Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Dangers of the Pronoun "I"

"The dangers arise when this element is emphasized to the exclusion of other important dimensions of the work of the Lamb. Jesus died to save sinners - but he is also the Lamb who serves as the lamp in the transformed City. As the Lamb of God he will draw all the goods, artifacts and instruments of culture to himself; the kings of the earth will return their authority and power to the Lamb who sits upon the throne; Jesus is the one whose blood has purchased a multi-national community, composed of people from every tribe and tongue and nation. His redemptive ministry, as the ministry of the Lamb, is cosmic in scope.

Similar matters must be stressed for the sake of those who want a culturally 'relevant' Christianity that is not based on the solid foundation of a full biblical Christology. Here too, of course, we must concede many of the basic concerns at work in this pattern of thinking. Jesus came to rescue a creation that was pervasively infected by the curse of sin- an infection not limited to the psychic territory populated by 'human hearts.' The curse of sin touches the natural realm, reaching into art and economics, affecting family relationships and educational endeavors, holding thrones and budgets in its grip.

The Bible does present us with a 'social gospel.' It does link 'Christ and culture,' proclaiming a message about "the liberation of structures.' Sin may have originated in the rebellious designs of individual wills, but human rebellion has institutionalized sin. Wickedness has become 'codified''; evil has become a part of the very fabric of human sociality. 'Changed hearts' will not 'change society' if the efforts at change are not also directed toward the structures and patterns of human interaction.

The work of the Cross is a many-faceted transaction. There are, in a sense, several 'theologies of atonement' hinted at in the Scriptures. The Cross was a transaction between the first and second Persons of the Trinity, wherein the Son offered himself to the Father as a substitutionary sacrifice, a 'ransom for sin.' And on the Cross Jesus encountered the principalities and powers, defeating them in spite of the fury they expended in their effort to destroy him. The dying Jesus also provides us with a profound display of 'selfless love.'

It would be wrong, then, to limit descriptions of Jesus' ministry to one set of categories when the Bible itself employs a rich variety of images and concepts. But it would also be wrong to ignore one of the significant strands of the Bible's portrayal of the work of the Cross. Thus, whatever else we might be compelled to say about the atoning work of Christ, this element must not be denied: Jesus shed his blood to rescue the creation from the curse of sin. And the cleansing blood of Christ must reach not only into the hearts and lives of individuals, but into every corner of the creation which the curse has affected.

I noted earlier the evangelical declaration that 'it is well with my soul,' and insisted that this is an important and profoundly biblical expression of Christian assurance. But it is not enough. It is a central confession, but it is a central confession; it is not a full expression of Christian assurance. The God who declares here and now that it is 'well' with my soul is the same creating Lord who once looked at the whole he had made and proclaimed, 'This is good.' This God wants once again to say that things are 'well' with his entire creation - and he will someday do so when he announces: 'Behold, I make all things new.... It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end' (Rev. 21:5-6). 'It is well with my soul' is only a first step, an initial fruit of God's redeeming activity. We must share in God's restless yearning for the renewal of the cosmos.

Evangelical Protestants have rightly emphasized the 'transactional' dimensions of the atoning work of Christ over against the teaching of the theological liberals. But in their own ways evangelicals too have operated with a restricted view of the redemptive ministry of Jesus. They have placed limits on the scope and power of the Cross. In boasting of a 'full gospel' they have often proclaimed a truncated Christianity. In speaking of a blood that cleanses from all unrighteousness, they have consistently restricted the meaning of the word 'all.' The problem might be described in this way: they have given full reign to the blood of Christ within a limited area. They have seen the work of Christ as being a totally transforming power only within individual lives. They have not shown much interest in the work of the Lamb as it applies to the broad reaches of culture or the patterns of political life, nor as a power that heals the racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, and injustice that have for so long poisoned human relationships. To such Christians we must insist that the Lamb is indeed the lamp of the City; just as we must insist to liberal Christians that the light which illuminates the City does indeed issue from the Lamb who shed his own blood as a ransom for sin" (When the Kings Come Marching In, pp. 108-12)

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