December 5, 2020

Ancient-Future Faith (2): Christ for a Postmodern World


For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

– Ephesians 1:9-10, RSV

For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

– Colossians 1:20

* * *

In Ancient-Future Faith, Robert Webber argues that the dominant portrayal of Christ in the classical era of church history — that of Christus Victor — speaks powerfully to two problems posed by living in a world influenced by postmodern thinking. First, it challenges and provides an answer to the claim that there is no unifying principle in life and in the world. Second, it directly addresses the problem of “a universe full of violence and unpredictability” (C. Jencks). Christus Victor acknowledges the reality of the strong powers of chaos and corruption and then proclaims that Jesus Christ has defeated them by his death and resurrection.

When I discovered the universal and cosmic nature of Christ, I was given the key to a Christian way of viewing the whole world, a key that unlocked the door to a rich storehouse of spiritual treasure. (p. 40).

In this part I explore the classical understanding of the cosmic Christ, the Christ who stands at the very center of the universe, the Christ who gives meaning to all of life. And I will also explore the problem of evil as it is related to the work of Christ. Classical Christianity affirms the centrality of Christ to all creation and offers a distinct way to deal with the problem of evil. It sees the presence and power of evil in society as the impact of original sin, which permeates all the structures of existence. But it rejects the “original blessing” of postmodernism which teaches that millions of years of evolution will bring the creation and humanity to its perfection. For classical Christianity the original blessing is the second Adam who by his redeeming event has entered into history to reverse the effects of original sin. He alone has bound, dethroned, and will ultimately destroy all the powers of evil and will restore the created order. This is the gospel that frees and liberates us to be ecologically active [i.e. free to work for the flourishing of all life and creation]. (p. 40-41)

Each era has its dominant view of the work of Christ. Robert Webber gives a simple (actually, simplistic) overview discussing how the early perspective of Christus Victor eventually became subsumed in the Western Church under the interpretation of Christ as a Sacrifice. A third view, which became the main perspective of theological liberals in the modern era was that of Christ as Example. Very generally speaking, in the modern era most evangelical and conservative Christians have understood Christ in terms of his sacrifice, while more liberal members of the church have focused on Christ’s teachings and the moral influence and exemplary nature of his work.

Furthermore, Webber claims that the rationalistic ethos of the Enlightenment has led the church to move the person and work of the victorious Christ and a more event-oriented perception of the world out of the center and replace that with a more Bible-centered approach to the faith on the part of both evangelicals and those they labeled “modernists.” Not recognizing their own enmeshment with modernistic thinking, evangelicals for the past 150 years in particular have too closely equated faithfulness with defending the Bible and advocating a book-centered faith. Webber had his own Copernican revolution in this regard when he came to see that, “The mystery of the person and work of Christ proclaimed is the starting point of faith, not rational argumentation that seeks to prove the Bible to be correct” (p. 46).

Robert Webber traces the theme of Christus Victor through the New Testament and the post-apostolic writings, emphasizing that these highlight the teaching of recapitulation — that all things in heaven and on earth will be restored because of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. He agrees with Paul Lakeland, who wrote in Postmodernity: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age:

Theologies of redemption . . . offered only to the human race, and not something integral to the entire universe . . . are inadequate. Those that focus on the individual are positively harmful. Christologies that imagine Christ as less than cosmic are merely parochial. Theologies of the church that stop at the political, still more so those that remain ecclesiocentric, fail because they cannot conceptualize Christian discipleship in the service of a sick planet. Eschatologies that imagine that the spiritual can have a reality aside from the material are simply naïve.” (quote in AFF, p. 27)

One thing I appreciate about the way Robert Webber approaches this — and it explains why he became an Episcopalian, with its emphasis on learning theology through liturgy — is his emphasis on how the “experience of Christ as the victory over the powers by the primitive Christian community was first expressed in its worship” (p. 56).

It was this Christological/doxological insight that led him to become such a great teacher and spokesperson for liturgical renewal in the evangelical church. For one like Webber, who grew up in low church, Bible-centered forms of the faith, whose family fought on the front lines of the fundamentalist vs. modernist and fundamentalist vs. new evangelical controversies, who received his schooling in fundamentalist and conservative institutions, the beauty and power of Christus Victor reenacted in the church’s liturgy expanded his conceptual world dramatically, lifted his spirit into the heavens, and set him on an entirely new course in his life and vocation. I am not trying to over-dramatize this, but it reminds of me of what happened at Isaiah’s call. Seeing YHWH high and lifted up in the sanctuary, his glory filling the earth, changed Robert Webber’s life and his life’s direction.

Having read most of Webber’s books in the past, it is now interesting to me to see his insights bearing fruit.

For example, when Scot McKnight wrote The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, I wrote a review commending Scot for his wonderful clarification of the fuller, deeper, richer, and broader gospel message. The New Testament does not gives us the individualistic, “soterian” gospel he writes about, but a robust proclamation of good news in Christus Victor that leads to the re-creation of all things. Scot included a chapter on “Creating a Gospel Culture” in that book and in my review I suggested that a lot more work needs to be done in the churches to make that happen. As an example of someone who had laid wonderful groundwork, I brought up Webber: “Robert Webber discovered this forty years ago, and his body of work is eloquent, consistent testimony to the fact that the historic practices of ecclesiology, liturgy, and spiritual formation are centered around Jesus and the Gospel” — that is, the full-bodied “King Jesus Gospel” Scot wrote about.

[By the way, Scot was just ordained as a deacon in the Anglican church this past weekend.]

I also mentioned the contributions of N.T. Wright:

And where do we think Tom Wright’s incredible insights about the Gospel come from? Of course, he is a wonderfully gifted historian and student of the Bible, but he is also deeply invested in the life of a historic, liturgical, sacramental church tradition. I sincerely doubt that his groundbreaking insights about a storied and communitarian Gospel could have emerged from the kind of non-denominational, free church tradition that I have known throughout much of my Christian life.

These and other developments in biblical studies and theology today hearten me. On the other hand, I believe these insights are creating a moment of potential renewal for the historic traditions, and I wonder if they are poised to get the message out and welcome newcomers in. I wonder if these traditions, especially within mainline Protestantism, can hear the cosmic Christ who died and rose again to make all things new in heaven and on earth. He’s knocking at the door (Rev. 3:20). He is waiting for us to raise our eyes and see him high and lifted up, enthroned “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Eph. 1:21).


  1. CM,
    Am I wrong, or is the tone of your language in this post, with its emphasis on the victorious and lifted up cosmic Christ, very different from the tone you exhibited in the last months and year when you were posting pieces about the God who hides himself in the suffering and contradiction of the crucified and humiliated Christ? Are you moving in a different direction, away from Luther’s idea of the Deus absconditus?

    To give you a sense of how I feel about the subject: we have a small crucifix that sits on one of our bookshelves. I love for its theological lucidity, for what it says about God in Jesus Christ. We bought it many years ago in a Catholic gift shop. It shows Christ in front of the cross, his arms lifted up above his head and outstretched in a wide and elevated embrace of all that lay before him, and his feet perched on a tiny globe representing the earth.

    • No, this is not an either/or. The Story has a happy ending! And it is Eastertide, after all!

      But you do bring up a point which I debated including in this post. I will probably make a point of it in on Thursday. I do think Webber is weak on the theology of the cross — which, in my limited experience is not unusual in Episcopalian circles. It is one of the reasons I was led to the Lutheran tradition. I think there is more robust theological reflection in Luther than in the Anglican tradition, which tends to focus on liturgy as the primary vehicle of theological insight. However, one might say on the other hand that Luther had a less than healthy eschatology and rather less appreciation for the doctrine of recapitulation. At least, it has not been emphasized by his heirs, who have been endlessly stereotyped as a dour bunch.

      Those are broad statements that I’m sure could be challenged but it’s my perspective at the moment.

      • Drena (@vadess40) says

        To me, this shows we need a balance. The Christian faith is both the theology of the cross and Christus Victor. God is hidden in the suffering and humiliated Christ, yes, but He is also the God who is victorious in the resurrected and glorified Christ.

        What this should say to God’s people is that God is in the midst of our sufferings, and that in Christ there is victory. Suffering will come to an end one day and God’s people will emerge victorious. Focusing on both of those aspects of Holy Week and Eastertide to me brings a much more balanced look at the pre- and post-Easter Jesus as well as a more complete understanding of life in general and how the Christian life can give hope.

        After all, what good is Jesus Christ if there was no resurrection? It was just suffering and that’s it? Exactly it would be no hope at all because to me it would show that while God is in the midst of a harsh world, He cannot or will not provide a way out. The fact that the resurrection and the Christ as Victor says to the contrary to is, with the theology of the cross, what makes Christianity a religion of hope.

  2. Aidan Clevinger says

    I tend to think that Christ the Sacrifice and Christ the Victor aren’t incompatible. God is working to re-create the cosmos through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ – but none of that will be good for us if we aren’t forgiven and made the beneficiaries of His work. Hence His sacrificial death/atonement for our sins.

    Of course, there’s also the fact that the curse came into our world, not just through the evil of the devil, but through the fall of man: “Cursed is the ground *because of* you.” The devil’s chief power lies in his ability to accuse us before the Throne and to corrupt us with temptations to sin. Christ became incarnate and died the death so that we might be delivered from accusation, and rose again so that we might have new life and so, by the power of the Spirit, be free from temptation. The power of Satan and sin are broken through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, and in the gift of God the Holy Spirit who grants us new life in Him, and all of these gifts are secured for us through Christ’s atoning death.

    • They are not incompatible. It’s victory through sacrifice. Sometimes in different traditions, one emphasis seems to get swallowed up by the other.

      • Aidan Clevinger says

        Indeed. I read N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” and was astonished at: A. How beautiful is conception of eschatology is, and B. How well it would fit into Lutheran theology. “Christ died for you and for His sake God forgives you all your sins. Because of this, He’s going to give you rebirth in the Holy Spirit; renewal and healing, begun in this life but consummated in the next, from the corruption of sin; a share in Christ’s own resurrection; stewardship with Jesus over the new creation – and all of this without your merits [in the loose or technical sense], co-operation, or works. In fact, your works are part of the gift.”

        I literally can’t think of better news. Guess that’s why they call it Gospel.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Besides its seniority, Christus Victor does have one serious advantage over Penal Substitutionary Atonement:

        No “Scream of the Damned” theology in Christus Victor. Instead, it presents Christ as Hero, who quested unto death for our sake and Cosmic reconciliation, instead of a victim of the Father’s sadistic wrath. Victory over Thanatos and Hades (death and the land of the dead, from which nobody ever returns) instead of Jack Chick’s “This WAS Your Life” rubbed in your face before Eternal Hell (because He’s just that sort of God, In’shal’lah).

        • Aidan Clevinger says


          I’m confused as to how Christus Victor avoids that “problem”? Most of the theologians I’ve read who support it as the primary “theory” [I hate that word in this context] of atonement still believe in Hell. Not everyone appropriates Christ’s victory through faith. “The smoke of their torment ascendeth forever and ever” and all that. So if the problem is God’s wrath simpliciter, I don’t see how Christus Victor gives any more of a satisfactory solution – those who persist in being God’s enemies will still, in fact, be tormented for eternity.

          Christ’s death is the perfect expression of God’s wrath, but it is also the perfect expression of God’s love. The Father pours out His justice on the Son, but He also sends Him in the Holy Spirit to preach, teach, and die to rescue humanity from their own mess.

          Also, with all due respect, I think that the use of the language of sadism is an emotional red herring that distracts from the theological/intellectual issues involved. It would indeed be sadistic for a human being to consign people to Hell. Does it therefore follow that it’s sadistic for God to do so? After all, human beings are not infinite or eternal and don’t have infinite and eternal crimes perpetrated against them. Moreover, there are a great many ways of explaining the doctrine of Hell – the notion that God gives the damned exactly what they want: eternity apart from His presence; the notion that those who turn their backs on God become, in the end, less than human (can one retain the image of God while exercising utter hatred toward Him?) – that cannot simply be dismissed with epithets.

          Vicarious atonement is a beloved whipping boy of “post evangelicals,” but the issues at hand aren’t anything close to simple, and there are articulations of the doctrine which are subtle and rich and (I believe) utterly biblical. Jack Chick’s doctrine is a parody of serious thinking on Vicarious Atonement, and shouldn’t be mistaken for the doctrine itself.

      • Aidan, you brought up the issue I had intended to raise, namely that Christus Victor and Penal Substitution Atonement are not incompatible and in fact are complementary and not paradoxical in nature (I’m good w/paradoxes but I don’t believe that applies here). In effect, you can’t have one w/o the other, and if one is elevated above the other error is just around the corner. And thank you, Mike, for affirming this.

        I look forward to reading Ancient-Future Faith (it’s been shipped). I understand from what I’ve read here that Robert Webber believes that liturgy is the most effective means to understanding theology. I would disagree with this as I believe that “Drama” or the Biblical story from Creation in Genesis to Consummation in Revelation is the most effective means from which to discover and learn doctrine, which then leads to doxology ans generates discipleship (thank you for this insight, Michael Horton). But perhaps Robert Webber is more tempered in this regard than I’m reading here. I’ll decide that for myself when the book arrives.

        • You’ll probably find that he is indeed more tempered. I know I got from him more about the Big-Picture Drama than I did about liturgy. In fact, his obvious reliance on Dom Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy in his liturgical studies makes me a little wary now that I’m a bit more liturgically educated than I was when I first encountered Webber.

          • Thank you. It’s difficult for me to imagine how doctrine can be derived mostly from liturgy. But I’m open…

          • CalvinCuban: “It’s difficult for me to imagine how doctrine can be derived mostly from liturgy.”

            1) If one does a comparative studies of liturgies across time and rite- whether Western, Byzantine, Syriac, etc.- it is quite easy to see that much, if not most, of the text of the liturgy is drawn from Scripture, whether by direct quotation, paraphrase, combination, etc.

            2) When examining the early battles to hammer out orthodoxy, the Fathers amply cite Scripture. However, since they also admit that Scripture can be interpreted in various ways – after all, Arius abundantly drew from the Scriptures to support his theology- they also looked to the doxology of the Church. “How did the Church relate to Jesus in the liturgy? Praised Him as God, equal to the Father? THERE’S YOUR SIGN!”

            So, it isn’t necessarily about whether Liturgy or the Bible is the means to understand theology. The “means”, so to speak, is God Himself: the Father’s self-revelation in the Son; the Son’s life, teachings, and actions; and the Holy Spirit’s outpouring and indwelling, pointing us back the Son, who is the image of the Father.

            The ordinary mediation of these means is through the Church, which is the People of God, and the Body of Christ. In being a mystical extension of the Incarnation, the Church is filled with Spirit of Christ. Being full of this, then, She reflects upon the Scriptures, and draws from the well to shape the structure of Her worship. Simultaneously, however, the nature of Her worship affected how the New Testament was written (ex: Matthew is a basic catechism, etc.)

            Bringing this to bear on everyday life, we must understand the Bible to have a deeper appreciation of Liturgy. However, the Liturgy also acts as a sort of recapitulation of the major themes of Scripture, and so can be used as a device to catechize in the basics, and as a springboard to more deeply examine Holy Writ.

            As they say, “Lex orandi, lex credendi”.

          • Hey CC, I don’t know about “derived”, since I am not really familiar with the history of liturgy, etc. But I do know that liturgy has been a much more effective tool for teaching me personally about theology – and I am seminary trained! I suspect this is because of the involvement of all the senses and the fact that it is worship. Too often in seminary it was all about outsmarting all comers, rather than a living relationship. That has been my experience.

          • Tim, Dr., I agree that liturgy is an essential component for teaching theology, but it is just that–“a” component. And whereas it may appeal more to some it does not do so as much to others. Perhaps it should, but that’s the reality of it..

            For this reason we have more than just particular liturgical practices (and yes, even Baptists and free Evangelicals have liturgies whether they refer to them by that term or not) to teach the doctrines of the faith. Music, if the melody is good and the word are excellent, is worthy in this respect. Sacraments (or ordinances, for those who freak out at the mention of the word) are also relevant. Then there’s fellowship, that, too, is a means of learning doctrine albeit in a most informal way. And finally there is the word preached, which from my perspective is the principal means in this regard and the one which facilitates all of the others.

        • CalvinCuban: I agree with Tim. Liturgy provides the framework and context in which theology is to be understood and derived. After all, the Gospels and the “Drama” are read during the liturgy. If you have the chance, read the Prokeimenons, troparions, Vesper services, and other liturgical hymns and prayers for a Byzantine Feast Day to see how the Church outlines the theological understanding for a given passage in Scripture. Liturgy is more than a Sunday service. It is a way of life prescribed by the Church. It is through the liturgy that one can live the life of the Church and take on the mind of the Church, the mind of Christ, and experience God. The traditional Theologians of the Christian East were not necessarily the scholars or the people who studied vigorously. They were the mystics, the ones who devoted themselves to prayer, and then ones who experienced God. Examples of these would be St Palamas, St Simeon the Stylite, or St Anthony the Great. They, and many others, hand down to us prayers that shape the liturgical life as the liturgical life had shaped them.
          All this to say, I believe theology is derived from liturgical worship.

          • I’m sure other Liturgical Traditions can attest to these same experiences. I am however not familiar with those liturgies outside the Byzantine Tradition.

          • Aryl, I’m not Eastern Orthodox but I am a former Roman Catholic. My son was raised Evangelical but he and his wife are now Byzantine Catholic. My point is that I am well aware of the Roman and Byzantine traditions and teachings in this respect. And I respect them.

            But as I stated in my comment above to Tim & Dr., there has to be more, primarily the preached word, derived from the “big story.” This was the practice in the early church as described in Acts and later revived during the Reformation.

          • I agree that there is more theology to learn that what is presented in the liturgy. I was just pointing out that liturgy provides the framework and context in which theology is to be understood. I think that the regularity of the beliefs of those who practice a given liturgy is witness to that, especially that of the Early Church.

  3. Must admit that the term “cosmic Christ” makes me cringe a bit, as it has a long and varied history in esoteric religious practice that has little or nothing to do with xtianity.

    Christ as lord of the cosmos, renewer and re-creator of the cosmos (and much else) I can get behind, but I think “cosmic Christ” has huge potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. It also reminds me of those “cosmic consciousness” ads that always seemed to be in Sunday newspaper magazine sections, which (maybe?) had something to do with contemporary Rosicrucianism (???).

    Must admit that my mind is boggled by the way many Catholics and mainline Protestants have bought into this terminology. I wonder if !most who use it have any idea of its checkered past/present.

    • Should have mentioned Matthew Fox’s use of this term…

    • I meant no reference other than the way Webber speaks of Christ as risen Lord, ruler of all creation.

      • I realize that, CM. It’s his use of the term that is, imo, perhaps unwise.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Term’s been contaminated and confused by other usage.

          • Exactly, HUG. I think a lot of other folks probably have at least some of these associations, especially related to Matthew Fox’s book The Cosmic Christ.

            Reminds me of the post about “xtian identity” and how *that* phrase has been co-opted by white supremacists.

    • Mule Chewing Briars says

      It may be more salutatory to think of “the immanent Christ”, He who by His Spirit is everywhere and fillest all things, than to think of a “Cosmic Christ” That phrase carries a lot of hermetic baggage, or worse, airy-fairy like a Jon Anderson/Stevie Nicks duet. I admit it is a stretch for me to think about Christ, still being Human with typeable blood and touchable wounds. as being IN that flower, or that fox, or that mosquito, or even that typhoid bacillum, but it’s a good exercise.

      As far as I can understand him, St Maximus the Confessor is very good source material for this kind of mystical theanthropology. I have a book about him on my bedpost, “The Cosmic Liturgy” but I haven’t made much head way with him yet. Maximus occupies in the East the place that Augustine plays in the west, and I think he is probably the more subtle thinker. I see Augustine’s fingerprints, and his anthropological pessimism, all over the Christianity of the West. I see it on this forum. I can only image how different the spiritual history of the West would have been if Calvin’s bear-trap intellect had sifted through Maximus the monk rather than through Augustine the reformed libertine.

      Here is a Reformed Christian meditating on themes from St. Maximus. What strikes me is how quick the Reformed Christian is to assign St Maximus to “another tradition”. St. Maximus was a member of the pre-schism undivided Church and therefore stood as much in the Calvinist’s gene-stream as was Augustine, who this same Reformed brother extols as the “backbone of Christianity”.

  4. Anglican/Episcopalian is, of course, called the middle way. And this post shows Webber seeking that balance.
    I think it interesting the quote selected of Webber from pg. 46, which is definitely a fideistic strain, and is the emphasis of ( Luther, Pascal, Kierkegaard). And then the quote from Lakeland which is definitely in the scholastic realm( from Abelard and Anselm to Francis of Assisi and Bonaventure to the highest scholastic Aquinas).

    In Christus Victor, Gustav Aulen argued that Luther’s soteriology is characteristic of the Greek rather than the Latin tradition. But the book is so one-sided as to be seriously misleading. There are many useful correctives of Aulen’s brilliant but tendentious treatment of the history of doctrine.

    I will again try to bottom line. The incredible insights of the Gospel have been diminishing in the churches through time. Investing in historical, liturgical, sacramental church has the possibility of correcting this shallowness. However, their are huge differences in the paradox of the “Gabe” and “Aufgabe”( Luther’s words) in even ancient faith. For Catholics( and especially EO) there is always emphasis of some who have powers more than others. For mystical types it meant to become one. For the typical man of the middle ages it meant to become master of the passions( and of nature itself). For Luther it meant to become one who does good to others( and doing good is not social work….I could go on). I think the evidence is there that many who attend historical, liturgical, sacramental churches all their lives never get to Luther’s insight about how the divine gift involves responsive human action( of course it’s also true of many a low churchperson). I just don’t think worship is the key to creating a Gospel culture. I think when Jesus met with the people after his resurrection is much closer to the key, be it upper room, on the road, in the restaurant, or on the edge of their work site. You don’t think the evidence shows that us that met Jesus this way have big enough idea of Him translated into our world.

  5. Does Postmodernism and/or evolutionary biology really teach this?

    “But it rejects the “original blessing” of postmodernism which teaches that millions of years of evolution will bring the creation and humanity to its perfection.”

    I admit I am no philosopher nor evolutionary biologist, but I have never heard this centrally proposed by proponents of either of them.

    I think the idea of Evolution as a straight line getting better is a very “modern” way to view the ideas of evolutionary theory. And I think that Postmodernism would raise serious questions about the very idea of a definitive “better”.

    To put it another way, a modern view of Evolution is about the destination, a postmodern view of Evolution is about the journey.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I think the idea of Evolution as a straight line getting better is a very “modern” way to view the ideas of evolutionary theory. And I think that Postmodernism would raise serious questions about the very idea of a definitive “better”.

      Actually, Evolution as linear upward progress is Victorian. It’s why Darwin himself preferred the term “Descent, with Modification” — because “Evolution” had that pre-existing baggage, and Darwin wanted to emphasize there was no intrinsic directionality. Because linear upward progress leads to:

      “The Victorians thought history ended well — because it ended with the Victorians.”
      — G.K.Chesterton

      And every generation since — Modernist, Post-Modernist, Post-Post-Modernist, Chugaroon-flubba-flubba — tries to make the same claim. As the Trekkie tagline goes, “We’ve Evolved Beyond All That!”

  6. Well, nobody else has touched on this yet, so I’ll play the advocatus diabolos…

    It’s all well and good, I suppose, to talk about an “event-centered” faith as opposed to a Book-centered faith, but when push comes to shove, our connection and knowledge of that Event come to us *through a book*. One thing about my Reformed background that still holds (it’s also personality rooted) is an innate mistrust of mysticism. The Book I can trust, my (or anybody else’s) emotions and visions, I cannot and will not trust. Unless Chist triumphed over, not only cosmic evil, but the evil *in my own life*, I may as well blow my brains out now. Call that individualistic narcissism if you must, but we cannot throw out the baby of individual salvation out with the Cartesian hyperindividualistic bathwater.

    • I hear you Eeyore, and I think we need to be grounded, and if you actually read Webber you will find that he is.

      We live in a society that is very book oriented (and the statement of truths that come out of those books). What does God do with people who are not literate? There passed hundreds of years where people’s orientation to faith was not out of a book, they could not own one.
      Abraham, Issac, Jacob to name a few.
      So the question is what would God have used to reach them?

    • I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a balance needed. Without the rooting in biblical truth and the Church’s rich historic heritage, the mystic is easily led astray by his own feelings, emotions, and stray thoughts that get mis-attributed to the Holy Spirit. Without the experiences of the mystical and the Church’s rich historic heritage, the bible-loving truth guy can easily become cold, legalistic, or moralistic in the application of the faith. Without the experiences of the mystical and the rooting in biblical truth, the traditionalist who lives in the Sacraments and liturgy can easily fall into dead religiosity.

      Just like it’s a mistake to pit Christus Victor as the antithesis of Christ as Sacrifice or Christ as Example, but rather we need all three views to have a more complete picture of the atonement, we need the Mystical/Charismatic, the Liturgical/Sacramental/Historic, and the Biblical/Evangelical to be like a gyroscope, counterbalancing each other.

      Or so it seems to me.

      • David Cornwell says

        I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that mystical experiences are usually a surprise to the person to whom they happen. And many times they are disclosed to either no one at all, or to a very few people.

    • It’s not book alone vs. emotions and visions that ancient-future faith is about. It’s book alone vs. book + faith community + tradition + sacraments + spiritual formation, etc.

      “The Book I can trust” are famous last words as far as I’m concerned. They’re good only until we start comparing interpretations.

      • The unspoken part of “I can trust the Book” is “but I can’t trust any of you morons.”

        It’s a man-hating stance.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          +1. Exactly. And it means I am confident that I am so much more clever than all the horde of morons, many who have spent decades studying that book. The odds of that being true are scant to none.

          • In addition, any revelation I may have about my own limitations is cause for despair, when it might have been merely a call to humility.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > our connection and knowledge of that Event come to us *through a book*

      Is this true? How many people `came to Christ` [for lack of a better term] by reading the Bible? I suspect that number is very small. Our connection to that Event is through The Spirit and The Church. The Knowledge of the even is via The Book. Without The Church The Book is just a book, which would almost certainly rapidly fade into the myst as have many many many once powerful and influential texts.

  7. Dana Ames says

    Sacrifice and Victor are not incompatible, but they also don’t “weigh” the same. In the Orthodox Church, the word “sacrifice” with reference to what Jesus did is most often preceded by the word “voluntary” – Christ as God remained free; there was no necessity involved in his death. And the Father’s hands are not tied in any way because of our sin; he doesn’t have to wait until we repent before he forgives. Jesus’ sacrifice was not forensic, but willingly allowing his life to be cut short the way it was in order to go into death, along with an aspect of complete giving of himself to the Father in the bond of love, the way the first Adam should have done. But there was a larger point to his going to death, and that was to disempower death – the fear of which held us captive in sin. The disempowerment of death is the sign that our sins have already been forgiven.

    And that meaning has to have some connection to what the Jews actually believed in Jesus’ day. I believe N.T. Wright’s greatest contribution has been to bring all of that to the forefront of theological discussion in a coherent way. That connection and its ramifications are way more explosive than his views on justification; they brings down the entire edifice, not simply a single (though large) supportive beam.

    The Penal element is problematic because of what it says about the kind of god God is. Scripture can certainly be used to defend it – if certain verses are marshaled to fit into a certain interpretive grid. If that’s the interpretation that makes sense to someone, fine. The longer I was a Protestant, the less sense it made to me, precisely because of the image of God it presents. If any interpretation of scripture regarding what the Father is like does not match the image of Jesus on the cross, it has to be re-thought. *That’s* what God looks like; there is nothing else that demonstrates his love, his actually being *for* us, so completely, on so many levels. The farther back I went in history as I went in search of what the earliest Christians believed, the more consistently Christus Victor was offered in the writings of Christians as the explanation of the primary meaning of what Jesus did. One would think that if the Penal view were indeed the view of St Paul and the Apostles, it would show up in the writings of the “next generation” – the Apostolic Fathers – and beyond. But the Penal aspect to was nowhere in sight. It was primarily Christus Victor and secondarily Ransom – paid to humanity in our condition of death, not to God or satan – all the way, continuing right through the Cappadocians and onward in the east.

    As for event versus book, if the book were absolutely necessary, then the first Christians would have been hamstrung for at least 20 years, until St Paul started writing. How could they have told people about what Jesus did and what it meant without the New Testament to prove it? No – they announced what they were convinced was the fulfillment of what some Jews of the day expected would happen, but with a twist… and they did it on the basis of eyewitness and the common understanding they had with those with home they spoke. At the time, accurate verbal transmission was very highly valued, and eyewitness account passed along verbally was held to be much more reliable than any written record – see Ben Witherington on this. St Paul could and did reference the Jewish scriptures when he was speaking to Jewish hearers, but on Mars Hill, among people who would not have been familiar with the OT, he doesn’t even go there – he simply starts out talking about the Creator, which would have been a common understanding, rather than going down a rationalist track that demanded written proof – which did not even exist before the printing press was followed hard on by the Enlightenment paradigm and the beginnings of accurate transmission of written records with the dawn of modern scientific inquiry.

    Fr Stephen Freeman’s latest at glory2godforallthings dot com, “The Scope of Passover and Penal Substitution Theory,” is excellent. If you read it, please allow time to read the comments, where Fr Stephen responds to questions.


  8. David Cornwell says

    “On the other hand, I believe these insights are creating a moment of potential renewal for the historic traditions, and I wonder if they are poised to get the message out and welcome newcomers in. I wonder if these traditions, especially within mainline Protestantism, can hear the cosmic Christ who died and rose again to make all things new in heaven and on earth. ”

    I was heartened a few weeks ago to learn about a fairly large UMC congregation in the city where I attend church. I already was aware of the church because I past connection and friendship with the music director. But the church has greatly enhanced its liturgy, weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, has strong preaching, and uses the church liturgical year to teach doctrine. Out of curiosity I found out that one of the pastors is a Duke Divinity School graduate, where “postliberalism” is the ticket out of modernity. The church has always had strong attendance, and is located on the edge of a business district, middle class and upper middle class residential area.

    I think this is a great opportunity for this church, and hopefully others will take note. However this is just one church. The predominant way of seeking growth still seems to be a “contemporary” service, along with topical style preaching to “felt needs” with “cool” pastors doing the preaching. (leaves me out)