even recognising it does not take in everything they believe, but they believe all of it) to even the most ardent PS supporter. It also brings in the resurrection which I believe to be pretty important (typical English understatement there).

As I reflect on this view of the well spring of hope, I am reminded of how the cross acts most powerfully in my life. It is something that I learnt in theory by reading Johann Moltmann "The Crucified God" and in practice through the death of my Mum and the care of my Dad until he died nearly 4 months later. The theory and the practice happened at the same time.

After that reminder I wondered how PFOT responds to Moltmann’s understanding of the cross, so I looked him up in the names index. Nothing there.

Now you know me, I am no great systematic theologian. But I can speak of how Moltmann’s understanding of the cross provided me with the insights I needed to get through that time and the time since. Talk of God punishing his son gives me nothing when I am suffering, it gives me nothing to say to someone going through the pain of bereavement, the suffering of cancer, the desperation of marriage breakdown, the hurt and despair of abuse, … But the message of an

"event of divine suffering in which Jesus suffers dying in abandonment by his Father and the Father suffers in grief the death of his Son. As such it is the act of divine solidarity with the godforsaken world, in which the Son willingly surrenders himself in love for the world and the Father willingly surrenders his Son in love for the world. Because at the point of their deepest separation, the Father and the Son are united in their love for the world, the event which separates them overcomes the godforsakenness of the world."
from "The Theology of Jurgen Moltmann" by Richard Bauckham (T&T Clark, 1996) p12

Where does that leave suffering?

"In Moltmann’s understanding, the cross does not solve the problem of suffering, but meets it with the voluntary fellow suffering of love. Solidarity in suffering – in the first place, the crucified God’s solidarity with all who suffer, and, in consequence, also his followers’ identification with the suffering – does not abolish suffering, but it does overcome what Moltmann calls ‘the suffering in suffering’: the lack of love, the abandonment in suffering. Moreover, such solidarity, so far from promoting fatalistic submission to suffering, necessarily includes love’s protest against the infliction of suffering on those it loves. It leads believers through their solidarity with the suffering into liberating praxis"
from "The Theology of Jurgen Moltmann" by Richard Bauckham (T&T Clark, 1996) p12,13

This speaks directly to my experience during suffering and allows me to minister to those who are suffering today. As I wrote that I was concerned that by writing about how critical I find the cross when encountering suffering that I was writing about the chapter on pastoral care too soon. So I checked and there is nothing in chapter 4 on Pastoral Care about suffering. In fact suffering is not even in the index.

Now even under PS surely we encounter a God who suffers when we encounter Jesus on the cross. Surely that has some relevance to pastoral care, if we are not caring for those who suffer then what on earth are we doing?

I am seriously struggling at this point with the point of this. Why go on with PFOT when I know that at the lowest point in my life, when I had withdrawn from everything, when I was completely broken, at that point a cross on which my saviour was punished by God had nothing whatsoever to say to me. Yet at that same point, the same cross (on which my Lord, my Saviour suffered out of love for me and which my Father grieved and suffered over his son) gave me comfort, strength and hope.

For me only one view of the cross led to life at the worst time of my life and it was not PS.

I do not deny that for some people the description of God punishing Jesus for our sins may give them hope. But it did not for me. So when PFOT says:

p21 "that believers will be robbed of their assurance and preachers
will be robbed of their confidence in ‘the old, old story’ of the
transforming power of the cross".

I need the supporters of PS to hear me say that denying PS and embracing the Christ who suffered out of love for me is what gave (and gives) me assurance and confidence in  ‘the old, old story’ of the
transforming power of the cross. This view of the cross (and I treasure other views too) has not robbed Christ of his glory but made that glory real, relevant and larger than ever for me.

I guess that in Methodist terms this makes for Orthopathy (see "The New Creation: John Wesley’s theology today" by Theodore Runyon where Orthopathy is defined as right feeling or experience which is needed with orthodoxy [right thinking] and orthopraxy [right action]).

H’mm, I think that is enough about the first page of the introduction.

Slaying the Elephants

Way back in January I mentioned that we were considering a new study group. Well tonight (technically actually I suppose I mean last night ie Tuesday evening) we have just had session 4 of the Raunds Elephant Series.

The first week we considered how to use the Bible when tackling the subjects we are afraid to talk about (ie the Elephants in the room).

Then we had a session on praying for/over/through the Elephants.

Last week Rev. Alison Tomlin, chair of our district came and led a Bible Study on the early Church plus took a Q&A session on how Methodism is doing.

This week we did some more on prayer and went deeper on some of the issues raised last week.

Next week we are considering the history & theology of Methodism and it’s future here in Raunds.

Really enjoying this, we are having a great time of worship and prayer at the start of the meeting and then very open discussions.

Fresh Expressions

Two interesting Fresh Expressions related things.

First a good post: Happy Methodist: Fresh Expressions.

Secondly an interesting web based project for "Exploring questions of Fresh expressions of Church in a Methodist Context".

Great that people are both doing and reflecting. Here in Raunds WOT continues to grow steadily. Over 30 last week as we looked at Amos. As a Fresh Expression it has far closer ties to the pre-existing Church than I think is expected. Yet the people coming are still from fully outside the Church.

That reminds me of something completely unrelated to what I was originally writing about.

Next week will be a special as we are connecting the end of WOT with the start of my testimony service. The Testimony service will start at 7:30pm and the WOT meal (which is normally around 5:15pm) will have an extended service so that people coming for the service can join WOT for a meal beforehand. As is normal around here the organisation of this is shall we say "organic", but all are welcome anyway.

For those not steeped in British Methodism (are there really people who are not?) a testimony service is where the local circuit comes together for worship and to hear the testimony of their probationary minister before they go off to the Methodist Conference to be ordained. In our district we spread them out a bit so that we can support each other. I hope to get to several of the others including Jan and Ruth’s (the two Deacons who will be ordained this summer).

Although the service is very Methodist I am delighted that Rosemary, the Baptist Pastor from Ringstead will be preaching at my Service.

The worship band will be playing (oop’s that reminds me that I need to get a couple of extra DI boxes) so it promises to be a very full and joyful time to worship and give our Lord thanks, praise and glory for all that he is and all that he has done.

Presentation Software in preaching

I found The Use of Power Point in Preaching reasonably interesting. Personally I never use power point in services. However, I do often use OpenOffice Impress.

Why OpenOffice Impress?

  • It is free (I can give copies of the program to all church members so they can legally use and contribute to the presentations)
  • It runs on Linux as well as Windows (handy as I mainly use Linux)
  • The Document Format is an open ISO standard (That safeguards my data by ensuring that other applications can use it)

What do I use  OpenOffice Impress for in services?

  • Hymn and Song words (many elderly people find it easier to read than hymn books and you generally get better singing using a projector than books).
  • Liturgy: responsive readings, prayers etc (people don’t get lost as easily, flexible and environmentally friendly)
  • Pictures (mostly during prayers and sermons)
  • Bible Text (for reading & during sermons)
  • Notices

I almost never use it for words during sermons. The only exceptions would be

  • quiz questions in a sermon
  • A few headings to help people can follow structure (I never read these slides)
  • Bible Text
  • Maybe (very occasionally) a relevant quote eg from Martin Luther King Jr.

Hat tip: Transforming Sermons: Pitfalls of PowerPoint.

Ministers are from Mars

Well this one is anyway.

You Are From Mars

You’re energetic, althletic, and totally hyperactive.
You love playing sports and being in the middle of all of the action.
You’re independent, corageous, and brave. Unafraid to do things your way.
Mars can be reckless, quick tempered, and a little too spontaneous.
So think before you act – and resist your natural urges to dominate others.

hat tip Sally: Eternal Echoes: A little procrastination- Which planet are you from???.