Thursday, 19 April 2012

cjbanning: (The Bishop)
This past Lenten season, a lot of smart people have been thinking--and re-thinking--about the Atonement. Much of the conversation centered around Tony Jones, who was aggressively promoting his new e-book, A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin. (I haven't read the e-book myself, but since it's supposedly largely adapted from old blog posts, I suspect I'm fairly deeply familiar with its contents.) Jones' interlocutors have included Daniel Kirk, Dallas Gingles, John Vest, Peter Laarman, Scott Paeth, Richard Beck, and others.

Meanwhile, my friend Elizabeth at more like a word theme, really was working on her sermon This is not really a sermon on The Cross:
While I don’t have a problem with discussion of sin, I have basically zero interest in the glorification of Jesus’ suffering and death. I have, in fact, an active resistance to it.

I absolutely, full-stop, refuse to believe in a God who requires the brutal death of a Beloved Child in order to reconcile the world to Godself. That’s abusive and cruel and irreconcilable with the God of Love who is at the center of my faith.

So I tend to not engage with the Cross much.
In the midst of all this reflection on the Atonement, I've been thinking too. I shared some thoughts with Elizabeth and left a couple of comments at Tony's blog, but I haven't said anything here because I didn't feel like I had anything to say. Of course, Elizabeth and Tony don't have fully developed theologies of the Atonement yet either, and it occurred to me a few days ago that while I can't articulate a fully developed Atonement theology, I can articulate a few specific features I think a theology of the Atonement ought to have, and that articulating those features might be a useful and instructive process in its own right.

These are the things I'd want to see in an Atonement theology:
1. Orthodox Trinitarianism and Christology. A theology of the Atonement should be fully grounded in an appreciation of Jesus Christ's full humanity and full divinity as God's Eternally Begotten One, consubstantial with God the Parent in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

2. Incarnational emphasis. A theology of the Atonement should not treat the Incarnation merely as a necessary prerequisite for the Cross, but recognize that "Incarnation is redemption."

3. Resurrection emphasis. By the same token, a theology of the Atonement should not treat Easter morning as a mere afterthought, but rather as an integral element of the story of our salvation.

4. Original Sin. A theology of the Atonement should take seriously the wounding of our human nature by sin and our subsequent need to be healed through sanctifying grace.

5. A comprehensible account of God's Sovereignty. A theology of the Atonement should not place limits on God's ability to forgive which seem (at best) arbitrary or (at worst) barbaric or bloodthirsty.

6. A praxis of peace. A theology of the Atonement should not glorify violence or suffering for their own sake, but instead inspire Christians to peacefully work for justice.
Any theology of the Atonement I would be able to accept would, I'd think, at the very least satisfy these six conditions. Any theology lacking one or more of these features would, in my opinion, contain a serious deficiency.

In the next few weeks, I hope to take each of these features in depth, each in its own blog post, exploring why I think it is important and perhaps considering how the major theories of the Atonement (penal substitution, ransom theory, moral exemplar, Christus Victor, etc.) stack up in light of these requirements. When I'm done, I'll probably make some sort of concluding post examining if what I think about the Cross and the Atonement has come into any clearer perspective through this examining process.

So, what do you think? What are the features that you would want to see in a theology of the Atonement?
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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