I recently had a relative send me a meme. It had a priest sitting down and talking with a little boy. In the meme, the priest said to the boy, “God gave birth to himself to kill himself as a sacrifice to appease himself so that he would no longer have to throw us into a fiery pit for all eternity because he made us in a way that was not up to his own very high standard.” The boy responded with a simple, “Thanks?”
It was a humorous meme, but what is not humorous is that many people who see the church from the outside, or who were raised in the church and have walked away from Christianity, see the message that we teach in this way, even if it isn’t directly taught.
N.T. Wright told a story on “Ask N.T. Wright Anything” about how he was giving a lecture on how people understand these things that they were raised to believe. One man stood up and said, “that is an over-exaggeration”. A Bible college professor who was present responded by saying, “I teach first-year Bible students, and this is exactly what many of them have heard, as they have grown up.”
I had a friend who has wrestled with faith and theology over the years write me, because of a conversation that he was having with some people around why Jesus died and what His death accomplished. I responded, and decided that I would publish what I wrote him and edit it into a resource to be used by him and others for discussion in the future. I pray that this resource helps people think through some of the nuances around the atonement, avoid destructive and inaccurate ways to talk about God, help bring about deep conversations with individuals deconstructing their faith because of unhelpful ways that they have been brought up to view God and allow the Holy Spirit to help renew our minds.
I need to be honest and say that I don’t have all the answers. There are people way smarter than me who disagree with me. I hope this helps people see that there can be another perspective that is attempting to be responsible with the Bible, historical orthodoxy, and the person of Jesus Christ. Too often words like “heretic”, “false teacher”, and “unbiblical” are thrown around when someone from another camp disagrees. I hope that in conversations, a resource like this can show that disagreeing doesn’t mean that you are “unbiblical”. It might just mean that you are wrestling with the Biblical text, and who God is that can sometimes lead us to a different conclusion, and that is okay. There is so much mystery to God.
According to the Barna Group, we have seen that 59% of millennials who were raised in church have walked away, and have no desire to return. I do a lot of ministry within this demographic, and I have found that much of this is rooted in an image of God that they were taught to believe, doctrines around this image of God that are taught as non-negotiables, and the feeling that they are not allowed to doubt and ask questions. Many feel that they have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
What if we have rooted our view of the atonement in a view of God that has been destructive and not the God that we see revealed in Christ? What if how we talk about the cross could become more in line with how the early church talked about the cross? What if how we talk about the cross could become more in line with the Biblical narrative as a whole?
I am excited about this resource. I believe that it will help those who are wrestling with inaccurate views of God that depict Him as angry and needing to be appeased, feel like they don’t have to leave the Christian faith, but instead embrace the God we see in Jesus. I also hope that this is a tool that is used to give to people deconstructing their harmful understandings of God, and maybe the people that raised them in these ideas to facilitate conversation that neither party maybe have language for.
Maybe you don’t feel like you fit those categories, but you are interested in reading more about the atonement.
Enjoy this free resource!