We need to change our understanding of being born-again. And we need to change our emphasis on atonement.
“You’re a ‘born-again Christian’, right?”
I was asked this while at O’Mei, a fine dining Chinese restaurant I worked at through college.
My first thought was, Aren’t all Christians born-again? But I said, “I don’t know. What do you mean?”
There, in the back room of O’Mei my religious understanding of Christianity in America changed. My co-worker had just taken a sociology class on “Born-Again Christian Religion in America.”
But I didn’t know what a “Born-again Christian” was. I thought every Christian emphasized the need for adult conversion, the deep spiritual crisis brought on by consciousness of sin, resolved through faith in Jesus who died to forgiveness our sins.
In those years of college I was slowly learning that was an evangelical, a ‘born-again Christian’ who believed I needed to made a decision for Christ and believe with my heart in order to be saved.
Being ‘born-again’ roughly consists of two major movements (depending on which evangelist or tradition you come from).
First, you need to become aware of your sin and the consequences of sin. This usually entails fiery illustrations used to scared the hell out of you, or to put the fear of hell in you.
Second, you needed to have faith in Jesus to forgive your sins because he had paid the penalty for your sins. He paid the penalty by dying on the cross as a substitute for us.
This is the “penal-substitutionary” view of the atonement (a theological word I wouldn’t learn until seminary a couple years later).
Atonement = At-one-ment
Atonement is a funny word.
It is an English word created—yes, it was created—in order to translate the Greek words for sacrifice for the King James Bible.
People often break up the word “atonement” as “at-one-ment” to emphasize how the sacrifices bring people into relationship with God. They are now “one” with God.
We usually think this is just a cute preaching device to teach a concept. But funny thing, this is EXACTLY what the word means! It was created to mean coming to be “at-one” with God.
Trouble with Atonement
The trouble with focusing on the idea of atonement is that the process of often overwhelms the purpose.
We now have so many atonement theories, so many mechanisms for explaining what Christ’s death accomplishes, and so many disagreements about what is “most important”, that we often forget the goal of atonement.
And the goal of atonement is union with God, it is to live with God.
Born again into a new family
From use in evangelical circles “born again”, one might think it means individual salvation from the consequences of sin. But this is wrong.
Being “born again” is a family term. It emphasizes one entering into a new family and living in a new household, a new home. To be “born again” is to enter God’s new home and live with God.
John H. Elliott says that one of the main themes in 1 Peter is the “at-home-ment” accomplished by God. In Jesus we can now approach God, live in God’s home, and call God Father.
Through God’s at-home-ment we live with God and God lives with us.
Now, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know that “God with us” is a major theme for me. In fact, I think it is the theme the holds the entire Bible together, and indeed, it is the fabric of salvation itself—and the cosmos too.
(In fact, if you Subscribe to the blog I’ll send you the first chapter of a book I’m writing with my wife about all this “God with us” stuff.)
So I submit before you two things for consideration.
- Being “born-again” is all about salvation, but not salvation through some atonement theory. It is salvation through entrance into a new family and a new home.
- We should focus less on theories of atonement and more on practices of at-home-ment—”at home” with God and “at home” with one another.
How would a focus on at-home-ment change your understanding of the Gospel, of life, and the church? (Non-rhetorical question. I would love to hear your thoughts).
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