'Fire. Fire. Get out of the house now.'
Yes indeed people, if the domicile is in the process of combustion I want words of one syllable in single digit amounts.
Over the last week the Christian community has been having a reasonably public fall-out over a couple of long words - substitutionary and atonement. Words which have not kept most people's company very much and may possibly have been an early googlewhack. No chance now. 129,000 hits and rising daily. At least it's taken the attention away from all the vicars and choir masters in court.
Today I have been thinking a lot and have read a lot of background on a matter begun some months ago by Steve Chalke. He wrote a chapter in a book which culminated in him being removed from the speaking team on a Christian spring festival called Word Alive and, from what I gather, having all (or just some) of his books removed from sale at said event. Bishops have come down on both sides of a debate which hinges over the language we use when describing what happened when Jesus died.
Whilst I have achieved one or two other things today, every time my brain has stopped needing to be used for something else it has defaulted to this problem. Not the problem of which side of the debate to come down on; for all the difference it will make in eternity you may as well toss a coin having prayed to choose your model of atonement, a process which at least has the advantage of being biblical (Acts 1:26). The problem for me is that of language.
My problem goes like this. If there is a God (I live my life believing there is, much to the chagrin of some of my readers) then would that God not wish to make relating to him and understanding him simple? In which case would that same God require someone, in order to be able to relate to him, to be able to grasp the complexity of the doctrine modelled by the expression 'penal substitutionary atonement?'
Jesus, who the Christian church say exhibited such divinity in his life and death that he must be understood as God incarnate (on earth in human form), seemed to cope reasonably well with the two word jobbie - follow me. Why not us?
Well OK why not is because many of us are not worth following, but helping people to follow Jesus? Not such a bad idea? We know from the words he left us what sort of things he wants us to be doing - helping the sick and the poor, telling people about him as well as we can. Could one get any closer to God by being familiar with those previously mentioned long words?
God is easy to understand. We only, according to Romans 1:20, need to look around us and the qualities of God will be plain.
As a wasp plants its egg in a living ladybird so the new born has a warm place to grow up and something to eat as it does we should see God plainly. As the killer whale devours the weakest and slowest moving dolphin ensuring only the strong breed we should see God. As small fish eat the eyes of other larger fish ensuring that only the ones with the least well-developed sight mechanism survive to breed and a species evolves blindness we should see God. Ruskin's nature red in tooth and bloody in claw should show us God. As should pretty birds, nice hills and colourful plants. The war of words can be equally ugly/pretty.
That's the problem folks. I've gone about thirteen rounds with myself today in striving for a theology of simplicity that can be expressed simply, understood and responded to straightforwardly and yet does justice to those who say 'doctrine matters' many of whom are people I respect.
One thing of which I am sure. Banning your opponents books is a sign of weakness not strength. If Chalke's is such a silly argument it must be heard, exposed and ridiculed. If it has any merit it must be acknowledged. Saying that a view is unwelcome somehow makes it more alluring.
It's worth visiting here to see just how much time we need to follow all this stuff (and to get a bit of a summary of the problem too) although the writer does admit to being a quick typist.
I have always liked Brian McLaren's idea of us being more interested in conversation than conversion but have to confess this conversation has been distracting and, quite probably, irrelevant. I can't believe two Christian bodies have managed to fall out over it.