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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A Better Atonement: Nothing Is Solved by Murder

This week, as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter, we’ll have a post every morning about the atonement. Some by guests, and I will round out the week with a couple reflections. And don’t forget to check out the Storify and Tumbler, both tracking atonement this week. You can read all of the posts, and my past posts on this topic, here.

Today, David Lose connects the traditional story explaining Jesus’ death with one of the cultural touchstones of this year.

Recently, two of my favorite subjects seem about to collide in an usual but interesting way: 1) The Hunger Games, the book I felt so lucky to stumble upon when it was first released and now is the mega-mega-blockbuster of print and screen. And 2) the atonement, which I’ve been working on in earnest since I first did a 6-week adult forum on the cross twenty years ago using film clips (Star Wars, Schindler’s List, Gallipoli, etc.).

The collision, in some ways, seems almost destined because of the remarkably similar plot lines. Not sure you’re following, even if you read (or seen) The Hunger Games (or maybe especially if you’ve read The Hunger Games)? Then try telling me which of the two stories this plot line summarizes:

Out of chaos is formed a covenantal society between a greater power and a lesser one. When the lesser one refuses to render due honor and obedience to the greater – in actions labeled rebellion – they bring upon themselves the wrath of the greater power, a wrath that can only be satisfied by bloodshed. The climax of the story comes when one representing those to be punished volunteers to take on the wrath of the greater power.

Okay, so which story is it? Is it the story of the oppressive Capitol’s punishment of the districts for rebelling by creating the Hunger Games – a yearly event combining the worst elements of the Roman arena and Survior – and Katniss Everdeen’s brave and voluntary substitution of herself for her sister? Or is it the story of God’s righteous wrath at human sin, wrath that would result in the damnation of all living humans were it not for the brave and voluntary sacrifice of Jesus as he substitutes himself for humanity and takes the penalty for our sin?

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A Better Atonement: Maybe I Was Wrong about Original Sin

This week, as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter, we’ll have a post every morning about the atonement. Some will be by me, and some by guests. And don’t forget to check out the Storify and Tumbler, both tracking atonement this week. You can read all of the posts, and my past posts on this topic, here.

Today, Dallas Gingles challenges my argument that Original Sin is a doctrine, fabricated by Augustine, without biblical or rational justification. Regardless of silly quotes by GK Chesterton, I don’t buy it. But I thought I’d let Dallas provide a Nieburhrian counterpoint.

First, let me say thanks to Tony for the opportunity to guest post in this conversation about atonement and original sin. I’ve enjoyed the conversation, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

I often hear theologians or pastors describing a conversation with a skeptical or hurt person who says, “I just can’t believe in a God who destroys lives, hates sinners, looks like the G.O.P,” or something similar. The minister responds, “I don’t believe in that God either.” Similarly, I don’t believe in the version of original sin that Tony doesn’t believe in in A Better Atonement. However, I do want to defend original sin.

The version of original sin that I want to affirm starts, like Tony’s, with St. Augustine. Unlike Tony, I want to locate the upshot of the doctrine, not in contrast to Pelagius, but in Augustine’s refutation of the Manicheans, and his political thought. Roughly put, the Manicheans believed that evil was a material substance in the world. The convoluted process by which evil was confronted and combated included the bowel movements of faithful believers.

Augustine’s account of evil as a privation—a no-thing—is a direct rebuttal to the idea that evil exists: is a “thing.” Humans will wrongly and humans love wrongly. In so doing they undo their being—they un-become, so to speak. This undoing is finally an undoing of human relations—of the Human City. As Jean Bethke Elshtain has noted, no one has recently captured this idea better than J.K. Rowling with her portrayal of the character of Voldemort.

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