March 13: Theology of the Atonement

posted Mar 15, 2016, 9:49 AM by in apropos   [ updated Mar 15, 2016, 9:57 AM ]

"Atonement Theology - Jesus is Not Plan B"

On March 13, Rev. Katharine C. Evans -- better known to us simply as Kay -- led a well-attended, and lively discussion on the “Anglican Theology of the Atonement”. She described the ways in which Christian theologians have dealt with the question of whether God requires a sacrifice in order for us to be saved. Or, put another way: Did Christ have to die for our sins?

Earlier Jewish traditions required a “scapegoat” as sacrifice. Passages in Paul's letters -- “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3) -- show an obvious effort to make a link to those earlier traditions. In the end, Kay explained, answers to the question of how Jesus atoned for our sins fall into two broad categories or camps: atonement through Jesus' incarnation (coming to us in flesh, becoming an intercessor, requiring of us only repentance); and atonement through the events we remember at Easter (crucifixion, and triumph over death through resurrection), which Kay termed the “traditional” view.

Eastern (Orthodox) Church fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries (such as Gregory of Nyssa) took an incarnational view. Augustine of Hipp believed the crucifixion was the Atonement for the sins of Adam. The Anglican theologian Richard Hooker argued for a middle path (“via media”) in the 17th century, but generally fell into the Incarnation camp, asserting the salvation of all by repentance. Anselm and Aquinas fall into the traditional camp, while Francis of Assisi believed in atonement through incarnation. And regarding Christ's incarnation/birth, Francis invented the Christmas creche. (Who knew?)

Finally, Kay recommends a video on “Atonement Theology” (attached)
Gratitude was expressed to Kay for covering seventeen centuries of theology in under 45 minutes!
(thanks to John Yannis for the summary)

There will be no Discussion Group on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday. Discussion Group will resume on April 3rd with a program sponsored by the Social Action Committee, "The Future of Syrian Refugees," presented by Boston College professor Westy Egmont.