Liberal Catholic intellectual Garry Wills has a new book out entitled Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition in which he makes the rather un-Catholic argument that Jesus institute the priesthood. But he goes farther, giving a Catholic version of what many mainline Protestants and even some supposed evangelicals are saying: That Christ was not sacrificed for our sins.
From Dennis Drabelle’s review in the Washington Post:
Wills also attacks the belief that Jesus’s death was a sacrifice. The main difficulty here was pointed out by Abelard in the 12th century, in a passage quoted by Wills: “It seems extremely cruel and evil to demand the death of a person without guilt as a form of ransom . . . and even more for God to accept his own Son’s death as the means of returning all the world to his esteem.” Wills aligns himself with a “new body of Christian thinkers . . . [who are] escaping the imported cult of human sacrifice initiated by the Letter to Hebrews.”
While biblical scholars debate the complexities of Wills’s reasoning, the ordinary reader can venture at least this far. If Wills is right, he puts to rest two of the biggest anomalies in Judeo-Christian thought. The first is the tension between the notion of God as love and the notion of God as a needy tyrant whose ego must be fed by worship and sacrifice (animals in the Old Testament, Jesus in the New). [The second is the alleged contradiction between Jesus’s message of humility and egalitarianism with the establishment of the priesthood.]
Notice that this way of thinking also implictly denies the Trinity! God did not pick some ordinary human being to sacrifice. The Second Person of the Trinity was the sacrifice. That is, God sacrificed Himself!
To speak of a tension between a loving God and God as “a needy tyrant” (horrible to say) is astoundingly wrong-headed. The real tension is within God’s love. He loves, so He is wrathful against those who do not love. How can He save them? God became incarnate and took their transgressions into Himself.
The crucified God, in Jurgen Moltman’s term, is also what resolves that most insistent modern obstacle to belief, the problem of evil. Instead of positing a deity who looks down impassively from above on pain, misery, and evil, Christianity teaches that God entered into the darkness and somehow–by the profoundest miracle–took them into Himself in a kind of divine immolation. And then He rose from the dead. All for us.
Why are so many ostensible Christians rejecting such good news?