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Friday, July 31, 2015

Sentiment on Atonement

Here are some questions that might be asked when considering the Atonement. Why did Jesus come? What was the point of the crucifixion? In what sense are we "saved by grace" and what are we saved from? Oh, and a really good question ... who is saved? Now, the Bible answers these kinds of questions, but what do we feel would be right? What noble sentiments would we expect?

"It's not about some blood sacrifice to magically save us from an impotent god who is powerlessly unable to forgive on his own." Good, good. Very noble. "A just God would not punish people for eternity for a white lie or even 'a lifetime of mistakes'." Very warm indeed. "A God who demands perfection is not a loving and just God." Popular feeling. "Jesus came teaching a way of Grace, not of rule following, not of blood sacrifices that the pagans relied upon, or to appease some angry deity." That just feels right. "A God who cannot forgive as we can forgive -- without some payment or payback or something -- is not a God at all." Noble sentiments, all. Except that they are in direct contradiction to what the Bible has to say.

Consider what the Bible says about blood.
Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Rom 5:9)

Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Heb 9:22)

Brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus. (Heb 10:19)

Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. (Heb 13:12)
That seems to say ("seems" as in "states absolutely clearly and irrefutably") that Christ's blood was essential to our salvation.

Consider what the Bible has to say about God's wrath.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. (Rom 1:18)

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Eph 5:6)

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience. (Col 3:5-6)
God's wrath isn't a guess. It isn't the product of narrow minds, tricked (like all of historic Christian orthodoxy) into some messed up view of God. It is plainly (and repeatedly) stated in Scripture. Indeed, we have the clear statement that God's will is to make His power and wrath known on "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Rom 9:22).

In Romans Paul writes a comprehensive explanation of the problem (Rom 1:18-3:18). It's sin (Rom 1:18)1. It's everywhere (Rom 3:23). It's fatal (Rom 6:23). Then he steps up to the good news (Rom 3:19-26). He speaks of our justification as a gift by God's grace "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith." That word, "propitiation", isn't a friendly word. It refers to an angry God who requires appeasement. John says, "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 2:2) Clearly sin requires propitiation, the appeasement of an angry deity. This, the Bible says, was accomplished by Christ. How? "In His blood." Now, am I saying that God was some bloodthirsty deity requiring some messy sacrifice? No. Consider it from this direction. We speak of the "precious blood of Christ." How precious? Just how much blood was required? If Jesus had pricked His finger on a thorn, would that have been a sufficient quantity? No, of course not. The question isn't blood. The point is in the premise, "The life of the flesh is in the blood ... for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement." (Lev 17:11) Not blood, but life. Since "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23), the payment required is death. So Christ didn't die as an example or to teach us something or to show humility. "Christ died for our sins." (1 Cor 15:3)

The Bible says that all of us have sinned. The Bible says that sin earns us death. The Bible clearly claims that God's justice demands satisfaction. And the Bible is clear that Christ died for our sins, providing the satisfaction of divine justice, so that "He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:26)2 Now, noble sentiments might lead you to believe otherwise. But your noble sentiments would be wrong, a lie. And another thing the Bible is clear on is who the father of lies is. You can stick with your "warm feelings", your "improved understanding", your "higher version" and stand in direct opposition to all of Scripture as well as all of historic orthodox Christianity on this, or you can consider that we all suffer from wicked and deceitful hearts and if your feelings contradict God's Word, it is Man who is the liar, not God (Rom 3:4). So, go ahead. Substitute your feelings for God's stated truth. We'll let God sort that out.
1 Note the infraction that incurs God's wrath. Suppression of truth. Not some "big sin". Not serial rape or mass murder or some such thing. This warrants wrath from God.

2 In this phrase, Paul makes Christ's death on our behalf a matter of justice satisfied, making God both just and justifier. If it wasn't about justice, the phrase is meaningless.


Naum said...

"…all of historic orthodox Christianity"?

The hubris of Protestants waxing on about *orthodox* Christianity :)

Historic? Hardly -- this view of atonement did not become prevalent until over a 1000 years after Christ. And the *Orthodox* (Greek/Eastern) church, the *original* church (tradition precedes that of *Catholic* church) does not hold to this -- *Christus Victor* is what this stream today, even holds, still -- dating back to Irenaeus.

Appeasing a wrathful God is not reading Scripture from a Jesus hermeneutic, a cruciform shaped lens.

And is based on a gross misunderstanding of the Hebrew scriptures -- where *atonement* (in the 1st/2nd temple) was about a *covering*, a celebration of Genesis and re-creation, the glory and majesty of God. Where one goat was offered up as a sacrifice to God , and another driven out, and all the sins of humankind levied upon.

But then Jesus said, I desire *mercy*, not *sacrifice*.

Stan said...

Actually, the original theory was the Ransom Theory ... which is simply an early version of Substitutionary Atonement. But, hey, go ahead and pick which one you like. But when you do (based primarily on those "noble sentiments"), try to line up all the other texts (like the ones I've listed and more) rather than simply ejecting them. (Notice, for instance, that when Jesus said, "If you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless" (Matt 12:7), He was saying, "You need to be merciful."

So when someone decides to explain all that Scripture about the cost of sin, the price Christ paid, the blood and the wrath, and God's justice in light of "There was NO ATONEMENT MADE because no atonement was required", let me know.

Just curious. Is it "hubris" when you decide to choose your personal favorites in "scholars" over the others or your preferred Scriptures over others?

Stan said...

I'm getting some push-back on this topic ... from multiple sources. Almost all of it is predicated on "That's not what Jesus was about." This is precisely my point regarding the "noble sentiment". And my point is not "I'm right and you're wrong", but always "Does your noble sentiment line up with Scripture?" So if any of you would like to explain all the texts I included along with those you feel oppose what I said and tell me 1) what the ones I included mean rather than what they say and 2) how your version doesn't contradict these Scriptures and, finally, 3) how all of this is actually a coherent message, I'd be glad to see it. Please be sure to include how God can be just and justifier without actually providing any justification. And explain in what sense we have a "Redeemer" who paid no price. "That's not like Jesus" is not a biblical case. (For instance, "Were the disciples teaching the atonement when Jesus was alive?" is a stupid question. They didn't know it yet. Were they teaching it after? That's what the texts I've offered say.

I'm willing to entertain the possibility that the oldest view on the Atonement (Ransom Theory) and its offspring (Penal Substitution) are wrong -- that all of the Church that bought that was wrong -- if you can provide a coherent biblical case.

David said...

The other problem with the argument that Jesus is the image of God (not that I deny He is) is that they are saying God changed. In the old testament He was this wrathful, domineering deity reigning over man with an iron first, but Jesus showed us the side of God that He couldn't show in the beginning.

Also (this is actually about another party of this series) if God was demonstrating the "good" things He could and would do, why would He give examples of the "bad" He could do? He brings darkness, He makes us mute/blind/deaf... If His intention was to encourage those He spoke to, wouldn't it have gone further to say, "I bring light" or "I will give you the ability to speak my words". If the negative was just to explain His power, but the negative isn't things He actually does, then saying them was both meaningless as encouragement and flat out lieing. How are either of those a good option?

Finally, I wonder if any of your detractors are willing to admit that they are starting from noble sentiment. It sounds good, which is the point of noble, but sounding good isn't always right. Starting from," God doesn't do "x", so we must understand the Bible to say something other than what it seems to say" can't be a good choice.

Stan said...

True. If Jesus is the image of God and God displayed wrath and justice and punishment of sins as well as a sacrificial system, then on what basis would someone argue "That's not Jesus"?

Interestingly one author sets out to demonstrate that this longstanding concept of Atonement is just plain wrong. He proves it "with Scripture". But he starts with his position that the standard doctrine of Atonement " ... arose out of the old Jewish tradition of sacrifice and was attached to the death of Christ through the letters of Paul and to a lesser extent other New Testament authors." This, he's quite sure, is wrong. That is, "Throw out the Old Testament system (instituted by God) and the New Testament authors. We're just going with the words of Jesus." This is not an argument that harmonizes Scripture. It's an argument that deletes it.

I think the only way we can come to the conclusion that this concept of Atonement -- a payment made for sin -- is true is if we get it from Scripture. It does not arise out of a noble sentiment. Of course, the objection reminds me of Paul's words. "The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing ... but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness." (1 Cor 1:18, 23) "Foolishness" to those with more "noble sentiments", but truth to those who believe God.

Naum said...

Most recent scholarship finds that *Christus Victor* was the dominant atonement theory of the early church fathers. But Anselm (the origination of (P)?SA, which came more than 1000 years AD) confused ransom as a "business transaction" (and hence, *substitution*) as opposed to a rescue or liberation of humankind from slavery, sickness, and sin.

How did Jesus explain his own death? Mark 10:45 -- For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His [a]life a ransom for many.

Evangelical scholar Scot McKnight comment is spot-on:

The use of the term 'for' (anti) indicates either exclusive substitutionary death (his death instead of theirs, Lev 27:11) or benefit for the many (his death brings freedom for the many; Matt 17:27)… What is unobserved by substitutionary theory advocates is that ransom cannot be a substitute as we might find in theologically sophisticated language; where death is for death and penal judgment is for penal judgment. Here we have a mixing of descriptions: a ransom for slaves. Jesus, in Mark's language doesn't become a slave for other slaves. He is a ransom for those enslaved. The difference ought to be given special attention… The ransom does not thereby become a substitute so much as a liberating price. The notion is one of being a Savior, not substitution. The best translation would be that Jesus is a 'ransom for the benefit of the many'.

Jesus death is not to be interpreted in the logic of the sacrificial principle but as the subversion and the end of it. Jesus death is God's way of coming into the machinery of sacrifiåce and tossing in a wrench to stop it from working ever again. The sacrificial principle is the dark side of religion of which Jesus death is the light.

Stan said...

As I said, feel free to pick your favorite scholar and discard the rest. Since Jesus said He cam to give His life "a ransom for many", then I would go with the "redeemer" theory. A price was paid. (And most of the articles I've read on the topic all agree that the Ransom Theory was the first.)

David said...

I'm confused. If Christ's point of coming to earth was to subvert the sacrificial system, why did He sacrifice Himself? In your view, He is saying God had it wrong in the Old Testament. You don't need to have your sins debt covered, just to be liberated from sin (which He obviously failed at since we're still sinners). The sacrificial system was implemented by God, but He changed His mind and couldn't figure out a better way to end it other than sacrificing His Son? You don't end a system by continuing it, but by doing something different. I know God's ways are different than ours but they typically make sense in hindsight. If His intent was to save us from the tyranny of sin, His death was unnecessary since the sacrificial system was wrong. Christ could have just deemed us free since death isn't necessary for those that earn it through sin, but merely oppressed by it. Just really doesn't make sense for Him to die.

Anonymous said...

what is the nature of the noble sentiment?
simply stated it is a form of delusion. when the mind cannot face the truth, it must create a substitute. the substitute truth is then justified by a sentiment that is noble, such as love, caring, humanitarian, religious. it then uses the sentiment to justify the delusion. this is why the heart is desperately wicked. the insidious nature of the noble sentiment, is that it is neither loving, caring or religious. it actually by its very nature, to suppress the Truth, at war with God. the noble sentiment has at one end of the spectrum, a mild agitation at God's truth. the other end, hatred for God, dressed up as religion. let God speak and all men be silent. the Word plainly states what it plainly means.