The viability of a sacrificial theology of atonement
The tradition of thought identified as a sacrificial theology of atonement or the doctrine of the cross has done a great deal to shape our understanding of Jesus' ministry and work by drawing attention to the manner in which Christ was able to remove the barrier of human sin and reconcile the divine-human relationship. Within this tradition, biblical, Catholic, and Reformed interpreters have represented Jesus' death as a ultimately gracious and redemptive sacrifice for the world. Nevertheless, since the Age of Enlightenment, there have been strong and repeated criticisms of the tradition, criticisms that may be described as rationalist, experiential, or liberationist in nature, that have prompted alternative understandings to a sacrificial interpretation of Jesus' death. The questions that have surfaced in some of the more radical criticisms of the tradition include the following: Should Jesus' execution on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem nearly two millennia ago be interpreted ultimately and positively as a divine mission for saving humankind or was it a tragic and deplorable mistake? Does a sacrificial understanding of Jesus' atonement impose upon the church a highly erroneous and immoral understanding of God's role in Jesus' death? Lastly, does this image of an innocent "God-man" being crucified or "sacrificed" for the moral and spiritual transgressions of others, ultimately provide a socially destructive example to be emulated?. These are some of the graver questions that have surfaced. In response to these modern criticisms, Colin Gunton, the contemporary English theologian, has posed his own modified or transformationalist view of traditional sacrificial theory. This dissertation will see as its major task that of rendering a critical evaluation of the contribution of Colin E. Gunton to the discourse along with initially providing an analysis of the major features of a sacrificial theology of atonement along with a descriptive commentary on the modern criticisms of the tradition.
Thomas Ehrmann Long,
"The viability of a sacrificial theology of atonement"
(January 1, 1999).
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