Shifting atonement theories

I have begun to understand with a more experiential experience (tautology alert) of God's love, that my atonement theories are beginning to shift. I had written and very much an exercise of the intellect it was, a defense of Penal substitution for college. I am coming to understand something other. It is all too much for my brain cells at the moment and it all needs to be studied and prayed for but this, which I read this morning, is making a lot of sense right now:

"It is from the sacrificial system of ancient Israel that we have inherited the whole terminology of atonement, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation; and it seems to me that after a long and puzzling story we find that system reaching in the Christianity of the New Testament a climax in which it is completely transformed into the idea of an atonement in which God alone bears the cost. The whole subject of sacrifice in ancient Israel is both complicated and controversial" (D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ, p. 175).

Josh goes on to say, over at David Rudel's site that:
Perhaps sacrifice in ancient Israel was not understood uniformly and completely. Maybe they had a fuzzy idea that forgiveness is costly, and this idea has come into sharper focus on this side of the incarnation and the cross. Hermeneutically, what I have in mind is progressive or unfolding revelation.

With this hermeneutic, there is no need to find a consistent attitude toward and understanding of the sacrificial system throughout the OT. One can then read the later prophetic critique of this system without attempting to harmonize it with earlier writings. So Baillie observes this prophetic message: "God will freely forgive even the greatest sins, if only the sinners will repent and turn from their evil ways. Nothing else is needed, no expiation, no offerings, for God has everything already. Sincere repentance is enough, and a real turning from sin to God; and then the sinner can count on God's mercy" (Ibid., p. 176). Baillie quotes Isaiah 55:7 as support.


Dan Martin said...

Rachel, I'd have to say you're on the right track. I really like the Ballie quote you offer above; looks like another book I'm going to have to read (in that alternate universe where I actually have time to read books!).

If I may, I'll offer you a few further thoughts on atonement that may help you with your shift. Elevator summary: Jesus has taken care of it, trust that without having to analyze it, and follow him.



Rachel Marszalek said...

The link doesn't work Dan it just roots back to this page, I think. Could you try again.


fibrefairy said...

think it is interesting to note that whereas the ancient credal statements were laid down, providing a succinct and accurate summary of orthodox faith, and defining the fully God fully man nature of Jesus; to the level of the detail of the "filioque" clause, partly in response to swings to heresy on both sides, docetic and Arian types, no such consensus was ever achieved on the nature of the atonement. The creeds are hot on the what but not the how of salvation. I think this is because the whol nature of teh atonement is precisely so multi faceted and many layers. The theories and ideas can co-exisit, it isn't necessary to hold to one at the expense of the others.
"A doctrine of the work of Christ as never achieved and one can speak only of theories of the atonement. Christians agree that Christ “saves” in one way or another, but not necessarily on how he does it” EP Sanders (1991) "Paul" Ch 8 Christology p 77
in addition it is interesting to reflect on how these ideas and theories have grown from cultural understandings of small s/r salvation/redemption and speak to those cultures particularly, while capturing some level of truth across time. Eg Anselm's ransom theory and feudal society/loyalties and Bonhoeffer/Moltmann's suffering God thinking in the face of 20C atrocities.

I heard some excellent teaching from Mike Breen last week at New Wine on covenant & kingdom and one of the things he said was why on earth do we tear ourselves apart about whether Christ's death was a substitutionary sacrifice or the victory of a great champion overcoming his enemies in death - it can be and is both!

(now hoping blogger doesn't lose this post as it did earlier this evening and i've had to type it all out again!!)

Rachel Marszalek said...

I think you make very valid points with which most Christians concur. I think that the PSA debate does cause people to sit one side or the other of the fence unhelpfully. I like to think that we can love each other as brothers and sisters and learn from each other. I think that those who say that another gospel is being preached if Penal Substitutionary atonement is not being preached are stating the case too emphatically. At the end of the day I can only share my own journey which is currently at a place where I am bowled over by how incredibly loving our God is.

Thanks Fibre fairy - I might look into getting your Breen New Wine CD, if you could give me the details.

Josh said...

"The creeds are hot on the what but not the how of salvation."

Great line, fibrefairy.

David Ould said...

With this hermeneutic, there is no need to find a consistent attitude toward and understanding of the sacrificial system throughout the OT. One can then read the later prophetic critique of this system without attempting to harmonize it with earlier writings.

I was with you up till this last paragraph. Surely the point being made in the NT is that the OT sacrificial system provides a shadow of the sacrifice that Christ suffered for us?

As for the latter prophets, their argument was not that the temple cultus was wrong, but that it was misapplied.
You are right to remind us constantly of God's love but God's love is shown time and time again in that He gave the Son (and the Son gave Himself willingly) to be a propitiation. To deny this is to deny the grounds on which we are forgiven.

sweetdreams said...

The reason no one can agree on the many multi-faceted atonement theories is that they are all based on a false premise.

Jesus repudiated the entire sacrificial atonement/passover theories and debunked them as false.
He denied being a sacrifice or that his father was pro sacrifice. He said the Father is pro mercy and never wanted sacrifice according to Jeremiah and Isaiah. "Who has required this at your hands?" Obviously the questioner is the Father and is saying "I never required it."

It is Satan who requires sacrifices and preferably human sacrifices. The sin bearing goat of the atonement was not sent into the wilderness to the father but to satan (Azazel).
The goat was sent o propitiate Azazel not Yahweh.

That Paul and some other NT writers were so steeped in Jewish mythology/theology/mysticism that they thought Jesus (along with John the Baptizer" was the atonement goat) has worked out to our detriment. If the early church had only listened to Jesus instead of the many other voices, we would not have had a church dripping with blood and finding solutions calling for redemption brought about by violence.

That the old church became enamored with Paul does not mean that the believers today must follow suit.

The study that needs to be done is not atonement, but ransom.

Hint: Ransoms are given to evil people.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Much to meditate on here Sweetdreams. I am somewhere between your thinking and David Ould's, persuaded by Sweetdreams ideas about God and mercy. Ah well, I've got a lot of years to think about it and maybe I can be ever so Anglican and learn to hold a lot of things in tension ;-)

sweetdreams said...

David Ould, you wrote:
(and the Son gave Himself willingly) to be a propitiation. To deny this is to deny the grounds on which we are forgiven.

That's certainly what that old pharisee Paul said and the church has ignored the words of Jesus on forgiveness and echoed Paul for 2,000 years. But no one has stopped to ask what did Jesus say about forgiveness?

Mat 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (no blood required.)

The man lowered through the roof was forgiven by making a supreme effort to reach Jesus (no blood required).

The harlot who washed his feet was forgiven because "she loved much". (No blood required.)

Repentance forgives sins. Luk 24:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached. (No blood required)

And then there is the warning, Mat 6:15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (No amount of blood can make him change his mind.)

If we listen to Jesus, we hear not the slightest riff of atonement, blood, or propitiation tied to forgiveness.

I cannot build a theology on something Jesus never mentioned, inferred or implied.
Sweet Dreams

fibrefairy said...

Rachel you'd be able to get the Mike Breen teaching at Essential Christian - the recording company that does all the NW (and other events!) reproduction - It's 5 CDs though - just as a warning!!

here you go they're listed on this page

Rachel Marszalek said...

Thanks Fibre-fairy - I'll check it out.


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