Loving In The Loser’s Club: The Gospel According To Stephen King’s IT

“A frightening possibility suddenly occurred to him: maybe sometimes things didn’t just go wrong and then stop; maybe sometimes they just kept going wronger and wronger until everything was totally fucked up.”

“OH SHIT! I BELIEVE IN ALL OF THOSE THINGS!” he shouted, and it was true: even at eleven he had observed that things turned out right a ridiculous amount of the time.”

“There was power in that music, a power which seemed to most rightfully belong to all the skinny kids, fat kids, ugly kids, shy kids—the world’s losers, in short.”

One of my favorite things about Autumn is October because, well, Halloween. I mean, Hallowen. HALLO-FREAKING-WEEN. As I wrote elsewhere, I believe Halloween can be observed in a very Christocentric manner, all month long.

My main way to observe this sacred time has been to reread through Stephen King’s masterpiece, IT, once again. I cannot rave about this book enough. If you are even vaguely interested in reading it, please for the love of everything holy and uholy, read it. Haha, get it? IT. What’s that? Puns are evil? Nah.. oh.. okay..

If you haven’t read IT and are still interested in reading this post, please check out this brief plot summary so as to make sense of this gibberish I’m conveying. However, if you’ve seen the original film adaptation, that should be sufficient. If you’ve only seen the first part of the recent remake, be aware there are spoilers ahead.

There are many themes I would love to draw out, but for the sake of brevity let’s tie some random threads together and hope we acquire something sensible! Seriously, though, this book conveys many beautiful truths: the Christocentric gospel, mimetic theory, death anxiety,  and the centrality of love (here I mean agape, not eros) in living a satisfactory life. To name a few.

The first thing I’d like to point out about this book is that Stephen King manipulates the ‘haunted house’ horror trope. He expands this common microcosm from haunted house to haunted town (ie: Derry). Pennywise doesn’t live in a house, It lives in Derry.  Pennywise appears to be an almost omnipresent being in Derry. It can appear just about anytime and anywhere. Derry is Its town – one could say It owns Derry. It influences people and events. In this way, Pennywise is symbolic of the zeitgeist of a town. Now, the dictionary definition of zeitgeist reads as such:

the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time

and while I am using it in this way, I’d like to expand a bit. The zeitgeist is not simply covering a particular period of history, although it certainly embodies that. It can also mean the cultural atmosphere of any place, period of time, or group of people . For example, here are some questions that can get at the zeitgeist of one’s workplace: how casual is one permitted to dress, what goals does one’s workplace have and how does it seek to implement them, and what are the policies for showing up early or late? In relatively simple terms, I’m referring to culture. On a smaller scale this means the culture of a house, a workplace, a family, a person (ie: one’s psyche and way of thinking). On a larger scale, this could look like a county, a state, a nation, a non-geographically connected group of people.

The thing about culture is it is very real, and many ways even tangible, but it is often overlooked. People live in it, and often follow its mandates, without consciously thinking, “I’m obeying the rules of my culture.” Those who don’t obey get punished whether most explicitly via prison, mental asylums, or social stigmatization. Most people do not go through life self-examining themselves to choose what they want to consciously absorb and meld into and what they don’t. People just go with the flow.

Some, though, consciously follow the rules for fear of being cast out. They may theoretically disagree with an aspect of their culture, but we live in the postmodern age, and who knows what the hell is right…right? Let’s just do this thing, or go with this motion – why stir the pot and be looked down upon?

This is Pennywise. It manipulates Derry through apathetic ignorance and fear, just like the zeitgeist. Pennywise is simultaneously Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann. It is in-your-face evil, but It is also the type of evil that apathetically pushes papers and blindly follows orders, irregardless of compassion and empathy.  It is not mere malice, it is willful ignorance, which, I would argue, is just as heinous.

“I started after him…and the clown looked back. I saw Its eyes, and all at
once I understood who It was.”
“Who was it, Don?” Harold Gardner asked softly.
It was Derry,” Don Hagarty said. “It was this town.”

See, almost all of the residents of Derry ignore Its presence. It is implied they are all very well aware of It, but they refuse to really acknowledge It, think about It, talk about It. They quite literally just live with It. But they can’t just ignore the mass murder of children. They have to put the blame on someone or something, even if that blame is not directly or consciously related to the initial problem. In other words, the people of Derry conjure up some form of scapegoat.

This sort of thing plays out everyday in a multitude of ways. On a microcosmic scale, imagine a father having a terribly stressful day at work, not dealing with the problem directly and consciously, but instead taking out his frustrations on his unassuming child. The child becomes the scapegoat for something unrelated to him, and the father’s stress may be relieved (sort of…not to speak of the guilt that should come from within). On a macrocosmic scale, one need only look at the current state of American politics – we have two generalized political bodies blaming the other for seemingly every problem in the nation state. It’s scapegoating on a broader scale.

More specifically I am referring to the Mimetic Theory proposed by Rene Girard. If you are unfamiliar, please read here. Briefly, the scapegoat functions as the guilty person/party, whether directly involved with the issue at hand or not. The scapegoat may be a person of blemish, embarrassment, quirkiness, etc… they just have to be an easy target which the larger body of people can unify against. In Christian theology, the scapegoat is Jesus Christ. On a practical, socio-politic-historical level, the political powers of His day (ie: Caesar) and the religious authorities (ie: the Pharisees, Sadducees, etc…) used Jesus’ crucifixion as a means to unify the people in the midst of political and religious crisis. On a theological metanarrative level, the Trinitarian God lets humanity kill Him in order that His love may be known, and the absurdity of violence and vengeance is shown. In other words, Jesus Christ functions as the scapegoat for humanity’s own self-inflicted harm. However, unlike other scapegoats, the victimization of Jesus Christ leads to the eventual end of violence and the absolution of sin, therefore ending the need for a scapegoat mechanism.

Now, in Stephen King It, the scapegoat just happens to be The Loser’s Club. As stated above, this scapegoat process is hardly conscious. There isn’t the clear and coherent thought: “We have to ignore Pennywise, but deal with this problem. Let’s indirectly take out our frustrations and qualms with the inhumane aspects of our zeitgeist (personified in Pennywise) on these weird kids.” I’d like to point out, as well, that The Loser’s Club may not be the only scapegoats. Because the narrative is centralized around this group of people, they are the scapegoats given, but that does not mean they are the only people of blemish in Derry. For example, King writes that Derry is extremely hostile to the LGBTQ+ population. This group of people are also scapegoats in Derry’s zeitgeist.

The Loser’s Club consists of a ragtag band of outcast kids who all have some sort of turmoil or social abnormality that makes them just not quite…right. These social quirks make them easy targets. Many would consider them to be a curse – but it is these very oddities that bring The Loser’s Club together in the first place. They bond over them, gain the strength to face Pennywise, and learn to love themselves and each other in the process. (Blessed are the persecuted.) The Loser’s Club comes together over their own insecurities and abnormalities to form a community. This community is guided by the gentle voice of the Turtle. The Turtle appears to be an omniscient Being of benevolence. The Turtle occasionally steps in to guide and assist The Loser’s Club toward agape love and victory of evil personified. The Turtle represents the Trinity, especially the Holy Spirit.

In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit guides humanity toward truth, holiness, and love. The Turtle in It does the same, and while I think this comparison is the biggest stretch I provide in this analysis, I still think it works. Some Christians may argue it is a bit blasphemous because the emphasis in the narrative is obviously on the power of love as found in The Loser’s Club and the Turtle is only in the background helping out. The kid’s do not explicitly worship the Turtle, and care far more about loving those around them. But that’s just it – Christ himself calls the Church his body, and therefore any true agape love found in the Church is also the love of Christ manifested on Earth.

Which leads me to my next point: The Loser’s Club is the Church. Now, you may be thinking, “hold on a minute. You’re comparing the scapegoat, outcast, loser group with one of the most powerful religions in the history of mankind?” but just bear with me a second. I do not in any way mean the powerful church, lower case c. I mean the Church, capital C.

Okay, that probably doesn’t clear things up all that much. I’m sorry. What I mean is that I believe the Church is always powerless. If the Church has political power or privilege, it is not the Church, just some piece-o-shit sham. In fact, that church is Pennywise. A modern day example: Pennywise embodies many aspects of the American Evangelical Church movement. This movement, culture, zeitgeist, is full of middle/upper class, white privileged, cisgender, powerful men and blindly submissive women that knowingly (or often more common: willfully and blindly) use their power to oppress many groups of people and spit in the face of Christ. Now, I’m not saying that if you or someone you know considers themselves to be an Evangelical in America that they (or you) are equivalent with Pennywise. But I’m definitely saying there is some truth to the claim that, by and large, American Evangelicalism is heinous, blasphemous, and evil.

Before you flip and get pissed at my statement, I’m not saying that other forms of Christianity aren’t evil, either. I’m pinpointing a group of people I myself am a part of. I’m not singling it out to, well.. scapegoat it. I’m using American Evangelicalism as an example because I am well acquainted with it, and feel more comfortable critiquing my own circle than another’s.

But what does this mean for the real Church? The real Church is, according to the precepts of the ‘world,’ powerless. It is all those Christians who consciously attempt non-conformance to the evils found in the institution of Christianity. It is those who refuse to simply go through the motions to make themselves feel better – to numb themselves with the opiate of the masses, as Marx so eloquently put it. Those actively working against the principalities and powers of the zeitgeist – they are Its explicit enemies. But they don’t work against people, they work for people, all people, seeking the reconciliation of everyone.

The real Church is often oppressed, sometimes willfully so. Oppressed not by “happy holidays,” or some non-existent Islamic overlord, but by choosing to live with the oppressed. The real Church works to end the oppression of peoples everywhere, all the while taking residence with them, if the oppressed are so willing to accept them into their community. The real Church gives up its power to become one with the powerless. The real Church is a co-suffering Loser’s Club. And just like the Loser’s Club, the real Church flips the principalities and powers on their head to reveal it holds true Power, thanks to the co-suffering love given by the Trinity.

The Loser’s Club overcomes the evil of Pennywise twice. The first time is while the members are children. During this period they defeat It, but don’t kill It. However, they hope it is over and finished. They promise each other if It ever comes back, they will reunite and fight It again. Almost 30 years pass, and It resurfaces as strong as ever. They reunite and fight It, of course succeeding because, c’mon, all you need is (co-suffering) love.

All this is sweet and thematic, but the thing I’d really like to point out here is the 30 year gap. King tells us that The Loser’s Club almost completely forget about It as they ‘mature’ into adulthood. Only one original member stays in Derry, and while he does his best to remember and stay vigilant, he eventually forgets. The perspectives of all members as adults are shown to us one by one. Some of them appear content while others appear discontent. All of them are comfortable though – even those in abusive relationships. They are comfortable in what they know, or refuse to admit. But none of them remember any of the others, and life has completely moved on.

Until Pennywise’s activity is made aware to Mike by the Turtle. Once Mike remembers he reluctantly phones each of them. The individual club members are forced out of apathy to confront the zeitgeist, to confront the true way the world works. It wrecks one of them, driving him to the point of suicide. He simply couldn’t deal with the difficult journey of non-conformity.  The rest forcibly move out of the comfort of their blind stagnant lives, and decide to face the current.

But for about 30 freaking years they conformed. They grew into the adults society told them they should be. Self-absorbed, afraid, loveless (agape-less). Despite a very explicit face-to-face victory against evil incarnate, they succumbed to blind ignorance. They assumed one battle, one victory was enough. But that’s not how the zeitgeist works. Evil is paradoxically constant and malleable. As soon as it is conquered (if it ever truly is this side of life), it manifests itself anew. This is why political revolutions just never work. The Church always trips up here. It justifiably stops to celebrate a victory, but quickly gets lost in said victory and loses focus. It quickly conforms to the status quo and trots forward.

Herein lies one of the most important lessons of King’s masterpiece: as a unified group, we are able to maintain our focus. We are able to encourage each other to keep moving, to stay the course. Separated, we become weaker, the temptation toward apathy grows stronger, and we lose sight of everything we once strove for. Agape becomes impossible if we are isolated – there is no one to love.

The other important bit we cannot forget lest our undoing ensue is found in a simple quote from It:

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

The point is we are all, always, a little bit apathetic, a little bit compassionate. A little bit evil, a little bit good. One may outweigh the other at a given point in time, but we are ever-moving creatures, always growing, always changing. We are nuanced and beautiful, even at our worst. The person you have demonized as evil is still a person, there is still some good in there somewhere. The person you have glorified as divine is still a person, there is still some evil in there somewhere.

In the novel, people are not the problem that must be overcome. The evil is Pennywise. As stated above, Pennywise is the zeitgeist incarnate. Evil manifested. One must work to lovingly change and challenge the cultural zeitgeist of one’s place. One must fight those things, not people. Love people. Our enemies are institutions, principalities, cultures. Our enemy is Pennywise. Not the people It manipulates. People are always precious. No nuance about that.

While King himself may not agree with this interpretation, and while I have taken some liberties, this shows only a fraction of why I love this piece of literature so friggin’ much.  It’s the gospel in horror narrative form. Many Christians I know find it to be abhorrent, find horror and Halloween to be abhorrent. They’re missing out.

Perhaps they’re too blind to see that

“…God favors drunks, small children, and the cataclysmically stoned…”

 

Peace be unto you this spooky season. May you learn to overcome the ego and the fear of death so as to truly live a life in and for Love. ❤

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A Perfect Cocktail of Disgusting Lies!: Matthew Distefano’s “Heretic!”

What Distefano shares with us in his new book, out April 1, is not heretical – it is, on the contrary, welcoming. Welcoming to those Evangelical Christianity has often shunned.

Attending a Conservative Christian university while visiting about one hundred urban churches after having grown up in the conservative Midwest, I have been well acquainted with the dominant manifestations of North American Evangelical Christianity.

I have found it wanting.

My relationship with it still exists, largely due to my introvert personality and general lack of verbally sharing what I truly believe with my conservative peers which make up a significant portion of my circle. One must pick their battles.

That said, Matthew Distefano’s newest book, Heretic! An LGBTQ-Affirming, Diving-Violence Denying, Christian Universalist’s Response to Some of Evangelical Christianity’s Most Pressing Concerns, resonates with me, as I believe it does an ever-increasing number of, for lack of better term, Post-Evangelicals. As the mouthful-of-a-title makes clear, it tackles some of the most heated topics among Evangelical Christians in the North American context with some tongue-in-cheek humor and signature Distefano wit to boot. Also, take the Parental Advisory warning seriously – Distefano uses some, ahem, colorful language.

Now, if you’re an Evangelical Christian, you may be thinking, “Universalism?? LGBTQ?? God as totally and wholistically nonviolent? Are you on pot? (A topic which Distefano has covered elsewhere) Of course he’s a heretic!” Except you’d be wrong, at least according to Christian tradition. Distefano still adheres to the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds (which were largely influenced by theologians who believe a variety of things that Distefano proposes in his book). The term heretic, historically, is less referring to what someone believes within the Christian tradition, and more about being divisive – someone who tears a community apart, often intentionally so.

For example, when an Evangelical church shuns a practicing homosexual – that congregation is being heretical, according to historical definition. When churches separate over minute doctrinal differences such as full or partial immersive baptism. Protestantism is about the most heretical manifestation of Christianity in the 2,000 year history of the religion – it just can’t agree on anything.

What Distefano shares with us in his new book, out April 1, is not heretical – it is, on the contrary, welcoming. Welcoming to those Evangelical Christianity has often shunned: those who refuse to believe that God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ is an abusive father who wants to torment 99% of the human population forever, to those who don’t maintain heterosexual relations or feelings, to those who believe violence is a never-ending self-perpetuating cycle. It seeks to cultivate community, not divide it. As far as I can tell, Distefano is even inviting those whom disagree with him to participate – if they can do so without themselves being divisive.

If you’re interested, Distefano’s book officially releases April 1, 2018. For the entire month of April, the Kindle edition will be 99 cents and all proceeds will go to the Preemptive Love Coalition. Check it out!

Distefano was kind enough to send a signed copy of Heretic! to me himself. Of course, I gave a donation to him in return. Being a shunned theologian certainly does not pay the bills very well!

Visit Matthew Distefano’s website!

Suffering: A Test Of Theological Method – A Review

Arthur C. McGill was a brilliant man who is unfortunately barely known in mainstream “progressive” post-Evangelical circles. His name is probably less known than that of William Stringfellow, which, unfortunately, is also not a common name thrown around these days. McGill was a theologian writing most prolifically in the 1960s and 1970s, with a flavour many post-Evangelicals could fit into their palate. What follows is a (short) review of his (short) book, Suffering: A Test Of Theological Method.

(The original review can be found on my Goodreads page here.)

This is a short little theological work, but quite an enjoyable one.
McGill first starts off with the problem of suffering and violence by defining both of them (suggesting that violence and suffering can only exist because of a deeper ontological truth behind humanity and all of creation: we are all extremely needy), and suggesting that because of human neediness, suffering is entirely unavoidable and to be expected, ESPECIALLY as a disciple of Christ (for which reasoning he will explain more fully throughout the book in his explanations of the nature of love as self-expending and the world trying to persecute the true life found in God) in only a few pages of the first chapter. This is, generally, the most one hears of violence/suffering for chapters to come, as McGill has to set a theological precedent before he can explain his thoughts on suffering in a couple short chapters toward the end of the book. From here, he then discusses theological method (a Christocentric one at that), a discussion of the “demonic” and evil forces that extend outside of individual sin and human responsibility, a discussion of the nature of God and God’s power (one of self-expenditure and service rather than one of domination and oppression), the nature of God’s inner self by comparing Arius and Athanasius (ie: Trinitarian theology), the victory of Christ over the previously mentioned demonic/evil forces, death and false identities, an anthropological/theological working of human need through the lens of his Christocentric hermeneutic and by appealing to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (in a way I’d never interacted with before, which was a major paradigm shift in my own theology), proffering practical outcomes of trying to live out the self-expending agape love of Christ and how the “world” will misinterpret one’s actions (just as they did with Christ) all the while vying for the importance of what he calls “Christian sorrow”, and finally concluding with a postscript on theological method, in which he refuses to give a step-by-step method of theological analysis/creative thinking, but at the same time, offers vague guidelines. At the very end, he suggests questions that his work raises – questions that somewhat seem to suggest his own work isn’t credible – which only goes to show his drive for pursuing nuance and wanting to get people to truly pursue the real Person of Christ – not a theological method coined by an academic who needs to churn out a novel doctoral thesis.

Martrylogical Ideal

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” in his famous work The Cost of Discipleship.

Many Christians would agree with this, and even ambivalently celebrate the great martyrs that have come before them.

However, the “martyrological ideal,” as Richard Beck refers to it, is not simply about physical death. It is about a daily death to self. Everything from the neurotic pursuit of “success,” to giving away material goods, to more emphatically, physically dying.

This is shown most clearly in 1 John 3:16-17:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possession and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

Notice the connection between Christ’s laying down of his life (ie: crucifixion), and the simple, daily, mundane acts of giving up daily necessities/wants for the sake of others who are without.

John seems to be suggesting martyrdom isn’t just for the elite Christians in times of persecution.

Marytrdom is for every Christian. The same attributes that constitute a martyr should make up every Christian.

If we want to follow Christ and carry our cross, we do so in the mundane, boring, unexciting parts of daily workaday life, and in times of great terror and persecution. All disciples are called to be witnesses to Christ’s love.

A Way of Life

22HThis day, December 2, in 1980, four Christians were martyred in El Salvador. They were there as missionaries, feeling called to spend their lives with the poor. During this time, a civil war was raging in the country. These four people, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan got caught up in the mess and were murdered by the military. The night before this occurence, Ita Ford said, “one who is committed to the poor must risk the same fate as the poor.” Ita Ford understood that nonviolence is a way of life.

I adhere to a nonviolent understanding of the Atonement, the cross, and Jesus’ teaching. Basically, my entire theology is embedded in a way of nonviolence. Or, rather, nonviolence is embedded in my theology.

I never used to adhere to nonviolence. Before wrestling with Christian dogma and philosophy, war seemed justified. Frankly, violence as a means to personal gain was okay (I was so selfish). It wasn’t until I started reading and trying to understand what Jesus taught that I started to view nonviolence as an appropriate (and effective) way of life. (In the words of a professor of mine, “it took Jesus to turn you into a hippie.”)

When I say nonviolence is a “way of life,” I mean more than anti-war. I don’t view nonviolence as solely a means to approach politics and war. Nonviolence captures the essence of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount and Paul expanded on in his explanation of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Nonviolence is a way of peace, sacrifice, and putting the “other” before the “self.” It is self-controlled, patient, longsuffering, kind, forgiving, merciful, gracious, hospitable, and giving.

One cannot commit to being nonviolent without also committing to being a martyr. Obviously nonviolence can quickly get you killed in the right (wrong?) situation. Thus, a commitment to martyrdom is at the core of nonviolence.

Even if someone is not in a situation where they will physically be put to death, and may never even be physically violated (in any sort of violent act), the commitment to martyrdom persists. This is seen at the core of the idea of “putting others before yourself” and “picking up your cross.” To do these things requires a sacrifice; seeking to live in this way requires a loss of self. The self, in some way, even in the most mundane way, is “afflicted” to various degrees. To let someone cut in front of you in line, or to hold the door open for someone can be seen as small (very small) acts of martyrdom and nonviolence.

That is all good and well, but what does this mean practically speaking?

“It makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.”—Arnobius

Well, take slander as an example. Slander is violent. Very violent.

When you gossip negatively about someone, you are ripping worth from them using your tongue. You are deeming yourself “above” them, even if you say “no offense, but…” or “I’m not better.” To slander against someone or gossip about information that is not yours to spread is an act of violence. It can kill, destroy, maim, or bruise a person’s reputation and self-worth. Even if you feel it is “justified.”

Gossip is a sin that seems to be generally accepted by the Christian community as an “okay” sin. I find this interesting because in some instances, a Christian may even call it “justified.” I cannot help but wonder if the Christians who agree with this sentiment are also proponents of Just War Theory. One can find justification in dehumanizing someone verbally, the other can find justification in dehumanizing someone physically. The two are intellectual siblings.

This is what I mean when nonviolence is a way of life and surpasses mere physicality. Nonviolence is symbolic; it is psychological and social.

“When God forbids killing, he doesn’t just ban murder, which is not permitted under the law even; He is also recommending us not to do certain things which are treated as lawful among men…whether you kill a man with a sword or a word makes no difference, since killing itself is banned.”—Lactantius

Another example is body language. Body language can speak a lot to a person. It can allow others to view you as hospitable or as closed off. To close someone off from you is a form of disconnect and not letting someone into the community (even the community of the “self”). You might consider it outrageous or overexaggerating that these small acts really affect people in this way. I proffer that it is in these small, mundane parts of life that truly exemplify who and what we are honestly and earnestly living for. Your body language says a lot about you. How and what you say about others speaks about who you are.

Granted, I write this as an adolescent who has Hashimoto’s and is more often than not too tired to maintain proper posture and open body language. There are always exceptions. With that said, it may be wise for me to explain to others why I look so closed off and exhausted, so they know that, in fact, I am trying to be hospitable. These things are contextual for everyone, after all.

I suppose that’s part of the beauty of it. The law is gone. We adhere to the Spirit. And the Spirit is nonviolent. Learn to live that out in the way that reflects Christ amidst your own personal narrative.

Grace and peace,

Jacob

John Chrysostom on Being Freed From the Slavery of Death

Our main issue of being human is one of mortality, not morality. Are we moral beings? Yes. But we make immoral choices because we are inherently mortal. The fear and vulnerability (our anxieties) of our own mortality produces our sin. Sin, therefore, is a symptom, not the root issue. Take away the fear of death, show us that we can be resurrected, and we have no reason to be unloving any longer. The devil no longer has a foothold.41H

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” ~ Hebrews 2:14-15

Christus Victor!

“He who fears death is a slave and subjects himself to everything in order to avoid dying…[But] he who does not fear death is outside the tyranny of the devil. For indeed ‘man would give skin for skin, and all things for [the sake of] his life,” [Job 2:4] and if a man should decide to disregard this, whose slave is he then? He fears no one, is in terror of no one, is higher than everyone, and is freer than everyone. For he who disregards his own life disregards more so all other things. And when the devil finds such a soul, he can accomplish in it none of his works. Tell me, though, what can he threaten? The loss of money or honor? Or exile from one’s country? For these are small things to him ‘who counteth not even his life dear,’ says blessed Paul [Acts 20:24].
Do you see that in casting out the tyranny of death, He has dissolved the strength of the devil?”

Excerpt from Homily IV of Chrysostom’s Homilies on Hebrews.

Atonement Through History – A Brief Survey – Part Six: Nonviolent Atonement

“In 2001, just one year after the turn of the century, J. Denny Weaver published his groundbreaking work, The Nonviolent Atonement, in which he sought to display a contemporary model of the Christus Victor view of the atonement that differs from the classic view in many important ways, and deals with a number of issues not usually included in the discussion of atonement. The working assumption in development of this model is that the rejection of violence, whether the direct violence of the sword or the systemic violence of racism or sexism, should be visible in expressions in Christology and atonement, (Weaver 7) and also criticizes the satisfaction theory of atonement because it “is founded on violent assumptions (Weaver 7).” The work was seemingly widely accepted by the Mennonite and Anabaptist communities, of which Weaver is a part, but generally rejected by other mainline denominational communities and traditions, most likely due to the fact many denominations don’t support nonviolence.

Weaver offers numerous criticisms of the satisfaction theory of atonement, as well as other mainstream views, but one of his most notable criticisms is that of the church’s rise to power after Constantine’s legalization of Christianity (Weaver 82). Weaver writes,

The early church’s feelings about harassment, estrangement, and potential extinction, which are visible in Revelation, reflected its lack of legal standing in the empire and the potential for hostile actions by imperial authority against the church. In this pre-Constantinian context, it was the beleaguered church that represented divine providence or God’s working in the world, and this church clearly stood over against the empire. Church confronted empire. The church was uncomfortable with the structures around it. (Weaver 82)

What Weaver is suggesting is the church was originally diametrically opposed to political and social power, and associated such things with bondage and tyranny. However, once Constantine, or more accurately, Theodotius, helped usher in the companionship between the church and empire, the pacifism of the early church quickly diminished.

Rather than posing a contrast or a challenge to the social order, church officials could not use imperial structures as allies if political authorities sided with the particular officials on the issue in question…the church no longer confronted empire and society; instead, the church supported and was supported – established – by the empire. (Weaver 83)

Weaver sees this as one of the greatest tragedies in church history, and as a major influence on a lot of Christian theology up to contemporary times.

Weaver calls for a re-interpretation, or a returning to old interpretation, of the narrative of Scripture, and therefore the meaning of Christ’s life and death. Weaver states,

the cause of Jesus’ death is obviously not God…rather, in narrative Christus Victor the Son is carrying out the Father’s will by making the reign of God visible in the world – and that mission is so threatening to the world that sinful human beings and the accumulation of evil they represent conspire to kill Jesus…Jesus came not to die but to live…While he may have known that carrying out [his] mission would provoke inevitably fatal opposition, his purpose was not to get himself killed. Many stories of missionaries or of parents saving their children – situations in which people faced death willingly and were killed but without willing to die – supply analogies to help us understand how Jesus’ death could be inevitable but still not sought by Jesus nor willed by God. (Weaver 211)

Weaver concludes with, “[Jesus’] saving life shows how the reign of God confronts evil, and is thus our model for confronting injustice (212).” For Weaver, the atonement is not only about confronting evil, but also about discipleship – how a follower of Christ is called to emulate the most extreme agape love imaginable; towards humanity and God.

Given the fact that the 20th century was quite possibly the most horrific century mankind has ever seen on a global scale, it only makes sense that at the turn of the century, there grew a call for a nonviolent understanding of Christ’s life and death. It is a sort of response to the earthquake of injustice every generation hereafter, due to the tumultuous aftershocks, will forever have imbedded into their consciousness.”

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For a complete bibliography, please see part one of this series.