Atonement and Violence: A Theological Conversation Paperback – 1 Nov 2006
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On the table for discussion is the question God's intention regarding the violence suffered by Jesus. The editor, John Sanders (author of The God Who Risks and No Other Name), sets the stage with a few questions: If God the Father used the cross of Christ to redeem us, did the Father intend for the Son to experience the violence he did? Is violence necessary for redemption? If the Father did not intend the cross, then does it have any significance for our salvation? Does any connection between Jesus' suffering and redemption valorize suffering? Should we understand suffering as a means to reconciliation with God or as a consequence of our reconciliation?
I add the question: What does the violence of the cross say about God?
J. Denny Weaver, whose view is called "Narrative Christus Victor," would answer my question like this:
"The violence of the cross says nothing about God. It wasn't God who killed Jesus or needed Jesus to be killed. Rather, it was the religious and political authorities that sought and obtained Jesus' death." To quote him from the book, he says, "I am arguing that his death was not willed or needed by God. His death did not pay off or satisfy anything. On the contrary, it was a product of the forces of evil that opposed Jesus and opposed the reign of God. The real saving act of and in and with Jesus is his resurrection" (p. 26).
Hans Boersma outlines his view, which is dubbed, "The Modified Reformed View." Before he expounds his own ideas, he offers a critique of some portrayals from within his own reformed group. "It seems to me," he concedes, "that Calvinist covenant theology has tended to view our relationship with God too exclusively through a legal grid....There is no denying that there is a tendency here toward an economic exchange model of atonement ... [which] minimized the historical link between Christ and Israel. The transaction between Christ and the elect could have taken  place at any time and at any place" (pp. 49-50). Regarding the recent tendency to refer to the action on the cross as "divine child abuse," he writes, "The accusations of divine child abuse overlook the mystery of the incarnation" (p. 51). Weaver addressed such a response in his essay by saying, "[I]t is not possible for God exercise violence while Jesus is only nonviolent, and if Jesus is nonviolent, then the Godhead is also nonviolent" (p. 16). The format of the book really shines on this point because Boersma critiqued Weaver's premise, saying, "[I]f Jesus is truly one with the Father - of the same substance with the Father - then what happens on the cross is not a transaction between two individuals, one of whom is abusing the other" (p. 35)! Boersma concludes his assault on the nonviolent view by saying, "[T]hey need to come to grips with the biblical witness that repeatedly associates God with violence, including violence on the cross" (p. 53).
Thomas Finger then chimes in with his view called "Christus Victor as Nonviolent Atonement." In his scheme, Adam and Eve's disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden also constituted obedience to another lord, namely the serpent. He says, "By submitting to this lord, Eve, Adam, and their descendants not only turned away from God, they also subjected themselves to the serpent's dominion. This finally resulted in death - but not simply because God decreed it as a legal penalty for disobedience. Submission to the serpent intrinsically led toward death because it cut people off from God, life's source" (p. 91). Regarding the death of Jesus, he writes, "Were Jesus to share our fate, including the punishment we deserve, the death penalty would be executed, directly, by the powers ruling our world (by those operating, in Jesus' case, through religion and the violent state). Jesus bore their wrath, not his Father's, directly. To be sure, since the Father used these agents to execute justice, Jesus bore God's general judgment against sin, as we all do, indirectly" (p. 98). He sums up the benefit of his view by saying, "No longer is the Father opposed to or 'above' the Son (and the Spirit omitted). Instead, the evil powers are on one side, and God - the Father, Son, and Spirit - on the other....It is the powers, ranged over against God, who inflict the death penalty although Jesus was innocent. God does not inflict such a penalty, save in the indirect sense of allowing it to be exacted, without  intervening violently to prevent it, because this was an inevitable consequence of their mission of self-sacrificing love" (pp. 99-100).
The final essay is by T. Scott Daniels. He presents a view derived from the sociological/anthropological/theological work of Rene Girard. This view is variation on the theories of mimetic rivalry and scapegoating. S. Mark Heim is another contemporary proponent of this view. I have looked into it, but remain unconvinced of its validity as a substantive theory of the atonement claimed by the New Testament.