Suppose someone encountered the Easter story for the first time. Imagine how overwhelmed he or she would be with all the details. This year for Easter I am working on a primer that will summarize:
- Places – Where did the events of the Holy Week take place.
- People – Who was who in the Easter story.
- Chronology – What happened up to and during Holy Week.
- Terms – what theology terms do I need to know to understand the Easter story.
This morning I worked on the theological term “atonement.” Below is my attempt to give a simple explanation. How can this definition be improved staying simple and concise?
Atonement refers to the reconciling of God and humanity through the work of God’s only unique Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). The central aspect of Christ’s atoning work is that that he paid the penalty for his people on the Cross. Theologians refer to this truth as penal substitutionary atonement. Michael Horton summarizes this aspect of the atonement, “Christ died in our place, bearing God’s wrath, satisfying his justice, and reconciling us to the Father.”
Another key aspect of the atonement is that of Christus Victor meaning Jesus won the victory over the powers of sin and death.
In his book, A Community Called Atonement: Living Theology, Scot McKnight motivates us to study the atonement when he explains that the atonements explains how the gospel works:
Christians believe that God really did atone for our sins in Jesus Christ and that God really did redemptively create restored relationships with God, with self, with others, and with the world. Christians believe that this all took place in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and (the silent part of the story) in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The atonement, in other words, is the good news of Christianity—it is our gospel. It explains how that gospel works.