My doctor told me to avoid thinking because I get a brain cramp every time I try. But, who listens to their doc? Today I read another interesting essay by Derek Flood over at theRebelGod.com. He seems to do a lot of thinking. I bet his brain hurts sometimes, too. But, this particular essay was a critical review of a book titled, Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach. I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the essay. At the end of this post I'll provide a link. But, the gist of it was to contrast the Church Fathers' thoughts on Substitutionary Atonement to the later concept of Penal Substitution. For most of us this can be a sticky subject. The Emergent folks, especially, take issue with the idea that an angry God demanded that a bloody sacrifice be made so that the angry God's wrath would be assuaged. So, the only worthy sacrifice turned out to be God's own Son. The long and short of this was that God sacrificed God to Gods-self so that the holy and righteous anger of God would not be poured out on humanity. This is also a sticking point with many who are not Christ followers. I have heard in discussions with some of these folks that they cannot believe in a God who would sacrifice anyone, let alone God's own Son, just because this God was 'pissed off' at humanity.
I've chosen some rather vulgar, or common, ways to describe this because that is how it is viewed by the folks mentioned. And, if I am honest, I tend to agree with them. This has been something that has bothered me for a very long time. It just seemed that the scriptures don't paint a picture of a wrathful, vengeful deity who is basically a cosmic kil-joy just because He can be. It seems capricious and arbitrary to me.
Now, along come Derek Flood. In the essay he points out that the early Fathers, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Athanasius, et al. held a very different position. For them the importance of Jesus' willing offering of himself was "healing, and the overturning of the dominion of death." This makes much more sense in the context of the Gospels' portrayal of Jesus. It makes more sense in the context of Isaiah's "Suffering Servant", (Is. 52:13-53:12).
I would recommend Flood's essay as a starting point for some good, old-fashioned theological reflection and meditation. It has been helpful to me in dealing with some of the problems I have with reformed, Calvinist theology.
Here is the link for the PDF of Flood's essay: http://therebelgod.com/AtonementFathersEQ.pdf