More About Narnia, Problems with Atonement
A rather angry Chris Heard replies to some of Toynbee's claims in the Guardian article I mentioned yesterday. Chris discusses both the marketing of the film and Toynbee's anti-Christian rhetoric, and I'm sympathetic to some of his objections. Go ahead and read it. I only want to comment on a remark Chris makes in passing about the doctrine of atonement. He writes:
"Toynbee tips her anti-Christian hand when she writes:
'Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?'
So voluntary self-sacrifice is somehow repugnant precisely because of its voluntarism? This I simply do not get. If Toynbee were objecting to the image of God that this kind of crass view of substitutionary atonement implies (and, by the way, I don't think this is an adequate view of what's going on, on the cross), a God who demands blood to atone for sin, then I would feel more sympathetic and would think there was at least something there to talk about."
I'm curious to know what Chris thinks is "the adequate view of what's going on, on the cross". One of the next books on my reading list is Stephen Finlan's sequel to The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors, called Problems with Atonement: The Origins of, and Controversy About, the Atonement Doctrine. The first book, like no other, brings home how very different understandings of Christ's death had become mixed and fused by the time of the New Testament writings. Certainly the idea of "substitutionary atonement" goes back to the New Testament -- and the Hebrew Bible, for that matter. But it's monetary substitution in the propitiary sense, by which tribute is offered to God in order to appease his wrath. The idea of penal substitution, where a sacrifice "stands in" for the offender, is the later idea.
Toynbee would obviously have problems with either one, but it's hard to tell which idea Chris perceives her problem with, or to which he is acknolwedging the valid issue. In any case, according to the way Finlan describes his sequel here, and the preface which I've already read, he urges Christians to abandon all ideas of atonement. The doctrine of the Incarnation is the non-negotiable -- give up that, Finlan says, and you're no longer Christian -- while atonement ideas are dispensible. That's an interesting take, and I'll have more to say in a couple of weeks when I finish the book.