Tuesday, November 27, 2007

He looked like a lamb but spoke like a dragon: Chalke, Mann and A. J. Ayer on original sin and substitutionary atonement

Outside of the church it comes as no surprise that the message of the cross is foolishness. Judged by the world's standards and measured by human wisdom it is moral and intellectual folly. As an example consider the following words penned by the British philosopher A. J. Ayer (as relayed by John Stott):
A.J. Ayer (later Sir Alfred Ayer), the Oxford University philosopher, whose Language, Truth and Logic was his exposition of logical positivism and who died in 1989, was scathing in his denunciation of Christianity. He was especially scornful of the cross. In an article in The Guardian, he wrote that of all the historic religions there is a strong case for regarding Christianity as the worst. Why? Because it rested on "the allied doctrines of original sin and vicarious atonement, which are intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous."

John Stott, Calling Christian Leaders, p. 48-49
Compare these words with the following two quotations from The Lost Message of Jesus. In the first one are some comments on original sin:
Too often we fail to look at others through the eyes of Jesus. While we have spent centuries arguing over the doctrine of original sin, pouring over the Bible and huge theological tomes to prove the inherent sinfulness of all humankind, we have missed a startling point: Jesus believed in original goodness!...And it's this original goodness that Jesus seeks out in us.

To see humanity as inherently evil and steeped in original sin instead of inherently made in God's image and so bathed in original goodness, however hidden it may have become, is a serious mistake. It is a grave error that has dogged the Church in the West for centuries...from the seeds of Augustine's thinking, the doctrine of original sin was born.

Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, p. 67 (emphasis original)
I will not dwell on the fact that Jesus referred to his own disciples as evil (Matt. 7:11), and that he saw the incurably corrupt heart of man as the source of that torrent of sins that we see every day (Mark 7:20-23).

The book,of course, goes on to deal with that other object of Ayer's scorn, the substitutionary death of Jesus:
John's Gospel famously declares, "God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). How then, have we come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son?

The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse--a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith...If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.

The Lost Message, p. 182-3 (emphasis added)
So Ayer, Chalke and Mann all repudiate original sin and substitutionary atonement. What is the difference between them? With Ayer the attack on the truth comes from outside, from overt unbelief; with Chalke and Mann it comes from the inside, from unbelief posing as authentic faith.

Ayer spoke like a dragon. Chalke and Mann look like lambs but speak like dragons (Rev. 13:11).