Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jesus without Atonement Theology

I can remember the day I emotionally left the Church. It was in Leeds, North Dakota listening to my brother (a Lutheran Pastor) give a sermon on Good Friday. It wasn't because of my brother's preaching (although he has gotten much better through the years); it was because it was during that service that I could no longer stomach Atonement Theology.

This idea that a jealous God would require his "only Son" to be put to death to save my soul seemed to cheapen what was really going on in Jerusalem that day. I saw Jesus's death as a political death. Yes, a sacrifice. But not a Salvific One that makes up for Eve's betrayal in the garden.

I drifted away from the Church. All plans to become a Lutheran Pastor put aside.

Doesn't mean my interests in spirituality or Jesus waned. I continue to read many inspirational books from a variety of Faiths and Teachers. Some Christian; but many from other Faiths (and New Agers). And my interest in Jesus hasn't subsided. I continue to read all sorts of folks who write about Jesus: J.D.Crossan, Marcus Borg, Bishop Spong, Bart Ehrmann, Elaine Pagels and others (mostly from the "Jesus Seminar").

Within the past few years I have drifted back to the Church. Episcopal. I missed the beauty of the liturgy. And Episcopalians are tolerant. In fact, there seems to be a new Christianity emerging..and the Episcopal Church is in the lead.

In fact, at Church last week I picked up a great book in the Church library. "The Last Week" by J.D. Crossan and Marcus Borg. The Jesus Seminar has matured and now is reaching out to those of us who would like to incorporate the "historical Jesus" into our lives. Scholarship married to Faith.

They approach the Gospel of Mark with a damning critique of Atonement Theology. This book made me feel as if I could be a Christian again. I don't have to leave the Church just because a rather bizarre theological dogma gets in the way.

Suddenly the Jesus Project comes alive. It is "the way" he lived. The way He remains present with us. The mystery!--without some St. Anselmian syllogism of blood sacrifice. We can let Jesus off the Mel Gibsonian meat hook. And let Him lead.

The Church is recreating itself. Finally.


Anonymous said...

Find serious answers with historical documentation at

Allan Stellar said...

I love fringe groups! Especially since I'm fringey myself!

Scot McCluskey said...

Interesting. :)

Scot McCluskey said...

I've been wondering if you have done any deep searching for the underlying cause of your spiritual and emotional aversion to the concept of Christ Atoning for your sins. You made the comment to me that "It's time the church let the poor carpenter from Nazareth off the hook." Why do you feel the need to stand up for, defend, or advocate for "poor Jesus?"

Allan Stellar said...

Hi long term friend who speaks out of love, respect and concern. I shall think about that for a bit.

All I can say is that I have done some deep searching over what the life and death of Jesus means for me. There is much diversity within the Church. There is more than one way to see Jesus's death as sacrifice.

And grace is not dependent, for me, upon a substitutional atoning death on the cross. The Kingdom is within. Which is where you ask me to search for answers. Good advice!

As for letting Jesus off the hook? I speak of that within the context of Substitutional Atonement Theology.



Scot McCluskey said...

Thank you for recognizing that my question is motivated by love for you my friend of over 40 years now.

We have been having this ongoing conversation. I was unsure of whether to continue it in this public forum, but since you posted this on your blog I interpreted that as an invitation to dialogue here. However, if you feel this is not an appropriate place we can continue this elsewhere.

There is much diversity in the church, thanks be to God. And the church is reshaping itself, it's about time.

My question is motivated by a sincere confusion and desire to understand your objection to, as you characterize it, "Substitutional Atonement Theology." Having grown up with this theology as a part of my spiritual DNA, and of course as a Lutheran Pastor who preaches and teaches this stuff, I am trying to assuage my ignorance and incomprehension.

Mary Beth said...

Thank you for this!

Allan Stellar said...

Thanks Mary. What did you like about this post?

Eric Folkerth said...

Hey Scott:

I have the same problems you have with Atonement Theology. So, you might enjoy the blog I wrote yesterday, titled "Confronting Atonement Theology."