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Monday, August 16, 2010

Why Do I Blog So Much About the Atonement?

I am sure that many atheists and non-believers wonder why I blog so much about the atonement. Well, what is the central element of the Christian faith? It is the cross. What is the sign of Christianity? No, it's not the fish; it is the cross. What do you see perched on top of Christian church steeples? What do you see around the necks of Christians? It is the cross. The cross and what Christians believe was accomplished there is the most basic and fundamental of all Christian doctrines. Many apologists, such as William Craig and Mike Licona, focus on the resurrection. However, as I told Mike one day at lunch, without the cross, the resurrection is meaningless.

Christianity is bascially about the idea that Jesus died for sinners. What does that mean? How does that work? Christians have for millennia debated and disputed this central point. Unlike the doctrine of the Trinity or the Person of Christ, there has never been a consensus among Christians as to what the cross means and how it saves. This is a major problem that cannot be swept under the rug.

My goal in blogging about the atonement is to show the following:

1. No theory of the atonement put forward by Christians is coherent and consistent with the rest of classical Christian doctrine.

2. The theory held by the majority of Evangelical Christians, the Penal Substitutionary Theory, is fatally flawed.

3. How Christians came to believe that the death of Christ is an atonement for sins can be explained from the cultural influences that were present in the first century.

So, it may seem that I am "beating a dead horse" with all of my posts about the atonement but in reality I am attacking the central tenet of the Christian faith.


  1. The mental masturbation that needs to happen in order to make that explanation is amusing to say the least!

    And there is the humerous comparison that if jebus had been executed in this day and age, would people be wearing little electric chairs?

  2. Whatever your reason, your insight on the subject has been immensely interesting.

  3. Okay - now why do you blog about it in 14pt type?

  4. Okay - now why do you blog about it in 14pt type?

    It's easier to read?

  5. Maybe because I am old and don't see as good as I used to :)

  6. Perhaps you've been blinded by sin!

  7. I'm given to understand that's an old wives' tale...

  8. Ken, I enjoy the posts on PST, even if I do not post on all of them.

  9. Agreed. I find it particularly interesting because (as I've said before) PST was essentially why I left the church. (The moment I looked up and thought, Wait a minute, how does that work? my days as a Christian were numbered.) At the time, though, I didn't have a very good way to articulate my problems with the doctrine - in fact, I think I was still calling it "the part where Jesus died for our sins". So I've found the in-depth exploration both fascinating and informative.

    Then, of course, there's an additional element: it's your blog, so naturally you're going to write about whatever interests you. And that's what you should be doing. Who wants to read articles about things that the author wasn't interested in writing about?

  10. I do sometimes wonder, Ken - and have posted as such - whether you give too much credence to 'the atonement' and related mythologies.
    You work hard exploring the philosophies that might underpin the atonement, but in actual fact it is not worthy of such intellectual effort, being internally incoherent and inconsistent. The idea has perplexed interested parties, starting with Paul and, as you've shown, going on down the centuries, not because it hinges on elaborate truths, but because it doesn't!

  11. I do sometimes wonder, Ken - and have posted as such - whether you give too much credence to 'the atonement' and related mythologies.

    Eh, sometimes it's fun to just flog away at the depths of a stupid idea. Consider Slacktivist's Left Behind series, wherein he has spent, what, six years tearing apart the Left Behind books from a theological and editorial perspective and has made it all the way to the half-way point of book two in the series. I, personally, have a series on my blog where I rip apart this terrible book called After the Flood that attempts to trace the British royal line from Noah. It's terrible and I mock it because it's fun.

    Both things are also educational, specifically I believe that they help former believers steady themselves against the onslaught of apologists. They also help non-believers understand the thought process involved from an insider's perspective.

    Ken has a far more serious take on his atonement pieces than Slacktivist or I take against our respective chosen stupidity, but that's just Ken's style. But I do think it's useful to see how many people have wrestled with this idea and in how many different ways. Because it's easy to go too far in the other direction and just reject it out of hand.

  12. Ken as I've said to you before you are uniquely qualified to put an end to this madness. What you are writing will get published and it will make a huge impact on the religious landscape.

    With no atonement there is no Christianity...none.

  13. Hi Ken,

    I just visited your site today and found this:
    "...whether you hold to Penal Sub. theory or not, somehow and in someway the death of Jesus brings about salvation or makes it possible. There is no escaping that point in the New Testament. And thus in some real sense, Jesus had to die before I could be forgiven. Otherwise, why did he die? His death would have been unnecessary. So in some sense or another the Bible teaches the concept of redemptive violence."

    That is a comment I would like to take up with you - and I don't mind giving you an acknowledgement on my site (with your permission) if my response also appears there.

    Ken Loftus may be right, but I think a greater impact will be made if you actually convert - not to a belief in PST of course, but to an acceptance of the One whose sacrifice you are yet to comprehend. That would make a whole lot of people within 'churchianity' - and outside - sit up and take notice.


  14. Sorry - that should be 'John Loftus!'

  15. but to an acceptance of the One whose sacrifice you are yet to comprehend.

    That is so offensive. Ken, if you can be civil to this guy, you have far more patience than I have (well, that's pretty much a given).

  16. Norman,

    I am sure that you don't think I have yet comprehended the true nature of the atonement. Of course, the great majority of evangelicals would say that you have misinterpreted the nature of the atonement. Regardless of how one interprets the mechanics of the atonement, I don't see how one escapes the notion that in some way a violent death results in redemption, thus "redemptive violence."

  17. cipher,
    Jesus Himself said He came on earth specifically to be offensive. Norman's comments are accurate and require more thought in their response, I think.

  18. 1. We don't know what Jesus said, or that he even existed.

    2. It's all made up.

    3. You're an idiot.

  19. Cipher,
    Keep it civil, for your own sake...I know that is how Ken wants it. All views are to be examined.

    That's why I think Norman's question deserves more thought, much more.

  20. It has nothing to do with view. Norman is stating outright that Ken never had any comprehension of "the One" - in other words, "No True Christian". It's insufferably condescending.

    Ken knows my opinions. If he wants me to leave, he'll tell me.

  21. That's makes sense. It wasn't approached very sensitively. However, Norman makes a case I hope Ken will not just look over quickly. What if the atonement is real? What if PST is not right but the atonement is? We must keep our views open, there is evidence for Jesus, His existence and the resurrection.

  22. there is evidence for Jesus, His existence and the resurrection.

    There isn't. You just want to believe there is.

  23. Cipher, it seems you're the only one offended. Of course, I have a different view and will express it. - I mean no disrespect and I don't believe any was taken. I am a little older than Ken - so there is no disrespect for age, and I do value his knowledge and learning. I think we have a degree of mutual respect. Sorry not to have replied sooner. I've been a tad busy.

    I will reply later to his comment in one of his more recent posts - I can't keep up!!

  24. The Atonement is the response to Original Sin. If you do a series on Applegate as a "prequel" that would be great. There is no need for forgiveness in the first place. Forgiveness for what?