Welcome a new Christianity without rules, without bargains with God, without fear. I am astounded and still trying to assimilate the Internet Monk’s vision. I found it yesterday while surfing the web and reading my favorite blogs. Some will say it’s Christianity without teeth. I say it’s PURE GRACE. Here’s an excerpt:
The New Testament uses three commands to describe what seems to be “our side” of the transaction: repent, believe, and confess. The many variations and synonyms don’t need to be listed. Even if we include the diversity of Christian beliefs about the necessity of baptism, the majority of Christians would agree that repentance, faith and some form of confession are repeatedly urged and illustrated by the New Testament writers.
Most evangelical Christians would agree that these are “our part” in a transaction with God called “being saved.” We repent from sin, we believe in Jesus and the Gospel message, then we demonstrate the reality of that faith through some form of confession. That confession is usually understood by evangelicals to be a public invitation or altar call, baptism and/or the public confession that precedes church membership. In response, God gives us salvation by removing our sin and crediting us with the righteousness of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the blessings of salvation become ours. Our entire existence is then infused with the “new creation” that is “in Christ.”
But is this the best way to think of the Christian message? I have serious questions about whether transactionalism confuses the language of scripture with the realities of God, and in the process, leads to a religion of “doing business” with a God who is manipulated. Is transactionalism the source of the trivialization of God and the elevation of man that plagues evangelicalism? I believe so.
Like Spencer, I have found this to be the most liberating admission I’ve read in a long time. I see it galvanizing Christianity as we know it. In the rest of the article he outlines his entire vision and yes, I was enrapt reading it, even during my favorite TV show: Ghost Hunters.
The email conversation I’ve been having with a former pastor emphasizes the need for a new vision. He said that he could never condone the “new community” I’ve found with other Christians on the Internet, in house churches, etc. because the church was in the business (my word) of dispensing graces, the gospel, and ministering to individuals. This can only be done, he says, in a local church. I countered that grace is not confined to this or that place. Grace is the free flow of Godde’s love regardless of location. The church is not a Pez dispenser. I suddenly realized, after his unequivocal assertion, that people have such a hard time allowing other people the freedom to find their own way. They want to herd us into groups like sheep so they can tell who’s “outside” the fold and garner control over those inside it. Once they know who’s “outside” they feel safe and can begin to point fingers. They can exclude by fear and claim exclusive authority to teach, to preach, and then deny sacraments. They can protect their own interests and shut the door to fresh thinking.
Spencer’s vision is far more radical than even this pastor or any old-school Christians can imagine. I’m still trying to digest it. His vision of the old views of atonement theory hit home for me, since the “dying as payment” idea never seemed quite merciful or right for a God of MERCY and LOVE. Spencer writes,
Debates about “transactionalism” have often been debates about the atonement. The Bible places the death of Jesus as the apex of a scriptural thread of sacrificial theology. Sacrifice is plainly transactional. No one can deny that, and I wouldn’t try. But is the death of Jesus a transaction, or is it a sacrament that allows us to think about the unthinkable and unknowable in a way that can be understood humanly and temporally?
Classical theologians argued about who received the “payoff” from Christ’s death on our behalf. Satan? The Father? When did the payment go into effect? Was the transaction between members of the Godhead, or does human faith and/or obedience effect the transaction? Did the atonement’s benefits extend to those who lived before it happened? Transactional questions are endless, leaving some persons weary and wondering, “Is this what the death of Jesus is all about? How many sins can be forgiven by how much blood? The calculation of worth?”
Such debates assume a temporal and transactional understanding of the atonement. They are built on the idea that, at some point in time, our reconciliation in Christ did not exist, but was in the future. Some Christians writers in the early history of the church, giving up the temporal aspect of the atonement, wondered if the “transactional” language of sacrifice was obscuring eternal truths about God. Was the death of Jesus a temporal sacrifice, and therefore a transaction, or was it something else? If God were dealing with another race in another galaxy, would the death of Jesus be the same, for the same reasons? Or could it be different because, in actuality, that death is a sacrament, and not a transaction at all.
The beautiful possibilities this evokes is endless. Some will wonder why then Jesus had to be so special at all and not some other dying and rising God. I think that for Christians who absolutely believe in the efficaciousness of Jesus over all others will have no problem with Spencer’s view after reading it, unless they are completely wedded to the transactional idea of salvation. Those who claim that Jesus does not matter in the history of the world will still remain unconvinced. I am the first to admit that there is no evidence to convince either way except that which those of faith have: personal experience.
And that’s precisely what all this is: a matter of faith. For someone like me who is just waiting for that excellent vision to tip me over the edge toward faith (and that’s a very precarious place to be), this has come closest to pushing me over. I’ll admit it. I need to believe. My intellect can only take me so far.