The Taser's Edge


Atonement and Reconciliation

Recently, I’ve been exploring ‘reconciliation’ and ‘atonement’ as synonyms, in English but particularly in theology.  And it matters.  The separation of Reconciliation and Atonement from each other leads to the warping of both, which has great implications for (at least) worship, justice- and peace-making, and evangelism.

The most common differentiation seems to make the cross equal to the Atonement, with Reconciliation as a result of the Atonement.  Perhaps there need to be distinctions, but I think a juxtaposition of the two terms in Scripture highlights their unity.

Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-5:21, a Scripture highly prized as God’s call to followers of Christ to offer forgiveness and to proclaim the good news of God’s work through Christ in accomplishing our healing.  It is a passage often cited as foundational to the Christian call to social justice.  We’ll read it first in the NRSV as is–

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

And now the same passage, with a Find and Replace or two–

All this is from God, who atoned us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of atonement; that is, in Christ God was atoning the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of atonement to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be atoned to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Not only is Atonement not-only-about the cross (the sacrifice of the Lamb of God), but Reconciliation is clearly happening at the cross.  And I think that this bring us more to an understanding in keeping with the Eastern Church, where the focus is on our being brought to union (at-one-ness) with God, not so much on our being made righteousness in ourselves or on our own.  Athanasius (for one): “God became Man, that Man might become God.”  Hopefully it’s no surprise that the Atonement is about At-one-ment.

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