A different way to look at the atonement theory language of “Jesus paid the price”

Mainline / liberal Christianity (at least from what i’ve gathered) poo-poos the idea of a transactional salvation – so mainline Christians seem to avoid using the story or idea of God using Jesus as money to pay off some debt sinners have incurred so the score is settled and sinners can be redeemed. Of course, I grew up was raised conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist and this transactional salvation – atonement based on payment – was what I was taught. Those hymns i sang and led during my years of being a worship leader (which remain my favorites) are rife with the language of “Jesus paid it all/ all to him i owe…” 

I approach theology now more as art – so some of that poetry I don’t mind. I understand the fear of presenting Jesus as a commodity – and how it takes away the better story of Jesus being murdered for being Love incarnate – a gift we would not receive, so we killed him. I get that.

Anyways, I was listening to this song this morning. And there’s some of that “payment” language both in the original hymn -ROCK OF AGES- and in the new “chorus” that the band puts into it. And i heard the idea of “paid the price” in a new way. Now, I know that because of this pastor’s background and the band’s association with a conservative fundamentalist church in Seattle, that they absolutely are talking about the substitutionary atonement stuff – but maybe i can keep the language if i look at it like this:

Jesus paid the price of being love incarnate- walking around forgiving sins – touching the unclean, all that – he paid the price for being Grace Walking by being murdered by those who would not hear his message. He paid the price for being truth and for being the way to God – the way he was God extending peace all over the place. He paid the price for that by being crucified and now that cross, the instrument of his death, becomes our symbol of rising from the depth of despair to the hope of eternal life. How’s that?

Here’s the video.

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Do our churches teach people to read and think for themselves or are still telling people what to think?

I read a blog post on 16 ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible this morning.

I don’t disagree with this list – i think it is accurate in theory.

My unfortunate experience as one who now identifies as a progressive theologian is that i haven’t met too many liberal/progressive Christians who actually read the Bible – ever – if at all. Further, I’m not exaggerating when I say that the majority of Lutheran seminarians I’ve encountered and who were raised in Lutheran churches have not read the entire Bible for themselves, and it seems like the Bible is one piece, but not a grounding piece of theological education. It’s why i’m not ashamed to be receiving an Mdiv from a BGC seminary (and since it’s taken me 7 years, I’ll be able to say i didn’t change my mind when I could have!) 

It appears to me that liberal churches are too happy to have their clerics tell them what Scripture says, like the days pre-reformation. And the clergy are all too happy to tell their followers their own interpretation rather than exhorting the church to discover for themselves, even if in smaller communities, what the Bible says. The deeper and father i get into liberalism, the fewer people I meet who really know much at all about any of the 66 books, let alone a canon within a canon… This has got to change.

I’m glad i stumbled upon this list too, for another reason. As I pray about how the Spirit is forming me, I find myself clinging (peacefully and surely so) to some of what I learned modeled in good old plain fashioned evangelicalism. I don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water. I am admitting my struggle with a church (okay, i mean it to be a capital “C” but i’m leaving it lower case too) that is so proud to use the lectionary and so proud to showcase liturgy and yet only ever touch the gospel text during a sermon – ever. Like it would somehow be so wrong to teach thru the Old Testament portions or God forbid something from the epistles. Or equally scary – confront the manic depressive bi polar attitudes in the psalms. Are we consulting the whole counsel of God? Dare we?

I think something big gets left out when we only appeal to gospels. Maybe i’m just not brave enough, because I realize the gospels are some of the hardest parts of Scripture. Maybe i just want balance. We as ministers are in part (not in total) responsible for the spiritual health and trajectory of our followers. And we short change them when we ignore the other genres of Scripture. 

The reasons I watch and pray over the Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill situation

First, I didn’t know if I should call it a “situation” or a “debacle” or “fiasco” – i had a bunch of adjectives that immediately popped into my mind here, but i decided to be Minnesota Nice and just say “situation.” 

I can’t pretend it wasn’t all that long ago that I was listening to every podcast Pastor Mark released. I would sit for hours and listen to Matt Chandler and anything the Village Church produced too. I think i even sent money (which is hard to come by for me because of being in grad school) to the Village because there were months when it was truly my only “church” before I started seminary.

One of these men went a little nuts (this is my opinion). The other – well I switched theological belief systems shortly after he got cancer and haven’t kept up the interest since then. Because Matt isn’t making world headlines by how much he talks about porn and sex and cage fights, my guess is he’s sort of on the right track down there and still being a faithful shepherd (in his own fundie way).

I saw the Mars Hill train wreck coming – like many did. You can’t shoot to fame and acclaim like he did, being whisked away on world tours at such a young age with so very little vetting and not let it go to your head. Power corrupts. I think that’s just the nature of the world.

I’ve said it in other places, but it’s the same reason i pray for Nadia Bolz-Weber. You take a little known former-addict tattoo’d preacher and give her a world-stage microphone and she might start believing her own press. Please remain faithful. Please remain a pastor. Please stop making a name for yourself. Please go back to making a name for Jesus.

The two super stars (Mark + Nadia) have not-so-much in common – but one thing they do. They share being revered by a bored public – a fickle following – and it’s way too easy to market the cross of Christ and become quickly guilty of that which you used to preach against. You can’t count how many times Mark yelled and screamed at men to “man-up!” And yet here we are 5 days without a public response from him – to confirm or deny that he has received the rebuke… and I know some are saying it should not be a public matter but I could not disagree more loudly. Your fickle followers and worse, the eyes of the unbelieving world – need a response. Not only because you told others to do it, but because you let yourself be ushered into those spotlights and other people don’t have the power and friends and money and resources and ways to hide that you do – and this might make or break their faith. Ministers ARE responsible.

I hate the celebrity Christian culture. I used to be a consumer of it. It still tempts me. I’ve tried to put it behind me and have decided to be public in my disdain for it. We do this to ourselves. Our theologies are that weak. And as I’m writing about Mark & Nadia – the celebrity culture doesn’t pick favorites between liberals and fundamentalists. I just can’t find a biblical example where fame in this way promotes the gospel. Narrow is the way. Small is the gate. Many will come to me in that day saying Lord Lord…

Prophets are meant to be lonely and isolated (usually depressed) people. They don’t become popular, at least not as a beloved celebrity. If they’re popular it’s because they’re not, if you get what I’m saying.  I viewed Mark as a prophet at one time – and I also used to view Nadia that way [I’m not being accusatory of Nadia having moral failure – I’m just saying that the same trends are running in both fault lines and it really concerns me]. The church needs prophetic voices now more than ever. Bold prophets who see and speak truth. So i’ll keep praying and hoping they’re out there. Or that I can be…

Thinking about the role of new members in the 21st century church

Had a fun brainstorm today. As soon as i type it, someone might say it’s totally unoriginal and there are like 100s of churches that already do this – so if that’s the case, please send me their contact info.

One of our challenges in youth ministry is finding ways to keep senior high students involved after Confirmation is over. Even typing that sentence makes me irritated and makes me yawn and makes me angry and makes me … okay yeah. I had a thought as i was ranting on another blog post about adults who stand with their critical eyes and their arms folded asking what am I going to do about these young people… (no one has actually ever expressly asked me that, but then again, I live in a state known for it’s niceness passive aggressiveness…) My thought was, hey adult concerned member of the congregation, I admit we miss these kids (yes, i’m calling them kids here – don’t freak out). When’s the last time you asked me for their email address or their phone number so you could personally contact them and invite them to attend church in your pew with you, or invite them to serve alongside you at Loaves and Fishes or asked them if they’d go with you to a Twins game, and you’d pay? 

I hope churches don’t get in the business of hiring youth directors hoping that all the world’s issues regarding the “decline of the church” get solved. First of all, I really don’t believe the church is in decline (that is a whole other blog post which I’d like to do soon). I hope instead that churches hire youth directors to be a source of vision and inspiration for a faith community to help them walk by the light of a new day and to walk in the ways of Jesus Christ, which means dying to ourselves and living for one another. If there ever was a “one another” who needed our attention, it’s those pre-college age students, and then even more so the first-year college students – to help them develop a path of faith outside of their home bubble.

I have definitely had adults tell me they are afraid of teens (yes, afraid!), others tell me that they wouldn’t know what to do with a mentoring relationship, and others who said they just didn’t feel called. I’d like to lift up the many who have told me they’re totally up for the challenge, “how hard can it be?” and did it anyway. Very rarely have I not seen true magic happen for those people.

So one of my big ideas is wondering about the new member process in my church. Couldn’t we hook new members up in sponsor groups with an existing member or member family/couple and have them commit to meeting for at least 6-12 months of further connection, bible study, fun outings, etc.? And couldn’t students who have been confirmed be included in those groups? Say we launch the groups 2x a year. Maybe it’s the sponsor and 2-3 other new members/ new member couples/ Confirmands. What if we put all of our emphasis on a ministry like this. It can be online or in person or both.

I have heard of churches that do sponsor for new members. And my church does mentors for the last 2 years (of 4) of Confirmation. What would change and what would get better if we had a better bridge to community like this? It’s wouldn’t be a staff-driven thing – it’s members taking on the “one another” stuff for others and in the process, developing their own discipleship too.

Hmm. What do you think?