This topic is at the heart of Christian understanding. It serves as a good starter for further thinking.
A guest post by theologian and scholar Marcus Borg – a fitting addition to our series on Atonement. (This piece originally appeared on patheos.com)
American Christians are deeply divided by the cross of Jesus – namely, by how they see the meanings of his death. At the risk of labels and broad generalizations, “conservative” Christians generally believe a “payment” understanding of the cross: Jesus died to pay for our sins so we can be forgiven.
Most “progressive” Christians (at least a majority) have great difficulty with the “payment” understanding. Many reject it. Some insist that rather than focusing on Jesus’s death, we should instead focus on his life and teachings. They are right about what they affirm, even as they also risk impoverishing the meaning of Jesus by de-emphasizing the cross.
It is the central Christian symbol. And ubiquitous. Perhaps even the most widely-worn piece of jewelry. Its…
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Harry Emerson Fosdick, the minister of the Riverside Church, was making a tour of Palestine and other countries of the Middle East. He was invited to give an address at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where the student body comprised citizens of many countries and representatives from sixteen different religions. What could he say that would be relevant or of interest to so mixed and varied a group? This is how Fosdick began: “I do not ask anyone here to change his religion; but I do ask all of you to face up to this question: What is your religion doing to your character?”
This was a call to consider one of the great issues of human belief. He was asking them to consider: religion and life, Christianity and character, word and spirit. Emerson once said, “What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear a word you say.”
The historical traditions of the world all have their goals. The Greeks were in search of a formula for life, a slogan by which to perform, but this never claimed to change the heart. The Jews had their Law, demanding obedience to every detail as the prerequisite to the good life, but Christianity discovered that a set of rules could never provide salvation nor solve the deadly problem of sin and moral failure. Jesus, however, came with a new key to true life: accept His spirit, surrender to Him, and allow him to be a part of your everyday life.