Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"A Better Atonement"


We are mid way through Holy Week, and in two days we will celebrate reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus. And as usual, there is somewhat of a discussion/debate happening. It happens every year and isn't just subject to Easter. Christmas always brings with it the hot topical discussions such as the validity of the virgin birth or something such as the divinity of Jesus.

Last Easter it seemed to be the year of the literal vs metaphorical resurrection of Jesus. This year the focus has shifted more towards Friday rather than Sunday and what actually happened when Jesus died is being discussed.

I am not going to spend much time writing about what I think about the atonement and the different theories out there because I think Tony Jones has already done a great job with his blog series on the atonemeandes well as a new Ebook called "A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin".

I highly recommend the book no matter where you are in your beliefs about what happened on the cross. Tony does a great job at presenting a clear understanding, as well as, background to the more popular theories out there such as the "Ransom Captive Theory", "Christus Victor Theory" and the ever so popular "Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory" which is currently the position held by most Evangelicals today.

Tony briefly describes some other "minority theories" before letting us in on which position he holds to at this point in his journey.

I know Tony's writings on the subject have sparked great conversations in my neck of the woods and has got some people thinking and digging deeper, which I think is one of the main goals of the book, to get people talking and thinking. That and raising awareness that there are other ways of understanding the atonement other than the Penal Substitution Theory.

I've written a little on the atonement before, and my views of the cross are very similar to, as well as a mixture of, what Tony presents as the "Scape Goat" and the "Solidarity" theories. And I like how Tony points out that we are allowed to take different aspects from different theories.

But the one thing that really stuck out to me, and something that I wish more people would come to recognize and understand is what Tony points out towards the end of the book in a section titled, "A Caveat".

Tony writes...

It must be noted, and noted in bold, that the atonement is not, nor has ever been, a topic of Christian orthodoxy. That is to say, no historic creed of the church deals with the atonement, and none of the seven ecumenical councils took up the question of the atonement... unlike the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, the atonement is not an issue over which a person can be considered an apostate or a heretic.

Maybe if for no other reason, this is why I would like to encourage those from all different Christian understandings , especially PSA advocates, to read this book. Because there is so much mystery wrapped up in the crucifixion of Jesus and therefore, I believe no one understanding can do it justice. In other words, no one has a hold on the "absolute" truth behind the atonement.

For I too was raised in a tradition that seemed to equate a belief in the PSA theory to the whole of the gospel (or at least central to it). For I know some who even equate one's "salvation" and hence, eternal destination, to their "correct" belief in a Penal Substitutionary Atonement understanding of what Jesus did on the cross. And I'm realizing more and more that many have no idea that there are other ways Christians have viewed the atonement throughout church history other than the PSA theory.

As always, I hope to further the conversation, and I think "A Better Atonement" does just that.

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