“Christianity is not the move from vice to virtue, but rather the move from virtue to grace.”
20 … by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets…
(Romans 3:20, 21, NASB).
Forde is more about the verb (our believing, our desire) than he is about the object of our faith, He cares more about our experience of feeling worthy (because God loves us so much and wants us to love HIm back) than anything that may or may not have happened 2000 years ago. Everything is conditioned on us sinners reciprocating so His love won’t go unrequited.
Invoking Karl Rahner’s famous distinction between Christology from “below and above,”Forde begins his atonement essay “Caught in the Act,” (1984) by stating that a proper understanding of the work of Christ must necessarily begin “from below. According to Forde’s reading of this “actual narrative,” Jesus did not come teaching a particular atonement theology about the nature of God. Rather, Jesus simply traveled around Palestine spontaneously and unilaterally forgiving sinners. Regarding this, Forde writes:
Why could not God just up and forgive? Let us start there. If we look at the narrative about Jesus, the actual events themselves, the “brute facts” as they have come down to us, the answer is quite simple. He did! Jesus came preaching repentance and forgiveness, declaring the bounty and mercy of his “Father.” The problem however, is that we could not buy that. And so we killed him. And just so we are caught in the act. Every mouth is stopped once and for all. All pious talk about our yearning and desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, etc., all our complaint against God is simply shut up. He came to forgive and we killed him for it; we would not have it.”
For Forde humanity enthralled under the power of legalism actually prefers not to be forgiven so that it can maintain its illusory control over God with its good works. In this regard, Forde writes: “But why did we kill him? It was, I expect we must say, as a matter of “self-defense.” Jesus came not just to teach about the mercy and forgiveness of God but actually came to do it, to have mercy and to forgive unconditionally . . . [this] shatters the “order” by which we must run things here.”
Another analogy Forde uses to describe the crucifixion is that of an “Accident.” Jesus’ death is not unlike a man who throws himself in front of a moving truck and is killed while attempting to save a child playing in the road. In this analogy, sinful humanity is driving the truck and the man killed is Christ. Humanity drives the truck insofar as they participates the legalistic order of the present evil age.
Forde asserts that Jesus’ goal was to be “. . . crucified by the [sinful and legalistic] order itself, so to bring a new order.” By killing Jesus, sinful humanity comes to recognize its bondage. In rejecting Jesus and his mercy, humanity is truly made conscious of its root-sin of opposition to God’s grace. God allows himself to be killed by us, states Forde, in order to “. . .makes it plain that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).” Jesus therefore did not die to fulfill the law or suffer the punishment for our sins. Rather, he died in order to reveal fallen humanity’s sin of self-justification and opposition to God’s grace.
Thus we see why the gospel is reduced to our experience of faith. To Forde, this matters way more than what happened at the cross. To Forde, the gospel is only “epistemology”, only about us coming to understand stuff that we didn’t before, To Forde, the gospel is NOT about what God did in Christ, in terms of God’s justice or God’s nature as holy.
For Forde, the gospel is not ultimately about the death of Christ. For Forde, the gospel is the law which shows us that we need to die and be re-created as new person of faith. In that we are made conscious of our sin by the death of Jesus, we WE die.. His idea of our “inclusion” in Christ’s death is that Christ is NOT A SUBSTITUTE because His death does not matter ultimately because IT’S OUR DEATH WHICH MATTERS. Having succeeded in causing us to, Forde’s idea is that God is “satisfied” not by Jesus’ death and righteousness, but by our own righteousness actualized by own trust. Forde writes
When faith is created, when we actually believe God’s unconditional forgiveness; then God can say, “Now I am satisfied!” God’s wrath ends actually when we believe him, not abstractly because of a payment to God “once upon a time.” Christ’s work, therefore, “satisfies” the wrath of God because some of us become believers, new beings….