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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Did Jesus suffer for our sins?

Mark Heim, who teaches theology at Andover Newton Theological School and whose classes I've always kicked myself for not taking when I was a student at HDS, reviews seven books on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement in last week's Christian Century. (Substitutionary atonement: Jesus "paid the price" for your sins.) Unitarian Universalists may be pleased to see the positive reception of Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker's Proverbs of Ashes, which Heim says avoids the problems that plague many "first-person approaches to controversial subjects" in a way that is "neither bitter nor dogmatic." If you'd like a sample of the book's argument and approach, UU World excerpted part of their book back in 2002; I also interviewed the authors for that issue. Heim recommends their book for anyone who thinks there's nothing wrong with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

He describes Robert Sherman's King, Priest and Prophet: A Trinitarian Theology of Atonement as the most useful perspective:

Sherman reminds us that from a systematic theological perspective, the [substitutionary] doctrine was never meant to stand alone. King, Priest, and Prophet reviews the substitutionary approach to Christís death along with other major historical optionsóthose that see it as an exemplary illustration of Godís love, those that see it as a victory over evil powers. He concludes that the faults of any one are addressed when they are coordinated together, and an explicitly trinitarian theology is the framework necessary to do this. Theology, liturgy or devotion narrowed to the resources or images from only one of these approaches will necessarily be distorted. Someone who wants a map of the entire landscape would do well to start with Shermanís book . . .

Heim also has grateful things to say about Hans Boersma's provocative Violence, Hospitality and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition.

("Cross Purposes," S. Mark Heim, Christian Century 3.22.05)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 31 March 2005 at 8:04 PM

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2 comments:

TransparentEye:

April 1, 2005 10:57 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm with Brock and Parker on the idea that substitutionary atonement is not a useful doctrine today. But one question is, why has it been so popular historically?

This notion that people are born with original sin, which has to be paid for by somebody, strikes me as somewhat analogous to the notion of karma. It's not just that we get karma for what we do, but we are born with karma for what we did in a previous life. So the notion that people are born with baggage is pretty widespread.

It speaks to a great insecurity among people. I also wonder if it made a great deal of sense in pre-modern times, when most people suffered, so it made sense that people must be bad in order to be made to suffer by a just God.

Kim:

April 4, 2005 01:15 AM | Permalink for this comment

Maybe the concept you are referring to -- original sin or karma or being born with bad stuff -- is really referring to the stuff we are born with that is hard-wired into our brains: tendencies toward competitiveness, pre-judgement, our difficulty in treating everyone equally, etc. (I am not saying that we are born with only negative stuff, it's just that the negative stuff is relevant to the discussion.) Maybe our forbears didn't understand how we are endowed with some stuff by evolution that makes it hard for us to get along with each other, i.e. causes pain and suffering, and they interpreted it as "karma","original sin", etc. We are born with "baggage". Where the idea that violence pays for it comes from -- i have no idea. It sounds really really stupid to me.



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