A thoughtful Pastor friend of mine asked if perhaps it was possible that a non-sacrificial reading of the gospel was really an attempt at making the gospel, specifically the atonement, more palatable. Well, this is a perfectly legitimate question, especially considering our (my) too ready recourse to lazy inoffensiveness.
Certainly, the blood-sacrifice atonement theory, which supposedly depicts God as divinely just and righteous, seems far less palatable than a non-violent gratuitous God. And I agree that playing down anything in order to please our sensibilities is a fool’s game that eventually explodes in our faces.
But there is a curious bit of paradox at work in this question. First of all, the reason "palatability" makes sense in this context is because of the gospel’s own work in exposing our violent ways. That is, it is our awakening to the victim, as victim , that is being accomplished by the gospel. Outside of the broad influence of the gospel, there are no victims, only deserving lynchings and expulsions. In this "limited context", the notion of "palatability" has come into our view because of the gospel; and to dismiss our aversion to the violent death of a victim is to act against the gospel revelation.
However, admittedly, this is a bit of a side-argument that operates in a "limited context". More to the point, while it’s true that through the gospel we are waking up to our victimizing and our propensity for exclusion, we still fail to live in this truth. We revert to the lie that to secure everything from our place in line to our reputations to our nations, we need to sacrifice one another. And so the "palatability" charge, or the failure-to-keep-a-stiff-upper-lip charge, does makes sense. Here, being unwilling to sacrifice is a sign of weakness.
It’s like this: Yes, blood sacrifice, ghastly business for some, but here we stout-hearted are, looking into the face of it and not flinching. Where as all the limp-souls are scrambling for protection under the beneficent robe of a grandfatherly God.
But lets examine this further: What does it mean to face up to the "hard thing" of substitutionary atonement? Isn’t this "facing-up-to" a kind of abstraction? It’s like the "thrill" of a gory horror movie. We feel the thrill, but only because we are safe in our seats.
Penal substitutionary atonement is something like this. It works fine as a bit of theoretical abstraction. That is, having faced up to the blood sacrifice, having acknowledged that the sacrificial death was necessary for our justification and for God’s appeasement, having been "covered by the blood", we are henceforth saved, as long as we stay under the covering .
But as Yvonne Johnson explained, (Rudy Weibe, "Stolen Life") "Christianity fooled me so well in prison for a while. It saved me from facing a lot of my reality."
And this "being saved from my reality", highlights why the charge of "palatability" can be exactly reversed.
(More in tomorrow’s post.)