I Don’t Believe a Word of It

Posted: February 17, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

So I’m reading along in a pretty good book about commitment to God, going the distance, a true discipleship that is more than going through the motions (Radical, David Platt). The author talks about how very much we in the church have it wrong, that we confuse our culture and its values with the call of the Gospel that is really something altogether different. I’m nodding in agreement. And then he tips his hand to reveal his underlying theology, Christology and dominant model of atonement. I stopped nodding. I began shaking my head. It’s a familiar construct, what he describes, and it’s dead wrong.

A few quotes:

“Why was he (Jesus) trembling in that garden, weeping and full of anguish? We can rest assured that he was not a coward about to face Roman soldiers. Instead he was a Savior about to endure divine wrath…All God’s holy wrath and hatred toward sin and sinners, stored up since the beginning of the world, is about to be poured out on him … wrath due your sin and my sin being thrust upon his soul. In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came rushing down like a torrent on Christ himself…at the cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God…This is the gospel. The just and loving creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in him will be reconciled to God forever.”(34-36)


First, wrong God. Wrath isn’t what defines God and justice isn’t all about wrath. There are many attributes of God, many taken from our human grab bag as we attempt to describe the ineffable in our tiny ways. Basically this is a strict/punitive father model, the cosmic disciplinarian who is going to discipline the children for their own good, in his own way. Insisting on this model of God continues to alienate and send people away from any engagement with the faith, not because they are cowardly or lost, but because it is untenable. It is untenable for me. Wrong God.

Second, wrong God punishes his own son to placate his rage: Bad Dad, cosmic child abuse. Hope he feels better afterwards. Somebody has to pay, says strict Dad, so I’ll send son to suffer because the perpetual sin of humanity enrages me. How dare them. After I’ve been their strict father for all these centuries and I get what? Ok, kick the dog, the scapegoat, mmm, my son. Ok, now we’re good. He’s taken a beating for you, and don’t forget it. Jesus isn’t afraid of suffering, no, he’s afraid of Dad’s wrath.

This is substitutionary atonement, very popular in some Christian circles, the backbone of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. The more blood spilled, the more strict father god is satisfied, the more we are now OK. It’s an absolute failure.

Third, this is far from the only way to understand God, the saving work of Christ and how we are reconciled and made one with God and one another. For example:

The loving God who created and is creating the whole world and all humanity always desires that we be in faithful, loving, committed relationship. But we are separated from that love, by our own designs and the ways of circumstances, and our lives are often in bondage, enslaved to everything but God. The creator of the universe never gives up on the beloved and always reaches to restore relationship through love, sacrificial love, love such as took his faithful son all the way to the cross – not to endure God’s wrath, but to express the boundless love that suffers for the beloved. God’s truth spoken is punished by the world that does not want to be known for what it is. When you see that sacrificial love it breaks your heart and turns you back to the divine lover who never gives up. Until we do turn, our souls are withered, small and pale, lifeless when cutoff from our source. We experience that separation every day. But through the mercy and grace of God, through Jesus, God’s wisdom become flesh, we are given a new way, a new path and life in Christ. And as he is lifted up on the cross all humanity is drawn to the love that will not let us go.

Like that, for instance.

  1. Vicki Conn says:


  2. Barbara Kent says:

    Tim, as always, you speak with such clarity, understanding, and wisdom!!! Thank you for speaking!!!

  3. LG says:

    THANK YOU FOR THIS!!! And for your words that draw me closer to a God I want to be in relationship with.

    I grew up on the substitutionary atonement wafers, Southern Baptist style, but I have never been able to make that work for me; for a long time I thought it was just because I didn’t want to be punished for my sinful ways, that everyone has to face the punishment sooner or later because none of us are perfect.

    The heart aches from many things, but hiding from a wrathful God in fear of punishment is, ironically its own punishment. It causes one to miss out on the beauty of a relationship with a loving God whose heart breaks for us when we won’t return his calls. Jesus life shows us the risk of listening to those calls and going the distance for the sake of justice, mercy and compassion for others. Anyone in this life who has stood up for someone against a bully has felt a small part of the anguish Jesus did. But I can’t believe in a God who is the bully.

  4. Jan Coffman says:

    Your comments are great.

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