Atonement Theology and Compromise

Not long after spelling out my atonement theology, Morgan Guyton wrote a great post which also relates to atonement theology. In it, he draws the line between 3 things which might not be obviously connected:

  1. The current American government shutdown
  2. Faith that is based on no compromise
  3. The extreme versions of penal substitution (or you could argue all versions, just with different emphases)

The first two connect fairly easily, I think, and ties into many of the things I’ve said before about the problems of this model of fact-based and certainty-based faith. If your faith is one that says there can be no compromise – you know you are right and anybody else is wrong – then that will carry over to other domains like politics, too.

Along with the shutdown, I think we just saw the same tendency with talk of military strikes on Syria, too; Republicans who often have been pro-war suddenly became anti-war, seemingly simply because Democrats had become pro-war and Democrats are inherently wrong. It’s weird, but it’s common.

I even admit that there are lots of times I struggle with this, although my “enemies” tend to be more theological/pastoral than political. If I hear Mark Driscoll say something, for example, I tend to assume the worst, even though I do admit in theory he does say many good thing in between the harmful things.

How does penal substitution tie in the no-compromise-allowed faith which has contributed to this shutdown and so much more? Morgan describes it this way:

Under this “Darth Vader” account of the cross, the way to be on God’s good side and safe from His wrath is to accept the validity of Jesus’ crucifixion for our sins. This means agreeing that God was right to torture and kill His Son rather than compromise and allow people who have not perfectly obeyed the Bible to join Him in heaven without accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf. The way to show that you really accept the legitimacy of God’s uncompromising stance is to become a person of no compromise yourself, or, to stay in the Star Wars metaphor, an imperial stormtrooper. The purity of your lack of compromise is measured according to the degree to which you are “Biblical” about everything you do.

In other words, the PSA view – especially in its extremist forms – make you think of God as completely uncompromising toward any sin. Of course if God is this way, you should be, too. Add to PSA some ideas like that the Bible is always clear on all matters (which isn’t true) and that your type of Christianity has a right to dictate to others what they can and can’t do (which also isn’t true), it is pretty clear that you end up with an angry and dominionist attitude that looks like the complete opposite of Jesus. Shutting down governments in order to get their own way is not a particularly big stretch if this attitude is in place (and yes, I’d be saying this no matter which party did the shutdown; I’m not convinced that Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing).

And this is why I do theology: it changes lives, sometimes in very big ways.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • MorganGuyton

    Thanks for the interaction, Ryan!