About a year ago, I was asked to speak at a retreat on the topic of the atonement. I'll be honest - I hadn't done much thinking, reading or research on the doctrine of the atonement beyond the typical Sunday school stuff. But there'd always been this nagging question at the back of my mind, "Why?"
In other words, if God makes all the rules, why did Jesus/God have to die on the cross to appease his own rules? Why couldn't he just forgive the sins?
I know, I know - there's that entire "holy righteousness/justice" argument that posits that even God himself can't break the rules he sets up. But, to be honest, this might sound "right" in a Sunday school class, but it just doesn't hold water in the course of rational thought.
So as I began reading and thinking on the atonement, I came across a body of modern writing that referred to an ancient theory of the atonement known as Christus Victor.
There is a book by Gustaf Aulen (now out of print) of the same name that explores the various theories of the atonement and ends up concluding that until hundreds of years after the death of Christ, the church held to the Christus Victor theory - and that substitutionary atonement as we conceive of it today, didn't emerge as dominant until much later.
I'm now convinced that Jesus, on the cross, wasn't dying to appease God's wrath at sin, but rather was waging a battle against the enslaving forces of sin and evil in the most radical manner conceivable.
For some online reading on the topic, see http://www.sharktacos.com/God/cross_intro.shtml.
I'll be posting more from my retreat notes and presentations at my website later.