A Better Atonement: Jesus Died for This

This week, as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter, we’ve have a post every morning about the atonement. And I’ve curated streams on Storify and Tumbler, both tracking atonement. You can read all of the posts, and my past posts on this topic, here.

Before I conclude, let me express my thanks. This blog has picked up many new readers over the past month, as I’ve written my way through my thoughts on the atonement. I welcome you here, and I appreciate your comments (and tweets, FB posts, and blog posts). I also appreciate the favorable reviews of my ebook, A Better Atonement. Some of that book appeared originally on this blog, and some of it is exclusive to the book. This, my concluding post on the topic (for now), is not in the book.

Some have wondered why I am consumed with this topic. My brothers and sisters more liberal than I state that they figured this out long ago, and that I just making too much of Jesus’ death. One, John Vest, writes,

I titled this post “Ockham’s Atonement” not because William of Ockham had a theory of the atonement (that I’m aware of). Rather, I’m suggesting an approach to Jesus’ death that applies Ockham’s Razora simpler explanation is better than a more complex oneJesus died because he was executed by the powers he threatened. To suggest anything else is to overlay this fact of history with unnecessary theological speculation.

Am I just too evangelical, looking as I am for cosmic import and redemption in the death of at Galilean peasant two millennia ago?
I think not.
If Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity — which I believe he was — then his crucifixion matters. And it matters more than as an example of someone who demonstrated “a Jesus-like revolutionary resistance in relation to a culture of unprecedented social inequality—and of unprecedented and appalling economic, racial, military, penal, environmental, and psychological violence.” (Oh, wait, that quote was about us, not Jesus.)

But, if you’ve been reading these posts, you know that I do not think that I owe a debt to God. I don’t think that God’s wrath burns against me because of some inherently sinful state that I involuntarily inherited.

So, I’ve looked for a reason — for some rationale as to why the Logos died on a cross.

I’ve found two interpretations of the crucifixion that give me something I’m looking for. Rene Girard’s Last Scapegoat appeals to my intellect. It makes sense of the Hebrew scriptures and the sacrificial system therein.

Jürgen Moltmann’s theology of the cross appeals to my sense of hope. Here, God comes to us and, in his experience of godforskakeness, unites with us in eternal solidarity. In fact, God invites us into the eternal love of the Trinity.

If I ever write a big book on the atonement, it will likely be an attempt to bring these two theories into harmony. For now, they co-habitate in my soul on this Good Friday. They’ve brought some peace to me, and some hope. And, as I said above, I am grateful for this journey.

On this Good Friday, what are your closing thoughts on the atonement?


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