Monday, October 18, 2010

Book and Movie Night at Covenant

Our church congregation had its annual Book and Movie Night last Friday. Each of those who come together for the evening are asked to share one book title and one movie title which has significantly impacted them over the past year. In previous years I have shared books like Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Gilead and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, and Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. This year I chose two: Home by Marilynne Robinson and Hannah's Child by Stanley Hauerwas.

Marilynne Robinson is such an intelligent writer! She writes with deep understanding of the male psyche and the nature of family dynamics. Home is a sequel of sorts to Gilead. A retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Home is a study of the relationships of a father with his children and the many ways he can (and often does) burden them with lifelong burdens and neuroses. Things said and unsaid, expectations met and unmet, events explained and unexplained, and hopes realized and unrealized, all combine to leave this family demoralized and estranged in spite of the best intentions of everyone. I was challenged as a parent to reflect on my own practice of parenting and the many things that may or may not add to the burdens my children have to carry. For a child to emerge unscathed from a family even if the parents are well-intentioned is quite a miracle. And yet the novel is not hopeless . There is a lot of forgiveness in the book and more is needed at the end but who knows, maybe...And so I continue to hope and pray.

Hannah's Child is Stanley Hauerwas's autobiography. Full of insight into Stanley's character and iconoclastic theological writings, Hannah's Child is never dull. The threadof his own personal life weaves its way through his theological development and career. Names are dropped, friends and influences warmly embraced, and personal pain and suffering unstintingly shared. I enjoyed it immensely not only as Stanley's attempt at self-explanation but also as a tribute to the way in which the church is called to be the church sometimes from within and sometimes from without. Stanley was (is) one of those rare gifts to the church in which God's use of an unlikely instrument brings renewed vision and hope.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mennonite atonement theology

As I said in an earlier post, I propose to examine different atonement theologies in light of the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective. The statements from the C(onfession) of F(aith) from a M(ennonite) P(erspective) are contained in Article 8 "Salvation". They read: "God so loved the world that, in the fullness of time, God sent his Son, whose faithfulness unto death on the cross has provided the way of salvation for all people. By his blood shed for us, Christ inaugurated the new covenant. He heals us, forgives our sins, and delivers us from the bondage of evil and from those who do evil against us. By his death and resurrection, he breaks the powers of sin and death, cancels our debt of sin, and opens the ways to new life. We are saved by God's grace, not by our own merits."

In the commentary, the explanation given for human appropriation of salvation turns on a particular interpretation of the phrase "justification by faith." This justification by faith is "reckoned" to humankind as salvation by its experience as a covenantal relationship with God. The faithfulness is God's, not ours. The just or righteous person has received the offer (of salvation), lives according to (the terms of the new) covenant, and trusts in God's faithfulness. The justification by faith and obedience to the (new) covenant are sides of the same coin. They are inseparable. A second image is used to interpret the experience of salvation and is described as "the new birth." The new birth signifies the change one experiences when salvation occurs. Through sin, human beings became children of the devil and forfeited their identity as children of God. Through salvation, human beings are "born again" and adopted into the family of God.

In an earlier section of the commentary, three views of atonement are given as forming the substance of the Mennonite atonement theology: the Christus Victor model, the substitutionary atonement model, and the moral-influence view. All three are seen to be integral to the overall theology of the Mennonite perspective. None are predominant but all say something important about the nature of Christ's atoning work. I will look further at what each says in the next post.