Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Lost Message of Jesus

Al Mohler has a great post (see link) about a book by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann entitled The Lost Message of Jesus. Mohler has some great thoughts and gives an excellent summary of the situation, but I thought I'd add my own thoughts on the issue.

The book actually starts out with premises that I can appreciate.

"What once profoundly shaped communities and changed lives has today been sidelined in society. The radical message of Jesus is now seen as nothing more than an ancient myth containing little, if any, historical truth or contemporary relevancy. Misleading potted versions of the story of Jesus have been filtered down to us through bland civic religion, caricatured snippets from the mouth of Ned Flanders, Homer Simpson's nerdy Christian neighbour, and the sickly sweet, saccharine-flavoured version of Christmas presented to us by retailers and the media each October through December."

"We feel we have been handed loads of jumbled-up pieces and we just can't work out how they all fit together. The one thing we lack is what we need most-the lid with the picture on it. Without that big picture, all we have are the random pieces of 'theology' that we have managed to pick up along the way. And we are often at a loss to see much, if any, relevancy or relationship of the separate pieces to one another."

Such sentiments really don't seem unusual to those seeking the Gospel or the immature Christians. Elements and snippets of whole Biblical theology escape into the culture war, but the whole of the Biblical message never seems to become part of that war. As a result, people hear the bits and pieces and miss the forest for the trees. Even amongst (professing) Christians I'd say this is a problem at times, but largely due to Biblical ignorance. If you don't know what the Bible says, then how are derivative truths going to seem to you?

Unfortunately, the book takes a major left turn and advocates a nice, warm, fuzzy version of Christianity, sometimes referred to as the Moral Influence theory of atonement. The authors essentially write that Evangelical notions of hell, sin, punishment, atonement, etc. are all perversions of the Biblical message. Jesus didn't die on the cross in our place for the punishment of sin. He died on the cross to show us what true devotion to God is like and the cross, as the authors put it:
"the cross is a symbol of love. It is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his Son are prepared to go to prove that love. The cross is a vivid statement of the powerlessness of love."

Yeah. The authors talk several times about the "myth of redemptive violence," saying that "God is love" becomes a lie if Jesus died for us to accept our sins.

This picture they present of Biblical "redemption" is flawed. They can't adequately account for sin. Though Mohler never really says whether or not the authors completely discount sin, it doesn't matter. If God doesn't punish sin, then it doesn't matter what we do. If God is just "pure love" as they would like to think, then why should we bother changing for Him? He'd like us just the same no matter what.

But such an unbalanced view of the attributes of God cannot be reconciled with the Biblical text. We know that God is love, but we also know that he is just. Over and over in the text it says that God will punish sin. If God will punish sin, and mankind is sinful, then the only consequence is that God must punish mankind. But thankfully, because of His love, God came to Earth in the the person of Christ and received the punishment due our sins. By his atoning sacrifice, mankind could enter into the presence of God unblemished.

That is the Biblical picture of redemption. Not that Jesus was just showing us a good way to live, but that He died in order that we might live eternally. It's the very essence of the Biblical message.

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