The New Christians

The New Christians


Ash Wednesday: Atonement Round-Up

posted by Tony Jones

durer_crucifixion.jpgAs we enter the season of Lent, here are some resources to get you thinking about alternatives to the penal substitutionary theory (yes, friends, it’s a theory!) of the atonement.

At Zoecarnate, Mike Morrell proposes that we look beyond liberal and conservative ideas of the atonement, then he proposes a revisioning of the entire issue.

Last year, Emergent Village sponsored a contest looking for new, preachable metaphors for the atonement.  I talked to Mark Baker about the contest on the EV podcast.  And last Good Friday, we announced the winners.

Finally, Mark has some great resources on his seminary website, as well as two books on the topic.



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Herb

posted February 25, 2009 at 3:06 pm


But then the theory of gravity is also just a theory…



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Jim

posted February 25, 2009 at 3:35 pm


Maybe model is a better word?



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Tim

posted February 25, 2009 at 5:46 pm


Criteria for judging an atonement theory/model… does it produce…
Followers who are loving
Followers who practice sacrificial redemptive suffering
Followers who forgive because others don’t know what they’re doing
Followers who are downwardly mobile (kenosis), counting their status in life as nothing to be grasped, but giving themselves away
Followers who absorb violence rather than inflict violence
Followers who exhaust hate rather than reproduce hate
Followers who defeat lies by embodying the truth, even when it’s costly
Followers who spread grace, gifting the people they meet with goodness, especially when they don’t deserve it
What does it matter if you gain all the trophies of biblical, doctrinal correctness, yet lose your life?
Duhsciple Tim



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Brian

posted February 25, 2009 at 8:50 pm


Let’s talk about the various models, so we’re all on the same page. Here is a brief description of some of the mainstream models:
(1) Substitutionary atonement (Calvin) – Christ’s voluntarily suffers and dies on the cross as our substitute. In other words, Jesus takes the punishment of God for sinners by representing us.
(2) Satisfaction (Anselm) – Christ’s voluntary sacrifice of his innocent life pays our debt to God so God’s justice can be satisfied. In short, Jesus makes restitution for us.
(3) Ransom (Origen) – Adam and Eve sold humanity out to the devil, so God had to trick the devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom so we can be free. In the end, the devil is tricked because Jesus got resurrected after we are freed.
(4) Moral influence (Abelard) – Jesus’ life and death are characterized by his exemplary obedience to God’s love, therefore demonstrating to humanity the love of God. So, Jesus should awaken sinners to God’s reality and inspire us to be obedient to God.
(5) Governmental (Grotius) – God demonstrates God’s anger towowrds sin by punishing Christ. Here, God is understood as a judge who demands divine justice for sinners. In the end, Jesus suffers in order that humans can be forgiven and God’s justice can be upheld.
(6) Liberation (Boff) – Jesus’ life and death demonstrate God’s solidarity with people who are poor and oppressed. So, Jesus lives a life of care and compassion – and his crucifixion demonstrates how perverse and violent human injustice can be. In other words, Jesus lived obediently to God’s care for the poor, which brought him into conflict with an oppressive empire that killed Jesus. In the end, Jesus was unjustly executed through crucifixion by the Roman Empire. Therefore, the oppressive and violent people in the world were exposed as ungodly and immoral. In this theology, Jesus died because of sin, but not for sins. Therefore, in imitation of Jesus, ministry is about empowering the oppressed and helping the poor.
(7) Decisive Revelation (Riggs) – Jesus is the widow through which we see God. Through Jesus’ life and teachings we learn about God and what God values. Some people experienced God-in-Christ and became faithful to God. But other people were offended and threatened by Jesus and wanted to kill him. In the end, Jesus was murdered by people who hated the values and influence of God. Despite his crucifixion, the presence and ministry of Jesus continues through the lives of Christians. God is still beckoning us into faith and faithfulness. In this theology, the purpose of ministry is to share the good news of God’s love that was decisively revealed through Christ, so more people can develop a relationship with God.
(8) State Execution (Crossan) – Jesus and his disciples invited people into the Kingdom of God and out of the Kingdom of Rome. The Empire of God was about God’s love, justice, and mutuality. The Empire of Rome was about humanity’s individuality, greed, and brutality. Jesus and his disciples were rebels against Rome by living out the values of God. Romans became angry that Jesus was undermining their way of life. So, the brutal Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, hung Jesus on a cross to humiliate Jesus and terrorize his followers. Despite Jesus’ traumatic and unjust execution by the state, Christ’s presence and God’s Kingdom continues to invite people to live by God’s values – and be assured of God love. In this theology, Christians are empowered by God’s love to live out God’s values of love, justice, and mutuality.



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Brian

posted February 25, 2009 at 9:24 pm


Mike Morrell really gets at the heart of what most Mainline theologians have been saying for years: “Most of the atonement metaphors in vogue today seem to be about an evasion of justice, a glorification of violence and victim-hood, and a denial that the message of Jesus really has the power to work in our day and age.” Amen! Now, let the dialogue begin!
Here are a few dialogue partners have I have found helpful:
“Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk” – Delores Williams
“Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us” – Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker
“Deceiving the Devil: Atonement, Abuse, and Ransom” – Darby Kathleen Ray
“Violence against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Source Book” – Carol Adams and Marie Fortune
“Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know” – Al Miles
“Counceling Women” – Christie Neuger
“Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions” – Marcus Borg and NT Wright
“Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography” – John Crossan
Please list any resources you’ve found helpful in your theologizing!



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Scott M

posted February 25, 2009 at 9:45 pm


I read Narnia growing up. My exposure to Christianity was pretty broad, but not very deep, certainly not as deep as that of some other spiritualities. For years, I assumed the universal understanding of Christianity was essentially ransom as captured in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Silly me. (Brian, we have a lot of material from Origen, but we also have plenty outside of Origen developing this theory. And the fuller form sees humanity enslaved to death and the ransom of Jesus’ death freeing us from that bondage. It’s also scriptural.)
As I converted to Christianity as an adult (with an interest in history), I found the vision of the atonement that best captured the vision I had seen of what it means to be a human being and who God is in the theory that is actually the oldest in Christianity and which did not make Brian’s list. That’s the theory of recapitulation first outlined by Irenaeus, though tremendously fleshed out by Athanasius. Penal substitution is a real latecomer in the atonement theory department and has always felt somewhat ‘icky’ to me. I’ve come to understand a lot of the reasons that’s true and the host of problems with the things penal substitution say about both man and God, but that word pretty much describes my reaction once I came to understand what people were really saying.



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Ethan

posted February 26, 2009 at 7:25 am

Erik Leafblad

posted February 26, 2009 at 8:37 am


I sympathetic to the desire to want to talk about these differing perspectives on the atonement as models rather than theories, precisely for the muddiness of the term theory, as evidenced by the first comment. No, in fact, the theory of gravity and the theory of atonement are not of the same type. A theory in the realm of natural science means something different than the word theory when employed in theology.
What if we talked about these different models/theories as refractions, as in a prism? When the whole of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is explored from different angles as regards the atonement, there are differing refractions such that we are given different insights into just what God was up to when God was reconciling the world to Godself in Jesus Christ. Then, none of these theories/models are complete in and of themselves, but depending upon the context (perspective) they refract something good, true, and beautiful about Christ’s atonement as God for us.



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Tony Arens

posted February 26, 2009 at 9:50 am


Actually, it’s not a theory – it’s clearly explained in several NT passages, prophetically predicted in the OT, and aligns with the character of The Lord, God Almighty. Your philosophy is once again leading you astray.



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Scott M

posted February 26, 2009 at 12:01 pm


Tony Arens, sooooo … an idea which is ‘clearly explained’ took more than 1500 years for people to come up with? Penal substitution has ‘several NT passages’. I would argue that recapitulation has the entire narrative of scripture behind it.



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Scott M

posted February 26, 2009 at 2:23 pm


Erik Leafblad, I’ve been mulling your comment for some time now, particularly the idea that every theory refracts something good or true. Now, prior to becoming ‘Christian’, I was probably about as close to a hardcore relativist as most people ever meet. And unlike some, I had actually explored many different forms of spirituality and religion. I would have, in general, said that most forms of spirituality have value and provide some insight or revelation about reality. (As far as that goes, I’m probably still not willing to say that no religion besides Christianity holds any truth, beauty, or value, though I would confess that the fullness of God is made known in Jesus of Nazareth.)
However, even for me, that was a general statement. Even then, there were religions I considered actively harmful and to be avoided. By and large, any religion, past or present that incorporated or required human sacrifice I considered out of bounds. Any religion which incorporated the abuse of children in any way as a practice I did not consider to have value. I would consider those religions that should be ended if at all possible. More specifically, there are variations of ancestor worship in Africa (as opposed to some of the far eastern forms) which do nothing to help the adherents and which are deeply oppressive to entire communities. And there are the segments within a religion in which people actively worship a ‘god’ of pure evil if such a being exists within the religion. There is something disturbed and disturbing about choosing to worship evil within your framework. I tended to think such people needed psychiatric intervention and help. This is the category in which I placed, for instance, Christian Satanists.
I still tend toward generosity as a Christian, so I’m inclined to embrace your statement. But I hesitated. Examining it, I realized the same sort of nuanced internal reaction I outlined above was at work. As a general principle, it’s fine. There is truth and beauty in many of the theories of the atonement. I’m not deeply familiar with all the different theories out there, but I have explored many of them. And I find at least some truth in most of them.
However, I find there are two such theories I hesitate to include in that statement. The reason I hesitate is because it seems that both of them share two fundamental problems. They both ascribe a problem to God. And then proceed to resolve that problem, in essence, by setting members of the Trinity in a sort of opposition to each other for the purposes of that resolution. I think both of those problems together dangerously undermine the ground of Christianity. They certainly undercut much about God that drew me into the faith.
Those two theories are satisfaction and penal substitution. I understand the environment in which both arose — the former in a setting of the feudal lord and the latter within the context of an enlightenment view of natural law. However, I think their flaws are fatal. Their distortion of the Christian view of the Triune God has tended to work itself out in some pretty ugly ways. Therefore I’m really hesitant to include either as theories that add to our perception of the truth and beauty and goodness of Christ’s atonement. They seem to me, on balance, to be harmful theories.



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Your Name

posted February 26, 2009 at 3:18 pm


Scott M – too much philosophy! Your luke warm… “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” I’m not trying to be a smart alec here – you guys are so tied up in the “conversation”, that the most pure and beautiful, and most life-giving message of Christ-crucified is tarnished through your deconstructing and reimagining, and reinventing… it’s really sad actually! I really mean it, I’m not putting you down… guess I need to stop reading all of these half-baked theories… it just ends up driving me nuts. Apologies if I sould like a jerk…



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Pat

posted February 26, 2009 at 3:28 pm


Brian, in which of the models does Jesus’ death indicate his willingness to go through everything people go through? I always thought that was its most important feature.



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Erik Leafblad

posted February 26, 2009 at 3:47 pm


Scott M –
Thanks for taking time to actually think about my comment. Were that more blog discussions so intentional about mulling comments over before replying.
I’d agree with you in that certain uses of a given theory of atonement have been abused and led to ugly things. But, as a professor of mine was wont to say, misuse does not lead to disuse, but proper use. If, among these theories that have at one time been and continue to be embraced among large segments of the church, there has been misuse then it is of the better part of rigorous thinking to try and work out a more proper use. I don’t tend to see the utter bankruptcy of either satisfaction nor penal substitution. I think there is a way to articulate each in such a way as to see them as an outworking of the graciousness of God’ own Triune existence, and not, as you say, pitting God against Godself. That they are not always worked out as such almost goes without saying, but again proper use, not disuse.



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Scott M

posted February 26, 2009 at 3:47 pm


Recapitulation encompasses that idea and more, Pat. ‘Your Name’, I would hardly call a two thousand year old continuously held explanation of the atonement ‘half-baked’. It seems to me that a theory invented a few hundred years ago is at least a little more likely to fit that appellation, though I wouldn’t call it half-baked. I think it was and has been pretty thoroughly thought through and I somewhat understand the philosophical framework that gave birth to it. I just think it turns the beauty of the atonement and the power of the resurrection and the God behind it all into something ugly.



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LutheranChik

posted February 26, 2009 at 4:34 pm


To the individual who thinks that there’s something wrong with “doing theology”: Wrestling with the Scriptures in the context of the faith community is a venerable practice within both Judaism and Christianity, and Jesus himself was a skilled participant in this holy task. I’d suggest to you that instead of being intimidated, you — to borrow a phrase from the poet Rilke — learn to love the questions themselves.



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Scott M

posted February 26, 2009 at 4:47 pm


Erik, if you can provide me any example that does not ultimately impose a problem on God — a stain on his infinite honor that must be cleansed in satisfaction or an inability to forgive without payment in penal substitution — I’ll happily consider it. As I’ve shifted into Christianity and come to understand that these different theories existed, I’ve looked for examples. Just as I did when exploring and judging different religions, I prefer to judge based on the best rather than worst. But I’ve been unable to find any explanation or practical application of these two that does not require that God have one problem or the other.
And then I also cannot find any explanation of either theory that does not ultimately make the work on the Cross the separate work of the Son resolving the problem of the Father rather than the work of the Triune God together, through the Incarnation, resolving the problem of mankind. That’s what I meant by both ultimately shattering the triunity of God.
An extremely common Baptist (and possibly other) formulation, for example, is on the one hand to say that God can’t be around sin (an idea which is utterly contrary to the narrative of Holy Scripture) and on the other to say that on the Cross the Father poured out the punishment for all sins (which is a form of extracting payment, not forgiveness) on the Son and that during that time, the Father and the Spirit ‘turned away’ from the Son. That’s just one example, of course, but it seems to capture the place where these two theories ultimately seem to always end up.
Once again, if you think of an avenue for explanation that does not come to either of those places, I’ll be more than happen to explore it. I haven’t been able to find one.



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david

posted February 26, 2009 at 11:42 pm


erik,
how does Penal Sub pit one member of the trinity against the other?
jesus makes it very clear that he is offering his life, not being coerced into something he wants no part of.



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Scott M

posted February 27, 2009 at 7:24 am


I think you’re asking me, not David. I never said a word about coercion. It’s the story behind why Jesus is offering his life and what is happening. Please note that I love the substitutionary elements of the atonement. But I see the substitution in terms of ransom. Jesus, fully human but also fully God in an utterly interpenetrating and mutually indwelling triune God who is as much one as three persons, offers his life in my place to free me from the bondage to death in which sin had left all humanity. In this story, through the human nature of Jesus, the entire Trinity is acting together on the Cross in perfect harmony to ransom humanity from death. Sheol, or death, cannot contain God.
The specific theory of penal substitution alters that narrative. In it, God cannot simply forgive sin. I’ve never precisely understood why, since the idea is so utterly foreign to everything Scripture and Jesus reveals about God. But sin must be paid for in this theory. Think about every analogy you’ve ever heard to explain this theory. In every one of them, somebody has to pay. They pay for me. The debt or offense is never simply forgiven. Somebody always pays for it.
That’s bad enough, but it’s the manner in which it is accomplished that every time I work through it shatters the oneness of God. You have one person of the Trinity (whom most people imagine to be the Father) who has a problem. There’s this big, stinking pile of sin for which someone has to pay. And often it’s stated that he can’t be around it at all, that it creates a gulf between us and God — some sort of vast distance. (This also then tends to be worked out into a part of ‘hell’ being an eternal separation from God — as if we had achieved some sort of self-existence!) So Jesus then voluntarily goes to the cross where God (again generally the Father or sometimes the Father and the Spirit together) pours out the punishment for all that unforgivable sin onto Jesus.
It doesn’t matter if it’s voluntary or not. In this story (and in satisfaction as well, though for somewhat different reasons), you have one member of the Trinity (the Father) with a problem and resolving that problem by pouring our wrath or punishment on another member of the Trinity (the Son). How is that even vaguely still a triune God? Part of the Trinity has a problem that another part of the Trinity is able to resolve? One punishes? One receives the punishment?
The Spirit doesn’t usually play much, if any role in either of these narratives, and that’s a problem as well. But the above is the core problem. The theories deconstruct everything Christianity has traditionally said about God. The Trinity is always, always so interpenetrating and mutually indwelling that, though three distinct persons, they share one nature and act as one, each thoroughly involved in every act. That’s a problem with a recent tendency to refer to the Trinity by role: Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier (or some variation). They are unique in their personhood, but not in role. The whole Trinity creates. We see that in Scripture. Redemption is the work of all the members of the Trinity, not just Jesus. And so on in every act we can imagine. Most importantly, the Trinity is utterly self-sufficient in love. God has no problem. He’s not concerned about his honor. How can you read Hosea and imagine that? God has no problem forgiving. Jesus was constantly seeking sinners and telling people they were forgiven. If all we needed was forgiveness, it’s always been there in spades. God would have simply forgiven us. But our problem ran much deeper than that. We needed to be freed from death. But more importantly, we need to be transformed from people who essentially seek non-existence (for what else is it to seek to be other than an eikon of God) back into people who become like God. That’s what we were created to do. It’s why we bear his image.
That’s why the cross was necessary. To redeem us from death and provide a means for us to be who and what we were created to be, not to resolve some imagined problem of God’s.



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Brian

posted February 27, 2009 at 9:52 am


The death of Jesus likely caused a great amount of grief and trauma for the disciples with whom he lived and served. According to Flora Keshgegian: “The cross was a crisis for Jesus’ followers and those who came after…the crucifixion of Jesus was a traumatic event.” It must have been a tremendous loss when the person who had helped the disciples experience God, communal solidarity, radical inclusiveness, mutual care, etc. was killed by a brutal empire in an atrocious way – the cross. Keshgegian goes on to say: “the biblical narratives make it clear that the crucifixion was experienced as a major crisis for the Jesus movement that caused Jesus’ followers to flee and go into hiding. The even disrupted their community life and the mission they shared. It challenged their fundamental experience of safety. Jesus’ followers were afraid for their lives. The crucifixion, even though it was not directed at them, threatened them. It also disturbed their sense of meaning. Jesus was the one whom they had followed as their leader. They were expecting a new reign of God. What they seemed to get was defeat. Their leader was killed, ignobly killed. What hope or promise could there be in this? The crucifixion terrified and confused them. It left them bereft and even seemingly abandoned. They did not know how to respond to this loss and trauma.”
The loss and accompanying grief must have been exceedingly intense. This would likely have been an “ambiguous grief,” filled with uncertainties, questions, and conflicting emotions. How could the Son of God die? Did he actually die? Is there any hope? Is this somehow a source of hope? Was the Empire of God defeated? Can it continue in some way? Why didn’t God stop this from happening? Could God stop it? The list of such questions would have likely been endless. As Pauline Boss says, “the greater the ambiguity surrounding one’s loss, the more difficult it is to master it and the greater one’s depression, anxiety, and [interpersonal] conflict.” Boss goes on to point out the following aspects of ambiguous loss: “because the loss is confusing, people are baffled and immobilized,” “the uncertainty prevents people from adjusting to the ambiguity of their loss by reorganizing the roles and rules of their relationship…so that the [interpersonal] relationship freezes in place,” “people are denied the symbolic rituals that ordinarily support a clear loss,” “the absurdity of ambiguous loss reminds people that life is not always rational and just,” “because ambiguous loss goes on and on…they become emotionally exhausted from the relentless uncertainty.” All of these aspects could have been part of the experience of those early disciples – and those who came after – who where close to the murderous execution of the person they variously knew as rabbi, liberator, friend, son, brother, Son of God, Son of Man, Immanuel, etc. As Boss notes: “Ambiguous loss is the most stressful loss people can face…They hunger for clarity.” It would have been very difficult for the disciples to live in the immobilizing bog of endless questions, which in turn probably had endless possible answers. They had to find and/or create meaning out of this event in order to come to some level of emotional, psychological, and spiritual clarity and resolution. Humans are meaning-making creatures. In fact, Alan Greenspan suggests that “making meaning of out suffering is the basis of the human capacity to survive evil and transcend it. The disciples needed to find some meaning out of this situation because not having some kind of meaning would have been like living without hope. How did some of them make meaning out of it?
Some of the disciples attempted to make meaning out of the trauma of and grief surrounding Jesus’ unjust death, but without working through it as such. As Christopher Grundy notes: “Rather than being able to live with that event as traumatic…those around Jesus and those who came after looked for ways to justify what happened, to make it a good thing as well as a bad thing, to make it necessary, beneficial, even ordained. Because this traumatic injury was never faced as trauma…‘the crucifixion remains an unexamined trauma at the core of Christian faith and theology.’”
The prevalence of the cross in Christian piety and architecture is an example of the unexamined trauma impacting the Church. Keshgegian explains: “The fixation of the Christian tradition on the cross provides centuries of evidence of what happens when one tries to make something good and meaningful out of what is not good…The memory of the cross must be preserved precisely as tragic. It is a death and loss that needs to be mourned.” Therefore, instead of the cross being a symbol of state sponsored terrorism, it has become a symbol of the saving work God has done for us. As Keshgegian argues, “The fixation of the Christian tradition on the cross provides centuries of evidence of what happens when one tries to make something good and meaningful out of what is not good…The memory of the cross must be preserved precisely as tragic. It is a death and loss that needs to be mourned.” Therefore, instead of the cross being a symbol of state sponsored terrorism, it has become a symbol of the saving work God has done for us.
In order to deal with the grief and trauma of Jesus’ execution effectively, perhaps we should re-examine the meaning of the cross so that we do not pass on these distorted expressions and unresolved grief on to future generations. This is not to suggest that the disciples were bad people who passed on a bad tradition. Instead, it is to suggest that the disciples were dealing with a natural part of life – grief. And their grief was likely intensified by the fact that they were mourning the crucifixion and subsequent loss of a transformative, highly meaningful religious figure. Thus, they likely passed this grief on through their stories, traditions, and testimonies. As Christopher Grundy argues, “we must consider the possibility that at least some of early Christian story and memory, if not a good deal of it, are being structured by traumatic violence that is contemporaneous with the production of the texts, as well as the crucifixion itself.” Therefore, until the modern church addresses the unresolved grief and trauma of Jesus’ death, we will continue to pass on the disciples’ unresolved “stuff.” We must work to process this “stuff.”



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Scott M

posted February 27, 2009 at 10:36 am


Sorry Brian, that’s one of the most ahistorical things I’ve ever read. It wasn’t the trauma of the cross that shaped either the disciples in the first century or the church through the first several. It was the resurrection. The cross wasn’t even a particularly prevalent or dominant symbol for many decades. And the resurrection was one of the few beliefs almost always recognized and commented on by those outside the faith. Heck, the earliest theory of atonement is not even particularly focused on the cross, though the cross does play an important role within it. I have nothing against alternate histories. In fact, I rather enjoy reading them and thinking about them. But I don’t confuse them with the things we know about actual historical events and developments.



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Scott M

posted February 27, 2009 at 10:47 am


I will also add that there is no attempt I’ve found in any of the early accounts to make the cross out to be something good. Crucifixion is brutal and evil and they were much more acquainted with it than we are today. Jesus was betrayed by a friend, denied by another, and abandoned by the rest. That’s also evil. There’s no attempt to dress it up.
But the Christian God is one who specializes in bringing good out of evil, of transforming evil into good. And that’s what happens on the Cross. God defeats the evil of the powers and their ultimate weapon, death, by submitting to the worst they can do and overturning it all in the resurrection. The cross is not something God ordained or required. It’s something he foreknew. Confronting the powers as Jesus did would inevitably lead to execution by the powers.



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Herb

posted February 27, 2009 at 2:50 pm


Scott,
I agree with you. Any grief about the cross is overshadowed, eternally, by the joy of the resurrection. Why would I still be upset at my large credit card bill when it’s already been paid?



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Brian

posted February 28, 2009 at 10:42 am


Christopher Grundy, drawing from the work of theologian Flora Keshgegian and psychologist Judith Herman, suggests working through the unresolved grief and trauma of the crucifixion through the following four stages: (1) naming and remembering loss, (2) mourning loss, (3) honoring resistance and survival; and (4) integrating and expanding.
In the first stage, the execution of Jesus should be named and remembered as an injustice to lament and a loss to grieve. Instead of Jesus dying for our sins, Jesus died because of sin. More specifically, Jesus was killed because he preached about, and welcomed people into, an alternative reality to the domination system of the Roman Empire. The death of Jesus was not God’s will or an act of self-sacrifice by Jesus. Instead, Jesus came to welcome people into the Empire of God – the dream and vision of God – a place of mutual care, radical inclusively, and fair justice. But in the end, the Roman Empire of patronage, exclusivity, and brutality decided that the leader of this alternative Empire had to be killed for his seditious acts. While the distraught disciples attempted to cope by variously assigning blame to God, Jesus, “the Jews,” our sins, etc. in order to make meaning out of Jesus’ death, it’s important for modern Christians to name and remember Jesus’ unplanned, unjust, and unexpected murder and loss as a trauma.
After the trauma and loss is named and remembered, the second stage is mourning that loss. As modern Christians, we must allow ourselves to feel this loss in all of its pain. As Vamik Volkan, Elizabeth Zintl argue, “in order to mourn effectively, we must be able to tolerate the idea of losing.” We must tolerate and mourn the loss of the person who stood up for justice in the face of oppression, had fellowship with people who the culture declared untouchable, and re-presented God’s abiding presence and vision of shalom to us all. That is sad. That isn’t okay. That isn’t fair. That has to be mourned and grieved.
In the third stage, we must name and honor the acts of persistence and survival that occurred despite the traumatic crucifixion of Jesus. First, Jesus persisted and resisted. Grundy says, “As he begins to encounter opposition and real danger, it is his (non-violent) persistence in enacting the kin-dom of God…that witnesses to God’s activity with and through him.” Jesus persisted despite the threats. Second, the disciples persisted and resisted both before and after the crucifixion. The life and ministry of Jesus was carried on – and continues to be carried on – by the community of resurrection. Third, God persisted and resisted. Grundy suggests, “Rather than being primarily a sign of message, the resurrection is God’s practical, cooperative activity within the communities of Jesus’ followers so that their work (and Jesus’) for the sake of the kin-dom can continue.” Death is not the end. Good memories can be found. Bad memories can be transformed. Flora Keshgegian suggests that the “key to transforming memories is finding instances of resistance and agency and incorporating them into the testimony and witness. Being able to name and claim what people did to survive…is vitally important to their own process of healing and transformation.”
The last stage is integrating the memories of grief/trauma and the persistence/resistance so that the greater, ongoing narrative can be expanded – and the grief can shrink. According to Gundy, “If we are able to narrate and practice Jesus’ death as trauma, mourning his loss and celebrating the resistance and persistence of God, Jesus, and the saints for the sake of abundant life, then it becomes possible to allow the crucifixion to recede to its proper [smaller] place.” While we cannot ignore the fact of Jesus’ death, we can heal the meaning of and grief from Jesus’ death. We can move on, knowing that we are the resurrection community of Jesus that continues his life ministry despite violence and injustice. We can move on, knowing that God continually brings forth hope for transformation. We can move on, knowing that the Kin-dom has come near (Mark 1:15). While the grief and trauma will continue to be a part of our collective memory, we no longer have to allow it to dominate our theology, rituals, memories, and sacraments.



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Bill

posted March 1, 2009 at 1:25 am


BRIAN, You miss the point, GOD came to the earth to pay “ransom” us for our sins. He decided “hanging from a tree” is a just death to those who sin. Thus, he hung on a “tree” for us, to pay for our sins. THIS IS NOT TRAGIC, it is GOD’s plan. I do not see how a man can say GOD did an evil thing, when he payed our penalty. Don’t forget the cross, it was our sentence, only GOD can redeem us to himself, for any other payment would be for us to ask for. How do you ask GOD to die for us. We can’t. But he did it anyways because he loves you. Be thankful for the plan he made to pay for your return to him.



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Ethan

posted March 1, 2009 at 4:16 am


Tetelestai: your debts have been paid in full



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Joshua

posted March 1, 2009 at 12:26 pm


Does anyone have a link that represents a good explanation of the recapitulation model of atonement – or would someone be willing to explain it?



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Brian

posted March 1, 2009 at 7:58 pm


Traditional models of atonement can sanction unnessesary suffering, pain, and self-sacrifice. It can encourage people to bear their cross like Jesus. It can encourage people to be suffering servants like Jesus. It can encourage people to silently allow physical abuse like Jesus. It can encourage people to put up with physical pain like Jesus.
There was a woman who suffered for year with depression before getting help because she thought it was her cross to bear. There was a guy who worked 60-70 hours a week without complaining because he thought he was being a Christ-like suffering servant. There is a woman who refused to leave a physically abusive husband because she thought it was her cross to bear. There was a teenager who refused to report sexual abuse because he thought his suffering made him more like Jesus. There was a woman who got an abortion because she thought she had to make this sacrifice for her career like God sacrificed his own son. There was a man who put up with physical pains to be like Jesus and only much later in life sought medical treatment. The list goes on and on. We need to think seriously about how our theologies shape us all in ways we may not even realize. By suggesting that the suffering, self-sacrifice, and violence that Jesus expereinced was somehow atoneing, healing, and salvific, we may be making the suggestion that all suffering, self-sacrifice, and violence are to be valorized.
To be Christian isn’t to stoically “turn the other cheek” in order to get hit again instead leaving that dangerious situation. To be Christian isn’t to sadistically “bear the cross” of something that needs treatment like depression. To be Christian isn’t to be a “suffering servant” for a demanding business at the expense of family life. To be Christian isn’t to be obedient to a parent who is abusive because the abuse is “good for them.”
The God who gave us life wants us to have “abudnant life,” not a living hell. Violence, self-sacrifice, and abuse destroys life. These things must be resisted and overcome if we are to “choose life.” There are many ways to resist hell and choose life.
Parker Palmer suggests that we need to distinguish between “true” and “false” crosses before we decide if they are faithful to bear. False crosses are abuse, depression, injustice, external cruelty, etc. False crosses need to be resisted, changed, and healed. True crosses are the difficult things when we do to stand up for faith committments in the face of resistance. True crosses need to be ballanced with recreation, hope, and love.
During Lent perhaps it’s especially important to think about how our models of atonement give form to our lives.



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William K. Neal

posted March 10, 2009 at 9:18 am


Brian, I believe it to be a fallacy to find error in doctrine by stating others misinterpretation. It is, after all, penal SUBSTITUTIONARY atonement. Jesus “paid it all,” and to live in any way other than in that reality is offensive to God. Too often we attempt to supplement His gift of grace, as if we could add anything to His masterpiece of Love. Penal Substitutionary Atonment does NOT encourage people to endure unnecessary sufferings, but misunderstanding it does.
Furthermore, many of these theories of atonement portray the devil as the yang of God’s yin. But there is no equal to our sovereign Lord. Ranson grants Satan undue power, as if God owes him something for our misdeeds. But only God is our judge. He’s the one to whom we owe our debt. And a righteous judge does not let sin go unpunished. That’s why it “pleased the Father to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10). Hell is not where Satan torments, but where God does—and it is eternal (Matt 3:12, among others). Portraying the Cross as some kind of empirical injustice is absurd. Do you really think that Christ would sweat drops of blood for fear of being hung on a cross made by men (Matt 26:39)? The cup in which He dreaded was not some chalice of human violence, but the cup of God’s wrath (Isaiah 51).
A God who sends unrepentant souls to Hell may seem less forgiving that we are. Yet how dare we reduce God from His exalted position. God commands us to forgive one another simply because everything we have, including our very life, is borrowed. Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). And He has every right to make us pay for the debt and still be a loving God. It may seem paradoxical, but our God is a God of mystery.
Most of all, we must remember that this is not our story, but HIS. We do not define Love, God does. This life is not about non-violence and peace, nor helping the poor and the downtrodden, nor even attaining a particular level of righteousness. It’s about giving glory to God. That is our purpose. And even though we often do this by doing the aforementioned, we must be careful to not use the outworking of our faith to create our own garment (Matt 22:1-14).



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Johnette

posted April 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm


LCoMxd HHIS I should have thought of that!



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