Exercise on the Cross

It is widely known outside Christian circles that Christians claim the cross to be 'atoning' in some way. In class we discussed popular atonement theories and objections to those theories, according to an analogy in which our traditions have sought deeper understanding and articulation of "the battle plan" by which the cross has saved us from sin, and have arrived at several major groups of competing accounts.

Choose an option:

It is hard to overstate how important this aspect of 'soteriology' is for pastoral, teaching, counseling, and research careers in the Christian tradition. Yet it can also be hard to appreciate how contested, implausible, and problematic these accounts can be (or seem to be) to people outside, and sometimes within, the communities that take them for granted. Moreover, they can become so formulaic and abstract that they mean little beyond the assumptions, sometimes dreadfully inaccurate, that people bring to them. So what to one person is a cliché or an empty platitude can to another person be nonsensical or offensive. Our jobs as learners, practitioners, and teachers of the faith always involves listening to these voices and articulating the apostolic tradition in ways that ought to make sense.

Choose one of the following two options:

1. Think of a real person who has some reason to object to the notions of atonement that are conventional in your Christian tradition. (Perhaps to that person they are oppressive, colorless, unintelligible, unsatisfying, unbiblical, who knows.) Drawing on lectures and course materials (I think especially of the Oxford Companion, Van Dyk, Barth, and Forde), articulate "the battle plan" of God revealed in Jesus Christ, particularly in the cross, in a way you consider both faithful and more likely to be received fruitfully. Explain (however directly or obliquely is up to you) why you think this is so.

Pick a 'good' (i.e., tough) one, especially someone who is unlikely to appreciate the stock answers that predominate in our traditions. Believe me, you'll meet a tougher one down the road, and this paper may turn out to be a training exercise.

You may write your answer as a letter, a sermon, a speech, study notes (which you might use in preparing your own thinking), or a message to our whole class.

Who knows? You may discover that the very obstacles you seek to overcome on that person's part could be addressed in the vision of atonement you seek to articulate. (Or you may discover that they aren't. I don't want to bias your answer.)


2. Imagine you are in a counseling, preaching, teaching, or research situation in which you need to appeal to the doctrine of atonement. By way of understanding or illustration, answer the following question: What concrete difference has the atonement made, and/or could it have made, in the life of your church, neighborhood, living situation, friendships, or family in the past week? Pay attention to all of the several aspects of atonement we have explored in lectures and in readings such as the Oxford Companion, Van Dyk, Barth, and Forde. Steer away from formulaic or abstract claims. You may even try anticipating objections from these or other sources that would implicitly deny Christ's atonement as more than a mental construct, odd claim, or coping mechanism.

Please keep your paper 3-4 pages, double-spaced, and follow the directions in my handout for writing papers. I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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