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Christian beliefs


The atonement:
"...the central tenet of Christianity." 1
What it is and how it works

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The Atonement is a controversial topic. Theologians have held very different views on it. Some have commented about classical theories of the atonement with in rather vitriolic language:

bullet"For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." Paul 2

bullet"It is morally abhorrent to claim that God the Father demanded the self-sacrifice of his only Son to balance the scales of justice...A god who punished through pain, despair and violent death is not a god of love, but a sadist and despot." Julie M. Hopkins 3

bullet"The atonement is accomplished in the work of Christ, whose suffering is vicarious, representative and sacrificial in character; it is on behalf of men [sic], in their name, and for the purpose of their approach to God." Vincent Taylor 4

bullet "Seldom did Christians pause to recognize the ogre into which they had turned God. A human father who would nail his son to a cross for any purpose would be arrested for child abuse. Yet that continued to be said of God as if it made God more holy and more worthy of worship." Bishop J.S. Spong 5

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In a religious sense, "atonement" means "at-one-ment." This is the state of being reconciled with God. 5

Many Christian denominations have historically taught that Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, circa 4000 BCE by eating a forbidden fruit in violation of God's command. This created a massive gulf between humanity and God that could only be bridged by the torture death of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) on the cross.

Unfortunately, the Bible text does not provide a clear and unambiguous explanation on exactly by what mechanism the life -- and particularly the death -- of Yeshua was able to make it possible to reconcile God and humanity through the atonement. Christian theologians from the second century CE until today have developed five main theories, and many sub-variations, to explain how the atonement works.  In recent centuries, no one theory has received a consensus. We decribe various violent interpretations of the atonement, as well as non-violent and secular views of the atonement

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Topics described in this section:

bullet Introduction: Definitions. Why the atonement is needed. Transferability of sin. Theories on how the atonement works. Is a consensus possible?....
bullet References to the atonement in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament)
bullet Why is an atonement necessary?
bulletOverview of (and objections to) the major themes of the atonement:

bullet How the atonement works: a description of various traditional theories (Acceptance, Moral, Ransom, Satisfaction, Substitution, Christus Victor and other theories.)
bullet A progressive Christian and non-Christian viewpoint of the atonement
bullet Blood atonement within the Mormon movement -- a very different concept
bullet Conclusions Comments. Future trends.

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References used:

  1. John S. Spong, "Why Christianity must change or die," Harper SanFrancisco, (1998), Page 84. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. From the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) Romans 5:10; King James Version (1611 CE).
  3. Julie M. Hopkins, "Towards a Feminist Christology: Jesus of Nazareth, European Woman and the Christological Crisis," Eerdmans (1995). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  4. Vincent Taylor, "The Atonement in New Testament Teaching," Page 182
  5. Op Cit., John S. Spong, Page 95.

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Copyright © 2004 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-APR-6
Latest update: 2011-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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