Friday, June 06, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: the meaning of Christ's death

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2:1-2, NIV).
This week's topic reminds me of the time I went to my doctor with one of my usual maladies.

"There are several ways we could treat this," he told me.

"That's good," I said.

"No, that's bad," he replied. "If any of them actually worked, there'd only be one way to treat this!"

Likewise, the fact there are two, common ways to explain Christ's death suggests that neither of them really "works."

Keep this in mind as your class settles into its usual argument of:
  • Anselm versus Abelard,
  • objective versus subjective,
  • propitiation versus expiation,
  • Andrews versus Loma Linda,
  • and forensic versus moral influence views of the atonement.
With the expertise that comes from long practice, each side will quickly home in on the other's weakness.
  • And yes, Anselm's forensic view of the atonement can become a form of "heavenly child abuse" -- one in which a God of Wrath is persuaded to forgive us only by killing His own son.
  • Then again, Abelard's moral influence theory all too easily degenerates into what Father Guido Sarducci used to call "Disneyland Thelogy," i.e. the belief that "God ain't a gonna hurt nobody."
In short, both views have weaknesses -- and both have strengths:
  • Anselm's view correctly points out our continuing need for God's mercy; there's no nonsense here about a people who are "safe to be saved."
  • Abelard's view correctly points out God's willingness to save us; there's no nonsense here about Jesus somehow "persuading" God to love us.
That's why you need to help your class understand and appreciate both points of view. Like your fingers and thumb, in other words, neither view is enough in itself; you'll need both to grasp this subject.

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