April 30, 2009
Just got my weekly e-mailing from the PCUSA’s Washington Office, and it contains a splendid example of what happens when knee-jerk ideologues are let loose to use a denomination’s intellectual resources without supervision. Each mailing contains several issues that the Office is working on, along with “General Assembly Guidance” that is supposed to direct the Office’s lobbying efforts. This one is on the federal budget:
Yesterday, the House and Senate both approved a compromise Budget Resolution that had been the subject of much negotiation between the Chambers in the last few weeks. The House and Senate had each passed Budget Resolutions, but they differed on a number of points. Negotiators split the difference on many of those differing provisions while keeping military spending at the same level:
•Total domestic discretionary spending — for education, infrastructure, environment, science, health programs, employment programs, and many government benefits — will be $8 billion lower than the president’s request. (The Senate agreed to add $3 billion and the House agreed to cut $5 billion from their original resolutions.)
•The international affairs budget will be $2 billion lower than the president’s request. (The Senate accepted a $2 billion cut, and the House agreed to add $3.3 billion to its resolution.)
Now, please note three things about these items. First, the amount the president requested in his 2010 budget is $3.6 trillion. The $8 billion reduction, therefore, amounts to less than 0.25% of the total amount requested. Second, the Obama budget significantly increases all of the areas mentioned above, meaning the reduction will be in the amount of increase, not actual cuts. Finally, note that only very broad areas–”education,” for instance, or “science”–are mentioned, so there’s no way to know what is actual the nature of the reduction is. But here’s the “General Assembly Guidance” cited by the e-mail:
The 207th General Assembly (1995) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) called on Congress “to defeat any proposals that base budget or deficit reductions primarily on the services provided to children, families, the needy, and the homeless” and urged strengthening of federal commitments to these groups. The Assembly also called on Congress “to insist on a government that follows ethical values of justice for the poor, welfare for children, hospitality to the stranger, and assistance to the disadvantaged.”
What’s wrong with this picture? There are no “budget or deficit reductions” here (in fact, mentioning “deficit reduction” here makes one wonder whether the author of this e-mail has been asleep since 1995), we have no way of knowing whether any program that actually helps “children, families, the needy, and the homeless” are actually involved, and the amount is so small as to be trivial, at least relative to the federal budget. Yet it’s obvious that the Washington Office is opposing this reduction from the president’s request, simply because Congress–owned and operated entirely by liberals–won’t write an entirely blank check for the executive branch to spend any amount of money it can imagine on pretty much anything.
The other budget item mentioned is, if anything, even worse from the standpoint of suggesting that any kind of thought went into the Office’s stance:
•Military spending was set at $686 billion by both chambers.
As for “General Assembly Guidance,” we get this:
Earlier, the 197th General Assembly (1985) “reaffirms opposition to further increases in military spending and supports cuts in expensive weapon systems.”
They are taking their cue for a stance on 2010 military spending from a 25-year-old GA resolution! Do you remember 1985? Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term, the Soviet Union was still around, Nelson Mandela was still in jail, Saddam Hussein was still at war with Iran. Does the Washington Office really think that the military needs of any country, much less the United States, stay the same over the course of a quarter century? Do they really think that the General Assembly (which has no business making pronouncements on matters like this anyway, having absolutely no competence to deal with the subject) would pass the identical resolution today as if nothing had changed?
Don’t answer that last question.
The point is this: the activists in the Washington Office want the people of the PCUSA, the people who pay its freight, to believe the activists are relevant and listened to in Washington. If they aren’t, there’s no reason for them to be there. And yet they rely on statements about federal policy made two years after the current president graduated from college to justify the stances they take. That’s not a recipe for an agency that wants to be taken seriously in the halls of power; that’s the recipe for creating a laughingstock that isn’t worth a dime of its denomination’s money.
April 29, 2009
Less than a week after the unofficial defeat of the repeal of ordination fidelity/chastity standards in the PCUSA, a congregation has already put the matter back on the agenda for 2010, just as I predicted. Northside Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the Presbytery of Detroit, has sent an overture to its presbytery to strike the current wording of G-6.0106.B and replace it with the following:
Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, as revealed in Holy Scripture, striving to follow where He leads through the authoritative witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s faithful efforts to adhere to these standards.
This is practically identical to the language that was just defeated:
Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.
I’ve highlighted the portions that are different from the 2008 language in bold. The references to the revelation of Scripture and its authoritative witness, and the substitution of “faithfulness” for “sincerity,” strengthen the statement in ways that conservatives could only applaud. But those changes are obviously secondary to the primary purpose of the overture, which is to have the denomination vote on exactly the same subject–ordination of sexually active homosexuals–for the second time in four years. As I’ve said before, proponents of change clearly think that the trends are with them–specifically, more opponents will leave or give in over the next two years–and the result will be victory if they just move fast enough. Anyone who thought that the PCUSA would get a breather from this debate as a result of the defeat of Amendment 8-06b is bound to be disappointed. That’s just not the way church politics work.
(Via Layman Online.)
April 29, 2009
Posted by David Fischler under Science  Comments
It’s been a busy few days (hence the lack of posts), but I’m never too busy to overlook an end-of-the-world story. Seems the target date is 2012, and it won’t even be caused by a presidential election, according to Wired:
For scary speculation about the end of civilization in 2012, people usually turn to followers of cryptic Mayan prophecy, not scientists. But that’s exactly what a group of NASA-assembled researchers described in a chilling report issued earlier this year on the destructive potential of solar storms.
Entitled “Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts,” it describes the consequences of solar flares unleashing waves of energy that could disrupt Earth’s magnetic field, overwhelming high-voltage transformers with vast electrical currents and short-circuiting energy grids. Such a catastrophe would cost the United States “$1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year,” concluded the panel, and “full recovery could take 4 to 10 years.” That would, of course, be just a fraction of global damages.
Worse yet, the next period of intense solar activity is expected in 2012, and coincides with the presence of an unusually large hole in Earth’s geomagnetic shield.
That hole in the geomagnetic field is no doubt caused by SUVs and cow flatulence. Al Gore is already on the case, and will doubtless manage to make billions of grupniks on the solution. Regardless, the point is this: it’s never too late to start stocking up on beef jerky and bottled water.
Be prepared, boy scouts.
(Via Hot Air.)
April 26, 2009
The Rev. Janet Edwards, co-moderator of gay advocacy group More Light Presbyterians, has a column in the Washington Post today that illustrates why it is difficult for evangelicals to engage in meaningful discussion of the biblical basis for the church to revise its view of homosexuality. In speaking of the impending defeat of PCUSA Book of Order Amendment 08-B, she cites two examples from the gospels that are supposed to demonstrate that formerly outcast groups can be accepted in ministry:
Scripture tells us over and over again that God calls to service those whom society has named undesirable or less than. One who comes to mind is Matthew, the tax collector, whose labor for the Romans made him unclean and an abomination by the norms of society in Biblical times (Mt. 9.9-13, Mk. 2.13-17, Lk. 5.27-32). When the Pharisees, the religious leaders and power brokers of the times, objected to Jesus calling Matthew to dine with him, Jesus replied that he came to be with people like Matthew, the outcasts. Matthew went on to become one of the twelve disciples and wrote the first book of the New Testament.
This is correct as far as it goes, but clearly avoids the obvious: Matthew, upon following Jesus, left behind his tax collector’s booth, and gave up his career of oppression and theft (Luke 5:28). Is Edwards’ suggesting that thieves who come to Christ and enter the ministry should be allowed to continue to steal from people while preaching the gospel?
Another example is the women who found the tomb empty after Jesus’ crucifixion and ran to tell the disciples (Mt. 28.1, Mk. 16.1, Lk. 24.10, Jn. 20.1). Women in Biblical times were the very last people anyone would have expected to deliver the news upon which our whole faith rests! And yet this story provided the Scriptural evidence that helped the Presbyterian Church (USA) affirm God’s call to women to ordained leadership 50 years ago.
Once again, she evades the obvious: being a woman was not sinful per se. Yes, women occupied an inferior position in the first century world, and yes, the testimony of women regarding the empty tomb is surprising (in fact, it’s one of the best arguments for the truthfulness of the empty tomb story, since it runs so counter to what one would expect). But women don’t have to repent of being female in order to become Christian, much less being ordained.
Each of these leaders gives me hope – [Martin Luther] King, Matthew and the women at the tomb. As history has proven time and again, when God calls the faithful to ministry, eventually our society and our church respond.
I’m not sure what she means here. Maybe she thinks no one black was ever ordained before Martin Luther King. She does say that “King himself is an example of those God has called to ministry throughout the ages despite marginalization by society at the time.,” but again the maginalization of African-Americans was not because their skin color was considered sinful–indeed, it was for far less rational reasons.
To sum up: these biblical examples actually have nothing to do with the argument over ordaining sexually active homosexuals, unless one makes the a priori assumption that homosexual behavior is not sinful. That’s an argument one can make, and Edwards no doubt thinks it’s a settled issue. But the reason that gay ordination continues to be controversial in the PCUSA is because a majority are still unconvinced that homosexual behavior is not sinful. Until that happens, a majority isn’t going to change its mind on the ordination issue.
April 24, 2009
Posted by David Fischler under Quotes and Headlines  Comments
Scientists studying the carrying capacity of the earth—that is how many of us can live here sustainably—have fluctuated massively. Wild-eyed optimists believe it’s close to 2 billion. Dour pessimists say 300 million. The point is that—and I’m going by the best of those figures—we need to lose 4.4 billion people and we need to lose them fast.
–Author Steven Kotler, writing at Psychology Today. His solution to overpopulation: everyone, everywhere should stop having children for five years. That would chop a billion off the planet’s population. What about the other 3.4 billion we “need to lose…fast”? He doesn’t say, so your guess is as good as mine.
(Via Mark Shea–follow the link through the Center for Free Inquiry to get the rest of Kotler’s dopey nonsense.)
April 22, 2009
According to the Layman Online, the effort to repeal the fidelity/chastity clause in the PCUSA Book of Order is finished–this time:
The “fidelity/chastity” requirement will remain in The Book of Order, according to the unofficial reports of votes by presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The April 22 reports raised the number of presbyteries supporting the Biblical ordination standards to 86, the number needed for a majority.
Surprisingly, San Francisco, the last presbytery to report its vote on April 22, was the 86th to reject an amendment to G-6.0106b that would have eliminated the language requiring candidates for ordination to maintain fidelity in their marriages and chastity if single. That language forbade practicing, self-affirming adulterers and homosexuals from being ordained as deacons, elders and ministers.
This would be significant, perhaps, but for the support that San Francisco gave Lisa Larges in her effort to bypass the standards for ordination. I haven’t been able to find anything about the debate in the San Francisco media, but I suspect the vote was a protest from the left–something along the lines of, “we should not only repeal this standard, but anything else in the Book of Order that suggests either ethical or doctrinal standards.” I’ll be happy to be proven wrong about this.
Three other presbyteries also reported their votes April 22. Salem Presbytery in North Carolina voted 156-149-1 in favoring amending the text of G-6.0106b to eliminate the “fidelity/chastity” language. Salem thus became the fourth of five presbyteries in North Carolina to change sides. Previously, the presbyteries of Western North Carolina, Charlotte and New Hope had voted for the amendment. Only the Coastal Carolina Presbytery in North Carolina voted against eliminating the ordination requirement.
The other votes reported April 22 were Wabash Valley, 78-60 in favor of the amendment, and National Capital, 222-102-1 in favor of the amendment. Wabash Valley became the 27th presbytery to switch from supporting “fidelity/chastity” in 2001-02.
Thus the fight on this subject comes to a halt until June of 2010, when the next General Assembly votes to send the same issue back to the presbyteries. It’s very clear what has happened this time around: enough conservatives have quit the denomination to nearly reverse the vote of 2001, when almost 75% of the presbyteries voted to uphold the standards. Advocates for change have got to figure that, with a couple more years behind them, more than enough additional conservatives will have left to make victory easy. In winning this vote, PCUSA evangelicals have only postponed the inevitable. Combine this with the launch of the “investigation” into the EPC, and the implicit threat to lock the barn door and prevent any more dissidents from fleeing, and I’d say a lot of congregations are going to be considering their options a lot more closely in the months ahead.
April 21, 2009
Posted by David Fischler under Mainline Churches  Comments
You’ve probably heard about the fiasco going on in Geneva this week, in which most of the U.N.’s member states are gathered to fight “racism and xenophobia” by indulging in anti-Semitism and attacking free speech. The conference got off to its expected start yesterday when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provoked a walkout by every European Union nation when he called Israel a “racist” nation. (In his prepared remarks, he was going to refer to the Holocaust as “ambiguous and dubious,” but dropped it for some unexplained reason.) The United States, along with Canada and more than a dozen other nations, refused to participate in this travesty, for which they find themselves excoriated by none other than the president of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, who thinks they should have dignified the circus with their presence:
The United Church of Christ has repeatedly expressed its concern about the impact on the Palestinian community of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza – which includes discriminatory practices and policies. The UCC advocates an end to all violence and a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is regrettable, however, that Durban’s attention to the Occupation as a particularly negative manifestation of Zionism has become the rationale for some governments to recuse themselves from participation in the Durban process and Review Conference. In this regard it is profoundly disappointing to hear that the Obama Administration has chosen not to send representatives. It is deeply ironic and sad at this historic moment in our own nation’s political life for the United States to absent itself from the shared global responsibility to address enduring racism wherever and whenever it occurs. Failure to participate in this Conference not only diminishes the global gathering; it will diminish our nation as well.
It is my hope that this Conference will once again bring to public awareness the obligation of states and of individuals to protect the rights and dignity of all, to repudiate fear, and to transform attitudes and structures that sustain racial discrimination. May we all pray that this gathering, with all of its complexity and controversy, will become a prophetic moment calling us toward the moral responsibility and political courage these days demand.
The translation of this has several parts. 1) We in the UCC agree with Durban I that Israel should have been the only nation singled out for specific criticism of its policies and practices, and that no other nation should have been cited. 2) Because the United States has elected a black man as president, we are obligated to attend a conference where the world’s assorted dictators, xenophobes, and titled thugs will have five days for uninterrupted attacks on everything that the United States and its allies stand for. 3) Not participating in said assault on reason and human rights will make us look small and petty. 4) It doesn’t matter how dangerous the conference’s recommendations would be if actually put into practice [one of them is to outlaw all criticism of Islam or Islamic nations]; the assuagement of white liberal guilt is everything.
Despite some initial vacillation, I’m glad that President Obama eventually decided that lending the prestige and participation of the United States to such an odious enterprise would not only be contrary to our nation’s interests and those of our allies, but would impart an undeserved legitimacy to a worthless exercise. Too bad that John Thomas thinks that getting in bed and snuggling with the likes of Ahmadinejad (not to mention Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, and other notorious violators of human rights) is reflective of a Christian attitude on race.
April 20, 2009
Posted by David Fischler under Presbyterianism  Comments
According to the Presbyterian (PCUSA) News Service, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is now under investigation. The charge: actually having the gall to open our doors to those who believe that their former denomination has strayed from the path of Reformed orthodoxy:
A task force has begun looking into the conduct of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in its dealings with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations that have left the PC(USA) for the EPC.
The task force was named by the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations (GACER) in response to an overture to the 218th PC(USA) General Assembly (2008) that was referred to the GACER. The overture requested that the assembly “investigate the actions and conduct of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church …”
The assembly’s action grows out of the Assembly’s concern that the EPC is “actively pursuing a strategy to persuade Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches to disaffiliate with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”
As I noted at the time this was passed, the overture upon which this action is based, which originated with the Peace River Presbytery in Florida, is founded on paranoia and deliberate misrepresentation of EPC actions. Hopefully, the task force will meet once, look at the evidence, and respond, “you have got to be kidding.” But I’m not going to hold my breath.
The task force has identified nine presbyteries that have direct experience with PC(USA) congregations that have been dismissed to the EPC or are in conversation about leaving the PC(USA).
I guess they can’t get to all the presbyteries where PCUSA has lost congregations to the EPC in the last four years. According to the PresbyLaw web site, there are at least 33: Pittsburgh, St. Andrews, Heartland, Sacramento, Peace River, Western Reserve, New Covenant, South Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern New England, Western North Carolina, Redstone, Cascades, Eastminster, Beaver-Butler, Philadelphia, Donegal, Blackhawk, Great Rivers, Mission, Washington, North Alabama, Muskingum Valley, Wabash Valley, Missouri River Valley, East Tennessee, Eastern Oklahoma, Milwaukee, Ohio Valley, Hudson River, John Knox, Minnesota Valleys, and Des Moines–and those are just the ones that I can figure out (the list is a bit confusing).
The group has begun visits in pairs to the nine presbyteries for face-to-face interviews with presbytery staff, as well as leaders and members of congregations that have left (or are considering leaving) and “loyalist” leaders and members of those same congregations that have remained part of the PC(USA).
The nine presbyteries are Eastminster, Northern Alabama, Peace River (which submitted the overture leading to the action of last year’s General Assembly), Pittsburgh, Redstone, Sacramento, South Louisiana (and Synod of the Sun), Wabash Valley, and Western Carolina.
Hmm. Maybe they don’t have the resources to do all of them, especially since the task force only includes five members, with one staff person from GACER assisting. If that’s the case, they really should have included Heartland, where some of the most egregious persecution of a departing congregation has taken place. They should also have included a couple like Beaver-Butler and Philadelphia, where amicable agreements should be a model for the denomination, and where the principles can also testify to the absurdity of the Peace River overture.
April 20, 2009
Posted by David Fischler under American Culture  Comments
I have tried strenuously in writing this blog to stay away from items that are purely political, but every now and then something comes along that is so outrageous, so absurd, so stupid that it demands comment. Such is an article that appears at the top of the Washington Post site this morning:
Obama to Order Cabinet To Identify Budget Cuts
President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, and he will order its members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official. [Emphasis added.]
Although the budget cuts would amount to a minuscule portion of federal spending, they are intended to signal the president’s determination to cut spending and reform government, the official said.
Now that’s bold, decisive leadership. It means that the federal government will have to give up funding studies of cow flatulence and belly button lint, tattoo removal in California, the Charles Rangel Library in New York, the Arctic Winter Games, and a few other inane wastes of tax money. And I love how he’s going to give them 90 days to perform this agonizing reappraisal of spending priorities–I could identify $100 million in unnecessary spending in less than five minutes of Googling, as could any other sentient being with a computer who didn’t hold a seat in the presidential cabinet.
As Ed Morrissey of Hot Air points out, this presidential demand for budget cuts amounts to 0.0029% of the 2010 federal budget, only 0.008% of the 2010 budget deficit, and only 0.013% of the “stimulus” bill that was passed by Congress last month. One really has to ask, who do the people spending our money think they are impressing? What purpose is served by such a ridiculous order? And why does the Washington Post think that such a transparent publicity stunt is worthy of front-page coverage?
UPDATE: The Associated Press also trumpets this news in its Web headlines:
Obama calling on Cabinet to cut spending
A senior administration officials says President Barack Obama is ready to ask federal department and agency chiefs to find $100 million to cut from the budget when he holds his first formal Cabinet meeting.
The official previewed Topic A for Monday’s Cabinet meeting on grounds of anonymity because it will be a private session. He said Obama will be reminding Cabinet members that financially-pressed families are looking to the government to spend their money wisely.
The president’s first formal Cabinet meeting is being held just days after a series of “Tea Party” demonstrations across the country in which protesters challenged the administration over it’s massive spending. A cut of $100 million in a multitrillion-dollar federal budget likely will be criticized by Obama’s opponents as inadequate. [Emphasis added.]
Gee, ya think?
April 19, 2009
Posted by David Fischler under Bible
, Theology  Comments
Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Martin and Lewis. Cheech and Chong. The comedy duo is a tradition with a long, distinguished history. In that vein, I give you the latest thing in yucks: Borg and Crossan! The St. Louis Post-Dispatch lets us in on their secret:
When Eden Theological Seminary leaders booked the Borg-and-Crossan Show for the spring convocation, they knew they were inviting two of biblical scholarship’s most controversial rock stars to campus.
To switch the entertainment metaphor, I had no idea that Milli Vanilli (another pair of charlatans whose act fooled people for a while) had gotten back together and gone into academia.
Marcus Borg, professor emeritus at Oregon State University, and John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University, are prolific authors — each, most recently, of a book they published together, “The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon.”
All you need to know about this opus you can find in the product description at Amazon:
Borg and Crossan use the best of biblical and historical scholarship to explain the reasons for Paul’s mixed reputation and reveal to us what scholars have known for decades: that the later letters of Paul were created by the early church to dilute Paul’s egalitarian message and transform him into something more “acceptable.” They argue there are actually “Three Pauls” in the New Testament: “The Radical Paul” (of the seven genuine letters), “The Conservative Paul” (of the three disputed epistles), and “The Reactionary Paul” (of the three inauthentic letters). By closely examining this progression of Paul’s letters—from the authentic to the inauthentic—the authors show how the apostle was slowly but steadily “deradicalized” to fit Roman social norms in regards to slavery, patriarchy, and patronage.
I hear that the alternative title they considered was Paul: The Liberal Religion Professor Version, but they weren’t sure it would sell as well. Anyway, back to the story:
Borg and Crossan’s presence nearly doubled the number of registrations for this year’s 75th annual convocation, from the usual 300 or so (at $110 for two days), a number Eden leaders were calling “record breaking.” The response was so overwhelming that students, faculty and staff were forced to watch the lectures on closed-circuit television screens in nearby classrooms.
“A seminary understands itself to be the intellectual center in the life of the church, and during convocation, we gather to think about why faith is important,” Greenhaw said in an interview. Inviting Borg and Crossan to lecture “allowed us to reach an even wider audience to engage each other.”
I’m not sure who it was that was supposed to “engage each other”–atheists and believers? Christians and non-Christians? Those who believe the Christian gospel and those who are making it up as they go along? Whatever. The point is that they brought in two big names, and since Eden is a seminary of the far left of the mainline, they were guaranteed a big audience.
Borg spoke in one lecture Wednesday about the significance and meaning of Jesus’ death, pointing out that Christianity is the only major religion in which the central figure (and some of his most important followers — Peter, Paul, James) were executed by established authority.
Both scholars rejected the common Christian notion of “substitutionary sacrificial atonement” — that Christ died in the place of God’s creation as a substitute payment for human sin. That theology, they said, was first conceived of in the 11th century by Anselm of Canterbury, and has nothing to do with the message of the Gospels.
Given that the idea of substitutionary atonement is all over the New Testament (Romans 3:24-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2, 4:10 just for a start, not to mention being one of the primary themes of the Letter to the Hebrews), how can these biblical comedians make this claim? I assume they do so using Jeffersonian exegesis, which is to say that they simply ignore anything that doesn’t fit in with their pre-conceived notions.
Borg and Crossan should also stay away from church history, since it clearly isn’t their forte. Thanks in part to academic ideologues such as Rita Nakashima Brock, it has become a widely believed urban legend that substitutionary thinking originated in the second millenium. To just begin getting an idea of how much of such thinking there was (however unsystematic it might have been), check here; for one example, here’s Gregory of Nazianzus (4th century theologian):
Take, in the next place, the subjection by which you subject the Son to the Father. What, you say, is He not now subject, or must He, if He is God, be subject to God? You are fashioning your argument as if it concerned some robber, or some hostile deity. But look at it in this manner: that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body. As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account. But when all things shall be subdued unto Him on the one hand by acknowledgment of Him, and on the other by a reformation, then He Himself also will have fulfilled His submission, bringing me whom He has saved to God. For this, according to my view, is the subjection of Christ; namely, the fulfilling of the Father’s Will.
Anselm was the first to systematize the doctrine of penal substitution, but to say that he was the first to think of it is simply ridiculous.
The Post-Dispatch article goes on:
Borg offered the alternative term “participatory sacrificial atonement,” explaining that Christ willingly gave his life as a gift to God, and died because of his love for others (but not in place of them.)
I have no idea what this means, or what difference it is supposed to make. Usually when one person gives up his life “for others,” those others receive a benefit from that self-sacrifice (the soldier throwing himself on a grenade to protect his fellows, Maximilian Kolbe giving his life in place of the father of a Polish family at Auschwitz). But what Borg suggests is that Christ gave up His life simply as a gesture, one that benefited no one, but which we’re all supposed to be impressed by for some reason. How exactly does it express Christ’s love for anyone for Him to die, but for no one to be saved as a result? I’m still in the same position vis-a-vis God as I was before, and a good man died in the process. And what does it mean to say that “Christ willingly gave his life as a gift to God”? All human beings die. If this human being’s death was no different from any other, what makes it a “gift to God”?
This is muddle-headed academic nonsense at its worst. It would truly be comical, if there weren’t so many current and future preachers who took it so seriously.
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