I am realizing more and more that many debates are about both sides trying to fit the gospel into old ways of thinking. The Kingdom Of God is a new way of thinking. On atonement, here is this gem from Fr. Stephen Freeman.
“It seems to me not surprising that the penal substitution theory of the atonement has had such a cultural popularity over the centuries. It became at home in a penal culture – one of debts and punishments. The good, the industrious, the diligent and the frugal prosper and reign. The sluggard, the weak, and the slothful fall ever further into poverty, driven by their own sin. There are many things that ameliorate this model in modern culture, but it remains at the structural heart of our lives.
The atonement, Christ’s death and resurrection, do not have a place within such a structure. His death is not a payment within a world of payments – an ultimate sacrifice that we could not afford. It is rather the trampling down of the whole world of payments, demolishing the greatest debt of all: death.”
This innocent looking reference in Acts 17 to the Stoic philosophers has peaked my attention. I have never studied Greek philosophy, but it appears I have believed Stoic philosophy all my life. I have always believed in self control as a way to overcome emotion. The more I read about this philosophy, the more intrigued I become. Clearly, Roman civilization and Christianity were very influenced by Stoic thought.
For me, as I search for the common church, this presents a problem. This is my question, “Is part of the faith that has been passed down to me Christianity or is really Stoic philosophy embedded into our civilization?”
This search for the answer to this question is now the next path on my journey.
As we begin this season of Advent, I reflect on a year of doubt and fear. I remember those years of fear that have passed before, and I remember the moments of hope. Again I ask for the gift of hope.
We have all seen or experienced a very upsetting behavior in children. One child emerges as a leader and forms a group. The child arbitrarily chooses who is inside and who is outside her social group. Her decisions often have little or no basis on the behavior of the child outside the group, she just makes the decision that the child is outside the group. Those who were on the receiving end of such behavior remember the event the rest of their lives, always effecting their thoughts and their emotions.
For the child that was the leader, however, it has a different effect. Some children mature and become more aware of their decisions on others. Other children never mature from this behavior and make these arbitrary decisions throughout their adult life. We often see these immature adults in our workplace, making arbitrary decisions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. This behavior effects workplace productivity as well as the emotions of those in the workplace. It becomes like an infectious disease, spreading as others get involved in gossip patterns based on who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.
Those who believe in predestination see God as this child who was the leader, making arbitrary decisions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ . I cannot worship a God who is such an arbitrary leader. I find it just as upsetting as working in a environment with someone who forms non-inclusive workplace and social groups. For those who teach double predestination, they point to multiple passages in the Bible and use books of logic. But I see an arbitrary God as an immature representation of a good God who is aware of our struggles and is involved in our lives. This leads me to a struggle, for I believe Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection was a free gift to us, given from a good God. I do not believe we merit this free gift, for it is without regard to our works. But, I also do not believe in an arbitrary God who chooses those who receive the gift.
This is my struggle, for with logic there is no reconciliation between the two views. I believe both. The Christian walk is full of mysteries, and for me this is but one.
The greatest conflicts in world history are when we change how we think. I consider the U.S. Civil War a battle over changing thoughts about the role of government and the morality of slavery. The World Wars of the early 20th century were a battle on how to think about the future of an industrialized society. Throughout history, we can find similar transition points, leading us down an entirely new path.
I maintain that the battles at transition points are not always about deciding who is going to win. Rather, the result is a foregone conclusion of what had already happened. For example, slavery was quickly becoming marginalized in the early 19th century. The Civil Was couldn’t be readily avoided, but in a sense the outcome was already settled. Regardless of how the Civil War played out, changing economic conditions and changing moral values were leading towards a decline in slavery. The World Wars were similar. Germany and Japan had specific ideas on how an industrialized society would be implemented, but in the end their ideas did not reflect what was already happening in the United States and Russia.
The early church was going through a dramatic change in how they thought about their religion. The question was whether Christianity was part of Judaism or was it a new religion? The answer had already been settled. The Holy Spirit was at work in the Gentiles, and nothing they could do or say would stop that work.
I now consider we make too much of our conflicts. The path to resolution is to see how the Spirit is already working in the hearts of others and meet the Spirit there.
A wonderful story about prayer and faith. Through the prayer of the Saints, Peter is miraculously saved from prison! But, I see a problem. Didn’t anyone pray for James before he was killed? Didn’t James have faith? Why did James get killed?
We must be careful when using passages such as these for justification for answered prayer. The ways of God are mysterious and not always for us to comprehend.
This is one of those passages where the simplest and most obvious meaning is best. The Spirit is actively at work at building the body of Christ. The Spirit brings Philip and the Spirit brings the Eunuch.