Atonement Conversation…Continued

, , , and
In the February issue, three Reformed theologians, George Hunsinger, Gabriel Fackre
and Leanne Van Dyk, held a conversation about Christ’s atoning work and current
challenges and questions about it, “A Discussion of the Atonement: Abuse, Violence
Sacrifice and the Cross
.” To keep the discussion
going, here are five brief responses to that conversation.

Too High a View of the Atonement

by Thomas R. Thompson

My compliments to professors Van Dyk,
Hunsinger, and Fackre for their stimulating
round-table discussion on a doctrinal
topic whose key issues remain both unsettled
and unsettling. I agree that a high
doctrine of the atonement is in recession
in much of contemporary theology, if not
in much mainstream Protestantism, due to
low christologies and hamartiologies.

At the same time, much of evangelical
Christianity–including the evangelicalism
that, according to the latest (emergent)
polls, continues to creep over mainstream
Protestantism–has, in my opinion, too
high a view of the atonement. Many a “typical
congregation,” whom our theological
endeavors are eager to serve, embraces too
glib a conception of Christ’s atoning sacrifice–as though this were the whole point of
the incarnation: Go to the cross; go directly
to the cross; do not pass go; do not collect
200 disciples; do not have a life or ministry.
In my experience, many a Christian’s
understanding of salvation can be reduced
to a–mystical or magical?–transaction on
the cross with much of the baggage of
“conventional penal atonement theory…wrongly construed” (Fackre). What
we need to emphasize more, by way of
teaching, preaching, and liturgical celebration,
is how Christ’s veritable human life
of trial and temptation (along the lines of
Irenaeus’ recapitulation motif) qualifies his
death as the innocent, unblemished lamb,
a life of faithfulness (pistis tou Christou [e.g.,
Romans 3:22]) that is a necessary condition
of the salvific import of his death.

With a greater emphasis on Christ’s
life as itself a life-of-sacrifice, we can assay
his death not so disjunctively–as the
isolated moment of salvation–but in better
continuity with his life as epitomizing his
sacrifice and obedience to God the Father’s
will. Moreover, by privileging this broader life
perspective, Christ’s death need not be
interpreted as directly caused or prescriptively
willed by the Father, as though it
were the whole or culminating point of the
incarnation–a causal nexus or scenario
that gives voice to the cries of divine child
abuse. Here we must first let the gospel
narrative play itself out–historically.

Historically speaking, we–humanity–crucified the Son of God. Jesus in fact
died as a religious blasphemer and political
criminal at the hands of the human powers-that-be, both Jew and gentile. Given
his innocence of these charges–an innocence,
however, which only fully comes to
light in the resurrection–Jesus’ death on
the cross is nothing less than a travesty of
justice, a gruesome murder, and ultimately
a cosmic absurdity given his full identity,
since the one that humanity crucifies is
none other than the eternal Son of God.
Hence the cross is also the epitome of humanity’s
“‘No’ to God from the beginning”
(Fackre), that declaration of independence
that we will determine for ourselves what
is “good and evil” (Genesis 3). Jesus’ own
parable of the tenants (Luke 20:9-19) takes this very historical perspective and makes
its moral consequences strikingly clear:
how outrageous it would be for the tenants
of the vineyard to kill the owner’s son. But
this is exactly what we did, not God the Father,
not God the Spirit.

It is only through the resurrection that
God the Father and Spirit create good out
of bad, life out of death, salvation out of
evil. This includes the acceptance of the
sacrificial life of Christ that culminates in
his death as the ultimate and final sacrifice
that pardons and atones for sin (Hebrews
7:27). It is only in the light of the resurrection,
retrospectively, that one may interpret
Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice for sin,
not prospectively. And the New Testament
itself, we hardly need mention, was written
post-resurrection, a perspective that needs
to be kept in mind in interpreting many of
its statements. This is to propose that our
understanding of atonement ought to have
more of an a posteriori texture to it and less
of a perspective that views the cross as an
a priori necessity.

Any discussion of the atonement therefore
might better understand “the cross”
as synecdoche for the entire sacrificial life
of Christ which begins with the incarnation–or better, with the divine decision
to open up the trinitarian life to human
“naysayers” by risking the vulnerable flesh
and blood of the Son who came in the likeness
of sinful humanity. In the imagery
of the great kenosis hymn of Philippians 2,
Christ’s sacrificial “emptying” began in the
incarnation, continued through his life,
and culminated shockingly on Golgotha–“even death on a cross!”

Just as a christology is too high if it
cannot account for the real historical humanity
of Christ, so also an atonement
doctrine is too high if it renders the life of
Jesus as an accidental prelude to his real
act of salvation, his atoning sacrifice on the
cross. Indeed, these two go hand-in-glove,
since an underestimation of Christ’s humanity
leads to a depreciation of his historical
life-trial. The result of these docetic
perspectives is a domestication of Christ’s
cross that nullifies its real historical horror
and cosmic absurdity, an absurdity that is
only overcome by the resurrection which
creates new life out of chaos. A healthier
recognition of Christ’s humanity (presupposing
his deity) and of his historical life
of trial and tribulation opens up more
sympathetic doors to a number of Girardian
themes that I find theologically enriching–Christ as the scapegoat and end of
sacrifice–even if Girard does not supply a
plenary theological account.

Such are the emphases that “play” for
me and that I think would “play” for the life
of the Church, especially in bringing the
gospel down to earth. Yet many questions
remain. Here’s one that has long tickled my
curiosity: “if the prayer of the righteous is
powerful and effective” (James 5:16), and if
Jesus was truly the one righteous person,
then what is the salvific role of his prayer,
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know
what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)–one of
the famous last words of the cross? Regardless
of its disputed textual status, this
prayer is eminently commensurate with Jesus’
teaching and way of life. Is Jesus’ own
attitude of forgiveness a necessary condition
of atonement? Is this, his dying prayer,
which epitomizes his mission, so powerful
and effective as to constitute by itself a sufficient
condition of reconciliation?

Thomas R. Thompson is a professor of religion at Calvin
College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Christ Our Passover is Sacrificed for Us

by Terry Kleven

I teach a course on Christian Worship. I
was appreciative to see this discussion of
the atonement because of its significance,
often unappreciated, to the whole of Christian
teaching, but not the least of which is
worship. In a seven-week unit on the connection
between atonement and worship, I
am always eager to find ways of using this
preciously-small amount of time to make
a persuasive case that it was the numerous
reappraisals of the atonement that led
to multitudinous changes in worship, both
during the Reformation and more recently
in North American church history.

I was encouraged when I read the discussion
because the participants identified
the connections between atonement and
worship and daily Christian living. In my current context, I observe that as some of
us become more sacramental in worship, we
often sense we are out-of-step with trends
in Midwestern American Christianity. To
learn that others are concerned with the
whole of Christian teaching and with how
the parts inform the whole and vice versa
is refreshing. There is much in the conversation
that merits comment. Let me limit
my reflections to three topics, although not
in the order in which they are introduced
in the conversation.

George Hunsinger identifies a key aspect
of atonement in a couple of comments
in the latter part of the conversation: “The
cross really cannot be understood apart
from the Passover” and “they [the Reformers] found no way of understanding the Eucharist
as a sacrifice within the framework
of Reformational theology.” He says that
this weakness left “a hairline crack at that
point, but it has now led to a chasm.” Hunsinger’s
judgments here are worthy of our
attention. I think the sacrifice of Christ remained
in Protestant theology as a teaching
or “idea,” but sacrifice was not embedded
deeply in the words and actions of the
liturgy, that is, in the joyous solemnity of
our adoration. Thus, the “hairline crack”
was opened between theology and worship,
and in doing so lex orandi lex credendi deteriorated.
The strong truths that certain
thinkers discover in one generation can be
so powerful that they eclipse other truths.
In this case the truth that was marginalized
was the nature of sacrifice in the primary
devotional worship of the Church, in
Holy Communion.

To be sure, in recent biblical scholarship
there have been attempts to expunge
the presence of sacrifice from the Passover
in both Moses’ account in Exodus 12 and
13 as well as in the contemporary Judaism
of Jesus’ time, but these revisions do not
seem true to the material. Even though later
Levitical law expands the notion of sacrifice
further than the Passover, there is too
much in the sacrifice of the Passover that
remains unchanged throughout the Bible.
The Passover itself is called a sacrifice (Exodus
12:27); the principle of substitution is
unmistakable; the teaching that a valuable
animal must die in order to remind the individual
of the cost of sin is present; and,
except for the provision of the redemption
of the firstborn son, the firstborn son too
must be consecrated, that is, sacrificed to
God (Exodus 13:12-15). All these elements
existed prior to the Passover, are present
in the Passover, and continue throughout
the Bible, even to John’s visions of the slain
Lamb of God standing by the throne and
the altar in eternity (Revelation 5:6-14 and
8:2-3).

Scholarly attempts, now mostly dated,
to argue that synagogue Judaism of the first
century was distinct from Temple Judaism–
that the synagogues did not support
sacrifice and priesthood, and additionally
that Christianity emerged from synagogue
Judaism, also are not true to the emerging
evidence on every front. In short, the Marcionite
tendencies of over a hundred years
of theology–to disconnect us from our
Jewish roots and the role of sacrifice–are
clearer to us today than previously. “Christ
our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians
5:7) ought to ring out at the heart
of the Eucharist every Sunday, as it still
does where Cranmer is used. Moreover,
how can there be either theosis, unification
with God, or political and moral harmony
among us wayward sheep in Church, without
expiation, that is, without the removal
or purging of sin from all of us? These reflections
which emerge in the conversation
are altogether on the right track, although
there are many distractions today that keep
us from seeing them clearly.

I agree too that there is a link between
Christ the sacrifice and Christ the high
priest. Sacrifice and priesthood cannot be
separated, as the writer of Hebrews, likely
St. Paul, tells us. When I read Hebrews, it
becomes increasingly difficult for me to understand
why some of us Protestants were
satisfied with only the prophetic and kingly
offices of Christ but we did not admit that
the priestly office is also fully sanctioned
in the New Testament. I wish I knew more
what a priest is and does that a prophet
and a king do not. What is essential to this
priestly office of Christ? Here again, the
conversation led to a recognition for a renewed
inquiry into the reason for an understanding
of Christ’s eternal priesthood and
human participation in it (Hebrew 5:6).

Finally, though in this matter I think
I disagree with both Hunsinger and Van
Dyk, I wondered why they deflected attention away from the inquiry into why God’s
plan for atonement led to sacrifice of the
God-Man instead of other options. Why
did salvation require the Incarnation and
a sacrifice from the second Adam, from the
side of humanity as well as from God? I
think this is the classic question which
dominated the first five hundred years of
Church life. Do we wish to avoid this inquiry?
The early church Fathers knew there
was much to be learned in this exploration.
Many say that understanding the Good is
happiness, perhaps even what we are most
fitted for. They recognized that there were
other possibilities for our redemption. For
example, since God is omnipotent, it could
have been declared by fiat that humanity
was forgiven, no Incarnation and no mess
required. After all, there are numerous examples
throughout Scripture of the efficaciousness
of God’s Word–but that does not
explain why a sacrifice is necessary. What
do we make of Jesus’ oft-repeated replies to
his politically-eager disciples that he must
go to Jerusalem, that he must be rejected
and that he must die (Mark 8:27-33 and
Matthew 26:54)? Here we see at the heart
of the Gospel is the wisdom that there is a
right order in God’s justice, an order that is
more perfect and more beautiful than speculations
on the meaning of God’s omnipotence.
We do not admire only power or fiat
or arbitrariness. Our adoration of Christ
arises in us only when we come to an appreciation
that what he knew and what he
did was right and necessary, even if it was
the way of suffering.

Terry Kleven is a professor of religion at Central College
in Pella, Iowa.

Story before Doctrine for Postmoderns

by Jason Lief

Of particular interest to me, from February’s
Perspectives discussion, are the
historical and cultural implications of our
doctrinal language. How do people within
specific historical and cultural contexts
understand the meaning of Christ’s work?
What does our doctrinal language convey
within a postmodern world?

George Hunsinger connected the confusion
over the atonement with “a broader
range of doctrinal erosion that has already
occurred.” While I agree that contemporary
theology has witnessed such erosion,
I wonder if the problem fundamentally lies
not with doctrinal erosion, but an erosion
of familiarity with the biblical narrative.
All doctrinal language expounds upon the
revelation of scripture–the stories that
proclaim the actions of God in the history
of Israel and climactically in the person of
Jesus Christ. Yet within the broader Christian
community the narrative of scripture
is increasingly eclipsed by a propositional
form of reading–the Bible as a resource for
living, proof texts for ethical living, or a self-help
manual/playbook for life. Lost in this
is any sense of the story…any sense of the
interconnectedness of Christ’s work with
the history of Israel, or an understanding of
Paul’s letters within the broader narrative.

The biblical story infuses our doctrinal
language with meaning and authority.
A “Christian imagination that has been
deeply shaped by the geography of scripture,”
as Leanne Van Dyk wonderfully described
it, is in decline. To talk about the
work of Christ in doctrinal language makes
no sense apart from the biblical narrative.
Within this context of unfamiliarity with
the biblical narrative, the critiques leveled
against classical doctrinal expressions of
Christ’s work are legitimate and not surprising.
Wondering about the necessity of
the cross seems like a valid question. Without
the proper narrative framework, the
Son being abandoned by the Father on the
cross certainly could pass for child abuse.

A biblical understanding of the atonement
must frame the problem of sin within
the context of disobedience (idolatry) and
exile. Genesis establishes this problem as
the crisis driving the biblical drama. Within
the context of God’s covenant with his creation,
and the formation of a people called
to faithful obedience, humanity chooses
disobedience and subsequently experiences
the curse of exile. This paradigm frames
the patriarchal narratives, climaxing with
Israel and its kings, and the problem of Israel’s
covenant unfaithfulness and exile.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is good
news in the context of this story. Through
Christ’s death and resurrection God has once and for all dealt with Adam’s disobedience
and Israel’s unfaithfulness, and
through the covenant faithfulness of Jesus,
God’s people are led out of exile. In
this context Paul explicates the meaning of
Christ’s work through his letters, and John
proclaims the apocalyptic hope of Christ’s
death and resurrection to first century
Christians.

Doctrinal clarity concerning the work
of Christ begins with biblical understanding.
This means that the Christian community
must reclaim the prophetic task
of storytelling. Through our liturgy, our
preaching, and our teaching, this story
must permeate the life of our congregations
and our communities.

Here we find an important connection
with the broader culture. Coming out of
the 20th and into the 21st century, many
people know too well the suffering of abandonment
and despair that is exile. Many
can identify with the cry of forsakenness
from the cross.

The reality is that post-modernity,
while less open to doctrinal systems and
explanations, embraces narrative. As the
Christian community we must make work
of proclaiming the story of what God has
done in Jesus Christ–that in him God has
dealt with the problem of sin and death,
overcoming the disobedience of humanity
and the problem of exile by reconciling all
things to himself through the cross. We
must become a people formed and shaped
by this biblical narrative so that our theological
discourse, doctrinal explanations,
and confessions of faith might be vital expressions
of the story that forms us, and
therefore become a proclamation of Good
News to the world.

Jason Lief teaches in the theology department at Dordt
College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Gasping for the Suffering of Women

by Lynn Japinga

I teach feminist theology and believe that
feminist theologians have raised some
important issues in their characterization
of the cross as “cosmic child abuse.” The
doctrine of the atonement has led some
people to a passive acceptance of suffering,
and some women to believe that domestic
abuse is their “cross to bear.” The authors
acknowledged the pastoral issues involved,
but dismissed the feminist critique fairly
quickly as an “unfortunate skirmish”
that could have been avoided with a “fully
formed doctrine of the Trinity” (Van Dyke).
George Hunsinger insisted that it is “almost
a big lie” and “propagandistic” to say that
Christian teaching about the atonement
has sponsored savagery. Clear doctrines of
christology, the Incarnation and the biblical
notion of sacrifice, the authors agreed,
would clear up this misunderstanding.

Well, perhaps. But throughout Christian
history there has been a powerful and
persistent connection between the suffering
of Jesus and the suffering of his followers.
1 Peter 2:18-21 advised slaves that
they would receive God’s approval if they
suffered unjustly, because Christ’s suffering
set an example and they should follow
in his steps. Perpetua went to a martyr’s
death with courage and confidence, buoyed
by a vision of herself as a man prepared
for battle. A century later, when Christianity
became the state religion in the Roman
Empire and martyrdom was no longer
an option, the ascetics went to the desert
to suffer pain, thirst, and hunger for the
cause of Christ. Catherine of Siena gained
a powerful reputation for holiness, in part
because she did not eat, and in part because
she sometimes drank the water used
to wash the sores of lepers. Not eating had
the added benefit of stopping menstrual periods
and eliminating a pesky sign of womanliness.
These may be extreme examples,
and yet these people and their sacrifices
have been held up as exemplary models of
Christian faith and commitment.

Protestants might dismiss such practices
as Roman Catholic “works righteousness.”
But consider the influential novel In
His Steps
, written in 1896 by Charles Sheldon.
Rev. Henry Maxwell preached on 1
Peter 2:21 and told his wealthy congregation
that Jesus suffered and they should
follow in his steps. After being challenged
by a homeless, jobless man to put that into
practice, Maxwell’s parishioners pledged to
live as Jesus would. As a result, they experienced
varying degrees of pain and suffering.
A businessman lost his job for telling the truth, a newspaper editor lost subscriptions
because of his editorial choices, and
an ivory tower academic felt called to enter
politics. People were ridiculed by family
members who considered the pledge unrealistic.
The characters repeatedly spoke of
suffering as their cross to bear, but they
welcomed it because it brought them closer
to God and to each other.

Choosing to suffer may be a courageous
option for the Christian life. Certainly the
non-violent resistance of Gandhi and Martin
Luther King, Jr. has been a powerful
antidote to injustice.

But suffering has often been presented
not as a choice, but as a requirement. Battered
women have been advised to suffer
like and for Jesus. Abused children are told
they deserve the beatings and that punishment
will make them “better.” Tragically,
these are not rare or extreme examples.

Does the doctrine of the atonement
cause such misguided thinking? On the
one hand, the Christian tradition has insisted
that Jesus’ suffering and death on
the cross was a once-for-all event. Jesus
took the punishment that sinners deserved.
Human suffering does not earn
extra credit. But at the same time, Christians
have claimed that suffering and sacrifice
was proof of their courage or holiness
or intimacy with God. The doctrine of the
atonement has all too often been read as
an angry Father demanding that his honor
be restored by the punishment of the Son.
Well-trained and brilliant theologians may
argue that these mistaken ideas can be
corrected with right doctrine, but the reality
is that many Christians, and alas, even
some of their pastors, are not nearly as
well-trained or brilliant. Christian people
have made a persistent and powerful and
wrong connection between the atonement
and violence/suffering. But rather than
simply dismissing that connection as bad
doctrine, theologians might explore more
deeply why the atonement has so often led
to a justification of suffering.

The Christian feminist critique of the
atonement raises three particularly relevant
questions. First, what does the cross
say about God? Is God angry and punitive?
Or loving and vulnerable? Second,
what does the cross say about humanity?
Are we worthless sinners unable to save
ourselves or God’s beloved children who
have run off to seek our fortunes? Both?
Third, what does the cross say about the
role of suffering and sacrifice in bringing
salvation? Does God demand the death of
Jesus? Is the cross part of God’s plan? Or
is Jesus crucified because when he lived
out the values of God he made people angry
enough to kill him? Did God then raise
him from the dead and demonstrate that
God’s love and mercy “win” in the end?

Hunsinger and Fackre advocate a recovery
of the Paschal or sacrificial aspects
of the atonement, but that raises several
unfortunate possibilities. Does God the
High Priest demand the sacrifice of Jesus
the Paschal Lamb? Does Jesus offer
himself up in order to appease God? The
Christian tradition would be better served
by finding other helpful metaphors for the
atonement.

Sally Purvis, in The Power of the Cross,
wrote that the cross was not primarily a
sign of God’s anger or punishment, but
rather a sign of God’s vulnerability and
love. When Jesus died it looked as if evil
won, and goodness had been defeated, but
the cross did not have the last word. God
raised Jesus from the dead. God’s love was
stronger than death.

In a class on Christian feminism, I told
a story about a woman who went to her pastor
to ask what to do about the abuse she received
from her husband. “It’s your cross to
bear,” the pastor said. One of my students
gasped audibly. I believe God gasps, too.

I would like to see theologians gasp
over such misuse of the cross. Don’t dismiss
it so easily. Gasp. And then help
Christians find new ways to consider the
atonement that downplay the role of suffering
and sacrifice and highlight instead the
power of God’s love and mercy.

Lynn Japinga is a professor of religion at Hope College
in Holland, Michigan.

Aslan, Babbette, and the Dark Knight
Together

by Michael Andres

What draws me to reflection upon the
atonement is being a condemned sinner. As Luther explained, “living, or rather
dying and being damned makes a theologian,
not understanding, reading or speculating.”
My impatience, cutting words, pettiness,
and resentments seem ever more
apparent over the years through bitter experience
and self-reflection. Recognition
of the racial and social injustice meted out
by persons like me, of my skin color and
beliefs, has come slowly but I cannot now
ignore it. Like Rembrandt painting himself
right into the act of crucifixion, the cross
reveals my Christ-killing shame and guilt,
and the corruption of the people with whom
I belong.

This is why we journey together toward
Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But first
we sit, sup, and celebrate communion at
Maundy Thursday. In this moment Jesus
foreshadows the meaning of his impending
death and its significance for our sin: “And
he did the same with the cup after supper,
saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for
you is the new covenant in my blood’ (Luke
22:20). Perhaps this event can shed further
light on the rich, nuanced, and sensitive
discussion of the atonement by these
three gifted theologians.

At the Last Supper, Jesus connects his
death with centuries of covenant-making.
It seems crucial to me that the meaning
of Christ’s atonement be understood in a
covenantal context, rather than merely legal
terms. This helps move the discussion
forward by showing that God’s justice, in
all its stipulations and penalties, had the
purpose of maintaining the covenantal
relationship. Furthermore, through the
atonement Jesus graciously has taken on
the covenant curse and sanctions, both legal
and relational, for our unfaithfulness
and covenant breaking.

Jesus explains the meaning of his
death through the Jewish context of the
Passover meal. As George Hunsinger rightly
points out, Jesus is called the Lamb of
God (John 1:29), recalling the Paschal imagery
to elucidate his own sacrifice. This
Jewish context could be further developed,
as in the recent work of N.T. Wright, seeing
Christ on the cross as Israel in exile, separated
from God’s presence, and simultaneously
providing a way to return from exile.
Similarly, the temple system had brought
abusive power, privilege, and injustice instead
of justice for the poor and vulnerable.
Jesus calls himself the temple and presages
his death (and the destruction of Jerusalem)
as the breaking of this sacrificial
system, especially the distorted religious
system it had become.

Jesus’ body is broken and blood is poured
out in our place, offered as a gift.
There is
growing recognition, reflected in the earlier
Perspectives discussion, that there should
be an integrated approach to any theology
of the atonement. This includes grounding
the atonement in all of Jesus’ ministry and
work, complex discernment of the relationship
between atonement theology and cultural
context, and full recognition of various
atonement motifs.

We live in a world of those who are
both victimizers and victims, all rolled up
into one. Thus there is great need for the
pastoral sensitivity that Leanne Van Dyk
evidenced to the bruised reeds, those who
suffer the slings and arrows of life, and
their personal experience of atonement
preaching. We are called to be tender and
empathetic in our theological reflection
and its application, including to the postmodern
recoil from images of violence and
power. But as Gabriel Fackre reminds us,
“we cannot let the culture determine what
the cross is all about.” It seems one segment
of our culture recognizes injustice,
consumerism, and racism as sin, yet another
segment denies them. Meanwhile notions
of real guilt, just penalty, and final
judgment may strike still others as archaic
or harsh. All these realities may be under
fire in our culture, but they all remain our
most burning human problems.

Guilt, goats, and gift belong together,
as they mutually illumine the meaning of
the cross, insists Kevin Vanhoozer.1 Many
walk around with a stone of guilt in their
chests, but the atonement means just satisfaction
or payment has been made. The
cross reminds us that sin is gross, repugnant,
and harmful, earning a wage of
death. Like Aslan, who pays for Edmund’s
folly by his own death, in love Christ has
paid that ransom to break the stone table
and gain victory over the demonic powers.
Many have experienced the cry of dereliction,
and are alienated from family, community, and God. Indeed, just as sin drives
others away, our holy and just Lord rightly
has a negative disposition, called “wrath”
(John 3:36; Ephesians 2:3; 5:6; 2 Thessalonians
1:8-9), towards the way our sin
hurts and twist “the other.” We are at odds
with God. It creates a dividing wall of hostility.
So like the Dark Knight, who takes
upon himself the blame, anger, and shame
for murders he did not commit, even for the
sake of an unworthy Gotham, in love Jesus
gives himself as a goat on which this load
is laid, reconciling us to our Father and
our estranged family. Many in our culture
are empty. Like Babette, who gave extravagantly
of her remaining sustenance to create
a life-giving meal to a scraggly band
of sect members, Christ’s death is a gift, a
self-sacrificial love offering. In the end, we
find transformation and communion and
dancing. “When God sets out to embrace
the enemy, the result is the cross,” explains
Miroslav Volf. “On the cross the dancing
circle of self-giving and mutually indwelling
divine persons opens up for the enemy;
in the agony of the passion the movement
stops for a brief moment and a fissure appears
so that sinful humanity can join in
(John 17:21).”2

Michael Andres is a professor of religion at Northwestern
College in Orange City, Iowa.

Endnotes

1 Kevin Vanhoozer, “The Atonement in Postmodernity:
Guilt, Goats, and Gifts,” in The Glory of the
Atonement
, Charles Hill and Frank James III, eds.
(Intervarsity Press, 2004), 367ff.

2 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological
Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

(Abingdon, 1996), 129.