Tag Archives: Atonement

The Blood of His Cross (6) – Kevin Vanhoozer (i)

agnusdeiIn his excellent survey of modern atonement theories, Kevin Vanhoozer identifies seven lines of thought (“Atonement” in Kapic & McCormack (eds), Mapping Modern Theology). The classic lines of atonement theology were, of course, laid down a thousand years ago by Anselm and Abelard in the so-called objective and subjective theories of atonement. The Reformers focussed primarily on the former, while in the nineteenth century the ‘turn to the subject’ in philosophy was echoed by a similar ‘(re)turn to the subject’ in atonement theology. The rise of psychology, an emphasis on human history and experience, and a rejection of divine retribution all contributed to a new focus on Abelard’s approach (178). The first five lines of modern atonement theology are characterised by Vanhoozer as:

  1. Jesus’ spirituality and socio-politics: Jesus, the exemplary human, communicates divine love, a consciousness of forgiveness, a new consciousness of God, and a new ideal of sociality and justice (Schleiermacher, Harnack, Ritschl, and Theodore Jennings). The cross overcomes our enmity towards God and calls us to a new way of life.
  2. From Substitution to Representation: Incarnation as Atonement. Atonement occurs not simply in the death of Jesus but in the entirety of his life. The focus is more ontological than moral, more incarnational and participatory, though the question arises, how one does participate. (Irving, McLeod Campbell, T. F. Torrance).
  3. Non-Violent Atonement: the cross is not an atonement as such, but an exposure of the myth of violence, a divine refusal to overcome sacrifice and violence with more violence. Sacrifice and violence are not redemptive but self-perpetuating; God never uses them, nor requires retributive justice before he can or will forgive (Girard; feminist, black and liberation theologies.)
  4. Christus Victor Recapitulated: the older account of the atonement demythologised: cultural rather than cosmic powers have been defeated in the work of the cross. Against the violence of the cultural powers which crucified Jesus comes the non-violent ethos of Jesus in the face of violence. This is not a passive submission to violence, but its unmasking through non-violent forgiveness and witness to the reign of God (Aulen, Wink, Weaver).
  5. The Cross as an Event in God’s Being: Hegel proposes a metaphysical account in which God overcomes the estrangement between the finite and the infinite by taking alienation and the finite into his own being and overcoming it. God is the reconciliation, the overcoming of opposites. Moltmann proposes a similar eschatological account of the cross as death in God, in which the event of the cross is constitutive of God’s nature as suffering love that takes the whole of created history into itself. Barth, too, sees the cross as an event in God’s being, but as the outworking of the divine self-determination established in the divine election. “The cross is not a contingency plan but part of the content of God’s self-determination to be our God and to embrace humanity as his covenant partner” (195).

Following this survey Vanhoozer questions the place of penal substitution in modern evangelical theology noting that it is both criticised and defended by different groups and theologians from within the evangelical camp.

One merit of the penal substitution view is the clarity and conciseness with which it is able to answer the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” The answer: in order to bear the condemnation (penal) in our place (substitution). … The outstanding question for evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic now concerns not only the legitimacy of penal substitution but its centrality: is it merely one among many possible models, first among equals, or the one true explanation? (197, 199)

Vanhoozer’s comment about defenders and detractors of the doctrine shows these two groups dividing along classic Anselmian-Abelardian lines: “While defenders of penal substitution affirmed divine justice and human guilt, it detractors…emphasized divine love and human repentance” (197).

The seventh line of modern atonement theology is identified as a “unified” or “non-reductive” approach, in which proponents seek to bridge the divides between various models and incorporate the various strengths of each (Sherman, Boersma, Spence). In the end, Vanhoozer too adopts a unitive approach understanding the atonement in terms of ‘triune covenantal mediation.’ Vanhoozer refuses to play one set of divine attributes off against another: “God is all that he is—all holy, all loving, all just, all merciful—in all that he does. The cross, as the sum of divine wisdom, displays all the divine perfections.” Further,

The cross is the climax of the history of the Son’s covenantal mediation, the culmination of the whole triune economy of redemption. The shed blood is a graphic sign that God has proved faithful to his Abrahamic promise (Gen. 17) precisely by undergoing the sanctions, legal (i.e. death by execution) and relational (i.e. exile), for covenant disobedience (Deut. 28:15-68). By dying for us, Jesus makes possible new and expanded ‘in-law’ relationships (Rom. 5:15-19; 8:15), giving us a share in his Sonship (201).

It is clear, however, that while Vanhoozer seeks to include the positive contribution of all the approaches, he prioritises the objective nature of the atonement as the ground by which the subjective response might be realised. The ‘penal’ nature of the atonement is still present but reimagined within a broader covenantal context and narrative. Jesus’ death is for us and in our place, a redemptive suffering on our behalf. His blood plays a positive role: as witness that he has borne the legal and relational covenant sanctions for us—rejection and death—that we might be given a share in his divine Sonship.

The Blood of His Cross (5) – Isaiah 53

agnusdeiAs a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see light and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
and He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out his soul to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
and interceded for the transgressors.

Christians read this text as referring to Jesus—a practice as old as the New Testament (see, for example, Acts 8:26-35; 1 Peter 2:24), although the prophet never actually identifies the Servant he is speaking of. This Servant, God’s Righteous One will make many others righteous—he shall justify many for He will bear their iniquities.

John Oswalt, following Westermann, reads verse twelve in the light of Isaiah 59:16, “And he saw that there was no man, and he was appalled that there was no one to intervene…” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, 407; cf. 528). Because no leader in Israel would or could obtain deliverance for God’s people, God took it upon himself to not simply ‘intercede’ in prayer, but to intervene (mapgȋaʿ) on their behalf. The efficacy of the Servant’s work is the result of his intervention on behalf of transgressors—the unrighteous. He permitted himself to be counted among the transgressors, and indeed, intervened on their behalf. He poured out his soul to death, bearing their sins. Jesus was no unwilling victim, handed over to death by a violent God who demanded blood in order to forgive. He poured out his soul to death taking our place, standing among us, standing in our stead, bearing our sins.

The Blood of His Cross (3) – C.E.B. Cranfield

agnusdeiRomans 3:25
Whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed (NRSV).

Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed (NASB).

In his widely-acclaimed commentary on Romans, C. E. B. Cranfield supports the traditional interpretation of this verse which understands Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in terms of a propitiation that averts the divine wrath which would otherwise have been directed against humanity on account of their sin.

Cranfield begins his exposition of this verse by arguing against the interpretation of the opening phrase of the verse in the two translations cited above. The key phrase is ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεός (hov proetheto ho theos, “Whom God displayed publicly”). Cranfield argues that the verb προέθετο (proetheto) as used in the New Testament can mean either (a) propose to oneself and so to purpose, or (b) to set forth publicly or display. It is clear that the two translations opt for the second of these options whereas Cranfield argues, “There is, in our view, little doubt that ‘purposed’ should be preferred to ‘set forth publicly’” (Cranfield, Romans Vol. 1, I-VIII, International Critical Commentary, 209). It makes better theological sense, suggests Cranfield, to understand Paul’s concern in terms of God’s eternal purpose than as a reference to the Cross as something accomplished in the sight of humanity.

Paul means to emphasize that it is God who is the origin of the redemption which was accomplished in Christ Jesus and also that this redemption has its origin not in some sudden new idea or impulse on God’s part but in His eternal purpose of grace (210).

The second important term in this verse is the word ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion), translated in the NRSV as “sacrifice of atonement” (in a footnote a further option is given: “place of atonement”), and in the NASB as “propitiation.” In the Septuagint (the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament), this word refers twenty-one times to the mercy-seat, that is, the place where the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sin offering on the day of atonement (see Leviticus 16). As such, it is quite possible that Paul is referring to Jesus Christ here, as the place where God effected his saving work. Cranfield, however, demurs. Following Leon Morris, he notes that in the Septuagint references, the noun in all but one case appears with the article when referring to the mercy-seat, whereas in this text it is anarthrous. Further, given Paul’s understanding of the intensely personal and costly nature of Jesus’ sacrifice, Cranfield considers it unlikely that Paul would liken Jesus to a piece of furniture in the temple. Rather, the mercy-seat would more appropriately be a type of the Cross itself, than of Jesus Christ (215). Cranfield, therefore, opts for the term ‘propitiation,’ or more precisely, “a propitiatory sacrifice” (216-217).

Many theologians find this interpretation of hilastērion deeply unsatisfying since it appears to portray God as full of wrath toward humanity, and requiring the blood sacrifice of an innocent victim before he will consider forgiving humanity. The idea that God must be appeased—and that by blood—before he will forgive seems contrary to the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless Cranfield insists that this is the correct interpretation of this term:

Indeed, the evidence suggests that the idea of the averting of wrath is basic to this word-group in the OT no less than in extra-biblical Greek, the distinctiveness of the OT usage being its recognition that God’s wrath, unlike all human wrath, is perfectly righteous, and therefore free from every trace of irrationality, caprice and vindictiveness, and secondly that in the process of averting this righteous wrath from man it is God Himself who takes the initiative (216).

Further, the decisive factor for Cranfield is that this hilastērion occurs “in his blood” (en tō autou haimati), which indicates that a propitiatory sacrifice is intended.

The purpose of Christ’s being ἱλαστήριον was to achieve a divine forgiveness, which is worthy of God, consonant with his righteousness, in that it does not insult God’s creature man by any suggestion that that is after all of small consequence, which he himself at his most human knows full well (witness, for example, the Greek tragedians) is desperately serious, but, so far from condoning man’s evil, is, since it involves nothing less than God’s bearing the intolerable burden of that evil Himself in the person of His own dear Son, the disclosure of the fullness of God’s hatred of man’s evil at the same time as it is its real and complete forgiveness (214).

We take it that what Paul’s statement that God purposed Christ as a propitiatory victim means is that God, because in His mercy He willed to forgive sinful men and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against His own very Self in the person of His Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved (217).

In his treatment of this text Cranfield hits exactly the right notes. He acknowledges the reality of divine wrath as the overarching backdrop against which the saving work of Christ occurs. He insists that God’s wrath is righteous, and as such is entirely different to human wrath. That this wrath is occasioned by human wickedness indicates the seriousness with which God views this wickedness, displays the righteousness of God’s character in his response to sin, and affirms the genuine significance of human value, decision and act. Most importantly, he shows that God’s eternal purpose toward humanity was and is mercy, not wrath, and that God has determined to direct against himself—in the person of his Son—the wrath occasioned by human sin, in order to be merciful toward humanity and righteous in his mercy. This opens up a crucial window of understanding with respect to this verse and the atonement in general: it must be understood in trinitarian terms.

Finally, and with an eye on the topic I am exploring in this short series of posts, Cranfield is correct to insist that this hilastērion is “in his blood.” “It was by means of the shedding of His blood that, according to the divine purpose, Christ was to be ἱλαστήριον. … A sacrificial significance attaches to the use of the word αἷμα [‘blood’]. … There is little doubt that this is so in the verse under consideration” (210-211). The “blood of his cross” was the sacrificial means by which God has shown mercy to us while maintaining his unimpeachable righteousness.

The Blood of His Cross (2) – Leon Morris

Leon MorrisIn his classic exposition The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (1955; third edition 1965) Leon Morris dedicates a chapter to examining the phrase ‘the blood.’ In the chapter, Morris is responding to a particular view, viz. the idea that when Scripture speaks of an offering of blood, the term refers to the offering of life—life given and life released. He refutes this view showing that references to blood in relevant Old and New Testament texts speak not of life but death, and often a violent death. This contention holds true in contexts of sacrifice, and by extension, of Jesus’ death and Jesus’ blood: the ‘blood’ means his death.

Morris begins by examining every reference to ‘blood’ in both testaments, and categorising them. The word dām is used 362 times in the Old Testament and these are grouped in the following categories: death with violence of some kind (203x), connecting life with blood (7x), eating meat with blood (17x), sacrificial blood (103x), and other uses (32x).

From these figures it is clear that the commonest use of dām is to denote death by violence, and, in particular, that this use is found about twice as often as that to denote the blood of sacrifice. … As far as it goes, the statistical evidence indicates that the association most likely to be conjured up when the Hebrews heard the word ‘blood’ was that of violent death (pp. 113-114).

Even in Leviticus 17:11 where the connection between blood and life is at its most explicit, the meaning of the verse is of life given up in death. “It is the ‘life of the flesh’ that is said to be in the blood, and it is precisely this life which ceases to exist when the blood is poured out” (117). “Blood shed stands, therefore, not for the release of life from the burden of the flesh, but for the bringing to an end of life in the flesh. It is a witness to physical death, not an evidence of spiritual survival” (118, citing A. M. Stibbs). Morris concludes his examination of the Old Testament witness to blood as follows:

We conclude, then, that the evidence afforded by the use of the term dām in the Old Testament indicates that it signifies life violently taken rather than the continued presence of life available for some new function, in short, death rather than life, and that this is supported by the references to atonement (121).

The Greek term αἷμα is found ninety-eight times in the New Testament, of which about thirty-five refer to the blood of Christ. Like the word ‘cross,’ blood is used as a metonymy for the death of Christ ‘in its salvation meaning’ (126). This meaning includes the ideas of Christ’s blood as a ransom-price, a means of purging, or the element to ratify a solemn covenant (127).

Apostolic PreachingThe blood of Jesus, therefore, refers to the death of Christ by which we are reconciled to God (Colossians 1:20), having been justified ‘by his blood’ and so saved from wrath through his death (Romans 5:9-10). We have been made close to God through his blood (Ephesians 2:13), for his blood has secured an eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18-19), and has purified our hearts, granting us confident entry into the very holiest of places, the divine presence itself (Hebrews 9:14; 10:19).

If it is the case as Hebrews 9:22 states, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, was Jesus’ death necessary? Did God require the death of the Son in order to extend forgiveness? Why can God not simply forgive without suffering, violence, atonement and death? Does God require payment before he will forgive? That Jesus died is evident, as is the violence of his death. But is God responsible for this violence? Did God require this violence before he could forgive sins? Is God’s forgiveness predicated on violence in such a way that it legitimises violence as a necessary or at least inevitable feature of inter-personal relations and reconciliation? Did God purpose the violence of the cross or more simply foreknow that violence? Is God implicated in Jesus’ death as a God who is thus inherently and so also, eternally violent?

Acts 2:23 addresses but does not resolve this matter: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men…” Peter repeats his charge against the Jewish leaders in Acts chapters 3, 4 and 5:

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life … And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled (vv. 13-15, 17-18; cf. 4:10, 24-28; 5:28-30).

Peter lays the blame for Jesus’ violent death at the feet of the Jewish leaders, and also insists that this activity was in accordance with the divine purpose revealed in Psalm 2. Although this is a classic example of the tension between divine providence and human responsibility, it may be best to understand Jesus’ violent death as the activity of the human participants in the drama, and see in Peter’s citation of Psalm 2, divine awareness of a broader pattern of human action coming to expression in this case specifically. As such, God has not acted violently as much as given himself into the hands of a violent humanity which consistently rejects the call and claim of God.

Luther’s Pastoral Theology (Part 2)

luther-statueOnce more I find remarkable, the depth of theological reflection and pastoral wisdom Luther can pack into a short sermon. Multiple themes bristle in this short piece. Luther appeals seamlessly to penal and Christus Victor metaphors of the atonement. We see the very prominent focus on the conscience and so also on the individual before God. Of course, justification and faith are present in his discussion, as is his prominent focus on the pro me, pro nobis—for me, for us: “Of what help is it to you that God is God, if he is not God to you?” (166).

This is obviously a message for Christians rather than non-believers, though non-believers also might benefit from it. We learn that we are sinners having come to Christ. It is from the cross that we learn that we are sinners, and from the cross and resurrection that we learn we are forgiven and loved. And learning that we are thus loved and forgiven is the basis—the only basis—for Christian life and sanctification.

I find of particular interest and comfort, Luther’s insistence that the first movement of this ‘correct’ meditation on the passion is not a religious work or something accomplished through our own (somewhat morbid) self-effort. There is no moral self-flagellation here:

Unless God inspires our heart, it is impossible for us of ourselves to meditate thoroughly on Christ’s passion. … You must first seek God’s grace and ask that it be accomplished by his grace and not by your own power. That is why the people we referred to above fail to view Christ’s passion aright. They do not seek God’s help for this, but look to their own ability to devise their own means of accomplishing this. They deal with the matter in a completely human but also unfruitful way (169).

This is good and necessary pastoral wisdom from Luther, which also went unheeded by some in the Puritan and Pietist traditions—and still today. Those who seek to uncover their own sinfulness, to convince themselves of their own moral filthiness, and dredge over sins and errors time and again, have “to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but [such activities] are of no value against fleshly self-indulgence” (Colossians 2:23—my comment, not Luther’s). Luther obviously understands true meditation on Christ’s passion to be a theological activity, interpreting his sufferings through the lenses of such Scripture passages as “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). We look only to Christ and not to ourselves. In him we see both our sin and its remedy, and in him the pattern and the source of strength for truly Christian life.

Although today we might shift some of the language and imagery, this is a fine example of preaching that is at once deeply theological and pastorally wise.

Scripture on Sunday – The Blood of His Cross

agnusdeiThis morning in worship we are singing Blessed Assurance which includes the phrase “washed in his blood.” George Hunsinger has remarked that modern dogmatic theology, where it still speaks of the saving death of Christ, usually does so without reference to the blood of Christ (Hunsinger, “Meditation on the Blood of Christ,” in Disruptive Grace, 361).

I was recently challenged on this theme by someone who asked, when speaking of the atoning work of Christ, “must there be blood?” The person was concerned that reference to Jesus’ blood signified a violent atonement and thereby legitimised violence in the world. Given the violence this person has seen in their life and work, their concern is not surprising. Despite their unease, however, I was concerned that this was a bridge too far for those who, like myself, see Scripture as something more than writings reflecting human religious experiences and ideals. Trevor Hart has commented,

Whenever the story which the church tells appears to dovetail neatly and without wrinkles with the stories which human beings like to tell about themselves and their destiny, it is likely that the church is cutting the cloth of its gospel to fit the pattern laid down by the Zeitgeist rather than the heilige Geist” (Hart, in Gunton (Ed), The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, 191).

I do not think Hart’s critique can be fairly levelled at this person. In some respects the gospel this person is telling is not at all consonant with stories human beings like to tell about themselves. We like stories of heroism, of sacrifice, of power that triumphs, and yes, of victory won, even at the cost of violence. Violence is deeply embedded in human relationships and structures; it seems we are all capable of violence in one way or another, and so this person’s gospel wants to disrupt, challenge and overturn this pattern of human sinfulness.

And yet; I am still concerned that the person is cutting the cloth of their gospel in a way which is not sufficiently attentive to the Holy Spirit’s witness in Scripture. The following verses show that the blood of Christ was a prominent theme in the biblical writers’ understanding of the saving work of Christ on the cross. Indeed, almost every New Testament writer shares this understanding, indicating its pervasive influence in the thought-world and faith of New Testament Christianity.

Mark 14: 23-25
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

Acts 20:28 
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Romans 3:25 
Whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed

Romans 5:9  
Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

Ephesians 1:7 
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

Ephesians 2:13
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Colossians 1:20 
And through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Hebrews 9:12-14
He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

Hebrews 9:21-22
And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews 13:12
Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.

1 Peter 1:18-19  
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

1 John 1:7 
But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Revelation 1:5 
And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood.

In all these texts and others like them, we see that the blood of Christ functions as a sin-offering on behalf of humanity, and as the institution of a new covenant between God and humanity in Jesus Christ. The answer to my friend’s question must be, on the basis of the New Testament witness, an unqualified “Yes!” The blood of his cross is the basis of our forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and of the new covenant of which we have become heirs. More must be said, of course. Does Jesus’ bloody death implicate God in violence? I will endeavour to address this important question next week.

Preaching the Atonement: Learning from John Donne

John DonneWilt thou love God, as he thee? then digest,
My Soul, this wholesome meditation.
How God the Spirit, by Angels waited on
In heaven, doth make his Temple in thy breast.
the Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting, (for he ne’r begonne)
Hath deign’d to choose thee by adoption,
Coheir to his glory, and Sabbath’s endless rest;
And, as a robbed man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again:
the Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom he had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
’Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

In last week’s class we were discussing theories of atonement and finished by looking at this classic sonnet (taken from McGrath’s The Christian Theology Reader 3rd edition, 368). After an extended discussion around patristic and medieval approaches, this was refreshing. Colin Gunton complains that Gregory of Nyssa moved from metaphor to mythology by treating the biblical idea of ransom in terms of speculation, God deceiving the devil, capturing him on the hook of Christ’s divinity hidden beneath his humanity (The Actuality of Atonement, 63).

Anselm’s satisfaction theory may well have been a very relevant explanation of the atonement in a feudal context, but it still loses something essential in terms of the gospel. Anselm’s feudal god is too aloof, too touchy, too offended, too demanding. It is true we have profaned God’s honour, but the gospel shows God taking that shame upon himself in order to restore fellowship with his people.

Many expositions of the atonement fixate on mechanics, trying to identify precisely how the atonement works, failing to recognise that the plurality of metaphors in the New Testament serve to illuminate the atonement precisely as they protect its mystery. It is here that Donne’s poem was refreshing. Donne celebrates the mystery and wonder of the atonement, situates it within the overarching story of the love of God, appeals to biblical metaphors, especially the idea of redemption, but steers clear of treating atonement in terms of mechanics. Thus some sense of transaction remains, but Donne does not allow detailed explanation and speculation to overshadow the wonder of divine grace.

This is a good model, I think, for preaching the atonement.