‘Bloody’ hymnsBy Dan Leatherman Fort Collins, Colo.
Reading Don Steelberg’s thoughts (Letters, March 12) on the hymn “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood,” I recalled from my year at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in 1960-61 that Howard Charles began his New Testament Survey class by describing the Roman cultural context into which Christianity came. One of the popular religions of the time was Mithraism. Devotees would stand in a pit with a grate overhead; a bull was slain above them, and its blood would drip down on the worshipers. With my usual impertinence, I asked if this was the origin for the hymn Steelberg cites. Charles replied, “Oh, my goodness, I hope not!”
Ever since, for me the similarity has been too close for comfort. How literal does Steelberg wish to be? Many other “bloody” hymns have powerful tunes I would still love to sing, but their content is a residue of a bygone era’s atonement theology.
It’s not just modern squeamishness about blood. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would lead us to deeper understandings of his mission and our work in the world. Though it is one of the earliest atonement theologies, Christus Victor seems more effective for communicating the message today.
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