The Seat of Mercy and the End of the Legal View

Among the more problematic words in the New Testament is the Greek hilasterion. It is translated as “propitiation” in some of the older English Bibles, and “expiation,” in newer ones. It’s actual meaning is neither. The word literally means “the place of mercy,” and is the Greek word used in the Old Testament (LXX) to describe the “Mercy Seat” on the Ark of the Covenant. In Leviticus, the ritual for atonement is…

Blood Brothers of the Incarnation

My childhood in the 1950’s had the innocence of the time, fed by stories of our elders and the clumsy movies. We played soldiers (everyone’s father had been in the Second World War) and “Cowboys and Indians.” Despite the clear bias of the movies and the slanted propaganda that passed for history, almost everyone wanted to be an Indian. Cowboys never seemed terribly romantic, while the Indians clearly knew how to survive…

Secularized Sin

I have had numerous responses across social media about yesterday’s article on sin. It’s title, “Sin Is Not a Legal Problem,” drew some strong reactions. A particular concern is worth thinking about carefully. There is, as many have pointed out, plenty of juridical language in both the Scriptures and in the liturgical tradition of the Church. Quite specifically, someone noted that 1John 3:4 has this: “Sin is lawlessness.” One translation that I…

Sin Is Not A Legal Problem – Athanasius and the Atonement

I often struggle when people speak of their “sins.” Indeed, it is not unusual to be asked, “Is ___ a sin?” The question always makes me feel like a lawyer. Imagine that, instead of a doctor, you have a lawyer whom you consult for your medical problems. You are having trouble breathing. You’re short of breath and occasionally you cough up blood. You go to your doctor (lawyer) and he examines you.…

The Context of Faith

Shortly after moving to this side of the Smoky Mountains (the Tennesee side rather than the South Carolina side), I began to notice that the local dialect differed from my own. It was rounder, somehow, less nasal, but still with very strong “r’s.” Local phrases could also be puzzling. “I don’t care to,” for example, is used to mean, “I don’t mind.” It is deeply counter-intuitive, and sounds as though it means…

Reading Scripture in the Kingdom

  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:6) It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (Joh 6:63) Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (1Co 15:50) The convenience…

Reading by the Light of Christ

  Let us suppose that you have heard the story of Jesus, in a fairly bare form, nothing like as complete as any of the gospels – just a general outline. And then let us suppose that the only Scriptures you have access to are the Old Testament. You have never seen a New Testament and do not have its phrases in your mind. And then let us suppose that you sit…

Judgment with a Mixed Bag

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn puts his finger on the…

An Unnecessary Salvation

One of the oddest thoughts to have crept its way into the Christian mind is the notion of what is “necessary to salvation.” The simple questions within the New Testament, “What must we do to be saved?” quickly become the stuff of bumper-stickers and a reduced version of Christianity unable to sustain a genuine spiritual life. In my seminary years (Anglican), I had a professor who stated that he did not believe…

Conversations with a Flatlander

I have been engaged in what appears to be a useless conversation. I’m having a private email chat with an atheist/materialist who insists that there are no miracles – everything can be explained by “natural” means and that the world will be better off when everyone finally agrees this is true. He is a crusader. I have no explanations or apologies for the conversation and know that it will end soon with…