Posts tagged Atonement Theology
As anyone who knows me or reads my blog regularly will realize, I am quite fond of atonement theology. Besides the numerous posts that I have made concerning it, I have also done a significant amount of study–both personal and academic–in relation to this matter of Christian theology. As the parties aforementioned will also realize, I am a supreme antagonist of penal conceptions of atonement, i.e., those atonement theologies which primally locate and ultimately terminate both the problem and solution of atonement exclusively within the psychology of God concerning human sinfulness.
Those who would disagree with me on this assessment often point to what they perceive to be "clearly" penal language in the Pauline corpus of Scripture, arguing that Paul (or the writers of the more broadly labeled collection and theological method) is my most definitive theological antagonist. While I can certainly understand why these individuals would arrive at such conclusions given their starting presuppositions, I now simply wish to share some reflections which I have concerning a very interesting portion of Ephesians which I feel call into question the legitimacy of characterizing the Pauline understanding of atonement as "penal."
The main text which I wish to reflect upon in is chapter More >
A few weeks ago, I posted a discussion concerning the limitations of Penal Substitutionary Atonement theology, arguing that this theological perspective ultimately fails to attain to a philosophically meaningful conception of atonement in that, on the basis of its very methodology, it neglects to answer the primal question of atonement, e.g., that which occurs within humanity that humanity might be reconciled to God. This week, I simply wish to share a few brief thoughts about a very related concept: Limited Atonement.
One of the major impetuses for Limited Atonement, admittedly, is guarding against the danger of universalism. That is, how does one approach the discussion of the benefits and efficacy of Christ's atonement without devolving into unorthodox beliefs concerning the ultimate and unqualified reconciliation of all things to God in the eschaton? In many ways, Limited Atonement theology bypasses this crisis by arguing for a very strict and "limited" range of the efficacy of atonement; that is, Christ's atonement is only directed towards and efficacious on behalf of those for whom Christ dies. Within the complex of Limited Atonement theology, "those for whom Christ died" is understood as those who have been eternally ordained for salvation based exclusively upon the fiat More >
Recently, the theological blog-o-sphere has been in an uproar over comments made by Liberty University's Jerry Falwell wherein he suggested that Limited Atonement theory (held by many within the Reformed camp) is a heterodox theological perspective.
I will not attempt to defend Falwell's statements, for there has been no ecumenical determination concerning particular views of the atonement. Therefore, it is not possible to make definitive statements about the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of particular views of the atonement (this, of course, requires a fair bit of qualification, but I will not pursue that here).
Although Falwell has over-stated the issue, I still believe that a very strong case can be made against the philosophical tenability of Limited Atonement theory. Therefore, it is to this discussion that I devote this post.
The most basic premise of LA is that Christ's sacrifice can, and must only be understood as efficacious for the salvation of those for whom it is offered. As traditional Christian belief eschews any notion of universalism (in that all will eventually be reconciled to the divine), LA presses that Christ's sacrifice is made only for those who are eventually reconciled to God, for if it were made for those who do not More >
The words, "Good Friday" seem like somewhat of a misnomer. What is good, after all, about the brutal execution of Jesus of Nazareth? In a world in which violence dominates all media and suffuses the understanding which we have of our world, how can there be anything "good" about what this day commemorates? Do we really need yet another violent and brutal image to add to our violence-overloaded modern lives?
In a very real sense, there is nothing "good" about this day. This day marks the apex of human sinfulness, when the full fury of humanity's enmity toward God was poured out on Christ. This day reveals the incredible juxtaposition of divine love and human hatred. In the incarnation, God comes to God's people with mercy, forgiveness and salvation, holding out the hope of reconciliation, restoration and recreation.
But this day also reveals the depths of the privation of good to in which humanity perpetually devolves, as its response to the immanence of love divine is brutality and violence infinitized, the virulence of the history of human hatred quantified in the execution of very God.
So then, there is nothing inherently "good" about what happened to Jesus some 2000 years More >
My thinking has been engaged recently by a series of posts made by mofast entitled "The Myth of the Redemptive Bauer." As fellow blog-o-addicts might be aware, there was previously a series of posts (the origin of which I can no longer remember) that dealt with parallels between Bauer's vigilante-esque justice and the atonement of Christ. In his posts,
Mofast disavows any similarities between the two figures, arguing that the crux of atonement cannot be violence, as if God's response to human sinfulness would proceed along the same lines as the power and destructive quality of humanity's doppleganger nature. Mofast's comments are erudite and prophetic–I would suggest that all check them out.
But anyway, while reflecting upon Mofast's conclusions, as well as upon recent events, I have been compelled to think about the nature of "justice." So here goes.
Justice is an incredibly dense and complicated notion. To utter the word or allude to the idea is to conjure a thousand related issues that come to bear in maddeningly intricate ways upon the final notion of the original concept that is decided upon. In fact, one of the things that convulutes the meaning is the tendency to attempt to reduce the More >
Several weeks ago, I posted some reflections on the meaning of Good Friday. In this post, I suggested that the "goodness" of Christ's death (which is commemorated on this day) is not located within the violence of the cross, but rather in the ultimate victory which Christ acheived over the powers of human sinfulness and hatred even in the face of the collected history and force of evil which was gathered therein against him. That Christ did not capitulate to the cycles of human violence and sinfulness, but rather resisted them even to the point of death, I argued, is truly where the "goodness" of this day is located.
Although there were some very generous comments left, other readers were not impressed. Two in particular argued that I had "missed the point," the "point" being that the violence enacted upon the cross against Christ was not borne out of human sinfulness and hatred, but rather had its primal origin in the very ontology of God.
This kind of thinking very much in keeping with Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory which, in a nutshell, locates the crisis of atonement in the satisfaction of divine wrath through the punishment of sin. This theory suggests More >
As I was making my arduous drive home the other day, I was listening to our local feed of Air1, the "positive alternative." Often, Air1 has various Christian speakers, leaders, and artists record short, 30-second lessons in Christian theology and biblical interpretation. More often than not, these lessons are theologically uncritical and philosophically obtuse platitudes that only perpetuate the theological wasteland of American religiosity. This particular day did not disappoint. KJ-52, a Christian rap artist and regular contributor to Air1's segments, came on air to offer his take on the atonement. Not surprisingly, he conjured the tried and true story of the train conductor.
As the story goes, there was a man whose job was to make sure that the "switch"on a set of train tracks was appropriately thrown to prevent passing trains from smashing into each other. On one particular day, the man brought his son to work with him and told him to stay close to the booth. On schedule, two trains approached the switch, and the man prepared to throw the lever. As he was preparing to do this, however, he looked up and realized–with horror–that his son was playing on the train tracks. If he left to More >
For all of its philosophical machinations, Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory (PSA) can be reduced to a very simple syllogism.
A. The "penalty" of sin is death.B. Humanity has sinned.C. Therefore, humanity deserves to and must die.D. Christ has paid the "penalty" (deserved debt) of sin by dying in humanity's place.
Admittedly, this is logical, straightforward, and it preaches really well. However, despite the prima facie appeal, PSA theory is based upon several false premises and is subject to many philosophically incoherent conclusions. In the following, I shall attempt to explicate exactly what these are. Moreover, I shall attempt to briefly note how these issues relate to recent reevaluations of the structure of the universe and the nature of death.
To begin, let us examine the first statement: "The penalty of sin is death." Based upon the oft quoted words of Paul ("the wages of sin is death"), PSA theory necessitates that physical death is the causal product of sin (however this may be conceived). If one is to speculate back to the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden, such a view naturally and necessarily concludes that Adam, before the genesis of sin, lived in a state of non-death. In other words, were More >
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
In the book of Colossians, Paul instructs the believers that they should "forgive" each other "as the Lord" has forgiven them. This is a high calling–forgive even as God has forgiven! However, the immediate question comes to mind: what does it mean to forgive "even as" God has forgiven? Penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) theory holds that all sin creates a "penalty" which must be "paid" in order for the sin to be forgiven. As all of humanity has sinned, PSA theory asserts that all owe a "penalty" for said sin, a penalty which must be paid if forgiveness is to be actualized. But to whom must the penalty be "paid?" Surely it is not Satan, for it is inconsistent to say that forgiveness of sins is secured upon paying off the devil. Therefore, the only one to whom the payment can be due is God.
So then, PSA theory holds that humanity owes a "penalty" for its sin to God. As the penalty requires satisfaction, only payment of the penalty will secure forgiveness. Moreover, PSA theory asserts that More >
1. PSA theory asserts that sin incurs a "penalty."2. This penalty is based upon God's decision concerning sin.3. God's decision in this matter is free and in accordance with God's will, as there is no force which compels God to choose or act in one way or the other.4. God has determined that the penalty incurred from sin terminates in the death of the sinner.5. God has determined that this penalty cannot be mitigated unless satisfactory payment is rendered.6. God has determined the terms of the penalty;7. It is also God to whom satisfaction must be rendered.8. All humanity has sinned and incurred the penalty of death.9. Satisfaction for this sin can only be accomplished by full satisfaction of the penalty–the death of every sinner.10. God has determined that satisfaction of penalty must be rendered by those to whom it applies.11. Christ has experienced death, and mysteriously unites the universal sin of humanity within a singular death.12. And God has accepted Christ's death in the place of multitudes of sinners, counting his singular death efficacious for remitting the universal penalty due for innumerable sinners.13. As already stated, no necessity determines the free and willful decisions of God.14. If God decrees More >