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March 28, 2005



Great post, Hugo. I believe it was Augustine who said that Christ must first be received as a gift before he can followed as an example. I think getting rid of the Atonement tends to turn Christianity into just another shrill moralism, since it then becomes a matter of identifying and denouncing the bad guys (like, say, those evil right-wing theocrats who want to prevent Terri S. from being starved to death) in the name of the "peace 'n' justice" Jesus. However, I think it's precisely through the blood of the Cross that we can be reconciled with our enemies.



As you know, I am a firm believer in allowing others to work out their salvation -- I've enough fear and trembling on my own. A quick read of the gospels suggests that those who were most convinced they were "in" were, in fact, quite far from the Truth. That'll keep you humble. With that long caveat, at what point does the teaching at All Saints fall outside credal orthodoxy? I have heard the following disocunted at All Saints:

Virgin Birth
Divinity of Christ
Atonement (or need thereof)

All Saints does great things and challenges my evangelical complacency. But, in denying many of the central doctrines of the Christian faith it's fair to ask, in what sense are they a "church."



I think that you have hit on precisely the reason that my own denomination (the Unitarian Universalits who are about as religiously liberal as they come) will never have broad popularity. Religious liberals in general and Unitarians in particular tend to be extremely cerebral in their approach to religious questions; that intellectualism for most people comes at the expense of the more emotional/powerful/mystical engagement with one's faith, which many view as the very essence of religious belief.

Although the cerebral approach works for me personally, I do not think that there is any need to apologize for a faith that engages you on a level beyond mere intellect.



An interesting paper. It presents much to contemplate.

The biggest difficult I've found, other than trying to put into words the things I believe while discussing my faith with my husband for the 3 years before his profession of faith, is to explore my own feelings on this and other faith issues, and to delineate what is Biblically accurate and what is post-Constantinian.

Oh, and for anyone who doesn't realize it, "God helps those who help themselves is NOT Biblical." Unless, of course, Poor Richard's is a newer testament.


YIKES!! > Did that close the tag? and I also forgot to include the URL. That's what I get for thinking theology, trying to discuss things, talking to the kids, and working on the exchange program, all at once. lol

Let's see if the URL works this time. Anabaptist Theology of Atonement

Ralph Luker

Hugo, I'm inclined to agree with you that hearing liberal critiques of conservative theology from the pulpit, however sound they may be intellectually, is something less than hearing the proclamation of the gospel.


It strikes me that one needn't abandon atonement theory altogether to have a view of the atonement that's more nuanced and progressive than what's usually put forth as atonement theory.

If progressives tend to want to abandon the atonement altogether or metaphorize it until a lot of its significance disappears, I think it's because conservatives sometimes represent the atonement in the severest of terms (sorry for the weasel words; I'm trying terribly hard not to generalize). The theology that says that every sin is greater pain to Jesus on the cross is--well, I don't know if it's true, but it's so profoundly depressing that I find it impossible to accept. Likewise the idea that God is really, really mad at us, and is only constrained from holding back his anger because his son sacrificed himself. It's creepy.

And yet I have no problem saying that Jesus died for my sins--because I've become able to disconnect that from some of the more depressing potential implications.


Actually, your anti-intellectual faith may have more in common with Scotus that you realize. Scotus always remained a British Isle Marian devotee and unlike Aquinas, he's expositions were about fitting his intellectualism into his faith frame and not the other way around.

It is always interesting to see these atonement discussions because they hardly happen among Catholics. A central part of the Catholics mass is "Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." I suspect the difference between atonement and non-atonement Protestants lies in one's priority between scripture/faith and philosophy. The mindset of the latter, I think, breeds a non or anti-atonement theology.

john alan turner

Thanks so much for being honest -- both about how much you ate and how difficult it is to hold your beliefs (especially when they're both a little embarrassing because you feel like you should know better!).

John Sloas

Such an interesting and fun mix you are. Blessings.


Thanks, everyone!


I keep running into a problem on blogs I would otherwise adore: obliteration of the sin concept. I think those of us who cannot properly locate evil, or don't want to, often fail to likewise see the need for atonement...just something I am pondering.


Wow, I finally disagree with you on a post, Hugo! :-)


You mean you don't like marshmallow peeps, Graham? ;-)


I would have gladly attended the Good Friday service at All Saint's._ Unfortunately, by the time I looked up the time, the event was almost ending. __If I had checked your site earlier in the day I would have been able to make it.


So glad to hear that there are other adults who are young at heart and still enjoy Easter Egg Hunts. Sounds like you had a great time! ...


One of the first serious discussions I had on my blog, back before your blog even existed, was on this question. I had heard only the penal-substitution theory of the atonement, and found it horrible and appalling. I'll probably always be Eastern Orthodox on this question, but I've come to understand and respect why substitutionary atonement is meaningful to people. It's not all about needing a bloodthirsty God who demands a sacrifice.

Whatever your theory of the atonement, though, I have started questioning lately this assumption that personal = childish. In the modern era we move from the personal world of family and schoolyard to the adult world of strangers and systems, so I guess it's understandable why people think that it's more sophisticated to see the mission of Jesus as an abstract idea like "structural justice." But, partly under the influence of the book I've been blogging, I've been thinking maybe it just seems that way because of our depersonalized society. The idea that God is a person -- or rather three persons, but anyway not an ineffable force like the Tao or the Atman -- is core concept of Christianity, I think. Otherwise, the idea that Jesus could be fully divine and fully human becomes incomprehensible (which may be why some way-liberal Christians reject that too).


That's comforting and gratifying, Camassia -- I'm so used to being told my theology is myopic and self-absorbed that I forget that there might be more to the story.


Hugo, I think there is a difference between "Jesus died for me" and "Jesus died for me."


Indeed. And where those two views are concerned, mine is a vigorous "both/and" theology.



Atonement theory is a very difficult topic for most anyone. I grew up knowing that Jesus died for me, both views. Then there was the, "But if we're Christians, meaning followers of Christ, why aren't we living like He lived? Why aren't we doing things like he did?" (I spent a lot of time reading Bible stories to my younger sister when I was little.)

As I've gotten older and seen more of what the world's like, why Jesus did what he did is starting to make more "sense," in a way. There are very few things I wouldn't do for my family, especially my children. How much more would that feeling be coming from the Source of all love.

I don't think God required Jesus to die because He's a vengeful God. I think that PEOPLE needed it, needed a way to see that amends had been made. You know how it is when you screw up on something someone trusted you to do, and you have a hard time going to them to tell them about it and have a hard time looking them in the eye? How much more so when we screw up the way we do every day and know that we've done something God wouldn't approve of?

Jesus loves us so much that He did what was needed for US to drop the barriers we were building between ourselves and God. It is so that WE can feel that the slate is clean, so we can move back into close relationship with God, where we are supposed to be. So we can stop feeling guilty and less than, so that we can allow God's love to flow over and through us once again.

Does that make sense to anyone other than me?

My husband recommends J. Denney Weaver's book, The Non-Violent Atonement.


I have read Weaver, and like it very much -- very good for those who like the Anabaptist, middle-way approach on things.


whatta post!


"All Saints does great things and challenges my evangelical complacency. But, in denying many of the central doctrines of the Christian faith it's fair to ask, in what sense are they a "church.""

I'd say that if they deny all these central Christian doctrines, they are not a Christian church at all.

Following that, my question to Hugo is: Why do you stay with this "church" instead of going to a church with true Christian teaching AND where great things are done?
Do you think God will bring change to All Saints back to true Christianity through you?


Just came home from dropping my college student off at school.__On the way we had an interesting conversation on theology. My daughter is reading Unanumo, and wants to know why her philosophy professor has assigned Unanumo instead of Aristotle. I wish I could have helped, but I've never read any of his works. I know that his philosophy is centered on theology. Are you familiar with his ideas?

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