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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Is the biblical doctrine of salvation absurd/illogical?

"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." --John 1:29*

"He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." --John 6:56*

"And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission." --Hebrews 9:22*

*All of the above scriptural quotes are from the King James Version of the Bible.

In a piece that was perfectly timed for Christians to reflect on the meaning(s) behind their observance of Easter/Passover, one of the regular commentators over at the blog Banned by HWA (who goes by the moniker "Retired Prof") penned an article entitled "The Meat of the Gospel:  Salvation by Carnivory." You can read the entire article at this address:  http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-meat-of-gospel-salvation-by.html

In the piece, Retired Prof stated that "the doctrine that a god/man had to die to spare us from horrible punishment for our sins is absurd." R.P. then went on to ask:
"How can anyone claim, much less actually believe, that taking the life of an innocent person could restore the lives of guilty ones? Why would the kind of loving creator Christians believe in devise such a convoluted, irrational 'plan of salvation'?"

Retired Prof then proceeds to make some observations about what he characterizes as the "psychological/emotional sense" that the teaching makes when we consider the realities of the world in which we live. Nevertheless, R.P. concludes:  "I can’t see my way clear to turn loose of my preference for the literal over the symbolic, reason over emotion, flesh over spirit. It is impossible for me to believe sincerely that anything, not even a consecrated wafer and a sip of magic wine that represent the nutritive substance of a guy who died two thousand years ago, could keep me alive forever."

Having enjoyed the usually thoughtful.rational/logical character of most of his comments on this blog, I must say that I was a bit chagrined by the condescending tone he adopted in this piece. Fine, Retired Prof has reached a different conclusion from myself and other Christians about the biblical doctrine of salvation - I don't have a problem with that. But don't go on to characterize those of us who accept the doctrine as "irrational" or as employing "convoluted logic"!

For those of us who accept the biblical doctrine of salvation through the person of Jesus Christ, I believe that the professor himself points to a legitimate rationale for such a belief (the one he dismissed as "psychological" and "emotional").

For me, the logic of the biblical doctrine of salvation is found in our experience of the world around us. Consider the following facts as evidence:
1. The universe (including this planet) is governed by a series of fundamental laws (gravity, motion, thermodynamics, conservation, etc.), and the breaking of those laws always has consequences. For instance, if I walk to the edge of the Grand Canyon and jump off, I am going to fall (which will almost certainly result in my injury and/or death).
2. For scientific study, all of the life on this planet is divided into kingdoms:  Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaebacteria and Eubacteria (there isn't complete agreement within the scientific community about the precise divisions, but what is listed here finds wide acceptance there and is sufficient for our purposes).
3. Every organism which is part of the kingdom Animalia (including humans) is a heterotroph (meaning that they obtain their nourishment from other organisms). It should also be noted that, in most cases, this nourishment requires the death of the other organism, which is very often accomplished by the organism doing the eating. You may think it unfortunate/savage/unfair, but the fact is that another plant, animal, fungi or bacteria almost always has to die to sustain and perpetuate the life of organisms within the kingdom Animalia!
4. All of the members of kingdom Animalia have some means of reproducing themselves or perpetuating the existence of their species. In fact, the perpetuation of life seems to be the main focus and preoccupation of all life on this planet. It should also be noted that this activity (as with all others) requires energy, and that energy is once again obtained from the nourishment those organisms receive by virtue of the death of another.
5. In the natural world, need is preeminent. Plants, animals, fungi, etc. are chosen to serve as food because some other organism needs them to sustain/perpetuate its own life. In other words, the plant, animal, fungi, etc. which is chosen to provide the nourishment for the organism in question can be completely innocent of any faults or mistakes - it may simply have been available.

From the above facts, I think that it is both logical and reasonable for a theist to conclude that:
1. God has established some parameters for what is/isn't acceptable behavior, and for there to be some consequence(s) for violating those parameters.
2. A single person's death could sustain and/or perpetuate the life of another. In fact, the symbolism of the Eucharist could be said to be an almost perfect representation/reflection of what happens on a daily basis in the natural world.
3. The innocence of that person is inferior to the need of the others to sustain/perpetuate their lives.
4. The same God who designed the laws which govern the universe, and the natural world of which we are a part, would devise some means to perpetuate the life which "He" created.

Thus, while the biblical doctrine of salvation may offend the sensibilities of some folks, I find it to be very logical and consistent with the world in which I live. What do you think?



  1. I like your effort to explain this one of many mysteries of how God works, but it still leaves questions. If God wanted to forgive us, why couldn’t he just do so? Why did it require a death? You say it’s because his law requires death, but he made the law: it’s his choice. Why did he choose to do it like that? You reply “because he wanted to teach us that law breaking is THAT serious.” But that is because he CHOSE it to be.

    And I could ask “Is it fair that God would create us as sinners and then require our death for being the way he created us?”

  2. Why make any laws in the first place? Why not say there is no such thing as sin? If we eliminate sin, there is no death. Hmmmm, doesn't that bring us back to the doctrine of salvation?

    1. Laws guide us in the way of love. I am a parent. I helped raise 3 children. Our aim was to teach them how to live productively loving lives. We could have just let them reap the natural temporal consequences of their behavior.

      The problem with that is the lag time between behavior and consequence. By the time they could see what they had wrought, their behavior might have become their character and set very deeply. So we instituted rules and quick punishment to coax them onto a loving path. Infractions had consequences. Predictable. Commensurate with the fault. Inflicted speedily. BUT if a child confessed and appeared to agree that a course correction was necessary, where was the need for punishment? And when I eliminated punishment of them, did I take it out on another child? We didn't have a whipping boy like children of medieval nobility who were required to watch while another child received the beating for their infractions.

      My point is that I don't think elimination of a punishment upon repentance does away with the need for the law.

    2. By the way, I tried to address this issue several weeks ago at http://gordon-feil-theology.blogspot.ca/2017/03/how-much-does-god-care.html

  3. The Supersessionism theory that Christianity hangs on has very fragile underpinnings - namely crude exegesis of one 'Paul of Tarsus' found in fragmentary documents dating to perhaps 5th & 6th decades of the 1st century.

  4. Anything that exists or is imagined is subject to questioning. People are creatures who desire supporting information, and therefore ask "Why?". We also visualize alternative takes or realities, some of which appear to make better sense than the original.

    One of the aspects I've witnessed to recovery from Armstrongism is that the cultic experiences were so bad that once we leave, most of us build a defensive wall of knowledge to avoid being similarly deceived, hurt and damaged in the future. This is a reflexive defense mechanism that causes some to constantly repeat various portions of their personal wall as if it were something that they must succeed in selling to others in order for it to be truly valid. Ever notice how atheists on all the recovery sites continually try to sell, sell, sell? However, selling it to others is irrelevant. It's only self-reassurance, or feel good stuff. The important question is would what any of us think we've learned or amassed square with God? Presenting reasons to support atheism is not going to act like a doctor's note on judgment day.

    Which leads me to one final point. In a covenant situation, certain types of covenant remain in force until one of the parties to the covenant dies. So, in order to get from Old Covenant to New Covenant, either all the Israelites had to die, or God had to die. Therefore, Jesus was sent into the world not only to live a perfect life so that He could pay mankind's sin debt, but also to void out the Old Covenant, and to usher in a new era for mankind under a new and different covenant. That part is a matter of basic contract law that anyone should be able to understand.


  5. Miller, thank you for your thoughtful reaction to my post on Banned. You raise to conscious level the subliminal power only of the Eucharist, but also of sacrificial rituals (actual and symbolic) in other religions. I'm sorry that I sounded condescending; I felt that I was simply expressing the same astonishment at the faith that you and others have that so many of the faithful express about my doubts.

    Also, off topic, but I long puzzled over why you characterized my disdain for zeal and my statement that if it came to a choice between hanging out with a zealot or an apathete, I would pick the apathete every time. I did not clarify that apathetes might bore me, but at least they are not likely to behead me or blow me up or (in America) pass legislation that outlaws my innocent pleasures.

    I stewed about it for a while, but never collected my thoughts into a retort. However, today I was reading a piece on Steve Bannon, a quintessential zealot: http://www.salon.com/2017/05/28/steve-bannons-dark-pursuit-of-a-meaningful-life/

    A couple of passages summed up my reaction to zeal succinctly:

    "People justifiably revolted by mindless consumption and the endless pursuit of profit have a tendency to romanticize meaning, because they think only of positive meaning — the kind that Frankl found, and Martin Luther King, and Rachel Carson. The dark side to meaning, however, is that it provides many others with a sense of certainty that prevents them from weighing the human consequences of their actions. As frightening as it is to consider, the Manchester bomber likely felt that he found great meaning in his life. His sense of meaning was so powerful and profound that it erased the humanity of the people, even the children, who he felt had to die for his cause."

    And farther down: "The zealot, uncomfortable with uncertainty, must convert as many people as possible and seek validation through imposition."

    It may look as if I am, as Byker Bob describes it, trying to "sell, sell, sell" my doubts. Maybe so. Isn't that also why believers express their faith?