A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Cross as Divine Child Abuse?

From an excellent post by Scot McKnight in his discussion of Jeffery Russell's book, Exposing Myths about Christianity. Scot writes,
About a decade ago it became avant garde theology to contend the classical Christian theory of atonement was nothing less than divine child abuse. That is, the image of a Father punishing a Son, or exacting retribution at the expense of his own Son, or punishing a Son for the good of others — each of these became a way of deconstructing classical atonement theory. Unfortunately, this approach works from a very simplistic image: a father, a son, and a brutal death and attributes intention to the father as one who brutalizes a son.

First, this accusation fails to represent the best thinking about how the Father and Son are related in the Bible and Christian theology.

Second, this accusation fails to see that the Son gave his life, that the Father gave the Son's life, and the point here is that the cross in the Bible and theology is the freely-chosen, gracious choice and act of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Third, this accusation fails to comprehend that entering into death, willingly and out of love, is the act of God entering into the fullness of the human condition, including death.
You can read the entire post, here.


PamBG said...

I'm puzzled by what he's saying. I don't think it's the accusation that's simplistic. Rather what is simplistic is a popular, mechanical form of penal substitution. What is too linear and mechanical (but not simplistic) - and does turn the first person of the Trinity into an ogre is the kind of rigid defense of PSA coming out of hypercalvinism and exemplified by the Tom Wright / John Piper debate. Both claim belief in PSA, but theor definitions are very different. In not so many words, Piper has accused Wright of heresy and of putting his soul in peril.

Frankly, PSA isn't very meaningful to me precisely because it doesn't much take the Trinity into account as a relational essence, other than to get the first person of the Trinity off the hook.

Allan Bevere said...

Hi Pam,

Just a couple of thoughts:

First, my problem with Piper is that he functionally makes PSA THE theory of the atonement. The multi-faceted richness of atonement (including PSA) is something we must hold together.

Second, and related to the first, we must not push the imagery of any one theory of atonement too far. Once one does that with any one theory, it becomes quite problematical.

Third, and related to the first point in the post-- there is a long history of many wrestling with atonement and trinitarian reflection. I am not sure it is, therefore, a good thing to summarily reject PSA out of hand. I am not suggesting that is your position, but that has been the position of more than a few of late.

PamBG said...

I think folk are summarily rejecting it out of hand because, for so many people, it has been presented as the way you become a "Real Christian" - you "Believe that Jesus died to pay the price that the Father demanded for your sins."

It raises the theory way beyond a theory to hoop you have to jump through in order to be saved. My objection has always been that this means we save ourselves by our own work of faith in something very specific.

The problem with rejection, of course, is that it always fails to moved beyond the plane of the thing it is rejecting. (So we get atheists who insist one isn't a Real Christian unless one believes in creationism.)

I don't summarily reject it. Clearly it's one of many theories. And, as theories go, it seems to me to be fairly poor. Although it works as a blunt analogy.

PamBG said...

Ironically, I just came across the following post: