Sunday, October 24, 2010

Short Catechism: "Mercy trumps justice"

It is important to me that my children know some of the key things I believe.  Needless to say, they do not read my blog and their attention span for deep conversation is not very long.  When my youngest two hit middle school, a certain window to their mind will be hard to open if it is not already open.  So this last couple of years we've been oiling the hinges on that window.

One very key thing in my mind is the fact that even within Christianity, my children will be exposed to many forms of Christianity when I'm not looking.  They might join a high school Bible study where the leader is Baptist beige or have Sunday School teachers or youth leaders who are fairly untrained Wesleyans.  Even a pastor like Steve Deneff often says things that are different from what I think.  Ultimately, they have to choose, but I would at least like them to know what I think.  I would rather them intentionally and thoughtfully choose other options than merely to be driven and tossed by the winds, even the Christian winds of their environment.

Today I began with James 2:13: "Mercy trumps justice."  Justice is when you receive a punishment equal to your wrongdoing.  "An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth."  If you intentionally break someone's arm, justice would be for them to break your arm back in exactly the same way.

My kind of Methodist and Wesleyan believes that God's character as love is more primary for him than God's character as just.  We do not believe that God had to crucify Jesus because of some mindless rule about having to punish wrongdoing.  God wants to forgive.  That does not mean he does not punish.  But God's punishment is meant to help us get on the right track, not to satisfy some underlying need for therapy that God has. 

The cross is an astounding act of God's love, not only because Jesus took the punishment we deserved but because God could have forgiven us by divine fiat.  But it was much more powerful for him to become us and suffer with us.  It better satisfied the innate order of things and thus was more powerful to heal than a mere declaration.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't believe "God" requires another to sacrifice their life to a 'merciful cause", unless one believes that "God" doesn't love the one so sacrificed. There are a LOT of problems coherently about evangelical theological constraints...

Mercy is a character response, but not a character demand from the mercy can only be given, not taken.

::athada:: said...

Bravo for helping them become "twice the sons of Schenck" as you are, but in the best way :)

Would be funnier if you were a Mr. Schnell.

JohnM said...


If you don't mind my asking, is your understanding of the cross universal among Wesleyans and is it unique to Wesleyanism?

I note you seem dis-inclined to give penal substitution the time of day. I'm not arguing for or against it here, and I'm not offended, but doesn't your reference to "some mindless rule" sort of beg the question?

Ken Schenck said...

My understanding of penal substitution is not universally Wesleyan. Wesley was only a "hair's breadth" from Calvinism and there are many Wesleyans who would affirm penal substitution, perhaps even in its strong sense. I think Methodist-Wesleyan ground zero is more to see Christ taking my punishment in a general sense and Christ taking my place in a general sense, but not to see God as a "bean counter" of justice like John Piper does.

A book in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition that is perhaps even more against Piper's view than I is Joel Green and Mark Baker's Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross

Anonymous said...

Is "justice" the best translation here?

Ken Schenck said...

It is an interpretation, to be sure, but I think I can defend it. "Judgment" is the default translation. "Judgment will be without mercy to the one who does not have mercy. But mercy has a boast against judgment."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I thought Weseylans believed in the "Moral Government" theory of atonement, which if I am not mistaken, is Jesus, as "moral example".

"Disciples" are to follow in "his steps", (which must mean that if we do not do "social justice" by showing mercy, then we are "under the discipline of the Wesleyan Church"). This is "moral training, as to "social justice"...which is "Cross theology" isnt it? One is to "take up their cross and follow Jesus", etc. God only loves those that crucify themselves to the cause of the poor...etc.

This view presupposes that "social justice" can be attained, which it can't, not perfectly.

Do Weselyans believe that self-governance is a virtue, and not being a busybody? That one is to expect others to take care of their own families, and not enable behavior that is dependent? And how do Wesleyans judge whether mercy has "triumped over judgment"?

And how do Weslayans view those that are not predisposed naturally to "care" has shown besides personality, that those who've not been nurtured by their mothers are not as compassionate. Are Wesleyans "called" then to be the "mothers" of this kind of individual? (patronizing adults?)

And what about those that are charitable by limiting other aspects of their life, that might not be as obvious as "working for the poor"? Or is "working for the poor" the only way that Wesleyans gauge whether one is merciful or not? Is Charity more than "soup kitchens"?

Marc said...

Surely the justice equals punishment equation is a terribly primitive and savage understanding of justice? Why, we are to "seek God's justice" (Mt 6:33) which would imply we were to seek his punishment on all sin. This is a major distortion and I think Wright puts us, er, right: God's justice is something restorative, something to be sought and prayed for. God's justice is a good thing, which "puts the world to rights" not in conflict with his love for the cosmos.

Sometimes we forget that the wrath of God is being revealed (Rom 1) and not "will be revealed". The wrath of God consists in people getting here and now what their transgression brings.

Ken Schenck said...

I agree with you Marc that I am not operating with what the word for justice tends to mean in the OT. I'm using a philosophical definition, one that I think is closer to what the word "judgment" means in James 2 and one that is more like what Calvin and Piper mean by the word.

I also think Wright is only half right. I'm convinced of the realized element to wrath in Romans 1, but what of Rom. 5:9 or 1 Thess. 1:10?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

One has to hold to a primitive "Greek" view of the cosmos to hold to what scripture teaches, unless one wants to re-interpret scripture. "Eternal life", "hell", and other apsects of "faith" are not scientifically acceptable.

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, certainly the biblical understandings of things like heaven and hell came in the garb of ancient categories. But it is possible to re-conceptualize these things in our categories (which are more refined than ancient cosmology to be sure, but still beset with our own paradigms). For example, if eternal destiny is outside this universe and outside our current physical identity, then science has nothing to say about it at all.

josh said...

Dr. Schenck, I recently encountered the question, "Could God have saved humanity by divine fiat?". The answer I have settled with, thus far, is, no. I understand this because if God were to simply command salvation upon humanity then it wouldn't be salvation but merely an all powerful being changing that which He created. So to consider a powerful command salvation is to give it to much credit. The thought then would be if God is to save humanity He must enter into that which He created in order for salvation to come. (This is obviously an abbreviated paraphrased thought) I am interested to hear the other side of things. Please enlighten me.

Ken Schenck said...

I've broached this with Chris Bounds and John Drury here at IWU, and I think their sense of things is that God could forgive by fiat, but--in their view and that of Nyssa, was it--for humanity to be restored required the incarnation.

"That which has not been assumed cannot be healed."

I still am not sure that God is beset by such limitations myself. The atonement deeply makes sense of the order of things. I just don't see how God had to do it a certain way.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And I would say, if everything that "can be known about the transcendent" is outside of the mind's ability to formulate, then it becomes a matter of faith...which means practically, that we are at liberty to believe what we want or to not believe...which really makes the Church and theology irrelavant, doesn't it?

The practical side of things is the political, which is where the incarnation comes in. But, the incarnation has many applications if one adheres to a "many model view" of interpetation and not absolutizing Jesus' life, as THE moral image.

I don't know enough about philosophy to really be conversant on these things, I think.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I have posted this on several occasions and thought it appropriate for this post.

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." - Copy to Clipboard
-- C.S. Lewis