One of the big issues that Philip Gulley and James Mulholland discussed in their book was the problem with atonement theology. In my opinion, this was one of the stronger arguments for universalism that the book contained. Atonement theology, in a nutshell or two, is the doctrine saying that humans have sinned and in order to be reconciled to God, a blood offering must be sacrificed. There must be a payment to suffice for sins. In the Old Testament, we see many examples of these offerings. If you don’t believe me, just start reading Leviticus. It won’t take you long to realize the complexity of the sacrificial system. But returning to the gist of atonement theology, God sent Jesus to be this all-inclusive blood offering, to die for the sins of everybody. Jesus as the once-for-all blood sacrifice. In this moment of his crucifixion (at-one-ment), Christ bore the sins of all humanity. So really, I doubt there are too many Christians who would not agree with atonement theology. However, I believe that although we may say we believe what atonement theology teaches, we only agree with it to a certain extent and not beyond that.
The authors point at a flaw with atonement theology. They claim it does not follow the ethic of Jesus, who rejected the idea of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye. The old system, in effect, was no longer sufficient. It was as if Christ was initiating a new way of life. In studying Jesus’ life and the things he said and the things he did, it would seems as if he did not operate on a just scale. He lived with deep prejudice of love, not love towards those ‘deserving’ or the healthy, but towards those that didn’t deserve it, the scum of the earth, the sick. The authors write, “In any culture obsessed with balanced scales, grace will seem blasphemous.” It seemed that way in Jesus’ day as the Pharisees cried out time and time again questioning Jesus’ actions. The authors continue: “When salvation requires a sacrifice, forgiveness and grace become commodities to be bought rather than gifts of God. More troublesome, Jesus ends up saving us from God rather than from evil. Jesus shields us from a vengeful God rather than leading us toward an abundant life.” Do we really need a blood sacrifice? From the very beginning, we have seen the mercy of God. God spared Adam and Eve when they ate of the apple even after God said they would die if they did. He spared Cain his life even after murdering his brother. And God spared humanity through Noah and promised to never do that again. It is in God’s nature to continue to love even when we fall short. Is atonement theology sufficient for what was accomplished with Christ on the cross? I think not. Was Christ simply trying to spare us from the judgment of God? I hope not. Does God really need blood to forgive our sins? And if so, why did that blood have to be God’s own son? Atonement theology is centered around this idea of justice and grace is anything but just. Grace tips the scales to the unworthy. I cannot imagine anything more unjust than grace. Because if we really got what we deserved which most of us don’t want, we would at least experience justice. The grace of God, on the other hand, is sheer scandal. When we try to justify by saying that Christ had to shed his blood in order for God to forgive us, we are ignoring the great love behind a God, humbling himself to be wrapped in the dust of the earth, only to be rejected by his own creation, and then being crucified on a cross. If the picture of Jesus on the cross says justice to you, I would recommend looking again. Because all I hear is a quiet whisper echoing, “Love . . . love . . . love . . . love . . . love . . .”