redletterchristians.org has an article that helped me think differently about Atonement, heaven and hell
So, this last Sunday, I got off on a tangent that I didn't plan on going down. And I talked about something that I wasn't prepared to talk about: hell and eternal punishment. I didn't stay on that topic very long. But I know that I said some things in a way that I regret.
The actual topic I was speaking about was "How Can I know God's Will for my Life?". The sermon for the most part went pretty well. I was trying to talk about reasons that we have great Joy and Love because God has saved us. That was when I turned to some teachings that I was taught growing up in conservative Christianity. I'm speaking of the most predominant Theory of Atonement taught among conservative Christianity today: The Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement.
Basically, the theory says that God is set on punishing (or Penalizing, hence Penal) Sinners by death. Jesus Christ is offered instead of sinners to take that punishment. Jesus is our Substitute. So by Jesus taking the punishment that was meant for us, we can be "Atoned" or have peace with God, and enjoy eternal life in Heaven. If we reject Jesus Christ, then we receive the punishment of Hell, eternal separation from God, torment.
I believed that way of thinking for most of my childhood and teen years, and probably even into college. I never really liked it though. I felt that preachers used it to incite fear and proclaim threats, which they could then use to manipulate people into making a decision for Christ. I don't see that being God's way or Jesus Christ's way of working in the world. In fact, I seem to remember the New Testament saying, "perfect Love casts out fear." Even though I didn't agree with that way of thinking and preaching, I still did not pursue re-programming the 18+ years of that teaching in my brain. So it is unfortunately, the default way I think about the "Good News" of the Gospel: God saves us from the punishment of Hell so we can enjoy Heaven. You'd think in Seminary and through Board of Ordained Ministry Interviews, I would have clarified what I really think.
Fortunately, yesterday I came across this article: http://www.redletterchristians.org/healing-toxic-faith-did-jesus-die-to-save-us-from-god/. Derek Flood does a good job of putting forth a different way of thinking about The Atonement, and showing why the Penal Substitution Theory is not simply "What the Bible says." The main issue he raises with it is the fact that it sets up a scenario where Jesus Christ dies to save us from God--why would we need to be saved from God? Isn't God Good? The PSToA isn't so much what the Bible reveals to us, rather it is some Christians imposing Punitive Justice upon the Bible. The article briefly presents the Christus Victor Theory of Atonement, that was taught by the church for many years before the PSToA took over:
For the first thousand years, the work of Christ was understood primarily in terms of God’s act of healing people, and liberating them from the bonds of sin and death. This understanding of the atonement is known as Christus Victor. But gradually there was a shift towards a legal focus, and with it a focus on violent punishment. The message was flipped on its head: instead of the crucifixion being seen as an act of grave injustice (as it is portrayed in all four Gospels), there was a shift towards the claim that God had demanded the death of Jesus to quench his anger. Not coincidentally, this coincided with increased violence perpetrated by the church, and it went downhill from there.
So, this Sunday, I plan to make up for my mistake and answer the question "Why does a Loving and Just God plan eternal punishment in Hell?" I can promise you that my answer is "He doesn't, and here's why..." It's time to have a Christ-like faith that brings healing, not fear.
I am a Software Developer, a career shift made in 2018. So far, I have experience with C# .Net and Angular. I continue to let curiosity lead me into learning new technologies. I plan to share what I learn along the way about technology and personal/career life. Previously, my vocation was United Methodist pastor. So in addition to coding, I'll share about theology, the Church and The Bible. I also enjoy running, music, and I'm a deeply committed father and husband. Maybe my experiences will help you. I know it helps me to share.