Wednesday, October 25, 2006

embracing grace 8: stories of the gospel story

Scot McKnight points out how the gospel we tell as evangelicals, is not as big as the gospel we find in Scripture. We confine ourselves to individual souls. But this gospel in Jesus is so much larger. It embraces all creation, and the entire story of it.

In fact this gospel is so big, that it takes several stories Christian theologians have come up with, over the centuries, to begin to tell it. The gospel in evangelical circles over the years has been confined to just one story. And it is a grand, glorious story. But to begin to know the depth and riches of it, as given to us from Scripture, requires several tellings of it, from differing perspectives seeing different aspects of it.

First there is Irenaeus, the story of recapitulation. Christ does for the human race what Adam failed to do. He undoes what Adam did. And in the words of this early theologian: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself." Christ does this by his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We then are by faith part of a new race in Christ, living in this new life he has established for us.

The early theologians tell us the story of ransom. In their version, humankind is captive to Satan. God fools Satan by letting him put to death the Son of God. When Satan grasps the Son, he loses his hold on the human race. Then God mocks him, as the Son of God is raised from the dead. Today's version of this drops this scheme. Sin and systemic evil are dealt a death blow through Christ's death and resurrection. And humans are restored to their Eikonic status.

Anselm tells the story of satisfaction. God had been dishonored by Adam and Eve's sin. The Son of God by his death on the cross restores that honor to God. And along with that, humans are restored and God is honored in it all. Only the Son, finite as a human, but infinite as God, could restore the infinite honor to God along with restoring humans. He becoming like us so we could become like God.

The evangelical reformers tell us the story of penal substitution. God's wrath is factored in for them, against humanity's sin. Christ pays the penalty of God's just wrath by his death for us, as our substitue. Therefore God's wrath, in Christ is deflected from us humans. We must have faith to enter into this blessing, by which we are justified. Though the wrath aspect is controversial with some today, this story does point out that Jesus does something for us, in his death, that we cannot do for ourselves. And takes our judgment for us. Giving us his righteousness.

Abelard tells the story of the example. Christ's life and surrender to the will of God in the death of the cross is an example we're to follow. This is to be our way of life in Christ Jesus. We are to live cruciform, or Cross-formed lives.

The Story for us is a Person. In this Person, Jesus, we are embraced by God, and we embrace God. We have atonement, or at-one-ment in union with God and his will. The creeds of Christianity do not try to explain Christ's atonement, because no one theory of atonement can cover the depth and riches of the Story we find in Scripture. Pondering is good, but as Kevin Vanhoozer points out, partaking of this bread of life, who is the Lord, is better.

How would you define or describe the gospel? What story here matches your understanding best? What value do you see in each or any of the stories, especially those you are not familiar with?


L.L. Barkat said...

I've always liked the bible's own definition... "good news"... and that covers all of these aspects... and it covers everything we could ever want or hope for, or need without even knowing it.

L.L. Barkat said...

Off topic... just wanted to thank you for pointing me to Old Man and the Sea... I went and reread it... much better now that I'm not in highschool!

In fact, it is a wonderful story for those who've faced life's realities. Loved it... and, like the boy, I didn't want the old man to go.

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks. Yes, the "good news" is comprehensive, for sure.

And glad you read 'Old Man and the Sea'. I need to get my own copy and reread it. Nearly seems like you're present- when reading it.

KM said...

Hi, Ted. Just visiting again. :-)

Which of those stories makes most sense to me? I guess I have to start by de-emphasizing the Ramsom and Substitution. Both bring to mind a kind of impersonal cosmic checkbook that someone's trying to balance, and (perhaps egotistically) my being reduced to a line in God's checkbook isn't an attractive thought. Of course, I understand the truth in them, but they're still a bit empty and financial for me because of how much distance they imply that there is between me and God. (And yes, I know there's distance, but there's also great proximity, and I think a good theophanic image captures both concepts.)

Don't really warm to the Example, because that too is only 60% of the story -- He's just a model? Just for imitating? Where's the relationship? And the Satisfaction is too samurai -- y'know: [indignantly] "You have dishonored me! We must fight!" [and then, sadly] I can no longer consider you my son"...

So, from the list, that only leaves Iraneus' articulation: the Recapitulation -- the Let's-Try-This-Again-Cuz-They're-That-Important-To-Me. I think I like that one: it captures God's initiative and also implies the relationship... But, again, my preference might just be ego! :-)

Are you sure these are all our options? I'm not really a Church Fathers expert. And was the last one about the Person a sixth option or your summative commentary on the preceding five?

(Hope you have a lovely week, Ted.)

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks for checking in, and for your thoughts.

I think personally that the stories are only aspects of the whole. I do tend to agree with you that the recapitulation theory is most attractive. Scot McKnight says that theory or story comprehends all of the other stories/theories. And I guess I can see that. And I like your summary of recapitulation.

Good questions about options. I think what else one does find in church history probably fits more or less under one of those categories. But neither am I a Christian historian.