This week I’m preparing for a sermon that looks at Jesus as our propitiation.  The very thought of the curse motif of the atonement gets some people angry.  That seems to be true in both classical liberal protestant circles, as well as, with some in the emergent church camp.

In the 1930s Yale Professor H. Richard Niebuhr offered a poignant description of liberal Protestantism’s message then, and I think the emergent church’s message now in his book, The Kingdom of God in America:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a world without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.

God not only is a God of love, but He is also is a God of wrath.  He is a God of justice, and He is a God who is true to His word.  Fortunately for us Jesus took God’s wrath and satisfied it so that we don’t have to face it.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments, (1 John 2:1-3, ESV).

We also learn this is how God manifested His love for us.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, (1 John 4:9-11, ESV).

The message that Niebuhr describes is a false one.  It will only provide false comfort and lead people away from the truth.  The only remedy is that God has His wrath satisfied in the death of Jesus.

And that is very good news.

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9 comments
  1. Thank God for Jesus Sacrifice, without we still would be slaves of our sins.He set me free of lies, sexual immorality and other sins.to God be all the praise.
    Brother go on in spreading the Good News

  2. To think Neibuhr speaks for the liberal aspects of Christianity (with that statement anyways) is quite a stretch.

    As someone of the more liberal approach to this faith – I have faith in a Jesus that went to the cross also. I have faith in a God that does look at both sides of the human issue – sin and salvation…and is the final judge.

    I just don't think the idea of propitiation makes the most sense. God mad, we sin, God dies, we okay. First off, where is our responsibility for our actions? Secondly, did God finish wrath at the cross with his death? Cause this is not what Christianity is teaching in conservative camps – God is still mad apparently. And if God could not deal with His own wrath – what makes any of us think we can?

  3. Regarding Niebuhr's statement, if you were to read some contemporaries of his who were liberal I think it fits, and I'm not sure they would disagree.

    To our mindset propitiation doesn't make sense, because we understand justice for others (even though if it is us who commits the crime we want mercy). First, we are responsible. The Bible is clear about that. The problem is we could never satisfy God's wrath. Our good doesn't outweigh the bad. The fact that Jesus died as our substitute shows His love. Christ, since He was perfect, could satisfy God's wrath and did. To address your second question, Jesus satisfies God's wrath for those who accept Christ as their substitute. If they reject Him as their substitute, they're still “holding the bag” trying to earn justification based on their own righteousness. Which isn't sufficient.

    You are also thinking of God's wrath in terms of our “wrath”. Not the same thing. God's anger is righteous, and He is holy. We are not.

  4. I'm a member in an ELCA church, and have been for almost 20 years. I was raised Roman Catholic.

    Here's my question – What about Satan? While I understand the Christ has paid the full measure for my soul, and I believe that I am saved, it doesn't change the fact that Satan is prince of the earth.

    They sit there and hang it on God for child prostitution, war, the price of a paperclip, but the very idea that Satan might have something to do with it evokes chuckling. I see this among Catholic priests as well.

    There is no one more apt to treat the Bible like a cafeteria like protestants, it seems.

    The truth is that bad things happen to devout daddies, and kids are left wondering why God is so cruel (theodicy), but can't bring the word 'Satan' to their lips.

    Is there not a reason Jesus commanded us to say ” . . . Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” If God were in charge on Earth, and His will be done at all times, why would ANYONE have to pray such a thing, and why would any supreme being command such a thing be prayed?

    Because His will isn't always done on earth, not yet. Evil is done with God's assent, but not His approval. God allows it, but that's not His will. This sort of thing never seems to make it into sermons for some reason. Not Lutheran ones, at least.

  5. Ah, the gospel according to H. Richard Niebuhr which does not equal the good news of the Gospel message of God’s Kingdom work rescuing us from the domain of darkness, delivering us from the spiritual Egypt of this world through the perfect passover lamb of God, Jesus, who called the apostle Paul to preach the cross to the gentiles “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Acts 26:18. Otherwise, for what purpose did Jesus died on the cross and what redemptive meaning does his resurrection hold without “A” theology which runs from Genesis to Revelation?

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