Those of you watching with bated breath the conversation that began last week- about bad atonement theories- will be vaguely interested in knowing the latest: I have given some thought to fellow saint and sinner Paul’s claim that an orthodox Trinitarian understanding rules out divine child abuse readings of the atonement…And (do I hear a drum roll?)….I think Paul (who it turns out is not a professor of theology, after all, but reads a lot) is right. Must a traditional, (orthodox) understanding of the Trinity and the inner relationships of the Trinity be rejected in order to call penal or satisfaction or substitutionary theories of the atonement “cosmic child abuse”?
Yes, I concur.
Paul writes back to further clarify his thoughts here: …As far as the discussion goes, I would maybe add that while the language of “God giving his son” may fall on our ears in a somewhat jarring and strange way, it seems like that is because we no longer read Scripture theologically. Jesus is not God’s son in the same way as one of my children is my son. If he were then divine child abuse might obtain as a description. When God gives his Son it is also the same as saying that God has given himself. The Trinity is not three Gods, it is one God in three persons. Too, Jesus also says that no one takes his life from him, but that he gives it of his own accord. That would indicate at the very least a cooperation that would militate against the divine child abuse idea. But because Jesus is the second “person” of the Trinity, it goes way beyond mere cooperation. Still the language of scripture is the Father sending the Son and this is admittedly open to misreading and bad preaching/theological interpretation. But it is just that, misreading and faulty interpretation.
Below is my response:
Thank you for these very helpful insights. I would agree with you, after further thought, that theologically orthodox Trinitarian doctrine resists the imposition of a divine child abuse understanding. One of my favorite treatments of the atonement comes from Mechthild de Magdeburg, who uses a dialogue between the Three Persons to propose one way Jesus freely offers Himself up to the Father. In short, I concede that you are absolutely right.
I would also probably add that the divine abuse stuff is less central to my discomfort with penal substitution theory, and I’ll need to spend more time considering why.
Thanks for reading and interacting, and visit again sometime!
I would add that much work remains for preachers, theologians and evangelists, in presenting the atonement in a way that is both theologically correct and missionally compelling. If it is true that a divine child abuse presentation of the atonement is technically theologically incorrect, it is also true that in many circles of the church, we could do a better job of presenting the atonement for all those who seek God and a more complete knowledge of Him.
A “thank you” to all of you for reading and thinking with me.