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Sunday, June 24, 2007


Paul Ede

Thanks Brodie for following up my question and Prof Weaver for responding. Thats a very helpful and succinct explanation! Can I ask some further questions (which Brodie you yourself may be able to respond to). If we conceptualise the atonement as non-violent in terms of God's will towards Christ, how do we explain the fact that it was distinctly violent in both means and result? How do we explain Hebrews 9, and the need for the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins? Shedding blood is clearly central to the atonement in NT thought, and historically the gospels show that Jesus did indeed bleed and die. If this is true, then violence was inherent in the atonement (it was not bloodless). And it was clearly God's will that the cup of wrath be drunk by Christ (see Gethsemane). I therefore still can't really square this circle, if we are to throw out some form of penal substitution altogether.
Can we really tell the full story of the atonement if we admit the following ingredients are biblical:

1. Blood must be shed to forgive sins
2. Shedding blood is inherently violent - the body must be transgressed
3. Jesus begged god to take the cup away from him (i.e. Jesus understood that God the Father wanted him to suffer unto death if necessary)

For me, an atonement which tells the story as if God did not want Jesus in some way to suffer the violence of the cross (for our sakes) risks avoiding these crucial issues and begs the question, why did Jesus need to die anyway? I think it avoids a central tradition in Hebrew thinking and would agree with Tom Wright that penal sub has to have some place in our understanding of the cross. For me, Prof. weaver needs to explain this sentence "If Jesus is nonviolent, and that is certainly what the story of his life portrays, then the God who is fully revealed in Jesus cannot be a God who sanctions or works through violence, or who needs violence to accomplish the divine will." Because I see God intimately involved in sanctioning violence in many places in the OT, and because its not only about how Jesus lived his life that reveals God's will, but also how Christ chose to end it...he submitted to violent death despite wanting it to be taken from him, because he considered it to be his father's will.

But maybe I am missing something?



Paul - thanks for commenting and raising some grat questions and points. I will briefly indicate an answer to them here and then when I've more time give a fuller answer in apost of it's own.

With regards to Hebrews and chapter 9 in particular Weaver devotes several pages (p61 -66), so comments here are a poor summary of his position. This treatment of Hebrews follows a brief analysis of OT sacrifiecs. Weaver notes that "rather then dying in place of the worshiper, the animal's blood goes to God, 'representing the life of the person who will henceforth live for God'". The blood of the aninal is therefore symbolic of the worshipers life and this ritual is undrestood in terms of self-dedication and self-giving of the worshiper to God.
with regards to the OT practice of the scapegoat, Weaver rightly point out a fact often overlooked in these discussion that the goat is not killed but bears the sins away into the wilderness.
BAck to Hebrews....Weaver notes that this book "obviously uses the language of sacrifice, [but] the important questions concern how the rhetoric of sacrifice in Hebrews functions" (p61-2). His main argument is that the writer of Hebrews is either subverting or being critical of the cultic sacrificial system, that Jesus given his mediating function is not compared ti the sacrificial lamb but of the high priest, thus he is not so much offering as offerer. Weaver also argues that Hebrews treats Jesus' death as "exemplary rather than substitutionary" (p64). For Weaver Hebrews overturns rather than supports satisfaction atonement.

with regards to your other points I'll try and get to them soon, but needless to say if you want to understand Weavers argument then best read the book rather than my poor reproduction of his argument.

Paul Ede

Hiya Brodie! Really appreciate you taking time on this. I think I better get the book :-) I have to say that I am really attracted to non-violence and Yoder/anabaptist thinking at the moment (influenced by Urban Expression, the Anabaptist Network and Stuart Murray, who was Steve Chalke's batman at the 2004 EA atonement debates). But I am really wrestling with some of these atonement issues. I'm really looking forward to Rob Bell tonight. I cant really figure out how Christians can both protest outside faslane and be submarine commanders on nuclear subs (I know of one Glasgow Christian who does this for a living).

It sounds like weaver is arguing for a non-substitutionary atonement. I agree that Hebrews may be arguing for a subversion of the cultic system, but I can only see Christ's death first and foremost fulfilling the total meaning of what that system was pointing towards, before subverting it. Weaver says that "with regards to the OT practice of the scapegoat, Weaver rightly point out a fact often overlooked in these discussion that the goat is not killed but bears the sins away into the wilderness." This is true, but there are two goats, one most definitely gets sacrificed, the other goes into the wilderness. For me, the meaning of the day of atonement in Leviticus has to be central to understanding hebrew thought, but I don't think I agree with Weaver on his interp (as far as I understand it just now), because it doesn't really do justice to the context of leviticus, in which God commands Moses to have the community kill blasphemers, murderers etc, and for which there was no sacrifice that was sufficient (only christs was sufficient for these crimes).

Also, even if Hebrews foregrounds christs mediating function, how do we explain John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Here Christ is clearly portrayed as a sacrifice. Finally, What about all the violence that Christ brings on his return? I understand that Volf in Exclusion and Embrace argues against Derrida's thesis that perfect hospitality and reconciliation is possible in the eschaton, and would agree with that. Embrace can only truly happen once the "violence" inherent in sin has been named and judged. Its not guaranteed that people will repent once that judgement has been issued, and will therefore condemn themselves. Also, if god created the sacrificial system, he did actually include men in some form of violence in bringing about redemption...so maybe I disagree with Yoder on this one.

So I reckon that some extreme forms of (penal) substitutionary atonement are definitely wacko, but that we have to see violence and substitution as one of the core meanings of the atonement.

What we keep forgetting is that wills of God and Jesus are intimately bound together in the violence of the cross. Its almost like God was committing suicide (heresy alert!). What I mean is, its not god crushing some innocent man, but God in Christ and in the power of the Spirit choosing to die in this way in order to bring about redemption. The violence here cannot sanction violence imposed on others, but it does recognise the existence of violence in the redemptive process.

I do think the way humans have created a myth of redemptive violence is distorted, but that doesn't mean that God's approach to it all sanctions this distorted, creaturely approach. I think that somehow God's approach to the cross does involve God intimately in violence, but that doesn't necessarily need to cause us ethically to buy into redemptive violence brought about by our own means.

Hope this isn't too convoluted (or boring)... It helps to think through my thinking like this

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