I have been doing some thinking about the atonement in recent months and even though I am behind the trend of making this a focus during Lent leading up to Easter, I decided to blog about it anyway J . At seminary, I have a professor who has pushed me to think outside of the box on what we mean when we use terms like: gospel, mission, and especially atonement. Mark Baker is the author of two books on the subject, Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross (listed as a resource for Rob Bell’s “The God’s Aren’t Angry”) and Recovering the Scandal of the Cross (co authored with Joel Green). Also, my good friend Dan Martin has had some good posts on the subject. Below is my first attempt at formulating my own atonement theology on this blog:
For God so loved the cosmos that he sent his only son Jesus, to proclaim good news to the poor, the bound, the sick, the victimized, and the whole of the creation project. Many have taken the famous phrase in John 3, “For God so loved the world…” to mean that the Lord loved all of humanity. This is indeed true, but the word “cosmos” indicates a much larger scope of what God’s plan in sending Jesus accomplished. For instance, in Ephesians it talks about how God in Christ is now “gathering up all things” as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus. One foundational idea in the Scriptures in regards to the atonement is that when Jesus was crucified, his death atoned for the sin of the whole created world, not merely human sin. This is so that one day, the “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay to share in the glory of the children of God.”
A question that is often asked is: Why did Jesus have to die? It seems that his death and resurrection have accomplished many things, but it will be helpful to highlight two specific areas. The first victory of Jesus’ atonement was the substitutionary (yes, I intentionally omit the word “penal”) act on behalf of humanity. He gave his perfect life (a life that was in perfect peace with God, creation, others, and self) as a substitution for the ‘old’ humanity, enduring the full wrath of the evil powers and systems of this world. All sin was placed upon Jesus as he endured the worst possible outcome of evil, death itself. Every human has fallen to the lure of evil, disrupting the intended purpose of the creation project. In his death, Jesus chose to represent the final consequences of the injustice of the old humanity, but in resurrection he is the “firstborn over all creation,” inaugurating a “new humanity” that will begin to restore the relationships back to God’s intended purpose.
The second victory of Jesus’ atonement was a victory over Satan and the fallen powers. The demonic was determined to corrupt God’s good world through implementing decay and death, but Jesus’ victory exposed the weakness of the powers by “making a public spectacle of them.” Evil cannot triumph any longer, for Jesus has defeated it and is now gathering a people that will join him in such a victory. This victory will be fully realized when Jesus returns, bringing justice to the universe by judging and expelling all evil, while resurrecting his people for a world set in right relationships. This final realization will manifest itself in “a new heaven and a new earth,” where the “curse” of evil will be broken; and as a result, all poverty, sickness, pain, and death will be abolished for eternity!
Well, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on these preliminary statements about atonement. I realize that I was not all that thorough, so I invite your additions, subtractions, further thoughts, and critiques! My main hope is to get some dialogue stirred up on the subject so that we can become better at proclaiming the hope of the world!