Friday, April 06, 2007

The Atonement Attacked

Al Mohlers blog post this morning really got me going. Very Reverend Dr. Jeffrey Philip Hywel John is calling to do away with the traditional understanding of the atonement. I have not heard of the man, but evidently he has some influence in Great Britain. Here is his understanding of the traditional concept of the atonement. "The explanation I was given went something like this. God was very angry with us for our sins, and because he is a just God, our sin had to be punished. But instead of punishing us he sent his Son, Jesus, as a substitute to suffer and die in our place. The blood of Jesus paid the price of our sins, and because of him God stopped being angry with us. In other words, Jesus took the rap, and we got forgiven, provided we said we believed in him." This is pretty accurate, although some of his language is intentionally condescending. It sounds like he's trying to explain the theory to a group of first graders.

He goes on to explain why he thinks this understanding is "repulsive" and "insane." "Well, I don't know about you, but even at the age of ten I thought this explanation was pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical. What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we'd say they were a monster."

A key phrase in his quote is "Why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else?" My question is "Why should God forgive us at all?" It may make us feel better about ourselves to deny our own sins and shortcomings, or to explain them away, and say foolish things like "it's ok, God will forgive me" as if it is no big deal to Him. I believe it is a bigger deal than my human mind will ever be able to comprehend. It is cheap grace. It is justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.

To deny core pieces of the traditional understanding of the atonement is to damage both the gospel and scripture. Read Romans 3 a few times, then see if you still agree with Dr. John. Even better, go sit in your car or somewhere private and read it out loud 10 times. I could actually have some respect for Dr. John's line of thinking, if he stops here. but he continues to give his competing theory. To stop here would be to blatantly deny the teachings of scripture, but to continue like he does damages the meaning of the scripture. In other words, I would have more personal respect for one that says "I don't believe in God or the Bible" than for one who says they do believe in God the Bible, but radically twist both to fit their own agenda.

"On the cross God absorbs into himself our falleness and its consequences and offers us a new relationship. God shows he knows what it's like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies. It's a mystery we can hardly glimpse, let alone grasp; and if there is an answer to the problem of suffering, perhaps it's one for the heart, not the reason. Because the answer God's given is simply himself; to show that, so far from inflicting suffering as a punishment, he bears our griefs and shares our sorrow."

I actually agree with this statement, but it falls short. Jesus didn't die just to show us He knows what it's like to be a loser. He didn't die just to show us that He knows what it's like to be human. Yes, that is part of it. But He did it in order to restore our relationship with God. To deny that Jesus died to pay the price of our sins for us is blatantly antichristian.

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