HOUSMAIL HM#114A -- THEORIES OF THE ATONEMENT -- PART 1 7 February 2004
FAULTY FOUNDATIONS - A BARRIER TO UNDERSTANDING
This article has turned out to be a bit longer than I usually like to write for HOUSMAIL. Consequently it will be split into shorter parts. That way readers wonít have to absorb quite so much at a sitting. This first part will briefly address some things which seem to prevent many of the more popular acclaimed theorists from seeing things clearly from a truly Biblical perspective.
DIVINE WISDOM OR "GREAT SWELLING
Over my lifetime (now nearly 72 years) my study of this subject has led me to read many more long wordy articles than I could possibly hope to remember individually. Especially, since starting to research specifically for this paper, I have been amazed at the huge number of mutually exclusive, contradictory and confusing "theories" invented over the centuries, by the so called "scholars" of the Church. What Jesus managed to convey to "Babes" in just a few one line verses, these men have "padded out" to numberless pages of abstract theory, far beyond the capacity of the average layman! Itís sometimes called "metaphysics". (My laymanís paraphrase derived from what the Dictionary says that "big word" means would be something like -- "when two people speculate theoretically about something, and the hearer does not understand what is said, and the speaker himself does not know what he is saying"!)
Our best chance of "getting it right" will be to keep it as short and as uncomplicated as Jesus did! My personal approach is that if my 12 year old grandchildren cannot follow what is being taught about this subject, it probably needs "revision" until they do!
THEORY VS. BIBLE FACT
It is significant that amongst themselves, theologians refer to all of these different versions as "Theories of the Atonement". "Theories" is indeed the correct word to describe most of it! It comes into our English language from the Greek word "THEORIA". (contemplation, or speculation) It usually describes a speculative conclusion which has been designed to "fit" and "explain" certain evidence, but is not necessarily itself PROVEN FACT. (The theory of Evolution is a good example of this process in action.) In the case of the "Doctrine of the Atonement", most of these theories go far beyond what is actually written in the Scriptures, using complicated abstract "logic" to develop dogmatic conclusions, long on rhetoric, but short on Scriptural support.
It has been very comforting to remember that sitting at the feet of such men is NOT the Bibleís recommended way to seek the simple uncomplicated wisdom of God! (1 Cor 1:17-31) We need to remember Paul: "The wisdom of this world is folly with God". (1Cor 3:19) Far better says James, to go to the very top -- to God Himself -- to ask your own prayerful questions. (James 1:5-8) Answers are guaranteed!
A WRONG FOUNDATION
Most of these theories have their roots in Scripturally unsupportable views of an inherited defiled human nature which is supposed to have been changed somehow, as a consequence of the Adamís disobedience in Eden, and passed on genetically to his descendants. They attempt to explain what has happened to reverse the effects of that "fall". And of course if they are attempting to explain something which never happened, and therefore does not exist, their complicated "great swelling words" are doomed to failure!
These unscripural views of Human Nature include Roman Catholic "Original Sin", Calvinís "Total Depravity", and various other versions of Protestant "Inherited Sin Nature". Some of the Christadelphians I grew up amongst call it "Sin-in-the flesh"; others reject that term, but retain something they call -- (genetically inherited) "Sinful Nature"; and still others reject BOTH! And as many can testify, if you dare to confess publicly to belief in the wrong version of those in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the hearing of the wrong audience, you can get yourself disfellowshipped about the differences! Sad, isnít it, that what Jesus has done to reconcile men to God, and to each other, has been abused by carnal men as an excuse to make war on their fellows!
The situation is further complicated by attachment to Non-Biblical Trinitarian theology, which attributes to Jesus a second immortal divine nature, incapable of experiencing the unconscious oblivion of REAL Biblical Death. Many also say that this alleged second divine nature rendered Him incapable of REAL temptation, and incapable of actually sinning. What a farce that makes of the Gospel records! If that were really true, how could you ever trust them as a revelation of THE WAY to find God? (John 14:8)
And if that is not enough to make you question their foundation, there is also the so called "gospel" which offers the false hope of instant transport of immortal souls to Heaven at the moment of death, -- almost universally accompanied by the terribly mistaken belief that the vast majority of men are already burning in endless torment in the fires of hell!
What a low view of God these men have! Fear of endless torment cannot, and does not, generate love. How could it possibly be true that the God whose love is revealed in the Bible, especially through the Cross, would deliberately create men, born with a genetic defect which renders them totally incapable of obedience, and then punish them for endless eternity, for what they could not help doing? Would that be "love"? Would that be "justice"? I think not! Such a God would be a monster, and unworthy of the love to which the most important commandment of Gospel calls us! But PRAISE GOD! The Scriptures confirm that He is not like that at all! He is indeed in every way, worthy of our love and respect.
KEEPING IT IN PERSPECTIVE
In analysing any theory of the Atonement, what we need to keep in view, is Godís goal -- which is to turn us from enmity towards Himself, and our fellow men, and become disciples, allowing Jesus to teach us how to truly obey the TWO great commandments of the Gospel. Only so can we be made ready for the Bibleís conditional promise of transformation from mortality to immortality, and an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom of God, which is to be established on this earth, when Jesus returns from Heaven. (Matt 28:19-20)
In order to achieve that, our beliefs about the Atonement must become far more than lip service to mere theory! What we say we "believe" must become a life transforming love for God and His Son, leading to real moral conversion, and renewal of our minds and hearts. (Rom 12:2) If it does not do that, it is useless!
God willing, Part 2 of this article will follow soon, with brief details of some of the better known of these false theories, and a rebuttal which will attempt to highlight some of the main difficulties associated with them.