Thinking Out Loud: Atonement

I am only just beginning Greg Boyd’s massive 2 volume work, “Crucifixion of the Warrior God,” so I cannot speak exhaustibly to his argument, but I think the core issue raised by my fellow progressives is whether or not the OT sacrificial legal system of propitiation in itself is a human misunderstanding of the God-human relationship. When one examines the tribal God concept presented in the OT, then contrast that with the explicit universalism of the Gospel message, there is a definite disconnect.
To question the validity of the propitiatory nature of the OT view of atonement is difficult for most evangelicals due to certain presuppositions about the very nature of scripture itself. But the question we need to ask is, how much, if any, of the Jewish (OT) understanding of propitiation is carried over into the work of Christ on the Cross? That God is presented as wrathful in the OT, sometimes his anger is directed at the Israelites themselves, sometimes at Israel’s enemies, is clear. Does Jesus command for enemy love reflect a change in God’s attitude towards mankind, or does it reflect Jesus’ recognition that the Jews had got some things wrong?
Bearing in mind that much of the cultus surrounding the Hebrew sacrificial system was corporate, i.e., concerned with maintaining election as God’s chosen people, as opposed to the surrounding heathen nations, the prophet’s complaint that God desires “mercy not sacrifice,” is particularly telling. Is this not, a precursor to a growing understanding that God’s primary attitude towards mankind is not wrath at our sins, but love and mercy in spite of them? That God’s love extends to all mankind, not just Israel?
If God’s desire is inclined towards mercy rather than a legal transaction (justice and mercy are opposites), then the cross becomes, not a legal transaction where justice is served (killing an innocent is hardly justice), but becomes an indictment of the entire sacrificial system. The murder of the Son of God, by the very people who believe they are honoring God by doing so, becomes the ultimate religious absurdity, and underscores the failure of the entire system.
If this understanding is correct, then Jesus’ death is not a culmination of the Law, but a repudiation of the Law. The nails in Jesus’ hands and feet become the nails in the coffin lid of the Law. This, I believe, fits more easily into the drastic contrast that Paul makes between Law and Grace in his writings and explains Jesus’ sometimes cavalier attitude towards it. It is God’s no to sacrifice and scapegoating, and yes to mercy. It is why we live, not under the Law, but under Grace. Why, because the Law fails to bring about a change of heart. As we saw with the scribes and Pharisees, it only “washes the outside of the cup.”
Salvation is a love affair, not a legal transaction. PSA takes the romance out of the equation and makes God captive to his own holiness. His hands are tied. Someone has to die.

3 thoughts on “Thinking Out Loud: Atonement

  1. As I am getting deeper into Greg Boyd’s book, I am realizing that, although challenging, I am going to have problems with his views on atonement. One of the shortcomings of the western view on atonement that we have inherited in the west is that God MUST punish. As Ted Grimsrud says: “I would respect his crucicentric method more if he would recognize that the cross simply is not about divinely needed punishing judgment (beyond the evil actions of Rome and the religious leaders). I wish he would recognize that the cross refutes the validity of punishment and shows it to be evil in relation to Jesus. Then Boyd could use his method to deconstruct the idea itself that God needs to punish.”
    https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/3799654/posts/6363

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  2. Pingback: Review: What happened at the cross? | Stepping Toes

  3. Pingback: The Atonement in Type and Antitype 1 Sacrifices and High Priests | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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