Rabbi Lawrence Says the Cross is Unneeded

Rabbi Lawrence came back with another comment today. He said:

Christianity is a cut and paste religion, nothing more. Because of your belief system you must cling to the one liners. However if you wish to read the Torah along with the prophets from page one, you will see who is way off course. Why is that so complicated? Why not line up the two very different understandings along one another and see what Gentiles would think for themselves. Try doing so without painting and white washing the Jewish Text.

G-d does not need the blood of an individual to atone for me or you. Once the masses find this for themselves, many churches will close up shop.

I told him that his first paragraph is really like saying nothing at all other than, “You people should stop having faith in Yeshua because my opinion about the Torah and prophets is that they are not about him.” In other words, he makes a claim instead of offering evidence. But his last statement is an actual argument, a piece of logic that is worth considering. And the thing is, I agree with his statement as it is worded. God does not need the blood of an individual to atone for me and you. That is not what a good atonement theology is all about. So what is it about?

First, there is a robust literature out there on atonement theories and Christian theology. If you care about this issue, as a Christian or as a Jew, I recommend one book that puts it all together very well for a modern reader and which is by a theologian worthy of your time and attention: Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement. See it here on amazon and here for Kindle.

Second, it is important to realize that a good theology of the death of Messiah is not divine child abuse. People get the idea of divine child abuse from the teaching of unschooled Christian speakers, pastors, and popular preaching. This issue is one more reason for me to advocate that Christian pastors start taking education and continuing education in theology and biblical studies far more seriously.

Third, we should learn more about the multi-layered and profound meaning of God taking on death to reconcile us to him. A good simple out line of atonement should include all of the following:
Atonement is a sacrifice.
Atonement is redemption.
Atonement is justification.
Atonement is reconciliation.
Atonement is ransom.

Fourth, you should learn a bit more about the theories of atonement. The following is a brief introduction to the topic:

In the incarnation, he became like us to identify with us. On the cross, he died in our place and identified with us right down to death. In his resurrection he defeated the powers of evil and chaos forever.

Theologians call these three atoning actions of God: 1) recapitulation, 2) penal substitution, and 3) Christus Victor.

Recapitulation is about God becoming man. He became like us so we could become like him. It means that we are not only forgiven, but that we are to be transformed to be like God. We are to grow into divine love and goodness and to be like him.

Penal Substitution is about God clearing our guilt. He died in our place so that no claim of guilt can be laid against us. It means we have security in knowing that all condemnation has been removed and we are innocent. Justice is satisfied.

Christus Victor is about God defeating death and the evil one from within. He experienced death in order to defeat it and to triumph over the powers of evil. It means we see death and evil not as things to fear, but to conquer. Because we are now part of the community that overcomes death and evil.

Finally, I have written about these things before. Check them out: “Is the Cross Laughable?” and “Yom Kippur, Atonement, and Messiah.”

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6 Responses to Rabbi Lawrence Says the Cross is Unneeded

  1. louise says:

    Am glad you recommended cross-referencing your post “Is the Cross Laughable?” It is really good. I printed it off for a searching college student, serious follower of Jesus, who has many discussions with young and old wherever he goes. The question of divine child abuse was actually used by one of his profs in a philosophy of religion class my friend took as an elective (he is a science major).

    Anyway, the article on The Cross strikes at the heart of the issue: “In this story we are all children of the Creator in a world of good and evil powers, in a time of fruitlessness looking for completion and redemption and God is bringing all things to realization of a perfect world. It is in some ways a hard story to believe because of the silence of God which is the norm and our inability to see the past or the future with clarity. yet there is plenty of evidence of a different kind for this story…”

    To that evidence, I would add suffering—personal and also extended to the point where one feels so deeply for others’ suffering that they long with all their hearts for suffering to end. I know believers that cannot bear to read or hear Holocaust stories or stories of how the faithful for God have been tortured because they cannot bear to even think about the pain inflicted or the inhumanity of mankind to others. if you face up to these horrible truths and evils, (and this can include being with a friend or loved one who is dying of cancer, or a child who suffers all his/her life with a genetic deformity– the list is endless ) , the result will be this: 1. you will begin to hate evil so much that you will HUNGER for truth and righteousness and 2. you will Weep, weep, weep maybe more than laugh after a while. Then you will ask God– is all futility? is there an end to this? when? how? please.

    Then you will end up crying out to GOD and asking for answers, and then, if your heart is sincere about really wanting an answer, really wanting to know Is God there? He will, guaranteed, answer you. without fail. That is what Torah teaches from the beginning. Genesis is full of it. Abraham hearing God’s voice, Jacob wrestling with the angel of God, etc. etc. and then we will begin to realize that to end the evil and endless cycles of pain and man’s desire to be on the throne and use and misuse other people, only then will we finally get it that Divine Atonement is needed. If left to man’s efforts he will botch it every time. Something drastic and final has/had to be done. . It was.

  2. Derek Leman says:

    Indeed, Louise. In building on what you said, what sort of God experiences suffering with us and becomes a co-sufferer? The God Yeshua came to reveal in greater depth, the God of Israel. Some refuse to see that Yeshua’s insights into God’s nature already fit with things said of God in the Hebrew Bible. For example, Abraham Joshua Heschel famously demonstrated that God feels emotion in his study on the prophets. God as co-sufferer with us is an extension of the pain God expresses already in the prophets.

  3. Geri Burt says:

    I have to say as a Christian I partially agree with Rabbi Lawrence. Many Christians are of the belief that accepting Jesus as their Saviour is the beginning and the end of their responsibility in their faith. Sadly enough that is ALL the churches teach! I was taught that the Old Testament was the way God used to do it and Jesus was the new way. I thank God for a woman I kept running into in a grocery store (35 miles away from my house). Every time I saw her she would talk to me about Torah. She was not Jewish but she and her husband had gone to Christian Bible school together and as they studied their Bibles they found there were many things missing in their teaching so they went to Hebrew School and their eyes were open to the entire Bible. I pray Rabbi Lawrence does not give up on seeking God’s wisdom. Even though I am a “grafted in relative” we are in the same family! Thank you Derek for your teachings.

  4. Joe Ewell says:

    I do agree with Rabbi Lawrence to a point, outside of the Temple Cult, blood sacrifices are not required for atonement. However, what Rabbi Lawrence is not saying is, within the Temple Cult, blood sacrifices are most definitely required! One day the Temple Cult will return! Can a Jew obtain atonement apart from sacrifices? Yes, of course, this is one of the primary drives found within Orthodox Judaism. However, to what extent is this atonement outside of the Temple Cult? Ask Rabbi Lawrence this question: If a Jew offers no sacrifice IN THE PRESENCE of a duly ordained Sanhedrin and Temple, then can the Jew obtain “Atonement”?

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