Wednesday, July 04, 2007

von Balthasar on atonement

It is always the dogma of the removal of guilt through representative substitution that shows most decisively whether an approach is merely anthropologically or truly christologically (that is, theologically) centred. Without this dogma, it always remains possible to interpret everything in rational terms as an expression of human possibility, no matter how much historical mediation one wishes to build in. Our inability to resolve this dogma into gnosis is the true scandal; it is a signal and a warning that this is where genuine faith begins.

-Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible
(trans. D. C. Schindler; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004 [1963]), 100.

Ever since at least Feuerbach, some people have taken theological language (language about God) as really just a metaphorical way of talking about humanity and the human condition. Of course, whatever we think or say about God reveals something of what we think about ourselves (and vice versa), but this is an implication, not the (true, hidden) meaning of theology. In this passage, von Balthasar points out that it is the doctrine of the atonement - of Christ's dealing with our guilt by dying for our sins, dying for us - that bursts the bubble of thinking we're actually just talking about ourselves. Either we drop this doctrine, or we drop the focus on ourselves.

5 comments:

cyberpastor said...

Makes you appreciate Luther's theologia crucis - in that the sting of the doctrine is what the death of God tells us about ourselves.

Chris said...

Cool quote, though my actual content here is more about the picture you chose to accompany this post. That is one of my favorite churches in the world - mainly because of the story surrounding it. In 1943, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche was almost thoroughly destroyed by allied bombing of Berlin. The church, which seemed to be built more in memorial of Kaiser-Wilhelm than of God was reduced to a pile of rubble and the main steeple in front.

After the war, the steeple was left standing and a new church built around it in an ultra-modernist style. Your picture is of the inside of the main sanctuary, which is quite cool, though very different from most churches that you would actually visit on a Sunday morning.

Although, obviously church buildings are human products, this history reminds me so much of God's redeeming work in the world.

byron said...

Chris - yes, precisely. It is indeed an interesting (and moving) space. I didn't offer points for this photo because I thought no one would have a chance of getting it (except perhaps Matheson, who was with me at the time), but I'm going to give you fifteen points anyway. I like your blog too.

Benjamin Ady said...

Dear dear, I'm not a theologian. But I find the whole substitutionary atonement idea repulsive. God and son decide son should die horrible torturous death as payment for shitty things benjamin has done? yuck yuck yuck. Doesn't work for me.

G.M., and others, seem to think that you can still be a Christian and not buy into that.

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