2. Salvation: The Death of Jesus

III. “My position”

A. So what’s wrong with “those who emphasize his death”?

1. Actually, the death of Jesus does not feature prominently in the early Church. For many years the death of the founder of the Church by crucifixion was an obstacle to recruitment – a serious public relations problem.

2. The various atonement theories, especially the satisfaction theory, reflect a pre-modern feudal society and hence, the prevailing ideas concerning justice. If there ever was a preoccupation with Jesus’ death, it certainly comes after the 11th century – long after crucifixion lost its strong association with shame and scandal. There weren’t any “naked, suffering” type crucifixes before the 12th century, and with the outbreaks of bubonic plague that may have killed as many as 25 million people in the 14th century, it is understandable that death increasingly became an important theme of the middle Ages.

3. The Christians who emphasize Jesus’ death today often seem to be reacting against a perceived moral decline in and after modernity, which they blame on Liberal Christianity’s tendency to stress the humanist teachings of Jesus.

B. So what’s wrong with “those who emphasize Jesus’ life”?

The Liberal Christian tradition (not to be confused with a progressive political agenda) is an outgrowth of modern biblical interpretation. It developed in a Christian context and generally, as Western society has become more secular, tends to be characterized by reservations about the Bible. It is also reticent about traditional teaching on the Resurrection of Jesus, The Virgin Mary, miracles, hell, original sin, etc.

The text probably most associated with Liberal Theology is “The Essence of Christianity” by Adolph Von Harnack (published in 1900). Harnack sought to strip Christianity of purported pagan influences in order to present Jesus as an exemplary teacher of ethical values. He thought the essence of the Christian faith consisted of

1. The Fatherhood Of God.
2. The Brotherhood Of Man.
3. The Infinite Value Of The Human Soul.

Later, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) criticized Harnack for domesticating Jesus – basically turning him into a figure palatable for modern tastes, and leaving out the real context for understanding Jesus: Jewish apocalyptic expectations for a messiah. Unfortunately, Schweitzer ended up concluding that Jesus died in a failed attempt to bring an end to the present age.

Schweitzer saw that Liberal Christianity, while attempting to address the concerns of modernity, completely failed to honor the concerns of the authors of the New Testament.


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