Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rethinking Atonement in Dangerous Ways

All through church history there have been various understandings of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, both within the church and without. But for many centuries, many scholars who hold a a high view of scripture have accepted the Bible's teachings on the more legal aspect of the death of God's Lamb as one that satisfies the Holy Wrath of God. 
This has at times been painted as a harsh view of an unloving God. This criticism isn't new. God was seen as harsh in the garden for not allowing Adam and Eve to eat of every tree. To withhold even one good thing from his people was cruel. And then when they did that One Thing, God drove them from the Garden and made them work and put warrior angels guarding the Garden... What a violent God!!  You might notice my sarcasm here. I think it is incredibly arrogant of humankind to judge God's actions, motives, or outcome. Of course, some would say they are not judging God but those who wrote about him so carelessly. They were so steeped in their cultural milieu they could not possibly write the truth. Now in our enlightened age we can sift through the Holy Writ and decipher for ourselves what is to our liking as progressive, educated, truly compassionate human beings; and thereby derive what God should be.Hence this article from Pastor Chuck Queen. (This is only a snippet.)


Rethinking the atonement

By Chuck Queen Is it possible to understand the saving significance of Jesus’ death in credible, holistic and transformative ways?
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was the first to expound the theory that Jesus’ death was necessary for the satisfaction of God’s honor. This evolved into the theory of penal substitutionary atonement, perhaps most elaborately developed by Princeton theologian Charles Hodge (1797-1878).
This theory became so popular in Western Christianity that it came to be equated with “the gospel” preached in the Great Awakening, and in more recent times by renowned evangelist Billy Graham.
Today, a growing number of evangelical and progressive Christians are questioning the truthfulness and viability of this theory. Why is this so?
Two reasons are most often given by interpreters. First, it is suggested that this theory of the atonement makes God look small and petty. What kind of God requires the violent death of an innocent victim? And if God demands a violent atonement, then violence must in some sense be redemptive, which a growing number of Christians believe contradicts the good news of God’s nonviolent rule that Jesus proclaimed and embodied.
It is argued that at its worst, substitutionary atonement makes God guilty of cosmic child abuse; at its best, it lacks coherence and common sense. Even Trinitarian formulations that emphasize the union between Father and Son cannot erase the fact that in all versions of substitutionary atonement the bottom line is that God must save us from God.
Another reason this theory is being questioned today is because it reinforces the unhealthy notion that salvation is simply a legal, juridical transaction between the believer and God. According to most versions of substitutionary atonement, our guilt is imputed to Jesus, and his righteousness is imputed to us. As such, it does nothing to nurture authentic conversion and discipleship to Jesus. 
So how might we understand the saving significance of Jesus’ death in more credible, holistic and transformative ways?   
Read the rest here: http://www.abpnews.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=28460&Itemid=100200#.Uyhv-PldWSp

     I fear for the salvation of one who does not believe that Jesus paid the sin debt with his death. And for one who assumes, that he must be more loving and caring than God if in fact that is the case. What you are not is HOLY as God. And while I am very aware of the varied past of baptist believers, not just the last 40 years but 400, I am saddened that a Baptist, right here in the American South, would deny this aspect of redemption. Explore other concepts concerning the redemptive death of Christ? Certainly. Attribute Biblical thought strictly to an Anselmic 'straw-man' and then debunk it? Tragic.

"Violence must in some sense be redemptive." What a logical leap. Death is redemptive given the precise parameters and setting. But, hey lets call it 'violence' and so play on the popular horror of all things violent. (Maybe we can work in Columbine and Sandy Hook.)

"...it reinforces the unhealthy notion that salvation is simply a legal..." No it doesn't. One aspect of it is legal. Its not complicated, its varied and nuanced. There is plenty in the gospel story about the relationship, the oneness, the indwelling empowerment aspects of redemption. To see that an Old Testament model was fulfilled in the redemptive death of Christ, that propitiated, is a belief pre-Anselm.

There are other quotes I could deal with but I'll let you readers discover other faulty assumptions from his article.

If my reply takes on a bit of 'personal' flavor that is because Mr. Queen is leading people who claim to be believers in Christ, and I trust they are, but leading them away from the Jesus of scripture and I find that reprehensible. Even with all his compassionate and erudite language, rejection of the salvific death and payment of debt owed to God for sin is a tragedy.

The Bottom-line is, "God must save us from God." Who else possibly could? He is God, we are not. There is no merely human champion who can argue in God's court, fight in God's arena, out-compassion God in a situation where compassion would be the game changing attribute. Unless he is the human born, divine Son of God. Who is every bit as Holy and Loving as the Father who loved the world so much that He sent Him to die...  In, Our, Place.

Clark Dunlap is pastor of First Baptist Smithfield, North Richland Hills, Tx. An Historic Southern Baptist Church. And Author of The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints; Don't Just Survive, Thrive (An Exposition of 1st Peter), and other books available at Lulu.com.

Chuck Queen is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., and author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith.

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