Four (Good Things) for Friday

Remember when Martha Stewart used to share little tidbits of advice called “Good Things?”

Yeah, me neither.

In honor of Good Friday, four Good things for your enjoyment.

1) A Good Song // Just found out this week that I like Bombay Bicycle Club. Who knew?

Bombay Bicycle Club – How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep

2) A Good Video // My Good friend, Jacob, shared a video that I thought was fascinating. I love watching people do stuff they both love and are Good at. Predictably, they chose the most provocative image from the video to “sell” it.

3) A Good Book // I’ve mentioned once or twice that there is a something of a controversy surrounding the Christian doctrine of justification. I’m pretty certain not many of you (nor myself for that matter) are losing any sleep over this, but some might say that “justification” lies pretty close to the heart of the Christian message. Therefore, tinkering around with it, or having the appearance of playing fast and loose with it, does tend to ruffle some feathers.

I’ve been reading a book entitled, Justification: Five Views, and it is Good. The title couldn’t be more clear… Five different views on justification. Each view is written up by an “expert” representing that view. And every other contributor writes a response to the essay. It is as close to a theological cage-match as you’re going to find. In the introduction, the editors do a fine job of mapping the current landscape of the debate. Of course, a book on this fundamental doctrine couldn’t be more appropriate for Good Friday.

4) A Good Maundy Thursday Service // Yesterday, our church had four brief services to commemorate the Last Supper and point us towards Resurrection Sunday.


My Good friend, Sarabeth, shares some of what went down at those services. This has been a rich Lenten season for me, and I couldn’t be more ready to celebrate our risen Lord.

Atonement Theology

Several weeks ago, as I was sharing about some of the better books I read in 2010, I put together an emotionally stirring post in which I discussed three different books on or related to the doctrine of Justification.

However, there was one book on the subject that managed to slip through the cracks. And normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to mention it here, because honestly…  no one really cares. But since this blog is as much for me as it is for you, I’m coming back to it for the sake of completeness.

If I haven’t mentioned Scot McKnight around here, my apologies. He is someone worth being familiar with.  He maintains a popular Christian blog. He is a professor in New Testament at North Park University. He writes prolifically on both an academic and popular level. Add to all that a busy speaking schedule at various conferences and such. Think of him as a North American version of N.T. Wright.  I think he would take that for the compliment it is meant to be.

Anyway, if you are only going to read one book on Justification/Atonement, his is the the one.

I know I said that Michael Bird’s was the understanding of Righteousness/Justification/Atonement that I found most compelling, and it is.  But no one is reading that.  You’ve got the problem with the cover.  But let’s be honest, the only people picking up this book didn’t even notice that there was a cover – myself included.  That is to say, the book is all content and written for the extreme Bible nerd.

The beauty of McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement is that you get many of the same ideas, but in a much more accessible way. That isn’t to say it is dumbed down. Not in the least. It is just that McKnight’s book has a different purpose and a different audience.

I’ll try to sum up what is going on in the book in a few sentences.

There are a number of theories that try to explain what the Bible is affirming about Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.  A book that I read a year or so ago outlined four views

  • Christus Victor – Which more or less says that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God won out over the cosmic powers of evil.  Which of course includes evil in individual’s lives, but that is secondary.
  • Penal Substitution – This would be the view that most evangelical Christians in the South are exposed to on a regular basis.  This view highlights the need for an atoning death to appease the perfect justice and wrath of God.
  • Healing View – Not a widely held view that I am aware of, but the idea here is that humanity has a sickness.  Call it sin, call it brokenness, or whatever.  In Christ’s death and resurrection, humanity’s problem is fixed or healed.  If the focus of Penal Substitution is on what is going on with God in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the healing view stresses what is happening in people.
  • Kaleidescopic view – You probably saw this coming, but this view more or less says they are all good and necessary. Can’t we all just get along.

Ok, so gross over-simplification for sure. It looks to me like McKnight holds something of a modified Kaleidescopic view. But the modification is important. He, like Bird and others, would say that the important thing is being “found in Christ.”  I know that when we read (or memorize) the New Testament, one can easily skim over the phrase “in Christ,” but it is in there a whole, whole lot.  Paul never really struck me as one to waste his words.

McKnight argues that being “in Christ” is foundational.  Everything else flows from that.  Imputed righteousness.  Justification. Healing.  And so on.  In his discussion of the classic Reformed doctrine of “double imputation” he says…

I not only agree with double imputation, I up it. I think being “in Christ” involves multiple imputations: every thing we are is shuffled to Christ and all that Christ can offer us is shuffled to us. It is that big.

And in search of language to hold all the theories of the atonement together, he lands on “identification for incorporation” which is not so unlike Bird’s “incorporated righteousness.” I’ll let McKnight sum up his understanding for himself…

Jesus identifies with us and we gain access to everything he is by being incorporated into him, by entering into this “in Christ” realm. Every theory of atonement emerges from this central, life-giving identification for incorporation.  Atonement is what happens to a human being who is united with Christ. Union with Christ, in other words, is the foundation of atonement, and those who are so in union form the new community where cracked Eikons can be restored to God, self, others, and the world.


Best Theology Smackdown

Back with more of 2010’s best reading.  If you thought the last recommendation was sort of Bible-nerdy, then you may just want to wait until my next post…  Best Emotional PoMo Emergent Touchy Feely True to Self Read.  In the world of theology (which, admittedly, is a pretty small world), there has been a storm brewing over the topic of Justification.  This isn’t really the time or place to wade into the details, but if you want a very quick primer on what the debate is all about, you can try this.

Anyway, two high profile Christian leader/theologians have entered the fray.  In one corner, we have the energetic Christian hedonist from Minneapolis, Minnesota… Johnnnn Pipperr.

Squaring off with him is the agreeable and prolific bishop from across the pond…  the Right Reverend Tommm Wriiiight.

And here’s how the match went down.  Piper was taking Wright to task for going soft on justification.  His feeling was that Wright was wrong (I could keep ’em coming all day long) to depart from the understanding of justification as defined by the Reformers and much of Protestant Christianity since then.  Piper’s book, The Future of Justification, was well thought through, clearly articulated, and classically Piper.  Wright’s (sort-of) response was the creatively titled, Justification, in which he re-articulated his view that many have and probably still do find more than a little confusing.

I’ve read both and here’s how I understand what’s being said.  Wright isn’t denying the historically held doctrine of “justification by faith.”  He’s saying that Paul had a larger understanding of what that means than simply “we are forgiven sinners” (as glorious as that truth is).  He wants to push against the widely held notion, particularly within the church in the West, that Christianity is basically about how an individual gets right with God.

Ok, well it goes on and on.  Watching this debate unfold is a bit like watching ships firing past each other.  Neither right on target and neither really quite sure where the other is coming from.

Which is why I think possibly the best book I’ve read recently on the subject of justification comes from a third player…  the witty academic from down under…  Michaellll Biirrd.

His book, The Saving Righteousness of God, looks to chart a third way that takes the best of both and marry them together in the idea of “incorporated righteousness.”

I don’t pretend to think that anyone reading this blog is going to be even a little bit tempted to read any of the three books mentioned here, but they are the things with which current and future Christian leaders are wrestling.  Most theological debates come and go, but this one centers on a aspect of Christian belief that lies at the core of the way “faith” works.

I think that’s important.