Friday, February 4, 2011

The Curse and the Rupture Part 2

In my last post I suggested that a good way to look at the consequences of Adam and Eve's first sin is to see it as 'the rupture,' sketching how the curse of Genesis 3 makes sense when viewed as a frustration of a variety of relationships; that between a person and God, between fellow human beings, and between people and the cosmos. Danny wisely asked me to tease out the theological implications of this line of reasoning, and I will hit some of the major implications below.

The biggest implication is that it slightly refocuses and broadens our understanding of the atonement, because of the change in our understanding of what most needs fixing as a result of the first sin. Cole has aptly titled his book. The divine project is to bring shalom. Thus, I don't think that satisfaction is the chief end of the atonement. I think that often too much stress is paid on Jesus paying the penalty for our sins on the cross (I'm not saying this isn't important or that he didn't - I do, though, think that many, especially amongst the reformed, talk about Jesus work on the cross solely in that mode, and yes I know that there are other groups who don't see any element of satisfaction in the atonement which causes the reaction it does amongst the reformed). The atonement achieved much more than forgiveness (or even justification), it achieved restored relationships. At baptism we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, which breaks down the barrier between us and God and between us and the rest of God's family.

I also think that there are interesting implications related to environmental ethics, implications which the Bible never works out. If the atonement overcomes the relational rupture of the original sin, then there must be a sense in which it overcomes our conflict with the environment. In other words, environmental ethics become extremely important, as now a part of our job in carrying out the divine project must be to realize those restored relationships now.

Lastly, I think that unity then becomes a much bigger deal. Currently, I believe that evangelicalism in general and conservative reformed groups in particular (for the record, I am reformed so I see the critiques of the reformed movement in this post as gentle criticism by a close cousin), don't want to work at unity nearly enough. They're happy to be united with other similar minded groups, but how many would do ministry together with United Methodists or Presbyterians (USA)? God sent his son to break down all barriers separating us, to restore us to communion with one another. Let us not rebuild what God has destroyed.


  1. Oh, I have so many comments! This is good stuff, and I appreciate you undertaking this with some space limitations.

    Your second paragraph is where I have some questions, though not necessarily because I think you're wrong. I don't have a problem with saying the primary end of the atonement is to pay the penalty for our sins, but I think you're defining "penalty" too narrowly here. Well, maybe that's because many people do. Let me explain as best I can what I'm thinking.

    The penalty for sin is the rupture (good word) of relationships- all three you mention here. Or maybe you wouldn't say "penalty," I don't know. So, if the chief end of the atonement is to pay for sins, then the reversal of those ruptures is the outcome.

    So is your problem that evangelicals tend only to focus on one of those 3 relationships (man & God)? So your problem isn't really the view that Christ's death pays the penalty, but that the penalty is broader than many think. Right?

    I hope this makes sense. I may post something on BBG regarding this topic and the book of Revelation, because I see the same stuff there. But I'll wait to see if you write more.

    Good stuff!

  2. I think you bring up good points, thank you. Yes my definition of penalty was too narrow and yes it is because that's the way penalty is typically understood. Yes, I think the term penalty can be still used if defined clearly - good point. Part of me thinks that the term penalty is too negative, though. Under the heading of atonement I'd like to see the positive (restorative) aspects discussed as well.

    Yes, my issue is that many evangelicals only focus on the first and yes the penalty is much broader.

  3. BTW, danny, I'd love to see you post something related to Revelation.

    I think too, that I might write another post on this issue, specifically as it relates to the atonement, to give everyone more clarity as far as what I think. Look for that sometime this week. :)