Musician Michael Gungor just popped up and made a number of statements on Twitter decrying the penal substitutionary model of the atonement. His most precise quote: “that God needed to be appeased with blood is not beautiful. It’s horrific.”
The heart of the atonement is precisely what Gungor says it is not. Ancient Israel gathered on the annual Day of Atonement so that the priest would offer sacrifices to cover their sins (Leviticus 16:11-19). Their precise need was a sacrifice that would prove acceptable in God’s sight; the blood of the male goat was sprinkled on the “atonement cover” of the holy of holies, cleansing the people. The payment for Adam’s sin is death, and it is only by the “precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:19) that sinners may have their sins covered. The Scripture speaks with one voice on this matter; in both the Old and New Testaments, you cannot find a God who is “appeased” except with the shedding of blood. Without blood, there is no remission of sins (Heb. 9:22).
Gungor may think he is preserving a pristine and beautiful God by removing blood atonement from the equation. But in truth, Gungor’s move to sanitize God reworks the holy character of the divine, making God a less-than-holy figure, and leaves sinners without any of the benefits of the death of Christ. Without Christ, we have none of the righteousness of Christ, no redemption by his work, no propitiation of divine wrath, no sonship in the Son, no reconciliation with God, no reconciliation with fellow blood-bought sinners, and no victory over Satan, sin, death, and hell.
In sum, to lose the blood of Christ is to lose Christ. A Christ who does not give his life as a ransom for sin (Mark 10:45) is a Christ of good feelings, a Christ of emotional solidarity with sinners, a Christ who feels positively toward the lost, but who does nothing to redeem them. Here’s the tragic irony: if you try to keep the Father and Son unstained from blood sacrifice, you lose the gracious covenantal work of redemption. In other words, in trying to preserve the genteel goodness of the Godhead, you leave the Godhead without love, for to offer blood sacrifice–especially by the Son of God–is the height of compassion.
Modern attempts to rework the sacrifice of Christ always fail. They strip the Father of his holiness, the Son of his heroic substitutionary love, and the church of its salvific inheritance. We should not be comforted by a bloodless divine economy. We should be terrified by it. Again, we should know that without the blood of Christ, we have no remission of sins, no forgiveness, no power over the flesh, no release from Satanic bondage, no victory over the grave, and no hope in this life or the next. The stakes here are high–impossibly high.
To paint blood on your doorposts in ancient Egypt invited the scorching mockery of your neighbors (Exodus 12:7). To claim the blood of Christ as your forgiveness in the modern West is to suffer the same fate. But there is something worse than the scorn of the cultured, whether ancient or modern: the wrath of God. It is our eternal confession that the blood of Christ, and only the blood of Christ, has saved our souls.
The blood of Christ will be the theme of our song when the wisdom of the age has long since gone quiet.