Richard Dawkins regards Christianity as the cause of the violence that has plagued my native Northern Ireland. While I think this as too simple an assessment of the situation, it is beyond doubt that Christianity, as practiced here, is implicated in the violence.
In his book, The God Delusion, Dr Dawkins makes it clear that he has strong respect for Jesus Christ. His objection is to almighty god, a being that, as far as he is concerned, exists only as an idea or meme; a meme that corrupts and makes truth deniers of all those who hold it.
I think in this he has identified a powerful truth. The god that has been promulgated as the Christian God for centuries, the god whose wrath could only be assuaged by having an innocent man tortured to death, is a corrupting meme. This meme has survived into modern Christianity, and has been presented in very appealing form in Stuart Townend and Keith Getty’s emotionally powerful hymn – In Christ Alone.
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
Those objecting to the wording of this hymn have been categorized as woolly minded liberal deniers of biblical truth, and in the church where I recently sang this hymn, the pastor leading the service praised local man Keith Getty as a strong defender of biblical truth.
If John 3:16 had said:
For God was so angry with the world that he gave his only begotten son.
Then he would have had valid a point.
The Bible does talk about the wrath of God, and the Jesus of the Gospels displayed anger, against abusive practices. But this is not how the cross is presented. It is shown as an act of love and reconciliation between God and man, with God presenting Himself, through his Son, as sacrifice.
What is absolutely dangerous about the Townend -Getty model, is that it presents an unforgiving god. We are not forgiven, god has had his full vengeance, and we following the example of this god, can withhold forgiveness to others and count ourselves as righteous defenders of justice. This is the last kind of example that we need in Northern Ireland, where our two main community groupings have a many generations long tradition of wronging each other.
Singing this hymn with a community of believers gave me a real emotional high, and felt like a celebration of Christ and Christianity. I felt a real sense of empowerment while singing these two lines.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
This was just before reality hit and I realized that this was a gospel new to me, one where salvation meant never having to say sorry.
8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John Chapter 1 Verses 8-9
This new gospel of guilt free Christianity is appealing to the human heart, it matches our natural instinct to see the evil only in the other. I note that those muscular Christians standing firm on the integrity of the Townend-Getty model and the truth of a God of wrath, are not proposing a God who will extend his wrath to them; rather one who will exercise his wrath only on those who are not bathed in innocent blood.
With this gospel of I’m all right Sean and you’re all wrong to guide us, I have every expectation that we in Northern Ireland will be able to continue to bring Christ’s name into disrepute for generations to come.
- Humility – the Secret to Healing in the Ardoyne (stocki.typepad.com)
- The Wrath Against Wrath(www.biblesociety.org)
- Presbyterian Branch Rejects Famed Christian Hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ From New Song Book Over ‘Wrath of God’ Lyrics (theblaze.com)
- Gospel of Repentance (sundaythinking.wordpress.com)
- A Defense of Nonviolent Atonement (messiah.edu)