Non-sacrificial Gospel Too Palatable? (Part 2)

…concluding yesterday’s thought

The reason Yvonne Johnson was able to "escape her reality" was because of a formulaic and transactional Christianity. As in: Believe that Jesus died, "the Just for the unjust, as a substitutionary sacrifice, and that you are justified on the ground of His shed blood", and you are saved.

Yvonne said she did find moments of consolation in being convinced she was "saved", but it never lasted. Her story shows that it nearly proved fatal, witnessed by her suicide attempts and self-abuse.

Of course this was her experience. But I wonder if a richer understanding of God, an understanding of God’s non-violence and complete gratuitousness, would change everything for people like Yvonne.

Most evangelicals would be sensitive to anyone who endured a life of violence and abuse, as Yvonne did. They would go beyond simply telling her that all she needed was to "accept Christ". And they would certainly be careful in attributing anything redemptive to her suffering. And yet, in their prescribing a personal relationship with Jesus, the spectre of a transaction through sacrifice and violence lies at the bottom of how this relationship is entered into. And so, again using Yvonne as an example, she was "saved" by the transactional formula, the formula being only a larger version of what she had habitually seen and experienced outside of Christianity.

Do you see the consequence? The traditional atonement doctrine allows us to be "saved" without having to work out our deepest hurts and most caustic attitudes. At the same time the transaction between God and his Son, in some sense, lets us off the hook, because we are only peripherally involved. In God’s plan Jesus had to be sacrificed, had to be the payment, we were just God’s instruments.

But what if God is non-sacrificial, non-violent, that is, unlike us? Well, this places the entire weight of the sacrificial scapegoating death of Jesus upon us. We discover that we are the "sacrificers". And this, I submit, is far less "palatable" than dividing the responsibility between God and us. As in: Yes we bear guilt but at the same time we were simply unwitting agents in helping God carry out his immutable plan.

No matter how you slice it, penal substitutionary atonement involves God in a retributive act. And where there is retribution and vengeance there can be no reconciliation.

But, mercifully, there is reconciliation. You will recall, from the lips of Christ, that the proclamation of our forgiveness was before his death, and so, without sacrifice. And the resurrection, which is the ongoing presence of the forgiving victim, is our liberation. Because of this we don’t have to secure ourselves against anything or anyone, anymore. We don’t have to scapegoat. And in fact we can live as though death were not.

Involvement with a God who has no retributive side is a vulnerable affair. We are in a position far more fluid and open. It’s a place that is not static or formulaic. As such, we are intimately involved, and are far more responsible for how this relationship will evolve, and therefore how creation will continue to its completion.

Technorati Tags: Atonement, Christianity, Peace, Violence


  1. Hi Steve – thanks for the free advertising!
    But I think you misread my question and I think that you misunderstand my theology.

    Here are a few thoughts though…

    To think that we are safe under the covering as long is we believe is an incomplete gospel. I know evangelicals have been saying that for years but I think we are realizing that salvation extends beyond that.

    You wrote:” Do you see the consequence? The traditional atonement doctrine allows us to be “saved” without having to work out our deepest hurts and most caustic attitudes.”

    However we are called to “work out our salvation”. We are called to “lay hold of the things that Jesus laid hold of”. We are called to”throw off every sin that entangles”. We are called to a much deeper, fuller, richer life than simply believing so we can be with Jesus in heaven. I look forward to that one day mind you but the Kingdom of God has come through Christ and will continue to come. Initial believing is like entering into the shallow end of the pool. There’s much deeper water to swim in.
    I will get around to attempting to answer the real question we talked about but I’m still percolating my ideas.
    Your pastor friend.

  2. I think that the issue of palatability extends to both God and the gospel. You cannot extricate the gospel from God. So my question was not so much about the message of the gospel but rather about the character of God. Are we trying to make God more palatable in reading the gospel of Christ in a non-sacrificial way? A few more thoughts…

    The very fact that you would call your view a non-violent approach sways the argument in you favour. Indicating of course that the atoning sacrifice of Christ is violent. Since we would normally associate violence with the capricious behaviour of humans we would certainly want to repudiate such behaviour in our God. But to think that the sacrifice of Christ is an indiscriminate action on God’s part is perhaps to miss the idea of wrath. In the bible wrath is an inescapable reality of God’s person. Wrath is seen especially in the prophets and it occurs against God’s people and the neighbouring nations. But why wrath? As one scholar wrote, “God cannot hold with indifference that his creation is destroyed and his holy will trodden underfoot. Therefore he meets sin with his mighty and annihilating action.” (Anders Nygren). Wrath is not God acting like humans would but rather a settled anger against all that destroys creation and people. Wrath is God’s response to sin. However, it is not his only response to sin! This is the good new! Romans 1:17+18 indicates, God’s righteousness has been revealed from heaven and that God’s wrath been revealed. These two, righteousness and wrath, are at work presently and concurrently. God’s wrath is revealed, according to this passage, because people chose to suppress the truth about God that had been made known to them through general revelation. It tells us that as a result of human freewill to turn away from God that God “handed people over” to sin. God intentionally handed people over to the result of their sin. As Augustine said, “the punishment of sin is sin”. Thus God’s wrath in this instance is the reality that people have to bear the result of their decision to sin. God’s wrath is currently at work as people have to live with the consequence of sin. This of course can work in a redemptive way as people recognize their own brokeness and call out to God. But wrath also holds an eschatological reality as indicated in Romans 2:5 when there will be a final day of judgement. Thus just as his wrath is revealed so is his righteousness. Just as wrath is at work presently with an eschatological dynamic so righteousness is at work presently through the gospel with an eschatological dynamic. God’s response to sin is to offer his righteousness to us through faith in Christ. This is a righteousness that must be worked out as a present day reality, dealing with our sin and brokenness, all the while looking forward to a coming future day when we will be totally healed of it all.
    Thus wrath is not the indiscriminate action of a God gone on a shooting spree because someone has ticked him off (human violence). But rather a thoughtful, righteous emotion and action against that which harms us most – sin! The beauty of the gospel is that he takes the sin on himself and punishes sin – not like some maniacal deity requires a human sacrifice as an appeasement – but rather without compromising his justice and in love he takes sin on himself so that we so that we might be made right through the spirit of Christ in us – both present and future.

    “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” John 3:36

    Thanks for responding to my last post. Your Pastor Friend

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