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a "forensic" understanding of theology

1.07.2008

Luci Shaw on her friendship with Madeleine L'Engle:

"I did come to truly love her. Raised in the most conservative of circles--British, male-dominated, genteel, and fundamentalist--I was always the questioner, the challenger, the seeker within the group. As a woman, I was out of order if I raised my voice or asked questions, which were to be submitted in private to my husband. I was speaking and writing to Christian groups around the country--activities which signified, to those in my own circle, that I was a "troublemaker." The radical in me met the feisty, open-hearted, broad-minded Episcopalian in Madeleine, and the mix was warming and enriching for us both. When my husband and I joined the Episcopal Church, Madeleine welcomed us with warm enthusiasm. We converged in the middle and from then on, I believe, influenced each other's understanding of our mysterious life with God.

There was not always agreement. Madeleine was uncomfortable with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. For her, the idea that Jesus had to be punished by his Father for human beings to be forgiven signified what she called a "forensic" understanding of theology. "How could a loving God ever kill his Beloved Son?" she would ask. In the continuum of God's love and Righteousness she came down squarely on the Love end of things. She also prayed that eventually "every knee will bow" to God, not just in submission but in adoration, that "no-one will finally be excluded from the party." She hoped that "no human being's rebellion could outlive the love of God," brought to this hope by her reading of George MacDonald's theology. We discussed this endlessly, for my part referencing C.S. Lewis' depiction of MacDonald in The Great Divorce. I guess I came to think: "Well, if universalism is a heresy, it's one I wish were true!"

Inevitably she came under attack from conservatives for her views...Her detractors, she felt, were drawing a circle that was exclusionary, while Jesus' circle drew her in. I never stopped feeling that we were in that circle together. The love of Christ bonded us."

- Books and Culture

As usual, I totally related to Madeleine's convictions in this article. But what I hope to take away from this piece is the part where Luci says "we discussed this endlessly" and then later "I never stopped feeling that we were in that circle together. The love of Christ bonded us." "Endlessly" is not a word I would choose to express how much or how long I like to discuss differences in theology and Christian living with many fellow believers, especially when it comes to those topics I feel most passionately about, like equality for women and for the Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual, etc. community.

In fact, I am often willing to write people right out of my life (well, at least my social life) if we disagree too strongly on these issues. I become so frustrated at what I see as other people's short-sightedness, unwilling to even meet them halfway. This article really convicted me to remember that we are all in the circle of Christ's love, and we as Christians are bonded by it--no matter how varying our views on how Christ would want us to live and love. There are so many times in my life where mentors and friends could have written me out of lives but they didn't. They treated me as their sister in Christ and by God's grace I will try harder to do the same for everyone in my life.

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