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Is God a divine child abuser? a podcast discussion on the atonement

Updated: May 30

Ok, I got your attention with the title - so what's up with that?

As you may know there are several different "atonement theories," or theories of what actually happened with Jesus on the cross. The three major theories that people find plausible are: Christus Victor, Good Moral Example, and Penal Subsitutionary Atonement.

As I have studied the subject, and spoken to several different audiences, it seems that the Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory (PSA) is under attack. PSA essentially says that on the cross Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice for sin, and as such he paid the penalty for man's sin, ushered in forgiveness, imputed righteousness, and reconciled mankind back to God.

It seems like that is what scriptures teaches most clearly (especially Romans and Hebrews), so why would that be under attack? It's a good question, especially since PSA as a theory didn't come on the scene until the late 1800's. The impluse that attacks it is essentially rooted in the idea that the wrath of God brought on by sin, the judgement associated with death on a cross and the violence inherent in sacrifice is just not in line with a loving God. Today, some radical progressive theologians have suggested PSA paints God as a divine child abuser! Yikes.

I would suggest what is really happening is that our modern sensiblities are causing us to reframe the cross of Jesus in a way that aligns more with our cultural values. Many are drawn to a version of Christianity that is rooted in inclusion, kindness and equality. Of course those are biblical values, but PSA seems to violate those, or so we are led to believe.

I understand the impulse, but we cannot create a self-styled version of the Christian message, simply because it happens to match up with how we would like to view the world.

I recently listened to a podcast hosted by Sean McDowell. He interviewed a colleague named Jeremy Treat, who recently wrote a book called The Atonement: An Introduction. It was fascinating, and he did a thorough and balanced job of explaining why PSA is in fact a very biblical idea. It doesn't have to be the only way one thinks about the sacrifice of Jesus, but to deny it, remove it or water it down is a dangerous theological move, with practical pastoral implications. I highly recomment listening to it!

CLICK HERE to watch the podcast.


1 Comment

Feb 13

Perhaps we have been inundated in some poor form of PSA, which over time become formative in our understanding, and we are trying to relearn. It’s a journey for us. Have faith in the Spirit that is generously poured out, who is the Counselor, that by grace many of us will come out on the other end having a more robust relationship with God through his atoning blood.

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