Jesus plays the role of scapegoat so that we don’t have to hate, kill and blame each other for those sins, observed Rose Graber in discussing the “Three Views of the Atonement” workshop led by April Yamasaki. The workshop focused on Christ-the-Victor, Substitutionary and Moral Influence categories developed by biblical scholars over the ages.
Graber, pastor of Grace Mennonite Church in Regina, was one of several who questioned the neat and tidy boxes into which “atonement” has been placed. “I have come to another perspective in my own struggle with the issue,” she said in the discussion period following a look at 11 different scripture passages. In the Substitutionary Atonement view we think it is God who had to be satisfied with punishment for human sin, but Graber believes the blame for Jesus’ death “lies on humanity’s doorstep.”
“We are the ones, because of our brokenness—broken community, broken relationships—who need ‘someone’ to pay the price. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, steps in and allows us to throw that blame on himself rather than on child abusers, rapists, torturers, slanderers, gossips—whoever has hurt us deeply,” she asserted. “God is willing to do anything to restore us to right relationships.”
Others thought both the language and the culture have changed so much from the time of the text’s authors that we need to find new words and concepts to look this basic happening in the biblical narrative. “In the indigenous view, there is no adversarial relationship,” said Brander McDonald. “Atonement is present in all of the created world around us.”
Yamasaki, pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C., concurred that the views of atonement defy categorization in our modern context, but that it is important to work from the established ones to make our own applications.