Hamilton on the atonement

I was watching Adam Hamilton’s sermon on the meaning of Jesus’ death the other day.

 

Here is what I heard. First, all theories of the atonement are metaphors. Taking them as literal is an error. It is poetry not economics or juridical practice. Second, the atonement is primarily about how the cross changes us. It is God’s message to inspire and motivate us.

That is not all that was said, of course, but those were the two main ideas I heard. What about you?

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Speaking of the cross

The church catholic has never designated any single theory of the atonement as orthodox. Or so we are often told. Nonetheless, those of us who claim the sermons of John Wesley as doctrinal standards do have some guidance on how to speak of the work of Christ.

Here are Wesley’s words in the sermon “Justification by Faith.”

And as such it was that “he bore our griefs,” “the Lord laying upon him the iniquities of us all.” Then was he “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities.” “He made his soul an offering for sin:” He poured out his blood for the transgressors: He “bare our sins in his own body on the tree,” that by his stripes we might be healed: And by that one oblation of himself, once offered, he hath redeemed me and all mankind; having thereby “made a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.”

Not really Wesley’s words, of course. Most of the passage is constructed from the words of scripture and the Anglican Articles of Religion.But the thrust of it all clearly plays in the realm of satisfaction, sacrifice, and substitute.

Oh wait, though. We don’t have to go to Wesley’s sermon for our language. We have it right in our own Articles of Religion.

The offering of Christ, once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifice of masses, in the which it is commonly said that the priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.

Or in our Confession of Faith:

We believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The offering Christ freely made on the cross is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, redeeming man from all sin, so that no other satisfaction is required.

My interpretation of this as a pastor and candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church is that my teaching and preaching is most faithful to my vocation in the UMC when I speak of the cross in these terms.

Short enough Paul could have tweeted it

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:12, NRSV)

This was not Paul’s tent revival strategy. This was not his plan for hosting a Billy Graham-style crusade. This was the vision and plan for his ongoing ministry in Corinth. It was his pastoral strategy for planting and nurturing Christian congregations.

Lectionary blogging: What does the cross say to you?

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:17-18, NIV)

What does the cross say to you?

Billy Graham shared his answer late last year.

In 1 Corinthian 1:27-30, Paul appears to offer his answer:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor 1:27-30, NIV)

Charles Wesley reportedly said he would trade all his hymns for Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” which says this about the message of the cross:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

To Christ, who won for sinners grace
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race
Forever and forevermore.

I wonder what we hear as the message of the cross.

Galli: We need the cross

The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and to do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st century world. What that would look like exactly is hard to say; our theologians and pastors need to help us here. In the most general terms, it has to be about Christ first and last. It has to be about the Christ who came into the world not to improve generally good people, but to resurrect the dead, not to bolster our self-esteem but to forgive us, not to make people successful but to make them loving, not to win the culture but to establish a kingdom without end. Even more scandalously, the message of the Cross is about a universe saturated with grace, where nothing we have done or can do earns us the right to participate in this stunning new reality; all has been done for us. The best we can do is acknowledge the reality (faith) and begin to live as if it is reality (repent).

— Mark Galli, “The Troubled State of Christian Preaching