That sermon by Jeffrey John
There are days when I think that sections of the church are on a self destruction mission without needing any help from Dawkins et al. A recent example is the statement by two Bishops released at Spring Harvest attacking a sermon preached on radio by Jeffrey John. The Bihops of Lewes and Willsden offer this critique;
"Jeffrey John ... is saying that the cross is not about anger or wrath or sin or atonement, but only about God's unconditional love. There is, he says, nothing to understand in the cross which is anything to do with sacrifice or Jesus dying for our sins – and we say No. You've got it wrong."
I might take these two men in purple seriously in normal circumstances but when they admit to Ekklesia that they have not read the sermon but instead rely on a brief radio interview and an article in the Daily Telegraph, I wonder what their agenda is.
But I feel that their attack on John is not just a case of yet another manifestation of poisonous religious feuding. It is quite simply a case of bearing false witness. I have taken the trouble to read the sermon and would suggest that readers take this opportunity to do the same.
The sermon deserves to be read in its entirety but regarding the slur thatJohn suggested thatthe cross has nothing to do with Jesus dying for our sins, the lie in this accusation is shown in the following extract;
The cross, then, is not about Jesus reconciling an angry God to us; it's almost the opposite. It's about a totally loving God, incarnate in Christ, reconciling us to him. On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God but by God. As St paul says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Because he is Love, God does what Love does: He unites himself with the beloved. He enters his own creation and goes to the bottom line for us. Not sending a substitute to vent his punishment on, but going himself to the bitter end, sharing in the worst of suffering and grief that life can throw at us, and finally sharing our death, so that he can bring us through death to life in him.
Like Jeffrey John, I grew up in an environment in which penal substitution and the wrath of God were regularly preached. Like him, I find that such an emphasis often takes us away from appreciating that love is the nature of God. This Easter I will be preaching on the love of God which is seen at its fullest on the cross and which offers me the forgiveness I need. But I will not preach of a vengeful father.
In his final pragraph, Jeffrey John sums up our hope quite beautifully;
On the cross God absorbs into himself our falleness and its consequences and offers us a new relationship. God shows he knows what it's like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies. It's a mystery we can hardly glimpse, let alone grasp; and if there is an answer to the problem of suffering, perhaps it's one for the heart, not the reason. Because the answer God's given is simply himself; to show that, so far from inflicting suffering as a punishment, he bears our griefs and shares our sorrow. From Good Friday on, God is no longer "God up there", inscrutably allotting rewards and retributions. On the Cross, even more than in the crib, he is Immanuel, God down here, God with us.
This Easter I am grateful to Jeffrey John for this offering. As for the two Bishops who have misrepresnted him, I suggest P45s are in order.