Atoning for the Atonement

I believe many of us (myself very included) have done an injustice in defining the “atonement” concept to our students.

In God is Loud, we are hoping to define the work of Christ in a simple, understandable, relevant, and contextual way, while also not minimizing its importance.

So, let me ask you to please respond and comment.

Theologically speaking, there are many theories of atonement.  I am attempting to provide an encompassing definition to help students from many religious traditions and backgrounds (as well as those of little or uncertain faith) understand the necessity and importance of Christ’s mission.

How do you define the atonement to your students?

*Some comments may appear in the upcoming book God is Loud with Barefoot Ministries

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10 thoughts on “Atoning for the Atonement

  1. I typically make much of the relational aspects of our connection to God. With the entrance of sin there is a shattering of our relationship with God (one shattered relationship of among at least five which I typically point out). In order to mend the relationship it takes something more than just ‘I’m ok, you’re ok.’

    It costs something.

    God desires so much to restore our relationship with him that he is willing to sacrifice anything, even himself, to do so. One friend has put it this way, ‘sin is man substituting himself for God, salvation is God substituting himself for man.’ Our substitution leads to death, but God’s substitution leads to life.

    I just think the idea of consequences costing something is what resonates with my students.

  2. Atonement- is the multifaceted concept associated within the work of Jesus Christ’s life/crucifixion/death/resurrection- the event/work/word has multiple layers (like so many things that Christ has said/done/doing) so to peel back a few hear would be impressive

    First and Foremost it would be good to clarify what the word atonement does/bears… within the word we notice that it contains “an at-one-ment” or a bringing togetherness kind of quality this is the primary focus of what atonement means by definition.

    Moreover, theologically what it means for us is that Jesus was not only God/Man/Divine/Human during his life/happiness/teaching/ministry but also especially in his pain/suffering/death…. that in the lowliest, most frightening of human realities our God/Jesus experiences like we might experience, He fears like we fear, He aches and pains like we might ache and pain. That the mystery of Jesus’ Deity/Humanity is best expressed in the Cross. The high made low and the endurance of pain set before His persecutors, betrayers, His people/children.

    (SACRIFICIAL SUBSITUTION)
    Another layer is that the blood He shed is sacrificial for the sins that intercedes (goes-between) for us on. That like the sacrificial system that was integral (important) to the Jewish, so was Jesus’ sacrifice a fulfillment of the religious system of sacrificial offerings. This is why, Jesus is so referred as the Lamb of God, for He was/served as a sacrifice.

    (PENAL SUBSITUTION)
    This thought-line or thread is tied closely with a “legal” understanding of Christ’s final days and resurrection as it is tied with some of the legal/religious obligation and fulfillment language used in the New Testament. God demands sacrifice for the sin we have committed and Jesus is that replacement, perfect and complete for humanity.

    (CHRISTUS VICTOR)
    Another layer that has been reinvigorated by current professors and preachers is the importance of what Christ has done by being our “Resurrected Lord and Savior” that not only does the blood “save us” (serve up a plate of significance) but the reality that Jesus has overcome death prove His power not only in this life but the next.

    (RANSOM)
    Another layer (At least for this comment thread for now) is the ransom thread/theory of Christ’s atonement. Which is to say that Christ is the ransom/offering to placate/save us from the hands of captors/sinfulness. That Jesus is the acceptable trade for humanity and His death, loss is what would satisfy the enemy more than us. Little did the Enemy know that Jesus was greater than the power of death.

    That the greatest trap that could be set was not enough to hold Him and that He is sacrifice, substitute, victor, ransom and ultimately savior.

    Atonement… When Jesus brought everything together…

  3. Atonement is a two part equation equaling our salvation, first during His life on earth as a man he needed to live in perfect obedience to God becoming our righteousness (Rom. 5:19, 1 Cor. 1:30). Or more simply put, from the beginning of creation man could have earned eternal life with God, if Adam and Eve would have been perfectly obedient. But since they chose not to obey they along with all of mankind were no longer righteous.

    The second part of the atonement equation that leads to our salvation is Christ’s death on the cross. Upon dying on the cross Christ took the penalty of all sin, why is there a penalty? A penalty is needed because God is just and to remain this way He needed to judge our sins guilty by transferring our sin onto Christ. Therefore Jesus ultimately sacrificed himself to save us from our eternal death that was due according to God’s judgment, by taking our sins away and having them placed on him. During this time God poured out his wrath due to his hatred of sin on his son, thus turning His wrath to make man favorable in His eyes.

    When Adam sinned in the beginning of creation his guilt was that placed on to all of humanity, hence God needed a plan.

  4. @Dan yes!! students need to learn about the atonement without having to use big Christian and theological words that only leave them confused. Students need to understand what Christ did for us with living in the reality of what Christ is doing in us and through us.

    @Zac is right on. He did an excellent job summarizing the theory of the atonement. I read The Nature of the Atonement: 4 Views: http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Atonement-Four-Views/dp/0830825703/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274739908&sr=8-1-spell

    This book really helped me have a balanced view of different atonement theories.

    How I communicate atonement to students:
    We are reconciled to God because Jesus, sacrificially entered the earthly domain to reconcile and defeat the principalities that rule the comos. Now we are free because Jesus did all the work.

  5. I find the traditional concept of the atonement (a late developing idea in Christian theology) to be very difficult to share with youth, particularly as it can be seen as painting a picture of God as a divine child abuser. I think a better understanding of Christ is to put aside mathematical notions that suggest that “Because Christ did x, God did y, and that = salvation for us!” I’d rather share with youth that Jesus both lived his life for God and had such fidelity to God’s ways of peace and love and justice that he was even willing to die under Roman execution rather than reject what he knew to be true. In this sense, he gave up his life to show us the way to God. We might argue that there are contemporary examples of people who have followed this same path. Martin Luther King, for example, gave up his life for the cause of civil rights for all.

  6. Atonement = Incarnation.

    The eternal Son of God, through his incarnation does not merely accomplish the atonement, he is the atonement. As fully God and fully human, Jesus is the permanent union of God and humankind in his own person. The atonement is in Jesus.

  7. I’m going through a series on the Nicene Creed with my High Schoolers and talked about the “Work of Christ” a few weeks ago. Each week I try to put up a summary of the lesson for parents and students who weren’t there (in theory, at least…). Here’s the link to the lesson on the atonement: http://bit.ly/ajJuwa

  8. These are all great responses. Especially the two Zachs. However, I don’t think avoiding the fact that God poured out his wrath on Jesus is doing justice to the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for sin (penal substitution).

    I like to have my kids look at it this way. Creation started with God and man facing each other (put hands up with palms facing each other). Then Adam and Eve sinned and a rift in the relationship with God took place (have them turn hands so the back of their hands are facing each other). Then God turns back towards man through Abraham, Isaac, Israel, etc. (Turn one hand with palm facing the other hands back). Then God sends Jesus to die for our sins and restores the relationship when we put our faith in his “Atoning” (making things right) sacrifice (turn the backwards hand so that both palms are facing each other again). The atonement is all about God’s work in reconciling his sinful people back to himself and to each other. We can not be right with each other until we are right with him. That is what the Atonement is all about.

  9. Mike I like your illustration using the palms of your hands. I would simply note that the Son of God, in Jesus, took our fallen humanity upon himself, and as a human for us, turned us back to God.

  10. I know I’m coming into this late, but better late than never, right?

    One of my critiques of traditional articulations of penal substitutionary atonement theories is that oftentimes they come off as quite anti-trinitarian. There is a clear line of separation that often comes when we say that God the Father poured out his wrath against his Son. I think a more trinitarian way of speaking is that God poured out God’s wrath upon Godself. He took the sin and pain upon himself. God the Father experienced the pain of the cross just like God the son. If we want to talk about someone paying the price for sin, that’s fine, but let’s speak in a way that is consistent with trinitarian theology. For more: Moltmann, The Crucified God.

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