The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the central theme of the entire Bible. His death on the cross was a once and for all sacrifice which allowed humankind to be brought into union with God. It is this sacrificial blood which is contacted at the moment of conversion (Rm. 6:3-6; 1 Pet. 3:21-22). It is a pillar of the New Testament message. From this doctrine, all other important Christian tenants flow.

It is no surprise then, that at the turn of the twenty-first century, severe philosophical objections to the doctrine of atonement have resurfaced. Most notably, the late Christopher Hitchens who once stated, “The doctrine of vicarious redemption through human sacrifice is utterly immoral.”[1] In their book, The Lost Message of Jesus, Steven Chalke and Alan Mann state, “How….have we come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decided to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son? The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse- a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed.”[2] Is God a cosmic child abuser?

First, according to the doctrine of penal substitution[3] In the Bible, Jesus went to the cross willingly with the total knowledge of what was going to happen. Upon his pronouncement of his forthcoming death, In Mark 8, Peter seeks to stop Jesus from walking such a path and Jesus responds by telling Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”[4] In John 10:17-18 Jesus explicitly says that he was willfully laying down his life and that no one was forcing him to do so. Child abuse, on the other hand, is the process of inflicting pain against the will of a child or exploiting the child who is unable to understand fully what is happening.[5] Neither of these definitions fits regarding the sacrifice of Jesus.

Second, scripture teaches that Jesus died to bring glory to himself (Jn. 17:1; Phi. 2:8-9; Heb. 2:9), save people (Rm. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Tim. 2:6), and to bring Glory to God. However, child abuse only serves to please the abuser(s). It is clear, on this second point, that the penal substation involved in the sacrifice of Christ does not correlate to cosmic child abuse.

In surveying the biblical data, it is clear that the charge of cosmic child abuse falls flat (even though it is a good buzz phrase) in understanding that Jesus died willfully as the atoning sacrifice for all humankind.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] “Christopher Hitchens on Jesus as a Scapegoat (Compilation).” YouTube, YouTube, 5 April 2015. www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHYoXHYZZ9A

 

[2] Steven Chalke and Allan Mann. The Lost Message of Jesus. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 182.

[3] This is an essential sub-doctrine within the doctrine of atonement, in which one legally obligates himself to take the payment for other’s transgressions.

[4] Mk. 8:33.

[5] Steven Jeffery, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach. Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, 230.

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