The Evangelical Universalist Forum

"NT conception of the atonement is defeat of dark powers"

A Princeton student of my acquaintance, a fellow contributor to the Cadre Journal, finished a main post (“I believe in the existence of Satan and demons”) with the following paragraph:

I couldn’t tell if he understood quite what he was saying, or whether this was yet another case of even a theologically educated and highly intelligent person not really having much of an idea what “atonement” means (other than it sounds vaguely good and worth having maybe). Which unfortunately I find to be distressingly common in the field.

(And which seems to have been the case here, too. sigh. See that post’s comment thread for details.)

Hi Jason:

OK – I’ll take a stab at guessing what this guy is trying to say here (I agree he sounds a bit muddled…)

Our denomination has what it likes to think is a grand overarching theory of everything which we call “The Great Controversy” (between Christ and Satan.) Most take it down the pathways of penal substitution wherein Satan has accused God of violating His own law when He loves/forgives etc the sinner – but then Jesus pays the price and this great accusation of Satan’s is defeated. That doesn’t hold up as far as I’m concerned.

It makes more sense to me to paint the “Controversy” as being over the character of God; is He arbitrary, vindictive, severe as the accuser asserts? This division and conflict are hinted at all over the place of course, but never explicitly outlined like I’m putting forth here; however a sense of this dynamic happens in the conversation between Eve and the serpent where it is suggested that God is withholding something from them – that He has lied about a fundamental reality of the Universe.

The result of this confusion and misinformation sown by Satan results in misunderstanding the true nature of God; now He is feared, and seen as a vicious dictator and tyrant who rules with force. (ie threats of death for disobedience) This deeply flawed picture of God is of course likened to darkness. God never did change at all – He remains the Holy being He always has been – but perceptions of Him are now profoundly poisoned. Unity and harmony with God (what I have long thought is our original and intended state) are simply not possible in this setting of deep misperception and distrust of God.

So God needs a faithful and true witness to the truth of His character of love and so comes Himself, in the person of His own Son, to BE that witness and set the record straight for ALL to see in full openness and transparency. Given then, the life and death and resurrection of the Christ, the lies about God are forever laid to rest as His true nature of compassion and love are definitively revealed. This setting straight of the record via demonstration, and not just “words” can easily be seen then as “defeating the dark powers” of lies and intrigue and misinformation through which the enemy gained his power. Truth slays lies, even as light slays darkness; which paves the way for reconciliation back to trust in God – which renders us “At-one” with God again.

One can hear hints of this dynamic reading Walter Wink and His “powers” writings, as well as folks like J Denny Weaver who holds to a Christus Victor model of Atonement. To my mind, the object of the “atonement” is us – it is WE who have strayed and been “lost” – while God’s attitude towards us has ALWAYS been one of graciousness and condescending love.

Am I being too generous with your acquaintance??


No, that was pretty good, actually! Even though it could still fit into a limited atonement soteriology. :wink: But neither is it necessarily restricted to limited atonement in any sense.

I recommend posting it in the comments to that thread, too. :smiley: I think he’ll really appreciate it.

Actually, it holds up perfectly. The accuser is questioning God’s justice. Do we deserve to die? Yes. Do we deserve immortality? No.

When Christ bore our sins, he deserved to die. Because he is the God/Man, we are all sweep up and into a great salvation.

The atoning of God’s justice is critical to salvation. Without the shedding of blood, there is no salvation. That requirement is not some quaint, antiquated myth - though some atonement theories try to make it so.

Of course one of the ways that Jesus revealed his father was in the treatment of the woman caught in adultery. She was guilty and God’s own law demanded that she be stoned to death. After making the dramatic statement ‘let him that is without sin cast the first stone’ the one person who could have legitimately stood there and rained blow after blow on her merely points out that her accusers have gone and that he didn’t condemn her either.

We never know whether the injunction to ‘go and sin no more’ was obeyed or not (she is hardly likely to have never sinned again in her life though she may never have committed adultery again) and we have no idea where this fits in with the concept of forgiving 70 x 7 times (which has a resonance with the times of the various Jubilees - every 7th day was a jubilee of rest - every seventh year was a rest year for the land and every 49th year was a total jubilee when all men sold into bondage for their land went free and reclaimed their inheritance whether or NOT they still owed servitude to the bondsperson - in other words they had not been redeemed by a kinsman during that time). But as a guide to a post-mortem attitude by God to sinners I think it is more appropriate than the story of Lazarus and Dives.

She died nonetheless. It’s not theologically satisfying to argue that God is an old softie and didn’t need atoning or propitiation. The wages of sin is death, not resurrection. Without a clear understanding of the atonement of God, Christ will be seen as, at best, superfluous.

I quite agree. But I suspect we have rather different ideas of what at-one-ment (the original English word used for the translation) or {katalla-} (the root of the occasional Greek word translated in English nowadays as ‘atonement’ or ‘reconciliation’) means.

Jesus, for example, was clearly (as ‘the One among you Who is without sin’) enacting reconciliation with the woman caught in adultery; or, if that story is rejected as spurious (I don’t personally doubt its historicity but it’s almost certainly not part of the original Johannine text there), the woman of the city who was a sinner (from Luke 7:36-50–which I’m inclined to treat as a sequel to the Adulteress Pericope in GosJohn). True, she died; but then, so has every Christian after the death and resurrection of Christ, too. Whatever atonement was completed by God on the cross, we’re still obviously suffering from “the wages of sin” in that regard at least–so observing that those people before the crucifixion “died nonetheless” isn’t much of a counter to the idea of Christ atoning with them.

The forensic demonstration explanation, attempted by TV earlier, has some good things going in its favor. One of the classic Old Testament ideas of a ‘satan’, is an ostensibly wise advisor who counsels despair of God: that God has abandoned and does not love and will not save even the sinner. That there is no atonement with God, no reconciliation with God. God has abandoned Israel after wholly destroying her for her infidelity, for example, and will not restore her; or has abandoned King David after his treacherous infidelity and murder, and will not reconcile with him–only continue to punish him forever.

Whatever else may (or may not) be said to be happening on the cross, Jesus is demonstrating that God on the contrary is acting to reconcile with sinners and willingly goes to the farthest extent to do so for sake of love. Not only does this ruin the dark counsel of despair, but the whole notion of God acting to reconcile with sinners undermines the rebellion of the rebel powers themselves without acknowledging the legitimacy of the rebellion. God demonstrates the real truth of His character on the cross, that He is not a tyrant to rebel against, but shares even in the woe of sinners, sacrificing Himself for their sake. Rebels can either respond one way or another to this; they’re empowered by God to do so; but if they continue to reject Him, they are not free to be free of God’s continuing action toward reconciliation with them. They can go forth and sin no more, or they can go forth and keep on sinning, but the cross demonstrates for all time (in more than one way) the worthlessness of their rebellion. And God will persistently keep at them, acting to lead them to repentance and reconciliation with Him; they can’t escape that even by killing Him!

I’m sure that this is not what my friend JD was thinking of when he wrote that the NT conception of the atonement is the defeat of dark powers; and I wouldn’t claim that what happened was restricted to a forensic demonstration. Still, it applies pretty well. :slight_smile:

But as you noted, it does depend on what is meant by atonement. (I like to go with ‘down-reaching’, myself, which is what the Greek term means. :smiley: )

Amen, Jason … I use the term “God stooped”

For Paul - the Law was nailed to the cross - along with our sins. A just God could not resurrect us without that ‘forensic demonstration’ - a phrase that sounds much too clean and neat when one considers the blood-letting.

The last enemy of man is death - can it get any darker? Resurrection is the defeat of death. Christ came to set the captives free from it. Everyone will be resurrected.

The degree to which one believes that The Accuser has any basis for accusation is the degree to which the propitiation of God is seen as the sole purpose of the Cross.

Does any of this explain WHY we are all resurrected?

Your whole concept of a ‘continuing action’ detracts from Christ’s accomplishment - as though it were not finished and perfectly completed. I’ve heard the argument in a thousand different forms, as though the Cross needed some value-added something or other by us (or by God) to make it truly special. Most retort, that, yes, we do add to it by our faith - as if His accomplishment were not true unless we believe it.

This site has become extremely boring, not for the lack of e-ink but of engagement.

Jason: “I quite agree. But I suspect we have rather different ideas of what at-one-ment means.” Then don’t attempt to placate me. Fight for your understanding of the atonement or give it up.

For sake of engagement :mrgreen:

All mankind, every human that ever lived or will live was in Christ on Calvary. Scripture also tells us that today we fill up the suffering of Christ. We are all the offerings. We are even a sin offering. We are as He is in the world. Not I but Christ within me for the carnal man can never bear the Cross.

The sons are in the Son
and the Son is in the Sons.

The Kingdom is very circular
with wheels within the wheel.

Such is part of “mystery of Christ”

In His Sweet Lord Jesus,


‘Offerings’ for what?

Sounds nice. But I thought Christ was the ‘last sacrifice.’ Did I miss something? “We are even a sin offering.” Wow! Then who the hell needs Christ!?


The Cross knows no bounds of time or space my friend. The Cross goes from the alpha to the omega, from beginning to the end as He was slain even before the foundations. Did you not see where I said it is Christ within that carries the Cross. Brother if you are to be saved to the utmost, where Christ is All in All then you will learn to recognize Christ walking the via de la rosa within. You will also know of His resurrection which begins from within.

Let it also be known the Cross is the Tree of Life and Christ is synonymous with both. Oh what a mystery!

At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Matt 11:25



RanRan, here is a little more engagement and some detail added to my thoughts above. I excerpted a few pargraphs from Madame Guyon and my favorite contemporary author and teacher, J Preston Eby.

Why the cross and why do we share it with Christ. I am certain we cannot understand real love (Agape) without suffering the cross. Thus all will share the Cross and yes the Cross works on both sides of the grave. If it helps, you can even call the Cross, “the Lake of Fire.” All, upon experiencing Christ and His Cross, which is the centerpiece along with the beginning and end of God’s love, cannot help but bow in adoration confessing Jesus as the Lord. God will unveil Christ and His Cross to each in their own order.


I don’t think anything I said warrants that conclusion. Also, thankfully, the God revealed by Jesus seems to be fairly unconcerned with being ‘theologically satisfying’ :smiley:

The character of God revealed in the Jubilee is completely consistent with punishment, mercy and redemption.

God resurrects the evil as well as the good, of course; He wouldn’t need a demonstration of His true character and justice on the cross for that purpose. I doubt He would need any such demonstration in order to resurrect the sheep any more than the goats, or vice versa. (I don’t recall any scriptural testimony to that effect; and I don’t know any metaphysical argument concluding it as a derivation from principle.)

Fortunately, I don’t consider what was accomplished on the cross to be limited to a forensic demonstration. :mrgreen: I was only noting that such a demonstration can fit into a “defeat of dark powers” through God’s atonement with sinners, too, in its own way.

The cross undercuts the despairing accusations of the Accuser in all directions, though: it shows to the one who is despairing of God’s tolerance for evil and tragedy, that God does not hold Himself exempt from the suffering of the innocent and will also act just as strongly to bring triumph out of the tragedy. (What Tolkien later called eucatastrophe.) God reconciles with the suffering innocent. It shows to the one who despairs of God’s wrath against His enemies, that God does not inflict such wrath from on high but suffers the consequences along with His enemies and not to a hopeless end; also that God loves even His enemies so much that He still gives Himself (as He has always done) for their sake. God reconciles with the guilty. (Or acts to do so anyway, and is obviously totally committed to keep on doing so until the guilty agree to make peace with God.) And it shows to the one who insists on appealing to some depersonalized notion of mere ‘legal’ justice against sinners, whether out of a perverted sense of righteousness (a sense that has nothing to do with accomplishing and fulfilling fair-togetherness between people) or out of a hateful sense of mutual destruction (well I got caught and punished so why aren’t you going after that guy, too!!–it’s unfair if you don’t!!–so you’re a hypocrite after all!!), that God is interested in more than mere law and always was and always will be: that love is the source of any legitimate law and also the only legitimate fulfillment of law.

Yes, actually I am pretty sure that God’s resurrection of the evil even into judgment, is explained by God’s continuing action toward reconciliation with them. :slight_smile: There is no point resurrecting someone you have no intention of completing reconciliation with; they might as well be annihilated from the outset, period. (Unless the one resurrecting the rebel against him is a sadist getting off on mere torment the rebel for sake of assauging his affronted ego, perhaps; but if that is what God really is, then we’re all in massively huge trouble which is not going to be satisfied by God tormenting some innocent person instead of us.) The resurrection of the goats as well as the sheep, even though the goats continue in punishment, is itself a step toward the restoration of (and thus fulfilling reconciliations with) the goats; otherwise, God might as well leave them disembodied spirits in hades. And it is certainly God Who does all this, not the rebel spirits who manage to somehow accomplish it!

From God’s eternal perspective, the reconciliation is finished and perfectly completed. But even the existence of anything at all involves God’s continuing action of self-sacrifice; the cross is a one-time historical event, but it points to something far more fundamental happening eternally.

Yet even if that is denied (though I don’t recommend it), my “whole concept of a continuing action” of reconciliation still detracts no more from Christ’s accomplishment than St. Paul’s acknowledgment that people (including faithful Christians) still do die, that even Christians (including himself) still do sin and are not yet perfected, that Christ will reign until all His enemies are beneath His feet in the subjugation that He Himself submits to the Father, and that the race is still being run.

Maybe the problem is that my concept is a whole one, which keeps those things (among many others) in mind, too. :wink:

Nope. The cross is just as truly special whether or not a sinner has yet repented and accepted God’s reconciliation. Nevertheless, repentance and regeneration of the sinner is part of the whole process, too. Otherwise there would be no point to the evangelical appeal: “Be reconciled to God!” Nor can that repentance (much moreso the regeneration) happen without God’s action to call and lead and empower. If that hasn’t happened historically yet–and it obviously hasn’t for anyone this side of God giving us the victorious new name in the white stone–then it ought to be good news to hear that God will continue to act toward this and not give up short of victory. The good shepherd doesn’t only open the door for the 100th sheep and sit around waiting for it to come home; much less close the door (not without opening it again later anyway–for there are sometimes door-closings, too); much much less does he merely pretend the sheep is already home, so calling the gathering of the flock ‘finished’. The good shepherd goes out after the sheep and keeps going until He finds the sheep and then still keeps going until He has brought the sheep home. (Whereupon the angels in heaven rejoice more over that 100th sheep than over the 99 who never left the fold.)

The sheep doesn’t have to do anything to merit this salvation from the shepherd; neither does the shepherd have to keep fiddling with the door once he has opened the door. (And the shepherd is also the door, as Christ puts it in GosJohn. Which has a lot of relation to our recent new member John’s remarks about Christ == the Cross == the Tree of Life, by the way.)

But the shepherd doesn’t stop with merely opening the door, either.

Oddly, I recall fighting for my understanding of the atonement in that very sentence you quoted, as well as afterward. (Which is why I didn’t only write “I suspect we have rather different ideas of what at-one-ment means” and stop there.)

What I don’t recall, by the way, is you “engaging” with the portions of that sentence you omitted when reproducing it. Come to think of it, I don’t recall you engaging in any discussion of the meaning of ‘atonement’ per se after I spent some amount of e-ink fighting for my understanding of it. It might be less boring if you did that. :slight_smile: (Though maybe I missed it? I see you discussing and complaining about three or four things in your replies, which is fine to do, too; but not discussing what ‘atonement’ means. I could discuss the use of {hilas-} and cognates in the New Testament, or “propitiation” as it is sometimes translated in English, if you preferred. {shrug} It has to do with being merciful to those who repent and throw themselves on the mercy of the court.)

“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Are you saying that God could have waved a magic wand and resurrected mankind WITHOUT the Cross and remain just???

The atonement of God was unilateral - that is, we were not the heroes of it because we were not involved in it. It was all God. And God was reconciled, atoned, propitiated by that action of Christ and Him (the God/Man) ALONE.

We can reconcile ourselves to that truth through faith - but we in no way change it or add to it. It’s true whether we believe it or not, repent or not, die or not. Ultimately, resurrection, itself, will have to reckoned with, and then reconciled in the minds and hearts of the resurrected as to what Christ has done. Our change of mind (repentance) is inevitable.

So the idea (which I see you repeating) that we somehow have a hand in reconciling God is false.

This too is an old argument. It’s usually made by logicians who make the ‘logical’ argument that since God is God, he cannot change, therefore any talk of atonement is about us since He did not need atoning.

They gut Christ’s sacrifice to the level of an ‘unfortunate’ incident, while at the same time elevating their belief in the ‘unfortunate’ incident as the means of salvation. Apparently, through everything I have read of this argument, Christ’s main accomplishment was to die. Gee, I can do that.

‘The wages of sin is death.’ That still stands - it’s the Law and the Law was from God. It’s perfect. It hasn’t been rescinded or replaced by something ‘more’ perfect. So why does Paul call it the ‘last enemy’ of mankind? It’s a ballsy statement considering the source he confronts - Not Satan, but God.

Where does that confidence come from? 'Kill us, kill us all in your Justice - but raise us, raise us all in your Justice." It’s a hard love - as hard as the Cross.

I think opponents of Penal Substitution forget the possibility that Christ could have failed (He IS a man after all). And if He had failed, we would remain dead, forever held captive by it, because of God’s love - we are a danger to the universe and best left dead. Blood sacrifice is foreign to us - something the Aztec and other pagans required. We’re enlightened now - ‘substitution’ is a dirty word. Welcome to 21st century theology with the ‘atoning’ of man at the center. It’s lovely and, more importantly, it sells books.

The problem with the Christ as Victor line of atonement is that it usually translates into the believer being the victor and object of worship. And a loving God is so impressed that even He falls for a sinner usurping His son. Dream on.

There ya go, Jason. Engage.

Next up, the bloodless humility argument, which is even more impressive. It goes like this: ‘Christ died for me because He loves me. Not because He had to, but to show me and thus defeat Satan’s idea that He doesn’t. God could have chosen any number of means, but chose the Cross as an example.’ Lovely. Works fine except for His need for BLOOD.

I’m not sure I follow Ran. How is it they are gutting Christ’s sacrifice to the level of an unfortunat event. Is TV wrong to quote John that God so loved us that he gave his only Son?

Perhaps you can elaborate why you think that believing that God’s love for us GUTS Christ’s sacrifice.