“A warm welcome to Zingcreed which today challenges the belief at the centre of most Christians’ faith. The argument I put here is an edited version of a chapter in the book “Why weren’t we told?” This is an excellent book written by Christians for Christians. It claims, correctly, that most ministers, whether Protestant or Catholic, lie to their congregations. They peddle an old fashioned version of the faith to them which they themselves gave up believing in college. The  book goes through the commonest topics that churchgoers are confused about. The topic I summarise here is the theory of substitutionary atonement i.e. the theory that Jesus died for our sins.

I hope you find this more than just interesting;

In solidarity,

Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”

The theory that Jesus died for our sins is unknown in the Eastern church, and has only existed in the West since the eleventh century. A Benedictine monk, Saint Anselm (1033-1109 C.E.) expressed it in terms that are still familiar to us today:
God became human in Jesus so Jesus might die on the cross in place of all of humanity who ought to die because of their sins. Thus God’s anger and offended honour are appeased. Only a perfect sacrifice, the death of the sinless son of God, could satisfy the righteous God. (My words)

So, what’s wrong with that? The four objections are: it’s bad history, it’s bad anthropology, it’s bad theology, and it’s bad psychology.

1/ Bad history

Jesus’s death did not happen because it was a ‘divine necessity’ at all. The crucifixion was the inevitable consequence of Jesus’s challenge to the temple system as well as to the inequities of Roman and Herodian rule.

2/ Bad anthropology

Anselm took the Garden of Eden myth literally, complete with disobedient Adam and Eve and the ‘fall’. The ‘fall’ is the passing on of sinfulness from Adam and Eve  to every successive human being.
But there was no Adam or Eve. Humans have evolved over tens of thousands of years to their present state.

3/ Bad theology

Substitutionary atonement makes God a  child abuser on a cosmic scale. The theory requires the brutal death of God’s only son to satiate divine anger. It posits a limited God incapable of devising any other means of divine/human reconciliation. It also misrepresents the Jewish sacrificial system which always killed animals humanely.

4/ Bad psychology

Substitutionary atonement is the basis of generations of Christian self-loathing, reinforced by a liturgical emphasis on the atoning  death of Jesus and human unworthiness. It encourages spiritualities based on the agonies and blood of Jesus requiring Christians’ self-abnegation  and mortification. God is portrayed as a punitive figure who will punish those who do not accept Jesus’s atoning death, rather than the loving God of Jesus who draws out the best from us.

Hunt, Rex, A.E. & Smith, John, W.H., eds “Why weren’t we told? A handbook on ‘progressive’ Christianity” Polebridge Press (2013)
Borg, M. & Crossan, J.D. “The last week” (2006)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Time to tackle the atonement
537: Remember you are all dust!
Church and empire, or why was Jesus crucified
Structural ‘sins’



  1. “They peddle an old fashioned version of the faith to them which they themselves gave up believing in college.”

    I know and what a strange and dangerous belief to propagate!

  2. Good Friday is a good time to ask why Jesus died. I do it every year. I still don’t know the answer.

    But your claim that Christians believe that “Jesus died for our sins” is a bit of a strawman.
    There are a zillion theories and schools of thought on that out there, from “he died because people killed him” to “he died to atone for our sins”.
    Ask 10 Christians and you get 11 different answers. 😁
    Here’s an article which describes a few. http://www.xenos.org/essays/christian-doctrine-substitutionary-atonement

    I also found Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God” useful in understanding just how much our human perception of God and Jesus have been shaped over the millenia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: