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Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

This week, we are diving right in and talking about how theologies of salvation (soteriology) have contributed to systemic racial oppression and how better theologies might help us in the fight for justice. Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.

HISTORY: COTTON MATHER “SAVES” THE SLAVES

This section will look at a few excerpts from Cotton Mather’s sermon, The Negro Christianized. Cotton was the leading theologian of the early Americans, and this sermon, written in 1706, was an attempt to convince slave owners to convert their slaves. Mather was addressing slave owners concerns over the long-standing tradition in English law that Christians could not be enslaved. Read the two quotes below, then move to the discussion.

What Law is it, that Sets the Baptised Slave at Liberty ? Not the Law of Christianity: that allows of Slavery; Only it wonderfully Dulcifies, and Mollifies, and Moderates the Circumstances of it. Christianity directs a Slave, upon his embracing the Law of the Redeemer, to satisfy himself, That he is the Lords Free-man, tho’ he continues a Slave. // Cotton Mather, The Negro Christianized

Having told them, Who Made them, and Why He made them, and that they have Souls, which will be Wretched or Happy forever, according as they mind Religion; then tell them ; That by their sin against God, they are fallen into a dreadful condition. Show them, That the Almighty God is Angry with them, and that, if they Die under the Anger of God, they will after Death, be cast among Devils; and that all the Stripes, and all the Wants, and all the sad things they ever suffered in this World, are nothing, to the many Sorrows, which they shall suffer among the Damned, in the Dungeon of Hell. Show them, That JESUS CHRIST, who is both God and Man in One Person, came, and Kept the Law of God, and then Offer’d up His Life to God, on the Cross, to make amends for our Sin; and that JESUS CHRIST invites Them as well as others, to Look to Him, and Hope in Him, for Everlasting Life ; and that if they come to JESUS CHRIST, they shall be as Welcome to Him, as any People ; Tho’ He be the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, yet He will cast a Kind Look upon Sorry Slaves and Blacks that Believe on Him, and will prepare a Mansion in Heaven for them. // Cotton Mather, The Negro Christianized

THE MAIN QUESTIONS

  • What do you think of Mather’s assertion that the “law of Christianity” allows slaves (first quote)? 
    • How do you reconcile that most historical Christian communities condoned slavery? Is slavery supported by Christian theology or a historical blindspot of Christians? (See Important Scriptures section below)
    • Racialized chattel slavery (i.e. the idea the certain humans can be considered as property and are bought and sold as such) was a relatively new concept at the time of America’s founding. Older versions of slavery usually depended on the traditions of war captives and debt slavery. Is any form of slavery condoneable by Christianity? Why or why not?
  • What do you think of Mather’s model of salvation (second quote)? Do you think it is adequate? Why or why not?

  • Christianity has never fully agreed on an answer to the question, “How does God save us?” Look at the below section on six models of salvation. And answer the following questions:
    • What model do you see at work in Mather’s thought? 

    • What do you think Mather’s model leaves out, if anything?

    • What model of salvation do you usually find yourself relying on? 

    • What model seems the most foreign to you? Why?

  • Should spiritual freedom and salvation in Christ imply any of the following:
    • Legal Freedom and Salvation. If so, what would this look like? If not, why?
    • Economic Freedom and Salvation.  If so, what would this look like? If not, why?
    • Social Freedom and Salvation. If so, what would this look like? If not, why?
  • What model(s) of salvation could be helpful as we think about salvation in non-metaphysical terms?
  • What is the responsibility of the Church, if any, in helping to effect the salvation of Christ in our world?

THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: SIX MODELS OF SALVATION*

Model

Human Predicament

God’s Action

Human Action

Teacher

Ignorance

Teach the Way

Follow the Way

Moral Example

Ignorance

Teach God’s Love

Copy Jesus

Champion/Liberator

Bondage to Evil

Liberation from Bondage

Accept God’s Grace

Satisfaction

Sin and Loss of Blessedness

Satisfaction of Cosmic Justice

Accept God’s Grace

Happy Exchange

Sin and Loss of Blessedness

Exchange of Attributes

Exchange of Attributes

Final Scapegoat

Self-Justification & Scapegoating

Revelation of Human Self-Justification & Scapegoating

Recognition of Human Self-Justification & Scapegoating

  •  Jesus as Teacher of True Knowledge: The human predicament consists of ignorance. We in the human race live in darkness, unable on our own to find the path to salvation. What Jesus does to affect our salvation is to show us the way, to provide us with divine knowledge and wisdom. According to the model, Jesus embodied the logos, the rational principle which holds together everything in the cosmos (John 1:1-14).
  • Jesus as Moral Example: The human predicament consists of ignorance. Our ignorance involves lack of awareness of just how to love one another. Jesus teaches us to love the other as other, to love outsiders and even enemies. By willingly accepting death on the cross, Jesus models for us the life of unselfish love. Our task as Christians is to copy Jesus.
  • Jesus as Champion and Liberator: The human predicament consists of bondage to death, the devil, and sin. Metaphorically, Jesus gives his life as a “ransom” (Mark 10:45) to purchase our freedom. In this model, Jesus’ resurrection is an anticipation of our resurrection in the new creation. Moreover, through the Holy Spirit, the power that raised Christ from the dead is alive in us and can help us experience the liberation of Christ in our own lives.
  • Jesus as Our Satisfaction: The human predicament consists of our own disobedience to God and our inability to atone for this trespass. Human beings have upset the cosmic balance of justice, and justice needs to be satisfied to restore God’s shalom. An offering to satisfy justice must be made from the human side; but only God has the capacity for making such satisfaction. Because only God is able to make the offering that we ought to make, it must be made by a combination of the divine and the human. Jesus’ voluntary death is what triggers atonement.
  • Jesus as Happy Exchange: The human predicament consists of our own disobedience to God and inability to change. In becoming the divine-man Jesus enables the exchange of attributes between God and humanity. In Jesus, God experiences what it means to be human; and the human Jesus expresses the eternal life of God. By faith, Christ’s experience is made available to us; he takes the negative qualities of our lives and in exchange shares with us the forgiveness of sins and the power of resurrection unto eternal life. 
  • Jesus as Final Scapegoat: The human predicament consists of our tendency to sacrifice others in our attempts at self-preservation and self-justification (i.e. scapegoating). Jesus himself becomes a voluntary scapegoat, yet Jesus’ death reveals the lie we tell ourselves; and it renders the scapegoat mechanism lame and unusable. Humanity is freed to reject self-preservation and self-justification and to accept a life of self-sacrificial love.

* Adapted from Ted Peter’s “Six Ways of Salvation: How Does Jesus Save?” Dialog 45, no. 3 (Fall 2006), 223-235.

IMPORTANT SCRIPTURE

    • Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. // 1 Peter 2:18
    • All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. // 1 Timothy 6:1
    • Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. // Colossians 3:22
    • If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. // Deuteronomy 23:15
    • If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. // Deuteronomy 24:7
    • There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. // Galatians 3:28
    • It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. // Galatians 5:1

RESOURCES

     

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