Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Posted: June 2, 2020 by J in General


Posted: January 23, 2017 by J in General

Dear Grit readers,

What you may not h known about the Grit is that it began and always continued as a discussion between myself and a cherished conversation partner. Though the posts were not written as dialogues, they were the result of an ongoing conversation which we held over the years. At the Grit I tried to share with you the fruits of that discussion, a dialogue in which I learned so much. That was the raison d’etre of the Grit.

That conversation has now finished.

As a result, I’m afraid there’s no more material to post here.

I might occasionally upload something, and I’ll leave the site available for visitors. But it’s no longer an active blogsite.

Thankyou so much for taking part in the discussion over the past five years. Around 50 000 people have visited, many, I think, Christian believers. Perhaps some of you might continue the conversation elsewhere. If nothing else, I hope the Grit has encouraged you to rethink what you’ve been taught, and to Question Everything. 🙂

A better theory of the atonement

Posted: October 3, 2015 by J in Bible, General, Theology

Crosses1-e1378309830959Dan W raised a perfectly valid point during our recent series on the Satisfaction Theory of the atonement: if we’re going to tear down a dodgy theory (as we did) what can we build in its place? Are we offering anything constructive, or merely indulging in iconoclasm?

Good question Dan. We’re going to have a go.

First we’d better lay some ground-rules. I reckon for a theory of the atonement to be viable it has to meet the following standards:

  1. It needs to make sense in the context of Jesus’ life and ministry – not be merely a tacked-on achievement that is basically discontinuous with his prior story. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection comes as the climax of the Gospel accounts, we should be able to take our cues for understanding that climax from within the Gospels themselves.
  2. It needs to make sense in the context of the Bible’s metanarrative, its big story.
  3. It needs to comprise both Jesus’ death and resurrection as integral to his achievement, such that it would be inadequate and incomplete if either were missing. Neither can be assigned the heavy lifting in a way that leaves the other element a light-weight.
  4. It must be an account that gives full and equal role to Father, Son and Spirit.
  5. It must be an account that give clues to the subsequent rise and shape of the community of Jesus as described in Acts and elsewhere. No other Jewish popular leader who was executed in that era left behind an ongoing community. What was it about Jesus’ death that was different?
  6. It must leave some room for mystery in this central mystery of our Faith. We are looking for an account of the Cross, not a full explanation. Any theory that wraps it all up too neatly, is suspect.

In my view Satisfaction Theory fails each one of these tests. It tells a story like this:

Our human sin has offended God’s honour or justice and alienated him from us. He wants to reconcile us but he can’t until his justice or honour is satisfied with respect to our sin. Someone must pay. So he sends Jesus his Son. Jesus spends his time doing miracles to proove he is God’s son, teaching God’s standards to convict us of our failure, and then he dies to bear the punishment we deserved. This death finally satisfies the demands of justice. Once Christ has died, salvation is achieved. Now we can get right with God and find a place in heaven. But he has to rise from the dead so we will know it’s true.

In terms of Point 1, above, Jesus hardly shows much interest in the need to satisfy God’s honour or justice, during his ministry. Under 2, ST works without needing the story of Israel. ‘Nuf said. For 3, ST puts all the weight on Jesus’ death, leaving little if anything for the resurrection to accomplish. For 4, ST is a transaction between Father and Son; the story works without needing the Spirit. ‘Nuf said. 5: ST provides little if anything in the way of explanation for the rise and unique shape of the early church. 6. ST seems to offer a complete explanation, it leaves little room for mystery.

So we’d better come up with something better, hey Dan?

I want to add to this, that the whole idea of a ‘theory’ of the atonement is problematic. We don’t want descriptions of mechanics worked out in the abstract environment of systematic theology but not grounded in the NT story. No matter how clever or ‘satisfying’ such a theory might be, it would remain in my view a distraction from the gospel. As ST has been.

What we want is an account of the atonement, one that restrains itself from going beyond what is written, and instead clarifies and synthesises the apostolic witness about Jesus. We don’t want something that Christians will be forced to argue over and defend or critique for centuries, but rather an account that Christian people can recognise as true and build their faith on. That might mean a degree of caution in how much we claim to know, especially about the mechanisms of the thing. It might be that a brief, general account is better than a long detailed one.

All right, after this bit of scene-setting, let’s get down to it.

Tomorrow: everybody else’s theories. In 2 paragraphs.

Let’s bomb Syria

Posted: September 28, 2015 by J in General

We don’t normally do straight political/current affairs posts at The Grit. But one of the great humanitarian disasters of the age is unfolding right now, we are involved, and it deserves our attention.

It’s nice to hear that France has joined the Coalition dropping bombs on Syrian towns and cities. The United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have been at it for a year now. Australia has recently joined in. It’s been so good that now France wants a piece of the incendiary action.

The purpose of the operation is to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ the IS and thus bring safety to the world. Sounds good doesn’t it? But here’s a strange thing: after all the bombing deaths, and around $1 billion worth of bombs so far, the Coalition is now admitting that IS seems to be as strong as ever, if not stronger. Not degraded that much, really, let alone destroyed.

Why not?

Because, since the bombing began, more and more foreigners have been flooding in to join the fanatical group. And more and more money is flooding in too.

Why is this happening?


click on picture to enlarge

The most obvious reason is to do with IS’s apocalyptic vision of its own role. It has set itself up as the true Caliphate, the bastion and defender of Islam against its enemies – in particular against the West. IS tells a story in which the hatred of Allah’s enemies everywhere is focussed on the Caliphate in a devastating war – a war from which the Caliphate emerges victorious. In the pursuit of this narrative the IS openly invites confrontation with the US and her allies. In fact, this confrontation is necessary to legitimate the story IS is spinning to young muslims everywhere via the Internet.

To provoke this war the IS has conducted and inspired terrorist attacks and attempts in various countries around the world, including France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Italy, the US and many others.

These attacks have achieved two main goals:

First, they have led to Western leaders declaring the IS ‘a real threat’ to Western civilisation – music to IS’s ears. Its stature grows with every announcement of this sort – Western governments and media are doing its advertising for it free of charge. “FBI says IS is a bigger threat than Al Qaeda” – that sort of thing. Those are the headlines IS longs for. We’ve promoted them very quickly to the role of ‘biggest bad guy on the block’. Left to themselves they would have taken years to achieve this reputation.

Second, and most important of all, the attacks have led to retaliation. Like a kid throwing rocks at a wasps nest, IS has stirred up the wasps. They have effectively drawn the US and others into the very conflict they have been preaching. The West and its buddies have flown straight at ’em. In doing so they have of course entered into the IS apocalyptic narrative, and are now playing the part assigned to them.


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the IS

In other words the Coalition bombing campaign is convincing muslims around the world that IS’s vision is coming true. After all, the US is saying it will spend between $5-10 billion dollars on this conflict. If the West is taking it so seriously, it seems the Caliphate must be the real deal. And a $5 billion conflict is the kind of large-scale battle scenario the IS envisions. It’s happening just like they said it would. Baghdadi preaches the doomsday sermons, and the US provides him with the real-life illustrations.

The retaliation also tells muslims that the IS are in control of events, pulling the strings, orchestrating the actions of their enemies. They put out the bait, and we bit – and bit, and bit. We take the bait every time.

This stuff feeds straight into the IS’s promotional material. And that promotion is working: IS is looking better and better to young Sunni Muslims around the world. Even as we bomb the hell out of the current crop of IS fighters, that very bombing is enabling them to successfully recruit a larger crop to take their place. And to attract more and more funding from the oil-rich Middle Eastern muslim communities, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.


IS promotional material

We’re like the old lady who fixed the holes in her blanket by cutting them out: every time we act, we make the problem bigger.

Countries like the US (and Australia) are aware of this situation and have said that they will stop their citizens emigrating to join the IS. Deal with the problem at both ends: cut off the supply of fighters and weed out the existing ones using high-tech weaponry. Sounds like a plan.

Trouble is, it hasn’t been working. Turns out we can’t control our citizens the way we thought we could. More and more have been leaving to head to Syria. Not even the US has been able to stop this at home, let alone stopping it in other countries. And no one can stop or even trace the flow of money.

Also our high-tech weaponry hasn’t been as good at singling out militants as we were led to believe. More and more reports of civilian deaths from Coalition bombs are coming through – which of course turns the population further against the west and towards the IS. After all, who is killing their children? We are. Turns out that if your enemy is in a town, bombing is not a very effective way to root him out without harming the civvies. It’s fundamentally a blunt instrument.  Who knew?

The Western governments involved are starting to look rather foolish. Guilty of over-confidence and over-reach all the way down the line. Acting the parent figure, asserting their will on foreign soil, controlling their own people with totalitarian thoroughness. Arrogant, ineffective, hapless, out of their depth and overwhelmed by complex human dynamics that bombing just can’t deal with.

States as powerful as our modern western nations are apt to fall into the delusion that they are all-powerful. Our societies lack any real belief in god, but nature abhors a vacuum. The state inevitably moves in to take up the role, playing god themselves, announcing what they will allow and not allow, stating in advance what they will achieve. Somehow no matter how many times the reality doesn’t match up to the dream, yet the delusion remains. You might think that after Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, a bit of humility would have set in. But no, the military machine is so vast that it seems to generate unlimited quantities of hubris.

Let’s take a step back a consider a few key facts about bombing Syria:

  1. There is an effectively unlimited supply of muslim fighters for the IS, because the pool they are recruiting from is so vast: hundreds of millions.
  2. There is a bottomless purse of money available to fund the IS so long as it captures the hearts of Middle Eastern muslims.
  3. Closing borders to prevent fighters reaching Syria is non-achievable.
  4. Stopping the flow of funds funds is non-achievable.
  5. Western bombing makes this recruiting and fundraising more effective not less.
  6. The West has a virtually unlimited supply of ordnance. It can bomb indefinitely.

Where will all this end? It won’t. It’s a cyclic structure. We’re talking escalation: endless cycles of escalation is the trajectory we are currently on. A bigger and bigger war in Syria.

Which is exactly what the IS wants to see happen.

syria-image2Of course we know that eventually the US and friends will get tired of it all and pack up and go home, like they did in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. But what sort of Syria will be left by then?

Take a moment, then, to think about Syria itself – the towns and cities of Syria; the ordinary, non-fanatical people of Syria. They have been getting bombed and shelled and generally shot to pieces for four years now. By the government hitting at the rebels. By the many and various rebel groups, hitting at the government. By the rebel groups fighting each other. By the IS. By the government attacking the IS. By the rebel groups attacking the IS. And so on.

They’ve endured chemical weapons. The government has employed cluster bombs and scud missiles against its own people, as well as barrel bombs of TNT and napalm-like fuel-bombs dropped from helicopters. Rebels have used numerous suicide bombings, as well as mortars, rockets and Howitzer-type cannon. Also tanks captured from the Syrian Army.

Stuff is exploding everywhere in Syria. So many people are firing weapons in so many directions, it must be very confusing for the citizens to know who is firing at them at any particular time. The place is in chaos. 4 million have fled the country. 7 million others are displaced within Syria. Just stop and think about those figures. They tell a story of misery on a scale hard to imagine.

And what contribution has the West decided to make to this catastrophe? More bombs. I’m guessing most Syrians would feel that more bombs at this stage were not altogether helpful. That they had a sufficient amount of bombing of their own going on, and foreign bombing was surplus to requirements. I think if the Coalition leaders were to take the trouble to survey the ordinary people of Syria, asking them ‘would they like more bombs dropped on their country?’ they might be surprised by a certain lack of enthusiasm among the natives.


None of this is new. Everything here has been said before.

So why are our governments continuing to bomb Syria? 

Because it feels good to be doing something, that’s why. We can’t do much, we can’t make any sense at all out of the crazy complex puzzle of warring factions in Syria and the Middle East generally. We can’t dismantle one terrorist group without three others springing up as a result. We can’t stop young muslims at home being radicalised and acting out.

But there’s one thing we know how to do well: we know how to drop bombs! And when you’ve spent as much on military toys as the West has, it feels good to be playing with them. It feels right. It validates all the military expenditure, if you actually get to use it. We did it in Libya, and look how well that turned out!

And anything seems better than admitting that we are powerless. Anything. Even playing right into the hands of IS seems better than admitting we can’t fix things. Bad stuff is happening over there. Bad stuff is threatening us at home. Taking the fight to its source feels hopeful. It helps us feel powerful for a bit longer. Contributing to the smashing of Syria into little bits seems a small price to pay.

syria_whose_side_cartoon_468_clippedOk so we don’t have much actual strategy about how bombs are going to help resolve the massively complex civil war raging there. Ok so the bombing is not working so far. But you know what, I can think of a great way to improve on our efforts there. We need to try harder. And longer. It’s only been a year. Yes, that’s right, thinking all this over, putting together the pieces, I think it all points in one direction. There’s only one logical, reasonable way forward here:


Lots more.

When I put it like that, isn’t it obvious?



It’s nice to know that Putin is reading this blog. Just days after we posted, he’s taken up our advice and brought Russia in to join the bombing! Sure, he’s bombing different guys, some of the other rebel groups, to help Assad, you know the guy who we want to see removed (though we hate his enemies even more than him). Whatever. The main thing is, more bombs falling!

I’d like to think that Australia has helped generate international interest in this exciting bombing campaign. We’ve led by example, making it that much easier for timid nations like Russia to join the fray.

Blood 1So what does hilas- actually mean? Morris didn’t have the linguistic chops to do the word-study. What would it look like if he had?

We are going to employ some of the basic tools of lexical semantics, nothing too technical, and see what we can learn about this term. (For a brief Dummies Guide to the tools we’ll be using, see here.)

Getting set up

First, we need to keep in mind that we are doing a word-study not a theological study. So at the end we are not going to be ready to answer the question in the title. Sorry. But hopefully we will be able to say what hilas- means in the NT.

Second, we are studying a Greek term, not an English one: hilas- not ‘propitiation’. So we don’t know what it means yet. And there’s no one we can ask. The only authority on NT Greek alive today is Jesus of Nazareth, and he is not currently taking questions. There is no authoritative book of definitions we can fall back on. We just have to figure out what it means from the way it’s used. Just like the guys who write the lexicons. So it’s all about usage, folks.

Third, there is probably more than one meaning for this term. There usually is. This is called a word’s semantic range. And when we look at the hilas- word group, there certainly seems to be a range of meanings. So we’re not going to end up with a tidy one-word answer that will make a nice chapter-title. Again, sorry.

sacred texts

sacred texts

Fourthly, we need to choose our territory. We are particularly interested in what hilas- means in the New Testament. But Morris was right to start his study in the LXX – because this is the literary context in which the NT documents were written. These are their sacred texts: they are massively influential. Simply put, the apostles’ writings are saturated with the language and imagery of the LXX. The NT documents are Jewish writings through and through. If you think in terms of concentric circles of context, the LXX is a close-in circle of context. Other domains, such as pagan/classical usage, are much further out and less influential. So we are going straight to the LXX to find our meanings there.

In the Old Testament LXX

Scholars agree that in the LXX hilas- very often conveys the sense of ‘cleansing’ or ‘expiation’. Here’s why: because it often has ‘sin’ as its object. In the usage, generally hilas- acts upon sin to make it better in some way. In other words, we’re talking cleansing, forgiveness, purification, purging – something of that sort is demanded by the usage.

However in some contexts a propitiatory sense seems to be in view, and at times perhaps both meanings are present. We will return to this.


a network of buddy-words

Nearly half of all the occurrences of hilas- in the LXX version of the OT are concentrated in two books: Leviticus and Numbers (76 out of 166 occurrences). The most frequent form of the word in the OT is exilaskomai (96 occurrences). So we will start with this term as it is used in Leviticus and Numbers.

In this context exilaskomai hangs out with buddy words like ‘sin’, ‘offering’, ‘release of sins’, ‘priest’, ‘blood’, ‘slaughter’, ‘altar’, ‘clean’, ‘purify’. These words create a field of meaning: they become a context for each other that influences the meaning of each word in the field. In these books, exilaskomai has a specific Levitical meaning, a strongly sacrificial flavour. It is practically a technical term for priestly operations.

One piece of grammar is very revealing here: in this priestly setting exilaskomai never has a personal direct object: i.e. there is no offended party in view being acted on. Rather it is the sins of the people which are acted upon: exilaskomai is what happens to their guilt. The categories at work are clean and unclean, not wrath and peace. Here exilaskomai means ‘cleansing from sin’ or ‘expiation’.

The other main forms of hilas- that occur in this Levitical context also relate to sacrifice. The hilasterion is a part of the ark: the ‘mercy seat’ or ‘atonement cover’ where blood offerings are sprinkled once a year on the day of atonement. And that day itself is called the day of hilasmos: ’the day of cleansing/atonement.’ This was a special day for acknowledgement of sin and sacrifices of cleansing. On this day offerings taken into the hilasterion achieve exilaskomai. So the three terms are closely linked, centred around the Levitical system of sacrifices and especially the day of atonement.

So we can say that in these sacrificial contexts in the LXX, hilas- nearly always refers to cleansing not propitiation: the removal of sin, not the turning away of wrath. This reflects the role the Levitical sacrifices have in the life of Israel. Leviticus/Numbers makes it very clear that the sacrificial system is established for the cleansing of unintentional sins:

When anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’S commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them: … he shall offer for the sin that he has committed            (Leviticus 4:1-3 – see also the comment on this in Hebrews 9:7).

In the Torah, these sins in ignorance are never said to arouse God’s wrath. God’s wrath is only ever aroused through Israel’s deliberate unfaithfulness. But dealing with rebellion like this goes well beyond the paygrade of the sons of Aaron. Sacrifice is not adequate to propitiate an angry God. It was never intended for this purpose.

Elsewhere in the OT, on occasions when God’s wrath is aroused, hilas- terms can be used to mean ‘propitiation’. Compare the very different use of hilaskomai in Exodus 32:14. Moses is on the mountain pleading for the people: a non-sacrificial context. The people have deliberately sinned with the golden calf, and Yahweh plans to destroy them. But then we read:

And Yahweh was hilasthe concerning the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Note the differences here: there is a direct personal object: Yahweh. The verb affects him: God is turned away from the evil he had planned for Israel. Here it is not cleansing which is in view: it is all about God’s anger. This purely propitiatory usage is fairly rare.


circles of context

We have seen two outer limits of the usage of hilas-: simple cleansing and simple propitiation. In most other occurrences of this wordgroup in the OT, things are not so simple. Sin, not God, is usually the object, the thing acted on. This suggests a widespread expiatory meaning. However it is often possible to argue (as Morris does) that ideas of wrath are hovering about in the wider context, flavouring hilas- with a ‘background’ propitiatory sense.

How strong is that flavouring? In terms of our concentric circles of context, the strength of the influence will depend on proximity: propitiatory ideas nearby (say in the same verse or chapter) will influence the sense of hilas- more, while those in the wider context (say, elsewhere in the same bible book) would be in an outer circle, and so flavour hilas- only slightly. In other words, even when the term means ‘cleansing’, the sense of propitiation can be overlaid on this to varying degrees.


This brief survey of hilas- in the LXX has yielded some helpful results. It has identified the ‘home ground’ of the group: Leviticus/Numbers, and its most common semantic territory – Levitical cleansing. It has also given us two outer limits of the word-group’s meanings: simple ‘cleansing’ and simple ‘propitiation’. We have also seen how these meanings can be combined and sit together in a single occurrence.

That’s our OT survey. Now we are ready for the main event: how is hilas- used in the NT?

Tomorrow: hilas- in the New Testament

20-parable-vineyardWe’ve seen that the demand for legal satisfaction is not at all prominent in story of the OT, at least not the way the prophets saw it. What about the New Testament? Does a concern for satisfaction come to the fore in Jesus and the apostles?

In John 8 there is a revealing argument about Israel’s history. Jesus tells the Jews, “If you continue in my word…the truth will set you free.” They respond, “We are Abraham’s children and have never been slaves of anyone!” Here are two rival views of the nation and the challenges it faces. These Jews see themselves as fundamentally free people. But for Jesus their great problem is slavery to sin: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” And this situation of enslavement jeopardises Israel’s place in God’s kingdom: “the slave does not have a permanent place in the household.”

By setting up this slavery-freedom paradigm, Jesus is basically reaffirming the point of view of the prophets: Israel’s main threat is her own corrupt heart and refusal to turn. But notice what is downplayed in this model: issues of guilt and wrath are not the presenting problem. There is no justice-imperative in view here, or demand of offended honour. There is a suggestion of the wrath of God, but indirectly. Nowhere in John’s gospel does Jesus set up a guilt-wrath paradigm for understanding Israel’s predicament. Rather, judgement will be the final result only if Israel persists in rejecting the one God has sent. In other words the obstacle is not on God’s side, but on theirs. Eventually they are going to reap what they are sowing, and miss out on their place in the kingdom. Jesus tells this same story throughout John’s gospel: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (3:19)

In the synoptics, when Jesus tells the story of Israel, God’s wrath is more prominent. “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.  So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down!” Once again Jesus connects with the viewpoint of the prophets: he is retelling the story Isaiah tells in song, in Isaiah 5:

My beloved had a vineyard

on a very fertile hill… 

he expected it to yield grapes,

but it yielded wild grapes.

For Jesus, as for Isaiah, the problem here is the long-term failure of Israel to respond to God. There is no satisfaction-demand in view. In fact Jesus makes the point that God’s judgement is not at all inevitable. The tree is not to be chopped down now, but given one last chance. Judgement will only fall if the nation fails to turn.

In fact, in the synoptics the story is never ‘Israel’s guilt has made it liable to God’s inescapable wrath’ – as it so often is in our evangelism. No, the message is always ‘Israel’s stubborn rejection will lead finally to judgement’. Guilt or even sin as such is not the problem highlighted in any of the gospels: the problem is always people rejecting Messiah.

Once again we are seeing that in his discussion of the meta-narrative of salvation history, Jesus locates the problem firmly in man, not in God or in an abstract universal principle such as ‘justice’ or ‘honour’. The sticking point, the thing that needs to be dealt with, is us. “Jerusalem! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

In Romans 2, when Paul reflects on the story of Israel, he is even more explicit about God’s wrath than the gospels are. But once again we find no idea of a demand for satisfaction. Rather Paul has the same emphasis we have seen before on the problem of ongoing wickedness: “You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Israel has possessed the law but has never been faithful to it. What is it that activates God’s judgement? Is it the smallest infringement of the absolute requirements of the law? Is it a failure to achieve perfection? No, “By your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath” (Romans 2). The decisive factor that is going to make or break the nation is their own hearts, their ongoing godless behaviour.

Paul also insists that if only those hearts could change, God would be very happy to come to the party. “ Circumcision indeed is of value if you keep the law…if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? … for real circumcision is a matter of the heart… Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.”

When we turn to the evangelism of Acts, do we find the apostles telling a story of the Satisfaction-type? “All have sinned at least once, no one measures up to God’s standard of perfection. Therefore justice demands that we be punished.” That sort of thing? The answer is nope. That is not the picture the apostles paint of the human predicament – not anywhere. Think about how Paul explains to the Athenians their own story (Acts 17):

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.  While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 

Paul tells them, You Greeks have been idolators since forever. God has overlooked this, treated it as ignorance. But now times have changed. God is fixing the world through the man Jesus. He’s calling you to turn back to him. 

What about their past sin of idolatry? What needs to happen about that? Satisfaction? Someone has to pay? Paul could have said, “you guys are in big trouble. Do you realise the weight of wrath that is stored up to your account? Now, how do you think you’re going to deal with that?” But he doesn’t go there at all. He says the opposite: God has overlooked your sins in the past – now you need to sort out the future. 

“You guys need to change”. It’s the same story as the prophets, as Jesus, as Paul in Romans 2. The story has the same central themes we’ve seen all along, even though the audience is now Gentile not Jewish. The issues to be sorted are not in God but in man.


That’s the story. It’s pretty consistent isn’t it. The meta-story from the OT prophets is continued through the NT. The same meta-issues are foregrounded throughout. God is very willing to forgive and be reconciled. The problem has always been our unwillingness and foolish idolatry. The obstacle is in us, not in God.

Now if we turn once again to Satisfaction Theory – the idea of the cross as a legal satisfaction, a rendering of the demands of offended honour, or as the exhausting of the fullness of God’s wrath – the thing that stands out is how little this theory connects with the story Jesus, Paul and Luke were telling. ST fails to answer the main questions the meta-narrative of Scripture raises. It provides an answer for a question that was never on centre stage.

We earlier made the point that when you look at how Anselm, Calvin and others developed their ideas about Satisfaction, you can see that they weren’t starting from the Bible story. And now when we look at that story, Satisfaction Theory doesn’t seem to be a good fit with it. It is not actually a very helpful concept from the point of view of biblical theology.

That’s a pretty serious flaw for any idea wanting to be accepted as a Christian doctrine.

The problem with Tim Keller – part 2

Posted: August 5, 2015 by J in General

keller2-761312Such an interesting sermon on Acts 17 from Keller, about taking the gospel into the marketplace.

Paul could see under the surface of things, he could see that the city was driven and enslaved by idols. When Paul saw the idols, the word for ‘see’ really means more than just seeing. The word is ‘theoreo’ – from which we get the word ‘theorise’. It means to get inside something, see underneath the exterior, understand what’s at its base. Paul doesn’t just see the idols, he understands how society is dominated and controlled by them.

And that’s what we need to do too – see beneath the surface and understand the idolatry that rules peoples’ lives.

Brilliant, challenging, insightful.

THE ONLY PROBLEM is, that’s not what Luke says, and it’s not what Paul says. Not in Acts 17. The word ‘theoreo’ is the bog-standard word for ‘see’ in Luke/Acts. He uses it 21 times. In Luke 23 when the crowds stand by, looking at (theoreo) Jesus on the cross, I don’t think they were seeing beneath the surface of the event.  In Acts 8 when Simon the magician ‘saw (theoreo) the signs and great miracles’ that Philip was doing, we are not supposed to think he understood their inner nature: he just witnessed them, that’s all.

So where did Keller get the idea that theoreo means so much more than just ‘to see’? Not from the lexicons. Not from a study of usage in Luke-Acts. Probably from his own fertile imagination, I’m guessing.

And this was not just a passing detail in his sermon: it was a major point which he dwelt on at length.

This kind of bogus appeal to the Greek may facilitate Keller in making his interesting points about faith meeting culture and society. And I like the stuff Keller says about this. But it does little to enhance our understanding of what Luke was trying to say. And it tends to bring the whole exercise into disrepute.

Resigned sigh

Posted: May 3, 2015 by J in General

disappointed-face-hiOnly one response to my PSA lead balloon – and that negative. Same as last time.

OK, I won’t bother with it then. Seems no one is in the mood to go there.


Let’s talk about PSA?

Posted: April 30, 2015 by J in General

A couple of years ago I posted this post. No go. I’m thinking it might be time to run this flag up the mast again, see what happens.


For a long while now there’s been aundefined question on my mind: are we at The Grit ready for a discussion about PSA? Penal Substitutionary Atonement: the way we use and abuse this doctrine has been a concern to me for a long while. I reckon its an area of our theological life that’s in the doldrums.

However, the doctrine is so politicised, PSA has been treated as a litmus test for orthodoxy for so long, that it’s difficult to achieve a calm and openminded discussion. Easy to generate more heat than light.

What do you reckon? Could we do it? Is anyone open to it? Willing to rethink, or be challenged or stretched a little in their thinking about the atonement? Is it the right time to talk PSA?

I’m really not sure – looking for guidance here.

“We must stop giving nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions and try to give twenty-first-century answers to first-century questions.”

N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture.


I love this quote. It sums up so much about how we got into the mess we’re in. Or didn’t you notice that no one much is listening to us anymore?