Thursday, April 13, 2006


I don’t pay much attention to the fundamentalist/conservative evangelical magazine Christianity Today but Google News sent me this article by Mark Dever. It looks like he serves as Pastor of some big, you guessed it, Southern Baptist church in Washington D.C. You kind find his blog here.

He seems to be a pretty reasonable Southern Baptist. Don’t get me wrong, he’s completely wrong in his defense of penal substitutionary atonement, but you kind of get the idea while reading the article that this idea of penal substitutionary atonement is beginning to whither away. One bright spot, from the Buck Eschatonian point of view, is that he does mention Rene Girard, albeit what he says doesn’t make much sense. It’s still surprising and promising that he’s even heard of him.

Let me just list a couple of things.
1. Apparently he has no interest in what the Day of Atonement in ancient Israel was about or what it symbolized. It wasn’t depicting Yahweh being murdered to appease the wrathful Father God. Blood in the ritual was LIFE. Yahweh/the High Priest/the Goat was pouring forth His blood for the renewal of the covenant. Creation was being repaired/renewed and sins/conflict were being taken away.

2. Primitive societies, such as ancient Israel, were violent places. All against all violence could break out any time. So to prevent this from happening Yahweh would pour forth his blood to the people to prevent them from destroying themselves.

3.The atonement ritual is a creation ritual. Genesis 1:3 says “…God said Let Him be Light, and He was Light.” Light is life and the life is in the blood. If you doubt my translation of Genesis 1:3, check the Hebrew and compare it to John 1.

4. Penal substitutionary atonement theory accepts the hypothesis that human desire originates within each individual human being. Mr. Girard through exhaustive examples has shown that this isn’t the case. Human desire is formed in relationship. It is formed by imitation. Human desire is formed through imitation of others. So it’s not a matter of an individual really wanting or desiring God, rather it’s God coming at you, and you allowing God to provide you His desires. Jesus said we should follow him. We should allow Jesus to create us in His image. Idolatry is allowing something/somebody besides God to provide us with our desires. Idolatrous desire will eventually and inevitably lead to murder. This is what Jesus says.

5. Penal substitutionary atonement relies on the idea of a spiritualized Hell. The New Testament understands Hell to be a very literal, this worldly place. Gehenna, the word translated Hell in the New Testament, symbolizes child and human sacrifice. It also means the burning garbage dump that was outside Jerusalem. Girard has shown how mimetic desire can spiral into human sacrifice. Desire received from somewhere other than God will lead inevitably to human sacrifice and the forever burning of all against all violence. For us this idea can be symbolized by the nuclear bomb. Human sacrifice still occurs today. It is called War.

6. The Hebrew word “nasa” means both to forgive and to bear.

7. The Christian idea of atonement is substitutionary. God doesn’t want to destroy us, we want to destroy and murder each other. 9/11 and the Iraq War prove this. Jesus has substituted Himself for us. Essentially He says “kill me instead of yourselves.” Instead of joining the mob, Jesus allows the violence to be directed at Him Put your sins onto Jesus and not onto someone else. A Christian should bear/forgive the sins of others. It’s a tough position to put yourself between the lynch mob and the victim about to be lynched or to stand between two warring factions. Humans made Him to be sin, so that we would direct our anger and violence towards Him and not each other. The children of Iraq were made to be evil so that we could go on living. Christianity says this is wrong and will lead to even more killing, we must love our neighbor.

8. The woman caught in adultery. Think angry, violent lynch mob. Jesus doesn’t make eye contact. He doesn’t want to reflect the mob’s anger back at them. These are not happy people, they want to kill someone. Jesus knows this. In a similar situation the pagan miracle worker Apollonius encourages the first stone, he encourages a mob to stone a poor beggar. As Girard says the first stone is difficult, there is no model to imitate. Rene Girard’s The First Stone, published in Renascence. The mob wants to place all their sin on the adulterous woman. She is a scapegoat. Girard says, “When Jesus suggests that only a man without sin should feel entitled to cast the first stone, he knows full well that, if these people honestly examine themselves, they will discover how similar they are to the adulterous woman. They will be ashamed of killing a fellow human being for an action they themselves commit with total impunity.” Jesus creates individuals, he does not create mobs. “The would-be lynchers came all together, as a united crowd and "they went away one by one, beginning with the elders."”

This quote from Girard, re the adulterous woman, reminds me of Genesis 1, “The Gospel text can be read almost allegorically, as the emergence of genuine personhood out of the primordial mob.” The mob is symbolized by the waters of chaos. The spirit of God moving upon the waters/mob. In Genesis 1:3 the light/life/blood is poured forth and the world begins to be created.

9. Penal substitutionary atonement makes God into the supreme violent being. It understands His essence not to be of love but of violence. It understands God to be overwhelming violence. He is simply more violent and violently powerful than Satan. It’s hard to believe and hard to understand for a worldly mind, but God conquers through love and radical self-giving. Atonement is very violent, but it’s not God’s violence, it is our violence.

I realize the above might not make much sense. Wish I had more time to create some kind of thorough, systematic presentation of how I understand the Atonement and the work of Jesus Christ. Hopefully I’ve said something that will cause somebody to do further research and reading.

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