Having posted quite a bit recently on the Cross of Christ and the doctrine of atonement, I was interested to read Giles Fraser’s firm dismissal of any understanding of the death of Christ as a sacrifice for sins. He is eager to stress how important it is for us to insist on a non-sacrificial understanding of the death of Christ:-
For too long, Christians have put up with a theory of salvation that has at its core the idea that God requires the sacrifice of his own son so that human sin can be cancelled. “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin,” we will all sing. The fact this is a disgusting idea, and morally degenerate, is obvious to all but those indoctrinated into a very narrow reading of the cross.
But inflated language (‘disgusting…morally degenerate…obvious…indoctrinated…very narrow reading…’) is no substitute for an appeal to the data (in this case, the data of Scripture) or for reasoned argument.
Quoting an isolated text cannot hide a (wilful?) avoidance of a mass of biblical teaching on the subject. Fraser goes on:-
Jesus is not a blood sacrifice to appease a vicious God. The story is not an endorsement of the idea that sacrifice brings peace with God but an attack on it. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Jesus insists, going on to side with the scapegoats themselves. The Gospel is clear. I am with the hunchback. I am with the one cast out. He became one with the rejected and the cast out. And thus he suffered the same fate. This is not to endorse sacrificial theology but to condemn it.
Again, note the inflated language. Any doctrine of a ‘vicious’ God would stand self-condemned. But we believe, as John Stott has so clearly explained, in the ‘self-substitution’ of God. And note also the opportunistic proof-texting (‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’).
For Fraser, the mean of the cross is found in Christ’s ‘identification with the victim’, even though ‘much official Christianity holds on to the sacrificial reading of Christ’s death’, with ‘evangelical Christians remain committed to their theory of Christ being sacrificed to offset human sin.’
But a Christ who only identifies with the victim is no saviour, merely a sympathiser. And what is dismissed as a ‘theory’ is, we are convinced, a doctrine that lies at the very heart of the biblical revelation.