The Atonement

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

Humans beings, born in sin, have a problem: sin offends a holy God and all humanity stands on the verge of incurring His wrath. Yet God has a problem also: He is a God of love and wishes to show mercy. But since He cannot ignore His own law and just ignore our sins, there is a tension between God’s justice and His mercy. We each deserve an eternity of punishment. The price must be paid, but we are incapable of paying for it. But to our delight, Jesus sacrificed himself to meet the demands of our just God, receiving within his time on the cross the eternal punishment due to us for our sins. Thus Jesus received the wrath of God as a propitiation for our sin. Both His justice and His mercy was satisfied.

Sound familiar?

I recently expressed my disgust about all the minutiae of things to argue about systematic theology, summing up by saying “My love affair with theology is on the rocks.” Rather than swearing off discussing theological matters, I was mostly concerned about divisive intramural debates that do nothing for the faith. I do remain, as ever, interested in pursuing the truth and also in debating theological perspectives that needlessly undermine our faith’s credibility and reputation.

One example I used of a useless debate was the differing theories of the atonement, which I knew of mostly from one of my theology classes from the distant past. But I must confess that at the time I wrote that post I couldn’t have told you any other examples than the Penal Substitution view, summarized in the opening above. This view is the most common among Protestants, due to Calvin’s specific formulation of it.

The atonement is how Christ’s death/resurrection brings us salvation. I’ve assumed that it didn’t really matter all that much how Christ’s sacrifice effected salvation, only that it somehow does. Nevertheless, with a hunch that I was too hasty in my dismissal of that debate, I’ve been reading a lot about this over the last few days. I want to chronicle a bit of it, because I have become convinced that the specifics on how we’re atoned for are not so trivial, and may in fact play a crucial role in our apologetics if nothing else.

This all started with a quick scan of Wikipedia, reading summaries of the various theories about the atonement. None of these views deny that Christ’s work brought about reconciliation (at-one-ment) in some sense, but there are several views that differ on how it was accomplished.

Satisfaction (Anselm of Canterbury)

Catholics generally hold to Anselm’s version, called the Satisfaction view. In our sinfulness, we are incapable of giving God the honor due Him, and this effects our death. Jesus, as a perfect man, was able to satisfy God by giving Him the honor He was due. Jesus’ work of supererogation was more than sufficient to satisfy God, so we are the benificiaries of the overflow. Summary: Jesus’ perfect sacrifice satisfied God’s demand for glory from imperfect humanity.

Penal Substitution (John Calvin)

Calvin, with what has become known as Penal Substitution Theory (PST), modified this to emphasize not God’s stolen glory but His need to punishment sin. Jesus became the object of God’s destructive wrath and has thereby become the substitute for the elect. Summary: Jesus’ punishment satisfied God’s demand for each individual’s punishment.

Governmental (Hugo Grotius)

Wesleyans and some others in the Arminian tradition typically hold to a reworking of the Calvinist view that in some ways hearkens back to Anselm’s version. In Grotius’ Governmental view, Jesus was punished for sin (as in PST) but did not actually undergo the selfsame punishment we were due; rather, because of his headship, his individual suffering was sufficient as propitation for the entire world. Whereas our need for propitiation in Calvin’s view was calculated on an individual basis (Christ paid for the individual sins of each justified individual), both Anslem’s and Grotius’ versions have Jesus satisfying a more general divine dissatisfaction. (Notice how this parallels the differences between the classic view of universal atonement and Calvin’s limited atonement.) Summary: Jesus’ punishment stood in for the punishment of all humanity.

Moral Influence (Peter Abelard)

Another view that’s especially become popular among liberal theologians is the Moral Influence view: Christ’s obedience unto death accomplishes in us the same glorification through resurrection when we discover his work and follow his example. This view is traced back to the medieval theologian Peter Abelard. Summary: Jesus’ sacrifice is the official example for the sacrifice we must make.

Ransom / Christus Victor (Classic / Gustaf Aulén)

What I find to be the most interesting view is actually the orthodox view, held by virtually the entire early church until the medieval period; it is still the most commonly held view among the Eastern Orthodox. It focuses not on God paying His own debt of honor or punishment, but as bringing liberation from bondage. In the ransom view, God released humanity from bondage by Jesus’ death. Although the version that has God paying the ransom price to Satan has gained much attention, Gustaf Aulén argues in his 1931 book entitled Christus Victor (Christ the Victor) that the core of the so-called “classic view” actually focused more on liberation from death and sin than the person of Satan. The “ransom” Christ paid is an imagery found in Scripture that should be taken as a metaphor for war ransom than as an actual business transaction in the sense we think of it (actually, all these views are developed from metaphors actually found in Scripture).

While I do not deny that some of the rudiments of Calvin’s PST are found in Scripture (especially in Paul), there are too many difficulties both philosophically and exegetically for me to embrace this view anymore. As an important case in point, one helpful site I found contained a passage that refocuses our attention on what “justification” meant in biblical times, as opposed to its meaning within the legalistic framework that gained such traction due to the influence of the Romans. I want to cite the passage in full. [Please note that the author, Derek Flood, uses the term “Satisfaction-Doctrine” throughout to refer not only to the Satisfaction view proper, but to PST and Governmental. All of these are referred to sometimes as “substitutionary atonement”.]

Biblically to “bring justice” does not mean to bring punishment, but to bring healing and reconciliation. Justice means to make things right. All through the Prophets justice is associated with caring for others, as something that is not in conflict with mercy, but rather an expression of it. Biblically, justice is God’s saving action at work for all that are oppressed:

“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17) “This is what the LORD says: ‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed.’ ” (Jeremiah 21:12)

The way that we “administer justice”, the Prophets tell us, is by encouraging and helping the oppressed. In contrast to what the Satisfaction-Doctrine says, God’s justice is not in conflict with his mercy, they are inseparable. True justice can only come though mercy:

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another.’ ” (Zechariah 7:9) “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice.” ( Isaiah 30:18)

If we want to understand the concept of justice as the writers of the Old Testament did, then we must see it as a “setting things right again”. Thus when Christ comes, the way that he brings about justice is through mercy and compassion. Notice how in this next verse Christ does not bring justice with a hammer, but with a tenderness that cares for the broken and the abused.

“I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations… A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.” (Matthew 12:18-21)

The way that God brings about justice and “leads it to victory” is through acts of compassion – sheltering the “smoldering wick”, and the “bruised reed”. And what does Christ “proclaim to the nations” to bring about this justice?

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

In other words, the supposed conflict between justice and mercy is based on a misunderstanding of what justice is. A large part of God’s wrathful judgement in the interest of justice is to stop those who oppress; this is itself an act of mercy on behalf of the oppressed. Jesus, as the Victor, underwent death and thereby shattered death’s hold on us. James McGrath makes the confident assertion that PST “is not found in the Bible”:

Sure, it can be read into it, but it cannot be found there unless one is already looking for it. For Paul, the key meaning of Jesus’ death is summed up well in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “one died for all, and therefore all died”. That’s almost the exact opposite of the popular Evangelical message, “one died instead of all, so that they might not have to die”. Even if we conclude that Paul’s language of “dying with Christ” is just another way of talking metaphorically about denying ourselves and self-sacrifice, it nevertheless makes clear that the Christian view of “salvation” expressed here is not about Jesus doing something instead of us, but of something that involves us and happens to us and in us. Ironically, while some feel they are glorifying God by making atonement something that involves no action or effort on our part, they’ve also radically departed from a central component of early Christian belief.

Finally, I wanted to describe exactly why I think this is one of the few doctrinal disputes that needs to be addressed. Substitutionary atonement, and PST in particular, is an apologetics nightmare. Number one, it impugns God’s character, unflatteringly (and inaccurately) painting Him as a Jekyll and Hyde schizophrenic (“Burn ’em! No, forgive them! No, I’ve gotta burn ’em! No, forgive them!”). Next, it gives the false impression that despite the glory we’re supposed to give Him for it, He seems to not be able to understand or accomplish forgiveness in any definable sense: we are to forgive one another magnanimously without any demands of punishment, yet God Himself can’t bring Himself to — and only because of some arbitrary rule He placed on Himself. Thirdly, punishment of an innocent on behalf of multiple guilty parties sounds romantic, but positing the necessity of this “miracle of divine bookkeeping” is in fact the outgrowth of a very unromantic, legalistic understanding of judgement. In point of fact, it’s arguably less just (I’d like to see you try the “switch the guilty” trick in a courtroom) than God simply acting like God and forgiving outright. The idea of stand-ins for punishment is actually disavowed over and over again in the OT (cf. Deut 24.16, Pro 17.15, Jer 31.30, and Eze 18.20). All these objections stack up: there are former believers who charge the incomprehensible PST for contributing to their loss of faith; in fact, some of the best info I found critiquing PST was on the site of a former fundamentalist with a PhD in theology who does just that. I encourage you to read his many posts on the subject.

In addition to the many links above, I leave you with a list of pages I’ve found in the course of my inquiry so far with interesting things to say, in case you’re interested in this subject. Note that most are framed in terms of attacking PST first (as did this post) and only later, if at all, arguing another view; this is by virtue of the fact that PST is the predominant Protestant view and therefore seemingly requires the least burden of proof among Protestants.

The Problem of the Atonement

The Fuzzy Math of Penal Substitution

The doctrine of “penal substitution”

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  • Good post, Steve. I wrote a lengthy series on Atonement, and ended up settling on a theory that you didn’t mention here – if you’re interested, it starts here. I looked into the subject as a result of what I felt to be a logical error in PCA, but you’re entirely right about issues of God’s character, which I believe I went into at some stage.
    .-= Damian´s last blog ..Unity and Protestantism =-.

  • Good post, Steve. I wrote a lengthy series on Atonement, and ended up settling on a theory that you didn’t mention here – if you’re interested, it starts here. I looked into the subject as a result of what I felt to be a logical error in PCA, but you’re entirely right about issues of God’s character, which I believe I went into at some stage.
    .-= Damian´s last blog ..Unity and Protestantism =-.

  • Thanks, Damian — how silly of me to neglect searching your site to see if you’d addressed this subject.

    I agree with your sentiments that all metaphors and analogies are represented in Scripture in one place or another (an example of the futility of an entirely systematic theology). I certainly wouldn’t say I’m sold on Christus Victor as The Only Way, but it was, as I said, both the most interesting and the least offensive. On reflection, I find much more strength in the Moral Influence theory than I did when I was writing this up. But I did want to interact with the objections to CV you listed in your addendum.

    1.If sin and death are ‘broken’, why must they be appropriated by faith, ie. Why are they not universal?

    I’m not sure that you’re not asking too much from a theory of atonement. If the atonement was supposed to defeat death’s monopoly, there would still be people who refused to identify with the forgiveness God offered. On the other hand, if (as you stated) all these views of the atonement, traceable to Scripture in one way or another, tend toward universal application, perhaps it is not the theory of the atonement that needs an overhaul. Just a thought.

    2.If sin and death are broken, why should we not continue sinning (for it seems we are cleared of consequences for our actions).

    The moral influence theory would be the closest, I’d say: our resurrection life is appropriated by following the example of humility and sacrifice of Jesus. For my part, I continue to ask why it is that we would need our theory of atonement to crack the whip and get our sanctification underway. Is there no other incentive?

    3.Why is Christ’s death (as a victory) not effective enough to be victorious over sins universally, instead of within the church?

    Unless I am mistaken, this is much the same question as number 1. Here I think of McGrath’s tack, which he says is reflected in Paul’s view of 2 Cor 5.14-15. We experience the power of Jesus’ death by our participation in it; but not all will participate.

    Like you, in the end I’ve determined that there is no particular view of the atonement that’s a dead ringer for all the scriptural and philosophical particulars. I’m convinced that the early Christians weren’t quite sure what to do with it, and that’s why we have so many ways of explaining Jesus’ death. But I remain settled upon one thing: the single-minded devotion (dare I say “obsession”?) that so many Christians have to Penal Substitution is not at all healthy, and it’s time to acknowledge that there are better understandings available.

    Thanks as always for chiming in!

  • Thanks, Damian — how silly of me to neglect searching your site to see if you’d addressed this subject.

    I agree with your sentiments that all metaphors and analogies are represented in Scripture in one place or another (an example of the futility of an entirely systematic theology). I certainly wouldn’t say I’m sold on Christus Victor as The Only Way, but it was, as I said, both the most interesting and the least offensive. On reflection, I find much more strength in the Moral Influence theory than I did when I was writing this up. But I did want to interact with the objections to CV you listed in your addendum.

    1.If sin and death are ‘broken’, why must they be appropriated by faith, ie. Why are they not universal?

    I’m not sure that you’re not asking too much from a theory of atonement. If the atonement was supposed to defeat death’s monopoly, there would still be people who refused to identify with the forgiveness God offered. On the other hand, if (as you stated) all these views of the atonement, traceable to Scripture in one way or another, tend toward universal application, perhaps it is not the theory of the atonement that needs an overhaul. Just a thought.

    2.If sin and death are broken, why should we not continue sinning (for it seems we are cleared of consequences for our actions).

    The moral influence theory would be the closest, I’d say: our resurrection life is appropriated by following the example of humility and sacrifice of Jesus. For my part, I continue to ask why it is that we would need our theory of atonement to crack the whip and get our sanctification underway. Is there no other incentive?

    3.Why is Christ’s death (as a victory) not effective enough to be victorious over sins universally, instead of within the church?

    Unless I am mistaken, this is much the same question as number 1. Here I think of McGrath’s tack, which he says is reflected in Paul’s view of 2 Cor 5.14-15. We experience the power of Jesus’ death by our participation in it; but not all will participate.

    Like you, in the end I’ve determined that there is no particular view of the atonement that’s a dead ringer for all the scriptural and philosophical particulars. I’m convinced that the early Christians weren’t quite sure what to do with it, and that’s why we have so many ways of explaining Jesus’ death. But I remain settled upon one thing: the single-minded devotion (dare I say “obsession”?) that so many Christians have to Penal Substitution is not at all healthy, and it’s time to acknowledge that there are better understandings available.

    Thanks as always for chiming in!

  • Ray

    Laughed at this bit:
    (”Burn ‘em! No, forgive them! No, I’ve gotta burn ‘em! No, forgive them!)

    …and appreciate your down-playing of systematic theology in general and PST in particular. Systematic theology can have the appearance of Star Trec afficionados trying to figure out what is going on with the Klingon empire or whatever — sure you can work out many theories, but at the end of the day you are just making stuff up. It is not surprising to me that people make systematic theologies, I imagine we all do in some way or another. But it still surprises me that people make such tightly wound systematic theologies and consider them as essential for others to believe in.

    Especially eye opening for me was reading reviews for Grudem’s Systematic Theology on Amazon and realizing it is not a book on “the” systematic theology but rather a book on “a” systematic theology; one of many.

    Really great post, thanks for organizing and providing all that material. Sorry, I’m not up to providing any serious discussion about the various soteriologies. I’ll just watch the comments. :^)

  • Ray

    Laughed at this bit:
    (”Burn ‘em! No, forgive them! No, I’ve gotta burn ‘em! No, forgive them!)

    …and appreciate your down-playing of systematic theology in general and PST in particular. Systematic theology can have the appearance of Star Trec afficionados trying to figure out what is going on with the Klingon empire or whatever — sure you can work out many theories, but at the end of the day you are just making stuff up. It is not surprising to me that people make systematic theologies, I imagine we all do in some way or another. But it still surprises me that people make such tightly wound systematic theologies and consider them as essential for others to believe in.

    Especially eye opening for me was reading reviews for Grudem’s Systematic Theology on Amazon and realizing it is not a book on “the” systematic theology but rather a book on “a” systematic theology; one of many.

    Really great post, thanks for organizing and providing all that material. Sorry, I’m not up to providing any serious discussion about the various soteriologies. I’ll just watch the comments. :^)

  • As if I didn’t have enough to think about already. :> Thanks for the post. I look forward to working through these views of atonement.
    .-= Thomas´s last blog ..Mark Driscoll’s Song of Solomon Series: A Review =-.

  • As if I didn’t have enough to think about already. :> Thanks for the post. I look forward to working through these views of atonement.
    .-= Thomas´s last blog ..Mark Driscoll’s Song of Solomon Series: A Review =-.

  • Steve,

    Tell me if I am missing some Latin or spotting something.
    Neither “PCT” nor “PST” show up at acronymfinder.com as rep for Penal Substitution Theory.

    Wind
    .-= Windpressor´s last blog ..The Smith-Suprynowicz Test =-.

  • Steve,

    Tell me if I am missing some Latin or spotting something.
    Neither “PCT” nor “PST” show up at acronymfinder.com as rep for Penal Substitution Theory.

    Wind
    .-= Windpressor´s last blog ..The Smith-Suprynowicz Test =-.

  • Ray,
    Thanks for the thumbs up — your summary of the weaknesses of systematic theologies mirror my own thoughts exactly. And I, too, am counting on comments to help hone my understanding of the topic.

    Thomas,
    You’re not alone with having a full plate. When I looked into this topic, it quickly blew open into something much larger than I anticipated. Oh well!

    Wind,
    *Ahem* Well, PCT makes no sense at all as far as I can tell. I could swear that I ran across that somewhere in my readings, but I also think my confusion must have been keenly influenced by PST’s thematic similarity to ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment), another popularly held view I’ve come out against (doggedly championed by more or less the same people in general). Thanks for the heads up! I’ve fixed all the mistakes in the post above. How embarrassing!

    PST may not show up under acronymfinder, but then again, maybe it’s because it’s not an acronym, but an initialism. 😉 (I know, they have both on that site. But it’s certainly not an exhaustive list, as I’m sure you know.)

  • Ray,
    Thanks for the thumbs up — your summary of the weaknesses of systematic theologies mirror my own thoughts exactly. And I, too, am counting on comments to help hone my understanding of the topic.

    Thomas,
    You’re not alone with having a full plate. When I looked into this topic, it quickly blew open into something much larger than I anticipated. Oh well!

    Wind,
    *Ahem* Well, PCT makes no sense at all as far as I can tell. I could swear that I ran across that somewhere in my readings, but I also think my confusion must have been keenly influenced by PST’s thematic similarity to ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment), another popularly held view I’ve come out against (doggedly championed by more or less the same people in general). Thanks for the heads up! I’ve fixed all the mistakes in the post above. How embarrassing!

    PST may not show up under acronymfinder, but then again, maybe it’s because it’s not an acronym, but an initialism. 😉 (I know, they have both on that site. But it’s certainly not an exhaustive list, as I’m sure you know.)

  • Steve,

    I certainly wasn’t arguing for universal atonement; I just have trouble with the concept of anything so huge – the death of God – being conditional. This is the reason I struggle with the universalism of whatever happened there.

    You may be right that I put too much onto atonement theories, but I certainly think that what we read into Christ’s death and what it accomplished is a strong reflection of what we believe about God. So I don’t think I ask too much, really.

    My second question I think closely reflects the same thing here: If sin and death are broken, should we be capable of sin? I’m not sure we should be, in most atonement theories. So it’s not really about incentive; more about ability or desire.

    I think McGrath’s tack is a strong one, especially as an interpretation of Paul. But I think my objections still stand; I don’t really think I’ll find a satisfactory answer, though. I’m quite content with that, as it allows me to accept multiple theories as different sides of a single object.

    I think more people should publicise alternative theories of atonement, though. So Kudos :).

    As an aside, though – if you’re interested in Moral Influence, I’d advise you get a hold of S. Mark Heim’s ‘Saved from Sacrifice’. Fantastic book, working out a whole lot of Moral Influence through scripture.
    .-= Damian´s last blog ..Unity and Protestantism =-.

  • Steve,

    I certainly wasn’t arguing for universal atonement; I just have trouble with the concept of anything so huge – the death of God – being conditional. This is the reason I struggle with the universalism of whatever happened there.

    You may be right that I put too much onto atonement theories, but I certainly think that what we read into Christ’s death and what it accomplished is a strong reflection of what we believe about God. So I don’t think I ask too much, really.

    My second question I think closely reflects the same thing here: If sin and death are broken, should we be capable of sin? I’m not sure we should be, in most atonement theories. So it’s not really about incentive; more about ability or desire.

    I think McGrath’s tack is a strong one, especially as an interpretation of Paul. But I think my objections still stand; I don’t really think I’ll find a satisfactory answer, though. I’m quite content with that, as it allows me to accept multiple theories as different sides of a single object.

    I think more people should publicise alternative theories of atonement, though. So Kudos :).

    As an aside, though – if you’re interested in Moral Influence, I’d advise you get a hold of S. Mark Heim’s ‘Saved from Sacrifice’. Fantastic book, working out a whole lot of Moral Influence through scripture.
    .-= Damian´s last blog ..Unity and Protestantism =-.

  • This is great, thanks. I have been trying to study this stuff too recently. But I have a question. You said,

    “I have become convinced that the specifics on how we’re atoned for are not so trivial”

    If it isn’t trivial but your have had a whole Christian life to date without any clarity on it, how crucial can it be? In this sense, what theology is actually crucial? What belief is crucial? Maybe none is crucial. Instead, perhaps it is only the heart which is crucial.

  • This is great, thanks. I have been trying to study this stuff too recently. But I have a question. You said,

    “I have become convinced that the specifics on how we’re atoned for are not so trivial”

    If it isn’t trivial but your have had a whole Christian life to date without any clarity on it, how crucial can it be? In this sense, what theology is actually crucial? What belief is crucial? Maybe none is crucial. Instead, perhaps it is only the heart which is crucial.

  • Sabio,
    Good to hear from you again. I don’t mean to give the impression that having the correct view of the Atonement is necessary for its efficacy, only that it has certain implications. PST, for instance, is not some harmless understanding of the doctrine: if it’s not correct, it is in the interests of Christendom to have it stamped out – it is a repugnant doctrine that is, as I said, an apologetics nightmare. Being bad PR for the character of God and for Christianity doesn’t make it false, but it certainly makes it incumbent upon Christians to make sure it’s correct bad PR before we tie it to the mast of our religion as so many have done.

    How much theology is “crucial”? Excellent question. Personally I am a minimalist, for sure. I think I’d surprise a lot of my friends by how many long supposed non-negotiables I find to be quite negotiable. I do believe it is the heart that is crucial, specifically the surrender of the heart. As a Christian, I see Jesus as the definitive expression and example of this surrender, and it is his heart with which I seek to be identified.

  • Sabio,
    Good to hear from you again. I don’t mean to give the impression that having the correct view of the Atonement is necessary for its efficacy, only that it has certain implications. PST, for instance, is not some harmless understanding of the doctrine: if it’s not correct, it is in the interests of Christendom to have it stamped out – it is a repugnant doctrine that is, as I said, an apologetics nightmare. Being bad PR for the character of God and for Christianity doesn’t make it false, but it certainly makes it incumbent upon Christians to make sure it’s correct bad PR before we tie it to the mast of our religion as so many have done.

    How much theology is “crucial”? Excellent question. Personally I am a minimalist, for sure. I think I’d surprise a lot of my friends by how many long supposed non-negotiables I find to be quite negotiable. I do believe it is the heart that is crucial, specifically the surrender of the heart. As a Christian, I see Jesus as the definitive expression and example of this surrender, and it is his heart with which I seek to be identified.

  • There you go, Steve, saying things that are very hard for me to disagree with. Come on !
    Smile
    But it makes me wonder: Consider all the Christians who bought into Christianity and started reading about Jesus with the PST in mind as they formed the Jesus who they “seek to be identified”. I think I remember that you are a pluralist, no? So you would say that they are no more unsaved Christians for their mistake than a Hindu would be for theirs if they both have good hearts?
    .-= Sabio Lantz´s last blog ..Gran Torino (2008): Movie Review =-.

  • There you go, Steve, saying things that are very hard for me to disagree with. Come on !
    Smile
    But it makes me wonder: Consider all the Christians who bought into Christianity and started reading about Jesus with the PST in mind as they formed the Jesus who they “seek to be identified”. I think I remember that you are a pluralist, no? So you would say that they are no more unsaved Christians for their mistake than a Hindu would be for theirs if they both have good hearts?
    .-= Sabio Lantz´s last blog ..Gran Torino (2008): Movie Review =-.

  • Sorry to be so agreeable! 😉

    I wouldn’t say I am a pluralist in the general sense; perhaps one might characterize me as a Christian pluralist. I still believe it was specifically the atonement of Christ by which the world is reconciled to God. I am, however, somewhat of a non-exclusivist in the Pauline (Romans 2.14-16) and Lewisian (cf. The Last Battle) traditions. God will save whom He wills; He will not be bound or tied, nor has He limited Himself voluntarily, in whom He can save.

    So I wouldn’t at all say that the PST stance would preclude anyone’s salvation (that’s playing their game!) – once again, I think it’s dangerous not for that but for how it marginalizes our faith among unbelievers.

    Does this address your question properly?

  • Sorry to be so agreeable! 😉

    I wouldn’t say I am a pluralist in the general sense; perhaps one might characterize me as a Christian pluralist. I still believe it was specifically the atonement of Christ by which the world is reconciled to God. I am, however, somewhat of a non-exclusivist in the Pauline (Romans 2.14-16) and Lewisian (cf. The Last Battle) traditions. God will save whom He wills; He will not be bound or tied, nor has He limited Himself voluntarily, in whom He can save.

    So I wouldn’t at all say that the PST stance would preclude anyone’s salvation (that’s playing their game!) – once again, I think it’s dangerous not for that but for how it marginalizes our faith among unbelievers.

    Does this address your question properly?

  • Sure, that helps me see your position — you are in inclusivist.
    I agree with you about the PST. You see, since I do not believe Bible miracle stories and such, I have to think, “What is my favorite kind of Christian?” That is, “What sort of Christian do I think would be the best to have as neighbors and fellow citizens, given they will have beliefs I disagree with?”

    Similarly, you probably think, “Well, if they have to be Muslim, I guess I prefer that kind.” Because we know that beliefs matter. We know that even false beliefs can be used in worse, bad, so-so, better and good ways. Imagine Santa Clause and Easter Bunny, Toothfairy or Ghost Stories — some of those can harm kids if used wrong.

    So, even looking at these Atonement theories, even if I don’t believe Jesus existed [I actually do think he did, but if I didn’t], I could still examine beliefs of believers to see what effect they had on society and on the believer.

    Do you do the same when analyzing other faiths?
    .-= Sabio Lantz´s last blog ..Gran Torino (2008): Movie Review =-.

  • Sure, that helps me see your position — you are in inclusivist.
    I agree with you about the PST. You see, since I do not believe Bible miracle stories and such, I have to think, “What is my favorite kind of Christian?” That is, “What sort of Christian do I think would be the best to have as neighbors and fellow citizens, given they will have beliefs I disagree with?”

    Similarly, you probably think, “Well, if they have to be Muslim, I guess I prefer that kind.” Because we know that beliefs matter. We know that even false beliefs can be used in worse, bad, so-so, better and good ways. Imagine Santa Clause and Easter Bunny, Toothfairy or Ghost Stories — some of those can harm kids if used wrong.

    So, even looking at these Atonement theories, even if I don’t believe Jesus existed [I actually do think he did, but if I didn’t], I could still examine beliefs of believers to see what effect they had on society and on the believer.

    Do you do the same when analyzing other faiths?
    .-= Sabio Lantz´s last blog ..Gran Torino (2008): Movie Review =-.

  • Absolutely. I do this especially with the non-faith position!

  • Absolutely. I do this especially with the non-faith position!

  • Fantastic ! Then we agree on methodology — methodology is the best place wherein to reach agreement. We share a lot !
    .-= Sabio Lantz´s last blog ..My Favorite Type of Christians =-.

  • Fantastic ! Then we agree on methodology — methodology is the best place wherein to reach agreement. We share a lot !
    .-= Sabio Lantz´s last blog ..My Favorite Type of Christians =-.

  • Theodore A. Jones

    Dear Steve,
    I am not a proponent of the doctrine of substitutionary/penal atonement nor any variant of the idea that a direct benefit is a possibility for any individual or group if a human male is sacrificed in place of them and bloodshed caused the loss of his life. As you have noted the Bible has direct objections against this idea. However I am convinced that the man Jesus in the Bible is the only begotten son of the Living God and has by his death, resurrection and ascension perfected the only way the natural born can escape from eternal death. But escape is predicated upon the individual’s faith to use a particular lawfully designated process that has by the rule of law overruled all other processes. I think the greatest conceptual error of contemporary salvific construction is the false assumption that the word atonement has been assigned to mean a completion/perfection of the OT sacrificial system. This has resulted in the false conclusion that the crucifixion of Jesus is a direct benefit to anyone who believes he has died in place of them. The teaching in parable of the Tenants and the actual intention of God toward those who killed the son, as Jesus explains, is not congruent with the proposal of substitutionary atonement. Another example is Jn. 16:8 where Jesus explains before his crucifixion that the condition of unilateral guilt relative to sin will be the remaining issue after his crucifixion. Then there is Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 2:6-8. I think this statement is the most damaging to the systematic theology of substitutionary atonement. Paul says that the actual reason for Jesus’ crucifixion was a secret of God’s that was not revealed to anyone until after Jesus had been crucified. For if it had been possible for any one to correctly understand from any source what the actual reason for Jesus’ crucifixion was he would have never been crucified. (I get highly amused when the proponent of systematic substitutionary atonement flips his Bible open to Lev. 16 and says this is why Jesus had to die in your place.)

    “It is NOT those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13. For the law was changed after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and it is only by his death caused by bloodshed that has created, atoned for, a space to add this change to the law. And your salvation is not possible if you do not hear or read about this change and the Way this law must be obeyed.
    “The law was added so that the trespass (of Jesus’ crucifixion) might increase.” Rom.5:20 & Heb. 7:12b. The apostles explain in the Acts two message that Jesus’ was crucified in conjunction to the set purpose of God for each man. This is the oath that is referred to in Heb. 6:17, one of the immutable things and the other is the law which has been added. The oath states:
    “And for Your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from EACH man too I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” Gen. 9:5 NIV Therefore understand that the word Repent, the Lord’s command (law) given through the apostles, can only be obeyed by the faith of confessing directly to God that you are sorry Jesus lost his life by bloodshed and be baptized into this Way of faith for the forgiveness of all sins. But if you won’t it is a deliberate disobedience of a law for which forgiveness is not possible. Since it is impossible to crucify Jesus’ again it is also impossible to create, atoned for a space to insert a new law, into the law of God for a unilateral sin relative to each man’s accountability to God in regard to one man’s life lost by bloodshed. He became sin for us to Repent of, not in place of, and for this reason only a few ever find what the small narrow gate into the kingdom God actually is. Salvation for each man is only possible by Jesus’ crucifixion having the exponent (increase) of law. If anyone would have had a clue that it was possible for God to add to the law by Jesus’ crucifixion he would have never been crucified and there could not be any possibility of salvation from eternal death.

  • Theodore A. Jones

    Dear Steve,
    I am not a proponent of the doctrine of substitutionary/penal atonement nor any variant of the idea that a direct benefit is a possibility for any individual or group if a human male is sacrificed in place of them and bloodshed caused the loss of his life. As you have noted the Bible has direct objections against this idea. However I am convinced that the man Jesus in the Bible is the only begotten son of the Living God and has by his death, resurrection and ascension perfected the only way the natural born can escape from eternal death. But escape is predicated upon the individual’s faith to use a particular lawfully designated process that has by the rule of law overruled all other processes. I think the greatest conceptual error of contemporary salvific construction is the false assumption that the word atonement has been assigned to mean a completion/perfection of the OT sacrificial system. This has resulted in the false conclusion that the crucifixion of Jesus is a direct benefit to anyone who believes he has died in place of them. The teaching in parable of the Tenants and the actual intention of God toward those who killed the son, as Jesus explains, is not congruent with the proposal of substitutionary atonement. Another example is Jn. 16:8 where Jesus explains before his crucifixion that the condition of unilateral guilt relative to sin will be the remaining issue after his crucifixion. Then there is Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 2:6-8. I think this statement is the most damaging to the systematic theology of substitutionary atonement. Paul says that the actual reason for Jesus’ crucifixion was a secret of God’s that was not revealed to anyone until after Jesus had been crucified. For if it had been possible for any one to correctly understand from any source what the actual reason for Jesus’ crucifixion was he would have never been crucified. (I get highly amused when the proponent of systematic substitutionary atonement flips his Bible open to Lev. 16 and says this is why Jesus had to die in your place.)

    “It is NOT those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13. For the law was changed after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and it is only by his death caused by bloodshed that has created, atoned for, a space to add this change to the law. And your salvation is not possible if you do not hear or read about this change and the Way this law must be obeyed.
    “The law was added so that the trespass (of Jesus’ crucifixion) might increase.” Rom.5:20 & Heb. 7:12b. The apostles explain in the Acts two message that Jesus’ was crucified in conjunction to the set purpose of God for each man. This is the oath that is referred to in Heb. 6:17, one of the immutable things and the other is the law which has been added. The oath states:
    “And for Your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from EACH man too I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” Gen. 9:5 NIV Therefore understand that the word Repent, the Lord’s command (law) given through the apostles, can only be obeyed by the faith of confessing directly to God that you are sorry Jesus lost his life by bloodshed and be baptized into this Way of faith for the forgiveness of all sins. But if you won’t it is a deliberate disobedience of a law for which forgiveness is not possible. Since it is impossible to crucify Jesus’ again it is also impossible to create, atoned for a space to insert a new law, into the law of God for a unilateral sin relative to each man’s accountability to God in regard to one man’s life lost by bloodshed. He became sin for us to Repent of, not in place of, and for this reason only a few ever find what the small narrow gate into the kingdom God actually is. Salvation for each man is only possible by Jesus’ crucifixion having the exponent (increase) of law. If anyone would have had a clue that it was possible for God to add to the law by Jesus’ crucifixion he would have never been crucified and there could not be any possibility of salvation from eternal death.

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