A friendly email dialogue about the atonement of Jesus Christ combusted in January-February 2003 between myself and Tim Sutherland, initiated by Jon Ro; the unedited uncensored transcript has been captured below. Used with permission.
From: Jon Ro
To: Tim S
I ordered both Jesus Christ Our Lord: Christology from a Disciple’s Perspective and God Our Savior: Theology in a Christological Mode. Do you know what the other book is about? I’d like to begin compiling a list of theological works on this, so that in
preaching and teaching I have resources to turn to. Joshua is preaching on the Salvation section of Romans (3:21-5) this Sunday. I’m sure he will touch on the substitutionary atonement as the standard way of interpretation. As you read Romans 3:21-31,
what is your interpretation of the words “Justification”, “propitiation” and “redemption” in light of the Proclamation interpretation. I know you mentioned before that the words “Righteousness” is Christ clothing us and “Justice” is Jesus taking on sin
as an “example” for us? I’d like to have a good understanding of this interpretation before Sunday so that I can see the distinction clearly as Joshua speaks. Thanks. Jon
From: Tim S
To: Jon Ro
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2003
This wont’ be researched but off the top of my head: “righteousness” especially in Romans is always refered to or directly implied as HIS righteousness, the righteousness of God, which is the righteousness of God. None are truly righteous in an
ethical/moral/ontological sense this side of Heaven, but only God, so it HIS righteousness that we receive relationally, righteousness as received and imputed relationally, and the fundamental thing is a person’s relationship with God (analogis
relationis) not their ontology (analogia entis). The difference between an analogy of being between us and God and and an analogy of relationship is key to understanding the imago dei: Aquinas argued for and prevailed in it being understood as analogia
entis, but only Jesus is both analogia entis with the Father as well as homoousia to patri kai to pneuma. So rigtheousness can be understood legally or it can be understood relationally, as God’s un-willingness to reject and punish as if we are
Again, justice is God’s justice, and God has shown/spoken/proclaimed to us both through the sacrficial system of the old testament and in jesus what kind justice His is: the justice that sheds the blood of one for many, not as full payment and
restitution, or remuneration (as in the lex talionis of the Roman world) but as grace and mercy. Where did the ram come from in the thicket? From God Himself. God provides the sacrifice, and we were fools to ever think of the sacrificial lamb as
something anyone but God provided. God’s justice is unlike any one else’s. Jesus on the cross dying for my sins, THIS is the justic of God, the justic that is en Christou.
Propitiation is much the same: the blood sprinkled between the horns of the altar was the blood that God called for, the blood of another who represents HIM not just us, and that other is none Other than the Wholly Other One come in the flesh. He pays
the price for us, it is HIS blood, HIS sacrifice, HIS offering that He has called for and become at once both in the unblemished lamb and in Jesus, who are truly one, the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. God makes it very clear that
the sacrficial lamb is none other than Himself, the Incarnate One, the One who was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law not just in his perfection according to the Law but as well and as importantly as the One who takes up both the cry of God and the
cry of man in the God-Man, the true Adam.
I was interested in that second title you ordered, but I know nothing about it. It sounds like a newer, better explication of the same line of thought in the first one, which came out in l987, I believe.
Hope this helps and doesn’t all sound like just jargon or theological jibberish.
To quote Torrance’s quote of Barth’s interpretation of Romans, ” “Let God be God and every man a liar.” Romans 3:4
“Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (3:4 Psalm 51:4)
This stuff incredibly ROCKS, thanks for making me explicate it a bit, even on the run.
From: “Jon C Ro”
Sent: Monday, January 27, 2003
I wanted to get your theological perspective on CCC’s teaching pastor, Tim Sutherland’s theology. He has a theory of the atonement what he calls “Proclamational” that I have never heard of before. He rejects the Substitutionary Atonement theory
because he says it makes our salvation transactional rather than relational. He’s been influenced by the writings of Ray Anderson from Fuller, Norman Kraus a Menonite theologian from Goshan, TF Torrance, Barth, and Boenhoffer. I think he has the
Postmodern theology that undergird’s Brian McClaren’s Postmodern philosophy of ministry.
To: “Jon C Ro”
Date: Monday, January 27, 2003
One common distinction about atonement is along the unlimited vs. limited split. And then I did a little Goggling, and found several atonement theories that abound. None were labeled “Proclamational Atonement” per se… I did find one footnote from
Norman Kraus, and it looks to me that he’s articulating more of an emphasis about atonement, rather than a different atonement theory.
From Tim’s email, I didn’t get a sense that his understanding of atonement was contrary to the theory of Substitionary Atonement. Tim Keller often describes Christ as one “who lived the life we should have lived, and died the death we should have
died”. I think this is descriptive of atonement; and Tim’s comments were also descriptive of atonement – that we receive Christ’s righteousness freely; that it is all of God’s righteousness, it is His gift, His grace, His mercy; that God satisfied His
own justice, with His own blood. These statements are not contrary to substitionary atonement.
Perhaps the other way to ask the question is this::
1. how does “proclamational” differ from “substitionary” atonement (disagreements)? are there also similarities (agreements)?
2. what does this particular understanding of atonement imply for the Christian, and/or non-Christian?
Well, those are my immediate thoughts and reactions.. good stuff; hard to find those conversations in everyday life. 🙂
—– footnote from www.directionjournal.org/article/?1170 ——–
Norman Kraus writes that the Anabaptist writers gave little attention to technical atonement theory. They did not reject “theology,” but under the influence of Renaissance humanism they returned to a more immediate biblical-historical stance than a
systematic-logical one. Their focus is on Christ as redeemer, example, and enabler (C. Norman Kraus, “Interpreting the Atonement in the Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 66 [July 1992]: 292-93).
To: Jon, djchuang
Date: Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Hello Jon & DJ-
The main sticking point of substitionary-vicarious atonement is that the vast majority of Christians I have spoken with come away with the feeling that somehow God’s justice and God’s love are at odds, and that somehow God’s justice/holiness are more
integral to His being than His love/grace. To put it vernacularly, it’s like people are being told “God is so holy and just that He has no choice but to punish all sin and wrongdoing, but we’re lucky that Jesus is so loving and kind to bear the brunt of
God’s wrath for us so we don’t have to go to Hell.”
I will never forget a young ministerial student at Moody raised in the independent Christian church who was so aware of his own sin that, all’s he could think about was how strongly God desired to throw him down the garbage chute like so much rubbish.
He was suicidal and as afraid of God as Martin Luther was before his tower experience. He was ready to end his own life, estranged but still believing in God in Christ. It was his belief in how God forgave him that led him to such despair. To Him, God’s
holiness (usually refered to in tandem with His justice) is most integral to who God is, but God was willing to cut him a break in Jesus. But he felt he was more or less lucky that Jesus appeased the wrath of God, and he felt that God still hated him,
but that because he was a Christian, God’s hands were tied and could not punish him because He had punished Jesus instead. Jesus was only a pardon, the guilt was gone (basis of punishment) but the shame remained (fear of rejection).
Most preaching of v.s. atonement presents an at-best scholastic view of God’s holiness as immutable and His love as transitory, and that until Jesus dies on the cross and satisfies the holiness of God for payment, all mankind is doomed. For most, the
cross is a transaction that lies outside the being (ousia) of God, and brings about a change between the believer and the deity where God ends up saying, “Well, ok, I guess since I got to punish Jesus like I’d like to punish you or would have had to
punish you, I can’t go after you like I’d like to, so we’ll just call it even.” Most “tetelestai” explanations of “paid in full” go along these lines, that Jesus is alone struggling to appease the vengeance of God and manages to pull it off through his
How many have preached that Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross reflects that at some point since God “can’t stand sin”, He “turned His back” on the Son and left the Son alone to bear the weight of the world’s sin? That is an absolutley
mainstream explanation of the cross, unquestioned in most circles, and I think it deeply reflects the idea that God is bound by His own holiness to turn his back on sin. I think it to be patently heretical and anethma to the Gospel. My young friend from
Moody I referred to earlier even said, “If God turned His back on Jesus , why wouldn’t He want to turn His back on me, too?” I gave him Barth’s The Humanity of God to read and it apparently was instrumental in saving his life (not me, the book!). Before
he read this, he had never heard of the God who had always taken the sinfulness of man upon Himself. He only knew the God who stood afar off, arms crossed, waiting for Jesus to pay the price, and since He did, He has to let us go to heaven. His intimacy
with God was battered beyond experience and efficacy by His understanding of the holiness of God as the most salient characteristic of God, and he felt lucky that Jesus was loving enough to step in and take the hit for him, and it left him believing he
would go to heaven, only to meet a God who loved him only begrudgingly because His holiness made him hate sin so much that He wanted to turn His face from him just as he had been told that He turned His face from Jesus on the cross.
The proclamatory/kerygmatic view of atonement is built on the presupposition that the Word/word of God is inseparable from the Being of God (a la Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being) and that Jesus is not just information about who and how God is: He is
demonstration and the very activity of God that is entirely consistent with the sacrficial system of the old Testament, only in a progressively greater way, showing who God is not in a new way but in a more full way. Jesus’ dying on the cross is no
different thing that God has done for us: it is the ultimate demonstration of what God has always done for us in Himself, taking our sin upon Himself whenever someone is in a relationship with Him by acknowledges that integral characteristic of the
Godhead, i.e., “the lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world.”
For most Christians, Jesus cuts a deal between God and man, whereas in kerygmatic/procalmatory atonement Jesus announces the deal, declares the deal, explicates the deal, IS the deal that has always been despite man always trying to reject through
works-righteousness, which of course was the downfall of Judaism and (I in my opinion) the corresponding downfall of Christianity: todah became torah for the jews, doxn became doxa for the christians: right acting and thinking replaced the celebration of
the revealed being of God. The words “kerygmatic” and “proclamatory” are inspired by Kraus’ work, but have not been systematized anywhere to my knowledge. By contrast, vicarious substionary atonement focuses on the penalty paid at Calvary to the
determent of the Incarnation at Bethlehem, the life of Jesus in Palestine, and the Resurrection. Early Christian art in the catacombs have no imagery of the cross, but only images of the empty tomb and of the shepherd’s staff and of the fish, and it is
post-Constantinian that the cross becomes the symbol of Christianity as a whole. One place Paul will say to the gnostic at heart “I preach Christ only and him crucified” (lots of sermons on that one), but another place he will say “If Christ is not
raised from the dead, we are still dead in our sins.” a text which I think has been vastly under-preached in our everything is ok now because God really blasted Jesus instead of you on the cross.
Most Christians could not tell you the meaning of the resurrection as it pertains to the incarnation and soteriology. I think this reflects an over-emphasis on the “justice” of God, conceived of in Greco-Roman, lex talionis ways, being satisfied by
Jesus, and then the work is done. But “tetelestai” cannot be truly spoken in the way it is usually preached until the Ascension and perhaps even the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, a la G.E. Ladd’s “already/not yet” understanding of redemption for
Christians. “Tetelestai” can be spoken at Bethlehem, Capernaum, as well as Calvary, but never fully until Heaven. The character and heart of God are at stake, and the corresponding impact on the believer’s understanding of God’s heart toward him/her. The
average Christian can talk about (intellectually) how much God loved them a la John 3:16, but my experience of their deeper sense of God is that if it weren’t for Jesus’ being able to be perfect enough for God, they’d be in a major “pickle” and that
God’s heart toward them is not changed by the cross, only their admissability to Heaven. Most Christians I have spoken with from various walks have a schizophrenic view of God’s holiness/justice and His love/grace that I think makes perfect sense in
light of the way it is usually preached that God can’t stand sin and you have to be perfect to get to Heaven and keep from getting tortured forever in Hell, but it’s ok because Jesus was perfect enough for God’s justicet to be appeased. The end result of
most atonement preaching in my opinion? “God doesn’t really love me, even though His hand is forced legally by Jesus to accept me because His justice has been paid off.” God becomes a Father who only grudgingly accepts His children and only truly loves
Jesus because Jesus is the only One who is perfect enough for Him, much like human parents and authority figures who only love you when you’re good or good enough.
The proclamatory/kerygmatic view of atonement would say that “while we were still sinners, God/Christ died for us”, and Jesus is the proof of how God really feels about you, not the One who changes how God feels about you. Many would say this is
little more than Abelard’s moral influence theory of atonement warmed-over, but that would be a misunderstanding of the fundamental one-ness of the being and act of God, the Word and Being of God as one. His Word calls things into existence, namely faith
and repentance in the sinner who is blown away by the God who is holy yet takes all ugliness and sin on Himself. That Word of God is as radical and transformative and creative as the Word that said “let their be light” when there was darkness: word and
being and act are inextricably bound together, they are identical in the Godhead. Jesus is the Word of God, the proclamation, the kerygma that not only conveys truth and corrects error and provides information, but shapes and determines and calls into
being reality at all levels.
This is very similar to how postmodernism reveres (both rightly and wrongly) the imperiousness of the individual’s perception and narrative. In proclamatory/kerygmatic atonement theory, Jesus is God’s story, God’s narrative, God’s perspective that is
being experienced and enunciated and enacted, as well as man’s experience of God being told from a different perspective.
I’ve used as stark language in this e-mail as I can to make the distinctions that I think need to be made. My thinking has been shaped primarily by the many people (100’s upon 100’s over the years in counseling) who feel so detached and unloved by
God, because preaching makes God out to be just like human parents: He loves you if you are good, or at least because you were lucky enough to have Jesus stand in for you as your sin-erasing stunt double because Jesus is good at being good. And people
feel far from a Father who cannot stand sin, instead of blown away by the Holy One in our midst who is in our midst only because He continually takes our sinfulness upon Himself, and always has. This does not lead to universalism as a product, but only
to universal inviation to accept this reality, and I would (predictably) argue for the wrongheadedness of either a limited or universal theory of atonement. Jesus is the de fact expression of the being of God, the creative Word of God who calls faith and
repentance and obedience into being in the being of fallen man, yet man receives and allows that reality to come to be through the relational exercise of his own choice, but that is not a “free” choice, because it is always conditioned and impinged upon
by the Being of God in Jesus. So I would neither classify myself as Arminian nor Calvinism in my anthropology, but again, a “kerygmaticist”, that would say something like Bonhoeffer does in Creation and Fall about the mystery of the sinfullness of man in
our ability to live sinfully being unexplained by the Bible, yet being clearly placed in the Bible as lying within the being of man, and not the being of God.
Hope this helps some. Thanks for dialguing with me.
love in Him
To: Tim Sutherland
Cc: “Jon C Ro”
Subject: Re: atonement theories
Date: Sunday, February 09, 2003
Thank you for taking the time to explain so thoroughly about the atonement and its proclamation from your perspective. I think a lot of what you say is incredibly valuable, healing, and freeing, and from the testimonies you mention, I believe it to be
effective in that way.
One thing I’d like to ask up front is if I may post your email, with proper attribution, on my web site, and solicit interaction and comments upon it. I do think it can foster good dialogue and fresh perspectives on the meaning of Christ’s love and
sacrifice for mankind.
Now, having had some more time to simmer on your thoughts (when I first read the email over a week ago, I wasn’t able engage it much, shows you how rusty I am with theological conversations), the way I’m processing it is this:: that the
substitutionary atonement in and of itself is not at odds with its proclamation/kerygma.
The way I think of it is parallel to how we should not sin so that grace may abound (cf. Romans 6). Yes, God’s grace covers all our sins (right premise). But that doesn’t mean we an sin as much as we can to get more grace (wrong conclusion).
Similarly, we should not think of ourselves absolutely worthless because Christ died for us to atone for our death, and if it wasn’t for him, we’d have absolutely no worth at all. Christ’s sacrifice paid for our sin and appeased God’s wrath (right
premise). But that doesn’t mean we’ve got no worth (wrong conclusion).
Mankind has always had worth and has sin; both depravity and dignity. My thought is that we don’t necessarily need to discard the substitionary-vicarious atonement theory for a different theory, in order to have better & effective ways to
understand God’s love and value He ascribes to us. Or to say it another way, it’s incomplete to talk only about God’s atonement, just as it is incomplete to only talk about God’s wrath and justice. Both of God’s love and God’s justice happen
simultaneously, and both have to be presented.
Granted, traditionally in fundamentalist circles, and many ethic Asian circles (which is steeped in guilt and shame), there’s a bias to overemphasize the justice of God, and overemphasize the atonement. The more complete picture is to speak of God’s
love and justice simultaneously, and perhaps a better way to present it is to speak of God’s love first, and how that love did indeed motivate Him to slay the lamb before the foundation of the world.
From: Tim Sutherland
Cc: Jon Ro
Date: Sunday, February 09, 2003
I’m glad you found what I e-mailed of some use. Certainly, please post it wherever you see fit.
Yes, far too often the Father’s love is lost in the emphasis on the full payment being made for our sin in vicarious substitionary atonement explanations. However, at the same time, I don’t think it’s merely a matter of misplaced emphasis, as most
include in the vicarious-subsitutionary explanation of atonement some sense that God was against us before Christ’s sacrificial death, but afterward He is now for us. I believe this quasi-dispensational understanding of grace to be transactional and
In the kerygmatic/proclamatory view, Jesus’ death does not have an affect on the Father’s heart or mind about the sinner: the sacrificial death of Christ is the expression and announcement and demonstration and incarnate reality of God’s heart toward
sinful humanity, the paradoxically dignity-blessed and sin-cursed creature that we have become through our own doing (Bonhoeffer’s premise that the genesis of sin lies in the being of man and not in the being of God, and that sin can in no way be
attributed to God and therefore must remain what it is: a biblically unexplained phenomenon as to how something created good (human creatures) could then choose against and rebel against the source of their being.)
So I would say that the crucifixion does not exactly appease the justice of God if that is to say that the justice of God was unappeased before the cross but satisfied afterward thereby. God is forever the One who satisfies the demands of His own
justice and holiness on our behalf, and makes man His covenant partner. In Jesus, God is both the justifying Divine and the responding-in-relationship Man. The whole concept of appeasement and full payment in my experience leaves the average Christian
thinking that justice is somehow more integral to God’s being than love.
God’s justice flows from His love, not something that exists alongside His lose or in tension with His love. There is no tension in the Being of God between His attritbutes. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that God is relational in the very
fabric of His being, the One God who has existed in community within Himself from all eternity, and His holiness is not primarily about moral/ethical perfection but the whole-ness of His being as the One who never wrongs those He loves, including the
members of the Godhead. Holiness is the wholeness of God in whom there is no division or hostility against the other. The wrath of God is then the tool of His love in taking up the cause of those He loves against those who have chosen to reject
relationship with Him. The idea that God’s #1 concern is to always keep Himself distant and far from sin is (I believe) misguided if it is thought of as some limit to His love or some necessity predicated by His being. God is totally free to be however
He chooses to be, and He chooses to be the God He is and no other. But He cannot be thought of in the typical Greek fashion as being bound somehow by His own attributes. His attributes do not dictate His actions, His actions proclaim and demonstrate and
are His attributes, and in the Father sacrificing His own Son as at once proclamation against the sinfulness of man and demonstration of His love for sinners, God’s love is seen in its fullest revelation as radically relationally driven and not so much
about appeasing His sense of justice/perfection as the outworking of His total, self-sacrficial initiative to reclaim mankind into community with Him.
I hope all this verbage is not so wordy that it becomes a noisy gong or crashing cymbal, but that it expresses the agape love of the father. God’s justice is not that of a deity who demands full restitution from the other, but the One who provides
restitution on the other’s behalf. I’d much sooner die myself for some good cause or for someone I love than give up either of my sons for a cause or another’s good. The atonement MUST be understood as something taking place at once within the being of
God and the being of Man, and not a transaction or phenomenon that changes the being/heart of God, or else God remains the distant, aloof, shaming, guilt-tripping, “saving face” authoritarian father figure that Jesus claimed He was not when He dared
called the Father, “Abba”. The intimacy and a priori commitment of the Father to the sinner is integral to the proclamation/ministry/existence of the incarnate Son.
Jesus went about preaching good news, announcing, proclaiming the reality of the already present Kingdom of God/heaven, and this was not any kind of preview of what was available only after the cross. Jesus preached the blessing of God on sinners who
would receive it here and now, and Jesus’ theology got Him killed. The religious establishment would not allow anyone who challenged the basis of their power, which was the demanding-ness of God as the prerequisite of relationship, to continue preaching
that kind of God.
I do believe far too little attention is paid to the proclamation of Jesus before the cross. We tend to understand it only retroactively through the cross, but this is false, because Jesus is indeed the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.
Jesus is the incarnate justice-mercy-holiness of God, and there is atonement and redemption in the immaculate conception, the nativity, the daily life of Jesus as the faithful covenant partner of the Father. The atonement should not be limited only to
the passion/crucifixion of Jesus, but must also include the resurrection. That Paul says “if Christ is not raised, we are still dead in our sins” is incredibly instructive about the wholistic nature of atonement and soteriology, a wholisticness that is
absent from most preaching. The resurrection is redemptive and atoning as well, as is every other element of Jesus’ being. Fully God, fully man, fully redemptive as all of God’s dealings with humanity are “narrowed down” to the one man, to the new Adam.
Again, I think the complete absence of the cross in the earliest Christian art in the catacombs suggests that the cross as the central focus of the grace of God was not the original Christian community’s understanding of redemption: the focus was much
more clearly on the person of Jesus Himself, with many images of the shepherd’s staff, the fish, the empty tomb, but none of the cross, not a single one in the earliest life of the church in Rome.
Ok, thanks for listening and trying to consider this point of view. The main thing is that we must never take the Roman understanding of justice and law (lex talionis) as somehow a digital representation of the Being of God or the full meaning of the
justice of God. That analogy is clearly drawn in the Scriptures, but by no means is it the exclusive or dominant image of the atonement from the New Testament. What is at stake is forever and always our conception of what kind of person God is in His
inmost Being. As Karl Barth once is reported to have said, “God is not two-faced: He has but one face, and it is the face of Jesus.”
grace & peace,
* the dialogue picks up again on March 15, 2004 – this email is from “Bob” —
My name is Bob and I live with my wife Carolynn here in WA state where I work as a machinist for the Boeing Co. in the Seattle area.
A Yahoo search using the words “atonement theories” brought up your early 2003 e-mail dialogue with Jon Ro and Tim Sutherland page which you have generously publicly posted of which the bulk of the text is that of Sutherland. It has been quit some
time now, a year plus, but please suffer me to share and perhaps vent a little.
I admit I was a bit taken back to find someone contemporary (in Sutherland) with such a clear view and exposition of that rascal substitutionary atonement and who so obviously rejects it. I’m afraid it has become the stamp of orthodoxy for
contemporary Christianity as Jon says “standard interpretation” in the first e-mail to you in that interchange. It appears Tim has seen in his ministry much of the practical result in many of those he has ministered and talked to, of that “doctrine”
which nullifies the Gospel and presents a perverted view the character of the God. I’m amazed that more ministers are not able to see such misconceptions at work in the people they serve and counsel, about the Father’s love/mercy and the Lord’s
sufferings but that they themselves have been seduced in the thick deceit that propagates that false teaching. I see it lulling to sleep nearly the whole spectrum of the Christian world as it has come to such precedence in the last hundred or so years
and it is obvious to anyone that very few are not in its power.
I must say I appreciate you allowing such views (Tim’s) about it to be in the public’s eye on your web site. I say you are very bold. Many in ministry with much to lose and “lay” people alike would shudder and squelch Tim’s words on that
particular matter as a threat to Christianity. It appears from seeing your home page that you yourself have been blessed with a varied and perhaps far reaching ministry and you certainly have a wonderful family. Are any of Jeremiah’s sibling(s) here (on
You do well to call the substitutionary atonement teaching a theory (it appears you believe it to be more) and to point out Krause’s note that the Anabaptists made no effort for technical atonement apologetics but focused on Christ: redeemer,
example and enabler. Tim does well to point to the symbol of the cross as being a solely post – Constantinian phenomena. So mostly was the struggle to systematize atonement theology into a bullet proof package right on up through Anshelm and Luther. Not
that the efforts were without good intentions. Usually one of the first reflective questions a new Christian asks is “but why did He have to die?”
Tim’s wisely points out also that Paul’s “if Christ be not raised from the dead then we are yet dead in our sins” as being widely underpreached and he infers correctly of the questionable necessity to the church of a resurrected Jesus
after God “blasted Him instead of us”. It only concurs with the idea of all penalty for sin being paid off and nullified as pertaining to us and that there is simply nothing left after that. What else would matter? A walk of faith to be transformed into
the image of Jesus would be only optional at best. I’m saying that to assume that this great “substitution of His sufferings” on the cross idea is a fact is to buy in to the teachings and traditions of men. I make no such assumption.
This brings me to the Moody student Tim spoke of whose despair stemmed from his belief in how God had forgiven him. In reality the lad was not seeing forgiveness at all. It was, to use a form of the word Tim used, a transaction. The commonly used word
when teaching this “standard” theory is a very transactional one for financial purposes. It is the word “paid”. Why would God even consider forgiving trespasses when they are all “paid off in full”? Yes in a few N.T. instances writers use the term
purchase or synonyms figuratively for N.T. redemption but it is grave error to take it literally. Forgiveness in the scriptural sense is nullified if this were true. It would be unnecessary and certainly undesirable in the relational sense as Tim spoke.
Forgiveness entails two parties and the restoration of their relationship. So a new mostly flesh headed Christian is steered to think that God’s justice and forgiveness are just like financial matters and God is a vengeful volcano god who might
want the innocent virgin thrown down the bottomless Mayan water well for his appeasement. Yes the teaching makes Him into a baal-like god which would require innocent children to be burnt which idol worship Israel even fell into. Click bang the penalty
is paid and “I don’t want relate to a God like that”. I won’t go further in this direction but that Tim falls short in saying the main sticking point of substitutionary-vicarious atonement is how it affects the vast majority of Christians.
That is far secondary to and a result of the big sticker of how it presents the character of God and His perfect goodness. It implicates Him as accessory, at least, to murder. Think on it. Was God complicit with Pilate using him to throw the switch? No
wonder about Tim’s student. He has probably always been a thinker and became a vociferous consumer of the Word. But what else might have first gotten more emphasized to him from the pulpit back when a trusting babe and he had hardly started to read
scripture than penal substitutionary atonement? And then after a while, in the “light” of that great safety net of modern Christianity, his search for the truth about forgiveness became all so confusing to him. Enough of this but this is the “way I see
it” and it raises my blood pressure. So I agree with Tim in that the confusion and error from this theory are subtle but very widespread.
Allow me to elaborate. Do we have a better (or another) backdrop or source from which to view the truth about atonement than the Mosaic sacrificial system? Why did God institute the tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices, and blood atonement?
Moses had been with the children of Israel for three months since the Red sea crossing and they came to Mt.Sinai. You’re most likely familiar with the story. Moses is commanded to set bounds around the mountain with stern warnings of death to
those who come up to the Lord to gaze and perish when He would then “break forth upon them”. The Law is dramatically issued with accompanying regulations, details and principals of the Sabbath and feasts set forth, He speaks of His Angel and the taking
of the land, the seventy and Aaron and Moses and Aarons sons go up to the Lord. Then the order is given to take a voluntary offering from the children of Israel of specific materials, precious metals, textiles, lumber, etc. to “make me a sanctuary that I
may dwell among them”. God was going to come down from heaven to dwell among the people He had brought forth from Abraham’s loins: those whom He had just informed of the fatal danger of coming near to Him. Now He intended to be right down on earth
with them, among them, in His own tent. A year and nine months + – and the tabernacle was set up and the priests anointed and He was with them on their journeys thereafter. Subsequently they were told through Moses that they would be a peculiar treasure,
a kingdom of priests, an holy nation if they would obey His voice and keep His covenant. Now the holy God was going to dwell among a sinful, raucous, and rebellious people.
So the tabernacle was completed and set up and the cloud of smoke covered it and the glory of the Lord filled it so that Moses could not enter. And He called to Moses and spoke out to him of the tabernacle concerning the tabernacle and the priesthood
as pertaining to them.
He began in Lev.1 with instructions for the burnt offering with a new strict format for such, not recorded before in scripture. If an Israelite brought a burnt offering to the Lord, the classic (approach) offering, dating back to Abraham and before; a
burnt tribute for respect, worship, appreciation and so on, he was to bring it and do with it in a new formally instructed way. The most distict difference was that after he killed it, before its burning etc. and completion, its blood was to be taken by
the priests and sprinkled around on the burnt offering altar. This was an offering expressly not having to do with a committed sin as those sin offerings recorded in subsequent chapters but its blood was to be sprinkled in a like manner as that of a sin
offering. This is the first mention of blood atonement in the Scripture but why was atonement needed for the burnt offering? Later the Lord was to detail, in the context of instructions to never eat the blood, that He had given it to them upon the altar
to make atonement for their souls because of the life in the blood. It was a gift from God to the children of Israel. This gift idea is quite present pertaining to the tavernacle and priesthood.
Num. 3:6 Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him.
7: And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle.
8: And they shall keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle.
9: And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel
Num. 8:19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that
there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary.
The Levites were also a gift. They were given to Aaron and his sons for the benefit of the children of Israel so atonement could be continually carried out for them.
Num. 8:9 And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together:
10: And thou shalt bring the Levites before the LORD: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites:
11: And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the LORD.
The Levites themselves here are shown in a ceremonial way to be an offering (approach) of the nation to the Lord. They were a special and separate tribe for the express work of accommodating for the Creator being on earth with Israel. But back to the
blood requirement issue.
Num. 18:1 And the LORD said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father’s house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood.
2: And thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee: but thou and thy sons with thee shall minister before the tabernacle of witness.
3: And they shall keep thy charge, and the charge of all the tabernacle: only they shall not come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor ye also, die.
4: And they shall be joined unto thee, and keep the charge of the tabernacle of the congregation, for all the service of the tabernacle: and a stranger shall not come nigh unto you.
5: And ye shall keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar: that there be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel.
The lineage of the high priesthood; Aaron and his sons, was to mediate a solution for a seeming inherent deficiency in the sanctuary and altar and even in their own priesthood. The rest of the Levites were to aid them in doing so with their
responsibilities for the rest of the tabernacle. They were forbidden to come near the inner sanctuary and altar which was strictly Aaron’s and his son’s duty.
In the following case in Leviticus 8:15 Moses applied the blood to the horns of the altar in the consecration of Aaron and his sons to their priesthood. It shows that it was to purify the altar which prepared it for the reconcliatory work.
Lev. 8:15 And he slew it; and Moses took the blood, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about with his finger, and purified the altar, and poured the blood at the bottom of the altar, and sanctified it, to make reconciliation upon it
Lev.16:15 Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy
16: And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in
the midst of their uncleanness.
The blood was always applied by Aaron and his sons to the altar or other articles of the tabernacle in which God dwelt to make the atonement which was necessary because of the presence of the children of Israel in their uncleanness. Now here was the
problem; the children of Israel themselves. They not only sinned but they were, sinful by nature, sinners. God’s presence among them was that of a nature altogether contrary, adverse and obviously dangerous to their natures. Without atonement they
were in peril by way of fire from the Lord’s presence, a plague, or other forms of His wrath against impurity. It seems about everything pertaining to the Levites was to accentuate and accommodate their all important ministry so that Israel could
safely bear the Lord’s presence among them. Even the Levite’s encampment location on their journeys relative to the tabernacle was for the purpose of their immediate ministry and the benefit of the people.
Num. 1:52 And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts.
53: But the Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle of testimony, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel: and the Levites shall keep the charge of the tabernacle of testimony.
Now allow me to summarize and accentuate. The sin offering for the anointed priest or the nation or for a ruler or one of the common people required blood to be sprinkled around the sides of or on the horns of the altar or before the veil as
stipulated on different locations or articles and even on and before the mercy seat in the holiest on the high yearly day of atonement. It had to be done even when a simple burnt offering was being made. The application of the blood appears to be the
more prominent and central activity (He had said the blood is the life and it makes atonement) of the offering rituals and is certainly the more symbolic in its being sprinkled with the priests finger. It wasn’t accumulated and poured over the
articles of the tabernacle or they weren’t dunked or submerged in the blood. There was no scrubbing or efforts to further the cleansing effect which was described wherever the principles and reasons for the blood’s use as the atoning agent
are indicated. It was simply sprinkled sparingly in a manner likely similar to their use of precious desert water in their meager bathing practices. The application was a relative few drops; enough to show that contact had been made with the particular
article. The dwelling place of God had to be cleansed because of the near presence of the people of Israel. It was done to those articles to which the people or priest came nearest in the tabernacle to the holiest where God stayed between the cherubim
above the mercy seat. The blood was the atoning agent by reason of its cleansing properties. No mention is ever made of God’s justice or wrath being satisfied by the offerings being slain or the blood being applied or the burning of the
animal’s parts etc. The process seems to have to have been done on account of the people’s state of being even beyond the particular transgressions involved in the cases of the sin offerings. “And it shall be forgiven him or them” seems to me
to apply more in response to the repentance entailed in bringing the offering to acquire the available reconciliation. The people’s presence and repentance were accepted because of the cleansing of the blood at that point of “contact” with God in
His tabernacle. The sins of the people were sporadic and hopefully on the decline. Their inherent sinfulness was a given constant and was the declared inhibitor, besides the resulting transgressions, of their safe contact with God in their immediate
Can the “uncleanness” of Israel be equated to the flesh or carnal nature of the N.T. believer?
It is a nature we inherited from Adam and was his recompense for disobedience. “You shall surely die in the day you eat of it.” His first evident symptom of incurring this fatal sentence upon himself was shame and an unhealthy terror of God. His
spiritual ability to approach and respond to God had been damaged. He hid in the garden from God’s presence and in the end did die physically. Our most evident symptom, having no previous contact with Him as Adam had, besides plain evil behavior
prior to spiritual rebirth is simply being dead in our souls to God; unbelief or even animosity at the idea of God or scoffing at even the idea of there being a right and wrong apart from our own such judgments, let alone the prideful self sufficient
attitudes. Our “uncleanness” is present with us even after rebirth but we are instructed to reject our carnal nature and walk in the spirit, respond and approach to God by way of faith and that new empowering life in us.
What effect has the N.T. sprinkling of Jesus blood (life) on His tabernacle (us)? The most specific and detailed account of the necessity and results of N.T. blood’s application is in the book of Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 where the writer makes
strong references to the O.T tabernacle and to the priesthood in the immediately preceding chapters. Let’s see if the word blood is synonymous with the idea of a death to pay off punishment for sin
Heb.9:6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.
7: But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:
8: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:
9: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;
The yearly high day of atonement, after all the year long of sacrificing, showed that the true atonement was yet to come and that that standing tabernacle was only a figure for then and the peoples’ consciences were left unaffected by those
Heb. 9:13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
14: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
I’ve got to make note here that term blood in the N.T. is figurative of His life. I take it that the Jewish Hebrew recipitants of that letter were familiar with the Levitical value and use of blood. I doubt that familiarity in the cases of the
gentile Ephesians or Corinthians. The blood can’t be taken literally as most nowdays carry on as being only legal evidence of a death penalty. The N.T. is a spiritual covenant and His blood is spiritualy figurative. He offered Himself. It is His
life that makes atonement for the soul. It is Him. “Don’t you know how that Christ is in you except that you be reprobate?” “Christ in us the hope of glory.” He knew that His human life had to be perfected by struggling for total and final
obediance to God regarding the issue of His identity. The world, Lucifer, sin, and the flesh would fall away in defeat when His efforts were taken to the farthest possible point, that is … death; that His perfected (in its humanity) life could be
imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. “It’s expedient for you that I go away. If I don’t the Comforter won’t come to you.” Now back to Hebrews.
Heb. 10:1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
2: For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
Heb. 10:19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20: By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21: And having an high priest over the house of God;
22: Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
There’s a recurring word in these passages; conscience. It is used four times in these two chapters. The first and third instances refer to the failure of the old covenant blood to do anything for it. The second and third references counter the
former two and make clear that new covenant blood is fully able to purify a human conscience so it can approach God with boldness. An evil conscience is what the old sacrifices couldn’t cleanse but what the spiritually spliced in life of Christ was
designed and perfected to purge by its quickening power. Exactly what is the conscience? That might be a real study in itself. It is certainly part of our consciousness. The conscience is not a static faculty. It should be alive, sharp, and sensitive. It
needs the person of Christ homogenized through it to be those things and more. He dwells in us after the initial “sprinkling” and remains; the continual cleansing and empowering agent communicating to us His mind and sensibilities. The old tabernacle was
a dead thing made by men’s hands. We are the true tabernacle made by the Creator’s hands and made alive to God by the once applied blood (life) of His Son and His continual indwelling. This marvelous phenomenon has nothing to do with any
penalties for breaking God’s laws being paid off especially by what Stephen openly referred to as a murder when he stated to those perpetrators that they had betrayed and murdered the Just One. They then responded true to form.
No, the world’s sins big and small were not conjured through time and space in transference onto Jesus so God could then unleash on Jesus His bursting storehouse of punishment to supposedly fullfil His justice. This is the exact message of
substitutioary atonement theory and it just won’t stick. Truth refuses to bear it out. Paul says God “made him to be sin (nature … fallen seed of Abraham), who knew no sin, for us so that we might be made the righteousness (nature …
God’s good character) of God in him.” “The first Adam was made a living soul: the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit”, through His incarnate ministry on earth.
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God.”
I hope to find out more about what Tim calls the Proclaimational Gospel. All for now. Thanks and His peace be with you.