Some Interesting Thoughts on Atonement

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.

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.


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4 Responses to Some Interesting Thoughts on Atonement

  1. me says:

    Soon I’ll post an Orthodox view of the Gospel, which is really interesting.

  2. Mike Haubrich says:

    And I realize that based on our past interactions, this may make you like McGrath even less.

  3. Mike Haubrich says:

    I am not sure why you NEED that, Steve. That takes you back to the original objection that Alden pointed out. As an atheist, I have a great deal of respect for James McGrath and what he says here is that the depiction of God setting up the world for humans to fail and then to offer the solution is the very form of a caricature of Christiany that drives people away from Christianity.

    McGrath here is recognizing the power of faith in a spiritual force to actually impel people to improve their lives. Your view seems to me, fatalistic while his is more compelling as a positive reason to be a Christian.

    Doesn’t change me, of course. 🙂

  4. Steve Martin says:

    What I noticed is the subtle curving back in on the ‘self’.

    “…transform our lives.”

    Sure He does.

    But what I NEED most of all is a Savior from sin, death and the devil.

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