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The Atonement - Important Things to Consider During Passion Week Rememberance

03.25.17 | Easter | by Nathan Britton

The Atonement - Important Things to Consider During Passion Week Rememberance

    ****Nota Bene: The term atonement may not be the most accurate term, but I use it here because it is the term used by most people.  Also, the footnotes are due to understandings of various views of the atonement that I took largely from seminary class notes. Further, if there is a word you don't know the meaning of, please look it up.  It is likely important.  :) Lastly, this is a long comment to an ongoing discussion which means it will read more like a comment than a refined paper.****


    I figure a longer post is appropriate considering that we are in the week where we remember the death and resurrection of the Christ.

    The repentance movement is huge in "evangelical" churches today.  That movement is evidenced every time one talks about the “gospel” without placing emphasis on the importance of the atonement.  I'm not sure if it is left over from the heresies of the past or if there is a resurgence today.  In either case, the view is closely related to the condition of man and the meaning of the atonement.  A number of destructive theories have popped up through the years.  I’ve listed a number of them below and I think you’ll see some similarities to the thinking in today’s American Christianity.  Bottom line that we must hold to: for gentiles, there is no difference between repentance and believing.  To be saved, one must believe in the atoning work of the Savior as a penal substitute for individual sin that brings satisfaction to God’s otherwise assaulted and insulted righteousness.  No amount of ceasing from bad things can bring spiritual life to dead men.  And no amount of bad things can bring spiritual death to those made alive through belief in the atonement provided through the vicarious death of the Christ.  The repentance movement is counter to the Bible and, as such, counter to Christianity.  That is because Christianity is not about doing; it is about being, and one starts to be when he places faith in Christ alone.      

    Jonathan Edwards Jr’s View:

    Jonathan Edwards Jr’s formulation of atonement took a step backwards from the Reformers to a view in line with the governmental theory promoted by Grotius.[1]  Edwards Jr. believed that the purpose of the atonement was not a substitutionary payment that brings satisfaction to God.  Rather, he taught that the atonement was simply a grand demonstration to humanity that God hates sin and punishes sin.  Finney and nineteenth century evangelism followed in Edwards’ footsteps and this view is evident in what was preached.  Namely, that individuals need to stop being bad because God hates sin and must punish sin.  If one does not stop sinning they are at risk of receiving punishment.  Every time someone sins, the preacher proclaims, he drives the nails deeper into the hands and feet of Jesus.  So stop sinning! Sadly, there is very little talk of Jesus taking on one’s sins as a substitution in order to bring satisfaction to God which is needed due to the attack on God’s righteousness that sin produces.    

    The Governmental View:

    The Governmental View holds that the atonement was not penal substitution to bring satisfaction, but rather is a demonstration to humanity of the badness of sin.  When one understands their badness they will be driven to stop being so bad. 

    The Romish View:

    The Romish view of the atonement strips the atonement of complete satisfaction of God.  Instead, the atonement simply allows one to progressively get better over time. [2] Justification, then, is not God declaring an individual to be righteous on the basis of the atonement, but rather one is able to purge sin out of his life because of the atonement

    The Classical Arminian View:

    The classic Arminian view is similar in wording to that of the Reformers, but it redefines key ideas which, in turn, changes the very nature of the atonement.  The main difference is that the Reformers stated that the atonement was the substitute for a penalty while Arminianism views the atonement as a penalty.[3]  In other words, Arminianism makes the atonement a substitute for God’s wrath, but not the payment for individual sin.

    Schleiermacher’s View:

    Schleiermacher’s interpretation of the atonement is similar to that of the moral influence theory that proceeded him.  That is, the atonement of Christ is simply a picture that should drive the individual to a greater god-consciousness.[4]  The atonement does not supply vicarious satisfaction and certainly is not a penal sacrifice for the sin of mankind.  Christ simply influenced mankind to think more positively and be delivered over time from a lack of god-consciousness.[5]

    Karl Barth’s View:

    Barth’s view of the atonement is focused on its result rather than its essence.  The result being reconciliation—man brought back into a relationship with God.  The atonement is simply a demonstration that reconciliation is given to all mankind.  Barth’s view of that atonement connects directly to his view of election which holds to the view that all people are elect.  The purpose of the death of Christ, therefore, is simply to demonstrate to all that they are elect in hopes that they will recognize that fact.[6]


    The Bible’s View:

    Man is totally without hope in the world because of the sin nature which marks every man.  No amount of goodness is able to pay the price of sin which God requires due to His righteousness.  The only hope for mankind is found in an atoning sacrifice—a sacrifice that God finds acceptable.  The only sacrifice that God finds acceptable is a pure one that is equal to His righteousness.  The sacrifice was Jesus the Christ.  When Jesus died, his perfect righteousness was offered to God and found an acceptable payment for the sins of every individual.  Christ was punished and paid the price for man.  In other words, because of sin God must display wrath as a vindication of His righteousness.  That wrath is offset through the punishment of the righteous one, Jesus Christ.  Now humans are faced with two options: face God’s wrath or receive forgiveness on the basis of Jesus Christ’s punishment at His expense for our benefit.  Jesus Christ’s death was not an example to point us to God, it was not a means of making us feel guilty and thus be less bad, but rather, it is the only acceptable payment that God will receive.  Through the death of the perfect One, those who are imperfect and incapable of pleasing God at any level are brought back into a relationship with God if they simply believe.  It is the acceptableness of Christ alone that matters.  The only way repentance has anything to do with it is when it is understood to mean turning away from false faith to Jesus Christ.  Any other talk of repentance in relation to the gospel is not only inappropriate, but offensive to the person and work of Jesus Christ who did ALL of the work for us!  




    [1] John D. Hannah, “History of Doctrine,” class notes for HT200OL: The Work of Christ, Part 4: (Lesson 16, Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring Semester, 2013), 17.

    [2] Ibid., 15.

    [3] Ibid., 19.

    [4] John D. Hannah, “History of Doctrine,” class notes for HT200OL: The Work of Christ, Part 5: (Lesson 17, Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring Semester, 2013), 3.

    [5] Ibid., 7.

    [6] Ibid., 16.