Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Notes: "Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed", by Adam Johnson



Yesterday I shared some quotations from Adam J. Johnson's "Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed", and today I wanted to share a proper review of the book.

(First, for full disclosure: I went to college with Adam, and he and his wife have been friends of ours for many years now. Most of what that means for this review is that now you know how I heard about this book!)

The first paragraph of "Atonement" gives a good feel for how Johnson approaches the doctrine of the atonement:

As I told my veteran pastor of my plans to do graduate studies in the doctrine of the atonement, a wry smile creased his face as he asked: 'So . . . which theory of the atonement do you believe in?' I responded: 'All of them!' The purpose of this book is to offer a more expansive answer to this question ...

In fact, this book takes on all the classical theories of the atonement and, rather than dismissing any of them, tries to mine the riches from all of them. In some ways, it reminded me of the way my kids eat ice cream on a hot day, licking up every last bit of goodness from the bowl: Johnson doesn't want any good thing that is ours in Christ to escape our grateful notice.

I appreciated the first several chapters of the book, which examine the lay of the land and remind me of all the theological classics I last read (too long ago!) in college, but the book really came alive for me in the middle chapters, which turn to examining the atonement in the light of:

-the Trinity
-the divine attributes,
  and,
-the life of Christ

These sections were golden. Books of hard theology (i.e., not lay-level theology) are, well, hard. But these middle chapters reminded me of why it's worth it for me, as a layperson, to read hard theology: because I am reminded of how good God is, and how much he has done for us, and how truly amazing his acts of mercy and grace really are.

By examining the doctrine of the atonement in light of the Trinity, I was reminded that only a triune God could have accomplished our deliverance. It was because of who God is - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - that the Redeemer could be sent by the Father, could live a life of obedience, and could come to be present within us through his Spirit. And only by God becoming man could humanity actually be reunited with God.

Johnson reminds us that we are not just saved from our sins, but we are saved "into the life and pattern of Christ" and that Jesus' life is "not merely an example to inspire us, but ... the reality into which we are swept ... Jesus had to live this life for it is our incorporation or assumption into this life by the Spirit which is our at-one-ment with God, which constitutes our salvation."

I also appreciated his understanding of God's wrath, in light of the cross. Johnson writes:

Much of our work in this book has emphasized the life-giving creative nature of Christ's atonement. But this cannot be at the expense of the destruction, judgement, wrath and death included within this same event - for while in the work of Christ God says 'YES' to humankind in Christ, he simultaneously says 'NO' to sin, evil and death. The Old Testament consistently holds the compassion of God for his people and his creatures in tension with his righteous anger against them...

And then, after observing that God passed over the sins of humankind not to overlook them, but to deal with them "in the right time and in the right way", Johnson makes this truly terrifying observation:

To be sure, he did not pass over these sins completely. Adam and Eve were sent from the garden, Israel was exiled, and many sins were punished - but God's response was always mingled with grace and patience, always giving room and making space for his sinful creatures, always seeking to bring them back to himself. The judgement, the punishment and the wrath were always muted, always a witness and testimony to that which would one day be fully released without restraint.

Which makes me pray with the words of the Te Deum, "We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge ... we therefore pray thee, HELP THY SERVANTS ..."

And, I suppose a good place to end this review would be to say, in this book I am reminded: God has answered that plea. Definitively.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell



This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)


Monday, June 27, 2016

Commonplace Book: quotations from Adam J. Johnson's "Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed"




"Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed" is a fascinating book (full review coming tomorrow). Here are some good quotations from it:

In short, because God is triune, God is free to take our sin up into his own life, and deal with it as God by means of the relationships proper to his own being and life. The bearing of and doing away with our sin is thus a thoroughly Trinitarian event. (pg. 82)

The goal is not merely to have faith, not merely to undo the effects of sin and death - the goal is the resurrection, being made alive in Christ that we might be imitators of him, and in this way live out the divine life to the fulfilment of our creaturely existence. In short, the atonement is a fundamentally creative and life-giving reality. This is because God atones for our sin by means of himself, by means of his creative and life-giving character, by means of the same person and character that created us in the first place. (pg. 106, emphasis mine)

...God is omnipresent. He is present to himself and to all that which he creates. His goal in creation is to share the divine life with the creature, that it too might have presence - a sphere of belonging and activity proper to the creature by means of which it can live, relate and extend itself through the activity. But what happens when we sin against the omnipresent God? We reject the reality of divine presence, hiding from God, and abusing our creaturely presence by exiling some and forcing others to be near us, turning presence into a matter of power and efficiency rather than a gift necessary for free relationship. (pg. 108)

...the events in the life of Jesus are all the more significant to humankind because he is the one in whose image we are made, his life is the life to which we conform, and it is our living from, in and for this image that constitutes our human flourishing within the purposes of God. (pg. 119)

...Christ ... is redeeming human history by being obedient where we fell short, creating the new and decisive history into which we are being brought or incorporated. (pg. 120)

...spiritual growth unfettered by sin naturally overflows into worship. (pg. 150)




Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Weekend Links: a Cure for Cancer, Grimms' Fairy Tales, Ugly Bridesmaids' Dresses, and more!



SOME GOOD READING FOR YOUR SUNDAY AFTERNOON, SET OUT IN MY USUAL CATEGORIES OF FAITH, AND FAMILY, AND FICTION...

 

Faith 

-"What It's Like to Be Gay at Wheaton College":  Great essay, and I especially appreciated this call-to-action:
For Christian communities to encourage gay people to remain celibate, they will have to model with integrity the implications of their teachings. Whether gay or straight, this means valuing celibacy to an equal if not greater degree than valuing marriage. On Facebook, through sermons, and in conversation, they must highly esteem Jesus’ celibacy. They will have to model in word and practice that all humans need love and connection—and not primarily in marriage and dating relationships. If this does not occur, LGBT Christians will not be convinced. No one likes a double standard. 
-"Voting for Donald Trump Is Not the Only Conservative Option"

-A couple of newsworthy articles regarding (sigh) my home state:
   -"Preserve Faith-Based Higher Education"
   -"'It's Going to Be an Issue': Biola, Conscience, and the Culture War"

-A good podcast listen: "The Gospel-Marinated Life: Mike Duran on Christian Horror"

-Another good podcast listen: "Momentum: Interview with Erin Straza"


On those last two: I met Mike Duran at a writing conference and really enjoyed my conversation with him, and Erin Straza provided excellent editing on my Christ and Pop Culture piece. You might assume that means I'm positively biased towards them*, but I prefer to think that my good fortune in meeting a couple of excellent writers and thinkers is your gain, because it means I get to introduce you to their work!



Family 

-Interesting: "10 Top Reasons You Should Have Kids Before Thirty"





Fiction


Friday, June 17, 2016

Guest post at Sandra Robbins' blog

The lovely Sandra Robbins is hosting me over at her blog today. Here's a snippet of our conversation:


What Bible scripture has impacted your life the most?
The Psalms. I know it sounds like a cheat to cite a whole book, but several years ago I started listening through the book of Psalms once a month and it absolutely changed my prayer life and my interior thought life. I’ve heard the Psalms called “the prayer book of the church” and I feel that letting them soak into my mind and heart has really taught me how to pray.

Come on over and read the rest!


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, June 6, 2016

The gift of a good edit

Writing is the best.

But editing is so very close. And recently I got to be on the other side of the editing desk, when I got back edits on a short story of mine.

Receiving edits is always a bit scary - did they hate it? Worse, do they want me to make it into something completely different? Am I still going to be able recognize my baby under all those red lines?

I clicked open the file, skimmed the margin for the brightly-colored comment boxes, devoured the comments breathlessly, and then let out a sigh of relief and satisfaction. Yes. These were those kind of edits—the kind of edits that were going to make my work better, stronger, clearer.

I love good edits. It’s such a huge gift when an editor reads your story, likes it, and understands it.

And understands it even better than you did when you first wrote it.

That’s the feeling anyway: you read the comments and you think, “Wow! You’re right! Of course doing it that way makes more sense. How did I not see that?”

But any embarrassment you might feel at the original failures of your story are swallowed up in the joy of knowing that now, now the story is going to fly. It’s going to glow.

It’s going to be its very best self.

Because that’s what editing is all about: it is about making a story (or an article, or an essay, or a book) its very best self.  Good editors don’t change the soul of the story. They clear all the clutter out of the way so that soul can shine. They might change the “how” of the story, but they don’t change the “what”.

I was excited about this story when I wrote it. I got that writer’s high that’s better than a good glass of red wine. I was soaring all day after I finished it.

But I’m even more solidly happy now. First, because it’s sold.

But secondly, because it’s going to be a better story. It’s going to be more solid. Now I know where to trim the ambiguity, where to plump up the description, where to draw the reader in a little more.


Now, thanks to the gift of editing, my story is going to be its very best self.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


p.s. Yes, once the story is actually published, I'll let you know where you can get a copy and read it! :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

C. S. Lewis, the Thief

This book brought to you by Paradise Lost (among others).


If you want a really boring drinking game, read modern Christian non-fiction and take a drink every time one of the authors quotes C. S. Lewis.

It’s boring for two reasons: first, because they all do it. So there’s really no suspense. But it’s also boring because they’re only going to do it every few chapters, and so you’re going to stay stone-cold sober.

Now, if you want an interesting drinking game, read the old Western canon of classics and take a drink every time you find something that was stolen by C. S. Lewis.

You’ll still be sober (‘cause the classics take a good long while to read) but you’ll come away astonished by what a thief Lewis was.

Make that: what a skilled thief.

My favorite is probably his theft from Milton. You know that memorable passage in The Magician’s Nephew where the lion, Aslan, sings Narnia into creation? The dirt around him starts bubbling like an unwatched pot and out of each bubble springs a new animal: an elephant, a dog, a jackdaw.
It’s such a beautiful passage, and such a beautifully odd passage. Very Lewisian.

And he completely lifted it from Milton’s Paradise Lost.  My jaw dropped when I stumbled across that one.

It’s like that for a lot of Lewis’ brilliant passages.

I remember reading through Aristotle for the first time, and thinking, Oh, this is where Lewis got his stuff about habits, and about what a thing is vs. what it’s made of. When I got to Boethius, I realized, Oh, this is where Lewis learned that it is the person we become that is more permanent and important than the hardships we suffer. When I read Plato…

Well, it’s all in Plato, isn’t it? (Bless me, what do they teach them in these schools? DRINK.)

Once I saw it in Lewis, I started seeing it other places, of course. Authors have been stealing from each other forever and—even better—riffing off each other. (“Oh, you liked Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, did you?” asks Sir Walter Raleigh. “Wait till you read my The Nymph’s Reply!”) Once you twig on to it—and I imagine most readers do somewhere around high school or college—playing “find the stolen source” can liven up just about any reading experience.

But Lewis thefts are still my favorite. Maybe it’s because he’s the best at integrating everything he takes into one, coherent worldview. (And aren’t we all going for that? Hoping to make sense of the world on that level?) Maybe it’s because being already familiar with his work when I approached those daunting, dusty Greek and Roman texts made them feel almost homey, and I’ll never cease to be grateful for the help.

Or maybe it’s just because he’s the author who seems to be having the most fun doing it. I mean, lifting the phrase “for tool, not toy meant” out of a serious, devout poem by a Roman Catholic priest and then placing those same words (slightly twisted!) into the mouth of Father Christmas in a fairy tale for children?

That’s skill. That’s delight.

So, try the Lewis game! But remember, to really play it right, you have to read lots of books. And lots of your lots of books should be old books. Always remember, as the great writer C. S. Lewis said:  “to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds…can only be done by reading old books.”


(And that was a freebie for you: me quoting Lewis to give you more points. DRINK!)


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell




p.s. The drinking game suggestion is a joke, folks, don't yell at me...

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Weekend Links - Memorial Day Edition

SOME GOOD READING FOR YOUR SUNDAY AFTERNOON, SET OUT IN MY USUAL CATEGORIES OF FAITH, AND FAMILY, AND FICTION) ...


But first, on this Memorial Day, here is a prayer from the BCP, in remembrance of those who have given their lives for our country:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: We give thee thanks for all thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence; and give us such a lively sense of thy righteous will, that the work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

 

Faith 


So what of God’s opening lines? Is he not dealing forcefully with Job? Is he not angry? Even indignant and sarcastic? Yes, but none of this means he’s acting with anything less than merciful lovingkindness.




To be a Christian is to be a churchman or churchwoman. The New Testament knows of no vibrant discipleship apart from life in the local church, no authentic Christianity divorced from the covenant of life together according to the biblical structure of the local church. And if this is true, it behooves us to be the best churchmen and churchwomen we can be. And good churchfolk love, respect, and submit to their pastors.

Family

-"Keeping the Calendar to One Day" - an inspirational idea from Ann.

-"Don't Dismiss Housework":
This is where, I would argue, the moral imagination comes in. The task of cleaning itself may not require a lot of intellectual prowess—but it does require a great deal of imaginative skill and understanding. The work of maintaining a home is tied up inexplicably in the question of what it means to be human, and the person who cares for the home must adhere to a set of underlying ideas and mores that make his or her work meaningful. After all, why is it that we do not wish to live in squalor? Why do we see cleanliness and order as essential tenets for human flourishing? It must be because these constitute basic understandings of what human life should constitute—ideas that have a moral and spiritual tradition.

-"What I've Learned in Twenty Years of Marriage": I love the difference he articulates between a "merger marriage" and a "start-up marriage".

-"Blue-Collar Contentment"

-"Talking to My Boys After the Transgender Talk at Their Public School" - a helpful article.

Now, onto the links...

Fiction

"Save the Allegory!"  - allegories: both different and cooler than you might have thought they were.

-"'Gossamer', by Stephen Baxter" - this beautiful short story pictures life (a very different sort of life) way out on the cold plains of Pluto.

-"A Letter to Friends Looking to Break into a Part-Time Writing Career" - not strictly regarding fiction, but good writing advice all the same.




Finally, if you haven't yet, please come and enter the giveaway for a copy of "Not Alone"!  The stories in it of faith during suffering are truly inspiring.

Have a good and meaningful Memorial Day, folks!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell