Monday, June 21, 2010

Penal Substitution, Or Not

So, I was looking at Slacktivist and I saw this advert: "Find out how Jesus really saves!"

Now, I've been following Ken Pulliam's dissection of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (basically, the idea that Jesus "died for our sins") with considerable interest. My inability to accept this doctrine was a large part of my departure from Christianity, though at the time I didn't really have a good way to explain my disagreement; and Dr. Pulliam is making a very thorough examination of the theory.

So, naturally, when I saw the advert, I clicked on it. It took me to a page belonging to something called The New Church. I was hoping that they'd have an interesting new take on the PST, and I wasn't disappointed:

They reject it utterly.

No, seriously, they do. They claim, basically, that Jesus' death on the cross was not necessary for our salvation. They say that he accomplished that by becoming human, and through the example he set in his life.

Now, this is interesting to me on two levels. First, it's a pretty stark reminder of the huge variety of actual beliefs that exist under the umbrella of "Christianity." I'd have said that the belief that Jesus died for our sins was one of the defining beliefs of Christianity. The New Church apparently disagrees, but in such away that they're still legitimately "Christians" (in the sense of "Followers of Christ").

Second, it interests me because of how it relates to the rest of Christianity. They're saying that mainstream Christianity has been missing the point for two thousand years. Quite possibly they're even saying that the Apostles missed the point. Offhand, I'm not completely certain whether this view can even be supported biblically; I think you'd have to do some very interesting exegesis in order to conclude that the death of Jesus on the cross was not some sort of payment for our sins.

It certainly is an interesting take on the New Testament, though.

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