Atonement Theories

When you boil the way we read scripture down to its fundamentals, there are two ways that Christians tend to view the Gospel of Jesus.

1) Ransom theory - an Eastern philosophical stance

2) Atonement theory -a Western philosophical stance

Both theories are based quite literally on the bible, but both theories are in conflict with one another so both cannot be completely true by their own right and cannot fully account for what we find in scripture.

The Basics

Ransom theory - we were being held captive by Satan, and Jesus released us from that captivity. Hell results from our inability to pay the ransom and our refusal to accept Jesus' payment.

Atonement theory - we were being held captive by God's perfect sense of justice. The more we sin, the worse the consequences. Hell thus results from our inability to satisfy God's requirements for us and our refusal to accept Jesus as having satisfied God's requirements. Calvinism takes this one a step further with the assertion that Hell results from our totally depravity, which can only be cured by Jesus, which can only happen through regeneration, which can only happen when we realize our own depravity, which can only happen when God allows it. We have a choice in the matter, but not really. Those who do realize their own depravity and accept Jesus as their saviour are regenerated to be able to live a holy lifestyle. Living a holy lifestyle, for the strict Calvinist, means specifically obeying every tenet and principal in the bible. The way of the Calvinist is the way of moral uprightness.

My assumption here is that anyone reading this would have some working knowledge of each theory.

A third option: Grace Theory

We are held captive by ourselves, and Hell results from our broken judgement of everything. Sin is the problem; it always has been, and it has infected all areas of life. But it is possible to remove the infection. In the garden, nakedness was always true, but after we fell away from God, our judgement of nakedness changed completely. What was good became corrupted - both in the particular sense that being naked is inherently good, but our broken judgement has found ways to turn it into something sinful (adultery etc), and in the sense that human beings were created good, but became corrupted. One look around the world gives us solid, undeniable evidence for the doctrine of sin.

Regardless of sin, we still hold the potential for goodness. Throughout the bible God accepts people who do good, both Israelite and Gentile, and affirms them as righteous and his friends. These people were not required to realize their depravity, nor were they required to uphold the letter of the law. Moses screws up royally considering his disobedience to the letter of the law (He marries a Canaanite woman after being told by God not to). Abraham argues incessantly with God and constantly challenges even God's own worldview. But God still affirms both Moses and Abraham as his friends and indeed as patriarchs of the faith, not because of their moral piety but because they trust God.

God coming to us in the flesh then, was an act of ferocious love. It was not God simply saying "I'll take my own punishment", nor, "I'll pay the penalty for your crimes against me."It was much, much more.

The following is a what I believe God would say about why he died for us (it's just my exposition of scripture wrapped up into a narrative).

"I wanted to show you that my original judgement of you is true and that you are precious and good in my sight, despite the fact that you tend to mess things up all the time. By dying for you, I put to death your endless shame, and your fruitless attempts to judge as I judge, yet you do not believe this most of the time. I destroyed your need for all systems for achieving righteousness and replaced them with myself, yet you do not even come to me. I ended your captivity and exile from me once and for all, yet you continue to convince yourselves that you are being held captive. I made you righteous because you could not do it yourself, but you spit in my face by refusing to show mercy. Nothing of religion, ritual, routine, or creed can atone for your sins because I desire mercy, not sacrifice and acknowledgement of Myself rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6). I desire that you listen to my voice and trust in Me (1 Samuel 15:22). In fact, Love for Me and love for your neighbour are better than ALL of the sacrifices and burnt offerings in the world (Mark 12:33)! But because you continued to judge as I judge and did not trust in me, I did that which you could not do and I became that which you could not achieve. I atoned for all sin for all people for all time through mercy and acknowledgement of myself through my submission to my own death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8). In this way, I atoned for your sins and in this way I gave my life as a ransom for many. I desire mercy!"

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