Several of my progressive Christian friends have great difficulty with the prevalent understandings of the death of Jesus.
They’ve heard the cross (the atonement) explained as an “atoning sacrifice,” a “ransom,” “substitution,” “Jesus taking the punishment for our sin,” etc. As they read it, these explanations evoke the image of an angry, punitive God–an image that they reject. “If God is love,” they reason, “then these punitive explanations of Jesus’ death cannot be correct or acceptable.”
I think there are several problems with their thinking on this point.
- They are minimizing the nature of sin, particularly the very Jewish idea of sin as a personal affront to God. Limiting your understanding of sin to “mistakes” minimizes the intentional rebellion and naked selfishness that’s at the heart of some of our sins.
- They’re drawing their picture of God with a “buffet” mentality (“meat & potatoes, yes; but no green beans.”) They’re not alone in this: we all tend to reject the parts of God that challenge us or make us uncomfortable. We all need to reevaluate our picture of God regularly, because we’re always creating God in our own image.
A third problem with their thinking is that they are ignoring the corporate nature of guilt. This is part & parcel with the individualism woven into Western culture & values. This aspect of the atonement–our corporate need–is the focus of this post.
We usually think of ourselves in isolation from the actions of others, as long as those actions don’t directly impact us. But occasionally, things happen … (next post)