c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: March 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Moral Mechanics of Propitiation

There is an understandable objection to the idea that God punished his Son, Jesus, for the sins of humanity.  It has been called divine child abuse, despite the fact that Jesus was not a child and gave himself for us voluntarily.

Some have another, related concern about the nature of God, that he is portrayed as wrathful and not loving.  This view persists despite the obvious logic that love would provide atonement, saying that God does not want to be angry with us.  This is a simple Sunday school verse away from being universally accepted, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son …”  It is an ethos that forms a complete circle when we realize that all sin is a sin against the divine nature, which is love, love being the law of Christ.  Now, love must be freely given.  In the atonement, then, we see God taking in his own body on the tree the consequences for the condition he himself created in making humanity free to sin.  In the cross all is set right and mankind is presented with propitiation “to be received by faith.”

The more interesting question, though, is how a sacrifice for sins works.  We can assume that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament are purely prophetic of the Lamb of God.  But since the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world has been made, what exactly happened that a meritorious cause of our salvation was accomplished?  How can one man’s death atone for the wickedness of another?


Scripture says that Jesus “became sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” and that he became a curse for us, “for anything hung on a cross is accursed.”  These are ontological statements, which require that we understand the moral universe in which we live.  A moral universe is different from a magical or speculative one in which God merely declares one righteous while another abides under wrath.  When Jesus died, for instance, there were religious, cosmic, geological, and anthropological phenomenon that serve as signs that something happened that day, once for all time.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two, the sun was darkened at midday, there was an earthquake, and some were raised from the dead.


The moral law is that evil be met with evil and good rewarded with good.  But in Christ the good was subjected to unspeakable evil.  Jesus absorbed all the evil that exists in the world like a dry sponge absorbs water.  Sponges come from the water where they naturally live and grow.  Taking a sponge out of the water and making it dry prepares it for absorbing water by the will and use of man.  Jesus came from heaven, where he naturally belongs as the man of heaven.  Yet in him God was incarnate, contrary to nature by a miracle of the Virgin Birth, and he lived in perfect obedience to God.  His virtuous life and obedience made him the perfect sacrifice for sin.  He reversed the flow such that if we give up our sins to him he takes them away.  “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Cross and Spiritual Formation

A spiritual perspective or understanding is essential to formation.


There are two ways a person might be enlightened.  The most common is through painful life experience.  That happened to me.  I suffered a series of traumatic experiences and went looking for an explanation.  I found it in the New Testament, understood in its salvation-historical context.  It is there in plain sight but I "had no one to guide me.” (Acts 8:31)


The second way is to learn it from sound Biblical exposition.


The New Testament teaches philosophical dualism: body/soul, time/eternity, and others of equal significance.  Jesus said, for instance, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh can do nothing." (John 6:63)


Paul wrote, "The desires of the flesh are against the desires of the Spirit; and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other." (Galatians 5:17)


There are five common objections to Christian dualism.


Pagan thought.  I answer, “Do not call unclean what God has cleansed.” (Acts 10:15)  Jesus and the early Church, and theologians in every age since, adopted, adapted, mitigated, modified, used, and perfected Greek philosophical categories to explain Christ and the new covenant in his blood.


Gnosticism.  I answer, Jesus “came in the flesh” (John 1:14, I John 4:2, and II John 1:7) to show us how to overcome sin, death, and the grave.  Being “fully human,” he is our model and example of obedience to the Father.


Previous revelation.  I answer, consider the crucifixion of our Lord.  The Old Covenant was all about the plight of Jews in the world.  “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48)


Creation.  I answer, God himself has given up on creation in deference to “the life of the world to come” for which we must prepare ourselves as disciples of the Lord. "This phrase, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain." (Hebrews 12:27)

The body.  I answer, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:44 ESV)

Overcoming objections to Christian dualism allows us to grow spiritually through embracing the cross by which “I am crucified to the world and the world is crucified unto me.” (Galatians 6:14)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Brief Exposition of Romans

The most important word in the exposition of Romans is “therefore” found at 12:1.  It occurs there in the logical form of A therefore B with chapters 1-11 being A and the remainder B.

It is tempting to say that A is theoretic and theologically systematic while B is practical.  Whereas it is obvious that B is entirely pragmatic it is a mistake to say A is completely speculative.  A speaks of the power of God (1:16), for instance, then conscience (2:15), receiving by faith the propitiation that God provides in Christ (3:25), walking in faith like Abraham (4:12), peace with God (5:1), baptism (6:3), obedience (6:16), self-awareness (7:23), and walking according to the Spirit (8:4).


In A Paul is not presenting new material, per se, but, having expressed his desire to go to Rome, and having heard of their faith, he is interpreting to them how he understands the Gentile experience of Christ to date, in order to establish rapport and begin ministry before arriving (1:8-15).  The polemical nature of his remarks against “works of the Law” reflects his own painful experience of those that question his message and apostleship.  It does not serve as a blanket consideration from which to launch an antinomian protest against their common faith but expresses his moral statesmanship, which culminates in the declarations of chapters 9-11:  all Israel will be saved, if Israel is understood correctly as those that believe in Jesus and walk in his holy ways.

In resolving the soteriological differences within contemporary Christianity today, then, Romans provides no support for the pop-evangelical position.  Note, for instance, this passage:


The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)


The proviso of suffering with Christ for the sake of salvation casts Paul in the light of Christ:


And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26 ESV)


The Romans were practicing Christians that Paul wanted to visit as apostle and minister.  The admonitions of B are not about unnecessary and optional works that flow from faith but a pastoral admonition to continue and refine previous saving behaviors in consistently specific ways.