Confronting Atonement Theology



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So wrong biblically and theologically even within Methodism

John Wesley, the UMC's founder wrote, "the death of Christ is 'a full, perfect and
sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction'." in his work "Spiritual Worship." In his lecture "Justification by Faith, Wesley said, "Christ was given to humanity as ‘the whole and
sole Propitiation for sins’ and that humans are justified ‘through faith in his blood." Professor John Hannah taught, "Christ gave Himself a ransom for all." James Hervey said, Christ’s death... "is a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world." J. E. Rattenbury wrote a book
entitled "The Evangelical Doctrines of Charles Wesley’s Hymns." He found a range of metaphors in Charles’
hymns which pointed to ransom, satisfaction and penal theories.

I could go on and on, but as one raised in the Methodist Church the truth is that within modern Methodism there is a vast schism between the biblically high view of atonement of the Methodist's founding fathers and unenlightened, ignorant theologians who reduce Christ's atonement to simply an example of love and forgiveness. You represent a small and insignificant (and sadly, growing) portion within Methodism's long history of biblically based doctrine.

Dave Polus more than 1 year ago

Amen and Amen!

What a beautiful and clear description of the true meaning of Jesus' presence here on Earth. This article so clearly describes how I have long felt about Jesus. The substitutionary atonement theory has always stood out to me as something added by people as a way to make sense of why Jesus died. The idea that God would demand retribution and want a blood sacrifice sounds much more like the human sacrifice of the Mayan's, Aztecs, etc. It demonstrates the sin and delusion in the minds and hearts of many people, and it blocks the view of God that Jesus was giving us (loving, merciful, kind). To me it feels like a direct parallel to the Pharisees, who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders but were in fact not entering into union with God themselves and at the same time blocking others from entering (Matthew 23:13).
Jesus' own life story shows how so many people misunderstood him, and when you look at the Old Testament people were also constantly misunderstanding God and His message. The prophets had a consistent message that God was reaching out to us, that He wanted us to seek and find him, and Jesus gave the same message (Matthew 7:8).
God is bringing His Light into our world, and he is not going to accept the falsity and misunderstanding that people have been propagating for centuries. Jesus' whole life, teaching, crucifixion and resurrection were all about mercy, love, and connecting to God. Jesus' himself said twice in the same Gospel that God wants mercy, NOT sacrifice! (Matthew 9:13, 12:7).
I pray that the message in this article spreads throughout the United Methodist Church, as well as to all churches and people throughout the world. Removing the subsitutionary atonement theory from liturgy and common belief will allow so many new people to come to Christ. There are a lot of people who are troubled by this theory, and it prevents them from coming to church and it also makes them think that Christianity is not for them (since the theory seems to be the official belief held by the Christian Church in general). The door to Christ could be swung wide open if this theory were abandoned, because many would resonate with the true message that God sent Jesus into our world to give. I know that this is the case for me!
It's time to see that Jesus' message was that God loves you no matter what, that He will always be merciful towards us. It's time for a revolution of faith.

Jordan more than 1 year ago


I totally agree with you. I've always wondered; if God is the ultimate rule maker since everything starts with God, why would a loving God make a rule that we would have to crucify his only son before he would forgive us?

Glen A Wimmer more than 1 year ago


The statement about followers adding stuff or drew false conclusions is nonsensical. Every word in those books is written by them. Jesus never pinned a word. So All his quotes and saying are filtered through the minds and memories of his followers years after the fact. To say that we as people who lives 2000 years after the fact and only have his subjective followers teachings to go on, know better what was going on then the guys who lived it is the height of hubris. Posting such an unfounded option in such a scholarly posting discredits all the other possibly valid points made.

Mike more than 1 year ago

Not all atonement theology is bad.

Excellent article. I think it is important however to not conflate the substitutionary theory of the atonement as being synonymous with atonement theory altogether. Most progressive Christians have an atonement theology. Most of us embrace either the moral example theory of the atonement or the Christus victor Theory of the atonement.

Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like Christianity”

Roger Wolsey more than 4 years ago

Fulfilling a prophecy

Jesus died to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy that goes back to Genesis. It declares that there would be permanent enmity between Satan and the human race; that the power of Satan would eventually be overcome by a human being, and that in the process of destroying the power of Satan, the Savior would suffer. In crushing Satan’s “head,” the Savior’s “heel” would be attacked.

danielle gardner more than 4 years ago

atonement theology

Thank you, I fully agree that the father does not want or need sacrifice to atone for mankind’s sin.
Jesus did not teach atonement theology. He instructed his disciples to make disciples teaching them all the things he had taught them. He died to fulfil the Law (Matt 5:17) and bring it to and end.
His father had purchased the slaves from Pharaoh – at the cost of the 1st born of Egypt – the Hebrews then became his slaves Lev 25:42, 55. The price of a slave was 30 shekels but since God does not deal in coin and since the only thing man owns outright is the life-giving spirit Ecc. 12:7 God cut short the lives of Egypt’s first born (from God’s view these lives are owed to them because they were not deem evil, e.g. Sodom etc.).
Jesus repaid (will repay in the resurrection) this price by becoming the Passover Lamb (Isa 53:11). He was then in a position to set Jews free from the Law, fulfilling it. Although by that time they denied ever having been slaves, they nonetheless had been slaves of man and were slaves of God. Jesus was then in a position to set them free (John 8:36)
His teaching, which he instructed his disciple to teach (Matt 28:20) is what will set mankind on the road leading to life (Matt 7:14) He emphasized that at the time of his return he would be looking for those that are doing this - Matt 7:1-14, 24-26 is the primer. Atonement theology plays not part in this, if anything it is the carcass.

coccus ilicis Jon 4:7 more than 5 years ago


Dear Sir,
I sincerely agree with what you have written. Two tensions I have noted in my own reflection:
1) That I do not adhere to predestination and hence the notion that God planned for Christ's death on the cross
2) That God is good and Him murdering His own Son is morally contradictory.

However, in my own reflection, I have also struggled with two other notions:
1) That Paul does in his Letters relate Jesus death as having taken on our sin, and I'm sure we all know it leads to the doctrine of penal substitution atonement and the now (in)famous Piper v.s NT Wright debate. But anyway, I tried to rationalize this by stating that Paul could be describing Jesus's death metaphorically. Is this a safe train of thought? (I don't believe in Biblical inerrancy)

Secondly though, I am still struggling to reconcile the idea of old testament sacrifices. If indeed, Jesus is the fulfillment of the old testament sacrifices as proposed by many and taking into account that his death is not necessary, then I reckon, the old testament sacrifices needs to be seen in a new light as opposed to the current teachings that old testament sacrifices are a form of placing your sin upon the animal to be sacrificed.

Yours sincerely
JJ Tan (Singapore)

JJ Tan more than 8 years ago


I greatly appreciate your candid remarks regarding a difficult subject. How do you approach such a threatening idea within your church community? While I try to address such things in my Sunday school class, I feel many within my church community still cling to childhood beliefs. Please understand I am not saying that is bad, but our church needs to more openly share other interpretations of the Christian message.

Terry McGauvran more than 9 years ago