A review of evangelical theologian and apologist Randal Rauser’s latest book, Conversations With My Inner Atheist, Part 7:
“Mia” (Rauser’s nickname for his doubts): Why isn’t the death of Jesus just one more evil? As I understand it, at the heart of atonement is the idea that Jesus died as our substitute, in our place. He took the punishment that was properly owing to us. And this somehow maximizes God’s justice. But I think that actually looks positively horrid.
Randal: I think the first thing I want to say is that I believe the heart of your objection is not the Christian doctrine of atonement per se but rather against a specific theory of atonement, namely the penal substitutionary theory of atonement. According to that theory, Christ reconciles us to the Father by being punished in our place and having our sin transferred to him. But many Christians do not accept that theory. One can reject penal substitution theory of atonement while retaining the core doctrine of atonement.
Mia: So what is the right theory, then.
Randal: In fact, there are many theories of atonement: ransom, Christus victor, exemplar, Girardean, governmental, recapitulation, and others. Each aims to offer an overarching framework to interpret how God actually works to reconcile us in Christ. But I don’t actually endorse any one of them.
The key, from my view, is to note that the church on the whole has never committed to insisting that any one of these theories is the correct one. So while the church teaches the atoning work of Christ—indeed, that teaching is at the heart of her proclamation—it has never formally dictated a specific theory of how that work should be understood. That’s one reason why I don’t hold to a specific theory. Rather, I think that the New Testament provides a rich multiplicity of word pictures or metaphors and that each one of them offers a particular insight even if none of them can sustain an overarching theory.
–pp. 104, 106-107
Gary: “The New Testament provides a rich multiplicity of word pictures or metaphors and that each one of them offers a particular insight even if none of them can sustain an overarching theory.” Wow. Leave it to a moderate-liberal Christian theologian to come up with such lovely, nuanced, literary verbiage to describe a bloody human sacrifice!
Read part 8 here.
End of post.