Book Research

Monday, August 28, 2006

I have at the moment 11 books on my desk that I got from Interlibrary loan. It is really a pretty amazing program. No matter how obscure the book, they can get it. I think my favorite so far was the original copy of a doctrinal dissertation from Fuller which was an English translation of Faustus Socinus' de Jesu Christo Servatore. I think it is one of the few translations of the work into English in the world.

Right now I have two volumes of Luther's Works from the Weimar Edition which is in German (which I can read), and Latin (which I cannot). The German is in an 15th century gothic font which makes it a real chore to read:

Some of the other books I'm reading are:

The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald B. Kraybill

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solszhenitsyn

A Grace Disguised by Jerry L. Sittser

I try to keep the pile of books circulating as I read and return the books I have out and put new books in my ILL queue to be delivered, so I usually have a pile of new books waiting to be read. It's a pretty cool system that allows me to have access to pretty much anything I can think of anywhere in the world. Pretty amazing how the posibilities of reasearch has opened up in the past few years!


Temple Sacrifice Pt 3

Friday, August 25, 2006

In the previous installements I've tried to explore how we might understand the Temple Scarifices by understanding mor about the culture they came out of and the meanings they connected to them. We need to keep in mind though that it is vital to understand the meaning and drama behind the Sacrifices rather than their functional mechanics. Being a part of the actual experience of the drama of temple sacrifice effected a person much more deeply that any explanation that can be given for it. In the same way, the crucifixion story can effect and move a person in a way that mere explanations of the atonement cannot. In watching Jesus carry that cross through spit and mud, in seeing the nail scarred hands, we become involved in his story, understanding it on a level that is often outside of our words to express.

Story and ritual have an ability to immerse and involve a person that no analysis can capture. In trying to understand the rites of a culture long ago, it can be helpful to explain the meanings and motivations of the sacrifices; but at their core, they were likely understood in the wordless language of drama, just as we today connect to both ritual and story on a gut level. We are moved by it, but do not have words. No amount of musical theory can explain why a Bach recital will move a person to tears, or for that matter what it it's like to be in the middle of a mosh pit at punk rock concert. To truly understand we need to be immersed in it. Understood in this way, the ritual of Sacrifice enacted the drama of re-connection. It was more than anything understood on a gut level, not on a mechanical one.

The drama of the Temple Sacrifices - like all story - spoke to people a the core of who they were. It acted out the profound longing in the worshiper for connection. The book of Hebrews tells us that the temple sacrifice was a “copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Heb 8:5). The true picture is found in Christ who is both the perfect mediator, and the perfect sacrifice. In other words, the reality that the story of the sacrifices pointed to was the cross. The cross is, in the words of C.S. Lewis “a myth which is also a fact” that myth - meaning a story that defines us as people - has “come down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history”. The story of our deepest yearnings rooted in the reality of who we are, came and lived among us, died on a cross, and rose again. The temple sacrifices were an earthly symbol for the heavenly reality enacted on the cross. God in Christ takes our place, does what we could not do, breaks us out of the grip of guilt, and makes our hearts clean again.

As much as we can try to understand the Temple Sacrifices, the fact remains that it is still pretty upsetting to think about. Perhaps this gut reaction we have tells us something important. Quite plainly, we are reminded in Hebrews that in the temple sacrifice a real animal was slaughtered and died. In the same way, the fact of the crucifixion was that Jesus really died a horrific death. We should be wary of any theory of the cross that makes the death of Jesus either “self-evident” (like a rational legal theory can), or “romanticizes” the crucifixion into palatable and noble metaphors (as a Christus Victor theory can). Any metaphors and meaning we might see in the cross are not abstract images, but refer to the real and bloody death of Jesus on the cross. Yes it was necessary, and yes it is about God's love, but it also is a shock. When we today find the idea of animal sacrifice to be something shocking and primitive, this is in fact exactly the reaction Paul describes to his preaching of the crucified Christ by both Jews and Greeks who saw the cross as “a stumbling block” and “foolishness”.

The cross as practised by Rome was by no means a symbol of the “fulfilment of justice”, it was a symbol of great shame and failure. If we want to understand the cross, that is where we need to begin – in its shame and failure. The cross was to the people of Jesus' time something horrific, and one cannot get around that by trying to frame it in detached legal terms that call a scandal “reasonable”. Likewise, as much as we may be tempted to have a “bloodless cross” and only focus on God's love and good news, this we also must not do. Life begins at the cross. One must face its horror dead on, one must have the courage to look at its ugliness and at our own ugliness. There, in the shadow of the cross, we will find life.

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Temple Sacrifice Pt. 2

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

We left off last time with God saying through Isaiah "I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats". With that in mind, we turn to deal with the popular misconception that the saying “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” in Hebrews 9:22 means that God needs blood in order to be able to forgive, as if it were some sort of magical incantation or legal requirement. However reading the entire verse we see it says

“The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22)

Here the stated purpose of the blood is not to appease through punishment, but to be “cleansed with blood”. Cleansing, or purifying as it is sometimes translated, is associated in this verse with forgiveness. The full formula of Hebrew 9 is that without being cleansed with blood there is no forgiveness. God does not need a sacrifice to forgive us or love us, we need to be made clean inside. Notice below how the writer of Hebrews continually draws a connection between blood and cleansing,

“The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb 9:13-14)

What does it mean to be purified by blood? In the Hebrew thought, purifying, or sanctification (making holy), involved a purging of what is impure “You must purge the evil from among you” (Dt 13:5 et al). The blood represented, in the Jewish thought, the life of the animal “For the life of a creature is in the blood (Lev 17:11) So the temple sacrifices involved ceremonial act of purging oneself of sin, as Paul says by “dying to sin in us” (Ro 6) vicariously through the death of the animal on the altar. This is understood more broadly, again in terms of consecration, giving over to God “The blood... sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them”. The function of blood here is not to appease, but to “purge out evil” - to sanctify. A similar thought today would be the idea of removing a cancer from our bodies. The two ideas of consecration and sanctification are in fact closely related because the concept of “setting apart” (consecration) is similar to the idea of “purging out evil” (purification). This idea flowed over into their understanding of health conditions and the idea of a person being “unclean” or of certain foods as “unclean”.

This idea of devotion and purification through blood is still of course quite foreign to us today, yet it is a practice found in nearly every ancient culture and one that predates the Jewish temple sacrifice. Unless we want to write all these cultures and people off as “primitive” we would need to assume that there is something reflected in the practice that connects to a fundamental part of our shared human experience. The word “atonement” literally means “made at-one” and generally speaking, all of the various sacrifices can be said to be about connectedness. The first fruits offering expressed an acknowledgment that what we had was not ours alone. The Passover sacrifice expressed a solidarity with God's people in times of trouble. The thanksgiving offering expressed in gratitude an acknowledgment of our connectedness to others. Specifically in the case of the sin offering it was a sense of restoring a broken connection that had been severed by sin. Sacrifice was a ritual that allowed people to work through the very real guilt they felt and their desire to atone for it, not understood in the legal context of a requirement (as if God really needs a cow) or an appeasement (as if one could bribe God or buy his love) but as a way provided by a loving God to work through our guilt and restore our lost connection to God, ourselves, and others. Again, not in the sense of dealing with mere “guilt feelings” disconnected from reality, but of dealing with the alienating reality of a stained conscience. It enacted symbolically the faith that God could make us clean again, mending the bond we had severed.

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Temple Sacrifice Pt 1

Sunday, August 20, 2006

What was the point of the sacrifices, if it was not to appease?

There are in the Old Testament many types of sacrifices, only a few having to do with atonement for sin. There were sacrifices of thanksgiving, there were sacrifices of first fruits, there is was the passover sacrifice, and so on. In all of the sacrifices, the central theme is not appeasement, but representational consecration. That is, symbolically through the offering the worshiper says “this offering represents my giving to you my life”, or as you might hear in a love song "God I belong to you, here is my heart". It is not a statement of placation (as if God needed to be bribed into loving us), but an act of devotion, entrusting oneself to God, giving your life into God's hands. In the case of the thanksgiving and first fruits offerings it means that all that we have comes from God and so with these first fruits we acknowledge that it all belongs to God. The passover offering was about the birth of the people of Israel and marked the time of the exodus of God's people out of bondage, so the passover offering was about committing and aligning oneself on God's side against oppression. Finally along with all the other sacrifices the sacrifice of atonement for sin was saying “Here is my life, I want to live it for you Lord. I die to the sinful in me and give my life to you”.

In the same way blood was sprinkled to dedicate the temple, and dedicate the law to God. This was the case with the Passover sacrifice which originated as the people marked their house door showing their allegiance with God, consecrating their house as belonging to the Lord. Thus Jesus when he connects his death with the Passover speaks of a “Covenant” being established by his blood “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk22:20). It was the sealing of a promise, like signing a contract in blood. We can see here that whether a sin offering, or a thanks offering, or a dedication that in every case there is the common theme of consecration – dedicating to God. This sense of consecration is conveyed in the Latin root of the word “sacrifice” which means “to make sacred” or "to consecrate". We give ourselves, our lives, our need, our thanks, our allegiance to God vicariously through the ritual of sacrifice.

There is here the aspect of identification with the animal – you bring a part of yourself to the altar, in many cases laying a hand on the animal's head before it is slaughtered. Specifically in the case of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement we can see also an aspect of transference as the scapegoat was sent off bearing the sin away (Lv 16:21-22). And as previously mentioned there is here a clear aspect of vicarious atonement specifically with the sin offerings - that animal that died was you. The consecration here meant that the sinner brought their broken life to the altar Yet in all of this the writers of the Old Testament are emphatic that the main object of sacrifice is not about a mechanical transaction detached from relationship, but the outward ritual effecting inner change, devotion, and repentance. As David says

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...Create in me a pure heart, O God..." (Ps 51:7,10)

David's prayer here is that the outward cleansing of the hyssop would go down and cleanse his inmost being. God, David says, is not interested in outward actions, but in the state of his heart. This is a relational exchange not a legal one.

"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it. You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:16-17).

Next time we'll deal with Hebrews 9:22

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Luther's Theology of the Cross pt 2 abscondita sub contrariis

Friday, August 18, 2006

While both proponents of Penal Substitution and Christus Victor would like to claim Luther as an advocate of each theory, in fact Luther's theology of the cross takes both to such new levels that one would have to say that Luther developed his own theology of the cross. Paul Fiddes has suggested that instead of calling it a "Theology of the Cross" it should be thought of as a "Theology from the Cross" because rather than beginning with a natural understanding of justice as Satisfaction theory does with Anselm and reasoning from there what God's values must be, a "Theology from the Cross" begins with the scandal and failure of the cross as God's own self-revelation. As terrible as this may at first seem - "a stumbling block" and "foolishness" Paul calls it - this is where we must begin.

While most people think of the 95 Theses of Luther as being his most pivotal writing, in fact while this was perhaps the catalyst to the Reformation, Luther's Heidelberg Dispute is much more formative to the pillars of Reform teaching. In there he again lists a series of theses, there Luther writes:

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom. 1.20].

20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross

Alistar Mcgrath points out (along with many others) that the phrase "visible and manifest things of God" is a severe mistranslation. The Latin (the original language) is "visibilia et posteriora Dei" which means literally "the visible posterior things of God" or if you will "God's butt". This is a reference to how Moses could not see God's face and live but instead saw His backside. Luther's understanding is that God's revelation is "hidden under its opposite" (abscondita sub contrariis) so that God's glory is revealed in the shame and humiliation of the cross; God's justice comes through (and despite) the injustice of the cross; God's victory comes though the failure of the cross. Life comes through death. Winning through losing.

As Christians we often forget that the Roman cross is not outwardly a symbol of hope, but of death, oppression, injustice, and accursedness. There is a reason that the disciples all fled the cross, and as Juergen Moltmann (who has more than any other in the 20th century expanded on the "Theology from the Cross") has said

"Christians who do not have the feeling that they must flee the crucified Christ have not yet understood him in a sufficiently radical way"

Luther speaks of the "opus alienum" and the "opus proprium", actions that are alien to God such as wrath over against actions that belong to his nature such as mercy. Again in the Heidelberg Disputation he writes,

"Thus an action which is alien to God's nature results in an action which belongs to his nature: God makes a person a sinner in order to make him righteous" (HD, proof 16)

Wrath is not an end in itself, nor is it God's primary concern. It is in fact alien to his nature Luther says, but through wrath God brings about salvation.

There is I think a lot of profound insight in this theology from the scandal of the cross. The task would be how to appropriate this so as to on the one hand not water it down, but on the other hand to have it not advocate self-hatred or abuse leding to death but to lead us to life through the valley of the shadow of death. When we have the courage to face our own darkness and ugliness we can meet Jesus at the foot of the cross, because as Luther says, God loves

“Sinners are beautiful because they are loved, they are not loved because they are beautiful.” (
HD, proof 28)


Penal Substitution vs Vicarious Suffering

Monday, August 14, 2006

As you might have guessed from the articles, I am predisposed to disagree with Penal Substitution. Lets face it, its yucky. But I also wanted to be true to Scripture and not just arrive at a view of God reflective of what I think is "nice" as tempting as that may be.

I have found lots of Scriptures that speak of the cross in substitutionary terms, and in terms of not just its love, but also of its scandal, blood, and wretchedness. I'd therefore like to introduce two concepts:

penal substitution and vicarious suffering. The former is I think unbiblical, the later the core of the Atonement. Lets examine both:

They both consist of two elements
Penal Substitution means basically "punishment (penal) instead of (substitution). Vicarious Suffering is different in that it is vicarious ("for us") and one could even say in light of the incarnation "as us" (God becomes human and enters into all of that including sin) but it is not "instead of us". On the contrary, Jesus says "anyone who does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me" and Peter and Paul both tell us that we will suffer as we follow. So the first contrast is substitution/vicarious. Jesus died for us, with us, even as us. Not instead of us. In fact his death calls us to come and die with him.

Secondly there is the contrast of penal/suffering. There is a penal aspect to verses like Isaiah 53 for instance, but it is not only about Christ bearing our punishment, he also bears our sickness and sorrow. Because of this the suffering takes on more of a solidarity as God suffers with us bearing our sin sorrow and sickness. Rather than the sin bearing having the purpose of appeasing wrath, it both removes wrath and at the same time condemns wrath and the law and judgment in so far as these good things through sin have come to "lead us to death" and enslave as Paul says in Romans. Again, there is a penal element to the suffering of Christ but it is only one part of the whole picture of God bearing our injustice, abuse, pride, helplessness, doubt, hypocrisy, and hopelessness so that nothing would separate us from him and from Life. On top of that the cross and its conflicts of showing justice in its injustice or God's glory in humilation (what Luther called "God's revelation hidden in its opposite) entails a major critique of the fallenness of both us AND our systems, authorities, laws, and rules.

So rather than simply throwing out the ideas of "penal substitution" throughout Scripture, I propose that we think them as "vicarious suffering". I have found that this model makes much more sense and leads to a much deeper insight into the cross that is in keeping with the heart, actions, and teaching of Jesus.



Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Propitiation is a word that in not in common use today. Proponents of Penal Substitution use it frequently, primarily referring to Romans 3:25

"(Christ Jesus) Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God"

This is the passage that Luther was struggling with in yesterday's post and begins with Paul's statement "Now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known... This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe". We saw that this righteousness "apart from law" was about God setting things right when we trust in him to work for us and in us. It involves a fundamental change in how we understand righteousness and justice, not as performance, but "apart from law" as something God does for sinners. But how does that work? All are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" but how did it come? In the next verse (3:25) Paul says it was through the cross. And here we find that word (at least in King James) "propitiation".

Propitiation literally means "to make favorable". It is similar to words like appeasement (Lit "to make peace") and Pacify (again to bring peace). However with all of these the context is placed on the idea of turning aside another's wrath usually through a gift or offering. The immediate difficulty with such as idea is that God does not need to be "made favorable" since he is the initiator of reconciliation. God is the one who "first loved us". It is vital to note that virtually no major proponent of Penal Substitution sees the cross as God's favor being purchased through sacrifice (which is what propitiation means) since this represents a pagan idea of sacrifice. John Stott writes that propitiation "does not make God gracious...God does not love us because Christ died for us, Christ died for us because God loves us" (The Cross of Christ p.174) Calvin writes "Our being reconciled by the death of Christ must not be understood as if the Son reconciled us, in order that the Father, then hating, might begin to love us"(Institutes II 16:4)

Secondly, since it is God who makes the propitiation this amounts to "God paying God". You cannot propitiate yourself any more than you can steal from yourself or bribe yourself. What it amounts to is a word being stretched beyond the breaking point until it no longer fits. Propitiation is a concept that comes from a pagan understanding of the sacrifices where the sacrifice purchased the gods favor and humor. That is not the case here since it is God who makes the offering of himself.

So how did the word "propitiation" get into Romans 3:25? The original Greek word is hilasterion. Hilasterion is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew kapporeth which refers to the Mercy Seat of the Arc. Luther in his translation of the Bible renders Hilasterion as "Gnadenstuhl" which is German for Mercy Seat. In context this means that "God has set forth Jesus as the mercy seat (the place where atonement and expiation happen) through faith in his blood". Jesus is thus "the place where we find mercy". Many new translations render Hislateron for this reason as "expiate" because the Temple Sacrifices to not have an element of appeasing of wrath in them and thus this seems to be a more fitting translation if it refers to the Mercy Seat in the Temple. Expiation literally means "to make pious" (similar to sanctify) and implies either the removal or cleansing of sin.

The idea of propitiation includes that of expiation as its means. We are "made favorable" (propitiation) when our sin is removed (expiation). The problem is not that God is unwilling or unloving (propitiation), but that our sin causes a real break in relationship. As with any relationship, that break must be mended. This is what expiation refers to. Expiation is about cleaning or removing of sin and has no reference to quenching God's righteous anger. The difference is that the object of expiation is sin, not God. Grammatically, one propitiates a person, and one expiates a problem. You cannot expiate (remove) a person or God, nor can one propitiate (make favorable) sin. Christ's death was therefore both an expiation and a propitiation. By expiating (removing the problem of) sin God was made propitious (favorable) to us. Again not because God then suddenly loved us, but because the break in the relationship was mended.

Theologians stress the idea of propitiation because it specifically addresses the aspect of the atonement dealing with God's wrath. Leon Morris for instance argued for the translation of "propitiation" in Romans 3:25 because he said the thrust of Paul in Romans up til then had been on God's wrath. This is true. However the way that that wrath was dealt with was not though the anger of God being pacified through a gift (propitiation) but rather though God actually solving the problem by removing our sin as a doctor remove3s a cancer (expiation) thus making us "right".

Given then that virtually no proponent of Penal Substitution uses the word propitiation (or appeasement) as it is actually defined in English, it seems a bad word to use that leads to a false understanding of God as one who demands to be paid before he will love us rather than a God who pays what he does not owe because he loves us so much and gives his own life for us. God is not "made favorable" to us through a gift, rather God makes us favorable by giving his life.

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Luther's theology of the Cross - pt 1 Justification

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Luther's Stein asks...

"So Shark, How do you understand Justification and the legal motifs apart from a penal-substitution model?"

I was planning on going into this with Luther, so I thought I would answer this comment in a post. I've been reading Alister McGrath's "Luther's Theology of the Cross" which I highly recommend. In it he talks about Luther's struggle with the law. Penal Substitution has its foundation in a judicial understanding of justice based on a punishment and reward system. As Luther says

"I had hated that phrase 'the righteousness of God' which according to the use and custom of the doctors I had been taught to understand philosophically... by which God is righteous and punished unrighteous sinners" (Luthers Werke Wiemar Ed. 54.185.12)

Luther goes on to say that

"I did not love, and in fact I hated that righteous God who punished sinners...I was angry with God...I drove myself mad with a desperate disturbed conscience". (Ibid)

Because his understanding of justice, which he had inherited from the 500 years since Anselm was one based on a criminal law understanding of justice. Luther describes this kind of justice as a "tyrant". In his commentary on Galatians Luther writes

"Did the Law ever love me? Did the Law ever sacrifice itself for me? Did the Law ever die for me? On the contrary, it accuses me, it frightens me, it drives me crazy”

Luther's breakthrough of finding grace was in discovering that the justice that Paul speaks of was not in the legal sense of punishement but in the Hebrew sense of "making things right". Hence Paul speaks of "justification" which means "setting something right". A justice based on our own performance (works) is a death trap. But a justice that originates from God's goodness through faith means that God sets things right in our lives when we open our lives to him. The first is legal and in conflict with mercy. It sees justice as punishing (active) and mercy as leniency (inaction). That later biblical justice is in contrast about "making things right" and comes through acts of mercy as seen in the ministry of Jesus who came to establish justice in us though acts of healing and restoration. In this there is no conflict between justice and mercy becasue restorative justice comes through acts of mercy. Luther again:

"I began to understand that 'righteousness of God' refer to a passive righteousness by which the merciful God justifies us by faith...this immediately made me feel feel as if I was born again, a though I had entered through open gates into paradise itself. From that moment the whole face of Scripture appeared to me in a different light...and now where I had once hated that phrase the phrase 'the righteousness of God' so much I began to love and extol it as the sweetest of words" (Luthers Werke, Op Sit)

So rather than reading the idea of justice in the legal sense of punishing, we need to read with Luther the idea of justification and justice in relational terms as God setting things right, as him through mercy breaking us out of the shackles of performance and law. God did not do this by "satisfying the demands of law" as Penal Substitution would say, but by "nailing the law to the cross" (Col 2:14) by overcoming it along with sin, condemnation, wrath, and the devil and putting all of these tyrants under Christ so that they would no longer oppress us and keep us from life, but serve us and point to the God of grace. In a nutshell we could say that biblical justice is about restorative justice not punitive justice. Punitive justice is the consequence of sin, but God's righteousness and justice is revealed in mercy which sets us right God breaks us out of that death trap putting it to death.

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Christus Victor and Penal Substitution Blog

Hi and welcome to the new webpage/blog!

You'll still find all the familiar content here in the "Articles and Essays" sidebar on the right, plus I've added a blog to chronicle the researching and writing of a book on the Atonement I am working on based on a four part essay that you can read here called "Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor". At the time I had no idea it would be such a popular essay. But it apparently touched on a nerve in people and positive responses flooded in. So I expanded the essay with new sections, until finally I decided I needed to make this all into a book to really flesh out the ideas. There have been over the years lots of books criticizing Penal Substitution, but next to none that offered a biblical alternative from an Evangelical perspective with a high view of Scripture.

So I've been working on taking the essays and adapting and expanding them into book form. A big part of that has involved reading everything I could on the Atonement. If I was going to take on a major doctrine of my Evangelical faith I wanted to make sure I was critiquing the most intelligent version of that doctrine I could, rather than a straw-man, so I could know whether the doctrine itself needed to be revisited or it simply needed to be better stated. After I read around 70 books and had developed things quite a lot I decided it would be fun to start a blog and share some of the stuff I'd been reading and thinking.

Theology is ultimately something that should be done in community, and a blog seems like a great way to get that interaction and feedback. So I look forward to any comments.

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