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Q & R: Atonement and hostility

Here's the Q:

You make this claim about hostile consequences [of equating penal substitutionary atonement theory with the gospel] ...
Many people will not see any problem with the theory, or even if they do, they will not be able to bring themselves to question it. I hope that folks in that category will at least decide to guard themselves from the potentially hostile consequences of holding the theory ... which is why I think they'll find the upcoming book helpful, even though they will in the end disagree with some of it.

----what are they?
You seem to create a straw man where there isn’t one. I am a believer in “Substitutionary Atonement” but I don’t believe in an “US vs. Them” as in believers vs unbelievers. It’s not us and them it’s just US! We are all sinners. I do realize that some people take grace for granted but you need to answer this one question—how can I be saved? And please don’t tell me that that isn’t the question I should be asking. If you are a universalist that’s fine but you need to acknowledge it. And if you are a universalist then how does that make God just? Totally evil and depraved people will be saved? If substitutionary atonement is not real then why did God have the Jews sacrifice animals to cover their sins and what does Passover signify? You also assign certain characteristics to God that reflect your progressive ideology which seems to represent sort of a feminization of God.

Not trying to be hostile but to be very honest you seem to have lots of opinions about what the Bible says but I don’t see a proof Biblically.

Here's the R:


Thanks for your question. First, I should say that I hope you'll read my book that comes out this fall, called "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World." (Here's the Barnes and Noble link.) As you can imagine, if I could make a strong and detailed case for something in a short blog, I wouldn't need to write a whole book about it. The book looks at four areas where I believe hostility gets and stays rooted in Christian identity - historical, theological, liturgical, and missional. When you ask for biblical proof, you're focusing on what I call the theological challenge, and it is indeed the longest of the four sections in the book. But I think the historical dimension is terribly important and under-rated ... as are the liturgical and missional too.

Second, I'm glad you are able to hold PSA theory without slipping into hostility. Thank God for that. I notice, however, that even though you say, "it is only US," meaning "us sinners," in what you then write it's not that simple. For example, you distinguish between PSA believers and unbelievers, those who take grace for granted and those who don't, universalists and non-, totally evil and depraved people and saved people, those who use sacrifices to cover their sins and those who don't, those who have a progressive ideology that feminizes God and those who don't. Within that larger "us sinners," there are a lot of lines that distinguish "them-us" from "us-us" - at least it seems that way to me.

My concern is that the "us-us" side of those equations can easily be pitted against the "them-us" side - especially when "we" believe God is planning to subject "them" to "eternal conscious torment" in hell. I often get emails from people who quote verses like these:

Psalm 5:5, "The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity,"
Psalm 11:5, "The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates."
Lev. 20:23, "Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them."
Prov. 6:16-19, "There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers."
Hosea 9:15, "All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels."

They want to point out (using chapter and verse - as at this website) that God hates sinners and will delight to punish them for eternity in hell, and they can provide "proof Biblically" for their view (which satisfies them). My concern is that if this is someone's default view of their neighbor, they can easily imitate their image of God, so that they share God's wrath, hatred, and disgust at "them." And indeed, they can point to chapter and verse for that too - e.g. Psalm 119:113 or 139:22.

Again, I'm not saying everyone who holds the theory will allow themselves to slip into this way of thinking. But it's a danger - and history has shown (as I detail in the book) how under the right conditions, people can slip pretty far down into this kind of religiously-based hostility. That's why I think it's worth taking the danger seriously.

It's also why I am so grateful that Jesus models a different view of God and neighbor, and why I aspire to follow Jesus, although I fail in many ways every single day.

PS: You asked about why the ancient Israelites made animal sacrifices, and the meaning of the Passover - that's something I address in the book as well. It's not as simple as many of us Christians were taught. Quite fascinating, actually!