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Thursday, August 23, 2007


Marcus Bull

A few months ago I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. There is an installation there titled 'The Deer Shelter' in which you can sit and watch the sky through a square hole in the roof. Surprisingly moving and powerful.

You can see the sky, but not the whole sky. The opening frames a small fraction of all there is to be seen. But watching that small fraction becomes strangely hypnotic.

Perhaps all our 'doctrines' of the atonement are just like that deer shelter. We are too often hypnotised by a tiny picture (a small fraction, a single metaphor) of what God in Christ has done for us.

Surely, the more metaphors, the broader our horizons, the better?


Marcus - thanks for your comment. We did discuss such ideas. One issue is are the different models we have for the atonement compatible or do some exclude each other? The other thing that we talked about was that we should not confuse a model with the reality itself. Bishop Tom Wright has a good article on line in which he states Jesus did not leave us a theory to explain the meaning of the cross but a meal. He suggests in part that one reason for this is that even if we were to write a 1000 pages on the atonement we would still fall short in fully describing or understanding what happened on the cross.

Yet to return to my question - is there anything at stake here or is it a case of theological abstraction?

Roy Donkin

there is a great deal at stake. I think the way we understand the atonement reflects all of our theology - our basic understanding of who God is, the way that God deals with humanity, the way Christian relate to the world around them, and especially one's understanding of evangelism. If we are emphasizing a metaphor that is less than satisfactory at illuminating the cross, the Church and all of its ministry is impoverished or worse.


Roy - I'd be interested in knowing if youhave a particular metaphor(s) in mind that you think are less than "satisfactory at illuminating the cross".


As a theologian, Scotus was surely in the running. He at the same time championed "Scottish Common Sense" and Neo-Platonist spirituality. A lot to consider, and a lot to go off-track with as well.

What difference would it make? The question that troubles me is why must we believe Scotus' view exclusively? Yes, we can see the model he offers in Psalm 85, but the substitutionary model, and the Incarnational model are there in Scripture as well.

The difference might be in rejecting what God has done because we have developed our own interpretation which doesn't leave room for His own, unspeakable,gift; or in letting our view of the need be biased. Rohr says

if he needed blood from his son to decide to love us! It is an incoherent world with no organic union between Creator and creature.
The truth is that there is no "organic union between Creator and creature." There is disunion (Romans 8:19-22), commonly known as "sin."

An old cartoon shows Jesus on the cross, saying, "If I'm OK, and you're OK, explain this!"

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