The Evangelical Universalist Forum

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


Hey Bob,

So much of the atonement conception could be based on where we come from and learn from?


Yes, Paul’s fundamental gospel language that “Christ died for our sins” is subject to many interpretations as seen in multiple atonement theories which all think they embrace this.

I’m not well-informed on the reaction to Ladd. His exposition of Jesus’ emphasis on the kingdom was widely appreciated, but his early challenge of dispensational eschatology and a pre-trib rapture alienated many conservatives. Less evangelical scholars seemed put off by the fact that as a progressive evangelical he tried to accept and apply some Biblical criticism, but I think many recognized he took the narratives as more historical and literal than they often did, rather than apply more redactional and skeptical criticism. So much of it probably was that they saw him as wanting a welcome among critical scholars, yet actually pursuing endorsement of much traditional conservative theological motifs.

I was only suggesting that a part of this basic difference may have his more literal acceptance of history and the cross as reflecting the venting of God’s wrath. Thus I’d say that many would genuinely quarrel with some of his exegesis (including as I said, many in the evangelical arena like Gundry and Goldingay), but non-evangelicals surely would also be appalled by “a wrathful God” in the way that Ladd understood that, and this would aggravate their critique of his scholarship.

Of course, what it means to say God is wrathful varies even in evangelical circles, just as what is means to say "Christ died for me" varies. My own sense is that the historical Jesus saw himself more as dying to redeem Israel and a la Wright, turn them away from their rebellion and toward his Way, than theologizing about bearing all of what every individual might deserve.

My own sense is that the relevance of Jesus’ life and death for me hangs less on the cross as a transaction that changed God’s stance, and more on my seeing Jesus as revealing the true nature of God, and thus being able to see his willingness to absorb sin and evil, and respond with forgiveness as manifesting how God truly is (and thus is toward all of his offspring).

For his willing death to the worst that humankind and evil powers could do to him, and his Easter victory over that, is applicable to us all (even if he saw as first of all part of his mission to Israel). This applicability of being able to see that this demonstration of love has full application to me, and brings the power to set me free from slavery to sin and so to its’ consequences, is what it means for me to confess “Christ died for me.”


I hear what you’re saying, and I’m basically in the same atonement neighborhood where you live. I’ve gotten the impression over the years, though, that the word ‘venting’ is key to some people’s concern (I am not talking about you or anyone here). - their picture seems to be of a Zeus-like, capricious Power that sometimes cannot constrain himself and must just ‘vent’ to make himself feel right.
While I think we have de-fanged that particular caricature, I find myself able to appreciate God’s wrath in a totally different way, as I stated up above; it’s not venting, it’s a settled hatred of de-humanizing behaviors and inner attitudes. It’s a part of Love.
I must think much more about this. I’m not willing to soften the substitutionary, propitionary, sacrificial language just yet.


Then there’s the Eastern Orthodox view - of the Atonement. And if I’m now a Prospect…and later…perhaps a patched-in member…I need to pay attention:


The incarnation takes precedence in Orthodoxy — the incarnation of the Logos is the ultimate invitation into God’s love. The crucifixion is an extension of this invitational act. Again, Father Bernstein:

Orthodox incarnational theology, which is at the core of the original Gospel, teaches that God Himself, the second Person of the Trinity, became incarnate, not in order to pay a debt to the devil or to God the Father, nor to be a substitutionary offering to appease a just God, but in order to rescue us from our fallen condition and transform us, enabling us to become godlike .

So, as an alternative to the version of the atonement you were taught in your youth, consider this: The work of atonement that is accomplished on the cross is one of invitation into the eternal, loving relationship of the Trinity — ultimately, into union with God.


Well, I’d say God’s wrath toward us as in Romans 1 involves a warranted settled ‘hatred’ of our de-humanizing behaviors. I’m not comfortable saying that a de-humanizing cross reflects God placing a “settled hatred” upon an innocent Man. Is that what you’re saying?

Torturing someone to death with a settled hatred sounds as bad to me as venting one’s wrath on them. It sounds like dealing with our dehumanizing by inflicting a dehumanizing penalty on one who has not dehumanized anyone. My sense is that the settled hatred demonstrated at the cross was actually perpetrated by sinners who crucified Jesus, not by his Father.


But how can there be wrath in our behaviors when said behaviors were instituted by the very GOD who created us?


Nope. I did NOT say that. I can see it is a hot-button issue, though…
It’s not like I made up the word ‘wrath’ and applied it to God - the scriptures do that. I hope we can agree on that.
I see you don’t like the word ‘hatred’ either - so what IS God’s attitude toward sin? Did we not see that attitude, along with appalling Love, on the cross?
Like I said, I have much thinking yet to do on this. Please don’t caricature my thought, though.


Maybe the attitude of a loving God was to send a son?


Mark 10.45




I think this definition of the wrath of God is good. The sacrificial language easily fits with this definition, even versions of substitutionary theory (though not penal theories). However, the propitiation language creates tension. If expiation doesn’t precede propitiation, then you end up with an angry God being soothed by the death of his son. I really don’t like translating hilasterion as propitiation. This is the very core of the problem.


I’m trying not to give the impression that I think God is angry. What I’m trying to do is work with the texts that DO refer to sacrifice, vicariousness, etc. and not avoid them, but work with them.
Thanks for your comments.
Hard to believe it comes down to ONE word as the core of the problem, isn’t it??


Who else did you have as teachers at Fuller? I was there much later in 2006-2008 (or sometime around there). I read as much history about the school at the time. It was life changing for me.


I don’t think you get a wrathful atonement without it.


I’m not convinced yet that anger=wrath. Nor that the atonement is wrathful. I am concerned about the texts, that’s about it. Like I said, I’m in Bob’s neighborhood in atonement thinking, but that doesn’t mean I’ve satisfied myself that I have really understood some of the ‘old’ thinking…I’m thinking it does have some power.


Yes sir, and I agree, but the wrath and anger that exists is a real deal, but it is in the context of love and sacrifice, in other words, I can be really pissed at you, and I can make a decision to either deal with you in love or just say… Hell with it.

I seem to think that God said ‘I love you’ and sent a son.
That makes it the greatest sacrifice in the world history…

So, oh well, that’s what I think.:grin::grin:


“I see you don’t like the word ‘hatred’ either - so what IS God’s attitude toward sin? Did we not see that attitude, along with appalling Love, on the cross?”

It appears we’re not understanding each other, and I’m sorry I am not communicating more clearly or fairly capturing your view. I said I’m fine with God’s “wrath” and “hatred” toward sin and sinners. Of course that’s his attitude toward sin. It is saying that this was God’s attitude toward Jesus that I said I am uncomfortable with.

So when you say, Did we not see that attitude on the cross?," I’m not sure what you mean. For I see God’s glorious love at the cross, in absorbing as Wright says the worst that evil and sin can do (yes, because He sees sin as an enemy to be hated and defeated). But I don’t see God’s hatred, wrath, or condemnation placed upon Jesus (only upon sin as he is defeating it). I see the Father’s unmixed love as God’s attitude toward Jesus on the cross.


I’m sure I don’t express myself with enough precision, so there are no hard feelings here Bob.


Yes, if it’s one word, it seems to come down to the issue of propitiation. All atonement traditions that reject it affirm Jesus death was “sacrificial and substitutionary.” So what “texts” spell out a “propitionary” transaction as what happened at the cross?

You probably know that Wright’s new atonement book spends 80 pages on Romans, and 40 on why chapter 3 is not teaching that propitiation is what Jesus provided. For me, beyond the debate I cited about hilasterion itself, Romans 3 is the best candidate for arguing that wrath needed to be satisfied, though as I said earlier, it curiously doesn’t even mention God’s wrath as what Jesus’ death remedies.


I loved four years and two degrees at Fuller and found it deeply stimulating (even though I question significant assumptions reinforced there). Among many I had Everett Harrison and Ralph P Martin in NT. Geoffrey Bromiley History. Paul Jewett, Dan Fuller, and Lew Smedes in Theology and Ethics. William La Sor and Dave Hubbard OT, Bob Munger, Bob Schaper, Mel White, Ralph Winter etc in ministry. I met Carnell before he died, but didn’t get to study with him.