I don’t subscribe to any atonement theories. (Summary of 7 Atonement Theories)
Atonement theories tend to revolve around the death of Jesus as the central focus. They typically are attempts to answer the question, “What was accomplished by the death of Jesus on the cross?”
This is the central question of a death focused religion that has as it’s central themes, the death of it’s central figure, and what happens to you when you’re dead.
Jesus said God is not God of the dead, but of the living.
I have no agreement that the point of the story is in death and at the cross. I think that’s the focus of a death focused religion, and by no means the focus of the stories told in the first four books included in what we call the New Testament. The reason why there are atonement theories is because it’s the attempt of a death focused religion to place an importance on a death that isn’t the focal point of the story. It’s a failed attempt to reframe the story into something which it is not.
In much of Christianity, atonement theory is the gospel and the gospel is an atonement theory, and the two are not merely in harmony but synonymous and inseparable, which is why atonement theories are such a point of vicious defense for those who place their faith in death.
You could just as easily ask, “what was accomplished by praying in Gethsemane?” You could ask, “what was accomplished by going up having a fish fry on the beach?”
Christians typically claim to place importance on the resurrection to new life, but have a very flimsy theology built upon resurrection. Mostly, it’s just a nod to the death focus of where you go after you die, which is to resurrect so you can go anywhere at all after death. There’s no robust theory on what the resurrection is about.
It’s practically just a lip service to life after death, which is really just about being afraid to die and thinking not dying is somehow victory over the fear of death. That’s like saying not flying is victory over fear of flying, not swimming is victory over fear of drowning, and not going outside is victory over agoraphobia. That’s slavery. Not victory.
Where is the atonement theory about what the resurrection shows? What does it show? Is it even the resurrection the point of the story? What if that is also the incorrect focal point?
What if the whole story is actually about you and me? What if it’s about who we are and what we are capable of? What if it’s about challenging traditional social conventions?
What if the death of Jesus goes by in a blip of a few paragraphs because it wasn’t that important, and wasn’t the focus of the story?
What if the point of the story is not that Jesus was uniquely, individually, singularly the son of man who was son of god, but that the point of the story is that each and every one of us is the word made flesh?
What if the verse says that God so loved the world he gave it YOU as a gift and when YOU realize that YOU are the uniquely beloved then you have transcended the mundane painful life and are the “son of man coming into his kingdom.” It’s about EVERY ONE OF US.
The kingdom is within you, the voice you should follow is within you, you are god, you are the uniquely beloved, you are the treasure, you are the glory of god, if only you would stop counting yourself as LESS than the glory of God.
What if that verse ACTUALLY says all have made a mistake and counted themselves as less than the glory of God?
What if the LIFE of Jesus was meaningful? What if his death was a blip on the radar of a meaningful LIFE? What if it was a brief intermission between life and new life, because every ending is a new beginning, and that new beginning is anointed by what is pressed out in the grief of Gethsemane?
Gethsemane is the place of pressing of olives. Olive oil is the anointing oil. Christ is the anointing. Christ is what is the true essence of us when we are placed in the trial of Gethsemane, which we see in the story is where his friends failed to stand by him in his despair, and then misunderstood what his intentions were, and tried to help him out the wrong way, and got pissed off and said, “I don’t know that punk.”
Gethsemane is the true you that anoints who you transform to when you surrender to the despair and move from resistance to allowing and that old identity faces the god who wasn’t there and hears from the god within, and that god within says, now that you know I am within you, as you, and never leave of forsake you like that outward accuser god who mocked you, you find that kingdom within.
There were three crosses. Jesus, an idol god, and Immanuel. One god died and stayed dead, because it was an accuser and an idol. That god left and forsook him, and mocked him in his death. One stayed with him and said, remember me and today we will be together in paradise.
Who told you those words were spoken BY Jesus and not TO Jesus?
A death focused religion with an atonement theory did.
A Backwards Hero
What I see is a rich story of a backwards hero who did everything wrong according to hero story standards. He’s born in a pig trough instead of royal birth. He says the first will be last and the last will be first. He says the least is greatest and the greatest is least. The only way this isn’t a frightening prospect is if what it really means is that all are equal.
I like to joke that I plan to be the most apathetic, cruel, lazy, worthless person I can be so that when the great day of reversal happens, I’ll be in charge. It’s a nod to the idea that it’s silly to just reverse things, which is part of the point. They wanted to rule by displacing the ruling class, and be the head and not the tail.
He’s the greatest hero because he did the hero thing backwards. He was supposed to be a conquering warlord, but he surrendered to an unjust execution instead.
He was supposed to exact revenge, but instead he proclaimed forgiveness to his murderers.
In The Crow, the main character resurrects to exact the revenge he promised and begins taking out the responsible parties one after another. Jesus resurrected and looked for his friends. No knock on the Crow, but I used it to illustrate what we expect from the hero. Jesus did it wrong, backwards, and opposite.
It’s a great story. Love your enemies. Pray for those who despitefully use you. Bless those who curse you, yes bless and not curse.
A Meaningful Life
He said we are all gods, and we are all the uniquely beloved. So that rewrites the command. I am god, and you are god, therefore “Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself” is also love yourself and love your neighbor as god because it’s all god. And love your neighbor, and love yourself as god, because it’s all god.
That’s why the writer said,
“Whoever says he loves his imaginary idol “god” who he cannot see, because it isn’t real, and loves not his brother whom he can see, because he is real, is a liar and the truth is not in him.”
Because the only thing he actually loves is a fictional deity in his own imagination. The real god, which is our fellow humans is the correct object of love.
A Disapproving Idol
Atonement theories are about moving from being disapproved by this magical immortal fictional person to being placed into the approval by this fictional immortal who seemingly only cares to meet you once you’re dead. (Death focused religion)
Moral influence seems to at least assign some value to the life of Jesus, but they’re all ultimately about what transaction occurred that moved you from unaccepted by the magical immortal dissatisfaction in the sky, to accepted.
Despite being told, her gates are never shut, this god of the dead is the gatekeeper checking to see if you qualify for admission into his tiny, abusive, witless “kingdom.” He doesn’t stand at the door and knock, he stands at the gate and demands why he should let you in and the answer is found in the atonement theory peddled as synonymous with the gospel. Pick the right one and you’re in.
Otherwise, it’s off to eternal torment for you.
Hint: Death focused religion.
I don’t agree that Jesus was teaching that he is singularly, uniquely, solely the one manifestation of god in human form, I think he taught we all are, but if he was, He proclaimed forgiveness to those directly responsible for his unjust execution.
If they’re not guilty, and He is God, then NOBODY is guilty, and it’s not a transaction where that’s where the not-guilty decree began, but it’s an eternal truth that we just don’t get it, and we kill thinking we’re doing the will of God.
Atonement theories are for a death focused religion, and a bloody death god of the dead. I don’t subscribe to one of those.