Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thinking About Atonement w/Andrew Sung Park

This is the second post in an ongoing series on Andrew Sung Park’s excellent new book “Triune Atonement: Christ’s Healing for the Sinners, Victims, and the Whole Creation.” Here we consider the first half of Park’s evaluation of atonement history. Each of the eight theories will include what Park sees as the strengths and weaknesses of each.

1) Ransom Theory: This early atonement theory asserts that due to the Fall, humans are captives of Satan (or a similar symbol of evil). God tricked or trapped Satan by baiting him with the ransom of Jesus’ blood/soul/humanity. In the end, Jesus’ divinity/resurrection destroyed Satan. This is the atonement model used by CS Lewis in his Narnia books.
  • Strengths: Some biblical support; is realistic about the reality of evil; holds cross & resurrection together.
  • Weaknesses: Takes scripture too literally, making God a trickster – it’s metaphor only; humans sinned against God, not Satan – no reason for the latter to hold humanity to ransom; if Jesus purchased us back, then all should be free today – but this is not the case.
2) Christus Victor: Christ conquers the power of death & Satan in a cosmic battle for humans who are held captive after the fall. While Ransom has a negotiation with a legitimate opponent, this is a battle with Satan as enemy. Through suffering, dying, & rising, Christ defeats Satan, reforming the human race.
  • Strengths: Some biblical support; integrates death & resurrection; acknowledges human struggles beyond just other individuals (‘powers & principalities’); is realistic about the reality of evil.
  • Weaknesses: despite Satan’s defeat in the past, evil still continues & sinners remain in bondage today; too celestial, not terrestrial enough – humans do not participate in history of salvation, just as passive observers; puts all the blame for evil in the world on Satan when humans are largely responsible; does not differentiate between sinners/sinned-against.
3) Satisfaction Theory: The activity here isn’t between God & Satan but God & humans. Sinners must pay for defiling God’s honor & to satisfy His justice. The human race sinned against an infinite God & so are infinitely guilty, requiring an infinite satisfaction. This payment must come from humans, but they cannot offer anything infinite – only God can restore God’s honor. A God-Man is needed. Jesus represents humans & provides infinite satisfaction through his death, restoring God’s honor and reconciling Him with humans. In a trinitarian way, Jesus offers his humanity to his divinity.
  • Strength: moves away from transaction between God & Satan, thus involving humanity rather than Satan…but even here the theory fails.
  • Weaknesses: God’s justice is understood as retributive rather than restorative or gracious; humans not involved but are passive – only between God & Jesus; ignores the power of Satan in the world; unclear about whether it is for all human death & sin (past, present, & future) – if so all humans are already saved, if not we need another God-Man; does not integrate resurrection with cross; Jesus’ humanity not separable from his divinity, so offering his humanity to his divinity is “absurd.”
4) Moral Influence: Rejects idea that God required sacrifice to forgive & transactional theories. Christ’s death (suffering, blood) moves us to repent and, along with the rest of Jesus’ life, the cross provides an example for human love. The law does not save, but loving our neighbor does.
  • Strengths: stresses God’s love; involves human participation through repentance – cross doesn’t appease God but transforms human hearts; emphasizes Jesus’ whole life (not just death) & encourages us to follow not just worship him.
  • Weaknesses: holds that Jesus came to die to show us God’s love, but Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom & establish God’s reign – death was not the primary goal; overlooks the power of Satan or reality of evil in our daily life; does not integrate the resurrection with the cross; does not address how the cross liberates the sinned-against, but only the sinners.

Friday, May 13, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Triune Atonement" by Andrew Sung Park (pt.1)

This is the first section of a four part review that I will post over the next week or two of Andrew Sung Park's excellent book on the theology of the cross, "Triune Atonement: Christ's Healing for Sinners, Victims, and the Whole Creation." Park earned his MA in theology from Claremont School of Theology and his PhD from Graduate Theological Union. He is now professor of theology at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Park seeks to present a robust atonement theology that takes into account the need for the salvation of the oppressors, the liberation of the oppressed, and the restoration of nature. Against the common view of atonement that focuses only on the cross as a one-time event in the distant past, Park argues that Jesus initiated the atoning work of God in his life, death, and resurrection, and that the atonement continues in his post-resurrection work through the Spirit today. A great merit of Park’s work is that he seeks to preserve the cross and symbol of the blood as central to Christian faith while responding to the critique of feminists and liberation theologians who object to these traditional ideas because of their violent imagery and potential to legitimize the sin of the oppressors. He writes, “The cross of Christianity can be a sign of oppression or a mark of salvation. This depends on how we see the cross. It is, however, inappropriate to discard the symbol of the cross of Jesus because some people have abused it.”

There needs to be a clear distinction made between sinners (oppressors) and the sinned-against (oppressed), Park believes. Sinners need salvation, sinned-against need liberation. While most people need both salvation and liberation, “dividing lines can be drawn according to race, gender, and class.” The God revealed in Jesus especially cares about the oppressed, but the sin of the oppressors (greed, hubris, injustice, oppression, exploitation, and deception) needs to be confronted, transformed, and forgiven for true healing to take place for either group. As Park will also point out, Shalom is not possible without the healing of creation as well, so the atonement must go further than healing the relationship between the oppressed and oppressors. It must bring healing to animals and nature.

The atonement needs to be freed from transactional theories: whether between God and Satan or between God and Christ. It also needs to go beyond religious or spiritual redemption to include the full vision of Shalom – economic, political, ecological, social, and cultural. Park argues that the atonement is for “the restoration of right relationships between sinners and the sinned-against, through which it bears the fruition of the right relationship between God and humanity.”

Before going into further detail about his own theology, Park traces Christian atonement history by briefly explaining and critiquing 8 major models. In the next post, I will discuss this section of the book.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Just Policing: The End of Modern Warfare (Part 3 - Community Policing & Conclusion)

Tobias Winright outlines the community policing model that just policing supporters want to see integrated at the international level. Unlike a more militaristic “crime fighter” model of policing, which emphasizes the use of violent force as the primary occupation of police and an “us vs. them” mindset, community policing understands the policing function to be more like peacekeeping. In this paradigm, police concentrate on crime prevention, being proactive rather than reactive, and utilizing persuasive and less-than-lethal methods of conflict resolution. They also emphasize the importance of community building, where the police and communities partner together to bring about social change, locating the root causes of crime, and viewing criminals as fellow community members who are “made not born.”

Because community policing has already shown success at the domestic level, just policing supporters argue it should be extended to the international level as well. To implement such a program at the international level, the view of states as totally independent entities needs to be replaced by one that emphasizes “multilateral cooperation, global institutions, and international law.” This paradigm calls for a strong international community with global police forces to apprehend or stop criminals and nations who violate international law. International courts would be responsible for punishing criminals, while a main international police institution (likely through the UN) would network with regional (“neighborhood”) police stations throughout the world. These regional stations would partner with local humanitarian and peacemaking groups, as well as NGOs to prevent crime. The police would have other responsibilities beyond the potential use of force that would facilitate community integration and cooperation. All of this would legally require states to significantly limit their military power, and to start viewing themselves as part of a global community of nations. While much of this may sound idealistic, just policing advocates argue that due largely to globalization, there are many signs of a more integrated international community already emerging.

To be sure, just policing faces challenges from other paradigms. Political realists will dismiss it as naïvely idealistic, because states will never (and should never) concede any military power to an international community. Many traditional just war theorists, pacifists, and Christian realists will argue similarly. At the same time, others in those three groups might eventually be persuaded by just policing because of overlapping methods and convictions. Just policing continues to use just war criteria by applying it to international policing. It agrees with Christian realists who insist that no matter how effective our institutions get at preventing crime, the use of force will remain necessary because there will always be criminals, injustice, and violence – even if there will not be wars. On the other hand, many Christian realists will probably be skeptical about the possibility of an extensive international community due to a stronger belief in the inherently selfish nature of states. Finally, because many pacifists see a qualitative difference between war and policing, they might eventually be able to support just policing. Schlabach argues that while policing requires strong legal accountability, a focus on the common good, and a presumption against violence, warfare inherently breaks away from the rule of law, places communities in opposition to one another, and devolves into excessive violence. Furthermore, some pacifists are even open to affirming vocational callings to participate in the policing function in some capacity. In light of these observations, just policing is likely to continue to be an important part of the debate about the ethics of war and peace

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Just Policing: The End of Modern Warfare (Part 2 - Just War and Nonviolence)

Just policing does not seek to replace just war theory, but to take it to its logical conclusion: “If the best intentions of the just war theorists were operational, they could only allow for just policing, not warfare at all.” Due to the harsh reality of modern warfare with its overwhelmingly powerful weaponry, engaging in military combat without regularly violating many of the jus im bello principles of just war is virtually impossible. Furthermore, terrorism and guerilla warfare continue to pose serious challenges to just war theory as the lines between civilians and combatants are blurred. Just policing advocates thus argue that the current context requires a shift away from the dominant models of defense where every state maintains their own powerful militaries, towards international police forces that are more restrained and accountable to the rule of international law. As Drew Christiansen points out, the just war criteria are still needed: “They are applicable to policing, including international policing, and one may find them implicit even in Gandhi’s rules for conduct of nonviolent campaigns.”

Just policing advocates note the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance that has ended conflicts and brought about social justice throughout the last century. Due in large part to the success of nonviolent movements, many are now convinced that “true power is social, not violent.” This is in line with a certain political philosophy, which asserts that the consent of the people is required for governments to function well. It can be argued that the very notion of liberal democracy “represents a systematizing of nonviolence” with laws and constitutions becoming the primary means of resolving conflict. Just policing advocates thus embrace participatory democratic movements and the accompanying power of nonviolent resistance, even though they reject the absolute pacifist conviction that every use of violent force is immoral. The just policing model continues to allow for the rare use of force in the same way that domestic policing models do (in the ideal case): highly restrained and accountable to the rule of law.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just Policing: The End of Modern Warfare (Part 1: Introduction)

I wrote an essay recently on a contemporary school of ethics called "Just Policing." Both pacifists and just war theorists have contributed to this theory, which I believe is a viable option in the near future that we should all be pushing for. Like Jim Wallis at Sojourners and Glen Stassen at Fuller, I am a principled pacifist, but in the "classical" tradition - meaning that I do not object to policing (it's worth noting that there are dozens of varieties of pacifism). I see a qualitative difference between war and policing, not merely a difference in degree. Some models of policing are much closer to war like the so-called "crime-fighter" model, but I think that "community policing" and "social peacekeeper" models are morally acceptable for Christians. Contrary to what some pacifists and most just war theorists think, Romans 13 does not give the state the authority to wage war. It gives them authority only to exercise a policing function. As a norm, Christians should not participate in any form of violence, but I recognize that there will be legitimate exceptions if one senses a vocational calling to police work. The Christian witness of the alternative kingdom is easily compromised by participation within the state, and so only those few who feel genuinely called by God to work within that system (with strong accountability from their church) should be involved in governmental functions. Here is where I part ways with more radical pacifists like Greg Boyd who think that the state is never to be a place for Christians to work in. I am sympathetic to this argument, even as I am not convinced by its internal logic. Even the Mennonite pacifist John Howard Yoder seriously considered the possibility of legitimate vocational callings for Christians to work within the state. With these issues clarified, I present a three part series on just policing. Pick up the book here.


Along with other prominent Christian ethicists, Gerald W. Schlabach argues for “just policing”, a new paradigm for international conflict management that has the potential to end modern warfare and bring many pacifists and just war theorists together. As a self-described Mennonite-Catholic, Schlabach knows both sides of the long-standing debate in the Christian church about violence and war. At the center of Mennonite theology has always been a commitment to principled pacifism, while the Catholic Church has generally defended some form of just war thinking since the fourth century. As many have argued, a major problem with pacifism is that after criticizing war, it too often fails to provide a better solution to deal with international conflict. On the other side, a problem with just war thinking is that it is too easily manipulated to justify all wars. In light of these criticisms, Schlabach and others argue that just policing is a viable third option that can and should be implemented.

Although just policing may never bring a “grand convergence” between pacifists and just warriors, they “might be able to converge sufficiently that war would cease to divide them.” What partially makes this assertion plausible is that the 20th century has already brought some convergence between Mennonites and Catholics. While Mennonites have started to become more socially engaged, Catholics after the Second Vatican Council have become more critical of war and stricter in their interpretation of just war theory. Supporters of just policing hope to utilize this momentum, pressing both sides towards a middle vision of international policing under the rule of international law that incorporates the insights of just war theory, Gandhian nonviolence, and community policing.