Atonement – A Philosophical Inquiry | Episode 1912 | Closer To Truth


[♪♪♪] [♪♪♪] ROBERT LAWRENCE KUHN:What is
the foundation of reality?
I think about this.I prioritize
the scientific method
but I do not dismiss,
as many scientists do,
a possible existence
of the supreme being,
God, or something like God.I’ve taken
a philosophical approach,
subjecting traits and doctrines
of God to analytic inquiry.
I find myself with two motives.The first is to explore what
is meant by God, deeply meant,
assuming God exists, of course.The second is to examine
how our minds deal with God,
how we rationalize
what we already believe.
For example, in the west,
the Christian doctrine
of the atonement
makes a staggering claim.
God, the creator,
brings about ultimate purpose
for all human beings by somehow
expiating sin through Jesus,
the one incarnated human being.For believers, how could
the atonement come about?
What might be
its underlying workings,
its metaphysical mechanisms?For non-believers,
what does the atonement say
about the kind of God
that supposedly designed it?
What’s the atonement?I’m Robert Lawrence Kuhn
and Closer To Truth
is my philosophical inquiry.[♪♪♪]The word atonement has at
least three common usages.
In ordinary life, atonement
means making up for mistakes.
In Judaism, the day of
atonement, Yom Kippur,
is when one is purified,
cleansed from sins before God.
In Christianity, because
the wages of sin is death,
atonement means reconciling
humanity with God,
through Jesus Christ.I was brought up with a day
of atonement, Yom Kippur,
the holiest day
of the Jewish year.
But I never much cared how
atonement works theologically.
The Christian atonement takes
a step further, a giant step.
Jesus, the incarnated God
lives, suffers, dies,
and is resurrected.And this oft-told story of
Jesus’s life, Christians claim,
enables the atonement.Can this make sense?Although I don’t know
if I could believe in Judaism
or Christianity,I am intrigued by how such
theological systems work.
On the one hand, atonement
probes the Judeo-Christian God.
On the other hand,
atonement is a linchpin
in grand theological schemes.To discern each, I follow
arguments, seek consistencies,
watch out for contradictions.I hear of a workshop on
the Christian atonement.
I go to Scotland,
St. Andrews University,
the Logos Institute for Analytic
and Exegetical Theology.
I begin with a philosopher of
religion whose book
Atonementcovers diverse explanations,
Eleonore Stump.
Eleonore, one of the critical
elements in the Christian doctrine of salvation
is the concept of atonement. I’d like to understand
how that works in reality, not a child’s tale. So, what you have to understand
is that although the doctrine that Christ’s life, passion,
death, and resurrection, have solved the problem
of human evil. That’s a central doctrine
of Christianity, but there is no
creedal formula for it. And what that means is that
although Christians are bound to accept the idea that somehow
Christ saves them, they aren’t bound to accept
any particular explanation of how he does it. Now there are a lot of theories in the history
of the Christian world. A lot of theories for how
to explain this basic claim. The idea is something like this. God would love to be reconciled
with you, be at peace with you, but he can’t. Something about his justice
or his honor or his goodness, rules out his just being
at peace with you and reconciled with you
because of what you’ve done. And therefore,
something has to be done. Christ has to pay
a penalty for you or Christ has to pay
a debt for you or Christ has to give God
a penance for you. Those are theories we tend
to associate with Anselm. I think that, in the end, they
present a God who is not loving, that’s my view of it. To be loving, is to want
the good of the other guy. And to want union with him. If you love,
that’s what you want. Now maybe that you
can’t get what you want. Maybe that even if you’re God
you can’t get what you want. I mean, the Bible says God
wants all people to be safe. But it also says
that they aren’t. So, the Bible says there
are things God wants that God doesn’t get,
even an omnipotent God. God can love unrequitedly. So, the problem
that needs some solution, is not a problem of helping God
give you a pardon or come closer to you
or be reconciled with you or declare you righteous,
or any of those things. The problem is you. I can’t come close to you
if you want to be close to me, and also don’t want
to be close to me. It works that way for God too. He can offer you love,
offer you union, but he can’t unilaterally
get what he wants. So, something about Christ’s
passion and death is supposed to help
with that problem. In the human condition, if
you live past the age of reason at all, you’re going
to have guilt. You’re going to have
committed wrongdoings. And you’re going to have
things you’re ashamed of and you certainly
don’t want God to see. That’s one problem
that needs a solution. And the other part of the
problem that needs a solution is what you are now. What is there about
Christ’s life, Christ’s passion, Christ’s death that can
help you in any way with the problem that you are. He can help with the
fragmentation in your will, by encouraging you to surrender. And on this theory,
Christ is a moral exemplar and that’s all he is. He shows you, look try it like
this, it works better like this. I disavow that theory. But there is something
Christ can do that will help you to surrender. When you resist love,
why is it you resist it? Maybe you will feel humiliated,
maybe you will feel ugly. What happens if you join
yourself to another person? Maybe that person will have
ideas for how your life will go and maybe you won’t like them. Maybe you’ll lose some of
your ability to control your own destiny, which is a
very polite way of saying you’d have to give up some of your
self-absorbed, self-willingness. [chuckling] And what does
Christianity give you? It gives you an image of
God that looks like this. Naked, tortured, rejected, violated by the authorities of his day, shamed in front of his family,
his friends, his mother. With his arms out,
saying come to me. How easy is it to let go
and accept that? Once you let go, and surrender, the whole process of healing
you can begin. It can’t begin
without the surrender. And that image of Christ
on the cross, humiliated, tortured,
and dying, out of love for you, that is the best help
for starting the process. KUHN:
Eleonore centers the atonement
on human wrongdoings and guilt.
And because God
cannot coerce love,
something strong needs
to bring about union with God.
Is this the atonement
as psychotheology?
My term, not hers.I do see the human problem
in God’s supposed solution.
But how does the
atonement actually work?
What causes what?What must happen
and what makes it happen?
Can the root meaning
of atonement shed light,
linguistically, biblically?I ask the founder and director
of the Logos Institute,
Alan Torrance.Atonement comes from the three
words, at one ment, of course, and so the suggestion
is that an alienated humanity is by an act of divine grace, brought to a position of being
at one with God and God’s purposes for humanity. And that is done by grace and
in the person of Jesus Christ. And grace in this context
simply means this, and it recognizes the fact
that there’s no way that an alienated humanity
could, in and of itself, bring itself to be
at one with God. And therefore, God fulfills
what human beings couldn’t do for themselves. – And that’s the act of grace?
– And that’s an act of grace. – Free grace.
– Right. And he wasn’t obliged to do it. Now, the way that happens
is by use of Jesus’s death. So, how is that
literally working? The Catholic tradition
focuses on Jesus’ death. Usually, the phrase is the work
of Christ on the cross is — you take the word Paul
uses for redemption, apolutrosis, and look at
its Jewish roots. Three key Hebrew concepts. One in paddar, the idea that
God delivered his people from slavery, from bondage,
in Egypt by his mighty arm. That’s an act of redemption. And then there’s,
the Kippur Kophur tradition, where sacrifice at Yom Kippur,
where God declares to Israel that they are delivered
from the sin by means of a life
given in their place. And then, there’s the Go El
or Go El element, which refers to
a kinsman redeemer, whereby if somebody
loses their inheritance, perhaps their husband dies, a brother comes in,
steps in as Go El and restores a family
to an inheritance that’s lost. And for Paul, when he’s using
the word apolutrosis, these three concepts,
kind of intertwined like strands of a rope,
coming together in his interpretation of what’s
going on in Jesus Christ. Here we’re seeing
the covenant God, who in act of unconditional love
for an alienated people, wants to deliver them
from the bondage of sin. And so, at the heart
of the atonement, is this doctrine of redemption
whereby in Christ, God’s coming to deliver us
from this disease, deliver us from bondage,
from captivity, to it. In a way that takes the
costliness of it seriously, the whole sacrificial thing. And then, the third element,
how does all this happen? Because Christ comes
as our kinsman redeemer, flesh of our flesh, blood of our
blood, bone of our bone, to restore us as a second Adam, to the inheritance that was lost
in Adam in the fall. And now the other keyword
to use here is reconciliation, a Greek word, katallage. I think that the fathers
got it right, when they summarized this by
saying God takes what is ours and transforms it so that
we might have what is his. So, that we might share
in the love that is the purpose and for the contingent order. Are there any boundaries
of what God does in this forgiveness process? I think there aren’t. I think there are no
boundaries to forgiveness. I think God forgives us
prior to any atonement. The atonement is an expression
of God’s love and forgiveness for his people. I actually don’t think
it makes any sense to say that one loves a person
unconditionally but one’s not going
to forgive them. If somebody dies and is not,
does not accept Jesus or rejects Jesus affirmatively,
what happens then? If you say that God’s
forgiveness has no bounds, is the no bounds
terminated with death? And everybody fears that —
about — well, conservative Christian
fans would fear that my position commits us to universalism.
I’m actually not a universalist. Why is that a fear? That’s a good question. Number one, it’s not possible
to be a Christian and want hell to be populated. To love your enemies, right,
as Christ loves his enemies, is to want hell
to be empty, okay. So, I’ve got a real problem
with any forms of, all forms of Christianity
that want to see, you know, a population there. Number two, to the extent
that hell is populated, it is populated by people
who are loved by God. So, it’s covenant love
and faithfulness all the way down, right? Even into hell. So, to the extent
that people occupy hell, and it is not because God,
because they’re not forgiven. There are no boundaries
to God’s forgiveness. [♪♪♪] KUHN:Alan offers three
aspects of atonement:
deliverance from bondage,sacrifice for sin,redemption of what is lost.Plus, reconciliation
in order to share God’s love.
Does this richer texture
to atonement
advance breadth of meaningor evidence a kind of thrashing
around to find rationale?
To me, the diverse explanations
of atonement
highlight what’s still missing
in atonement:
how the process works
from the inside.
I ask a pioneer
of analytic theology,
a fellow in the School
of Divinity at St. Andrews,
Oliver Crisp.KUHN: Oliver, to realize and
accept the Christian promise which is potentially
a glorious one, you have to go through
the salvation process, the key element of which
is atonement. How does that work? So, if I don’t understand
how something works, what the mechanism is, then frankly I have trouble
believing it. There’s no agreed upon
sort of canonical or official doctrinal view
on the nature of determine, as there is, for example on something like
the Doctrine of the Trinity. So, some people say Christ’s
really about showing the divinal love to us
and that in a life lived as supreme holiness
and a supreme act of sacrifice at the end of his life, he
demonstrates God’s love to us, and we should seek
to emulate that. In which case, the work of
Christ is really not so much about reconciling us
to God, it’s really more about us
showing us how we ought to live, and how we ought
to imitate Christ. There’s no real atonement
happening there. So, I don’t think it’s a
Doctrine of Atonement, right? It is an account
of the work of Christ, but not Doctrine of Atonement. And then, there are some people
say that well, fundamentally, Christ’s atoning work
is about ransoming us. It’s about paying a price for us and the price is sometimes
said to be paid to the devil, to whom we were sold
in slavery through sinning. Other people say
it’s not to the devil but it’s somehow a ransom price
that God pays himself. But, in any case,
there are different views of how Christ pays
this ransom through dying. So, that’s a good way of
thinking about the ransom view. Then, you’ve got another view
called the Satisfaction View. And here, the central idea
is that human sin estranges us from God, and either God must punish
that sin in you and me, or there must be
some alternative. And the alternative
is that God’s honor that’s been besmirched
by human sin is vindicated by some
act of satisfaction. And Christ’s death
is offered up as a way of satisfying God’s honor
or God’s justice. So, that God doesn’t have
to punish us because Christ is satisfied,
the demands of justice or the demands of honor
on our behalf. That makes me feel
a little bit uncomfortable. Well, I mean some versions
of satisfaction do say God demands it. Others say there are
alternatives open to God but there may be good reasons
why he deploys satisfaction. Reasons for — like,
for example, showing that there’s something morally
serious about sin and its consequences. There’s another main option
is what sometimes called – penal substitution.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sometimes confused
with satisfaction, but they actually have
different mechanisms because satisfaction says
its punishment or satisfaction, and satisfaction isn’t
a form of punishment. The penal substitution theorist
says Christ’s death is a form of punishment. Christ is punished
in place of you and me. Instead of us being punished
in hell, as it were, Christ is punished by dying
on the cross, dying the death
that we should die. And because he’s punished
in our place, God is able to reconcile us
to himself. So, distinguish for me
the mechanism between penal substitution
and the ransom where you’re paying the wages
off that, that — it just seems like different
metaphors for the same thing? My way of thinking about
the ransom view is that it doesn’t have a
clear mechanism. It’s that you could bring
the ransom view into something like a penal substitution
view to supplement it, but I think penal substitution,
unlike the ransom view, does have,
at its heart, a mechanism. And so, is a kind of flawbed
[ph] account of what is it that’s going on here? So, these four or five or so
different categories, and I’m sure there are some
sub-categories of these. They’re not mutually exclusive? Not necessarily. Some maybe. So, for example, at the heart
of penal substitution is an account that’s distinct
from satisfaction and they’re not commensurate
because satisfaction says Christ’s not being punished,
he’s satisfied. Penal substitution
is he is being punished. So, in that sense,
those two can’t both be true. But you could bring in ransom
and apply it to either satisfaction
or penal substitution, you can bring in
a moral exemplar view, as well. So, some of them
are composable, they can be had together,
but not all of them. Where are you standing
on this spectrum, right now? Well, that’s a good question. So, I try to think of
the atonement as fundamentally about
being united to Christ. And I want to tell a story
that is partly — there are partly elements
of penal substitution, and then there are partly
elements of an older view, called Theosis,
which is about how in taking up, in taking human nature,
Christ, as it were, scoops us up in order to bring
us up into the divine life, that we can enjoy
the divine life and participate
in the divine life. So, I want to bring those
two things together and fuse them into a new way
of thinking of the atonement that I call the Union Account. There’s a sense in which
we are truly united with Christ so that he can act in a way that reflects a real
relationship with us, much like we have
in other contexts where we have some kind of real union
with someone, and we can act as a unit
together, that’s something like that that’s going on in
the atonement, I think. And that’s really important
because it’s… [trails off] KUHN:
Oliver raised four possible ways
or metaphysical mechanisms
by which the Christian
atonement could work.
Emulation — Christ is
the model to follow.
Ransom — paying a price to buy
us back, whether from God
or from the devil seems
a matter of odd debate.
Satisfaction — God
must punish for sin.
God’s judgment
must be fulfilled.
Penal Substitution — Christ
is punished in our place,
dying on the cross.Some of these four ways
contradict,
not compliment each other.Good. That means
pat answers won’t work.
I like alternative explanations.Make Christian philosophers
think hard, challenge them,
see what they come up with.On the atonement,
I have so far engaged
with Christian philosophers.Would a Christian theologianor biblical scholar
think differently?
While both are believers and end
up affirming the atonement,
they begin with
different principles
and proceed along
different routes.
I meet the former Bishop
of Durham, a theologian,
and a biblical scholar at
St. Andrews, NT Tom Wright.
Tom, I’ve heard the now cliché
that Jesus died for my sins and all of that, what is this
atonement really mean in depth? Atonement is a shorthand which
actually has to be unpacked into a story, that when the bible
says Christ died for our sins, it says in accordance
with the scriptures, and the way I see it,
what often has happened in Christian theology, is people
said Christ died for our sins in accordance with the story
I’m going to tell you, to which I can supply
a few biblical footnotes. And I would say no,
what matters is the story which the scriptures tell, in
other words, the Old Testament, which is a story about
the creator and the creation, about humans made
in God’s image, rebelling, worshipping idols. About God’s call of Israel to
be the solution to that problem, but Israel too,
being composed, alas, of fallible human beings
who get it wrong. All of that ends with exile,
that the exile of Adam and Eve from the garden is then
repeated on a grand scale. The exile of Israel from
the land and after Babylon. And when you then tell
the story on through, and you get
the great prophesies, it’s all about how God is
going to forgive those sins, deal with exile,
and so renew creation. And so, when Christ died
for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
that’s what’s going on. The four gospels
tell the story of Jesus, not only as the story
of where creation and Israel are coming to its climax,
but as the story of how the power of evil in the world
reached its climax, as well. That is the heart of what
the New Testament says. Now God knew this before
the foundations of the world. How much of this
was pre-planned? I think what is
pre-planned is this. God makes a creature called
human, male and female, in his image,
in the full knowledge that he is giving them
a vocational responsibility which it will be possible
for them to reject. Ideology is thinkable, possible. God does that knowing
that if that happens, then what this will call forth
from him, is simply more
of the self-giving love which has created
the world in the first place. It will now have to take
a different mode because it will be
self-giving rescuing love, rather than just
the glad outpouring of this amazing creation. I think the whole idea
of creation is precisely making something
which has its own life. Now, then how does it
actually work, because if death is the wages
of sin, something like that, and we all sin, how then does
Jesus’ death apply to us? I think the way it works
is this. It’s about the story of Israel,
that God called Abraham to put right what was wrong
with the world. But it seems
to make matters worse, ending as I said,
with the exile. But then, the idea of
representative messiahship comes into play.
Jesus is the anointed king who sums up
his people in himself. So, God is intending to do
for the world, through Israel,
what needs to happen. The Israel vocation
devolves onto Jesus. So, he is the representative
one who can, therefore, stand in and, as it were, take the weight
of the thing onto himself. [♪♪♪] KUHN:As the Christian
masterplan has it,
the atonement is its fulcrum.The pivot point between, on the
one side, human history and sin,
and on the other side,
God’s salvation system
through Jesus Christ.The logic seems straightforward.The wages of sin is death,
all have sinned,
so all must die eternally,unless there is a worthy
alternative, and Jesus,
with a sin for your life,
is that worthy alternative.
Then it gets harder.Those metaphysical mechanisms
by which the atonement may work
all can be questioned.Emulation,but Christ as the model doesn’t
deal with death for sin.
Ransom, but if either
from God or from the devil,
it seems a bit murky.Satisfaction,but wouldn’t it make God stern,
severe, retributional?
Penal substitution, Christ
as proxy, punished in our place,
at least, it seems coherent.I always wonder whether
philosophical justifications
distort history, reading back
into simple ancient stories,
our contemporary complex
thoughts and concepts,
when the original story
was well, just a story.
Here’s the larger question
for those who believe
in a Christian God:
Was God constrained
by a salvation system of sin,
death, and atonement?
If no, why did God choose it?If yes, is God not omnipotent?Need Christian philosophers
answer this question
to be Closer To Truth?ANNOUNCER:
For complete interviews
and further information,
please visit closertotruth.com.[♪♪♪]

14 thoughts on “Atonement – A Philosophical Inquiry | Episode 1912 | Closer To Truth

  1. If you enjoyed this episode, give our excellent contributors a thumbs up! If you'd like to further explore the cosmos, consciousness, and meaning, please consider becoming a subscriber. For more episodes from Season 19, see our Season 19 playlist: @t

  2. There are a couple other theories that I didn't hear mentioned, the Christus victor and recapitulation theories. Another thing I didn't hear anyone mention, and probably more importantly,the resurrection, you cant have it without death first. The recapitulation seems the simplest way to understand it

  3. Too many complications for explaining what seems too simple: Christ's ordeal is God's atonement for what he asked Abraham to do in the name of faith. That wasn't nonetheless a less cruel provision, though it was seemingly a more 'ethical' one, for this time the victim agrees as to being immolated, while Isaac didn't. In Judaic tradition, proving one's faith, that is, approaching God seems to be something one has to cut out of one's flesh, while with Christ it is God who shows to approach man by cutting on his very flesh or, best said, by allowing mankind to do it, thus showing that the wrongdoings we suffer by are ultimately ours, that he can and will fix them anyway, like by resurrecting Christ, and that it is up to our conscience accepting God's nearness. No wonder that Paul has defined faith as the foundation of expecting with confidence what in practice is the unknown, that is, the definition itself of being alive: it is still up to man to reach God, faith's ultimate object, however this time it is certain God is there, entirely available, it depending not anymore on self sacrificing to find him, but on self enabling for such, on freeing oneself from ignorance – for which, by the way, everyone is forgiven beforehand. So, either Christianity worships a God that is radically different from the Jewish's or this god evolved by rethinking the topic 'mercifulness' of what would be, according to Kierkegaard, his unfathomable ethics.

  4. This is excellent. I’m very happy to see Closer to Truth taking this important Christian topic to task. I am also very pleased that they released this season for viewers in this time of shut-in.
    If I may, a few things I did not hear from the speakers is a different kind of Ransom Theory. One written about by Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century. He discussed the two options Robert did with his guests but Gregory said that the ransom was not paid to the devil, because this would set Satan over and above God, and it was not paid to the Father, because the Father would not hold man for ransom, as he seeks our salvation as well. The ransom, if paid to anything, Gregory posits, was paid to death.
    Robert, rightly, also kept pushing the issue of mechanism. “How does it work?” and “how does it apply to us?” A very good question which I think went overall, unanswered. The speakers did not use the important language of sacramental participation, that is, Christ is not only our exemplar and mediator, his sacrifice becomes our own in the sacramental life of the Church. In baptism, for example, we are crucified, buried, with Christ, and we are raised with him. This is done through the work and operation of the Holy Spirit and this is how the term used by Dr. Crisp “theosis” is accomplished. Participation in the Life of God.
    “God became man so that man might become god.” Athanasius.

  5. OMG, more of that goddamn religion bullshit again

    Every time I hear these ridiculous religious arguments I just have to throw up my hands and say, WTF ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!!! Utter nonsense!!!

  6. How did Kylo Ren have Darth Vader's helmet? Why did Obi Wan not recognize R2D2? There are lot's of burning questions that need answered with fan fiction.

  7. I've always been impressed by the way in which, while discussing with those who are experts in their fields, you instantly grasp the crux of the thing being discussed. You ask the right questions and approach the right people for presenting a wonderful discussion. While Christianity has a robust and mature tradition that has locked its scholarly horns with all sorts of issues and given rise to serious academic debates & tomes, this sort of healthy, scholarly examination of the world, and of itself, is almost nonexistent in Islam. What I'm therefore hoping from somebody with your knowledge and approach is to ask similar fundamental questions and explore the Islamic answer from the relevant professors and academia in the Western universities. For instance how does one reconcile the doctrine of the unity of Islamic Allah with the doctrine of the un-created & eternal nature of the Islamic scripture?

  8. When this is all over, i want to hear from God he's sorry, explanation why he did it and fair compensation for all we have lost and could had have if he wouldn't mess with a Devil. And i want something done with Eve also, so what if she took that stupid apple, everything was allowed except that one thing, who would even imagine such a curse when in Paradise. That tree should be cut before we populate Heaven again. Adam deserve some punishment, she was his woman, he should take better care of her and watch her knowing how she was like. Idiots, all of them.

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