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For those who I left hanging on atonement, here's another entry.
Here are the questions I am left with as one who calls herself a
Christian, but who also rejects the prevalent doctrine of “subsitutionary
atonement”. Substitutionary atonement is the belief that all human beings are
sinful and deserving of punishment by God, but that Jesus took our punishment on
himself, on the cross.
If I reject that belief (which, actually, is not the only approach that
Christianity has offered) then I have to answer two questions: First, why do I
think Jesus died? Second, how do I think Jesus “saved” me, or more significantly
Jesus died on a cross because the Roman Empire crucified thousands of people. Jesus died on a cross the same way we strap men and women to gurneys and inject lethal drugs into their veins all over our country in prisons. Jesus died on a cross because he challenged the Roman authorities. He was not the first rabble-rouser to be crucified in the Roman Empireand he was not the last.
The cross was an event created by humans. There is nothing salvific
about a state-sanctioned instrument of torture that controlled citizens through
terror. My children refer to the day Jesus was killed as Bad Friday.
Jesus was not shocked by the outcome of his radical preaching. In fact, he expected it. The good news is that God turned the torture of the cross into
the triumph of the empty tomb. The miracle of the cross has nothing to do with
blood and sin. The miracle is that God transforms suffering into a new beginning
and death into life.
How am I saved? I rest my salvation in the entire story of Jesus, beginning from his birth and ending with his resurrection. What called me to the feet of Jesus as a young woman was not the gory story of his death, but the stories of his ministry, including the beatitudes, the parables, and the miracles. I wanted to follow that man from Nazareth who I recognized as the most perfect example of God’s love.
If all Jesus had to do was die on a cross to redeem us, doesn’t that imply his birth and ministry and teachings are insignificant? I cannot believe that Jesus lived among us only to die and save us. Instead I believe that he lived among us to offer us a new vision for the world through his ministry and teaching. This new vision, of a world turned upside down, where the last shall be first, where love reigns, where power comes through powerlessness, is what has saved me from aimlessness. This new vision is what has drawn me into the heart of God, seeking God’s grace first, and then clumsily trying to share that grace with the world.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.