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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Atonement Talk and Twitter

In May we will be doing a six-week series at Westwinds where we discuss various theories of atonement. This may be one of the more “heady” series we have approached in a while but at the same time, perhaps one of the most practical and freeing.

When we (the Christian church) talk about Jesus and tell the story of the cross—whether we are at youth camps, retreats, playing a concert, Sunday morning service, or across the kitchen table—there are certain “words” and metaphors we have all become accustomed to when it comes to atonement and what Jesus has “done for us.” Is it about substitution? Payment for a debt? Satisfaction? Ransom? Covenant?

Probably most Christians answer a hearty yes to all of the above.

A book that has been very helpful and encouraging to me in recent days is “A Community Called Atonement” by Scot McKnight. I highly recommend it.

In the prologue of his book, McKnight tells a helpful story about golf wherein a friend asks him what his favorite golf club is. His reply is “when I am at 150 yards, I like to ‘knock down’ my 7-iron. When I am at 200 yards and there is no wind, I like my 3-iron. When I’m on the tee box, if the fairway is open, I like my driver. On the green, I like my putter. When I’m in the bunker and a green, I like my sand wedge. When I’m at 80 yards and in the fairway, I like my lob wedge. “

The point of McKnight’s story is that all the clubs are useful at some point, they are all valid, they are all designed for certain situations, and none can or should ever be completely ignored in the grand scheme of things. We need to “understand the value” of each club.

In my opinion, one of the huge dangers the Christian church has mired in over the years is the inability to reconcile atonement theories with one another or have a workable understanding of how to present “the gospel” in light of all scripture teaches about the work of the Jesus and the redemptive work of God. This often causes division, fights, and confusion. Some become very “religious” about their understanding of redemption and the work(s) of Jesus. And, in some cases, the story is dumbed down to a few hoops a person has to jump through to be reconciled to God. All the while, there is seldom thought given to the way God has shaped each individual and the idea that each individual is part of a story.

I think there is an entry point into unlocking everyone’s redemption story and the entry point is not always the same.

How do you talk about Jesus to the man or woman who believes they are okay with God because the concept of “sin” doesn’t jive with them? Well, you certainly don’t start with talk about the debt they owe. This doesn’t mean that sin is a non-issue, it just means it is not the entry point.

How do you talk about Jesus to the man or woman—like many of my friends—who grew up in a good home, two kids and a dog and cat, parents had great jobs, never wanted for anything, good student, never gets in trouble, a bright future in a good company, big house, good neighborhood, great group of friends and community, etc.? Do you start with the new covenant and Jesus’ ability to restore community and people? Probably not.

To my grandparents, Jesus was the Victor. The man who led their battle. The one who slays the enemy and keeps him at bay. To my parents, Jesus is the one who washed them white as snow. Cleansing them of all their impurities. To my new friend at church who was first introduced to Jesus in prison, Jesus is the one who makes everything right, the one who is his judge, the one who paid the penalty, the one who did the time without the crime. All of them are right. Jesus is all of those things. And more.

I can’t wait to dive in.

For this series, Westwinds has set up a new Twitter identity that I am managing. We are encouraging people to bring their laptops and/or cell phones to church throughout the series so we can have ongoing discussion on-screen, in interactive moments, and throughout the week. If you would like to eavesdrop on the conversation and/or join in, please follow us here on Twitter. We will be up and running in a few weeks and I will keep you updated. If you don’t yet have a Twitter account—what are you waiting for? Go to Twitter and get set up!

You are welcome to watch the live stream of Fusion and interact during the series as well by going to this link.


Unknown said...

Indeed! This sounds like it will be amazing.

Chris Vacher said...

I was just talking about this book today with our associate pastor. I bought it a couple weeks ago after hearing it recommended again at re:create.

I love the twitter idea - I'm really interested in how stuff like this goes.

I think I know your answer but will you "filter" the response/conversation in any way? Or will it go live to the screen as soon as I hit send?