We do no injustice or dishonor to God, but give him thanks with all the heart, praising and proclaiming the ineffable height of his compassion. For the more astonishing a thing it is and beyond expectation, that he has restored us from so great and deserved ills in which we were, to so great and unmerited blessings which we had forfeited; by so much the more has he shown his more exceeding love and tenderness towards us. For did they but carefully consider bow fitly in this way human redemption is secured, they would not ridicule our simplicity, but would rather join with us in praising the wise beneficence of God. For, as death came upon the human race by the disobedience of man, it was fitting that by man’s obedience life should be restored. And, as sin, the cause of our condemnation, had its origin from a woman, so ought the author of our righteousness and salvation to be born of a woman. And so also was it proper that the devil, who, being man’s tempter, had conquered him in eating of the tree, should be vanquished by man in the suffering of the tree which man bore. Many other things also, if we carefully examine them, give a certain indescribable beauty to our redemption as thus procured.
Anselm, 1033-1109, Cur Deus Como, First Book, Chapter III, (translated by Sidney Norton Deane, Prologium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo, Open Court Publishing, 1926, p.118)
Can God's plan of salvation be accused of being too simplistic? What can be said in answer to this?
Anselm was a man who sought to know God and understand His ways. He believed that to understand God, we must have faith in Him and a desire to follow Him. Though he sought God on the personal level, he also attempted to show how the truth of God could be demonstrated intellectually.
Anselm had two chief contributions to Christian thought. One was the ontological argument for the existence of God. The argument goes: I can conceive of the most perfect of all beings. To exist is to be more perfect then to not exist, Therefore the most perfect of all beings must exist. Therefore God exists. This argument has always seemed to be nothing more than a sophism to me. Perhaps it has hidden in it some intuitive insight into the existence of God. But with all due respect to Anselm, I have never been able to make this argument my own.
The second idea he is known for is his concept of the atonement. It was believed from earliest times in Christianity that Christ's death was a sacrifice. The question was, who was the sacrifice to and what was the basis for it. One idea was that it was a sacrifice to Satan, who was tricked by it and Jesus escaped, accomplishing our redemption. Anselm's idea was that it was a sacrifice to God, to restore God's glory due to the breaking of God's law. The virtue of this is that it eliminates the question of how Satan or any other entity could have been powerful enough or have a strong enough claim to require God to give up His Son. The strength of this concept is shown by the fact that without any clear conflict, it came to dominate the western church's viewpoint on this subject.
Anselm, because he was a considered a prominent scholar, ended up embroiled in the controversies of his day. He was offered the position of archbishop of Canterbury and through it became involved in conflict with the kings of England, William the Second and Henry the first. William, who was known for impiety (he was mad at God for not healing an illness in his youth) was leaving ecclesiastical positions vacant and keeping the money for himself, as well as grabbing church property. This resulted in Anselm going into exile in protest. Henry brought him back, but he ended up going into exile again over whether Henry should have control of ecclesiastical appointments. In this early stage I am generally in sympathy with Anselm, though the church leaders later proved themselves as bad as the civil ones. Anselm, personally, appears to be someone who was genuinely interested in the welfare of the church organization and not just his own power.
Anselm was a man who sought to know and understand God. He did lean too far toward the intellectual, and his successors went on even further in this direction. But I am convinced his heart was in the right place.
One of the problems sometimes found
in the Christian church is not being willing to allow people to think. There is
a fear that if we let people think, they might not do what we want them to.
This is particularly evident in the proliferation of large numbers of rules.
The danger we face here is at both extremes. There are those who feel we must
have definite rules on everything, so they multiply rules in the areas where
Scripture does not clearly speak. There are others who demand liberty to the extent
that they feel they need not question what they can do if it is not forbidden
in black and white in the Bible. The actual Biblical approach is more
complicated. It is scary because it requires us to think and requires us to
allow others to think.
Now there are things that Scripture
states clearly and unequivocally are forbidden or required. But there are many
areas in between where we have to apply general principles to decide. The first
and most basic of these principles is love for others (Romans 13:8-10;
Galatians 5:13,14; Matthew 22:36-40). This trumps any pride I might have in my
own knowledge and abilities (1 Corinthians 8:1-3; 3:18; 13:1-3). It includes
concern for the weaker brother (1 Corinthians 8:7-13; Romans 14:13-23) and the
unbeliever (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:23-32). However, there is a careful
balance here. There is a point where I must stand up for truth even if it means
alienating some individuals (Matthew 15:1-20; Luke 13:10-17; Galatians 1:10).
It is often difficult to know how to apply this to a given situation. Paul
circumcised Timothy lest he give unnecessary offense (Acts 16:1-3). But he
refused to circumcise Titus because there was a principle at stake (Galatians
2:1-3). Paul rebuked Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles (Galatians
2:11-16). But Paul was involved in a sacrifice marking the end of his Nazirite
vow to show he was not hostile to the Jews (Acts 21:17-26). There are difficult
shoals to navigate here. It means that in a lot these cases we will not always
have simple cut-and-dried answers; we may have to think it through and to pray
it through. It also means we must beware of judging or despising people who do
not come to the same conclusion we do in these areas (Romans 14:1-12; James
4:11,12; Luke 6:37). Now there is a place where Christians need to stand on
principle even if it means our life (Revelation 2:10; 2 Timothy 3:10-12; 1
Peter 3:17). And there are cases where we need to correct in love the behavior
of others (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). But we
need to be careful of making things into black-and-white issues that should not
be. Sometimes it is easier to have rules on everything than to be put in the
position of having to think things through and allowing others to think things through.
But it is not better.
Sometimes it is hard to share Christ
because of fear, and sometimes it is hard to receive Christ because of fear.
Now there are countries in the world where it is illegal to share Christ or
accept Christ. But even in countries where this is not so, like the United
States, there can still be considerable fear involved on both sides. We, as
believers, can be afraid of alienating people, especially people who mean
something to us. We may fear being ostracized. We may even be afraid of
jeopardizing things such as our employment. But it can be even worse for the
person who hears. They may feel they are giving up not only the beliefs they
were raised in but their culture if they listen. They may risk alienating
family and friends. It may mean having to change their life and habits in ways
that make them feel uncomfortable. It may mean giving up everything they feel
they value. Sometimes Christian leaders may picture large numbers of people who
are ready and eager to hear the gospel. There are such people who are ready.
But there are many other people who are afraid of what becoming a Christian
involves. The gospel is to many people a stumbling block (1 Corinthians
1:22-25). To give Christians the idea that evangelism will always be easy is to
set them up to fail.
Now one danger here is to overreact
in the opposite direction. Faced with our own fears and the fears of others, it
is possible to react by being as forceful as possible. We can harden ourselves
so we do not consider the distress we are inflicting on people. We can end up
being as nasty as possible and alienating people rather than winning them. This
is not the Biblical pattern (Colossians 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 3:15).
Now we are required to be bold (Acts 4:29-31; Ephesians 6:19,20; Philippians 1:20).
But there is a difference between boldness and obnoxiousness.
How then do we approach this issue?
The answer is, with faith. With faith that God is at work in us (Colossians
1:28,29; Philippians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 3:18) and that He is at work in the lives
of the people we are sharing with (1 Corinthians 3:6-8; John 16:8-11; Matthew
16:18). This will give me the confidence to do what God wants me to do--
whether it is to share with my neighbor, talk to a family member or even go as
a missionary to a foreign land-- knowing that God is in control of my life,
even if things do not turn out as I would like them to (Romans 8:28; Ephesians
2:10; 1:11). Further, it will give me the patience to work with people in a
firm but gentle fashion over the long haul. For when we trust God, He can
accomplish in and through our lives what He wants to accomplish (Psalms
127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 11:6).