Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Mini-Reflection on the Atonement

For months now I’ve been thinking about a quote from a book I read this past spring. The book was A Community Called Atonement, by Scot McKnight.

“Atonement is the work of God to create and ready his people for just these things: union with God and communion with others in a place of perfection, with a society of justice and peace and above all worship of the Lamb of God on the throne . . . We need to observe that the biblical language of eternity stokes heated passions to yearn the way Jesus yearned—that God’s kingdom might come ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Any atonement theory that thinks exclusively of the earth is inadequate, just as any theory that shifts to thinking too much of eternity is also inadequate.” (p.27)

Recent developments among Christian thinkers have pointed to a deeper and more complete understanding of the Atonement as both a doctrine and a source of ethics. Those of us who grew up in or around evangelical traditions can have a limited view: “Christ’s blood cleanses me of my sin and absolves me from the punishment I deserve from an angry, righteous God.”

Now I still believe that, but it’s no longer all I believe about Christ’s atoning work.

I’ve been teaching and preaching for years now that the Kingdom of God is not a realm or a place with limits and boundaries, but rather Christ’s eternal reign—a demonstration of his power over all things, even death. (My American Church in London readers will have that sentence memorized by now.) If that’s the case, then there is much more to Christ’s atoning work than simply my—or anyone’s—personal salvation.

Over the Lenten season I preached a series of messages—indebted to Scot McKnight’s book—on the way the atonement offers healing for our relationship with God, with ourselves, with each other and with the earth. (You can read those messages if you scroll down far enough to find Lent and Easter.) It’s possible that I’ll spend the rest of my conscious days trying to grasp (and experience) what that truly means.

And that’s a good thing.

Because of all the doctrines we have inherited from our Christian parents, none is more important, more dynamic, or more central to the overall message of the Scriptures than the Atonement. The Atonement describes what God has done to reconcile us in every direction. It’s a gift that gives us at the same time everything that we long for and more than we know we need.

Over the next year we’ll revisit this in more depth. My summer reading is packed with books related to the topics of atonement and justification and hope—stay tuned.

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