Thursday, February 09, 2006


Over at Gavin's blog guest blogger, Michael Williams, did a piece about his experience at the Emergent Theological discussion this week. In it he writes about Brian Mclaren's discussion on the atonement, which I found interesting since I am spending some time on my blog with that very topic.

Our wiley friend Rabbit John from Locust and Honey commented with:
"These are interesting questions posed by McLaren, but ultimately pointless. The better question is "What does the Bible say of atonement?" Let's have a look.

Romans 3:21-25
Romans 5:8-11
Hebrews 9:11-18
2 Corinthians 5:14-21

So the Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement is correct."

John, you know I love you and all, but you also know that I call it where I see it, and I SEE IT and it doesn't smell very good. In fact, I stepped in it and before I knew it I had commented with way more than I had anticipated saying. But I thought since it is what I've been dealing with this week that it was worth posting here too.

So I said,
"John if I may take you to task on what you have stated:

1. You have stated only what Paul has said about atonement and not "The Bible". You left out John and Peter's voices.

2. In the Romans 3: 21-25 passage, Paul states that Jesus has been displayed by God as a "propiation". If you take it back to the greek it reads as "hilasterion" which is a reference to the "mercy seat" upon which sacrifices where made yearly during Yom Kippur for the sins of Israel. So Paul is actually saying that God has used Christ as the "mercy seat" upon which the sacrifice or atonement may happen, not the atonement itself. "Hilasterion" always designates the location of atonement.

3. 2 Cor. 5: 14-21: In this passage Paul uses the ritual of the Scapegoat to explain Christ's atoning death. In this ritual there is a role reversal, obviously- Jesus takes on the sins of the world and we the world are made right with God. This passage suggests that Christ is not a blood sacrifice but a scapegoat that takes our sins upon himself and then leaves.

4. Romans 5:9-10: deals with Christ dying for us and being justified by his blood.

but there are several ways paul uses the expression Christ "died for us":
1. he died to save us (martyr)

2. he died in our place (penal substitution)

3. he paid the price to buy our freedom (ransom)

4. he died as the new place of atonement (sacrifice)

5. he took on our curse and bore away our sins (scapegoat)

Do you not think that just saying "So the Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement is correct" sells Paul short?

Paul does not have one view of what was going on in the atonement, he uses multiple metaphors:
1. A Mercy Seat (the location where atonement takes place)

2. Scapegoat (one who takes on our sins, not as a blood sacrifice but as a ritual of reversal)

3. A sacrificial death (with multiple expressions by Paul).

So, what else does the Bible say John?


John, I hope you don't take offense (since we've been blogging buds for a while now, I know that you typically don't). But I do hope that this can engage some further dialogue.

So I ask this to everyone- WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL MODEL FOR ATONEMENT? IS THERE JUST ONE FLAVOR? Inquiring minds want to know.

UPDATE ON THE SANCTUS FRANCISCUS SYMPOSIUM NEXT MONDAY NIGHT: Well, now my laptop is giving me problems and I'm gonna have to take it in to the shop tomorrow, which is why it is 10:02pm and I'm still at church (sucks). So I doubt that I'll have the laptop back by Monday evening. Soooo: THE SYMPOSIUM DISCUSSION will be postponed to a LATER DATE. Sorry y'all, I was looking forward to it!!


the reverend mommy said...

And Monday is The Day, is it not?

I've spent time/energy/effort on this topic. Where I end up every time is -- I don't know. "I don't know" isn't a horribly good answer, nor is it satisfying. I like the verse in Roman 3 the best -- and acually in that verse you can hear echos of at least 4 different soteriologies. There are times when I am aware that even Paul was in a process of understanding this -- and he was much closer that I to the origin of it all.

If Paul struggles with it, why can't we struggle with it as well? The blood sacrifice thing has always puzzled me anyway -- I don't understand it.

If we claim to completely understand it, then there is no tension to dwell in. There is no mystery, there is no liminal space. We want to complete nail down theologies and doctrines. Are you sure that is what God really wants us to do?

I've been planning Ash Wednesday this week. Order of worship is done and I did not include Communion. I've had several people ask me for it. They want Communion on Ash Wednesday -- but the BOW does not include it -- and we need to dwell in that tension for a while. To have to dwell in that peniential place and wait a while before the "feel good" might be what Lent is all about.

Rambled. Sorry.

St.Phransus said...

no, theresa that's great!!! i think you've hit the nail on the head on why being able to theologically explore things like this is so exciting for me: we act as though WE are God, that WE have the answers, that WE are so smug that we actually understand every word the Bible says.

I'm really struggling through these ideas myself and I think to say "well the bible says it and so that's the way it is" sells the bible short, sells God's imagination short and sells our own imago-dei-imaginations short, as well.

i too find that as i look toward lent will see atonement and the different metaphors that have been used to help me as i plan worship experiences.

thanks for your post.


Purechristianithink said...

I'd also point out the Eastern Orthodox soteriology--which we western Christians tend to not even include in the conversation--is really different than classic, western Latin atonement theology which both Catholics and Protestants are heir to.

St.Phransus said...

i'm glad you brought that up. i'll doing some post soon that brings the eastern ideas into play. i think that there is much to gain from looking at the orthodox church and what "our" true tradition has maintained.

thanks for your input.


John said...

Jonathon, I certainly don't take offense. I want you to punch my theology as hard as you possibly can so that I can learn what is true, what is not, and difference between.

John said...

By the way, Jonathon, I don't see how we are actually in disagreement. Please explain.

the reverend mommy said...

And I've had this conversation so many times in the last few days, perhaps I need to take the hint and dwell in the liminal space for a while.

And it struck me the other day that the tension itself is biblical. For instance twice Jesus says "This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood" and twice " for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." One stresssed the "cup of the new covenant" -- a promise done in relationship and the second stressed the blood of the covenant -- implying propitiation. Interestingly enough, the one stressing covenant and relationship is the Lukean/Pauline pericope.

Things to make you go Hmmmm.....

St.Phransus said...

yeah, we're totally not in disagreement john, i'm just agressive as hell sometimes and when i get really excited i begin to sound more agressive. kind o' funny for a very (passive)aggressive guy like myself.

i always injoy the discussion and always hope that the discussion leads to transformation and better discipleship.

thanks for your thoughts and challenging me.


John said...

Oh, good. I was afraid that you were using your theological superpowers at such a level that I couldn't even comprehend you properly.

St.Phransus said...

bahhhhhhh humbug!!!

gmw said...

The "biblical" view of atonement is that Christ did it and Christ's death on the cross and resurrection (with his life preceding and such) brings us into union with God, which we were not before.

When we start getting into the "how" of the above stated "what" we get into controversy. The NT simply doesn't have one model or metaphor for explaining how. But that doesn't mean that every model we've cooked up is equally faithful to the NT. Moral Influence and Penal Substitution come to mind as being less faithful to the NT writings.

Thanks Jonathon for your outline of the biblical texts from Paul. With penal substitution, we are most often reading our understanding of the theory back onto Paul's words and reading into them reference points from our culture rather than looking to understanding what reference points would have been available to his mind--particularly, Hebrew faith, practice and scriptures, and 1st century Roman life.