Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Speaking of Parables...

I am a huge fan, if that is the correct word, of Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog, Glory to God for All Things. On a recent post upon which I commented, another commenter referred me to a paper, written by an Evangelical scholar, Robin Collins, which critiques the "satisfaction" theory of the Atonement, first advanced by Anselm of Canterbury, and the closely related "penal" theory of the Reformers. The paper, a "work in progress," begins with a retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son, as informed by the above theories:

There was a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the estate." So the father divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son went off to a distant country, squandered all he had in wild living, and ended up feeding pigs in order to survive. Eventually he returned to his father, saying, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants." But his father responded: "I cannot simply forgive you
for what you have done, not even so much as to make you one of my hired men. You have insulted my honor by your wild living. Simply to forgive you would be to trivialize sin; it would be against the moral order of the entire universe. For 'nothing is less tolerable in the order of things than for a son to take away the honor due to his father and not make recompense for what he takes away. Such is the severity of my justice that reconciliation will not be made unless the penalty is utterly paid. My wrath--my avenging justice--must be placated.'"

"But father, please..." the son began to plead.

"No," the father said, "either you must be punished or you must pay back, through hard labor for as long as you shall live, the honor you stole from me."

Then the elder brother spoke up. "Father, I will pay the debt that he owes and endure your just punishment for him. Let me work extra in the field on his behalf and thereby placate your wrath." And it came to pass that the elder brother took on the garb of a servant and labored hard year after year, often long into the night, on behalf of his younger brother. And finally, when the elder brother died of exhaustion, the father's wrath was placated against his younger son and they lived happily for the remainder of their days.

Well, when ya put it that way...

The problems with Anselm immediately become rather clear.

Professor Collins also has other writings online here.


From the Middle East said...

Fr. Gregory,

One of the best treatments of Luke 15 I have personally read is "The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants" by Kenneth Bailey. His book sheds much light on the perceived absence of the cross in Luke 15 by western theologians. It has had a profound effect on me. When considering the shame that was taken on by the Father for both sons I still weep.

His peace be yours in abundance brother,
From the Middle East

FrGregACCA said...

I found portions of the book you mention, ftME, on Google books, and while I could not access the section concerning this parable specifically, it seems Bailey has some real insights gleaned from living in the ME and from his studies.

I know that honor, and therefore shame, is a huge issue, and I'm wondering if there is an understanding of the work of Christ among Arabs and other indigenous Christians in the region which transcends confessional boundaries, given the apparent cultural homogeneity which is clearly very different from that of the West (used very broadly here) and it's philosophical approach to the Faith.

John A. Roop said...

Fr. Gregory,

Of course, when you put it that way...

But, obviously you realize that is a caricature (and a rather poor one at that)of one atonement theory, a theory which deserves much more thoughtful analysis than such a revised parable provides. You simply cannot dismiss the sacrificial and substitutionary language of New Testament soteriology (not to mention the entire Old Testament sacrificial system) with such abandon. Substitutionary (penal) atonement is one of many atonement motifs present in the Scripture and we impoverish ourselves and our understanding of the glory, holiness, and mercy of God to ignore it. The same applies, of course, to the Christus Victor model and others.

The best recent book I have read on this issue is "A Community Called Atonement" by Scott McKnight.

Peace of Christ,


Don said...

Shame-honour is a big deal in the Middle East. That predates Islam, as I show in my piece When the Sheep Have Anthrax.