What on earth is the atonement? Christians tend to talk about it in hushed tones, as if it is a divine mystery (spoiler: it is), while somehow failing to ever really talk about what they are referring to or what it actually is. Merriam Webster defines the word simply as “reparation for an offense or injury”, while giving satisfaction as a synonym. While this is certainly true, when we refer to the atonement as Christians, we refer to so much more. We speak of the atonement, referring to a particular historical event which has changed all of history. In doing this however, we incorporate the theological and historical significance of atonement as a cleansing from sins and the way to become right with God. Let me explain what I mean by this.
Q. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A. Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin. (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 22).
These words are nearly 400 years old, but ring as true today as when they were first set to paper. They are a succinct reminder of the glorious and redemptive truth of the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. When man sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6), God set in motion a grand plan for redemption. From Paul’s words in Romans 5:12, we then discover that just as sin entered the world through the actions of one man, Adam, so did God’s grace overflow to the world through another man, Christ Jesus.
Have you ever heard Jesus Christ referred to as “The Word”? Usually people who use this terminology are referring to John 1:1, which says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (NASB).
This verse makes it abundantly clear that Jesus Christ is the Word, and that he is God. What this means is not so clear, because we also refer to the Bible as the Word (of God), as in Hebrews 4:12. Jesus is not the Bible, nor is the Bible Jesus, so where is the disconnect?
If you’re a Christian, or if you spend much time around Christians, you are going hear the word theology thrown around, often flippantly. Some Christians love to talk about it, but in my experience, their knowledge is very limited. More commonly, Christians believe that theology is stuffy and limiting, and that it should be left to pastors and professors.
What is theology though? According to Kevin Vanhoozer, professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:
“Living to God, living into Christ, living through the Spirit, with others – this is the essence of theology.”