Archive for atonement

Atonement I: The person and work of Christ shows us who God is

Posted in Reconciliation with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by stephengardner

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Phil 2.5-8 NRSV)

Way back in November I introduced an introduction to some thoughts on the atonement. This is the first post, in what I hope will be a series of ‘around seven’, exploring the atonement, what it is and what it achieves. The next couple of posts will focus more on what the atonement actually is, but for now let me describe it as this: the saving significance of the person and work of the Incarnate Son of God.

Initially I was going to use this post as a way of finishing off my reflections on the atonement, but I’ve become convinced that this should be the first port-of-call for any consideration of what God has done in Christ. In a nutshell the point of this post is this: the atonement is not contrary to who God is, in fact it is God in his most Godness.

This seems to be what Paul was getting at when he penned his exhortation to the Philippians that they be a community of humility precisely because God has shown himself to be humble in the death of Christ. The NRSV unhelpfully adds the word ‘though’ in v.6 implying that the work of Christ is contrary to who Christ is – God in his fulness.

Speaking of the limitations and weaknesses Christ takes on and what they mean for him ‘being in the form of God’, Barth writes this:

We will mention at once the thought which will be decisive and basic in the section, that God shows Himself to be the great and true God in the fact that He can and will let His grace bear this cost, that He is capable and willing and ready for this condescension, this act of extravagance, this far journey. What marks out God above all false gods is that they are not capable and ready for this. In their otherworldliness and supernaturalness and otherness, etc., the gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not unbend, which will not stoop to that which is beneath it. God is not proud. In His high majesty He is humble. It is in this high humility that He speaks and acts as the God who reconciles the world to Himself. It is under this aspect first that we must consider the history of the atonement. (Barth, CD IV.1 s59, 159)




The Atonement: an introduction to an introduction

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , , on November 12, 2010 by stephengardner

During study for my end of year doctrine exam today, at Moore Theological College, I did some thinking about the atonement and thought I might blog some initial thoughts. I have (at this stage) seven introductory aspects of the atonement I want to explore – but I’m open to your suggestions too.

But, to kick off, as a kind of introduction, I thought I would post some helpful words from T.F. Torrance. Having argued that the atonement is, firstly, a profound mystery, he concludes that there is ‘no logical relation’ between the cross of Christ and our experience of forgiveness of sins.

There is of course a mighty continuity between the death of Christ on the cross and the forgiveness of our sins, but it is a continuity that God himself achieves and makes through his atoning act and the intervention of his own being. And therefore the cross provides a wisdom that ‘the Greeks’ or humankind in general know nothing of. Thus we cannot begin to understand the atonement by bringing to it principles of formal rational continuity or by adopting an abstract theoretic explanation. In seeking to unfold the meaning of the death of the Son of God, therefore, we must have recourse to putting together conjunctive statements based upon the inherent synthesis to be found in the person of the mediator and not in any logical or rational presuppositions which we bring to interpret what he has done for us. Here above all, then, in seeking to understand the death of Christ, we must follow Christ, and think only a posteriori, seeking throughout to be conformed in mind to Christ himself as the truth. That is the only way to understand and at the same time to reverence the infinite mystery and majesty of this atoning deed on the cross which by its very nature reaches out beyond all finite comprehension into eternity.                                                                                                                              ( T. F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ. 2-3)

Taking on board Torrance’s encouragement to follow Christ as a first and foremost outcome of ‘studying’ the atonement, what would you included as a must have in introducing the idea of the atonement?

The Presupposition of the Atonement

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 10, 2010 by stephengardner

For Barth, the presupposition of the atonement is God’s original covenant with humanity – the atonement brings this to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. ‘He therefore fulfills and reveals the original and basic will of God, the first act of God, His original covenant with man.’ Because the atonement fulfills this original covenant of God it demonstrates that God has always been for humanity, that ‘God does not occupy a position of neutrality in relation to man.’

That is the covenant of God with man, from which He has bound and pledged Himself always to begin, and in virtue of which He has constituted Himself his God. And that is the presupposition of the atonement as revealed in its actualisation in Jesus Christ: the presupposition whose consequences are deduced in atonement; the presupposition which in the atonement is fulfilled in spite of the opposition of man. We do not postulate it. We do not grope for it in the void. We find it in that which has actually taken place in Jesus Christ. IV.1.2 p38

It is in act of atonement that God says ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ So, for Barth, this means two things. First, humanity cannot think of God except as the One who has established and fulfilled this covenant. ‘For according to the Word which He Himself has spoken in His supreme and final work, there is no other God.’

Second, this means humanity cannot think of itself except as those covenanted to God. ‘Just as there is no God but the God of the covenant, there is no man but the man of the covenant: the man who as such is destined and called to give thanks.’

All of this means that gratitude is the only right response humanity can make to the presupposition of the atonement – that God will be their God and they will be His people:

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning. IV.1.2 p41