Sunday, August 1, 2010

Are We Good Or Evil? @jonathanbrink

Jonathan Brink recently released his book, Discovering the God Imagination, and he provided me a complimentary copy to review.

In this book, he tackles the assumptions most Christians have over the salvation story. He nicely argues that most theories and interpretations place the problem outside of us: On God, on Satan, on the law. And the solution is that a ransom has to be paid to one of those things. Each way of approaching this problem has major problems of its own (which Brink details).

Rather, he argues that the problem is actually our perception of ourselves, specifically how we answer the question, "Are we good or evil?"

Beginning with the creation story, Brink argues that God has judged humanity as good. What happened with the Fall is that we have given into a lie that we are evil and only redeemable through violence and bloodshed.

Brink continues through major stories within the Bible, exploring how God is not judging humanity as evil, but rather engaging in redemptive acts. What Brink says is that God's actions are not for him or for Satan, but rather for us. WE are the ones who need the violence, judgment, etc. Without that, we are unable to see the lie we have given into.

The best analogy I can think of is the standard interpretation of the establishment of kings in Israel. God didn't want or need kings. Israel wanted them. And God gave them a king to show them that this would not solve the problem. As Brink ays, "The long, slow progression of God interacting with a chosen group of people reveals an astonishing idea. God establishes and uses the human constructs in Israel to exhaust their possibility. God allows Israel to explore pride, social comparison, relationships, the law, and religion to see that they don't work" (p. 195).

All our ways of trying to save ourselves don't work. We need Jesus. However, it is not God, Satan, or the law who requires this sacrifice. It is humanity:
The religious contract is our final demand for satisfaction. We need the atonement. We need a way to appease our own sense of guilt. We demand something so perfect that it will fill our sense of violence with a nauseating stench. The brutality of this act is seen the moment we place our own children in the hands of the crowd. What we would never do, God does for us. The final act of atonement is the father giving up his son at the demands of humanity. (p. 239)
This is a rather radical idea and one I haven't heard before. I'm still processing it and its theological consequences (many of which Brink skillfully tackles). I can see many more conservative Christians getting up in arms with this "new" perspective. But that's the problem: Our perspective. We need to change it anyway. And the theological implications of this interpretation are actually quite in line with traditional, orthodox Christianity. It just approaches it all differently. And that can be quite good.

Everything he says fits with what I know about the Bible, God, and humanity. It all fits. I've had a lot of problems with many of the traditional salvation interpretations. There's hole that just don't fit with what we know about God.

As a result, I highly recommend this book. Not only does Brink present a very good, well written theological treatise, he does so while approaching the Bible as completely true (unlike even some of the traditional theologians). He knows the Bible well. And truly the arguments come from the Bible.

Additionally, Brink is part of the emerging conversation, which has contributed to a lot of deconstruction of our preconceived notions of church, theology, God, ourselves, etc. One of the things I particularly appreciate about this book and Brink is summarized in the book's subtitle: "Reconstructing a Whole New Christianity." Deconstruction is important, but so is reconstructions, which is the purpose of this blog.

My one complaint about the book is actually the cover. It looks a cheesy, bad theology book or some lame New Age, self-help book. But we have to remember not to judge a book by its cover, right? :)

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review, captures the thesis of the book in a nutshell.



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