Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Christian Faith and theories of Atonement


As a Disciple, I am a member of a non-creedal tradition. Our statement of faith is simple -- Peter's confession in Matthew 16:16. No more, no less.

Since I'm engaging in this conversation about the atonement, I thought I might put out something that would explain the "position" of our people. In that regard, I pulled out a a little book by British Disciples theologian William Robinson. Robinson has had an important influence on our movement, and continues to do so even though he's been dead for a half century. In this little book written for the British Churches of Christ and published in 1946, he writes:



So far as the work of Jesus Christ, accomplished through the Incarnation and the Cross, is concerned, emphasis has always been placed on His redeeming work. But Churches of Christ have refused to make theories of the Atonement part of the Faith. The fact that Jesus died for our sins has been accepted by all, but no theories have been advanced. (Robinson, What Churches of Christ Stand For, Berean Press, 1946, pp. 90-91).


In a foot note he points out that this is consistent with the practice of the first 4 centuries of church history, "for none of the three ancient creeds contains any theory of the Atonement, largely due to the fact that controversy in this period was centred solely in the doctrines of God and the person of Christ." (p. 91).


If one wants to affirm penal substitution, one may. But one is not required to do so, for such a position is an interpretation of the text. It's a legitimate interpretation, but not the only interpretation. That the earliest Christian interpreters didn't go that direction is suggestive to me that they didn't understand Paul as teaching that Jesus satisfied God's demand for blood sacrifice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine the thought of God being this inexperienced creator who was all broken up about Adam and Eve failing.

I was Catholic, I tried.

He designed us afer all, he knew we were likely to fall short.

Then again, the first born is often held as such a high standard. I'm one of ten with the oldest son a doctor!

Don't get me wrong (sung to the tune of Superstar).

David Mc