the Crucible

New Metaphor’s

The Metaphors of the Church are no Longer Relevant
      Over the last 25 years some circles of the Church have reduced their understanding of the atonement to an exclusive commitment to the penal substitution theory.  It is idealistic to even attempt to think about atonement through a monocular lens, however in this single lump of idealism, these church circles have severed the strand of fabric for which our culture longs: relationship. This generation has become cynical as a result of institutional stipulations and is weary of any form of mega-institution.12 The iPod generation has a mantra that is not one of rebellion but rather relationship. They are longing for a truth that is subjective. In response to this longing we have sought out the counsel of friends as an interpretational grid of a priori knowledge. How is it that one could assume that modernist thinking towards the atonement would slip through under the guise of theological truth? It is no mistake that traditional evangelism is failing fast within this generation and there are countless ways in which the Church has misunderstood community because it is seeing solely through the lens of modernism.

      In addition, the iPod generation has a much different view of intellectual properties than those ten years older.13 And their superiors, according to Moore’s law, are infinitely and exponentially culturally removed from the information that the iPod generation now possesses. This information often is recognized and perceived as the truth, but it is not the truth for which the emergent generation is longing.

      In an article on Pope John Paul II, National Post writer Robert Fulford points out that “the Pope’s paradigms were those of the 13th century, and the Pope’s model was consistent because the truth never changes.”14 Truth may never change, but metaphors and culture do. Think of the penal institutional model of atonement. Now attempt to relate it to the iPod culture within this generation. The consequences for violations of intellectual properties are virtually irrelevant. The statement, “If it ain’t hurting me or any of my friends, it’s okay,” comes to mind. The underlying premise of that slogan is not its obvious lack of truth, but the burden of relationship. This burden of relationship should not go unnoticed. Ask an “iPoder, “Would you burn for a stranger?” His answer will be “no.” Consider the expression, “You can break every law but the one that binds us” as an indication that relationship is the currency of this generation. This culture is longing to get rich in relationship. Most rules or regulations pale in comparison to the underlying core of relationship.

      Again imagine attempting to relate a penal model of God’s love for a post-modern culture. Is it a mystery that it has not flown well in the face of this humanity? This generation has been bombarded with images of war. Within our own nation, the iPod generation matured while viewing three significant wars, mostly in the Middle East, but with unparalleled media coverage and participation. Their minds have been invaded by countless media-focused atrocities and judicial injustices. They have literally seen the abhorrent treatment of the poor, minorities, and disadvantaged. They have witnessed a frivolous attitude toward important ecological concerns, an attitude that will someday brand this generation as ignorant. Within this cultural grid of “justice” how could the Church present a penal model that could even be conceived of in terms of justice?

      Clearly a twenty-first century audience cannot absorb a model where sin has an economy. “Do the crime and pay the time” was a mantra of earlier generations. But our generation has come to see just how unjust this mantra is, just how unsacred, and unholy it can be. Because of this the very separation of church and state that our forefathers protected us from, doesn’t seem to be let go of by the mainstream church and, as a result, the mainstream church has lost relevance to a generation who has seen that “crime and time” have a disproportionate context for justice. By some opponents the conservative right has been lumped into the mainstream church because of its proof text justification of manifest destiny and triumphalism. This is a slap in the face to any who have ears or eyes in our culture. With countless corporate undoing and mistrust, this generation refuses to see the sacredness of our own faith–branded, manipulated and controlled. In a “Coldplay”15 or “Matisyahu16 world, relationships and a sharing of experience together are what bind our understanding. It is because of this that the theological scholars need new metaphors to communicate their messages.

      Another example of a word that needs new imagery is “covenant.” The Biblical word for covenant has very little to do with this culture, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, which could be considered the voice of a 21st century audience:

cov·e·nant (k?v’a-nant)  n. 1. A binding agreement; a compact. See synonyms at bargain, pledge 2. Law. a. A formal sealed agreement or contract. b. A suit to recover damages for violation of such a contract  3. a : (pledge) a binding promise or agreement to do or forbear b (1) : a promise to join a fraternity, sorority, or secret society (2) : a person who has so promised.17
There is a expression: “Look, it ain’t personal; it’s just business.” Devoid of the “personal,” the concept of covenant loses the relational qualities that are most inviting to biblical understanding of the term. “It ain’t business; it’s personal!” Again, seemingly simple definitions need clarification; “covenant” is one word with potentially radically different intents. One could even argue that the Biblical definition of covenant has also had added meaning—meaning that has been added to the text. 

      By not fully grasping the meaning of covenant the Church can wield a dangerous sword of power and control. When the starting points for this relational covenant are not defined, things become dangerous. When institutions of power and individuals clash, the contractual interpretations based in modern business models of covenant are grabbed and the historical origins of covenant in terms of relationship are forgotten. What can become clear to the individual within the dysfunctional hierarchy of relationship is that, regardless of individual issues or interpretations (right or wrong), the views of the holders of power and control are the ones that potentially become dogma. This is dangerous because a perceived and established hierarchy or right of rule can quickly become culturally justified, rendering the opinions and understandings of the individual as extraneous, not part of the original contract. How tragic! Ultimately, there is not a covenantal journey of transpiring togetherness, but rather a covenantal journeying with. For example, once an individual has entered into a contract that is contractual (like those employed in a business context), sooner or later hierarchy will emerge and the relationship will suffer. Once entrapped in this contractual snare a journeyer can quickly and painfully see the distinction. A contractual relationship of that sort can never be truly relational. Thus, by not giving the Church metaphors and imagery that they can grapple with and discuss, academics give knowledge without understanding and set up the potential for horrible spiritual abuse. The alternative is demonstration.


Categorized as E-Say\'s

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