The Old Rugged Cross: Rene Girard and the Resurrection of Substitutionary Atonement

I tend not to post theological pieces to my blog for a number of reasons. First, I’m an armchair theologian at best, preferring the wilder, more untamed waters of Christian spirituality. Second, I love to talk theology but tend not to enjoy the often carte blanche blanket statements in comments lines that indicate that someone truly believes they’ve got this one figured out. It cheapens theology in general and proves my point that all true theology is ultimately a lived theology. However, I’ve undergone sweeping theological and even philosophical changes in the past 30 years of my Christian journey that sometimes ask for clarification.

A favorite blog of mine: The Theological Wanderings of a Street Pastor which features the excellent writing of J. Barrett Lee, hosted the following expose of substitutionary atonement theory. This is just one of many ways I’ve been changing. Without more of my blah, blah, I instead give you his much deeper insights…

Hopping Hadrian's Wall


Friends and commentators from all over the theological spectrum have mentioned that I don’t seem to have given susbstitutionary atonement theory its due in my post from earlier this week, The Wrath of God and the Presbyterian Hymnal.

In that post, I leaned heavily on presenting substitutionary atonement as “cosmic child abuse” (an excellent turn of phrase I’m borrowing from Sarah Sanderson-Doughty).  I wrote:

…penal substitution sets up a scenario where Jesus saves humanity from the rage (not the wrath) of an out-of-control, abusive parent.  When all is said and done, the church gathers around a crucifix and hears, “This is your fault.  Look at what you made God do.  You are so bad and dirty that God had to torture and kill this beautiful, innocent person so that he wouldn’t do the same thing to you.  Therefore, you’d better shape up and be thankful or else God…

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2 thoughts on “The Old Rugged Cross: Rene Girard and the Resurrection of Substitutionary Atonement

  1. John Decker

    Dallas Willard believed the Trinity as three beings that were constantly, throughout all time, deferring to each other out of reverence and love. This, combined with an understanding that they are much closer to each other than we ordinarily understand beings to be (Jesus: “I and the Father are one”) is a proper refutation of the caricature given at the outset of the article, regarding what happened at the Cross.


    1. John, in my preface I state my general reticence of including pieces of a more distinctly theological nature on my blog. Part of the reason for this is my own personal theological journey over the past few years that has seen a slow turning away from the faux certainties of a theological rubric generally considered to be irrefutable or at least singular in its foundation. I share with you a strong Trinitarianism being a Celtic contemplative. What I continue to question however is our culture’s carte blanche acceptance of one doctrine of the atonement at the exclusion of any others, all of which have also held considerable sway in historical debate within the church.

      Hence, my inclusion of this piece, regardless of what I consider to be just good writing, is to help spark conversation on the topic to the end that, I along with other seekers, might continue to find some measure of “satisfaction” as it were, in that very journey of which I speak. It is an ongoing question for me but one of great significance (obviously). Thanks for chiming in…R


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