Search for Atonement

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For a little while I looked hard at the question of what actually happened when Jesus died on the cross. Theologians have developed several Atonement Theories, but the modern-day Evangelical church has latched on to one: Penal Substitutionary Atonement. In this view our sin incurs a debt to God which can only be paid by punishment from His wrath. Further, Jesus, believed to be our substitute, suffered God’s wrath on the cross in our stead, so we are saved from that wrath by accepting Jesus’ death on our behalf.

In the articles listed below, I explored 2 things. First, does the Bible teach penal substitution as one or the only atonement theory, and second, if penal substitution is not a Biblical understanding of the atonement, then what happened when Jesus died on the cross?

Here are some of the topics I want to think (perhaps write?) more about in the future:

Trinity or Dualism

Wrath & Death

Judgment & Divine Violence

Biblical Interpretation

Here is the first offering in the ‘series’: The Kingdom According to Jesus Part I

Now that you know where we’re going, I hope you’ll join in the conversation. While all feedback is welcome here, I will ask you to please respect other people who comment. Any mean-spirited posts containing specific attacks on others will not be published.

God bless you on your journey into a deeper understanding of Him.

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10 thoughts on “Search for Atonement

  1. I suppose that any time we engage in a conversation regarding the realm of spirit, words will always prove inadequate. Thus the need for parables. 😉

    When I said that I do not believe god to be ‘personal’, that was probably inaccurate. Rather I see god or source as the collective consciousness of everything that we understand to be existent in space – even (or especially) the parts that we cannot see/perceive/know with our physical senses. Wrapped up in that belief is that every person I encounter embodies the energy of this source – within them, in their inner being or spirit form (for me, soul and spirit have become pretty much synonymous, and if they are not the same thing, then my need to separate them has become moot). I believe that there is an energy within me (us) that is also beyond me (us), but yet remains a fundamental part of me (us) – no separation, as we see each person in bodily form to be separate from one another. In that sense, I do not see god or source as a separate ‘person’ (as in personality or being) from me (us) the way that god is spoken of in the Bible – as someone who speaks to rather than through creation – as a separate entity from the people he was speaking to. Spirit is spirit, without the sort of separation we understand to be present in these physical bodies.

    Yet there remains some form of delineation which my mind is unable to comprehend (even Jesus described god as spirit – beyond the understanding of the human mind), and I am okay with that. I don’t feel the need to completely ‘figure it all out’ as was stressed to me when I was entrenched in the Christian paradigm. I have lost the need for my mind to know anything definitively. Thus I have learned to hold loosely to beliefs (my own life is a testament to how much those can shift and change through time and experience). There is very little I would consider be be absolute “truth” anymore, and I can just about guarantee you that no matter what you believe, no one else on this planet agrees with you absolutely. What people consider ‘truth’ is actually all based on their own perception (rather than some outside nebulous thing people think is ‘truth’). Check out http://www.brucelipton.com for more on the science of belief and how that relates to perception.

    For me, every part of the creation speaks with the voice of source (be it person, animal, plant, star, or planet). When I speak of pure positive energy, I am speaking of source itself: love expressing itself in a creation that is ever evolving and expanding. The reason that I do not believe that atonement (in the Biblical sense of propitiation) is necessary is because I do not believe there is a ‘person’ separate from me in existence who is offended by anything that I do, say, or think. Nor is there a ‘person’ separate from me in existence that is holding the keys to any place or experience we may call heaven or hell. Each of us decides for themselves the kind of life we will live here on planet earth, be it heavenly or hellish. Meanwhile, source (as pure positive energy) is not in any way affected (or offended) by my words or actions, just as my inner being is not at all affected by the words/actions of my own ego self (me in physical form – the construct of separateness our mind creates in order to make sense of life in 3-dimensional reality) or even any other ego self that surrounds me. Even the events that happen to me in the body cannot affect the spirit or source within me. (See Anthony De Mello, “Awareness” for more on this.)

    As for Jesus, I believe he was no more an outflow of source than I am, albeit perhaps more enlightened or advanced in terms of a person’s understanding of how the spiritual realm overlaps physical existence (as Rob Bell teaches, everything is spiritual). But even this assumes that I believe that the stories written about Jesus were something more than myths. What if they were simply stories told to teach spiritual truths rather than anything remotely related to historical fact?

    Thanks for spurring me on to try to express what I see as spiritual truth right now in my journey. It is not something very many people want to talk about, and sometimes, it is even too much for me to try to put into words. But I am enjoying this conversation very much.

    Peace to you,
    C

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    1. Hi Cindy,

      Thanks for your reply. I didn’t study Christian apologetics at university you will be relieved to know, so I wont attempt a philosophical, scientific or historical response. But may I ask what happened for you to turn away  from Christ?

      In my Bible reading this morning, I read that God alone has immortality (1 Tim 6:16). Even our eternal life, for those who have it granted by Jesus, is dependent on God. The problem is evil, which I discuss in my eBook. Evil negates God and prevents unity with him resulting in death and eventual destruction when God eliminates evil entirely. If God was not concerned about evil, I would have nothing to do with him. God could not be good and allow evil to continue to exist.

      God bless, Derek Thompson

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      1. Thanks for your response and question, Derek. What I turned away from was a literal understanding of the Bible. I no longer believe that there is anything called evil that need be destroyed. For me, evil is simply the outflow of a life lived in disconnection from the higher self. When someone attempts to live solely in the flesh, apart from their connection to that pure positive energy source of all that is, the absence of love arises. Evil is not an entity in and of itself – it is the absence of good. In fact, I believe that nothing exists outside of the realm of pure positive energy. But we are free beings – so free that we can choose to pinch off that energy and live in bondage to the negative emotions which give rise to what you interpret as evil.

        The god (of the Bible) which you speak of has become abhorrent to me. Any entity that would order the wholesale slaughter of a race of humanity is what I would call evil. Any entity that would torture and murder his own son supposedly to ‘save’ someone else who he considers evil enough to punish in hell for all of eternity is what I would call evil. But since I do not believe there is any such entity out there, I walked away from that paradigm. Without the need for atonement, Jesus becomes nothing more than a man who (possibly) lived and taught others about deeper spiritual things. Although, even that requires me to believe the Biblical account, which I do not, giving rise to my interpretation of it as myth – a story created to teach a deeper spiritual truth. Reza Aslan has had a lot to do with me coming to that understanding of the New Testament.

        Trust me when I tell you that quoting the Bible at me has absolutely no effect. 😉 I studied the book for most of my life and might know what it says better than even you. It is just that our interpretation of the words would be completely different. Anything the book has to offer me now would only be in the wisdom of esoteric interpretation – spiritual truth but nothing literal. There is much of that which I still carry with me even now (for instance, sowing and reaping).

        The truth is that each of us is immortal. Death is an illusion which only affects the physical body. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, and what we are is pure positive energy. So this notion of the destruction of evil, the existence of heaven and hell as places or states after death, all of that has been created by mankind primarily to avoid taking responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. It is so much easier to credit (god) or blame something outside of ourselves (the devil) for the lives we choose to live. It is hard for people to accept that they are the creators of their own reality. Then they would actually have to do something to change their experience rather than just keep complaining about it and blaming everyone else for it.

        Now, believe-it-or-not, that was the short answer to a very long journey (about 6 years) out of the Biblical paradigm of the church. I hope it was sufficient for now.

        Many blessings to you on this day and everyday,
        C

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        1. Hello Cindy and thank you for your interesting emails. I didn’t really mean to ask about the the development of your ideas over the last six years, but what happened six years ago to start you moving away from Christianity? Did someone in the church fail you? Did the church fail you?

          Anyway, regarding some of your comments, I don’t think everything in the Bible is intended to be taken literally, although fundamentalist Christians would take certain passages more literally than me. As you say, evil does not have any substance in itself. It is merely a negation of God. I take the view that evil is like darkness, an absence of light (goodness), and evil actions result. Human life cannot be lived in disconnection from its Sustainer forever. God will at some stage run out of patience and withdraw life support for his enemies. This is what happened in the case of the occupants of the Promised Land of Joshua’s day. They had been sacrificing their children to Molech, the god of fire, for a long time. Here too, the Bible’s injunction to kill everyone including the women and children need not be taken literally. This expression is also found in extra-biblical literature of the time to mean to gain a complete victory. It is similar to us saying a football team wiped out or annihilated its opponents. What will they think of us in 3,000 years from now? You can’t turn away from a literal understanding of the Bible and use as your reason a literal understanding of the Bible.

          The suggestion that God tortured his own Son is not biblical at all and would be abhorrent to Christians. The crucifixion was the work of those people who were enemies of God. Possibly you are referring to a parody of the penal substitution theory of the atonement. I don’t agree with that theory in any case. My eBook presents a different view of the cross and atonement.

          The belief in human immortality was proposed by the ancient Greeks without proof and was wishful thinking. How could we be pure positive energy? Energy is a function of the material world, as Einstein proved. We are persons. The Bible teaches that death separates our immaterial part from our body and the second death (for those not saved from it by Christ) destroys the rest of us forever. This does not mean any part remains in existence being tortured in hell forever. I know some Christians think this but it is not actually what the Bible says. Christianity places the responsibility for our destiny with us. “The devil made me do it” is not a biblical excuse. So, while God has pre-destined a great future for his people, the responsibility for our actions lies with us. Of course, our salvation is by the grace of God, but who we place our faith in is our choice.

          God bless, Derek Thompson

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          1. I am glad to know that you are not of the penal substitution vein. The group I was a part of was.

            Meanwhile, now that I understand your question better, what made me begin to rethink my beliefs was a combination of my Calvinistic leanings and a conversation that I had with my sister. It finally occurred to me that it did not make sense for God to punish people for not choosing him when he had not empowered them to do so. Thus began my quest to understand the gospel message in a way that made sense. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for me the entire paradigm finally fell completely apart.

            I hope I have answered your question a little more concisely this time.

            Love and light,
            C

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            1. Hi Cindy and thanks for your reply. I found it very interesting because in the 1980’s I was also in a Calvinistic church. I changed denomination because of the clergy dominated structure and I went to a more middle of the road Congregational church. From there I was introduced to the teaching and ministry of John Wimber. I experienced healing for the first time in his 1990 conference in Sydney. At the congregational church I was also introduced to the teaching of Mark Virkler about hearing the voice of God. My enthusiasm for the spiritual gifts were seen as too charismatic (especially during the Toronto Blessing days of the mid 1990’s when people were falling over and laughing when prayed for, so I left for a Pentecostal church, but I did not accept some of the teaching about baptism in the Spirit. I took early retirement in 2009 and did a diploma in theology at Charles Sturt University in Canberra. In the first lecture, which was theology, we were introduced to the problem of there being no commonly agreed theology of the atonement. The lecturer said she didn’t want to harm anyone’s faith but we needed to be aware of the different views. From that moment I have been on a quest to find a model of the atonement that would tick all the boxes. My methods were unorthodox. I had studied critical reasoning at university (I was the only one in the theology course to do so) because I was disappointed in the logical rigour of some theologians. The other method I had was prayer journaling. I would ask God. I was always delighted to ask him what seemed to me an impossible question because I knew he had all the answers.

              The reason for this long reply is to say that things that seem impossible or wrong to us might have a perfectly reasonable answer. But John Calvin was trying to stay faithful to Scripture and this was a good discipline he imparted to the church. I don’t think he would mind the church correcting his errors. I am sorry that poor theology let you down.

              God bless, Derek Thompson

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              1. No worries, Derek! I have no regrets at all. It’s uncanny to me how much we have in common, though. I lived in Melbourne for a year (1990-91) where my ex completed his seminary internship. We were in Toronto in 1995 where my folks were ‘born again’. As a worship leader, I was well acquainted with the work of John Wimber! More and more I find this to be a small world.

                Thanks for the lovely conversation and for sending along your book/paper on the atonement. One of these days I will check it out, just not to-day.

                I wish you many blessings on your journey forward!
                ~Cindy

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  2. I think modern day evangelical churches preach a kaleidoscope of traditional theories, but this doesn’t really help overcome the problems with each.
    My free eBook “Achieving Atonement” presents a new atonement model that is biblical, ethical, reasonable, comprehensive, ecumenical, and avoids the problems of traditional atonement theories while retaining their truths. The book explains how God is achieving atonement and the place of Christ’s violent death on the cross. The book is 170 pages plus 98 pages Scripture Index. Various eReader formats are available from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/838364. A PDF version with numbered pages may be downloaded from http://www.5icm.org.au/Resources/Achieving_Atonement_-_Derek_Thompson.pdf.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Derek. I’ve actually come to the place where I no longer hold a belief in a personal god nor the need for atonement in a traditional Biblical sense. For me, being at one with source is simply a matter of realizing the truth of who we are as eternal beings – pure positive energy – and learning to listen to our inner (spiritual) being, the greater part of ourselves that is connected to the ultimate source of all that is.

      What I have come to appreciate is how well Christianity served me at one point in my life. Without that paradigm, I likely would not be here today – not because it was “Truth”, but because it was what I needed at the time. For me, religion was the path of least resistance to come to know joy, and for that I am very grateful! 🙏🏼

      Wishing you all the best on your journey forward!

      Love and light,
      C

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      1. Thanks Cindy for taking the time to reply. Congratulations on completing your book, may it be appreciated by your readers. I know that feeling of “what now” after living with a book for a few years of your life.

        Regarding your comments, for me, truth is personal. Jesus claimed to be truth (I believe in the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus is God in human form). As I reflect on my own personhood, I see a human person as consisting of a spirit in a physical body with a mind (or soul) with the power to do things (would you call this positive energy?). God, our creator (or source), is personal. Why would anyone want to be united with an impersonal God? I suppose this is your reason for not seeing a need for atonement. So, although Christianity does come with its own paradigm or worldview, this results from a personal relationship with God. As you say, Christianity serves people well as a paradigm, but as you found, that is not enough. The relationship of faith in Jesus unites people with one another and with God. I appreciated your closing with “Love and light” because they are strong themes in my understanding of the atonement.

        God bless,
        Derek.

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