Monday, May 21, 2012 | By: Zachary Bartels


As I was smoothing out some of the wrinkles in the new blog template, I happened upon several unfinished posts in my “drafts” folder.  Actually, they were more loose outlines or reminders to write a post later on (clearly they didn’t do the job, as they were all dated in 2010). One was a partially written review of the YouTube “documentary” The God Who Wasn’t There (which, of course, made the bold choice to refute itself, leaving a bunch of Christian bloggers wondering, “What do I do now?”)

Another of these drafts was simply a copy of a blog comment that referenced me.  It was from the blog Epochalypsis: The Age of Unveiling. I vaguely remember seeing a Facebook ad featuring their glowing chi-rho logo and clicking over to check it out.  What I found was a post that referred to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement as “twisted crap.” I commented on the post, challenging some of the writer’s presuppositions, and got this response:

The Twisted Crap: (that Pastor Bartels apparently teaches his flock) God wanted us all dead for being such terrible sinners and Jesus saved us from his wrath. Also known as "substitutionary atonement" (i.e. Jesus was substituted in our place), this is one of the most vile, unfortunate and common understandings of what Jesus and his death on the cross means for mankind. It basically takes the biblical concept of a compassionate, loving, parent-like unconditional figure of God and warps and distorts God into some kind of blood-thirsty, revenge oriented God of wrath. While this understanding of God may not be true or helpful to growing as a loving compassionate believer, it sure is helpful to make believers compliant and put butts in your church pews. Much of the Empire of Christianity owes it's growth and success to this very lie. How do I know this is crap?

Think about the concept of substitutionary atonement this way: Imagine you were standing on the side of the road watching a mother and a daughter walking toward you hand-in-hand. Suddenly, a car loses control, and careens off the road onto the sidewalk right in the path of the mother and her daughter. With but a moment to act, the mother scoops up her daughter and throws her clear of the out-of-control car and then is killed instantly as the car slams into her. You run over to the scene of the accident to see if you can help. Paramedics, police and other bystanders are rushing around. Some are attending to the little girl, some are checking the mother's vitals, some are just in shock, crying at the horrible scene and the incredible sacrifice they'd just witnessed. Suddenly, out of nowhere, this wild-eyed woman walks up next to you, grabs your arm and says, "God wanted that little girl dead. The car was His wrath, and the little girl's mommy took her place."

I bet anyone of us would look that woman in the eyes and tell her she was nuts. Crazy nuts. And yet that's what millions of Christians the world over hear and believe every Sunday. The term "sacrifice" is not meant like the virgin on the altar, or the lamb at passover. It's not some kind of offering to appease. "Sacrifice" is meant like when we say a soldier "sacrificed himself" by jumping on a mine to save his platoon. Or the mother in the story above. It's an act of compassion and love. Not an act of appeasement. And that, my friends, is what Pastor Bartels finds offensive that I call "a morbid, negative and creepy doctrine" on the blog."

Not sure what I had been planning to do with that little gem. I’m guessing that the reason it just sat there a draft is because, like The God Who Wasn’t There, after a basic critical perusal, there’s little left standing to even tip over. But it might be a useful exercise to see just how many 1. false presuppositions, 2. logical fallacies / unwarranted leaps, and 3. blatant misunderstandings of orthodox soteriology we can find here. Not because it’s fun to tear someone else’s beliefs down (although the author of the above comment clearly thinks it is), but because, despite the fading away of many doctrinal-trends-formerly-known-as-emergent, the fashionable denial of substitutionary atonement is still on the rise among self-professed followers of Jesus.

And when we encounter proponents of such thought, it’s important that we listen carefully, that we search the Scriptures to analyze, validate, or debunk their teachings, and that we don’t let them get away with pulling a record number of “fast ones.”

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach

6 reader comments:

Erin said...

THe most obvious problem here is that the blogger is standing in judgment of God's Word rather than letting God's Word judge and direct their own beliefs. To say "God wouldn't do this because people wouldn't do this" doesn't make any sense. First of all, if human behavior is the standard for God, I shouldn't expect much of Him because he must be fallible, selfish, childish, and, apparently, a bad logician. Second, I would not sacrifice my son for others, so I'm glad God ISN'T like me. I think this blogger needs to start at the beginning of Scripture and read it for its own sake and using its own rules and see if he comes up with the Twisted Crap interpretation. It's painfully apparent that he doesn't actually spend much time studying the Bible.

David Marvin said...

"I bet anyone of us would look that woman in the eyes and tell her she was nuts. Crazy nuts."

Yes, in that situation I would say that the lady was crazy, but not because of her theological views, but because you would have to be sort of nuts to do such a tacky thing.

You go ahead and keep preaching substitutionary atonement to your flock.

Joey White said...

Sad that someone can claim to be a christian and reject one of the most fundamental doctrines of the faith. I don't have much time but the analogy with the car is flawed greatly because we deserve to get hit by the car again and again for eternity each time with it doing burnouts on our screaming bodies, but Christ has taken the hit for us and not just pushed us out of the way but completely removed us from the path of any harm and given us every reward that we don't deserve. Also if this guy dosen't think of Christ as our passover he obviously hasn't read much of the new testament, especially 1 cor.5:7.

chamblee54 said...

Do you have a link to the original post?

Pastor Zach said...

Apparently it has been erased. The URL I had saved in my "drafts" folder didn't work, so I assumed end user (me) error, but in this post, he hyperlinks to the same article (the link about a "creepy doctrine") using the same URL and it 404s...

Pastor Zach said...

I think a big issue here is the nebulous nature of "it's an act of love." I could just as easily turn a non-sequitur "illustration" on that: a confused teenage girl wants to show her boyfriend JUST HOW MUCH she loves him, so she takes a bottle of sleeping pills and dies. Suddenly, out of nowhere, this wild-eyed woman walks up to you, grabs your arm, and says, "It's not a tragedy! It's a beautiful ACT OF LOVE!"

WHAT?? Unless the cross actually achieved something, it's the most macabre, misguided, stupid attempt at showing love that I've ever heard of. Ridiculous! Wittmer treats all this stuff swimmingly in Don't Stop Believing... Christus Victor, Moral Influence, and Moral Example all have some truth to them, but only if Penal Substitutionary Atonement is true. I mean, what kind of example is getting yourself killed for no reason?!