Archive for March, 2011

Atonement I: The person and work of Christ shows us who God is

Posted in Reconciliation with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by stephengardner

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Phil 2.5-8 NRSV)

Way back in November I introduced an introduction to some thoughts on the atonement. This is the first post, in what I hope will be a series of ‘around seven’, exploring the atonement, what it is and what it achieves. The next couple of posts will focus more on what the atonement actually is, but for now let me describe it as this: the saving significance of the person and work of the Incarnate Son of God.

Initially I was going to use this post as a way of finishing off my reflections on the atonement, but I’ve become convinced that this should be the first port-of-call for any consideration of what God has done in Christ. In a nutshell the point of this post is this: the atonement is not contrary to who God is, in fact it is God in his most Godness.

This seems to be what Paul was getting at when he penned his exhortation to the Philippians that they be a community of humility precisely because God has shown himself to be humble in the death of Christ. The NRSV unhelpfully adds the word ‘though’ in v.6 implying that the work of Christ is contrary to who Christ is – God in his fulness.

Speaking of the limitations and weaknesses Christ takes on and what they mean for him ‘being in the form of God’, Barth writes this:

We will mention at once the thought which will be decisive and basic in the section, that God shows Himself to be the great and true God in the fact that He can and will let His grace bear this cost, that He is capable and willing and ready for this condescension, this act of extravagance, this far journey. What marks out God above all false gods is that they are not capable and ready for this. In their otherworldliness and supernaturalness and otherness, etc., the gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not unbend, which will not stoop to that which is beneath it. God is not proud. In His high majesty He is humble. It is in this high humility that He speaks and acts as the God who reconciles the world to Himself. It is under this aspect first that we must consider the history of the atonement. (Barth, CD IV.1 s59, 159)




Reconciliation and Truth

Posted in Australia, Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , on March 15, 2011 by stephengardner

I’m currently thinking a lot about the Australian Church and reconciliation. At the more theoretical end, I’m thinking through what the essence of the Church’s ministry of reconciliation is; and to what extent can we presently experience the final reconciliation that God promises when he makes all things new. While, practically, I’m fascinated by what are our particularly Australian stories of reconciliation that need to be told; what opportunities there are for reconciliation to occur in our societies; and how the Church can be involved in all of this. A big chunk of my time at college this year will be thinking through these things – and I hope to post some reflections from time to time.

Today I had the great joy of reading Colonisation and Christianity by 19th Century, English Author William Howitt. It is a painful read – recalling to mind seemingly endless evil often committed in the name of the Church’s Master. But Howitt zealously called into question European colonisation, and its relationship to Christianity – and named it for what it was, evil.

To comprehend the full extent of atrocities done in the Christian name, we must look the whole wide evil sternly in the face. We must not suffer ourselves to aim merely at the rediness of this or that grievance; but gathering all the scattered rays of aboriginal oppression into one burning focus, and thus enabling ourselves to feel its entire force, we shall be less than Englishmen and Christians if we do not stamp the whole system of colonial usage towards the natives, with that general and indignant odium which must demolish it at once and forever (Colonisation and Christianity, 10).

How many Waterloos can the annals of the earth reckon? What Timour, or Zenghis Khan, can be compared to the Napoleon of Modern Europe? the (sic) greatest scourge of nations that ever arose on this planet; the most tremendous meteor that ever burnt along its surface! (p, 4)

But most monstrous of all has been the moral blindness or the savage recklessness of ourselves as Englishmen. (p, 6)

In hindsight, Howitt’s attempts to bring into light the evil of the past did not go far enough, but it is a valuable example of, what seems to me, to be a universally recognised essential starting block; That in order for reconciliation to occur between two parties with a history of bad blood, then there must be a revelation of the truth. A painful, honest look at the past – painful for the offender, reminding themselves of guilt and leaving them vulnerably in the hands of shame. But likewise, and particularly, painful for the victim – again, leaving them in a vulnerable position where they might be forever labelled as ‘victim.’ But if a genuine reconciliation is to occur then this pain must be exposed.