Christians explore links between doctrine and violence
In the wake of public concerns about the relationship between religion and terror, the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia is raising questions about how some church teaching about the death of Jesus could be linked to the approval of violence.
In a book called Consuming Passion: Why the Killing of Jesus Really Matters, due to be launched formally next month, a group of British, American and Australian writers suggest that some popular misunderstandings about the meaning of the Cross may reinforce conflict, division and suffering in today's world.
The book's editors, Ekklesia Co-Directors Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley, say that the collection of diverse essays shows that theology is not an obscure academic matter or an issue of concern only to a particular religious in-group.
'The recent bombings in London have shown that our ideas about the world and God can literally be a matter of life and death,' says Simon Barrow, who until recently worked for the official ecumenical body, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
He adds: 'The problem of religiously sanctioned violence isn't just a challenge to Muslims, but to all people of faith - and not least to Christians, given that the reality of a man put to death is central to their imagery and doctrine.'
One of the contributors to Consuming Passion is Baptist minister Steve Chalke, who has been in hot water with some evangelical Christians recently for questioning the doctrine of ëpenal substitution'.
In its crude form, this says that God inflicted death and suffering on an innocent Jesus to ëatone' for the sins of human beings, because God requires a price paid in blood before being able to forgive.
Chalke and others have controversially likened some versions of this doctrine to 'cosmic child abuse.' There have also been criticisms of Mel Gibson's film The Passion Of The Christ for its devotional portrayal of Jesus' torture and murder.
'The purpose of this book will be to help Christians and others to think more deeply about these issues,' says Simon Barrow. 'Consuming Passion reflects a variety of responses to the killing of Jesus, not a ëparty line'. In different ways, it seeks to show that the Cross is about how God absorbs and transforms violence - rather than inflicting or legitimating it.'
Some of the book's contributors identify with the Mennonite tradition of active Christian non-violence, while others come at the issues from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic and Presbyterian angles.
The book's launch will follow on from the recent Evangelical Alliance (EA) debate stirred up by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann's controversial best-seller, The Lost Message of Jesus.
This week the EA, which claims one million members across the UK, said that 'penal substitution is still central for most British evangelicals' understanding of the cross', but affirmed that they were still in dialogue with Chalke and Mann after a 200-strong seminar earlier in the month.
The orthodox Christian creeds require no fixed understanding of the meaning of Jesus death, but all churches see the cross and the resurrection as a life-changing moment in which evil and death are defeated by God's love.
'Consuming Passion: Why the killing of Jesus really matters' is edited by Ekklesia directors Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley. It is published by Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT) and is priced £10.95.
Review Copies can be obtained from DLT: 020 8875 0155