Atonement for a Sinless Society

Posted: February 21, 2017 by Todd in Books, Theology

started 1/26/17 Kindle Version
(More) Musings and Methodologies
  • Book has changed a lot since original publication, but the core argument remains.
  • Atonement theories tend to outlive their usefulness.
  • “The Structure of What Follows” – Outline of rest of book
Part 1: The Stories We Tell About Sin and Shame
  • “Sin doesn’t really exist as a serious idea in modern life.”
  • Mann’s point isn’t that sin doesn’t exist, but that our language must change to effectively communicate with culture.
  • Appleyard > “We take sin seriously as a way of making life more exciting.”
  • Note: Don’t disagree, but so far no evidence to prove sin isn’t a serious idea in modern life.
  • Douglas John Hall > We’ve replaced “sin” for “sins” resulting in a petty moralism.
Sin and the Absence of the Other
  • Seems to be an absence of the divine Other, so nothing to sin against, except the self.
  • With the lack of the Other/other, there is a pitiable self-centeredness born of insecurity.
  • Without sin, repentance is meaningless too.
  • Do human rights shift responsibility away from the individual and to the institution or system?
Victimization and Our Therapeutic Liberation from Sin and Guilt
  • Contemporary stories situatate us more as sinned against than as sinner.
  • “In the therapuetic culture of Western society, ‘whoever can claim the status of victim with greater authority wins.'”
  • Mann’s argument >> re-narrations of the biblical story that help people deal with their shame.
Chapter 2: Recognizing Shame
  • Shame has come into sharper focus in recent times.
  • Shame is complex, but typically involves self-judgment.
  • Brene Brown: “Shame is the fear of disconnection; [it] makes us [feel] unworthy of connection.”
  • Shame needs to be countered with “fresh stories by which the self is able to re-narrate their own being if they are to have a hope-filled future.”
Shame Not Guilt
  • People struggling with shame don’t typically want to talk about it.
  • “Shame is too easily absorbed into guilt language.”
  • Guilt (and shame within honor/shame societies) “requires some form of reparative action, which should, in theory, overcome feelings of guilt.”  Yet shame is not so easily dispensed with.
  • In the West, “There is no need for an audience or the presence of others for people to feel shame.”
  • “The shamed person keeps interrelating and intimacy to a minimum to restrict the possibility of being exposed for who he or she truly is.”
“I” and the Search for Intimacy
  • Even in relationships, our focus tends to be on the self.
Shame and the Absence of Self Coherence
  • Shame is a very private affair.  “It heightens self-awareness, and turns up the internal volume of self-consciousness.”
  • There is a desire for a whole, consistent self, but in reality there is a disparity or inconsistency dividing up the ideal self and the real self.
  • “Shame often prevents us from presenting our real selves to the people around us – it sabotages our efforts to be authentic.”
  • “Persons held captive to shame do not need to be forgiven but released.”
Shame and Social Isolation
  • There is a modern inability to maintain interpersonal relationships because of chronic shame.
  • “Chronically shamed people are inherently mistrustful of human relationships.”
  • “If I know the story I am telling you is a cover story, then the most sensible thing to do is presume that the self-story you are narrating does not tell me who you really are either.”
Even Unto Death
  • In shame, the real self sits in silence.
  • Since the self and shame are indivisible, for shame to die, the self must die.
Chapter 3: Shame and Atonement: Some Issues to Consider
  • “Despite liturgies that reflected God’s active immanence with his creatures, it was simply the knowledge of being pardoned from guilt that drove the purpose of the atonement for the pious.”
  • “The condition of chronic shame is a hard one to ameliorate because individually and socially alienated people are, by definition, fundamentally cut off from the individuals and communities who might help them.”
Finding Resemblances
  • “Shame is not sin.” (if sin is defined in a limited way, as it has traditionally been)
  • Shame mus be part of the human plight that we need salvation for.
  • How we define sin determines how we approach atonement.
  • Mark Biddle: “We too easily reach for the ‘sin as crime’ metaphor.”
  • In Scripture, sin is not “willful rebellion/transgression,” but “missing the mark.”
  • “Sin is not solely the prideful effort to transcend humanity, it is also living less than fully human life as exemplified and made possible in Jesus Christ.”
  • Being cleansed, made whole are better atoning images for shame than punishment or paying debt
  • Neither sin nor shame can be reduced to a formulaic description.  But there are “family resemblances” amongst individual cases.
The Problem of Being Pre-Social and Pre-Moral
  • Shame tends to cut people off from the moral community.
  • The narrative of depravity tends to emphasize an unhealthy focus on the self.
  • “There is nothing that one can do by some intentional act to alleviate pain.”
  • Sharing shame can cause us to relive it and therefore compound the pain it causes.  Thus confession isn’t ideal.
  • Cleansing rituals are much better suited to deal with shame than confessional ones.
The Process of Atonement
  • Atonement as a process (rather than once and for all kind of thing) is better suited for shame since “there are no sure, certain, or quick ways of healing shame.”
Part II: The Function of Narrative – Story, Self, and the Shape of Things to Come
Chapter 4: Narrative Now
  • “Narratives…give a coherence to human lives.”
  • “Narrative is the mode by which people try to make sense of the one life they have.”
  • Many people live “with a narrative incoherence – a breakdown in the story they are able to tell, which results in a disruption of self.”
The Pervasiveness of Narratives
  • Humanity has always told stories, yet there is a tendency towards fiction in storytelling.
  • In response to the scientific era, the church started apologetic missiology.
  • Our present danger is that culture has run away in such a way that our theology is no longer meaningful to it.
  • The scientific/academic world is waking up to the importance of narrative.
Narrative and the Self
  • “Life is always-already narrative, in advance of our narration.”
  • “Despite the fact that story appears to be based around questionable, experiential ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us, such as intuition and emotion, the self prefers to trust these inner ways of knowing over and above the public “truths” given by archaic institutions. “
  • “Narrative is ‘an account of characters and events in a plot moving over time and space through conflict towards resolution.”
The Problem With Metanarratives
  • “We are storytellers ‘living among the ruins of…former grand narratives…[making] stories out of the rubble of the old narratives [we] find lying around.”
  • ‘those who would argue that we live in a postmodern age must face up to the fact that in reality this claim is itself simply a “grand narrative, announcing the death of another grand narrative in its rearview mirror.” ‘ (same as Wilber’s critique of Green)
  • Brueggemann has noted that, “as the Bible does not consist in a single large drama, but in many small, disordered dramas, so our lives are not lived in a single, large, unified drama. In fact, we are party to many little dramas.”
  • Therefore, in order to prove meaningful and sufficient, the task of the Christian narrative would not be “a grand scheme or a coherent system, but the voicing of a lot of little pieces out of which people can put life together in fresh configurations.”
  • his [Brueggemann] observation does not deal with the desire for a narrative coherence of the self. Rather, it only serves to perpetuate our fragmented, traumatic, and ultimately meaningless state. If left unattended, as we have been at pains to point out, such incoherence ultimately leads us into the depths of chronic shame.
  • That said, without blurring the issue to utter abstraction, this is not to argue that one needs a single coherent story— only that the self is able to deal coherently with the multivocity with which he or she may choose (or be forced) to narrate the self.
This is My Story, Now Tell Me Yours
  • We increasingly live in an age when stories no longer have to be legitimized by prevailing metanarratives to be taken seriously.
  • “A story is legitimized by its usefulness.”
  • “The only way to legitimately question this storied reality, relative as it may seem, is to offer an alternative story.”
Chapter Five: Narrative Possibilities
  • “Every ‘telling’ of myself is a retelling, and the act of telling changes what an be told next time.”
Narrative Therapy
  • As the exclusivity of the scientific worldview is coming into question, therapy is centering itself more in a “narrative” stream.  This is how people understand themselves.
Employing the Counter-Narrative
  • People identify themselves via story.
  • “The concern of narrative therapy is that too many of the stories we use to shape who we are have become narratives of torment or, as in the case of chronic shame, cover stories— narratively projected ideals to throw others off the scent to protect us from the fear that they may find our real self and despise us. “
  • In narrative therapy, the therapist needs to listen for underlying background that makes the current narrative possible.
  • According to narrative therapy, we are too often imprisoned by our own stories, instead of liberated by them.
Thickening the Story
  • “Instead of acknowledging and engaging the multiplicity of plotlines that amalgamate into the one narrative of the self, the client, especially when faced with her own relational dysfunction, will typically opt for what narrative therapists call a “thin description”. That is, she will have a tendency to describe her plight and its causes in a rather superficial, monistic way— as do others, who may share in creating the context in which the self resides. “
  • Thin descriptions leave the self disconnected from other influential plot lines.
  • Counter-stories much be rich.
“Other” Stories
  • Our stories are always in relationship to others and stories beyond the self.
Chapter Six: Narrative and Christian Soteriology
  • Christianity is one story among many, but one that has the power to transform the storied self.
  • “Conversion is the joining of one’s personal story with the story of the Christian community, and by implication, with the story of God.”
The Story of Salvation
  • “The concern here is not to speak of truth, if by that we mean the proving of something to be an undeniable fact or space/ time event. What is far more important to our concern, and our plight, is whether we are encountering a story that is meaningful and sufficient. Therefore, we should feel comfortable with using terms such as myth and story when communicating soteriology, for by such means human beings express the meaning and significance of life, the mundane and the profound, the immanent and the transcendent. “
  • Standard stories of the Christian atonement have ceased to be captivating, we must consider our missional context.
God is a Storied Being
  • “In the beginning is the relation.”
  • The focus on God shouldn’t be about doctrine, but about relationships
Thickening Our Story
  • We have a tendency to over-simplify and we shouldn’t do so here either.
  • “Therefore, the Christian community needs to work actively, creatively, and imaginatively to furnish our stories of atonement with symbols and metaphors that more appropriately reflect the experience and plight of the self. “
  • This process is likely to be “one of a labored progression – a journey, rather than a sudden and radical decision.”
Confessing a New Story
  • The modern “sinless” person wants to hide, not confess.  Confessing would be to live out trauma.
  • Just as the narrative psychotherapist tells back not the patient’s own story, but a myth, so too “the Christian community needs way to allow those who live in a world of shame to narrate fresh stories they believe to be their own, and so confess, and be atoned for.”
  • “The crucifixion story does things to the hearer that an exposition of the doctrine of the atonement does not.”
  • “Confession is no longer the declaring of my shame to others, but “is that ‘moment’ when the individual believer . .  . is able to reconstruct personal identity by means of what is acknowledged and recognized to be the truth about Jesus Christ,” and so by implication true of ourselves. “
Part 2: The Intent of Jesus in the Gospels: Atonement and Human Coherence
Chapter Seven: Jesus Narrates His Intent: A Story of Coherence
  • “Even from the beginning there are two crosses – the historical event of Jesus’ crucifixion and the theological interpretation of that event.”
A Story Over Supper
  • “Supper with Jesus was a pre-at-one-ment event, in more senses than one.”
  • “Not only are the loaves signs of Jesus’ inclusive mission; now the loaf is his body, his very self. . .  . At this point the offering of bread-declared-body to the disciples becomes a vivid symbol of Jesus’ death for others.”
  • “This death, however, will be different. It will be for, and on behalf of, others. “
  • “For Jesus’ own story to be a narrative of atonement, it must contain a plot that is recognizable to the sinless self. It must also represent an alternative: a narrative possibility, a meaningful, and sufficient counter-story that can be appropriated by those of us isolated through chronic shame. “
  • Jesus maintains relationships up the the last moment.
  • “Indeed, his intent is to give up his life so that mutual, unpolluted relating to self and Other/ other may become a real possibility— even for the betrayer who is dipping his hand into the dish. “
Of Prodigals and Adulterers
  • Story of prodigal son is “apathetic about concepts such as pride and guilt…rather it is a story about an isolated, alienated, and fragmented person who is unconditionally welcomed back by his father just as he is.” [Todd’s note: If I were the prodigal, I imagine I would feel relief, but would it make a dent in my shame – I remain skeptical.]
  • In story of woman at the well, the woman goes from being “pre-moral” (similar to those in shame) to being a moral being.
Gethsemane: The Testing of Jesus’ Intent
  • “Gethsemane has become the place where Jesus wrestles with his ideal self (the one whose intent it is to go to the cross for all) and the possibility that his real self would seek to walk away from the garden, and so by this act, also walk away from others, and from God. “
  • “This being without sin is certainly Jesus’ ability not to act contrary to the will of his Father (God). A more significant, more meaningful, and sufficient understanding, however, is to read this “without sin” not negatively but positively, in the light of Jesus’ own story and actions: it is the presence of a mutual, unpolluted relationship with himself, with others, and with God the Father. “
  • “we are sinners— not because we err in relation to a divine imperative, but because our lives are lived with the absence of the kind of relatedness modeled by Jesus. “
Chapter Eight: Judas and the Disciples: Stories of Incoherence
  • Judas is also a victim.  “He is the self-betrayed as much as he is the betrayer.”
  • Is Judas suffering from shame?
  • “Some shamed people lack a sense of personal worth and value. This means that they may act compliantly and in such a way as to attract approval from outside themselves rather than being concerned to do the right thing or what is best for others. The need to be acceptable may also cause shamed people to lie or be dishonest. ” [Note: To what extent is Trump governed by shame?  If it is a big component, what is the best response?]
  • Judas is ripe with narrative possibility vis-a-vis an atonement narrative that addresses shame.
Judas “Frames” Jesus
  • Gospel narrative suggests Judas act is a “betrayal of friendship.”
  • Judas’ craving of intimacy is selfish; he is having trouble holding his ideal self and this true self together
  • Like Judas, are we not also betrayers in our own relationships and search for intimacy?
  • Luke refuses to name the betrayer – it could be anyone…
  • “The reader is slowly brought to an awareness that Jesus is the only one around the table who is not self-seeking or self-justifying in his intimacy— he is the only one who can be trusted. “
Other Betrayals
  • The other disciples should have realized something was distressing Jesus and taken some responsibility for that.  “Judas is made the receptacle for all the negative feelings in the group.”
  • Disciples are revealed as having no concern for the events that Jesus says are about to happen.
  • “Peter has to endure that which the chronically-shamed fear most— exposure of the real self— though it is not Peter who acts to reveal this in some kind of confession. Surprisingly for the reader, it is Jesus who seeks to expose Peter’s real self, turning to say to him, and all present in that Upper Room: “This is your story, Peter, this is who you are and what you will do. This, Peter, is your real self.” ”  Peter reaches for a cover story.
  • The argument over which disciple is the closest to Jesus (Luke 22:24) is another betrayal.
  • For as Vincent Brümmer points out, “If we love heaven rather than God, then our efforts are directed toward our own interests.”
Out Into the Dark Veil
  • “Indeed, Judas kills himself because he is not at-one with himself, or with Jesus, or with the other disciples. “
  • “tacitly aware of our own chronic shame, confession would be an act that would expose the real self, and relive the moment of shame. That Judas would isolate and exclude himself from this intimate group of friends, even taking his own life, makes far more sense to the shame-filled self reading this story. For we too would seek the complete antithesis to confession and exposure: blocking out the other, hiding the self, or even pulling the dark veil over the soul. “
On to Golgotha
  • “For the biblical account does not portray what they do as a deliberate act, but rather as an ontological failing, something that is beyond them in their present human condition. “
  • Jesus leaves room for the possibility of reconciliation, even after betrayal.
Chapter Nine: From “Death” to Life: The Hope of Human Coherence
  • There is to be no set grammar for the story of the atonement that addresses shame, “after all, no two encounters with the story of Jesus are the same.”
  • Telling the story is a narrative possibility for at-one-ment.
A Purposeful Giving-up
  • “This is not the story of an execution, nor the story of those who put him to death— it is Jesus’ story.”
  • For the shamed: Passion narrative shows Jesus’ resolve to live in congruence with his ideal self.
Absorbing the Absence
  • We, the shamed, live in the absence of mutual, unpolluted relating.
  • On the cross, “Jesus accepts the relationally pre-moral condition out of which humanity acts: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'”
Recognizing the Counter-Narrative
  • Ultimately, our entrance into the story means we must take up the cross and experience a sort of death as well.
Part 4: Indwelling the Counter Narrative: Re-reading the Eucharist
Chapter Ten: A Rite of Identification
  • “Rituals and celebrations mark significant steps in the journey away from a problem story to a new and preferred vision of life. “
An Incarnated Narrative
  • Liturgy is the “finite capacity for the infinite.”
  • Ritual is repetitious and ongoing, just like the process of salvation
Many Stories, Many Tables
  • Liturgy must be open to renewal in order to incorporate the changing story of what it means to be human in the twenty first century.
  • The Lord’s Supper as now used developed according to missional needs in ancient times.
Creating Certain Ambiguity
  • Liturgy and ritual is the encountering of one story with another.
  • “For example, given the plight of the sinless self, what function or interpretation can be given to the prayer of humble access, with its implication of non-specific sinfulness, and personal unworthiness? For the chronically-shamed, to recite over and over that they are “unworthy, even to gather the crumbs from under the table” is unlikely to be a healing mantra, for such acknowledgments are easily distorted by the story the self brings to the table. “
  • “When we line up to receive communion and dwell for a moment in the story it represents, we take our place historically and narratively behind the multitudes on the hillside, behind tax collectors and prostitutes, behind Thomas, Peter, and Judas, and behind those travelers on the road to Emmaus who have all eaten at the table with Jesus. “
  • “Too often, liturgy and ritual serve to flatten out the emotional experience of the self, denying the natural, almost intuitive relationship between our feelings and their public expression through action.”
The Death and Resurrection of the Self
  • The Eucharist is nothing without those narratives in which Jesus reveals his intent.
  • “The recipient is drawn into the story in such a way that Jesus’ intent now becomes the desire of the self.”
Chapter Eleven: A Confrontation with Self
  • “The consciousness of the failure of the self . .  . is a necessary phase in the process whereby human beings are liberated to become themselves. ” (Nietzche)
A Pre-Moral Confession
  • Where is the sin against the self in liturgical practice?
  • “Given time, and the right emphasis, ritual and liturgy can confront the self, and turn chronic shame and incoherence into points of departure towards a counter-story of at-one-ment”
An “Old” Example of the Counter-Narrative
  • The prophet Nathan offers a counter-narrative to David’s own self-narrative.
  • “A similar process is happening in the encounter between the self and the narratives of the Christian community. When the Christian community recites the betrayal of Judas, the failing of the disciples, and the coherence of Jesus, and links such narratives with their liturgical practice, it does for us exactly what Nathan did for David.”
  • “We all take the place of God when we make the world into a world centered around us.”
  • “This is the sin that pervades our sinless society: “our determined effort to live our lives as if God were not the author of our lives.””
A Brief Liturgy for a Sinless Society
  • The liturgy must be able to carry the weight of the self’s own story.
  • Specific liturgy at 2401
Chapter Twelve: An Act of Communion
  • ““Revelation becomes an experienced reality at the juncture where the narrative identity of an individual collides with the narrative identity of the Christian community.” “
Confessions from the Edge to the Center
  • To tell one’s story through the narrative of atonement is to confess.  The incoherent self is put to death.
  • The community becomes a witness to the emerging self.
The Eucharist as Mutual Presence
  • Other stories, even stories other that Jesus’s must be welcomed at the table.
  • Identifying a universal truth, or the story “has a tendency to deny diversity in storytelling.”
  • The “other” has been given little credence in atonement narratives.
The End of the Beginning: Some Closing Thoughts
  • “I remain convinced that the biodiversity that God creates in the domain of nature extends into the narration of personal history. Uniqueness is a universal theme, which denies the possibility of all peoples at all times speaking with the same voice. “
  • Jesus’ story replicates itself producing “ever new, non-identical” versions.
  • These repetitions are the “ever-lengthening shadow of the resurrection.”
  • “Jesus remains distinct even when he submits his personal history to the authorship of God.”
  • “We no longer have to play the role of the victim to be empowered, for our identity is no longer in our own narration but in the words of the Other, our Creator. And in that narration we are declared free from the shame that has haunted us, free from the fear of failing our ideal self. We are, like Jesus, people of coherence. We are finally liberated to seek reconciliation because we are reconciled to ourselves. ” [Note: this perspective would seem to erase any distinction between justification and sanctification]

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