Tag Archives: atonement

The Cross, Predestination, and Emmett Till

One of the interesting things about the academy is in the way Black Theologians strive to engage Hip Hop culture. While I personally don’t do so, I think this move is necessary for a few reasons. Priests and prophets in the Hebrew Bible as part of their vocation were to help God’s people remember God’s story correctly, and live it out faithfully. Unfortunately in the 21st century, “secular” corporate-driven hip hop is used as a tool to colonize children from all backgrounds. One instance was the case of a rap “artist” who made a rhyme sexualizing the lynching of Emmet Till. I believe this is where Black Liberation theology needs to intervene.

In James Cone’s The Cross And The Lynching Tree, he discusses Till’s story at length and its impact on radicalizing black youth to protest Jim/Jane Crow segregation. Contrary to the criticism that Black theology is too academic and thus disconnected from black churches, James Cone reflects on the religious experiences of Emmet Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley. As Cone put it, “She exposed white brutality and black faith to the world and, significantly, expressed a parallel meaning between her son’s lynching and the crucifixion of Jesus. ‘Lord you gave your son to remedy a condition,’ she cried out, ‘but who knows, but what the death of my only son might bring an end to lynching.’ ” Young black teens like John Lewis who would grow up to be Civil Rights heroes, were shaken at the news of Till’s monstrous fate. It was “a horror etched in black memory forever.” (Page 67-68)

Part of what lead Mamie Till Bradley to crusade was her belief that her son’s lynching had become part of God’s plan. “Mrs. Bradley was not left alone in her agony. She spoke about a strange experience, a voice said to her: “Mamie, it was ordained from the beginning of time that Emmett Louis Till would die a violent death. You should be grateful to be the mother of a boy who died blameless like Christ. Bo Till will never be forgotten. There is a job for you to do now.” (P 68)

A few things to take away from this mysterious experience. First, like Martin Luther King Jr., God spoke personally to Mamie Till Bradley. The Christian God of suffering love is a personal God who communicates with humanity. God had called Mamie to preach the Good News of Christ’s triunph over death, and eventual victory over White Supremacy.

This leads me to my second point: “the job” Bradley was called to do was to serve the White Supremacist system on notice. White Supremacy and lynching are not part of The Triune God’s good plan for humanity. Emmett Till’s death is interlocked with Jesus’ sacrifice, the blameless victim made Victor. In one of the THREE places the New Testament bothers to mention the mystery of predestination, Acts 2:23, it only mentions that Christ was predestined to be crucified. Christ’s death alone brings salvation, and so predestination must be understood Christologically as well.

Predestination isn’t about us being saved or depraved. It’s about God’s goodness and grace, that when God has a plan, God remains faithful and keeps His promises. Unfortunately in Christian culture, in the Holy Hip Hop industry, there are Calvinist artists who have made predestination about human beings. They also have adopted an ideology where black women should be made second-class citizens in the name of a “new manhood.” Indeed, this is where Black Liberation theologians need to stage an intervention. By remembering and teaching correctly the story of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till Bradley, may the Church realize that the Execution of the Exodus God is the birth pangs of the Church Militants.

The Good Shepherd: Clement and Christus Victor

I have mentioned briefly on here the work of Gustav Aulen, and while I concede he needed more biblical exegesis for his case for Christus Victor, and a tighter grip on Church history, overall, I think he was right. Right smack dab in the middle of Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, Aulen only briefly mentions the image of God as the Good Shepherd rescuing the sheep from the three big bad wolves named Sin, Death, and Satan. At the same time, Aulen dismisses Clement of Alexandria as a theologian who dwelled too much on philosophy and not enough on atonement. This is why Aulen stakes his claims with Athanasius of Alexandria.

This may have been an error on Aulen’s part because the prevailing metaphor for Clement when it comes to the LORD’s sacrifice for us is the biblical image of The Good Shepherd.  For example:

“But it has been God’s fixed and constant purpose to save the flock of men: for this end the good God sent the good Shepherd.  And the Word, having unfolded the truth to men the height of salvation, that either repenting they might be saved, or refusing to obey, they might be judged.  this is the proclamation of righteousness: to those that obey, glad tidings; to those that disobey, judgment.  The loud trumpet, when sounded, collects soldiers, and proclaims war.  And shall not Christ, breathing a strain of peace to the ends of the earth, gather together His own soldiers, the soldiers of peace? He has gathered the bloodless host of peace, and assigned to them the kingdom of heaven.  The trumpet of  Christ is His Gospel.”

– Clement of Alexandria, Sermon to the Greeks, Chapter 11

Or consider this other example:

” ‘All Wisdom is from the Lord, and with Him forevermore’;—with authority of utterance, for He is God and Creator: ‘For all things were made by Him, and without Him not anything made [John 1:3]–and with benevolence, for He alone Himself a sacrifice for us; ‘For the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep;'[John 10:11] and He has so given it.  Now, benevolence is nothing but wishing to  do good to one’s neighbor for his sake. “

-Clement of Alexandria, The Pedagogue (The Instructor/Educator), Book 1, Chapter 11

Now, there are well-meaning Christians who remain skeptical about Christus Victor because of the little work done on it, plus its rise in popularity.  If something seems like it’s new or something ancient that is recovered, I would say there should be criticism, especially with very few works that focus on Scripture and Christus Victor atonement. The thing about Penal substitution is not that it is violent in God’s wrath towards us, but that it makes our human depravity the center of the doctrine rather than God’s goodness.  PSA translates very well into US American Christianity and our self-centered individualism.  What I am seeing in Clement of Alexandria’s atonement theology is that the doctrine that is founded on God’s benevolence, and making our Good Lord Jesus Christ the Center.

“As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”

– Ezekiel 34:12 (NRSV)