For the last few years I’ve sporadically studied the meaning and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. We have a theological word for it: atonement. It started when I watched a video that illustrated how many modern presentations of the gospel make Jesus and the Father to be very different kinds of people. The Father is holy and unrelenting in his need to dispense retribution on depraved sinners and Jesus the loving and forgiving saviour sent to provide us an escape from God’s wrath. This view is called Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) and there are versions of it that attempt to maintain the unity of the Father and the Son but I’m not convinced they do a very good job.
I’ve spent many hours studying the scriptures, and now I’ve moved on to books on the subject. I’m still neck deep in it. It has been a fascinating study. The dominate evangelical view really only goes back to Luther and wasn’t fully articulated until John Calvin. When I read proponents of PSA they proudly proclaim this is the heart of the gospel and if we are missing this we are impaired in our faith. So if that were true almost the entire church missed the core component of the gospel until the reformation. That is an astounding assertion.
What have I concluded from my study so far?
That the atonement and our notion of salvation runs far deeper and far wider than forgiveness and the punishment of sin. The themes of victory over sin, death and the devil, reconciliation, redemption, ransom, cleansing, healing, receiving life are all tied with Jesus death and resurrection are all strong and directly related to Christ’s death and resurrection.
At the very least we’ve been proclaiming a gospel message that so heavily oversimplified it is a rump of what is known in the scriptures.
The most common expressions of PSA make God out to be an unrelenting autocrat that cannot tolerate any deviation from his divine will. It finds no common ground between holiness and love, justice and compassion, righteousness and forgiveness.
By viewing all salvation through lens of appeasing God’s wrath we ignore all the wonderful things the atonement has done and is doing for us.
The gospel has many facets and no one way of looking at it captures all the dimensions of it. We should carefully consider the early church’s view on this. It is beautiful.
Like many theological mysteries, where we end up is largely dependant on where we start. One of the most crucial questions is “What is the problem atonement is trying to solve?” I think the problem is human corruption through Adam’s choice to “know” good and evil. Rebellion is a symptom of corruption, and thus corruption is the heart of problem. When we start here Jesus’ death is more about cleansing, healing and restoring in order that we stop rebelling and in doing so end the hostility we have towards the holiness of God and resolve God’s anger over sin. God is satisfied, not because someone was punished for humanity’s sin, but because humanity has been freed from sin, cleansed of corruption and reconciliation has taken place. Jesus’ death frees the prodigal to return home and find the Father is already waiting for him with open arms.