How’s Your Atonement?

Marc Chagall’s “Yellow Crucifixion,” which hung on Jürgen Moltmann’s wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

As you may know, I’m completing a book on the atonement. It’s called Did God Kill Jesus?, and it will be released on March 17, 2015. The first draft of the book is off to the publisher and a few friends for reading. Edits will happen over the next couple months, as will decisions about subtitle, cover, interior design, endorsements, etc. All pretty exciting stuff.

I’m currently teaching a reading seminar, “Theologies of Atonement,” at United Theological Seminary, and still reading and thinking about atonement. And I’m not the only one.

My first foray into wring about the atonement came with my ebook, A Better Atonement, published a couple years ago. Now Jason Micheli has done me the great honor of publishing an accompanying ebook, Preaching A Better Atonement. Therein, Jason lays out some of the versions of atonement in church history and gives sermon illustrations for each. It’s a great resource for Lent and Holy Week, all the proceeds go to the Guatemala Toilet Project, and it can hold you over until next March.

And just think, you can get Jason’s book and my A Better Atonement for less than 5 bucks!

God Is Not Eternal

Writing a book on the atonement is like peeling the layers of an onion. Everything theological dilemma you solve only brings up two more dilemmas. So it was that I needed to write a section in the book on God’s relationship to time, because it seemed to make no sense to talk about God’s relationship to Jesus’ crucifixion unless I could explain God’s relationship to time.

So a couple weeks back, I write a post arguing that God is not outside of time. When he read that, Keith DeRose sent me Nicholas Wolterstorff‘s classic essay, “God Everlasting” (in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, New York: Oxford, 1982).

In that essay, Wolterstorff argues that God is not eternal, God is everlasting.

His argument proceeds thusly:

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Which Side of the Cross Are You On?

Scot McKnight made an interesting observation this week:

But the Abelardian and Girardian have an oft-missed sinister side, even if you may object to my saying so. In these theories we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death. We end up being the good guys, the victims, while the bad guys — Roman and Jewish leaders, the gutless disciples, the whole damned human race — are the ones who put him there. We, on the other hand, know better. We’re innocent, they’re guilty.

Being that I’m writing a book on the atonement, this caught my eye. I’ve got chapters in the book on both the moral exemplar theory (Abelard) and the last scapegoat theory (Girard).

Scot is right, and wrong.

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Lay Your Sins on the E-Scapegoat!

We all want our sins atoned, right? On the eve of Yom Kippur, this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. You can lay your sins on this escapegoat and then watch as your sins are sent out to Azazel, and pushed off the cliff:

Initial Thoughts on René Girard

In the past couple years, I read a lot about René Girard, I’ve listened to numerous interviews with him, I’m consulted the Girardian Lectionary numerous times, and I’ve had innumerable conversations regarding Girard’s thought. But only now am I diving into Girard’s writing itself. I’ve begun with I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, a book with one of the the worst covers you’ll ever see:

That cover notwithstanding, Girard’s writing is airy and approachable. This book lacks scholarly footnotes, having only footnotes from the translator. Those are particularly helpful when running into words that are unique to Girard, or at least when his use of a word is unique.

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I Think Your Atonement Might Be Wrong [VIDEO]

God Is Not “Perfect” [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

Questions That Haunt Christianity continues this week with a question from frequent commenter, Lausten North:

If God just was, before time, before the universe, and he was perfect, why did he create the imperfect universe with us imperfect humans? If he wanted us to choose to love him, then he wasn’t really perfect before, he was lacking love in some way. If we are actually perfect as we are, then that is a strange re-definition of the word perfect. If you say there is a plan and we just can’t understand it, then you are just avoiding the question.

In a comment to the original post, Lausten clarifies:

Primarily, the question addresses the particular types of theology that assume unknowable perfection. In that theology, we can’t know God, we can only place our hopes in the glimpses of a better way that He gives us. So we can’t define perfect, other than as something beyond anything we know.

Certainly pain and bad design are examples of imperfection. The known physical universe requires a lot of death and destruction to continue with its creation. You could say that is a balance, but I consider it imperfect and incompatible with the existence of a loving God who claims to have performed the miracles found in the Bible.

Lausten, thanks both for the original question and the clarifier. I take it from your comments that you’re an atheist, and I’m particularly glad that you and some other atheists have begun reading this blog as a result of this series. At the very heart of your question is an assumption that you’ve stated in other comments: that Christianity is bedeviled with internal inconsistencies that ultimately undermine its claims on truth. But I think your question does something quite similar to that.

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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.

A Better Atonement: Lean Left, Tony, Lean Left!

Try as he might, Peter Laarman can’t help but sneer at my latest book. Just…Not…Progressive enough for him. Also, not smart enough, too hipster, and too evangelical. He doesn’t seem to like my eyeglasses, either. Or the book’s subtitle. Or Rob Bell. (Wait, what in God’s name does Rob Bell have to do with my book on the atonement? You’ll have to read the article to find out.)

Penitentially present to RD readers for just a minute during Holy Week, I want to welcome a new Kindle-only book from Tony Jones: A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin.

I have never met Tony Jones, and I was initially inclined to offer a sneer instead of a review. I am still inclined toward sniping, as you will see, but the easy snipe just won’t do this time. I’ve thought about it, and (God forbid) I’ve even prayed about it. I conclude that the old Common Front principle of “no enemies on the Left” really ought to apply right now, at a moment when anyone who is honestly seeking to recast troublesome old Christian doctrines should be seen as an ally and not an enemy.

Read the Rest: Rejecting Blood Sacrifice Theology, Again | (A)theologies | Religion Dispatches.

But here’s the point of the review: Oh, look at the little post-evangelical emergent discovering what we smart liberals have known for decades. How cute!

A Better Atonement: You’re a Pig in a Poke

Singer-songwriter Roger Flyer has submitted this take on the atonement (lyrics below the video):

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