Atonement Part I

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First off, I feel as if one of the major problems with the church’s current understanding of the atonement is that it remains fixated on Jesus’ death and blood. I remember last October I talked to one of those Christians that attempts to converts students at UT by making them aware of their eternal destination in Hell. Although I usually resisted the temptation of conversing with Christians, in this instance I caved in. As we started talking about the cross she continued to emphasize that God needed Jesus’ blood to blot out the sins of the world. Barring the fact that her view makes God looks like a vampire, I believe there are many other problems with this view, both theologically and ethically. While I won’t pretend that this this view is without any scriptural support, it is a cursory reading to pretend that Paul only understands Jesus’ death through the lens of substitution. Paul offers numerous metaphors to attempt to describe the event of Jesus’ death on the cross. Another odd thing about a substitutionary view (whether Anselm’s or Luther’s) is that’s it has only been around for the last thousand years of Christianity. Previously the patristic fathers mostly viewed Jesus’ death from what Gustaf Aulen termed the “Christus Victor” view. The predominant view by the patristic fathers was the ransom theory. From this perspective God and Satan were involved in a cosmic battle for dominion over humanity. Man had been under Satan’s control since the Fall. However, because of God’s masking of Jesus’ perfection from Satan, Satan was tricked by God into persecuting Jesus, which ultimately led to the crucifixion. Although the dualistic cosmology and the deception of God might strike us as primitive, I believe this view better encapsulates a holistic view of the Gospel narrative.

For one, the substitutionary view of atonement tends to minimize the life and ethical teachings of Jesus and focuses exclusively on the cross/resurrection. Jesus’ role is reduced to merely functional so that he can take care of the sin problem that has plagued mankind. I believe Paul is partially responsible for the problem, given his almost complete neglect of Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God. Bultmann summarizes it well, “The proclaimer becomes the proclaimed”. Although some Christians might believe that Jesus went around preaching, “I am the Son of God and I have come to take away the sins of the world by my death”, this is not upheld by a faithful reading of the gospels. His message is better summarized in Mark 1 by, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. I’ll have to return to the Gospel of John in a later post to address certain issues arising in the fourth gospel.

The substitutionary view results in some twisted beliefs and practices. For one, God looks like an ass. Because he cannot lower himself to forgive humanity until Jesus spills his blood, his grace seems very conditional. Caputo notes in What Would Jesus Deconstruct just how antithetical this atonement view is when compared to Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. In this narrative, the father requires nothing from the son (i.e. an apology) to offer his lavish forgiveness to his son that betrayed him. How do we go from the God of grace and forgiveness who asks that we extend forgiveness seven times seventy, to the God that demands Jesus’ blood to offer salvation to humanity?

On a more personal level, I work at a crises line for domestic violence. I cannot count how many times I have talked to women who have been lied to by the church to be submissive to their husbands and accept abuse just like Jesus accepted suffering on the road to Calvary in submission to the will of God the Father. For a unique perspective, check out Delores Williams’ book Sisters in the Wilderness to see just how damaging this atonement view has been in encouraging a surrogacy role that many black women fulfilled for white slave owners in the South. The God-Man who dies on the cross for our sins to appease his oppressive father does support such a view. However, the God-Man who confronts the powers and principalities with his weakness and love to bring about the Kingdom of God and rid the world of evil strongly challenges anyone trying to suffer to for the sake of being faithful to Jesus’. Read Kotsko’s post on An und fur sich: http://tinyurl.com/lehbce. Suffering isn’t redemptive in an of itself. Even if God works in mysterious ways it doesn’t diminish the severity and tragedy any catastrophe.

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2 Responses to “Atonement Part I”

  1. Collin Mac Says:

    Could you elaborate in another post on the Christus Victor view of atonement or others views of atonement that you prefer to the substitionary or bloodthirsty ones.

  2. jbsrh18 Says:

    Sure that’ll be my next post

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