So I’ve had a good go at butchering Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory – the idea that Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins.
The logical questions that follow are:
- If Jesus didn’t pay our debt so we could be forgiven and go to heaven, what was the point of the resurrection?
- What’s the ‘good news’?
- What’s the point in being a Christian if it’s not about getting to heaven?
- Are you saying that being a Christian is basically just about being a good person?
Honestly? Yes, that’s pretty much the gist of it.
But hear me out – there is a lot more to it than that.
I’m not in anyway belittling the radical, vital and life-giving transformation that takes place when we become followers of Jesus.
I am suggesting that it is more to do with transformation in this life and less to do with a transaction to secure our ticket to heaven in the next life.
Since I started seeing things this way, Christianity has become more outrageous, vibrant, true, life-giving and challenging to me than ever.
What is the ‘good news’ then?
Jesus lived and died to reconcile us to God. The death and resurrection of Jesus marked the ultimate defeat of darkness, death, violence, oppression, injustice, pain, suffering, hatred and inhumanity. However powerful and all-consuming they are now, they will not have the last word.
Every bit of light, goodness, hope and love we see in the world is real, not a cruel illusion, and is in some mysterious way a foresight of what is to come.
God created us in his image, and we all have infinite value and worth. Our lives matter to God, more than we can imagine.
With the wind of God’s Spirit in our sails we are called to participate in the transforming, liberating, healing, creative, restoring, life-giving work of God on this Earth.
With the breath of God’s Spirit in our lungs we are compelled to stand against evil, injustice, oppression, inhumanity and destruction in all its many forms.
But then what makes us different from anyone else?
We are followers of Jesus, guided by his Spirit in walking the Way he showed us. That is the Way of compassion, non-violence, forgiveness and sacrificial love. That is choosing not to be a slave to the powers of this world – greed, selfishness, fear, oppression… and instead choosing to live in the Way he showed us. With every loving step we take, every compassionate act, we let in a little more of the light of the Kingdom of God.
So what about good people who aren’t Christians? Are they going to heaven?
It’s not about going to heaven. That’s a massive misconception that we’ve cobbled together with bits from the Bible and bits from Greek philosophy (Plato has a lot to answer for).
It’s about heaven coming to Earth. Starting now, the heavenly dimension breaking through into this one. And we are promised that one day God’s Kingdom will come in full and everything will be made new.
So can people who aren’t Christians be working for the Kingdom of God?
Yeah, you bet they can.
If they’re living in the way of Jesus, they are working for his Kingdom.
So what does being a Christian even mean then?
Well, quite. This is something I ask myself a lot these days.
You see, Jesus spent his life breaking down social barriers, getting rid of labels, messing with people’s ideas of who was in, who was out. Who was good enough, who definitely wasn’t. Again and again, he would turn people’s assumptions on their heads, shaming those thought they were sorted, and raising up those who were cast out, downtrodden, unworthy.
So what is this whole ‘Christians and non-Christians’ thing about?
From the radically inclusive life and message of Jesus we have constructed yet another exclusive club. You get you’re ticket and you’re in. If not, let’s be honest – you burn.
In or out. Saved or damned. Christian or non-Christian.
Surely we have something different to offer. What about the Holy Spirit? What about our personal and life-giving relationship with Jesus himself?
Yes, absolutely we can have those things, and can bring them to people who are desperately in need of them.
But I don’t think the Spirit of Jesus is owned by Christians. I think the Spirit is stirring people up and moving them towards God…in all cultures, traditions, and yes – religions.
I don’t think the Bird of Heaven can be caged…even in the cage of Christianity.
How does that work? I have no idea. The mystery continues to grow…the more learn, the less I know. But I’m learning that I’m not God – I don’t need to understand everything.
What’s the point of the ‘Christian’ label then?
Good question. I still call myself a Christian but there are many followers of Jesus who no longer feel they can be a part of ‘Christianity’.
Put it this way – I know a lot of ‘non-Christians’ who follow the teachings of Jesus (knowingly or not) more closely than many ‘Christians’.
So for me the whole thing is pretty scrambled. But there is so much I love about Christianity and church, I’m staying put for now.
We are still so tribal. That instinct has never left us.
But I’m convinced that Jesus wanted people to move on from that way of seeing the world. To love the enemy, to embrace the other.
What if we stopped always trying to be in, trying to prove that we’re right…
… but instead sought to follow Jesus and learn how to be truly good – trusting that we’re somehow part of a bigger story that is much wider, greater and all-encompassing than any of us will ever realise?