Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Thoughts on Atonement and Christus Victor

before we talk about atonement, we must first talk about who Jesus is and how i view him. to use Marcus Borg's idea, there is two Jesi, the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus.

The pre-Easter would be the historical dude that you could have videotaped. He was Jewish mystic, healer, wisdom teacher, and prophet of the kingdom of God; he proclaimed the immediacy of access to God and God's kingdom; he challenged the domination systems of his time, was executed by the authorities, and then vindicated by God (Borg, 303).

In the decades after Easter, his followers spoke of his significance with the most exalted language they knew: son of God, Messiah, Lord, Light of the world, ect. This is the community's language about him. I, like Borg, do not think that these two need to be separated, and in fact, you can't separate them as they are inherent in the gospel narratives. the gospels are both testimony and memory; history as well as parabolic language (language of parable, metaphoric language). Thus the real Jesus is one who lived 2,000 years ago and was a Galilean peasant-teacher and the one who has shaped the lives of millions of people, many of whom claim to have met him and have a personal relationship with.

Both matter, both are true.

This would be the Alexandrian view of Jesus where he is both human and divine, but the divine overrides the humanity, just as it did in the gospels and in the historical community that called themselves Christian.

with that straight, i then head to atonement. As stated before, i used to throw people under the bus who subscribed to sacrificial atonement. i still think it's bad theology and bad history as it elevates one understanding and way of viewing Jesus over the rest. the substitutionary atonement i still have no room for as i think it's Vampire Christianity; interested in Jesus' blood and little else. I don't like sacrificial as it is often understood as God demanding death and thus having it be a part of God's plan for the salvation of everyone else. this misses the humanity of Jesus as well as the life he was willing to sacrifice for his beliefs, his passion which drove him to say the things he said and get him killed by the authorities of his time. they don't crucify people for no reason, they were enemies of the state, politically dangerous!

The substitutionary atonement model i understand now more than i did. i think becoming a parent has helped with this view. yet i don't see Jesus as a doormat or coward. He was akin to the archetype of the forceful, yet nonviolent, organizer. A grass-roots agitator calling for equity and fairness for all. The type that gets the gentry all riled up and the rich nervous. A force that needs removing or one we need to co-opt and normalize.

I also disagree with Christus Victor because i do not have angels or demons in my metaphysic. I have God with no devil. we do the job of temptation very well on our own with our own biological framework to have a dude in a red suit running around. Humans are inescapably subject to the temptation of evil. We get into trouble when we de-humanize or de-prioritize others and put ourselves first.

When we deny that we are captive, we conjure notions of social progress, romantic optimism, manifest destiny, all forms of human pride that overlook our fragility and limitation. yet on the other extreme, which Christians have been labeled more often than not, we capitulate to the tragic and doomed outlook on life. We lose hope.

The resurrection, whether understood metaphorically or literally, is resistance to the powers of death, a refusal to allow death to have the final word, which is where I connect to the Christus Victor model. The power of the cross subverts it's own nature as an instrument of death, harmful and oppressive, and instead becomes an intellectual, spiritual, and communal resource for radical change. God's presence is then with those who suffer, telling them that they aren't to be afraid anymore. No worries about death, that isn't the worst thing that could happen to you. The cross and resurrection are a two fold attack to the masochism of submissive suffering and the pride of unchecked triumphalism. it boldly reclaims common humanity, in this rubric there is no room for the other.

In this way, I'm Christus Victor. Death cannot defeat life, life will always carry on in some form. yet it always changes, it is impermanent. life adapts, grows, and leaves us behind, yet our children will go on and their children after them. that's why it is good to plan to the 7th generation in your actions. yet when we do act, we do so not fearing death yet understanding our limitations. In Jesus, the powerful tried to kill him and it didn't work. the worst evil could do was try to kill us and it never can kill us all. even when we die and we finally know what lies beyond, i believe we will all be welcomed in. this is where apokatastasis comes in. because i see God through Jesus, i see that even the forsaken, those outcasted and assured a place in hell are welcomed. the cross overturns all of our conventions. this is what it means when the gospels read "he died for the sins of the world" or "his life was ransom for many" (paraphrases from john and mark). as to what heaven looks like, that's as far as my metaphysic goes. heaven, yes, hell if we chose it and be it of our own making.

the problem then becomes when the church seeks cultural convention and prejudice over the radical message Jesus so passionately died for. this doesn't mean that i'm not patriotic, i'm just not nationalistic. i'm a Christian not because i'm after a ticket to heaven, or need to meet requirements for salvation. no, i'm after a community that seeks transformation of themselves into Jesus. I'm after a better world. a more just world, a more equitable world.

we are building up the new world. resistance is victory, defeat is impossible.


Bond, Susan. The Trouble with Jesus.

Borg, Marcus. Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.

Weaver, J. Denny. The Nonviolent Atonement


Earnest said...

Great post! I came over here from Triangulations to see what Luke had to say, and I like it!

Anglican Boy said...

While your wording is harsh and unpleasant at times, I am happy to know where you land. It makes sense and is consistent with what I have learned about you. It seems that you would be right at home in the UCC. Anglicans however, I'm not so sure about. Good post.

Luke said...

Earnest, thanks for checking out the blog, glad you like it!

AB: harsh and unpleasant is the way of the world, why should i spare you? i sense you're biting your tongue, penny for your thoughts?