Monday, February 13, 2012

on denying the atonement

In Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen writes:

[T]o deny the necessity of atonement is to deny the existence of a real moral order. And it is strange how those who venture upon such denial can regard themselves as disciples of Jesus; for if one thing is clear in the record of Jesus’ life it is that Jesus recognized the justice as distinguished from the love of God. God is love, according to Jesus, but He is not only love. Jesus spoke, in terrible words, of the sin that shall never be forgiven either in this world or in that which is to come. Clearly Jesus recognized the existence of retributive justice; Jesus was far from accepting the light modern view of sin.


Modern liberal teachers are never tired of ringing the changes upon this objection. They speak with horror of the doctrine of an “alienated” or an “angry” God. In answer, of course it would be easy to point to the New Testament. The New Testament clearly speaks of the wrath of God and the wrath of Jesus Himself; and all the teaching of Jesus presupposes a divine indignation against sin. With what possible right, then, can those who reject this vital element in Jesus’ teaching and ex- ample regard themselves as true disciples of His? The truth is that the modern rejection of the doctrine of God’s wrath proceeds from a light view of sin which is totally at variance with the teaching of the whole New Testament and of Jesus Himself. If a man has once come under a true conviction of sin, he will have little difficulty with the doctrine of the Cross.

But as a matter of fact the modern objection to the doctrine of the atonement on the ground that that doctrine is contrary to the love of God, is based upon the most abysmal misunderstanding of the doctrine itself. The modern liberal teachers persist in speaking of the sacrifice of Christ as though it were a sacrifice made by some one other than God. They speak of it as though it meant that God waits coldly until a price is paid to Him before He forgives sin. As a matter of fact, it means nothing of the kind; the objection ignores that which is absolutely fundamental in the Christian doctrine of the Cross. The fundamental thing is that God Himself, and not another, makes the sacrifice for sin—God Himself in the person of the Son who assumed our nature and died for us, God Himself in the Person of the Father who spared not His own Son but offered Him up for us all. Salvation is as free for us as the air we breathe; God’s the dreadful cost, ours the gain. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Such love is very different from the complacency found in the God of modern preaching; this love is love that did not count the cost; it is love that is love indeed.


eulogos said...

You seem to be referring only to one understanding of the atonement, the one in which Christ takes on Himself the punishment due us, even absorbs God's wrath towards us. There are several others which were also used by the fathers of the church and which are orthodox. One is that Christ paid a ransom, not to God the Father, but to the devil. C. S Lewis used this one in his allegory in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." The Christ figure Aslan is sacrificed because of the debt owed to the witch; all traitors belonged to her. When we sin, we give ourselves to the evil one, and Christ has ransomed us from him. Another theory of atonement is "Christus Victor". By dying voluntarily and rising again to life by the power of God, Christ destroyed death. In this view, death came into this world with sin and is intimately associated with it. Christ's death and resurrection destroyed both. This view is found in the Easter anthem of the Eastern Church

"Christ is risen, Christ is risen,
Risen, Risen, from the tomb.
By death he trampled death.
By death he trampled death.
And to those in the tombs
And to those in the tombs
He granted, He granted
He granted life. "

There may yet be more ways of thinking about this. Catholics are not bound to a single theory of the atonement, only to the belief that Christ's death and resurrection did reconcile God and sinners.
Susan Peterson

Rick Ianniello said...

Yes I am referring to only one but in no wise indicating there is only one. What I'm against are those that deny this one.