Redemption

I begin with the metaphor of redemption. This has two roots, both political. Needless to say, any Jew would understand it in the light of the Exodus from Egypt, the freeing of slaves from bondage. Equally, we know that in the first century many Christians were literally, and not metaphorically, "bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6: 20), namely, on the slave market. Occasionally it was possible for a slave to accrue enough money to buy himself out of slavery.5 Redemption, then, is about being freed from bondage, oppression, or slavery. Again, we have to ask: How is this achieved through the cross? What is meant by "redemption through his blood" (Eph. 1: 7)? As is well known, some early theologians speculated that we were in bondage to the devil, and that the cross was a bait through which the devil was deceived. The Swedish theologian Gustav Aulen argued that this metaphor, in its various guises, was the dominant form of patristic atonement theology from Irenaeus in the second century to Gregory the Great in the sixth century (Aulen 1931). Were the case accepted it would be interesting to speculate why this was so, but in fact it is arguable (Kelly 1965: ch. 14).6 Anselm criticized the immorality of many of these arguments, but such critiques are already found in the fourth century. Writing in the shadow of fascism, Aulen sensed the significance of the metaphor, but was unable to exploit it to the full. Barth, in the final fragments of his Dogmatics, and above all Walter Wink, have done this (Barth 1981; Wink 1984, 1986, 1992). Wink speaks of the powers (Eph. 6: 12) as the "interiority" or spirituality of movements, cultures, nations, churches, and institutions. These spiritualities shape our lives profoundly so that we easily find ourselves in bondage to them. Wink identifies violence as the true spirituality of the contemporary West, but he goes on to trace that to our habit of dealing with things by distinguishing sharply between those who are good and those who are evil. He shows how this motif is found all the way from the Babylonian myth of Marduk and Tiamat to contemporary cartoons and crime movies. What emerges from this dualistic way of looking at the world he calls the "domination system" because human affairs are everywhere characterized by the struggle for domination. It is this system by which we are trapped.

Christ frees us from this because the cross unmasks the "delusional assumptions" of the domination system: assumptions such as the sanctity of private property, or the supreme value of money. All such delusional assumptions are defended by force. Jesus broke with the domination system by refusing to return violence for violence. "When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted himself to the one who judges justly" (1 Pet. 2: 23). This refusal is taken up into the lives of believers. Wink translates Col. 2: 20: "If with Christ you died to the fundamental assumptions of the Domination system (the customary rules and regulations by which society is governed) why do you let yourselves be dictated to as if your lives were still controlled by that System?" Effectively, Wink finds salvation in a critical process, but this raises the hermeneutic question very acutely. As we have seen in the case of the crusade, the scriptural witness to the cross has been used to legitimate behavior precisely opposite to what Jesus seems to have stood for, and the history of the church makes clear that there is no magic formula to prevent such misuse.

The powers, in our world, are structured according to the norms of patriarchy. No account of the political dimension of atonement theology can fail to mention the critique of traditional Christian theology mounted by feminist theology. Rosemary Radford Ruether raises the question of whether a male savior can save women. Though she does not draw on Wink her answer, once again, is in terms of the liberating potential of critique, this time through Jesus' critique of religious and social hierarchy (Ruether 1983). Jesus announces a new humanity through a nonhierarchical lifestyle. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza has more recently developed this idea in speaking of the human problem in terms of "kyr-iarchy," rule by a dominant elite, rather than just patriarchy (Schüssler Fiorenza 1993). On this understanding redemption is not "once for all." "Christic per-sonhood" continues in the church, and it is "redemptive personhood" which goes ahead of us, calling us to further dimensions of human liberation. I shall return to this idea in the conclusion.

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