Does God Require Blood?

That’s the question that Mark Heim, professor of theology at Andover Newton Theological School asked his class this morning as I sat in. Mark thinks not, and he explicates that idea in his excellent book, Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross.  Therein, Mark explores Rene Girard‘s brilliant theories of mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism in common in human culture.

That reminded me of a great podcast interview at Entitled Opinions in which Robert Harrison of Stanford interviews Girard on these very notions.

A lot of former evangelicals have been looking for a rich and rewarding understanding of the atonement without the violence inherent in the “penal substitutionary” theory in which God demands, or at least requires the blood of his perfect son to assuage his wrath.

It also got me thinking about the contest we ran at Emergent Village back in 2008 looking for alternative metaphors for the atonement.  That contest was judged by Mark Baker, who has also written on the subject, and won by Steve Sherwood.

The atonement isn’t quite the hot topic it was couple of years ago, but it’s still an animating question for most who follow Christ.  It’s good to be reminded that, along with Mark’s book and Scot’s book, there’s yet another good treatment of the subject.

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  • Ann

    It’s interesting how some Christians find such deep meaning and comfort in the PS theory and others such horror. It would be enlightening to figure out what prompts such divergent responses.

  • My view of atonement is more influenced by liberation theology than Reformed theology. The latter says God poured out His wrath upon Jesus on the cross, suggesting that God cannot forgive unless blood is shed. The way I see it, the cross is about Jesus freeing us from bondage (both externally and internally, since the Bible says we were slaves to sin) through a radical act of subordination.

  • David Blackwell

    I look forward to reading this book, thanks for the link. Another book to consider in this stream of Atonement theology is “The Nonviolent Atonement” by J. Denny Weaver. Weaver offers a modified version of Christus Victor (which he calls ‘narrative Christus Victor’) and uses it to engage in dialog with other Atonement theologies, such as Anselm, feminism, black etc.

  • I am very unsatisfied with penal substitution – I’m curious what Mark has to say about the subject – can we get a brief glimpse? A summary?

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  • Tony,

    Thanks for the link. The book sounds very interesting. I will have to take a look. I am convinced that the “we’ve figured it all out already” theological tradition that informs so much of Christianity has to be called into question. I am no longer convinced that many of the touchstone dogmas of “faith” are correct. They may be partly correct, but so often they seem skewed, and born from theological wrestling matches of eras long past.

    Also, you, and anyone reading this post, might be interested in listening to a series of lectures entitled “Did Jesus have to die?” in which Bible scholar Jack Crabtree takes an alternative view of the atonement. You can find the series via iTunes: Just go to iTunesU (in the iTunes Store) and search on “Did Jesus have to die?” It will be listed under Gutenberg College. I found the lectures very eye opening and thoughtful.

  • Jeff Wise

    Another great book on this same subject is “The Nonviolent Atonement” by J. Denny Weaver. He advocates for what he calls “a narrative Christus Victor model”. It is a great read.

  • David Blackwell

    We now have two notes about J. Denny Weaver between Jeff’s post and my earlier post! Tony, have you read this book, anyone else?

  • Re: “The atonement isn’t quite the hot topic it was couple of years ago…”

    It’s funny how theological debate migrates around – denominationally and geographically. In my denomination – Canadian Mennonite Brethren – the atonement debate is greatly animated at the moment (I wish I could say dialogue, but sadly it so often is debate). The nice thing is much of the good conversation is already nicely laid out when when you come late to a party…

  • Albert Howell

    I am very warm to alternative atonement theologies or theories. I do believe the “traditional” atonement theory is an out-dated (or soon to be out-dated as the last of the Great Empires, i.e. the “American Empire” enters its twilight years). I believe communion is a great first step in bringing alternative atonement theologies to bear on the local church. I always make sure that we are remembering not just the death of Christ, but Christ’s life example- the way He lived his life here on this earth that we walk today- durng communion.

  • Marusha


    Repent and put your trust in Jesus or please stop calling yourself a Christian.

  • Darren

    Marusha, I literally laughed outloud at that. And I do apologize, because I recognize that it’s terribly dismissive and patronizing of me. And I know you mean that in all sincerity. But could you please explain how ANYTHING in Tony’s post here makes you call his Christianity into question??

  • Marusha


    It is difficult to answer your question here. I’m sorry. I can no longer stand idly by while the gospel is stepped on.

    The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

    We mere human beings have no right to play with the work of Christ in such a way as described above.

    I am pleading with you Tony to stop. Repent and put your trust in Jesus or please stop calling yourself a Christian.

  • Darren

    Hmmmm . . . do you really think you’ve been “idle” up to this point? I’d say you’ve been on a near crusade against Mr. Tony Jones. Let’s say that you’re actually right, and Tony doesn’t put his trust in Christ . . . what actual good do you think your words are doing exactly? Might I suggest that you are not acting very “Biblical” right now? Need I remind you of what Jesus said for his followers to do when they go into a city where no one is ready or willing to hear what they are saying?

    Not that I want to see you gone by any stretch of the imagination (or dusting of the feet). I really appreciate your kind tone in the interactions we’ve had. But honestly, you look a little ridiculous with statements like that . . .

    Could you employ some constructive dialogue instead, maybe?

  • Marusha


    Would you believe me if I said I don’t care if I look ridiculous?
    That I am heartbroken over the above post?
    That I truly do want Tony to repent and put his trust in Jesus?

    Is there a way you and I can talk away from this Darren? I hesitate putting my e-mail on here.

  • steve


    Perhaps you are referring to larger issues than just those contained in the post, but I am sincerely confused and you’re repeated statement that you are heartbroken by Tony and his abandoning of the Gospel doesn’t clarify.

    Scripture as a whole, Paul’s letters and the Church for 2000 years has viewed the atoning work of Christ through various metaphors. Penal Substitution is ONE of MANY ways all of the above talk about the cross. To find Penal Substitution to be a less than helpful way of understanding Christ’s saving work does not mean one is abandoning scripture, the teachings of Paul or the rich history of orthodox Christian theology.

    Jesus rescues us from the power of sin at the cross.
    Jesus reconciles us relationally to God at the cross.
    Jesus recapitulates our fallen human flesh at the cross and in the resurrection.
    Jesus washes us clean at the cross.

    Those are all biblical ways of understanding the cross, all of which I believe this post would affirm. Can you say more about how Tony has abandoned the Faith?

  • Marusha
  • Heim and Weaver are great, although my personal favorite work of atonement theology is Rebecca Ann Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock’s book “Proverbs of Ashes : Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us” (see:

    Thinking back, I believe one of the first things that made me question penal substitutionary atonement theology was the realization that this theology seemed to imply that I should be grateful to Judas, Caiaphas, and Pilate, et al for betraying, beating, and crucifying Jesus because otherwise, humanity’s sins would not be forgiven. Something about that logic didn’t compute.

    Ssometime later my cognitive dissonance was heightened when heard someone ask if God requiring Jesus’ death was “divine child abuse.” That question felt like a blow to the gut.

    More humorously, there is Dallas Willard’s quip that the idea that God required Jesus’ blood is for “Vampire Christians.”

  • aran

    I’m confused as to why people feel that there is but one way to talk about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

  • steve

    Ok, so you weren’t really talking about this post were you? That’s good to know, because if so, it seemed like you were disregarding a great deal of scripture. I’ve not read any of those posts. A friend directed me to this post today.

  • Larry

    Tony, your link to Heim’s book is horked.

    Marusha, Tony doesn’t say anything in the blog posts that you linked to that falls outside the scope of historic Christianity. His sentiments seem to be more Eastern than Roman, but he is well within the bounds of orthodoxy.

  • steve

    I apologize for the sarcasm of this, but sometimes it feels like “orthodoxy” has become re-defined as Piperdriscollanity.

  • Marusha

    “Does God Require Blood?”
    “Mark thinks not…Mark explores Rene Girard‘s brilliant theories of mimetic desire and the scapegoat”
    “A lot of former evangelicals have been looking for a rich and rewarding understanding of the atonement without the violence inherent in the “penal substitutionary” theory in which God demands, or at least requires the blood of his perfect son to assuage his wrath.”
    Do you Tony believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement? If not, for this reason and many others I say again:
    Tony repent and put your trust in Jesus or stop calling yourself a Christian.

  • Everyone,

    We learned our lesson from Darius. Let’s not fall into this again. Marusha has made her point. She asks, “Do you believe in PSA?” Not “Do you believe in Jesus?” So that settles it, and we know where she is coming from and what she wants. Please, let’s not take the bait.


  • Larry

    Marusha, there is more to Christianity than Penal Substitutionary Atonement. In fact, PSA wasn’t formulated until the 12th century, by Anselm. It has never been accepted by the Eastern church. For over half the history of the church PSA was not a recognized doctrine for explaining the atonement. There are several ways that the church has historically understood the atonement, recapitulation, ransom, Christus Victor, scapegoating and various combinations of the above. It is by no means necessary to have a believe in penal substitutionary atonement to be a Christian.

  • Aran


    Is PSA the only way to understand the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?

    This is an honest question and not meant to be snarky.

    peace & grace to you

  • Jeff Wise

    You clearly do not consider to be a Christian and feel that his words are leading people down a dangerous road, so my question is why are you even reading his blogs?

  • Dave

    More Barth, less Anselm.

  • Marusha


    Of course PSA is not the only thing to consider when referring to the work of Jesus on the cross, but it is crucial to faith. This is the thing being scrutinized here and without it we cannot be saved.

    All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous. This isn’t a made up concept it is from the Bible. Jesus is the only way to the Father, the only way we can be saved. When he died on that cross he took on my sin and all the sins of all who would believe. He was the only suitable sacrifice. I can’t pay for my sin, I can’t do any work to merit being saved. When the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin, showed me how wretched I was, He gave me the ability to turn from my sin (repentance) and to put my faith in Jesus and His work on the cross. He will save all who repent and put their trust in Him. This is why PSA is an essential part of the Christian faith. It is not some theory made up by men.

    Please see Ephesians 2:1-3; Matthew 20:28; John 15:13; 11:49-50; 18:14; Romans 3:24-26; Hebrews 10:5-18; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24

  • Brian E

    Dave, you wrote: “More Barth, less Anselm.”

    Where would you suggest one begin to get “more Barth.” (Perhaps there’s a particular volume of his Dogmatics you’d suggest? Or some other resource?)

  • carla jo


    I know you are sincere and that you truly believe that Tony is outside the bounds of Christianity here. But I also know you are willing to have a conversation with others, that you have shown a willingness to admit that you don’t know everything. I respect your deep conviction on this issue, but can you see from the other comments here and from the post itself that there are other Christians–faithful, Bible-believing, Christ-loving Christians who have a different view of the atonement than you? Can you see that these are people who have studied Scripture and Christian history and the church and know what they are talking about? They aren’t asking you to give up your theology. They are saying that the narrative of the atonement that you believe is one of many that the Christian church–the orthodox, Bible-based Christian church–has held over the centuries. Do you really believe you know something none of these people know?

    I don’t believe for a minute that you are so arrogant as to believe you and you alone hold the truth, yet your equating PSA with salvation and true faith is supremely dismissive of the very real truth that the church has many ways of understanding the atonement and has held these various narratives since the earliest days of the church. That’s not heresy.

  • steve

    Personally, I’d say one of the best ways to access “more Barth” is through one of his students/translators into English, the late Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance. All of his work is great, I think, but his short book “The Mediation of Christ” is maybe the most germane and easily readable on the topic of Atonement. Very Trinitarian, sympathetic to Ireneaus and to Eastern Orthodox emphasis upon the Incarnation as part of the saving event through Christ’s identification/participation with us in humanity making possible our identification/participation with him in crucifixion and resurrection.

  • Tony, I know my book is sitting on your nightstand…just waiting to be read. ;-P

    The problem with each atonement theory is that each hold enough Scriptural evidence to support the basic possibility of the theory. Something is being ransomed. Someone is being substituted. Jesus is expressing moral exemplary of love on the cross. Christ is being victorious over death on the cross. The problem is then where we locate the problem. We assume the atonement is for God, or payment to Satan. It’s not. It’s a payment to us.

  • Chris

    I guess I haven’t read enough Barth or Harnak, but what I hear JB saying: “The problem with each atonement theory is that each hold enough Scriptural evidence to support the basic possibility of the theory…” makes sense.
    To Carla Jo,
    I love reading your responses. You, unlike many here, are so patient and loving, never snarky. I think it’s a clear reflection of inward Christlikeness. This to me says so much more about how a true Christian would interact with those he/she disagrees with. I am not drawn (and doubt that anyone outside this intercollegiate discussion would be) to people that express themselves the way many others do here. Honestly there is more snobbery and smugness on this blog than I have ever heard in my experiences with the most fundamental of Christian individuals. But, CJ, if these “people who have studied Scripture and Christian history and the church and know what they are talking about” are seminarians and any indication of aspiring clergy or professors, God help their potential flock or students. I do not hear gobs of humility here. I think I might just take Jeff’s advice and look for more mature conversation elsewhere.

    In terms of PSA, I think it’s far easier to say: well I just don’t like this particular theory if it doesn’t happen to affirm my particular sensibilities than it is to deal with the verses and passages themselves, and they are many and direct. OK so you have alternate theories, that’s nice. But do those theories negate PSA or do they just amplify it? Or maybe compliment it. It seems the machinations and desperate lengths that one has to go in order to refute or sweep PSA under the rug are sometimes beyond reasonable.

  • steve

    I will not try to speak for others and their responses to PSA, but here is where it began to be profoundly problematic for me. Around issues of the Trinity. If Jesus and God the Father are truly one with one another, each fully God in a sense then:

    How does one member of the Trinity respond to humanity with holy wrath while the other responds with self-sacrificing love?
    How does one member punish the other?
    How does God the Father turn his back on, abandon Jesus at the cross? Does the Trinity cease to exist for three days?

    I got seriously stuck on these questions about 15 years ago (having grown up both in a denomination and para-church evangelistic ministry) that are very PSA oriented. For me, that has resolved around a covenantal approach to thinking about God’s relationship with Israel, humanity, Jesus in a way that makes the cross substitutionary still, but not penal/retributive in nature. All of God participates in Jesus’ self giving at the cross. God’s passing through the animals in Gen. 15 as emblematic of God’s covenant to pay the cost to maintain the relationship. Old Testament sacrifice more as expiating cleansing than retributive appeasing. To me, and I recognize hard line PSA folks may differ here, that enables me to still affirm heartily the most substitutionary language of Paul or the rest of scripture, but to not see it as doing violence to the Trinity or making God bent upon retribution.

  • Marusha

    4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
    yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
    5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his stripes we are healed.
    6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
    and the LORD has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

    7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
    like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
    8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
    that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
    9And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
    although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

    10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
    when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
    the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
    12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
    yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

    Isaiah 53

  • steve

    Amen. I think a covenantal/relational/Trinitarian view of the atonement fully affirms these (and other) passages. Amen.

  • Buck Eschaton

    I don’t understand how you get the idea that Isaiah 53 somehow supports PSA. Correct me if I’m wrong but the “Lord” in that text refers to Yahweh and Yahweh was the Son of God and Jesus claimed to be the Lord, Yahweh, the Son of God. So the idea that the Son of God appeasing the “Father’s” anger is not apparent in that text.

  • A great, life-giving resource for me has been Doug Frank’s book A Gentler God. It came out in January, and you can find it on

  • Marusha

    If Isaiah 53 didn’t do it for you how about these?

    24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:24-26

    9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:9

    3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, Romans 8:3

    21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

  • Jim

    I don’t really want to get involved with the scriptural debate here, but I want to point out in what the debate consists. It is not, as some here imagine, a debate between the mean exclusive conservatives and the open, welcome liberals/emergents.

    Consider that PSA people pretty consistently affirm the other models of atonement. They agree with Christus Victor. They agree Christ freed us. They affirm that his incarnation and resurrection healed us. The worst they’ll say is that these other models are “inadequate” to explain the necessity of death. They don’t make fun of them, saying that Christus Victor is “cosmic bullying” a la Chalke or liberation is for “jailbird Christians” a la Willard. PSA people, on the whole, are affirming.

    Denial comes from the libemergents. The title of this post is a question, to which a negative (not open and affirming) answer is given. Libemergents (not all) deny PSA, even if in soft phrases like, “I find it neither emotionally compelling nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.” Exclusion happens in this camp.

    I think that’s ok, we often have to be exclusive when it comes to ideas. But don’t try and frame this debate as between exclusive pro-PSA and open anti-PSA when the opposite is true.

    Ann nails it in the opening post, “It’s interesting how some Christians find such deep meaning and comfort in the PS theory and others such horror.” It’s not a debate between exclusion and openness, but between PSA-lovers and PSA-haters. I confess I’m a lover. But I’m curious why the haters out there hate it so much. Will anyone enlighten me? I’m sure some of you don’t mix emotion and theology, and reject the theory on entirely evidential grounds, so don’t really count as haters. But I really would like to hear from the haters. What is so repulsive about this doctrine I find so precious?

  • Chris

    JIm, well said.

  • Jim, I’m really confused by the assumptions you express in your post above. What is this “exclusion” you speak of? The post itself is in no way exclusive. In fact, the links point to affirmation of various views . I don’t see anywhere that Tony has given an answer – and certainly not a negative one. He merely brings up a book that points to a negative one.

    Furthermore, I’ve yet to see any overwhelming responses from anyone on this post which reflects a sentiment of “mean/exclusive conservatives vs. open/welcoming emergents”. I’m curious to know why you’ve read all of that into this “debate,” which – quite frankly – isn’t really even a debate. Up to this point, everyone has simply voiced opinions about various views of the atonement. The only debate that’s actually happening here and now IS in fact between an exclusive conservative (Marusha), and those who are pushing for affirmation of various other views.

    As for haters of PSA, I’m sorry, I can’t answer for you. Personally, I haven’t gotten very wrapped up in these atonement wars – because I’m not sure that having a perfect understanding of what Christ did is even a necessary step for a robust relationship with him – and it’s therefore not all that important to me, except in the sense of it being nice cud to chew on, and reflect on the amazing, radical act that it was. So I’m sorry I can’t satisfy you’re curiosity. Perhaps others will though 🙂

  • I have yet to come to any final (or relatively final) conclusion on PSA. I grew up with it, but now find my views in flux. I will say that just quoting scripture as evidence does not do it for me. I say this because I take the Bible too seriously to do that. What this means is one has to approach scripture knowing that it will often “say” what one expects it to say. If I am wearing my PSA tinted glasses then I am likely to take “key” passages and see that they automatically and unequivocally support PSA. But they may not, but I won’t be able to see that. And we are also always dealing with translation questions if one quotes in anything other than the original languages. So I propose if anyone quotes anymore scripture here as a support of their position on PSA they just quote the Greek or Hebrew texts and then add their own translation with supporting arguments. Thanks.

  • carla jo


    I’m kind of with Darren on this in that I haven’t concerned myself too much with having an in-depth knowledge of the various views of atonement because, frankly, I see them all as best-effort theories about something we can never fully understand. And I’m one of those people who is content to rest in the mysteries of God.
    However, PSA does create problems for me. I wouldn’t call myself a hater or say that I find it repulsive, but I do find it problematic.

    I speak here only for myself, but what is troubling to me about PSA is what it suggests about God. For me, there are two primary issues:

    1) It suggests that God is bound by some external force–the laws of propitiation perhaps?–and that God had no choice but to demand a blood sacrifice to appease God’s wrath. In that case, God is either powerless or heartless and that’s not the God I follow. To me, it’s hard to accept that God is bound by something, that God’s hand was forced. In my experience, those who hold to PSA only tend to believe that God didn’t want to do this, that it broke God’s heart to watch his son die in our place. The idea that the God of the Universe had no choice in the matter doesn’t sit well with me.

    2) It makes God a savage. These two points really go hand-in-hand. If God was not bound by anything, if God freely chose to appease God’s own wrath through this sacrifice, then, well… really? That’s the God I’m going to trust? I can’t. I can’t have a relationship with a God who scares the crap out of me. I can’t see this kind of God as my Father. I can’t trust that God. And I have a hard time believing God couldn’t come up with a better plan than this one. This is God, after all.

    Believe me, these are not just words. The PSA image of God is a major tripping point of faith for me. I long to have a relationship with God in which I believe with all that I am that God is more love than judgment; that God is more mercy than wrath. But my years of growing up in a PSA-oriented church did a number on my sense of who God is and I’m still trying to recover. For me, embracing mystery and hoping that there is more to God than I can understand has been the only antidote.

  • PSA Defender

    Carla Jo, I’d like to address your concerns if I may.

    “It suggests that God is bound by some external force–the laws of propitiation perhaps?–and that God had no choice but to demand a blood sacrifice to appease God’s wrath. In that case, God is either powerless or heartless and that’s not the God I follow.

    The Bible seems to indicate that God puts a lot of emphasis on the fact that He can be known as a God who doesn’t change and that He can be known by His attributes; namely, His Holiness, His patience, His justness, His mercy, His love, etc. His wrath is not necessarily a “primary” attribute but one that stems from an affront of another one: His holiness. In His presence, sin cannot be tolerated because He is pure and holy and good. Because God IS good and IS just and IS holy, He cannot be in the presence of sin. He would be no god at all if his word was not reliable.

    “In my experience, those who hold to PSA only tend to believe that God didn’t want to do this, that it broke God’s heart to watch his son die in our place.”

    Yes and no. In a sense, sure, God’s heart broke when He placed Himself on the cross (Jesus asked the Father that if there were any other way, could He be spared?). Yet, on the other hand, this was the reason the universe was made. The cross was the pinnacle of God’s plan from the foundations of the earth. God made everything so that He could die for it. He wasn’t surprised by anything. He didn’t go “Oh crap, people sinned. Now I’m supposed to be mad. What am I going to do? Hmm, I suppose I have to kill my Son.”

    “If God was not bound by anything, if God freely chose to appease God’s own wrath through this sacrifice, then, well… really? That’s the God I’m going to trust? I can’t. I can’t have a relationship with a God who scares the crap out of me. I can’t see this kind of God as my Father. I can’t trust that God. And I have a hard time believing God couldn’t come up with a better plan than this one. This is God, after all.”

    Well, it seems the sticking point is you have a man-centered theology instead of a God-centered one. In your view, God can’t do something for His own glory, He has to do it for the glory of mankind. I disagree with that. This isn’t just a God who failed at coming up with a better plan, this IS the best plan ever imagined! I can’t imagine a better one, or one less man-centered. God creates, his creation rejects him, he dies for it. Amazing, glorious! Not what you would expect from an ancient religion. All other religions make people pay. Yet here is the true God paying the price himself. All to basically win a bet with some angels and prove His righteousness. One can claim to be holy and righteous and good, but it is what one does that shows his claims to be true.

    “I can’t have a relationship with a God who scares the crap out of me.”

    Why not? The Bible indicates that He is supposed to scare the crap out of us. Check out Isaiah’s reaction when He saw God…

    As for the topic of “does God require blood,” I would point everyone to Hebrews 9 (or the entire book of Romans). The answer is pretty clear there: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

  • Jim

    Thanks carlo jo, I appreciate your willingness to share. I’ll think about what you’ve said.

  • Marusha

    I started on this post wanting to only address Tony Jones. Since I did not find a way to do that privately, this is where it has happened.

    It is true that I do not reject the other atonement theories, they even help me to further praise God for how amazing He is.

    The New Testament expresses a greater emphasis on Penal Substitutionary Atonement however. I gave only a few verses on it and I did not exposit them, I just gave them. They are plain.

    Yes, God is love but He is also just. How do these things work together? Does love merely overwhealm His justice? No. If you truly want to know who God is, the only place is Scripture. Most people are uncomfortable with that God but He is the only God. Yes, outside of Scripture people have experienced God but if they do not line up with the standard: the Bible, they are false.

    All of us deserve to be thrown into hell, we don’t even deserve the next breath we take. This is justice because of our sin. But precisely because God loves, He took the wrath and punishment due to us. I don’t think anyone on here denies the death and resurrection of Jesus so I think we all agree that it really happened. Perhaps the question is (please forgive my slowness) did God do the punishing? Did the Father pour out His wrath on Jesus? The answer is yes.

    I am aware of the writings to the contrary from Chalke’s calling it cosmic child abuse to the book above. It is when one puts these ‘glasses’ on so to speak that they have a tainted view of Scripture.

    God is not to be tamed and put into the image we want to create for ourselves. If this is done, we are not worshiping the true God. Yes, the God of Scripture is scary, yes He is mysterious, yes He is wrathful, yes He is holy, He is pure, He is good, He is just, He is unchanging and He is love. He provided the way and He provided His Word. We must bow or be counted as a rebel.

    I don’t know what else to say.

  • nathan

    This is not directed at anyone on this thread, but in my experience this is how the PSA discussion goes. (And I’ve witnessed it since the beginning of this recent debate over the last few years)

    A. PSA is problematic

    B: what’s wrong with you? It IS, in itself, the Gospel! (But we get still really love all the shiny accessories of other theories. They’re so pretty, but they aren’t really it). You love Steve Chalke!!! He is so hurtful to me…

    A: ummm…really? the overwhelming majority of Church history is marked by most Christians not even being aware of PSA. Where does that leave them? (insert #1 here: either informing B that I don’t know Steve Chalke OR that you don’t agree with Chalke’s characterization) (insert #2 here: ummm. can I talk to you about your weird need to be “hurt” by Steve Chalke?)

    B: See! You’re combative and just won’t accept the Truth of the Gospel. Steve Chalke is awful, don’t you know?!?! (Insert here revisionist historical readings of the Church Fathers to make specious claims about their views of atonement)

    A: Look, in view of history and competing arguments, I’m not willing to give PSA the pride of place. It doesn’t mean I’m denying it. Please stop saying I do. I also have some serious concerns about how PSA gets practically communicated in the average pulpit and it’s effects on listeners…

    B: Well, people need to simply submit to the core of the Gospel. It’s that simple. (Nevermind our particular theology also claims that people can’t submit to the core of the Gospel of their own volition).

    A: ok, I don’t know if pastorally speaking it’s as simple as that, but, then again, I don’t work in your church nor you in mine…so maybe we can agree to disagree.

    B: No! I have 20 bible verses to quote to you and a book deal to write a book based on broad brush characterizations, out right mistakes, and filled with the “refutation” of claims that were never made in the first place. (*cough* Kevin DeYoung *cough*) ARRRRG!! Steve Chalke!!!!!!!

  • Marusha, thank you very much for expounding on that. I see a bit more where you’re coming from.

    So here’s a questions for you. You seem to be under the assumption that in order to really be called a Christian, you have to believe a certain number of propositions (you’ve laid them all out for us before). So, if you have to believe all these things, then do you also have to understand them?

    Can you really say that you can BELIEVE the theory of atonement if you don’t understand at all what it means?

    For instance, what if there is someone with a pervasive developmental disorder who does not really understand what you mean by the word “atonement”. Let’s just say that they can’t wrap their mind around it. So, that’s an aspect of one of your fundamental beliefs necessary for salvation that they don’t grasp. Does God give them a pass on it due to their neurochemical/neuranatomical disabilities? Are there perhaps other people who would also require such a “pass” because they cannot wrap their minds around atonement as you believe it?

  • LOL! Nathan, too true!

  • Buck Eschaton

    I would write something, but it never sounds as good or as thorough as the way James Alison does it. This essay more or less encapsulates my understanding of the Atonement. IMHO it is an incredibly good read.

  • Buck,

    I love it. I’ve never read James Alison but I came to the exact same conclusion in my book.

  • Marusha

    Wow Darren!

    I believe that we can know the essentials sufficientlty. No-one can exhaustively know God but He gave us His word so that we can know Him…sufficiently. I can’t know the mystery of the Trinity completely but I do believe that God is One God in three distinct persons who are each God. I can’t understand that but I believe it as far as it has been revealed.

    As for those who are too young to understand or have not the mental capacity to understand the gospel to respond to it, I believe that God has made a provision for them. There probably isn’t any specific verses that support this but I believe from what I know about God from His Word this is true.

  • Jim

    I’d like to add, in response to Darren’s question, that there is a difference between “not believing” something and “rejecting” something. And that difference can be extremely important.

    Take the trinity. A great many first century Christians probably did not believe in the trinity, never having heard the term. That’s fine. They’re still Christians. Nobody argues that, so far as I know.

    But now take that Christian and explain the trinity to him (as well as we can). Let us assume he understands it. Now, if he still refuses to believe it, he has rejected it. We really can’t call him a Christian anymore, as he’s rejected a central truth of the faith.

    I don’t have a specific point to this, except to make a distinction between “not believing” a proposition and “rejecting” a proposition. It might be helpful dealing with some of the questions you’re asking.

  • Darren

    Thanks for the response, Marusha. Can you tell me exactly what you find in Scripture that leads you to that conclusion?

    Jim, I think that’s precisely what I’m getting at. What if the REASON I reject it is that I don’t understand it? For instance, if we take the Bible at face value, women should really never speak inside of a Church, and should always keep their heads covered.

    Now, my understanding of such verses leads me to believe that there are contextual reasons why Paul’s not speaking to all people for all times. In other words, I reject that particular face value interpretation. Why exactly is God condemning me to hell for having a contextual understanding of those verses? Or ANY verses?

    Belief requires at least some form of understanding. And if you have no understanding of what’s going on, how can you believe it? If you understand something to be completely opposite of someone else’s interpretation, isn’t it natural that you would reject it? Your rejection is based on a contextual understanding of the proposition being put forth.

  • Marusha

    Very interesting points Darren.

    I like how Jim pointed out the rejection aspect. He did a better job than I did with that point.

    May I offer a few thoughts on PSA?

    It is the core of salvation. Way back in Genesis 3:21 God made skins out of an animal to cover Adam and Eve after they sinned. This was a sign of the atonement He would provide later. The atonement sacrifices all through Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, etc. were shadows of the atonement to come. Blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat (the Ark of the Covenant) once a year as a covering against the wrath of God. Not all OT Hebrews were saved however, because repentance and faith in God’s atonement was required. The atonement was a substitute, a spotless lamb. The high priest would slaughter and kill the spotless lamb and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat. Jesus is the spotless lamb, He is sinless and He is God and man. He became our substitute. He took on all the sins of those who would repent and have faith and took the wrath that we deserve. Jesus is eternal and therefore satisfied the eternal punishment that we deserve for our sins.

    This is what I believe PSA is. This is the core of the gospel. Without the PSA it is an empty and useless gospel.

    Why would God do this? Why would He bother to make heaven and earth and people in the first place if they were just going to sin? Though there is so much mystery involved in these questions, one thing I know for sure is that it is for His glory.

  • Darren

    I guess this is what confuses me, Marusha. Do you not see that in everything you explained above, the grand majority of it is pure conjecture? It is your contexualized interpretation and integration of several Scriptures?

    For instance, the skin coverings for Adam and Eve. The Bible never says anywhere (that I’m aware of anyway) that this is some sort of precursor to atonement. And even if your conjecture was true, don’t you see something profound in the fact that you use the word “SIGN” of things to come. In your thinking, God’s choice of animal cover was a SYMBOLIC ACT.

    In like manner, don’t you think that the need for blood is SYMBOLIC of something, rather than substantive in and of itself? All throughout Scripture, we see symbolism used, performed, and practiced to help us begin to understand far deeper truths.

    Let’s look deeply into this “spotless lamb”. The fact of the matter is, there’s no such thing. Any look into genetics will tell you that there’s always SOME defect in a lamb. But God says to use a spotless lamb, because this is SYMBOLIC of something. Do you think the atonement for the ancient Jews was somehow nullified if they didn’t ACTUALLY believe the aesthetically pleasing lamb was not perfect?

    Next, your assumption that not all Hebrews were saved because they didn’t have faith in the atonement. What are you basing that on? Where does the Bible say that?

    So now, up to this point, I’d think you might perhaps agree with me that the ancient Jewish practices were symbolic – to point us toward Christ.

    But what if God actually continued the meme as symbolism once again? What if the symbolism of the perfect lamb being sacrificed is “exploited” (in the good way) as a means of helping the early Christians connect to an already established and understood reality for them? What if it was used to symbolically to point to a deeper, substantive Truth?

    Since you do believe that belief (and therefore understanding) of atonement must be understood as THE substance of Christ’s act on the cross, do you have any idea WHY God made the system this way? Why does God *need* BLOOD for sin? If I cut you off in traffic, why does God require blood? And let’s say that was the only sin in my life I ever committed. Let’s say that I believe in Jesus, I believe he died for my sins, and I believe he’s my Savior, but I if I don’t believe that blood is needed for that, why does God *require* an eternity of conscious, torturous burning for me?

    If simply “for his glory”, do you not have any moral questions about that? An all powerful, omnipotent God who creates a system THAT HE KNOWS means the grand majority of his creation will never buy into, and for them he creates eternity in hell. One should at least take a pause there. How does God glory in a colossal failure? What then does glory even mean? How did God ever go to sleep on night six? He should have been tossing and turning in bed all night! The LAST thing he should have been doing on day seven was RESTING!

    I dunno. I guess the more you push it Marusha, the more your view simply doesn’t make sense to me. And yet, I find great beauty and robust energy in the Gospel. But according to you, the Gospel’s dead without your simplistic summary to it all. Don’t you see that as just *slightly* intellectually arrogant? Does the real power of the Gospel rest in my understanding and belief in it? Is God really so weak that his mercy and grace cannot overcome my inability to grasp a concept that (to me) clearly leads to several moral problems? I mean, at the end of the day, you might be right about your understanding of atonement, but it’s pretty BAD news for me that my neurochemical inability to make the parts fit condemns me to hell for eternity. Tragic, really.

  • Jim

    Hi Darren. I’m afraid I won’t interact with your points against the substance of PSA. I don’t think I could answer you fairly in a blog post.

    But as for this part, “my neurochemical inability to make the parts fit condemns me to hell for eternity,” I hope I can make some answer.

    I don’t believe that God just throws doctrines out there and demands belief. Its the Spirit that teaches all things, the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom, and Eph. 2:8 suggests that faith is also a gift. That is to say, God enables understanding of his word through grace. A neurochemical inability will not stop him from revealing his truth to you. (Not all truth, of course, but sufficient truth. He doesn’t leave people hanging.)

    This doesn’t necessarily all come at once. We are repeatedly commanded to grow in knowledge, and the Bible gives advice on how to do that sort of thing. You needn’t understand every difficult doctrine immediately, things take time. But a regenerated heart will not, in the long run, reject the truths that God desires his people to have for their salvation. God is faithful with regards to revealing these truths.

    Does that make sense? The medium of a blog comment is really not ideal for this.

  • nathan


    respectfully, I must suggest that your claim that the Jewish faith was some kind of “faith alone” PSA proto-crypto-Christianity isn’t supported by most evangelical or reformed theologians. There was no conception of needing “faith” in the blood on the mercy seat to make the atonement efficacious for the Hebrew laity. I don’t know where you were taught that, but it’s a pure fiction and not how the Jews understood their relationship with the sacrificial system.

  • Marusha

    The Old Testament sacrifices were types and shadows of Jesus. He fulfilled them in reality.

    Respectfully Nathan, you are incorrect. I don’t know where you were taught that the reformers did not hold to this. Please see Hebrews 11.

    Darren, God receives glory from the gospel not because man has failed but because He can point at someone like me and say “See what I saved?” And please note that I said this was only one aspect to the overwhealming mystery.

    I’m sorry if you think that I present a too simplistic gospel. How can I completely and exhaustively share every point of it here on this blog? My intent is still to defend PSA. How can we know the gospel if we reletivise it? God wants us to know it, He wants us to know His Word. He made it knowable. It is not meant for us to deconstruct it. If one has a regenerate heart they can know the riches of His Word through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Faith is required.

  • Darren

    Marusha, again, thanks for your willingness to be questioned. I hope it doesn’t come off as me giving you a hard time.

    I know I asked a lot of questions in that last post, so no fault on you for not wanting to get into each and every one of them. I’m sure neither of us actually has the time for that – especially in writing 🙂 But I would appreciate you hitting my questions regarding God’s *need* for BLOOD (the very question that raised this entire post). Do you *really* believe that in God’s great power, and in his great mercy – that the ONLY way humanity could ever be “saved” is for a blood requirement? Is he really bound to this formula of blood for sin? And if so, does that not mean there is a transcendent law that is above God himself (i.e., if there’s no way for God to forgive sins without a blood atonement, then what you’re really saying is that God is bound by some esoteric law . . . which I imagine you would say he CHOSE to subject himself to, but why not just as easily subject himself to a law of apples for sin (an apple needs to be sacrificed for sin), or skin for sin, or blankets for sin, or what have you . . . why this arbitrary choice of blood for sin?) What exactly does blood satisfy in God’s nature?

    And respectfully, your answer of Hebrews 11 does not at all answer his point. Nathan is remarking on your own theory (i.e., that the ancient Jews had to have faith in the atonement of the “perfect lamb” in order to actually receive the benefit of the sacrifice). Hebrews 11 speaks about faith in general – and it makes clear that the ancient Jews had faith, but does not specify what they had faith in, and there’s no where that states that their faith was in a particular belief about atonement. In fact, their faith was in God and His promises to them. You have yet to show a Biblical explication for faith in a specific form of atonement being necessary for forgiveness of sins.

    And finally, glory. I think it’s really cute and all for God to say “see what I saved?” while pointing to you. But let’s expand the picture. So there’s like the 3 million people (rough estimate 😉 ) who believe exactly what you happen to believe is necessary for salvation. But then there’s the billions upon billions who don’t quite hit the mark. So God looks at the 3 million, pats himself on the back and says “wow, that creation experiment was pretty groovy! see, look what I saved!” pointing to the 3 million. To which I’d say “wow, but look at the billions burning!” Do you really think that’s “glory”?

  • Marusha


    Okay. Wow.

    I wish smarter people than me could answer these questions. But I’ll give it a try.

    The faith in Hebrews is talking exactly about saving faith, that is faith that redemption comes from God. God provides redemption.

    As for blood, it indicates the death. The death of Christ who took on our sins and suffered the wrath is what satisfied justice. Because of sin, we deserve death. We cannot enter God’s presence because of our sins and in fact when Adam and Eve sinned it brought on spiritual death and their physical bodies started dying and they did physically die. All people are tained by this original sin. All people are guilty. If it was just blood, Jesus would have just left a vile of it. He died in our place and his blood was spilled.

    Because Christ died in our place and purchased our salvation, for all those who would repent of their sins and put their trust in Him, ie. the PSA and the resurrection, he saved them and justifies them and they therefore receive His righteousness and can therefore enjoy fellowship with God.

    It is Christ’s righteousness that covers us, we are not righteous.

    This is a hard thing to say. God gets glory from throwing rebels into hell too. He gets more glory from those He saves though. It is hard to think of people going to hell. That is why I feel an urgent need to share the true gospel with as many people as possible while I still can.

  • Marusha

    Hebrews 11:17-19 as an example of a type and shadow of atonement.

  • Darren


    I thank you for your willingness to attempt answers to my questions. They are tough questions indeed. I hope you won’t be offended if I simply can’t buy the package that you’re selling. It’s not that I don’t see value in it – it’s not even that I don’t agree with various aspects of it. But I think you fail to see the limitations of your worldview – or it at least appears that way to me. Perhaps it’s just my neurochemical inability to line the pieces up in the way they’re so easily lined up for you . . . or perhaps the neurochemical inability is yours.

    But a final thought on glory. If it’s truly glory, why is it so hard for you to say that God gets it from throwing rebels into hell? Do you think it’s hard for God to say? If so, what kind of glory is reticent, reluctant glory?? Regrettable glory even? Seems to be an oxymoron to me.

    The statement also reveals a fundamental assumption that I hope you see needs some working out on your part. You seem to be under the impression that every time someone rejects the Gospel, it’s out of rebellion. And no doubt, that’s probably true for some people – perhaps even for a lot of people.

    But again, belief implies a certain level of understanding. If I told you that you can’t really know where a given atom is heading (i.e., Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle), you might not believe me, especially without a good background in the principles of physics. In fact, you might say that you DON’T believe me, because that piece of knowledge is contrary to what previous knowledge (however minute or expansive it may be) you understand. This of course does not make the proposition itself false, but certainly I can’t blame you for believing it so if you haven’t the knowledge (and therefore capacity) to take hold of the concept, no matter how clear it is to me.

    I could say the same for spiritual principles. If what is a clear statement of faith to you is unclear to me, do not assume that my rejection of the proposition is based in rebellion. It may be that it’s based on knowledge/experiences/understandings of God that perhaps you do not have, but seems contrary to the current understanding that I have of God.

    That being the case, maybe you should give your brothers and sisters in Christ the benefit of the doubt when they don’t see things the way that you do. Why not assume that they perhaps see things differently and reject your theories based on misunderstanding, rather than rebellion?

    When you insist that Tony needs to repent because he doesn’t appear to see the Gospel in the same way that you do, what you are doing is making a judgment that his rejection is based in rebellion, rather than misunderstanding. Therefore, you have become his judge. And that sounds like sin to me.

    It’s not your job to continue screaming at people when they don’t get you. This is precisely why Jesus tells his disciples to “shake the dust from their feet” and keep moving when they don’t accept your words, because continuing to insist puts us in grave danger of becoming judgers of hearts. And beware when you judge, lest a greater judgment fall upon you. Maybe Tony has actually heard something from God that you haven’t yet, and you’ve yet to reach the level of maturity he has on this subject. Or maybe it’s Tony who lacks the spiritual maturity. Regardless, there’s no way for you to be 100% sure this side of the grave. That’s for God to sort out, and maybe you should go ahead and trust him enough to do that.

    If Tony (or anyone else here) is truly rebellious, it’s God who will bring that to light, and God will judge, and he will deal with it as he sees fit. This is the way to do as Paul says, and “be at peace with all men”. Constantly haranguing someone for not seeing things the way that you do is the opposite of making peace. It’s making war. And the war isn’t against flesh or blood (Tony’s or anyone else’s). You need to work out your own salvation, and allow Tony (and all others here who proclaim Christ as theirs) to work out theirs. Your constant words do not come off as words of support and encouragement, but rather words of harassment. If you think this is the best way to – as Paul says – bring back a brother who is weak and restore him, I assure you that you’re accomplishing the opposite.

    I honestly enjoy communicating with you, Marusha. We come from VERY different ballparks when it comes to our faith in Christ. So I hope you hear these words as they are meant – as a means to bring peace, to bring unity in the Body, and to solidify trust in Christ to complete the good work that he’s started in us and in the world.

    JIM! So sorry I missed your last post! I wasn’t trying to slight you. Thank you for your response. Yes, your words make sense to me. But let me ask you, what if in the process of “working out your own salvation”, you die before coming to sufficient understanding to “believe in” one of these doctrines? Is your version of the Good News really Bad News for such a person?

  • Marusha


    I pray someone better equiped than I can help you with your questions.

    The Bible with the illumination of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to answer your questions. Anything outside of that is dangerous.

    Tony Jones, I say again, this IS no ‘theoblogy’. What you have taught on here and in your books is not Christianity. Repent and put your trust in Jesus or please stop calling yourself a Christian.

  • Darren

    Wow. Dense much? I gave you more credit than that. Love you anyway, though . . . even if you are a bit of an automaton 🙂 But at least one with good intentions. That goes pretty far in my book. I’ll eat my own medicine and assume your judgmental spirit is based in misunderstanding, and not rebellion against God’s Word. Shalom.

  • Marusha

    That was terribly judgmental of you Darren.

  • Eric Worringer

    I think it’s interesting that you assume that the Reformers held to your position. In fact, Calvin and Zwingli held to that assertion, Luther did not. In fact, Luther would not be found in the camps that you are speaking for.

    First, Luther did not believe that the OT sacrifices represented a prophetic symbolism for the coming of the Messiah, but acted within their own context, that being the Law, whereas with Jesus the Law reaches its finality, its obliteration. Second, Luther would never have heard your arguments to Hebrews, because he rejected Hebrews as a book not worthy of canon!

    Finally, while Luther spoke of PSA, he spoke much more of two images, the idea of the reconciliation of God and man was the chief achievement of Jesus death, through an exchange of the goods of the bridegroom (righteousness and sinlessness) to the bride. Luther was convinced that God was far from concerned about his own glory, in fact that those who draw meaning about God’s characteristics from the Cross as being very DANGEROUS to the Gospel. Which I am afraid is what you are doing, correct?

    Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde explains this best in his dandy little book “Where God Meets Man”:
    A theology about the cross (a theology of glory) is a spectator theology. It is a theology constructed by someone who merely looks at the cross and then tries to decide what it means according to some sort of system of meaning that he already has. He treats the Cross as God giving some sort of illustrated lecture about himself and his nature and the sate of man. IT ATTEMPTS TO SPECULATE ABOUT WHAT GOD MUST DO AND ABOUT WHAT GOD MUST BE LIKE.

    Luther described this like a ladder that we try to climb, but since we can’t achieve the law fully, Jesus then must satisfy the demands of the law, right?? A scheme to placate a holy God?

    This is not correct theologically, because it still sees the Law as the way to salvation. As Paul says in Romans, “Christ is the termination of the Law.” This is why Luther rejected PSA as the dominant mode of understanding the atonment, because of its heretical nature to put the law as the continuing means to salvation, to adopt fully a view of Christus Victor.

  • Marusha

    Luther on Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement
    ‘This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s: and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it, and fill us with it: and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them . . . in the same manner as he grieved and suffered in our sins, and was confounded, in the same manner we rejoice and glory in his righteousness’
    ‘Learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say: “Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not”’
    ‘All the prophets did foresee in spirit, that Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, blasphemer, etc., that ever was . . . for he being made a sacrifice, for the sins of the whole world, is not now an innocent person and without sins . . . our most merciful Father . . . sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him the sins of all men, saying:
    Be thou Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged upon the cross; and, briefly, be thou the person which hath committed the sins of all men; see therefore that thou pay and satisfy for them. Here now cometh the law and saith: I find him a sinner . . . therefore let him die upon the cross . . .’

    – Martin Luther

    Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill the law. No-one can meet the standard of the law which is precisely why Jesus died to save us from God’s wrath.

  • Marusha

    I also don’t recall Luther wanting to take Hebrews out of the canon but I recall him wanting to take James out of the canon but he later amended this.

  • Buck Eschaton

    One point I think needs to made is that most of the english Bibles we read have translation issues. During the Atonement ritual one goat was not sent out into the desert to Azazeal, but rather the goat was sent out as Azazeal, meaning that Azazeal was sent out into the desert. So the other goat was not sacrificed to the Lord but rather sacrificed as the Lord. Meaning that the goat was the Lord, represented the Lord/Yahweh, that it was the Lord/Yahweh being sacrificed. That goat was a substitute for the high priest, who would at some point during the ritual have the Name (Yahweh) placed on his forehead. So in the original atonement ritual nothing was directed towards an angry deity, it was the Lord that was being sacrificed to remove the sin and make the community whole again. There was no payment being made to the Lord in the original atonement ritual, the Lord was giving his blood to save the people from their sin, carrying their burdens and forgiving their debts. There was no wrath coming from Lord, the wrath that was being done away with was the wrath that resided in the community. So the goat that represented/was Yahweh was a substitute for the high priest and the high priest/Yahweh was a substitute for the entire community.
    If that doesn’t makes sense…these two essays should help you with the details.

  • Darren


    Judgmental? What, about you being dense, or an automaton? Judgment or no, it seems you like to harp on everyone else ignoring Scripture, even while you ignore Scripture. Describing you as dense and an automaton was me being merciful 🙂 I could have treated you the you way you treat others by specifying that your complete rejection of Scriptural protocol makes you a false prophet, and in danger of hellfire (how’s that for judgment??). But instead, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt of a thick skull and we can all move on, since I clearly can’t reach through that extensive mass of skull-bone. I’ll let God do the work himself.

    May he have mercy on your SOUL! *queue creepy music*

  • Marusha


    Perhaps you are just joking.

    If not point out my errors according to Scripture.

    Where I have failed miserably may His word succeed.

    I ask that you examine your self.

    Do you sin? Are you a good person?

    Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen? Have you ever used the Lord’s name in vain? Have you committed adultery (even looking at someone with lust is considered adultery of the heart)? Have you ever murdered anyone (even hating someone means you have committed murder in your heart)?

    These are just 5 of the Ten Commandments. Even if you have only broken one of them you are guilty of sinning against the Eternal God. On judgement day you will be sent to hell.

    But wait, the perfect one, Jesus who is all God and all man came to earth, lived a sinless life and died on the cross. God poured out His wrath on Him so that He would provide the atonement for us that we could never pay. I too am a law breaker. I too need God’s salvation. You can have this salvation if you repent of your sins and put your faith in God and what He has done for you.

    How are you saved? By loving everyone? By feeding the hungry? By tolerating everything? These are works. Our own merits cannot pay our way into God’s favor but when these good things are done out of a regenerated, grateful heart they are the fruit of salvation.

    Do not be fooled by a gospel that has been made into a hash.

  • Eric Worringer

    I don’t disagree with what you are saying, nor what Luther quoted. In fact, while I hold to a Christus Victor as traditional Lutheranism has, I find myself intrigued not only by the imagery of PSA, but also by the work on the atonement done by many of the people Tony has referred to.

    Notice though that in Luther’s talk on the atonement, there is the talk of this greatest mystery. I think that as a sister in Christ, it would behoove you to be aware that it remains a mystery, that substitutionary atonement is not fully explained in one doctrine, put forward by certain reformers, following a 12th century scholar.

    Would you also please read Luther’s comments, and notice how he does not subscribe to PENAL atonement, like you speak of? That is what most of us are fighting against, that God needed to pour his wrath out on someone, so he did it on Jesus. Reread what Luther says, you will not see that, because did not subscribe to PSA. Most of us subscribe with some level of substitutionary atonement.

    Further, I think you misunderstand the use of the Law, as understood by all the reformers. The Law was never designed for salvation, as you ascribe to it, but worked in three ways. First, called the civil purpose, to keep law and order. Second, for us and sinners, to drive us to realize our own sinfulness and brokenness, and Third, the most debated, as a guide to living after regeneration. Never was or is it used for salvation.

  • Darren

    Marusha, I already went through extensively demonstrating to you how you are being unscriptural. But to be specific. Examine yourself according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:14 and Matthew 18:15. And then, ask yourself if you are thinking of Tony more highly than yourself (a la Philippians 2:3) with your constant haranguing. Not to sound TOO hyperbolic, but I do consider what you’re doing to be a form of spiritual bullying. And I know Tony’s a big boy and can fend for himself – he certainly doesn’t need ME (some guy he doesn’t even know) defending him. But I do know that I wouldn’t want you treating me this way, and I don’t feel like you should be treating others this way. If Tony (or anyone else here) doesn’t take your words to heart, what is that to you? Why do you feel the need to constantly attack, like some damned deer fly??

  • Darren

    Oh, and also, Marusha. Could you please consider your posture here?

    Not that I follow these comments a lot, but of the ones I have followed, I have never ONCE heard you acknowledge what anyone else has to say. And when you’re questioned, all you have is canned answers. Your posture is closed. You are not open to learning, not open to dialogue, and you can’t seriously expect someone to listen to you if you’ve approached them hard, closed, and not willing to listen to them. It’s not at all Christ-like (at least not the Christ of the Bible, but I’m sure it seems very consistent with the Christ of your head). I just feel like there’s a way for you to get your point across without being some arrogant and so grating. But that requires openness and humility. If you really feel strongly that your message needs to be heard, then try to at least PRETEND like you’re hearing others. I have a feeling that you don’t recognize how you come off to people who are reading along. Perhaps it’s partly cultural? I don’t know. Again, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re not intentionally trying to be that way.

    But let’s start here: you don’t know everything. You don’t know everything you need to know. And you never know who God will try to use to teach you something that gets you to the next step in your spiritual growth. It might be a rock, or a donkey, or perhaps even an ass like me 🙂 But if you don’t have a posture of friendship and willingness to learn, you’re gonna miss it.

  • nathan

    “type and shadow” is a Christian interpretive move AFTER the fact.

    And respectfully, your answer of Hebrews 11 does not at all answer his point. Nathan is remarking on your own theory (i.e., that the ancient Jews had to have faith in the atonement of the “perfect lamb” in order to actually receive the benefit of the sacrifice). Hebrews 11 speaks about faith in general – and it makes clear that the ancient Jews had faith, but does not specify what they had faith in, and there’s no where that states that their faith was in a particular belief about atonement. In fact, their faith was in God and His promises to them.

    that’s exactly what I’m getting at.

  • Jim

    Thanks for your response. It is an absolute pleasure to converse with you, by the way. I rarely have such pleasant or courteous discussion online (which is no doubt usually my own fault).

    I also realize that I was rather vague and missing the point in my last post, and neglecting the most important things. So I’ll try now.

    Let me affirm, as strongly and as clearly as I possibly can, that no man is ever saved by works, including the work of believing in PSA. We are saved entirely by God’s free grace, and though that grace acts through faith in Christ, no amount of doctrinal sophistication is salvific in itself.

    My last post was really unclear about this. My “not a christian” phrase was not really meant to mean “not saved,” which it could naturally and justifiably be interpreted as. While it would grieve me that any Christian would be deprived the joy and comfort of so precious a doctrine as PSA, I don’t think a simple intellectual assent or rejection of it is salvific or damnatory.

    To be honest, I’ve never gotten much from the whole “is so-and-so saved?” game. God knows. I really have no idea. I think PSA is true, and near the very core of the gospel. Were my pastor to teach otherwise, I would (after talking to him) leave the church. I think it’s really important. But I would not tell him he’s going to hell. That’s really God’s business. I’d oppose his teaching, sure, but not his soul.

    Is that clear? Sometimes it’s a hard distinction for me to make to myself. I should remember instead of saying “not Christian,” to say “unchristian teaching.”

  • Marusha


    I will gladly examine myself in light of Scripture anytime. Thank you.

  • Darren


    Thanks for writing back! It’s been a pleasure communicating with you as well. I was actually thinking about you today after church. The question you asked earlier in this thread came back to me when you asked why someone would hate the doctrine that you hold as “precious”. It got me to thinking about the t.v. show “If You Really Knew Me” . . . have you seen it? It’s basically a group that holds “Challenge Days” at high schools across the country that have intersocial problems. They get diverse kids together from within the school, and essentially have them pour their guts out to each other. It’s actually pretty powerful stuff. I’m not sure what the staying power is for these transformations we see on-screen, but you can tell that the show creates moments in these kids’ lives that they’ll never forget.

    So anyway, I was thinking that if we in the Church were more vulnerable with each other, how amazing that would be for our dialogue across sects and doctrinal divides. I really try to see where people are coming from, particularly if I disagree with them on spiritual matters. I often let emotions get the better of me too, but I’m glad you and I can demonstrate the kind of civility that the Church is dying for right now.

    Now onto your thoughts. Don’t apologize for being vague! In fact, you answered pretty well based on the question that I asked. But I appreciate you expounding. It drives home to me just how precious PSA is to you. And while I’m not too keen on the P part of that, I think we do both agree that regardless of who is right about P, it’s not the sort of thing that should cause vitriolic division in the Body, and that we can peacefully leave judgments on heaven and hell to God 🙂

  • Buck Eschaton

    PSA is very close to the truth, but it’s wrong on one essential issue, and it’s a very important issue.
    Yes, Jesus is our substitute. Yes, Jesus absorbs the “wrath”, i.e the consequence of our sin. But PSA is essentially pagan/Aztec in that it views the “wrath” and the “violence” as originating or coming from God. This is wrong and really redundant. Human sin is perfectly capable of destroying everyone and everything. “Sin”, “violence”, “wrath” are all human attributes. So instead of humanity bearing the burden and consequence of our sin, Jesus was destroyed and killed instead of us.
    Then I think because of PSA’s confusion re the location of the wrath it doesn’t really understand what a Christian is supposed to do. We are supposed to follow Christ and forgive/bear (I believe the word translated forgive can also mean bear” the sins of others. So literally we are supposed to intercept the human wrath and lead people to Communion and see the forgiving and loving victim of their sin.

  • Darren

    Buck, as much as I WANT to agree with you, and as much as I emotionally do so, how do you intellectually arrive at wrath being completely human? Certainly, we see it in humans, but since humans are the image-bearers of God, it’s at least conceivable that there is a such thing as wrath in God as well. Why do you feel it’s NOT an attribute of God?

    Sorry for use of the cliche example, but wouldn’t it be appropriate for someone like say Hitler to face a bit o’ wrath? Does wrath come at the expense of love, or – like yin and yang – can they coexist together?

    Those are just a couple of the arguments that initially pop up in my head . . .

  • Darren, the concept of wrath is essentially God dealing with our projection of God’s response to disobedience. God does get angry but in very intentional ways. And God’s final response is restorative as opposed to simply punitive. We learn very dearly that punitive approaches don’t really work with Israel. In fact they reinforce the problem by creating fear. But we need to see that in order to understand it doesn’t work.

    I spent a great deal of time breaking down how we create this projection of wrath in my book, and why we needed the cross to appease that wrath. But when we shift our understanding of the location of the problem it redeems our understanding of atonement.

  • Buck Eschaton

    God is love. God is mercy and justice. If God is violent and wrathful then he is nothing special, then all he becomes supreme violence. Then if that is true Christianity is only different from pagan religions in degree. Then all one can say is that God is more violent than anything else. So violence becomes the sole basis of telling what is right and wrong. Whoever survives the violence is good and the ones that are killed are evil. So the supreme Christian virtue becomes making sure you’re on the side of the most powerful and defining violence. So if God is violent, then He has no love or mercy. He is simply one among many Gods, the only the difference is that PSA claims he is more powerful.
    Pagan religion is based upon violence that can be totally agreed upon by the community.
    God is one, meaning that there are no other Gods. God is love, meaning that violence and sin is in humanity. All have sinned.
    I’m not sure what else to say, I could go on and on giving Bible verses and endless examples. If God is wrathful (in the violent way) then He is simply no longer God.

  • Jim

    Buck, I’m curious how you handle the verses that claim God is, in fact, wrathful. Or that God is violent. Do you deny that god has ever struck someone down, brought disaster to a city, or commanded his people to slay their enemies, every man, woman, and child? I’m just trying to get a handle on how you read scripture.

  • ben

    Buck, I’ve read your post a few times and I really can’t comprehend what you’re saying. I guess I’m most confused with this distinction between God being wrathful in a non-violent way (as opposed to a non-violent way). Can you explain, briefly, how you’d understand these verses which clearly (to me) show God has having a violent wrath against human sin:

    YHWH speaking:
    Ex. 22:21-24: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. ”

    YHWH to Jeremiah:
    Jer. 7:29-31    “ ‘Cut off your hair and cast it away;
    raise a lamentation on the bare heights,
    for the LORD has rejected and forsaken
    the generation of his wrath.’
     “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. ”

    Jesus speaking:
    John 3:33 – “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. ”

    Paul explaining God’s ways:
    Rom. 2:2-5 “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”

  • nathan

    @Buck, some would argue that Barth offered an understanding of wrath as the full weight of effects of sin on humans and creation.

    Is that what you’re getting at? That wrath “from God” is really the removal of God’s providential hand so that humans fully experience the effects of their own sin/violence/brokenness/rebellion?

    Another question:
    Are you trying to cordone off God’s anger at sin from God’s angry action against sin?

    Or are you saying God is never angry?

    I DO get your concern about the triumph of violence. It’s like when some of my friends only speak of eschatology/Book of Revelation in terms of Armageddon being “the end” and not the New Creation. If the final vision of history in the Christian story is “blood up to the bridals”, then the final word/value of all time is brute force and power.

    looking forward to your answers to my questions…

  • RJ

    I’m wading into this a bit late, and the momentum may be passed.

    Jesus, interpreting his own death at the last supper passed the cup and said, “This is the blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” So we must acknowledge that the shedding of his blood was in some way essential for the forgiveness of sins.

    Jesus also spoke of giving his life as a ransom for many. One question we might ask is, to whom is the ransom paid? No one pays a ransom to the father of someone who has been taken. The ransom is paid to the one who has taken the person.

    If justice is one of God’s qualities, then God cannot simply take humanity back by force, when humans have surrentered themselves to the forces of evil and death. Justice may be satisfied by the payment of a ransom, the blood of Christ, in order to justly purchase humanity back. This may be part of what St. Paul meant when he spoke of us belonging to Christ rather than to sin, the flesh, etc.

    This understanding would lead us to a substitutionary atonement, but would remove the penal aspect from God, and place the violence where it belongs. It would also move the wrath of God away from humanity and place it on the forces of evil and death, which will be destroyed.

    Just a few thoughts that are not at all original to me.

    • RJ, I don’t see how Jesus’ saying, as recounted by Paul (who, of course, was not an eyewitness to the Last Supper) says that the shedding of blood was “essential.” Yes, his blood was shed for us, and we surely benefit from the shed blood, but Jesus does not imply that blood being shed was either essential or required.

  • Aran

    RJ, I don’t know you and don’t know a thing about you . . . but that was really REALLY well said. Thanks for that. Seriously. Good stuff.

  • steve

    I am with RJ on this. I have problems with both extremes of the atonement debates because: 1. One side equates the totality of the atoning work of Christ with Penal Substitution and 2. the other side tends to want to do away with any substitutionary elements of the cross.

    I believe there MUST be a substitutionary element to any biblical theology of atonement, BUT I don’t believe it needs to be (should be) penal/retributive in orientation. There are many ways that scripture talks about Jesus as our substitute that do not end up in God punishing Jesus vengefully for our benefit.

  • Buck Eschaton

    Yes I agree that substitution is at the center of the cross. Christ is our substitute, it’s just that the wrath that is being satisfied/appeased/redirected/whatever the most accurate term might be is the wrath/violence/sin of humanity. Jesus is not protecting us against violence from God, but from the violence and death originating in humanity.

  • RJ


    I won’t get into the question of the reliability of the Synoptic accounts, which also include the saying. Kenneth Bailey does a much better job than I ever could, and once we shed the modern Western assumptions regarding ancient Middle Eastern tradition, there is no reason to doubt the reliability of the Synoptic tradition.

    In the synoptic accounts, Jesus frequently speaks of the necessity of going to Jerusalem, and about the fact that he must be handed over for crucifixion. As N.T. Wright points out, I think convincingly, in Jesus and the Victory of God, this was not something that would be invented after the event. I think we can take account as accurate to Jesus’ self understanding.

    Jesus seems to have understood his death as central to the redemption of the world, or he would not have referred to himself as the Son of Man, which has a clear reference to Daniel 7. If Jesus had not surrendered himself to faithful obedience, even to death on a cross, he could not fulfill the vocation of Israel, and the true vocation of all of humanity.

    I suppose that vocation to obedience, even to death, could have taken a bloodless form. In 21st Century America, his execution certainly would have been bloodless, but that is quibbling over the methodology of execution, and not the necessity of the cross (or electric chair).

    Perhaps part of the substitutionary nature of the atonement in not in Jesus paying a penalty, but Jesus doing for us that which we could not do for ourselves, i.e. completely surrendering to divine vindication. I don’t think we can nail it down to one theory. The theory of recapitulation put forward by Irenaeus need not exclude the theory of a ransom paid put forward by Origen.

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  • ben

    I’m glad my theology allows me, with my sisters and brothers, to rock out in worship to songs like this: . Lyrics here:

    “So three days in darkness slept
    The Morning Sun of righteousness
    But rose to shame the throes of death
    And over turn his rule
    Now daughters and the sons of men
    Would pay not their dues again
    The debt of blood they owed was rent
    When the day rolled anew”

  • Mary Fisher

    James Alison a Very interesting scholar with some great books has a great article on the atonement available on the Internet that works off Girard…

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