All posts tagged Atonement Theology

Jesus’ Death – Seeking An Understanding of Atonement – Part1

Beginning with this introductory post and the ones to follow, I will be seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death and in what sense it is ‘atoning’.

Jesus Death Saves Us

Followers of Jesus across the spectrum of traditions have learned to speak of Jesus’ death as God’s way of somehow solving what was broken with humanity and the world we live in.

La descente de croix Rubens

La descente de croix – Rubens

Atonement Through the Ages

When investigating the history of Atonement theories over the last 2 millennia, you will discover that there are basically about 3 main categorical theories; Christus VictorMoral InfluenceSatisfaction. To be sure, there are more subsets and sister theories to these 3. If you have not yet looked into this topic too deeply yourself you may be in for a twisting and turning roller coaster of a ride! I certainly have been.

Which Atonement View Is Right?

But when we are asking how atonement works, what the mechanics of it are, how can a person’s death (specifically Jesus’ death) actually resolve things? -The answers actually vary quite broadly.

At first I didn’t know there were ‘other’ explanations. I thought there was just the one, and that it can be boiled down quite economically to a single paragraph of elboration. At least that is how it was first presented to me; atonement boiled down to a 3′ x 5′ 2-3 page illustration & text ‘gospel’ tract. This gospel tract atonement theory was soon reinforced in quick summary most Sunday mornings at the tail end of the sermons. This particular view which I first learned falls within the Satisfaction view of the atonement but has been shaped and refined in a particular fashion by John Calvin and since then has come to be known as the “Penal Substitutionary View” of the atonement (P.S.A.).

The P.S.A. explanation does help in some ways in communicating truth & meaning about Jesus death and what that means for us, but it also created many problems for me as well. And with problems became questions, and in time, those questions forced me to consider that their might be ‘other’ atonement explanations more satisfactory. ; ) But, onced I learned there were other theories about the atonement, I thought to myself, “I need to figure out which Atonement theory is the right view”,  with my added assumption that in declaring to myself that one of them is ‘true’, by definition out rules all of the other views of being true.

Truth In Part

But, after deciding upon one view as being the “right” one, I quickly found myself wanting to double back on that decision because suddenly a different one sounds more convincing.

I couldn’t find a single atonement view which by itself appeared to express the complete meaning and significance of Jesus death. Each view left to itself, seemed to come up short in explaining the full weight of what was going on. And each of the Atonement views appeared to have at least some truth. Anyway, why must only one view be right?

I resolved to settle on the idea the we may very well need all of the perspectives to help round out the fuller picture of Jesus’ atoning work.

You might imagine one person seeing one unique thing and another person sees another thing, each explaining in their own way, informing us what they see. It is a reasonable enough idea to think that quite a few explanations, similes, and metaphors might be needed to capture a richer and fuller understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death.

Metaphor & The Real Thing

After all, most of the Atonement views employ metaphor to explain the significance and meaning of Jesus’ death. And a metaphor being a metaphor, isn’t by its very nature the real thing which we’re getting at, is it? A metaphor is a device and a tool which seeks to point to something beyond itself, merely a representation, a likening -to the real thing.

Quentin Massys Ecce Homo 1520, Doge's Palace,Venice

Quentin Massys Ecce Homo 1520, Doge’s Palace,Venice

The real thing in this discussion, of which the various atonement metaphors are pointing to, is the real-in-person death of Jesus on a Roman cross. The real facts on the ground, so to speak. All that real stuff which led to Jesus death. The context surrounding it all. The different historical actors within the drama. Asking the questions, “Who killed Jesus”, and “Why did they want to murder him?” are necessary to make any plausible conclusions. Also, What role did God play in his death? Who is responsible for killing Jesus? Was it a just or unjust death? How did Jesus understand the meaning of his own death?

We might say the real thing of which the metaphors are merely pointing to, are detailed within the Gospel accounts themselves, in the narrative historical events and explanation of his death.

If the Gospel writers themselves were asked what their Atonement views are, they might each simply hand you their own books.

All Views Equally Valid?

A generous orthodoxy might welcome all atonement theories, every perspective, all views, and thus be saying, “they are all equally valid”. I had come to this conclusion- for a short while.

But then I began to realize that in spite of having concluded that the multiple views are all necessary in their own way because of their individual strengths in highlighting each of their particular truths, there is also a noticeable and stark incompatibility between these views and their various metaphors. That is to say, even though the various atonement views have so much that is solidly compatible between them , some of them are at times claiming things that are incompatible or contrary with the others. Sometimes, affirming that part of one atonement theory is true, then by reason, at least parts of a different atonement theory cannot also be true at the same time. One truth excludes another.

This incompatibility is the space that I am currently wanting  to continue my search for understanding: with further questions, observations, and conversation..

 

 

 

The Gospel: Good Friday


John 18:1-19:42

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”

 



Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”


After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Jesus, Good Friday, Entombment

The King and the Maiden By Søren Kierkegaard

I have often enjoyed Søren Kierkegaard’s Parable of “The King and the Maiden”. I think it is very analogous and helps give a foundation reasoning/explanation to the meaning of the Incarnation, the coming of God in the man Jesus. His birth, life, giving his life to the point of death, and resurrection. It displays for me what I call the “nature” of the Kingdom of God/Heaven.

Read the story below and consider the nature of the life and message of Jesus. In what manner does God reveal the nature of his Love through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the man Jesus?

The King and the Maiden

Søren Kierkegaard

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

Scott McKnight’s “A Community Called Atonement”

Atonement Theology, or how we understand the meaning and consequence of the death of Jesus on a Roman cross has been a much discussed topic in the last decade. I believe this is a very good thing to be asking these big questions about what is at the very heart of the Christian Faith.

If my history is right, we have William Tyndale to thank for the coinage of our english word atonement.  Atonement being a concatenation of the words ‘At One’ to describe Christ’s work of restoring a good relationship — a reconciliation — between God and people.

If you are like me, you came out of a tradition that explained the totality of what Jesus did through the Cross strictly in Penal Substitutionary terms. This might have been the only lens in which you have seen what Christ has done for us. According to Wikipedia:

Penal substitution (sometimes, esp. in older writings, called forensic theory) is a theory of the atonement within Christian Theology, developed with the Reformed tradition. It argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying  the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins. It is thus a specific understanding of substitutionary atonement, where the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death is understood in the sense of a substitutionary punishment.”

Along with this strict interpretation, the dots might not have been connected between Jesus “Kingdom”message and his death on a Roman cross.

In Scott McKnight’s book, “A Community Called Atonement: Living Theology“, he argues quite persuasively for a more comprehensive and varied understanding of the atoning work of Jesus. Scott begins his exploration and explanation of the atonement by likening the various New Testament atonement metaphors to the many golf-clubs that are needed in playing a good game of Golf. He says if we were to only use one club/metaphor for an exhaustive explanation of what is happening with Jesus going to the cross then we will be playing a very poor game of golf.

Scott explores the proper understanding or Metaphors; the reality to which they point as well as a metaphors limits . He explores the question, “What did Jesus think of his death?”  He gives good summary of the main atonement metaphor categories: Identification for Incorporation, Recapitulation, Ransom/Christus Victor, Satisfaction, Substituion, Representation, Penal Substitution.  I feel that Scott McKnight has done us all a great service by  framing the atonement in the manner that he has. Thank you. : )

 

The New Testament and the People of God

“The New Testament and the People of God” is the first of scholar N.T. Wright’s “Christian Origins and the Question of GodScholar N.T. Wright Historical Jesus Third Quest” series. In the NTPG Wright gives attention to detail, connecting all the dots to all your questions you’ve always wanted answered. The first 3rd of the book is necessary to give the basic philosophy and scope to his sketch of the historical Jesus. He lays out the historical background leading up to the 1st Century. He discusses the contrasting hopes and beliefs of the various Judaism’s on the scene at the time of Jesus.

He also gives insightful understanding to apocalyptic literature. He discusses the inter-testamental literature and and its influence upon the hopes and anticipations of those various Judaism’s as well. This is an excellent book, recommended to any one trying to understand the historical Jesus of Nazareth.