by Ravi Holy (MA dissertation)
In the Introduction Ravi Holy wrote:Stephen Finlan observes that ‘What is most noticeable about the literature on atonement written in the last 150 years is the intense concern with problems that the authors (and presumably the readers) have with the traditional doctrines of atonement’. Anthony Bartlett agrees, but suggests that the biggest problem for all these writers is ‘the issue of [divine] violence’, the idea that ‘God demanded a bloody victim... to pay for human sin’. This, says J. Denny Weaver (whose work ‘represents the best known rejection of traditional atonement formulae’, according to Bartlett) ‘is the element most offensive to the radical critics of traditional satisfaction atonement’.
As we will see, the ‘problem of divine violence’ is perhaps most acute in the particular form of satisfaction atonement known as ‘penal substitution’ – the idea that Jesus was receiving the punishment due to sinful human beings. However, as both Weaver and Mark Heim say, any theory in which Jesus had to die in order to ‘satisfy’ God – whether satisfying his justice, restoring His honour or placating his wrath – involves us in the problem of ‘divinely sanctioned violence’. Thus, while our discussion will sometimes focus on the penal theory, it should be borne in mind that the problem is ‘substitutionary atonement’ or satisfaction atonement or in general. We begin by looking at ‘the problem’ in more detail.