Giles Fraser thinks Jesus is wrong again

Fraser really can’t help himself. This time it’s a review of Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto that he wrote for the Guardian newspaper in the UK.

Now Fraser, as we already know, is no friend of the Christian faith (despite being himself ordained). A main player for “Inclusive Church” he seems to have great difficulty with dealing with all of what Jesus had to say, let alone what the Bible tells us.

So, as he looks at Apocalypto, he wants us to understand

The connection between The Passion and Apocalypto is a very specific theology of sacrifice. The Epistle to the Hebrews puts it thus: “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet.” Read as a pair, Apocalypto and The Passion contrast the macabre cult of the sacrificial system with the one true sacrifice of Jesus Christ. For it is a staple of a certain sort of Christian atonement theology that the endless cycle of temple sacrifice was done away with by the crucifixion.

Now, just consider that for a minute. Fraser notes (accurately) that the letter to the Hebrews tells us that

Hebrews 10:11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy.

but then he tells us

…it is a staple of a certain sort of Christian atonement theology that the endless cycle of temple sacrifice was done away with by the crucifixion.

Just get your head around it! The letter to the Hebrews is only “a certain sort of Christian atonement theology”! Let’s find out how nasty this certain sort of theology is…

In a sense, the cultural chauvinism is easiest to spot. What’s more sinister is the connection Gibson is always forging between salvation and violence. The root cause is a theology associated particularly with Anselm and Calvin. Human beings are wicked and can only make it to heaven if they are punished for their sin, thus righting the scales of justice and wiping clean the slate. The problem is, human wickedness is so deep that the required punishment would be too much for us to bear. So Christ offers to take our place, accepting our punishment in the form of an excruciating crucifixion. It’s the story of salvation, as read by the religious right. All sin must be paid for with pain.

“As read by the religious right”.

and the Bible in the letter to the Hebrews.

and Jesus:

Mark 14:24 He said to them, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many.

What’s so shocking about Fraser is that he teaches as Oxford University! You’d would have thought, then, that he would at least fairly represent those that he’s disagreeing with. But no…

The technical term for this theology is penal substitution. It is, among other things, the reason so many conservative Christians like Gibson support the death penalty – wickedness must be paid for with blood.

Well, yes – sort of. Scripture makes it clear that the price of a man’s life is a man’s life (Gen 9:6) but that doesn’ t mean that those of us who take that position are bloodthirsty. Oh, sorry, apparently it does…

And it’s precisely this equation that has come to rot the Christian moral conscience from within. For this theology is intrinsically vindictive, bloodthirsty and vengeful. Though many evangelicals and conservative Catholics think it the beating heart of the good news, it’s a much later medieval interpretation that refuses the gospel’s insistence upon forgiveness and non-violence.

Remember, this is “a certain type of atonement theology”. Giles might be interested to know that Penal Substitution was around long before the medievals because it’s in the scriptures.

Isaiah 53:5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed.

Hebrews 9:22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

But, remember, Fraser is the same man who tells us that the words of Jesus are an insult to orthodoxy. Go figure.

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