Culture Driven Atonement Theory pt II

His paper was followed by an interesting experience on the plane ride home:

I sat next to a woman who self identified as 'agnostic, daughter of hippies who rejected God.' She expressed, not antipathy towards spirituality, but rather apathy. She claimed to have no real concern for even the questions raised by spiritual experience, and to have never had a spiritual experience.

We had quite a lengthy, and cordial, conversation that included the gentleman on the other side of her. He was an elder (?) in a local Baptist Church.

At one point early in the conversation she made a point of communicating her belief that religion offered no real answers, and that she had no personal need for it. She even went so far as to say she was a fundamentally good person who had done no wrong. In short, she had no personal experience of guilt.

With Steve Burnhope's paper ringing in my ears I suggested an alternative to the problem of personal guilt: I described the brokenness in our world, broken families, broken marriages (she was in the middle of a divorce), broken social structures, unjust political and economic structures, environmental pollution that is embedded in our way of life.

She began to nod her head with vigor.

It was at this point that my Baptist friend introduced a Chesterton quote that went something like this, "The real problem with the world is me."

My hippie friend refused to acknowledge this. She spent almost the whole rest of the plane ride communicating her own personal goodness, and trying to convince the both of us that we were good people as well, despite our good, Christian protests to the contrary...

I didn't have the presence of mind to move away from the language of personal guilt and back to the language of cosmological and relational brokenness until we were ready to disembark...


~bean said...

What is it Steve? People that have the reasoning that your friend does? I come across it as well and I often do not know what to say or even if there is anything to say? Has Satan so decieved a persons mind- denial- not wanting to be dependent on anything but self- pride? Like, what is the thing ( I know sin) but what keeps a peron from truly seeing that things are not right in this world and that God is the awnser? Many people I speak with believe that that if your good than somehow that removes them from the affect of the sin of this world. I often wonder, if in God love...the brokeness of this world will increase as to get peoples attention. I mean- he desires that none should perish-

Steve S. said...

I agree that this (an inability to see personal sin) is a very big problem.

However, it is nothing new, and in fact, if we are perceptive, might be an opportunity!

This is the question I am trying to raise:

Have we (the Church) so bought into the lenses of our age that we are unable to see the full-orbed definition of sin that Scripture gives? Is sin only personal evil? If so, what do we say to the five year old boys and girls living in Thai brothels? Repent? What do we say to the people working to free them? Repent? What do we say to people trying to conserve the earth? Or the earth itself that groans under the burden of human greed?

Sin is larger than my misdeeds. We have forgotten that. In fact, I must admit, it is hard for me to conceive of sin in other terms. I have to work at it in order to do so.

But our culture actually has a grid for sin in these terms! They just don't associate it with the word 'sin' because WE DON'T EITHER!

To borrow a metaphor from Steve Burnhope, if the various ways of understanding sin and the specific theories of atonement are viewed as metaphorical 'doors' into a relationship with God, then I think we should be excited to see that there are people living right next to one of the doors!

We should stop asking them to walk the long way round and enter through the door we entered in by. If they come through the closest door, they will eventually understand the door we came through as well. In fact, the quickest way to the door on the opposite side of the building is through the building, not round the outside!