[I just completed and sent to the publisher a book manuscript with the working title, Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and Our Hope for Wholeness. Hopefully it will be out by next summer. Here’s an except from the conclusion.]
For many Christians, the “biblical view” of salvation centers on Jesus’ death. The doctrine of salvation (“soteriology”) is defined in terms of how Jesus’ death makes salvation possible. It is linked closely with the atonement, which is commonly defined as “how Christ accomplished our justification (i.e., being found just or righteous before God) through his sacrifice on the cross” (Stephen Long, “Justification and atonement,” in The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology, 79).
I believe that the Bible’s portrayal of salvation actually does not focus on Jesus’ death as the basis for reconciliation of humanity with God. Not all accounts of salvation that place Jesus’ death as central explicitly argue in favor of retributive justice as part the divine economy that must be satisfied by a sacrifice such as Jesus’ death. However, I suspect that any view of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice necessary for salvation at least implicitly accepts retributive justice as an element of the process of providing for salvation.
Salvation and restorative (not retributive) justice
I have made a case: (1) to see that salvation in the Bible is not centered on Jesus’ death as a necessary pre-requisite for salvation to be made available, and (2) to see that the dynamics of justice that undergird salvation in the Bible are best understood as restorative and not retributive. In a nutshell, I argue that the biblical story of salvation portrays God as reaching out to human beings with mercy. The God of the Bible responds to human brokenness, violence, and sinfulness with healing love. In telling the salvation story in this way, the Bible refutes the logic of retribution.
If salvation stems from a holy and pure God being governed by the need to destroy sin and impurity unless God’s righteous anger is dealt with, then the logic of retribution may be validated. However, if salvation according to the Bible instead may be most accurately understood as contrary to the logic of retribution, governed by God’s simple healing mercy—unearned by human repayment, unconditional except for human acceptance of it—one of the main bases for affirming the logic of retribution will be refuted. Continue reading “The Bible’s Salvation Story”