Isn't this the question we unconsciously/concsciously ask about everything?
- We stare at the stacks of chores around the house.
- "What's the point?" we wonder.
- We consider yet another burst of energy on the treadmill/bicycle/track/etc.
- "What's the point?" we ponder.
- We begin a conversation that we know is going to end in awkward frustration.
- "What's the point?" we ask.
Then... in the fullness of time a free book arrived in the mail.
As a bit of background, over the past couple of years I've had the chance to form some amazing friendships in various parts of the publishing world. Along the way I've been asked to do reviews of products before they hit the streets, which is not only fun in itself but is a double gift since I actually get to keep the books. There really are some great writers out there and it's always a blessing to read their stuff.
So just as I was in the midst of wrestling with God, a book arrived by noted scholar/thinker/writer/blogger Scot McKnight called "A Community Called Atonement." While on the surface it might sound like an academic theology book, McKnight writes with a practical edge that made his book "The Jesus Creed" one of my favorites.
Lean into this question with me, posed on the back cover of the book:
Can atonement be a way of life?Again, I know this sounds like theological braniac kind of stuff, and perhaps in many ways it is. What stood out to me most, though, were the provocative thoughts and questions McKnight launches off with...
These are dangerous questions, are they not?
Christians believe that God really did atone for sins in Jesus Christ and that God really did redemptively create restored relationships with God, with self, with others, and with the world. Christians believe that all this took place in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and (the silent part of the Story) in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The atonement, in other words, is the good news of Christianity - it is our gospel. It explains how that gospel works.
The bad news, the anti-gospel as it were, is that the claim Christians make for the atonement is not making enough difference in the real lives of enough Christians to show up in statistics as compelling proof of what the Apostle Paul called the "truth of the gospel." Does this new relationship with God really transform the individual? Does this work of Christ and the Spirit to forgive sins and empower Christians make them forgiving people or morally empowered people? Does the claim of the Gospel extend to what can be observed in the concrete realities of those who claim to be its beneficiaries?
The challenge of the atonement is this: Does atonement work? Are Christians any better than anyone else in their relationship with God, self, others, and the world? Is there not a claim that atonement generates a muli-faceted healing of the person so that Christians ought to love God and love others, so that Christians ought to be differenr? Even a little?
And I'm not talking about individuals, for it's all to easy to find a bad Christian and a good Muslim or Buddhist and say, "Christianity doesn't work but Islam and Buddhism do!" We need to think of the big picture: Are Christians - taken as a whole - more loving people? Are they more forgiving? Are they more just? Are they more peaceful? Are they really better?
I've learned that sometime such questions are not so well received.
Just tonight I was talking with my oldest son about our time as a church picnic we'd just come back from. At this event, a couple of kids were giving him a hard time... just standard kid stuff, but his question most intrigued me.
Him: (confused) Why would they tease?
Me: That's a great question... sometimes kids tease because they want to feel better about themselves so they try to give others a hard time.
Him: I know that, Dad. You told me that before. I mean, why would these kids tease? They know about Jesus.
Me: Ah... (pause) that's an even greater question. (longer pause) Sometimes people that know a lot about Jesus don't love others with their words and choices the way He asks them to. That's why it's up to us to ask if we're going to be the kind of people Jesus dreams of.
In his six-year-old way, my son is asking the same question McKnight is asking...
"What's the point?"Perhaps this even hints at God's "What the heck?" response back to me in my "What the heck?" prayer.
What if the point of "atonement" isn't the mere self-serving salvation we often leash it up to be? What if the point of atonement is not to just be changed but to become change as a person/people of atonement?
In other words, what if what Jesus did/does for us through an historical/eternal act is meant to become a personal/corporate Eucharist of redemption/reconciliation?
- How would that impact how Christians
critiquetalk about others inside and outside the church?
- How would that change how Christians
wastespend their time recreationally, socially, intellectually, emotionally, relationally, and so forth?
- How would that alter how Christians
overlookview their neighborhoods, jobs, hobbies?
- How would that revolutionize the time we spend
The problem is when we believe that we ought to be satisfied rather than God glorified.
Isn't one of the greatest things we can do for someone is to love them like God does so that they can know that God does in fact love them? Many unchurched people only look at the external changes in Christians because they don't know about the internal changes... but when we live out what it is we say we believe we bridge that gap.
when we don't, we're just wearing a Jesus mask.
Amazingly, as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same.
But... when we critique others we make them seem as though they aren't worthy of God's love (which goes against the real message of the Gospel).
And really, what's the point?