From my reading for next week’s study on John (Thursday night, 7:00 pm central time via Google Hangouts on Air):
In the same way in which a flag lifted up on its pole draws together a people and constitutes it a nation, the Son of Man lifted up on a cross draws toward himself all who believe and constitutes them “born of God.” (Weiss, Meditations on According to John, 42)
I am truly enjoying my reading in preparation for this study. I’ve been talking about metaphors, and leading toward the point that we use multiple metaphors to describe something that cannot be readily depicted in concrete language. Metaphors allow us to talk about the same subject in a variety of ways, each of which may contribute to our understanding.
When a single metaphor becomes the one and only one permitted in describing an event, we begin to lose some of the content of the reality. Similarly, any time we allow one word for (or description of) God to replace God—what I call conceptual idolatry—we lose some of the reality of our experience of God. We can allow our description to limit who God is. In terms of the atonement, I believe that stating that the one explanation of the atonement is the metaphor of substitution in a forensic context, we start to lose some of the meaning of the atonement.
Unlike some, I do see forensic and substitutionary metaphors in play in some scriptural descriptions of atonement. I don’t deny them as ways to discuss and understand atonement. My concern is that they not become the sole view, driving out other strong metaphors. The gospel of John uses a couple of different metaphors, especially centering around light and family, and we need to read those in their own context with their own integrity.
When I was in college, I took Exegesis of Romans, which was intended as a sort of taste of Greek III, from a professor (Malcolm Maxwell for my fellow Walla Walla alumni), who was an advocate of the moral influence theory of the atonement. I was very attracted to the theology involved, but despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find it in Romans. It is wrong, in my view, though without any diminution in my great respect for Dr. Maxwell, to force the moral influence metaphor onto Romans. It is equally wrong to force forensic substitution onto the gospel of John. You may hear its echoes, but it doesn’t dominate.
The quote above provides a taste. I’ll be discussing this in more detail on Thursday night.