Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Atonement as "Cosmic Child Abuse"

You have probably heard the argument that the Calvinist view of the atonement amounts to an act of "cosmic child abuse." Those who say such things have a problem with the concept of penal substitution. Steve Chalke, who coined the phrase, had this to say:
    The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse -- a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a construct stands in total contradiction to the statement "God is love." If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies and refuse to repay evil with evil. The truth is the cross is a symbol of love. It is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his son are prepared to go to prove that love. The cross is a vivid statement of the powerlessness of love.
Quotes like this reveal what a stumbling block the cross really is for some people. That a professing Christian would think that God's holy and just punishment of sin can be considered evil is beyond me. It doesn't go along with what we read in scripture.

That isn't to say that Christ's suffering was pleasing to God, for if God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), he certainly would take no pleasure in the death of his only Son. No, the focus in scripture is on the removal of God's wrath from sinners: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). That is the joy of the cross.

Those who subscribe to the view that penal substitution is child abuse don't understand that joy. They also demonstrate a weak understanding of the Trinity. What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, was he not? As Timothy Keller writes in his book The Reason for God:
    God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself. Therefore the God of the Bible is not like the primitive deities who demanded our blood for their wrath to be appeased. Rather, this is a God who becomes human and offers his own life-blood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that some day he can destroy all evil without destroying us.
Sin must be punished, and God lovingly and willingly absorbed the punishment that we rightly deserved. Despite what Steve Chalke and others might think, that isn't the act of some cosmic child abuser.

1 comment:

Philip Joy said...

Hi, thanks for this article.
The comment was not coined by Steve Chalke, though he did popularize it. It was originally written is an essay by Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker "For God So Loved the World" in VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN, A CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL SOURCE BOOK New York, Lexington eds. Carole Adams and Marie Fortune (1995)

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