A Morning Of Learning

Yesterday, a number of us from staff drove up to Myers Park United Methodist Church to hear a presentation by Ben Witherington, a Professor of New Testament at Asbury Seminary.

Dr. Witherington is the most widely published and well known member of the Asbury faculty. Some of his more influential books include commentaries on Revelation, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.

I never had Witherington as a professor myself, as he arrived at Asbury several years after I graduated in 1990.

His talk yesterday was geared to helping Charlotte-area United Methodist clergy teach and preach well on the atonement. Exactly what happened when Jesus died on the cross, what does it mean for us today, and how can 21st Century clergy preach it with clarity and conviction?

Here are some of his insights:

1. To discuss the atonement is to ask “what is God like?”

2. There are many words the New Testament uses to describe the same event.

Justification is the language of the courtroom.
Reconciliation is the langauge of an ambassador.
Propitiation is the language of temples, priests, and sacrifices
Redemption is the language of slavery & freedom.

3. [To us Wesleyans] Don’t worry about your answer to the question, “for whom did Jesus die? The Calvinists are wrong. Jesus died for all.”

4. Even Mark 10:45 — “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” — undermines the Calvinist notion of limited atonement. In Mark 10:45, the contrast is between “one” and “many” not between “many” and “all.”

5. Jesus’ death is sufficient for all but only efficient for those who believe.

6. The cross is the harmonic convergence of God’s character (love) and his actions (holiness).

7. Don’t water down the gospel; boil up the people.

8. The Holy Spirit convicts, convinces, and converts (I thought, “man, if only I still did three point sermons that would be perfect!).

9. People have an infinite capacity for self-justification.

10. Encourage your church not just to seek forgiveness from God but reconciliation with God.

11. God doesn’t want you to be nice. He wants you to be new.

12. Christ’s resurrection is a preview of coming attractions.