Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm gonna go running willy-nilly through the theological forest for a little while, if that's alright. It all started in Greek class, looking at 1 John 2:2. If you are familiar at all with the Calvinist-Arminian controversy, this will be enthralling. If not, I'll do my very best to come up with something humorous along the way. In English, 1 John 2:2 says, "He is the propitiation/expiation for our sins, and not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world." I put both words there because big things are hanging upon which one you choose. It is, as they say, the whole point. Little note: The NIV rendering of the word in question (transcribed, 'ilasmos') as 'atoning sacrifice' sort of dodges the issue, but garden-variety definitions of atonement and propitiation are useful. (You may notice that atonement and expiation mean the same thing.) My sense in reading these is that expiation/atonement is a kind of general cleansing, while propitiation denotes a more personal reconciliation from a specific sin. That is, it's relational and covenental. Would you be suprised to learn that Roman Catholic theologians prefer 'expiation' while Protestants (and especially Reformed) prefer 'propitiation'?
My required Gingrich-Danker lexicon says 'expiation,' so that was exciting. Here's my theological wondering: Was Christ's death merely a general sin offering for the whole world, or was the death of Christ an actual reconciliation for those who believe? What I am finding is that there is no easy answer. It seems that both are true.
I loved that my instructor had a homily of sorts last night, cautioning us not to force John into our theological paradigms. The freedom to hold interesting truths in tension is the groundswell of unity in the body of Christ. When we do this well, our theology can truly become doxology. How great is God, that the selection of one word in one verse sends the best theologians into joyful contemplation of the mysteries of Christ for centuries! We do not always love well, nor dispute well, but what a comfort it is, that these two camps are both right in some important ways, to the benefit of the as-yet converted and the glory of the Father.
The only thing I know for a certainty is that God has obligated us to believe in the Son in order to receive eternal life. Since we're obligated, Jesus' death grants us nothing unless we believe. But how precious is that blood for those who believe!
If you've been wanting to be reconciled to God, there's only one way: Jesus Christ.