Posted by: rogermitchell | August 4, 2011

Gift not payment

My research convinces me that that the ideas of payment and exchange applied to what happened at the cross are the direct result of the embrace of empire by the ecclesia. They are based on an understanding of the cross as the place where humankind’s offence against God’s sovereign rule is appeased by the sacrifice of Jesus. The thinking is that sin amounts to not submitting to God’s authority and that he will accept the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for the offence of not obeying him. This idea that sovereignty is what God is about, and that it can be traded in this way, lies, I suggest, behind the eventual substitution of money for the payment made by Christ and its development as the source of sovereign power. It has provided the conceptual basis for the idea that sovereign power can be bought and is, at least in part, the motivation behind our modern Western financial system. It is, in fact, the opposite of the gospel.

I will make two further points in relation to this, and then develop the practical implications in the next post:

i) The appeasement of offended sovereignty by payment idea, as I see it, derives from the demonic practice of child sacrifice used to substantiate the ancient Babylonic empire. It seems to me, that the Old Testament incident of Abraham being ready to offer Isaac, deliberately reveals and rejects this approach. I regard this understanding of the cross as worse than other pagan ideas of sacrifice, which often emphasise the birth, death and resurrection motif of the seasons of creation. Such  views are derived from creation even if applied in occult or superstitious ways. But the idea of the appeasement of the anger of gods by the sacrifice of children, particularly the eldest son, is decried in the scripture as “passing the children through the fire” and regarded as the sin of all sins (Deut 18:10; 2 Kings 17:7 etc). It is a mark of how far from God’s love the embrace of empire takes us, that such a view has been an almost normal understanding of the cross. There is much to be uncovered here that goes beyond the scope of this post and which I hope to research further and spell out in a coming book on kenarchy that I hope to get down to writing in the autumn.

ii) I wish to make it clear that I am in no doubt that the blood of Christ redeems us! But, in my view, the redemption metaphor belongs to a far more profound and genuinely evangelical concept in which the blood of Christ does not buy our reconciliation with God, but provides an incalculably costly expression of the extent of loving gift that is at the heart of God’s character. His gift of creation quite simply includes the gift of himself. When Satan’s desire to use power to dominate overcomes humanity at the fall, then a process begins in which the gift of God himself is progressively revealed. This comes to its fulness in the incarnation and is finally embodied and consummated in the life and death of Jesus in an act of love which is the complete opposite of the demands of obedience to sovereign power. While the insistence on submission to sovereignty is in line with the devil’s determination to be the first whatever happens to the creation or the human race, God’s unconditional gift of himself at the cross in the face of the full power of sin and Satan swallows up all the destructive consequences. This is, in my view, summed up in Paul’s statement “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:23). The wage of sin is not being charged by God but rather being extorted by the devil, and it is this anti-God payment that Jesus’ blood redeemed us from. In this way the sovereignty and payment ideas are consigned to the devil and fallen humanity, not to God.

The practical implications of all this for kenarchic economics will be the subject of the next post.


  1. Roger – you are making my head spin. I think in a positive way. A couple of first reactions.
    1. If the wages of sin are being exacted by Satan then when I look around and see all the destruction to creation due to our greed and carelessness then what I am seeing is results exacted by Satan for our own sinful behaviour. Yes? In other words, to use your argument here. The loss of species or the imminent extinction of most life in the oceans is a result of sin, our sin, but it is also action taken by Satan as payment for that sin. God, having given the gift of himself in Jesus, instead would happily, is happily(?) redeeming and restoring creation. Somehow then I need to see more of this restoration and less of this destruction.

    2. If payment is based on appeasing gods, buying them off, then how do we regard trade? I don’t say money since that is a symbolic transaction based on trust that allows trade. But humans still have to trade things if for no other reason that some geographic locations cannot provide our full needs (or desires). So how does trade, the exchange of goods in an agreed upon value, fit in here. I realize you may not be making any comment about trade – but it is a practical thing and one that matters to our lives. How should it change in light of your comments?

    3. Yes! I totally affirm your statements about how God is not demanding payment from us. How could we ‘pay’ anyway? This is about gift and love and not about exacting payment from us in a judgement. I find those who embrace such theologies often end up in a kind of OT preferred lifestyle, one that has rigid definitions of behaviour. It produces that amazing and strange confluence of fundamentalist Christianity that can be anti-abortion, pro-capital punishment, pro gun use, anti welfare, anti education, anti-unions, anti much of what gives comfort and physical care to the weak and vulnerable. And that tends to be based on a rigid OT view of life and righteousness. So I’m so pleased not to live under OT law – no matter how it is re-interpreted. I am free from that! Free to receive this gift today and tomorrow. Free to see how it gets acted out in the redemption and restoration of creation. I long for that. Come Lord Jesus, come.

    • Thanks for the way you give an immediate reaction, because it helps me to see the impact of what I seem to be saying. I did not mean that Satan is exacting the wages of sin, but that sin IS the dominating imperial lifestyle that Satan has enacted, and the wages, or cost, of sin is the destruction to human life and the planet. God in Christ has given himself to the human race and the creation of which we are a part. In the face of the destruction that Satan’s sin and ours has brought about since the fall, God’s gift of himself is to overcome all this both in the here and now and in the future new heaven and new earth that is the new heaven and new earth that is his kingdom. So I do believe that we have supernatural resources to save and replenish the planet, but we urgently need to cooperate with him in this, and you see so clearly.

      • Okay, thanks for the clarification. I think I’ve got it now. Umm, maybe. . . . ‘sin is the dominating imperial lifestyle that Satan has enacted’. . . So when I choose to behave in a way that upholds the dominating imperial lifestyle, the power and the oppression economically and politically, I am in sin. Yes? If so, then is there a means to separate a kind of passive, I-have-no-choice, involvement and active involvement. For example, on my 3km walk to hunt and gather food I choose first to walk and not drive, that is, I choose to minimize my negative impact on the environment. Then, I first walked to the local farmer’s market run by a local farm family. It is a longer walk to go there but I would rather give my money to them because most of the produce is locally grown if not their own. But then, to gain other goods I must, I have no choice at this point, walk to the local, large, corporate owned super market. There I try to minimize my spending but am captive to a food system that limits my food acquisition choices. A system that I know oppresses people world wide and destroys the environment. At that point, at least passively, despite my objections to the system, I am supporting it.

        So I guess this goes back to the practical question – what is to be my response, in a multitude of life arenas, to this reality of God’s love being poured out to us?

  2. okay, so I just finished my 3 km walk to provision myself with food and had lots of time to ruminate on this. One thing I realized some time ago about Baal worship (and the empire) is that while the god to be appeased makes promises of increased welfare and increased comfort it is always at the cost of the future, specifically future generations. I think whenever we see an action taken that robs the future generations of their ability to even survive (sacrificing those infants to Baal) then we are looking at empire/baal worship. It promises much, delivers power and affluence to a few (who then keep the system in place through oppression of others) and in the end always, always robs all of us of future hope.

  3. Hey Rog
    I love this post and it is what I believe. However, I get stuck on scriptures like 1 John 4 where is talks about Jesus being a propitiation fo us or when it talks about his atoning sacrifice…..I could quite happily do a masters in this but do you have a way of helping me frame these passages?

    • Thanks for this Andy, it goes to the heart of the matter. As 1 John 4:10 has it, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” As you know the New Testament tends to use the Septuagint, that is the Greek translation, in order to access the Old Testament. The word propitiation derives from the propitiatory, which is the word used for the ‘mercy seat’ in Exodus, or the meeting place between God and humans. So Jesus is the meeting place between God and humanity, and everything entailed in that. The question you are asking, and the linked one on atonement, takes us to the question of what is the significance of the OT sacrifice system and how that was fulfilled in Christ. This is where I was heading on the earlier post on katargesis in terms of the temple, and I will do another post on this over the next few days. In a nutshell, I am suggesting that interpreted through Jesus, the OT sacrifice system was not about paying God, but was rather God revealing the extent of sin’s impact on himself and creation, and how extraordinary his mercy was towards the human race in those circumstances, and how he and the creation stood in the gap for human sin and its consequences.

  4. well here’s some support for your thesis Roger from the normally atheistic Alternet – it even discusses greed and worship of mammon. . . . c.

  5. Please have a watch at this interview by Paxman on Russell Brand I think it is very revealing and also relevant to your post .

  6. Hi Roger, something like this was going around my mind. But I find it hard to put into words. Something like, the consequences of our actions by which we have taken paths away from the Image of God mean that His proximity (spiritual light) would have a not good effect on us (death) if we are not light like Him. Jesus swallowed the consequences of our lack of alignment (for we were in darkness because we had fallen away from His image) which is death and created a bridge for changing us back into how we were supposed to be “good” as God created us in His image which is the image of good. Because of the enemies plan were supposed to be separated from God but Jesus took the consequences on Himself. We weren’t broken – Jesus was. This was not payment, this is the breathtaking kindness of God.

  7. Thanks Justin, I am with you on this. The only clarifying point I would offer is that we need to make sure hat the metaphors we use to describe what God was doing in Jesus never make a substantial distinction in character between Jesus and God. So what Jesus did must be allowed to change our perception of the nature of God. So when we recognise that Jesus deflected the effects of the light of God on our darkness, then we need to realise that it makes God’s light even brighter than we thought, for he can consume our darkness and reignite his light in us if we will let him!

  8. Roger ,
    I have to say I have been finding some of this stuff very difficult to take in.My understanding of the cross is a traditional evangelical one.This leads me to a position where even though I know that much of that belief is stained by the invasion of the ways of the empire but there are still some serious scriptures that point to a sacrifice.John the baptist declares that Christ is the lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world.This clearly points back to the OT temple system of sacrifice that seems to be to appease God for our sins.
    I could really do with some help on this one.

    • Hi Billy, the way that I see it. Jesus was sacrificed but not as an appeasing payment. In that He took the consequences upon Himself. I can’t see God taking any relief in punishing someone for our sins. God focused all the deleterious effects of His unapproachable light on a fallen soul upon One Man. Jesus became the scape goat, the lamb of God, but it was not payment, it was can I say – mechanism? It was what had to happen to redeem us.

      Jesus paid a high price, but who took payment? (in a sense – I know we’re avoiding using money language). Not God, He was the actor – it was His passion that strove to re-ignite His relationship with us. Not the enemy, he was judged and defeated. It was us that benefited. In a sense, was it us that took payment? For what? God bought a relationship back with us?

      From the very first post I ever put on this blog, the first things that I was trying to understand was God, consequence and reality and why doesn’t God just cheat and so on. So for me this followed on in my line of thought.

      I just wanted to put my thoughts out loud on your question because this line of thought has been at work within me and some of your own posts have really touched me.

  9. Hi Justin,
    Thanks for your reply .
    I think there is something in my head that is stuck on this idea of payment ,as far as I see it seems to be a theme in both the OT and the NT.Your thoughts about who would take the payment are helpful and challenging .

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