I have a confession to make. I have a hard time with much of the evangelical thinking on the issue of the atonement. My own thoughts are not important at this point, mostly because I know more about what I don’t believe than what I do.
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Today I read the following, in a blog post by James McGrath on Hebrews 9. While I can’t say that I agree with his assessment of the “biggest problem” (there are a number of problems with “contemporary Christian talk about the atonement”), I do tend to agree that we are saved from sin rather than from God, and that God wants to transform us rather than punish us:
The biggest problem I have with a lot of contemporary Christian talk about the atonement is that it depicts God as the problem, one whose hands are tied for this or that reason, with Jesus’ death as the only way to get God to forgive us.
The New Testament emphasis is thoroughly different. It focuses on human injustice, lack of compassion, hatred, mercilessness, ruthlessness, jealousy, and all the other things that we know we are capable of and which make us ashamed. And it focuses on God as wanting to free us from those things and transform our lives.
However one may think about God, or the death of Jesus, in the present day, there is no reason that we cannot preserve the core emphasis on our need for inner transformation and the genuine possibility of experiencing it. And for Christians, we often find the inspiration and challenge to experience those things in our contemplation of a crucified Messiah, one who overcomes evil not by destroying and punishing but by seeking reconciliation, even at the cost of his own life.