Western and Eastern Christian theologies are alike afflicted by a pervasive Resurrection-deficiency. Both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologies, on the one hand, tend to be Cross-centered to the obscuring of Christ’s Resurrection. Many voices will loudly speak of the so-called “work of the Cross,” but what of the “work of the Resurrection“? Eastern traditions, on the other hand, spotlight the Resurrection in their liturgies, but, alas, the illumination remains spotty and their theologies incline to the mystical, dualistic, and hierarchical, drawing errantly upon Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (late 5th-early 6th century), transmitter of Neo-Platonism from Plotinus to both West and especially East, where he was accorded apostolic status in an astonishingly audacious upstaging of the New Testament. Thus the Eastern church dramatized the Resurrection liturgically yet marginalized it theologically. [01/01/95]
The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ triggered the legitimate occasion for an unprecedented intervention of God into human history to justify Jesus as Messiah, acquit Himself of injustice, and legitimize us as sons of God, by our simply trusting Him. The ultimate theodicy (that is, the justification of God from the charge of wrongdoing for the existence of evil in the world) was thus precipitated: the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead! [01/31/95]
“Legalism” must always haunt, like a sinister shadow, every “economic” view of Christ’s “work of atonement.” This is so because any concept of “paying off”–whether the Devil (as in the early patristic view), or the Law (especially in the Calvinistic penal tradition), or even the Lord God Himself (as Anselm taught, although without penal overtones)–entails the “satisfaction” of some being or entity that would “otherwise” exact a terrifying cost from guilty sinners. This invariably breeds insecurity, not to say angst, triggering a sometimes frenzied reflex to “pay off” our moral debt and “pacify” the offended principalities.
The apostolic Gospel is antithetically OtherWise. For there we see God’s own Son–the very image of all his Father’s virtues–dying for our sins to “pay” us the “indescribable gift” [2 Cor. 9:15] of the Holy Spirit! He thereby fulfilled his agelong covenant with the Father, yet not as any sort of “satisfaction,” and most emphatically not to “pay off” God or “appease” his righteous indignation against sin (which not even the Son could have achieved, nor was it necessary), but simply to display the full glory of the Father’s love for mankind! This accredits His reputation on earth as nothing else could.
Christ surrendered himself to the injustice and dishonor of execution–one as shameful as crucifixion–on our behalf, becoming a sin-offering (hamartia), which both depicted and predicted the sin (hamartia) of the Crucifixion, so that his loving Father could display His own righteousness/justice in reversing that miscarriage of justice by raising him from the dead, exalted with glory, power, and sovereignty above all his–and our–enemies! Thereby Christ cashed in on all the promises of the agelong covenant, the chief promise being the Wholesome Spirit of God Himself. All who simply and truly trust God’s choice (“election”) of Jesus as the Messiah/Christ are gratuitously immersed in that Spirit and find themselves headed for a brand new destiny in him!
On the other hand, those who concede to an “economic” rather than this resurrectionary view of Christ’s achievement tend to feel magnetically drawn to “the law,” to which they conceive both Christ and the whole universe to be bound eternally and irreversibly. They secretly imagine “the law” to be more fundamentally powerful than the Messiah! For them it “explains” why Jesus “had to” die, i.e., to “satisfy” its “eternal, irrevocable demands.” But in fact the Lord was always superior to law, itself a mere creature, whereas he himself was its Creator! His earthly subordination was only to the Law of Moses, which was but a mere letter and shadow, and this only temporarily, in order ultimately to shatter its ethnic hold over his people by the resurrectionary advent of Spirit and Truth! The Spirit of Truth propels us far beyond the kindergarten level of Mosaic law, and that includes the Decalogue! An economic view of the atonement backhandedly reinstates Moses in place of Christ and his Spirit as the way of discipleship to Christian maturity. This is a fairly hideous distortion of the Gospel, and one that must be slain by the sword of God’s own Explanation and its sound patterns of thought.
Legalism, moralism, Phariseeism, “Judaism” (as the apostle Paul used it) arise like a Gorgon-headed specter behind every “satisfaction” theory of Christ’s work. Anselm, no more than Abelard, had any explanatory use for Christ’s Resurrection! His medieval accretions were never radically challenged by the Reformers, although, to be sure, they made fateful adjustments to his theory. Therefore justification before God by faith alone–their supreme and liberating illumination–was not properly contextualized or centered upon the indispensable foundation of Christ’s historic Resurrection from the dead. The flame subsequently often faltered, flickered, or all but extinguished amid post-Reformation developments. Sadly, those who retained it most staunchly were often afflicted by a narrowness of world vision or by recurrent Judaizing tendencies, and yet others ironically by so-called “antinomianism.” Justification by faith, before God unto agelong life must itself, therefore, be liberated from a suffocatingly scholastic, i.e., syncretistic, environs and be transported back into its resurrectionary habitat! Then we may hope to behold a New Reformation dawning, and an outpouring of God’s Spirit such as this blighted planet has but barely seen.
Assuredly, faith is the victory (1 Jn. 5:4), but it is precisely faith that gets throttled by the Calvinistic spin on “election,” “predestination,” “secret regeneration,” “federal headship,” “imputation of Adam’s sin,” “imputation of Christ’s righteousness,” and more. Lutheran tradition may choke faith by similar notions of imputation (Philip Melanchthon’s forceful contribution), an improperly spun fabric of “law vs. gospel,” etc. Both main branches of the Reformation became burdened by notions of penal payment regarding Christ’s accomplishment. If we are to see a New Reformation on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we must gird up our loins to retake the long lost territory of Biblical conceptuality as our only secure fortress against prevalent “orthodox” errors. [02/08/95]