Friday, November 11, 2005

Brief Chat on Atonement

I'm currently reading a book entitled "Recovering the Scandal of the Cross," by Joel Green and Mark Baker. A central thesis of the book is examining the commonly held view of atonement in modern western Christianity; that is of substitutionary nature. In what manner can we speak of the cross in substitutionary terms and has our culture and legal structure influenced our atonement theology burying a more accurate view of the atonement?

The authors argue that in Pauline thought the salvific event is presented largely in terms of reconciliation. This reconciliation, which is brought about by the death and resurrection of Christ, extends not just to reconciling humanity to God but also humanity to one another and the kosmos to God as well. While Paul presents his arguments in various metaphors depending largely upon the audience to which he writes, this emphasis on reconciliation carries with it a clear theme: humanity needs to be reconciled to God but God need not be reconciled to humanity. It is not that God is estranged from humanity but rather we are estranged from God. The death and resurrection thereby bring about this reconciliation.

In Galatians Paul's atonement theology is more focused on the inclusion of all peoples considering the death of Christ. Restoration of relationship to God is not due to biological descendance but rather is achieved by Jesus' death. In this way Paul attacks the idea that the Gentile converts need to conform to the regulations of the Judaizers.

The authors see in Paul a focus on the restoration of relationships. In Israel's Scriptures a formidable medium for restoration was sacrifice. In other words, there is not a sense of the need for the appeasement of God. God is not estranged from us therefore he need not be appeased. This is distinctly foreign from our common elaboration of atonement as Jesus dying to appease the wrath of God.

I have a fair amount of reading left to do in the book but thus far the book has been helpful in articulating just what I believe theologically concerning the atonement. So what do you think? Do you agree with the author's understanding? What questions do you have? How does this affect your atonement paradigm? Why is this important (or why not)?

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