The Good News, Weekly Addition, August 23, 2023

Dear Church,

Sunday’s sermon topic was a question about a certain one in the Apostle’s Creed: “Why did Jesus descend to hell?”

In the sermon, I mentioned this question is one the church has wrestled with continually over the years and that the best answer we can give is “love.” Along the way, I delved into some of the different ideas and theories about how this love is seen through the doctrine of “Atonement.” I thought I’d use this space today to go just a bit deeper and again share what all these different theories tell us about God’s love, though it’s important to first mention that none of these theories are 100% airtight. None are “THE” answer.

(Note: A lot of what I’m about to share is courtesy of one of my seminary professors, the late Dr. Shirley Guthrie, and his book Christian Doctrine. A really helpful summary of his work on this subject is found here and also proved helpful for this post.)

So there are 4 classic images—all based on scripture—to try and make sense of the doctrine of “Atonement”- or “Why/how do we explain Jesus’ death and resurrection, where he went, and what it did.”

The Courtroom: A judge issues a guilty verdict when someone who has completely obeyed the law takes the place of the condemned (us) in order that justice may be satisfied. If we have watched enough Perry Mason, Law and Order, or People’s Court, this makes sense…though questions crop up about “fairness” and the need for any personal sort of transformation, i.e. How does this repair the relationship between the truly guilty and the one offended?

The Battlefield: God as a general who sends the beloved servant/soldier/son (Christ) over enemy lines. The enemy thinks they’ve won until three days later and death and sin are conquered and made no more the enemy. God in communicating the seriousness of the problems of evil and sin, but has led to some deep polarization as well, as we believe we must literally win a battle or war for souls.

The Sacrifice: This image is harder for us to understand in the 21st century but pertains to ancient rites in which a priest/religious leader would perform sacrifice on behalf of the people; except in this image the priest (God through and in Jesus) sacrifice self in an ultimate act of love. This image has in its favor again the seriousness of the matter and the need for reconciliation but can also lead to us think that God doesn’t love us until the blood of Jesus is upon us.

The Bank: This one is particularly problematic…in its most classical form it referred to the slave trade, and people being bought back and freed by their benefactor. Today we might think of it in terms of debts being cancelled and burdens freed in a way that gives us our life back. Either way, the idea, the positive intention is that it points to the joy of salvation and establishes some sort of relational aspect to God’s sacrifice…but it also prompts a host of questions.

In what is already too long (and possibly too boring!) a post, let me simply add this point again: All the various explanations, theories, interpretations, and imagining about heaven and hell, Jesus’ descent and ascent, his death and resurrection and the ultimate reality of God’s salvation—they all boil down to the simple fact that God loves us with such magnitude and depth that we can barely comprehend it.

What’s more, God loves us first, before we can love God or anyone else. Our Presbyterian/Reformed understanding especially emphasizes this truth of our faith, noting time and again that Jesus’ death on the cross does not make us acceptable and lovable to God, but rather, Jesus’ sacrifice is done because we are already loved by God.

Which means God didn’t “have” to do any of this. The theories of “Atonement”  don’t describe what God “had”; rather they are our human attempts—well-intentioned but limited—to come to grips both with the magnitude of God’s love and grace and the realness of our sins and missteps. Just like in our relationships with friends and families, where issues that have divided us must be talked about and dealt with to move forward, so too with God and us. Thanks Be To God, God loves us enough to wrestle with such matters with us and for us.

The Lord Bless and Keep You!

Rev. Ben



*In-Person/Livestream Worship: Join us each Sunday at 11:00 am in person or online (via Facebook live) for worship!

Online participation via Facebook Live:

See our service from August 20 here:



This Sunday, August 27, we conclude this summer’s edition of “This is Our Story!”  with a Hymn Sing! “Rejoice!” is an appropriate guiding word also as we celebrate ministries of faith formation: blessings for teachers and learners, installation of church officers, and a congregational meeting to elect our 2023 Nominating Committee.

During worship, we will also celebrate our prayer shawl ministry! 

The Session has called a congregational meeting for August 27  for the purpose of electing the 4 at large members of the Congregational Nominating Committee. Those individuals are Rachel Acton, Carrie Dixon-Cash, Parks Icenhour, and Kevin Wallace. If the way is clear these 4 will join Elders Lucy Paradies and Roxann Porter and Deacon Chris Turpin already appointed by their respective boards.

*NC Department of Health reports and data show a recent increase in COVID-19 rates, perhaps due to a summer seasonal surge. The church encourages people to be mindful about ways to protect themselves and others, including maintaining distance, washing/sanitizing hands, wearing a mask (always welcome at FPCoG but still optional), avoiding large crowds when you are not feeling well, and having a COVID test on hand. The church office is gathering test kits to have on hand for those who need them. Please contact the office or pastor if you need one.

* Garner Area Ministry URGENT NEED: In June, FPCoG contributed 424 lbs of food to GAM to help alleviate food insecurity in our community. The shelves need to remain stocked though! Please bring donations of ANY and ALL non-perishable food items to the church or directly to GAM in the coming days, weeks, and months.

*Walking Group: The Walking Group meets each Tuesday weather permitting. During these warmer months, please take precautions and stay hydrated! Because it has more shade, the group has returned to walking at Lake Benson Park until the fall. The group meets weekly at 6:00pm

*2023 Vision Update: Our Group is now set and meeting! Thanks be to God for Elders Deb Wallace and Megan Snapp, Deacon Regina Ekoule, and at large members Kathy Blue, Sandy Lee, Joe Prater, and Ken Summerville for being part of this work. They will not be alone though as the whole congregation will have the opportunity to offer feedback and ideas as we discern together what God is calling us to be and do in 2023 and beyond. Please pray for this process to be faithful and fruitful.

*Share FPCoG with Each Other and Our Neighbors! FPCoG is an active church! To help others know this (and to stay up to date yourself), please consider following and asking others to follow us on Facebook or Instagram!

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