Instead of Atonement

Ted Grimsrud, Cascade, 2013

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Grimsrud does a double theological treatment: of penal theory and of atonement theory.

        Penal theory: The difference between retributive and restorative approaches to retaliatory justice.

        Atonement: Are we made right with G-d by the amount of pain to inflict to ‘atone’, to make good, the difference between us and G-d?  Are we condemned to suffer G-d’s anger unless G-d’s disposition toward us is changed?  Does G-d require sacrificial violence?

        Does the Bible provide us with a model of the need to respond to violence with violence (retribution)?  Or does the bible provide a model of how violence must be dealt with in a way that ends the violence cycle—a restorative model, a G-d who orders the cosmos in terms of mercy? (p 27)

        Grimsrud sketches the ‘primal story line’ of the OT, the message of key prophets, and the teaching and example of Jesus, as portraying salvation as a simple act of G-d’s mercy.  These biblical sources assume a G-d who does not first need to be persuaded by human acts to make whatever provisions are necessary for salvation (healing, reconciliation) to occur.  All of these OT sources present salvation as being free from ‘retribution’ (p 28).  ‘Salvation is not centred on Jesus’ death as a necessary prerequisite to salvation to be made available; dynamics of justice are restorative and not retributive.’ (p 226).  Jesus lived and taught mercy, not retribution.

        Salvation is found in G-d’s mercy, not in Jesus’ death.  Jesus’ death reveals the emphasis of the Powers (temple, culture, empire) as they resist Jesus’ embodiment of G-d’s mercy.  Justice and salvation need to be looked at in the language of peace, respect and reconciliation, not on retribution and violence.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.