Posted by: rogermitchell | October 19, 2010

more on atonement

I attempt to be consistent to a standpoint of faith that the Jesus of the gospels is both the man of history and the God of eternity. The God I find there does not insist on his own way. What I am attempting to deal with is an understanding of the atonement that presents God as dominating the world with his own law and demanding payment before forgiving those who disobey him. The problem with this is that it makes God someone who demands his own way, whereas Jesus’ death demonstrates a God who loves us so much that he wants to rescue us from insisting on our own way. From this perspective insisting on your own way is the sin Jesus rescues us from. You could say that God in Christ paid the price for us seeking our own way, and some scriptures do use that terminology, such as when Paul reminds the Corinthians that they were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23). But the problem is that the terminology has been used for so long to mean appease or propitiate or “pay off” God’s anger. This actually makes God someone who insists on his own way and requires payment in order to let us off for not doing what he wants. This kind of God is no better than the sinners he demands appeasement from, just more powerful. It’s this kind of atonement that justifies the contemporary western world where money buys prosperity and power not unlike the Roman world that Jesus was born into and opposed. If the gospel is about a way of life that is the opposite of insisting on your own way, then the cross is not about paying off God but the revelation of the lengths he is prepared to go to rescue us from the consequences of domination.



  1. So I have understood that God doesn’t insist on get His own way, I get that. This rhymes with my earlier question “why is God so committed to cause and effect?”
    Something in me says that God’s commitment is tied up with His nature something to do with Him being perfect, yet not a perfectionist and maybe more.
    I don’t want it to seem like a parallel line of questioning to what you’re trying to tackle, it’s just in my mind, the two are tied up together.
    God is love, and love is all about putting others before yourself. He put us before Himself by sending His only begotten Son to die on the cross for us.
    We made a mistake, God didn’t make the mistake go away, but He worked it through and saw us through to redemption (another money symbol – redemption?). So what is it about His personality that seems to be so tied up with cause and effect? I am trying to understand.

  2. I like this question and I think God does too. It is because we encounter God in Christ as a loving person we want to get to know him. So by all means let’s ask God, ourselves and each other about this. My only proviso is that we look for answers consistent with our primary experience that he is loving, like Jesus. What I am getting at here is that God could be perfect, logical, stubborn and so on, all of which could explain an insistence on cause and effect, but still might not make him a God worth loving or following.

  3. Having trouble understanding what you think the cross was all about Roger.If people are to be free from there selfishness is it not the cross that makes them free.Our acceptance of the cross and the willingness of christ to give up on any thoughts of self is the way to freedom.
    Im not sure this can be understood without the idea of a price being paid,that price being christs willingness to give up his will to his father not to swaage his anger but to make a new way possible.
    Only my simple thoughts for what they are worth.

  4. Perhaps will help if I explain what I’m getting at in terms of what’s going on right now. We live in a society in which pretty much everything is seen in terms of money. So it is assumed by the Coalition and the Labour Party too although a bit less, that justice, services, care for the poor can only be provided through profits and tax raised through private property and trade. There is no suggestion that if we begin with love and justice then the conditions will be in place for God the creation and people to provide the resources necessary. It sounds mad and irresponsible to suggest it. But Jesus seems to start that way round with “give and it will be given to you … seek first my Kingdom and all these things will be yours as well” and so on. So I’m asking where and how in the centuries of Christendom the mindset formed that tells us that freedom can be bought? And my hunch, confirmed by my research, is that it comes from the 4th century marriage of church and empire. This reworked the gospel as hierarchical rule over the earth’s resources justified by an understanding of the cross as paying an emperor type God for his approval and blessing. So this is why I am questionning that approach to the atonement. Maybe if you have another read of the last couple of posts with this in mind they will make more sense. I hope so!

  5. I’ve also noticed some comments by church goers in the last few days in the news regarding the earth’s resources. They understand that since God gave us the earth, we are entitled to use it. And to use it all up if we look at our actions. It seems to me this is part of the overall attitude of mistaking gift for something else.

    It reminds me of many rich people who inherited their money but frequently speak and act as if they worked hard for it. So too, this economic model of salvation causes us to take a freely given gift and act like we earned it and therefore are entitled to it and on the flip side must keep earning it (or at least the next person must keep earning it if they don’t have the goods yet). And that makes me think of the whole ‘health and wealth’ gospel that has been around for a number of years.

    In other words I think this mindset is all through Christianity and has morphed into various weird forms, some that are not terribly recognizable.

  6. And my hunch, confirmed by my research, is that it comes from the 4th century marriage of church and empire. This reworked the gospel as hierarchical rule over the earth’s resources justified by an understanding of the cross as paying an emperor type God for his approval and blessing.

    I can see this at work in our present system the constant message that somebody has to pay.And in the willingness of the church to play along with this.
    But I guess my question is what was the understanding of the cross before this marriage of state and church?

    • Ah! That’s the question. Of course at a gut level I think we know it is immeasurable grace and unconditional love. A version of kenosis that I’m trying to get to grips with and is what the final months of this research I’m doing is all about. So some down to earth prayer would be handy!

  7. Glad to pray for you Roger and glad to be even a small part of your journey.

  8. I am thinking, and rethinking so many sermons/messages that I have heard and that I have spoken myself in which sin is so bad that it has to be paid…either the individual by being sent to hell or by Jesus who then lets you into heaven.

    Beside the brianstorm going off in my head right now and the dozens of scriptures that I am right now rehearsing and for which new questions are arising, I am grieving over such a unloving picture of God’s we (I) have represented to the world. I think it is easier for us to thinking of a system of bartoring since that keep us in control or helps us retain our autonomy that is so hard to give up. But to think of love as the price and the reward makes me think of the payable of the servants who worked longer in the field and received the same pay of the newcomers. There isn’t any graduated reward – there is only one payment/reward and it is His love – can’t divide that up or negotiate it terms. Wow…will be thinking about this for a long time.

    • I have to be honest here, I had a harder time fully appreciating the passion that Roger was attacking the material just precisely because the idea/thought of Christ’s work being equated by some as a payment/transaction was so far from my thinking, it didn’t completely make sense. In my own mind I even questioned whether or not this was a problem that some people under.

      Therefore I am actually glad you spoke up, or I would of never known.

      Thank you.

      I got taught my Christian fundamentals in Ichthus (while Roger was there) and by a lovely woman of God called Judy Gilmore and of course the Holy Spirit.

      The ideas that I have grown to understand are closer to explaining that a perfect sacrifice had to be provided – not an animal, because it needed to represent the one it was on behalf of – a man would experience death for another man, perfect and without blemish, therefore without sin. It also had to be appropriate for the One receiving the sacrifice. So on one hand fully man, on the other fully God.

      The idea that God wouldn’t love us until the cross doesn’t make sense otherwise He wouldn’t of given His Son for us in the first place, as the scripture says “while we were still sinners Christ died for us”. You wouldn’t put your child in harm’s way for someone you don’t like and it’s REALLY hard to act in love with someone your angry with, try it, I know I have.

      Some may read it differently than me but the scripture that I think makes it clear is the one where Moses says forgive the children of Israel and blot my name out of Your book. God says no, he who sins is the one that I will blot out of My book, for me there is no religion in this. You can’t buy your way into His book. This is not about God being happy or sad. God loved Moses and enjoyed him and had NO intention of relinquishing those He enjoys, that is what this whole thing is about. Enjoying God and God enjoying you.

      So once again, I really mean this – thanks for opening my eyes Lorrie – I see that I really do not know what’s going on out there. I’ve got to go back and spend some time thinking.

  9. OK, here we go. I would like to suggest that the commoditization of everything is in the nature of the systems of the World, this is all they have to wield power to get things done, by offering to supply something demanded by someone else.

    Money abstractly quantifies value. Therefore in the Gospel we need at times to deal with value in differing terms. We shouldn’t shy from using the money (I.E. abstracted value) symbol if it’s useful, just because others have abused it for their own purposes.

    Because money abstracts value, it could be said that it stands in the place of the thing that you really want. Like for instance looking at big check that you have received and saying this is my new car this is. As long as you can put a numerical value on the desire for something. But you can’t put a numerical value on life, that’s why when God weighed how He thought about mankind, it was in terms of life. Although I would still use the words, Jesus paid the price so that I could have a relationship with God. It may not have been money, but it still cost Somebody Something.

    I say all of this knowing that this is my opinion and you may have a far better way to describe the faith. I have never studied theology, I don’t know Greek/Latin/Hebrew/Aramaic, what do I know? But to understand the rethinking of the central tenants of the faith for me means to look at the pictures used in the Old Testament. Like when God said to Noah in Genesis 9:4 “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5″Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

    What’s in the blood symbol? What is there to be learned from this? How does this apply to learning what lies beneath? Seriously, because writing this I realise I don’t even know how breathtakingly how much there is for me to learn.

    The Medieval Roman Catholic Church was just a world system only Church in name. It says “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” And Jesus said “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would fight to prevent me being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But now my kingdom is not from here.” The Medieval Roman Catholic Church was an empire with a host of armies to call from. They sold indulgences, kept the Word of God in a foreign and elitist language and waged war with unbelievers instead of showing them love and trying to save them. They commoditised everything to do with life, so that they could apply a value to it and therefore plug it into their economies. Were they even able to understand intellectually these (Old Testament symbols like blood) foundation values that God was trying to teach us?

    A long post sorry but I wanted say, with money – maybe there is a baby in with the bath water somewhere. And also wanted to make mention of the places I would look if you are trying to understand the Faith from a position of trying to divorce Redemption from Mammon.

  10. Glad to be on this journey with you all too!

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