Recently, I was a part of a conversation that had to do with the importance of church. The conversation quickly deteriorated as the people involved stopped talking about the importance of church and started talking about the importance of Jesus Christ. Some were people who had grown up in church, but had totally rejected the teachings of the Bible. Some, however, were perfectly comfortable with their church and spirituality, but admitted that they didn’t want much to do with Jesus. One person said something to the effect that they never liked the atonement theory. Of all the mean-spirited empty-headed, glib things said in the conversation, the phrase “atonement theory” has bothered me the most. Like a mosquito bite that itches a week later, I thought it would go away, but it has been a few months now and I am still frustrated when I think about the phrase “atonement theory.”
I understand that some have struggled to understand how the atonement should be properly understood. Was there a ransom paid to Satan? Was it a vivid picture of the triumph of good over evil? But to say that the cross could mean something other than atonement is what has me bothered. What the Bible makes clear is that Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied the righteous demand of God’s Law, based in His holiness, a demand that required punishment and wrath for sins. My sins will be punished by God either in Hell forever, or on Calvary. Therefore, Jesus, as an atonement, went to the cross as a substitute for me. I glory in this understanding.
Not everyone likes this. I get it. Not everyone believes this. I get that, too. That’s why I “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). But some want to keep religion and believe that the atonement of Jesus is a “theory.” This bothers me, and it bothers me for these reasons:
- It rejects the clear meaning of Scripture. I understand that today, everything seems relative. Our culture hates to put concrete meaning into almost anything. I also understand that Scripture is not always easy to understand. But when the Bible says that Jesus died in our place, it seems like something else is going on when we reject that. Here are some verses. Read them, and try to tell me there is another meaning in them. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” 1 Peter 3:18. 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” How is that not clear?
- It puts God in human terms He was never meant to be in. The Bible often puts God in human terms. He obviously doesn’t have literal hands, feet, or eyes, yet the Bible describes him as such. That is, God describes Himself as such so that we might understand Him better. The problem is that some have taken God’s divinity and lowered it too much so that God’s actions are explained by human standards. Calvary is an example of God’s love, yet some look at it and say, “I don’t like the picture there, of a Father punishing His Son for the sins of others. J. Denny Weaver has called the Cross “divine child abuse.” Yet God is not to be understood as forcing a little boy to be tortured. Not when Jesus says in John 10:17-18: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” It was the divine Plan of a Trinitarian God to judge sin in this manner.
- It dismisses the real point of Christianity. It just won’t do to say that you love Christianity and all of its good teachings, yet that you don’t believe that Jesus’ death on the cross had any spiritual power or meaning. If Jesus’ death was a simple example or inspiration, I am wasting my time, not just being a pastor, but being alive. It is the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection that gives my life any meaning at all, and if I believed that Jesus was no more than a moral teacher, I wouldn’t worship or read about Him. The death of Christ has real, significant meaning, and to jettison it is to jettison God Himself. Paul details in 1 Corinthians 15 the message of the Gospel, which must be accepted in its entirety or is utterly rejected.
The Atonement is no Theory. It is no conjecture of man, but it is the declaration of God that He has made a way for sinful, wicked man to be justified. If we will, by faith, take God’s promise of life because of His death on the cross, we can have the forgiveness and life that awaits after death.
It’s no theory.
Hallelujah for that.