Confessing Christ Bloggers
Mar 13

Written by: Richard L. Floyd
3/13/2010 6:12 PM

This passage is clearly about the atonement, which was a word invented by Tyndale (“at-one-ment”) to translate the same Greek word that is also translated as “reconciliation.”

I expect there will be many sermons preached from it in “our” pulpits on how we need to be ambassadors of reconciliation, which is an important message and one I have preached myself.

But what you are less likely to hear is why we Christians are to be ambassadors of reconciliation. And that reason is clearly because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” which goes right to the heart of the Gospel, the act of God in Christ that became known as the atonement.

I have stopped using the term “liberal,” because it’s practically useless as a identifier, and its new substitute “progressive” carries political baggage that I find unhelpful. I realize “mainline” has its own problems, but at least it covers a wider range of both theological and political positions.

So why do “we” (by whatever name) generally like the idea of reconciliation, yet not like the idea of atonement, even though they mean the same thing?

I have some thoughts. One reason is some bad teaching in some of our seminaries, based on a view (false, in my view) that the cross is a bad business that perpetuates violence, which I have addressed elsewhere. There is a current cottage industry making the rounds with this view, and many of our newer ministers, indoctrinated by it, are just uncomfortable or downright hostile to any atonement theology, however nuanced.

Another reason is that many folks who end up with our denomination are refugees from various traditions that have had excessive or morbid preoccupations with “the power of the blood,” and/or who have been subject to formulaic atonement theories that make God into a monster that needs blood sacrifice. I have addressed that as well, in my book, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement.

I realize that some atonement theories can be monstrous, and I am aware of Stanley Hauerwas’s typically biting comment that if “you need a theory to worship Christ, go worship your theory.”

Nevertheless, what the word atonement connotes is at the crux (which is Latin for cross ) of our Gospel and proclamation if we are still to be called Christians.

And “the power of the blood,” however it has been misused, is just theological shorthand for Christ dying on our behalf, an act of the Triune God, that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, namely reconciling us to God and to one another. This is why Paul says we are now ambassadors of reconciliation.

Yesterday I sent out a Passion hymn text to a number of my colleagues, thinking they might want to use it on Passion/Palm Sunday or during Holy Week. Most thanked me, some said they would use it, but several said they had a problem with the” blood“ in it.

The first verse is:

“He died upon the lonely tree
forsaken by his God.
And yet his death means all to me
and saves me by his blood.”

As Passiontide and Good Friday loom, “we” might do well to ask ourselves just what it is we are going to preach about if “the work of Christ” and its symbolic language is off limits?

Copyright ©2010 Richard Floyd


Re: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Cross? The Bloodless Theology of the Mainline Church

Great stuff!
I'm a Youth Pastor at a UCC church in Southern California and I've been searching for something like this website. I'll be a reader from now on!

By Wes Ellis on   3/25/2010 4:44 PM

Re: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Cross? The Bloodless Theology of the Mainline Church

Dear Wes,

Thank you for the kind words.

I invite you to also look at my personal blog, where I do most of my posting:


By Richard L. Floyd on   3/25/2010 7:45 PM

Re: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Cross? The Bloodless Theology of the Mainline Church

Hi Rick,

Previously I attempted to post a message here about your fine document on Forsyth, which I am now re-reading. It apparently got lost in cyber-space. Before I attempt to do that again, I want to make sure that I am doing this right. If this message works then I'll know it; if not, I'll have to go back to the virtual drawing boards.


George Demetrion

By Checking in on blog utilization on   3/26/2010 8:01 AM

Re: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Cross? The Bloodless Theology of the Mainline Church


You've broken the code. Today's comment is showing.



By Richard L. Floyd on   3/26/2010 8:54 AM

Re: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Cross? The Bloodless Theology of the Mainline Church

P.S. I keep a personal blog as well.

By Wes Ellis on   3/26/2010 11:54 AM
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