Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

St. Tommy, Keith Ward, and atonement

Just listened to the second part of Keith Ward's lecture, "The New Fundamentalists" (see previous post) and in it he talks about atonement. I hate the atonement theory, so I was intrigued to hear that Ward, and yes, Thomas Aquinas (heh), pretty much agree with me. Here's a bit of what he said - sorry for any transcription errors ...

[...] The substitutionary theory of the atonement. Now what is that? Well, it didn't exist in Christian thought at all until the sixteenth century - no Christian had ever thought of it. The substitutionary theory is that we all deserve to die because we are born in original sin. Now just let me remind you that a lot of the Christian world doesn't believe in original sin. No Eastern Orthodox, Greek, Russian, etc., church believes in original sin. Jews don't believe in original sin. It's only an Augustinian heritage of the Latin church that believes in original sin.

So, not all Christians believe that anyway, but even if you do believe that, then the substitutionary theory goes like this: there is original sin so you will die unless you pay the price for your sin. But you can't pay the price, and so somebody has to pay it for you and that's the substitution - somebody dies in your place, and so you don't have to die.

Now Christians, theologians like for example, St. Anselm, had thought of that theory as a possible interpretation of some sentences in the bible, and they said we can't believe that, it's immoral and depraved. It's immoral because it says somebody else can pay the price for our sin and the bible says you have to pay the price for your own sin. It doesn't say it's ok if somebody else pays the price, even God - it's just not right, it's not fair, it's not just. So the substitutionary atonement has a big moral problem and that's why it was rejected by every major Christian theologian until John Calvin, who invented it. Calvin invented it.

There are lots of other theories of atonement. I'll just give you mine - it's probably the best one I've come across. Mine is very ancient - it goes right back to the third century AD and it is the view that atonement means what the word suggests ... at-one-ment ... making one with God. It's not that you deserve to die and somebody pays the price, it is that God's love is so overwhelmingly great that it will unite you to God as soon as you accept God's invitation to do so. And that's it. Nobody has to die. God didn't have to die to make you one with God, and I can quote Thomas Aquinas on this. Thomas Aquinas said it is not necessary for Christ to die, not absolutely necessary. What is necessary is if there were a perfect person in a world like this, they would be killed ...


Anonymous Lee said...

If you haven't already read it, you might like Ward's "What the Bible Really Teaches," which covers in more depth why he thinks fundamentalism is wrong.

(Thanks for the link to the lecture!)

10:13 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the recommendation. I actually have that book but still haven't read it yet - must take a look :)

12:51 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hi Crys,

Sometimes Aquinas is a little bit hard to understand on the atonement. At least I think so... The foremost authority on that is Eleonore Stump. This guy did a good job of summarizing what Stump has to say about it, right down to the analogy of the little boy Nathan who tramples his mother's flowers, and the brother who makes it all good.

6:26 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi jeff :)

Thanks for the link - it looks interesting.

6:53 PM  
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