The central claim of Christianity is that all human beings are “fallen,” held captive by sin, or are in some other way in a dire circumstance that can only be overcome through God’s aid, which comes through faith in the infinite love and sacrifice of God’s own son, Jesus Christ. According to the Christian tradition, this is the central truth of the human condition, and it is only through what has been labeled the Atonement of Jesus Christ that there is a way out. Throughout history, many Christians have celebrated their feelings of being rescued from the grasp of sin, selfishness, and aimless searching for purpose via the Atonement, and they claim their transformed lives are living testaments to this saving act of God’s grace. Still, many—both outsiders and Christians themselves—have paused to ask questions such as: Why is this the only way someone can turn from sin or be made worthy of heaven? What kind of God requires the suffering of an innocent being in order to be willing to forgive humans of their shortcomings? If every sin must be punished, is there even such a thing as genuine “forgiveness”? Many people seem to be able to forgive others for their faults and evil acts who don’t believe in or have never even heard of Jesus Christ, so why can’t God? Many Christians have not only asked such questions, but from the very earliest days following Jesus’s death, they have formulated various theories to answer them and also explain the reasons the Atonement “works.”
In this podcast episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Jared Anderson, Brian Johnston, and Tresa Edmunds explore these questions and the historical attempts to answer them and explain the experience of transformation or renewed life through Christ that so many claim, including the panelists themselves. In general, the discussion explores the Atonement from the ideas that first show up in biblical sources and then onto the main Atonement theory categories: ransom, satisfaction, penal substitution, and moral influence. It also gives attention to various angles on the Atonement and Christ’s redeeming work that are emphasized the most in Mormonism, as well as a couple of Atonement models that are unique to it. The panelists then close the discussion with their own views regarding or experiences with the Atonement in their own lives.
This episode is longer than a typical Mormon Matters podcast, but if one is to believe the Atonement is the most important single thing to ever take place in this world, the discussion’s extra length is fitting for its subject (and even far too short)! We hope you will all join in and further the discussion in the comments section below.
Links to articles/essays of possible interest:
Lorin Hansen Dialogue article that describes the main categories of Atonement theories while suggesting Mormon ideas are closest to the Moral Influence theory.
Eugene England essay on the Atonement, which also suggests a Moral Influence reading. He adds an attempt to do what Moral Influence has had trouble doing, which is to explain why it was “necessary,” how it is that “only Jesus” could effect this change.
J. Clair Batty Sunstone personal essay that shares his journey from confusion over God needing blood and anguish to forgive us to a sense of peace about the Atonement.
Link to an online posting of W. Cleon Skousen’s uniquely Mormon take on why the Atonement requiring Christ’s sacrifice was necessary.
Blake Ostler article outlining his views on how the Atonement works and comparing them to other Mormon theories.
Jared Anderson essay, “Jesus: Savior or Symbol,” mentioned a few times in the podcast. Anderson’s attempt to honor the reality of the experiences with the Atonement many persons have while not necessarily forcing one to see the Atonement as a discreet, literal event.