Church Write-Up: Atonement and Paraclete, Logos and Meaninglessness

Here are some items for my Church Write-Up about last Sunday’s services.  I attended the LCMS church and what I call the “Word of Faith” church.

A.  The atonement came up in both services.  The pastor of the LCMS church was upholding the doctrine of penal substitution.  He portrayed Jesus as practically twisting God the Father’s arm to forgive us, since Jesus paid for our sins, and it would be unjust for God the Father to punish sins twice.  I do not know how seriously the pastor takes this image: does the image reflect what God the Father is truly like, namely, an angry God who needs to be appeased, or is the image primarily designed to assure us that we are forgiven?

The LCMS pastor also commented on the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete in John 14-15.  According to the pastor, this etymologically relates to how the Holy Spirit is one who is beside us (para), calling to us (kletos).  The pastor also revisited the topic of fellowship.  Last week, he said that fellowship is sharing something with somebody else.  What do we share with God, when we have fellowship with God?  The pastor referred to II Peter 1:4, where Christians are called partakers of the divine nature.  We share with God by having the Holy Spirit.  Another passage that the pastor cited was Romans 8:15, which states that it is by the Spirit of adoption that Christians cry out “Abba Father.”  We are already God’s sons, he said, but the Holy Spirit affirms to our hearts God’s affection towards us, while enabling us to have affection towards God.

I bring up these points about the Holy Spirit because they overlap with what the “Word of Faith” pastor was saying, even though the “Word of Faith” pastor went in a different direction on the atonement.  The title of his sermon, and perhaps even the series, was “Christus Victor.”  Christus Victor is a model of the atonement.  The pastor was critiquing the penal substitution model of the atonement.  He denied that Jesus died on the cross to appease an angry God.  According to the pastor, God is not angry with us.  Rather, God came into the human mess, alongside humans, at the cross, and he triumphed over what humans did to him through the resurrection.  God lovingly comes alongside us today.  The pastor likened God to a judge who convicts a repeat offender, then takes off his judicial robes and spends time in jail with the offender.  He also likened God to a parent who discovers that his or her child is looking at pornography and gently reasons with the child about why pornography is destructive, rather than lashing out at the child in anger.  The atonement is not about Jesus taking away God’s anger, but rather concerns God taking away our anger.  “Hell,” according to the pastor, is where people can freely go when they do not want God’s love.

The “Word of Faith” pastor noted that Isaiah 53:4 states that the Suffering Servant was believed to be stricken by God, but that does not mean that the belief was true.  God was not afflicting the Servant, but people were.  I wonder, though, how the pastor would address v. 10, which states that God desired to crush the Servant and made the Servant sick.

B.  The LCMS pastor preached about Jesus as the Logos.  Greco-Roman philosophy, he said, was searching for some grand logos, some logical order in which everything could fit and have a particular significance or role.  The Epicureans, he stated, held that there was no order and so people should simply pursue pleasure.  The Stoics also thought that there was no order but maintained that people should live as if there is, by being virtuous.  Christianity affirmed that Jesus was the Logos, which means that we know our place and role by looking at Jesus.  We are accepted by Jesus, and that enables us, not to seek the world’s approval, but rather to serve it in love.

I did not entirely agree with these characterizations of Greek philosophy.  My understanding is that the Epicureans included virtue in their conceptualization of pleasure, and that the Stoics believed that there was an order in the cosmos: the cosmos was permeated with a rational fire.  Still, the point about the Stoics not believing in order but acting as if it exists stood out to me, on account of an Unbelievable podcast that I heard the day before: a discussion between Jordan Peterson and Susan Blackmore.  Blackmore, an atheist, was saying that life has no meaning, yet humans can respond to this by going about their day, being active and doing their work.  They make meaning in their lives, she seemed to be saying.  Peterson retorted that she is acting as if there is a God, even though she does not believe in God.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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