What do we do with the atonement? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
As we continue through Zuersher’s work, we come to a chapter on atonement. Now I’ll state this upright. I have not spent much time looking at a lot of theories of the atonement. I have read Wright’s recent work on the cross. I think it’s an excellent work. Still, I cannot speak as an authority on the atonement, but that could be in some ways an advantage here.
You see, the reason I don’t see this as a defeater here is this is my situation. I have enough evidence to convince me that God exists. I have enough evidence to convince me of the full deity of Jesus. I have enough evidence to convince me that Jesus rose from the dead physically. I have enough evidence to convince me that Scripture is reliable. Does it make any sense to anyone to say “I’m not fully clear on how atonement works, so therefore I should doubt that Christianity is true.”?
Of course not. Any area of study will always have some unanswered questions. Consider for instance in science, when we see creatures that seem incredibly advanced. Does this mean every evolutionist will just throw in the towel and abandon the theory wholesale? Not at all, nor would I expect them to. One looks at the primary data they have for a position even if secondary details aren’t exactly clear.
Zuersher says first that there is disagreement means that this is being made up as we go along. He says that this means we do not have some privileged path to the divine. If by that He means that God is not obligated to answer all of our questions for us, that is entirely correct. If He means that we do not have the way to God in Christ, that would be wrong, but believing we do doesn’t mean we have perfect atonement knowledge.
The next part is one that Zuersher gets so close to the truth of matters, but then He rejects it for theological reasons. Zuersher says that satisfaction says that God’s honor must be restored, but if that’s true, then God has personality traits unworthy of a morally perfect being. It’s truly tragic how close Zuersher gets to good theology but then allows his cultural prejudices and lack of understanding of honor to get in the way.
To begin with, I don’t think it’s right to speak of God as a morally perfect being. A morally perfect being is one that does that which they ought to do always. God has no ought. He does not owe anyone anything. God is instead a good being. He is perfect and lacking nothing in Himself.
So how could God be lacking honor? It’s not a lack in Himself. It’s rather how God is perceived. There were two kinds of honor in the ancient world. One was one had based on who they were and their lineage and such. God’s honor is untouched here. The other is their reputation. How are they perceived in the eyes of others? Here, God’s reputation is tied to how He is seen in the eyes of humanity and how we treat Him. We can live lives that honor God or not. Zuersher rejects this without bothering to understand the culture or the theology.
Third, he says that God could just forgive. After all, we do it. Sure, but we are not the ones that are perfectly good and holy. If God just lets it go, He is saying that our well-being is of greater importance than His goodness. In other words, the good of man outranks the good of God. God is treating sin as no big deal, when every sin is really an act of divine treason.
He next says that if Jesus had a fully human nature, then what happened on the cross was murder since it was a human sacrifice. Well, he is right that it is murder. Jesus submitted to the ruling authorities. This is also not the same as suicide. The authorities did not realize what they were doing, but many holy men in Judaism dying would see themselves as dying for the sins of the people.
He also says that a willing death does not excuse the executioners. Of course not. Whoever said that it did? They were fully convinced they were doing right. My statement about this has been that either Jesus was the wickedest man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most just and righteous act of all to stop Him, or He was the most righteous man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all time.
He then goes into the claims of how Jesus was an invalid sacrifice. I recommend the works of Michael Brown here on answering Jewish objections to Jesus. Brown has looked at this a lot more than I have.
Next, he argues that this was not a real sacrifice since Jesus did not stay dead. One wonders how this is so. Once the offering is given to God, God can do with it what He wants. If He wants to resurrect Jesus, then He can resurrect Jesus. This would be God’s vindication on the life and claims of Jesus.
He also argues that the theory is immoral since it undermines individual responsibility by having someone accept Jesus’s sacrifice. On the contrary, it upholds it. When presented with the claims of Christ, one must accept their responsibility for the sins that got Him there.
Finally, Zuersher ends with saying that educated men and women hold to atonement thinking today should require no further comment. I instead think that someone can bother to write a book responding to a view without interacting with the best scholarship on it should require no further comment. Sadly, Zuersher does this consistently.