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A Little Bird told me… 30 January 2013

Posted by Dr Moose in Church, Faith, Life, Ponderings, University.
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.. being a couple of thoughts inspired/attributable to the influence of Twitter!

Today I shall mostly not be believing… #marksatheism
So runs the refrain of my friend Mark on his near-daily twitterfeed as he gently stimulates thought on doctrine, dogmas & faith. It’s a simple and rather attractive formula, not triumphalist, nor aggressively provocative. In recent days subjects have included entries such as Scientology, Satan & justification by faith.

I certainly find it useful myself and revealing, since it highlights the potential grounds upon which atheists, agnostics and believers can interact. It enables me to gently say, “well actually not all Christians believe in that either.” Twitter is too brief a medium to engage in much of a slanging match (and no, that is not an invitation to try) but is a good starting point for thought and engagement. In fact it’s even led me to introduce a hashtag of my own, #DrMoosesFaith, in response to #marksatheism… and today I’m stirring the pot with “Today I will mostly not be believing in penal substitutionary atonement.” You can tell I was at Christian Union again last night, can’t you?

Which neatly segues into…

If you’re going to update, do it properly! #everydaysexism

I tend to enjoy CU, both as an opportunity for worship and fellowship, and sometimes to stimulate my theological thinking about what I do, and do not agree with. Last night though I found something else that struck me as odd, even annoying. One of the songs we sang was the hymn Be Thou My Vision. Except it wasn’t because it had been “contemporised” in a rather poor way. This may sound strange coming from me, but some things are so familiar that change hinders rather than helps. While the words still scanned (barely, in a couple of places) they no longer rhymed so well. But the thing I found irksome was that although everything else had been amended, eg from “thou” to “you” the line speaking of the worshipper as God’s “true son” remained unaltered.

When I arrived at Theological College so many years ago the constant stress on gender inclusiveness used to really bother me. After all “everybody knows” that the conventional use of male gender encompasses both male and female. (And my GLW, admirable woman that she is, still very firmly subscribes to that opinion…) The problem, of course, is that while it may conventionally encompass, for many it does not, and is exclusive. Reading some of my clerical/church friends twitterfeed is a constant reminder of this and I’m familiar with he thought-provoking #everydaysexism.

Undoubtedly something must be getting through to me [:)] as on this occasion it just screamed out at me. If you’re going to update it, change “true son” to “true child”! It changes the meaning not one iota. Which reminds me, I must go and check what that bastard abomination, the New King James Bible, uses instead of “brothers”…



1. nickpheas - 30 January 2013

So have I got this penal substitutionary atonement thing right? That’s the idea that because God’s got such a snit on about humanity exercising free will (which was His gift) that there MUST be suffering as a result. He has no choice in the matter, but does at least get some choice about who does the suffering?

Never been terribly keen on that one.

Dr Moose - 30 January 2013

I wouldn’t quite express it that way, but I can see how that interpretation would be memorable. From the Old Testament there is the principle that sin cannot be wiped out without the slaughter of a sacrificial animal, and that the spilt blood of a perfect sacrifice (physical perfection in the OT context) in some fashion pays off the debt. The Christian model of the Penal Substitutionary Atonement understands Christ as being the sinless one, sent by God, who upon the cross paid the penalty for sin by bearing it himself and that his spilt blood satisfies the account for all people (who will recognise their need of his actions) for all time. However the model falls over in misunderstanding the nature of Old Testament sacrifice, as Jesus cannot carry the sins of the world and yet at the same time be a perfect sacrifice, since the perfection would be marred. There are many models of atonement available and all have their merits (and issues). The big problem with this one is that it is almost invariably associated with a Conservative Evangelical understanding that it is the one and true way of atonement rather than one understanding. The church councils, whose rulings and decisions lie behind all orthodox Christian doctrines, never saw the need to resolve how the atonement actually worked, but simply that it worked.

2. tim ellis - 30 January 2013

The problem is that “Son of God” makes me think of Jesus
“Child of God” makes me think of Woodstock (Joni Mitchell*)

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Which may not be quite the idea the Hymn (re)writers were aiming for…

*or Crosby, Stills & Nash or Matthews Southern Comfort – but Joni wrote it…

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