I object!

In What was credited to Abraham by faith? I suggested—perhaps somewhat mischievously, certainly polemically—that ‘The language of “imputation” or “impartation” or “infusion” is overblown.’ Nathan wonders why I am so opposed to the concept. What am I trying to counter? That bears some consideration. At a gut level…

I object to the assumption that we need this sort of esoteric, pseudo-rational, unbiblical metaphysics in order to explain the significance of Jesus’ death for the life of his people.

I object to the obscurantism of so much of the technical theological language.

I object to the finicky, obsessive, blinkered, book-keeping scholasticism that reduces the concrete life of trust to the management of an absolute, overriding, non-negotiable soteriological abstraction.

I object to the hold that theologians have over the mind of the church.

I object to the fact that such doctrinal formulations blind our minds to the painful religious realism of Paul’s argument.

I object to the dissociation of justification by faith from the lived historical experience of the early communities of those who believed that the resurrection of Jesus augured a massive realignment of the ancient world.

I object to the systemic individualism of justification theory.

I object to the devaluation of the believer as a responsible and accountable moral agent.

I object to the fact that the theoretical construct drives a wedge between Paul and his Jewish heritage.

I object to the fact that it’s not actually what Paul says. The bottom line is that those who believed—and who lived consistently in accordance with that belief—would be found to have been in the right on the day of God’s “wrath” against the Jew first and then against the Greek. Nothing gets imputed or imparted or credited or transferred. Not as far as I can see.

I object to the fact that we have to spend so much time unpicking the knots that the theologians have tied Paul in.

Finally, I object to the disgraceful practice of setting up theological straw men and laying into them wildly with a pitchfork just to allay some deep-seated intellectual frustration, ignorance, or fear of the other. Can’t be helped, though, sometimes.

This post has a rather cathartic feel to it. Did it have that result for you? FWIW, I enjoyed the edge it seems to have to it.

I object to the finicky, obsessive, blinkered, book-keeping scholasticism that reduces the concrete life of trust to the management of an absolute, overriding, non-negotiable soteriological abstraction.

How do we begin to get outside this perspective?  I find it has filtered down to nearly every facet of evangelicalism.  When I discuss theology or the bible with family and friends “Jesus died to save me from hell” is the heart of Christianity for the vast majority. Some have years of theology and so have the scholasticism noted here but many have simply soaked in this perspective and attitude from pastors, authors and church leaders. Any discussion that there is a story outside of individual redemption from God’s wrath against personal sin is viewed as misguided if not heretical.

Progressives, I find, are comfortable moving beyond imputation and atonement theories, but focus almost solely on Jesus as the perfect reflection and incarnation of God’s love and so leave out the narrative-historical aspects.  It is no less abstract and universal but simply trades scholastic traditionalist theology with love and social justice philosophizing. In fact, many of them seem comfortable tossing aside large swaths of scripture in the name of Jesus as the one and only true revelation of God.

Is evangelicalism really prepared to move doctrine and abstract theology to the background? Or are we in for a reactionary period as the church doubles down on its theology amongst battles between “conservatives” and “liberals” or “progressives”?

Steven Opp | Wed, 09/18/2013 - 19:00 | Permalink

I agree with most of this, just trying to figure out how it works on the ground without the abstractions. Here’s my main question:

Doesn’t practical evangelism require that you abstract what Jesus did for Israel and apply it to the individual sinner in front of you? “Jesus died for your sin you committed last night.” Is that a blatant lie? If so, how do you deal with that man’s sin without some blood to wash it with? Or is the blood that covers his sin not the blood shed on the cross but the blood offered by Jesus as High Priest in Heaven constantly? Should that be what evangelists point to rather than the blood of the cross?

That is a great question. The key issue of defining the good news as a message wherein Christ came to fulfill the hope of the faithful remnant of Old Covenant Israel by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets is that the original audience of unbelievers were soaked in the Law and the Prophets so that they understood the back story intuitively. Most of them, due to the running clock of the prophecies of Daniel, were expecting a fulfillment of the hope of Israel in their day. That sort of contextual background and expectation of fulfillment is completely lacking in modern society anywhere in the world (I suppose with the possible exception of dispensational premillennialists, but they would consider themselves already saved). The reason Peter was able to convert thousands on Pentecost is that he played the card of national fulfillment to members of the nation who were looking for that fulfillment. The big question is, how do you translate that success to an international group of listeners in 2013AD?

Ryan SA | Fri, 09/20/2013 - 07:28 | Permalink

I fully agree. I have always felt the whole ‘divine exchange’ thing is a far stretch. I have never had the tools or patience to investigate this, but it’s great that you have. In our churches over here in Durban they even go so far as to say that our healing was also paid on the cross (Is 53). All very metaphysical.