Scapegoating the Atonement

What do we make of all this? Some might attribute change in atonement theory to progress in human thought, as though to say Christians today are more intellectually evolved than those in the past. C. S. Lewis takes a far more humble approach, arguing in Mere Christianity that one does not need to understand how the atonement works in order to accept the gift: "The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories about Christ's death are not Christianity; they are explanations about how it works. . . . [N]o explanation will ever be quite adequate to the reality."

Explanations inevitably reflect the limitations of human contexts, whether the context of 2nd-century Europe or that of 21st-century America. But rather than despair over such limitation, Christians should rejoice in God's endorsement of embodiment, reinforced by the incarnation. Just as it would be odd to argue that Jesus wore a suit and tie to deliver the Sermon on the Mount, so it would be naïve to argue that the way Christians dress their understanding of the atonement in any particular era is the only proper clothing of truth. God's endorsement of embodiment is an endorsement of pluralism, reinforced by multiple tongues of flame in that upper room where people heard amazing news in the tongues of their own countries. The past, as well, is another country, people speaking in tongues that made sense to their times. (For greater depth and detail about how atonement theories have themselves been scapegoated, see chapter ten of my Changing Signs of Truth.)

4/13/2016 4:00:00 AM
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