People, Past and Present Truths
By: Robert D Brinsmead
If we start with the legal premises about God’s justice – and most Christian theology was put in its classical form by lawyers – then we have to craft a legal solution, or putting it another way, a legal solution is needed, one that satisfies and soothes the conscience. With the legal theology of legal substitution and legal imputation, it is true enough that we come off OK and satisfied that we have not only been forgiven and accepted, but forgiven and accepted justly. So God, we think, provides us a way to look good, ha, but when you reflect on it, it is not a way that makes God look so good. Everything is done to satisfy a very legal, perfectionistic and totally domineering deity. You press it a little closer and you arrive at where EGW and orthodox theology arrived, namely, that the deeper purpose of God saving us through atonement was not to justify us, but the real point of it all was to justify his law, his administration etc. Hodge in his Systematic Theology is bold enough to push this to its logical end. Since God, all-Sufficient like the Unmoved Mover, he cannot be influenced by anything outside Himself otherwise he would not be God, so that when he is merciful to us he is really being merciful only to himself – or justifying himself. The more you think along these lines, God does not look too good. It is not a nice picture of God that lurks behind such a legalistic and contrived method of salvation – and no wonder, for in this age where Reason trumps religion and science trumps the old myths of how the world was created and all that, we find that the overall narrative about God plonking a perfect man in a perfect environment and all that is just a very bad fairy tale about a domineering perfectionistic Deity who requires constant praise and flattery from those to be objects of his salvation. If the basic story is not factual, then the elaborate edifice of Salvationism built on it is not going to be according to reality. But having said all that, there are aspects of the narrative through which the better aspects of God – love, grace and so on – still shine through.
Years ago, when I started to question this traditional framework of Systematic Theology, instead of starting as Strong’s Systemic Theology does with God’s justice as the most primary attribute of God and the basic thing upon which everything must hang, I proposed that it should all start with love, unlimited grace and scandalous generosity. It then appeared that with such a starting point Justice would not be understood as a legal thing all aimed at vindicating law, but as I found in the OT there was this other view that righteousness (justice) was primarily a relational thing where God is by nature pledged to be loving and generous toward all God has made. Now when you follow this line through you end up where the OT prophets and Jesus ended up – that no atoning sacrifices at all are required from this kind of justice. It is only required from that apocalyptic kind of justice found in Christian theology which has blood atonement and a penal hell at its core.
I remember when I was doing math, my math teacher pointed out where I had made a fundamental mistake. How could it be a mistake, I protested, Look, I came up with the right answer at the end. Then said the teacher you must have made another mistake to get the right answer. I laughed about his insight. How much truth there was in his observation. We start out our salvation story on a mistake – the supposed Fall of man from a state of original perfection. But we still work it out that we can still be saved by the love of God at the end. But how did we arrive at the right answer? We made another mistake – i.e. God intervenes to make it all right through his work of atonement in Christ. God smiles upon us because we have worked out the sums that God’s love somehow gets us home. One mistake forces us to make a corrective mistake.