*Note* This series comes from an integrative theology paper that I wrote on the intersection of the doctrine of sin and identity development in young adolescent girls. I started this series so long ago, but I realized that there was more to this series that I wanted to share, so here is part 5. You can read part one here; two here; three here; four here and five here.
Atonement and Violence Against Women and Girls?
Two of the major theories of atonement (Satisfaction Theory and Penal Substitution) argue that God the Father required violence against Christ the Son to restore honor to the Father, or to carry the wrath and punishment due to humanity. Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker in their book Proverbs of Ashes argue that these theories of atonement, and language that equates growing in holiness with suffering can lead women and girls to stay in abusive situations patiently and joyfully, and justifies violence towards wives. Rather than viewing the cross as an act of atonement these authors declare that the entire doctrine of atonement is destructive and should be abandoned. The cross they reason is an act of violence against an innocent. That is all that it is. It shows that God suffers with us, but the violence against Christ in no way brings humanity closer to God.
The questions Nakashima Brock and Parker raise are good and rooted in real ministry experience, having both experienced and witnessed abuse against women. And certainly the doctrine of the atonement has been twisted towards passively accepting abuse and violence. However, their conclusions fall short. The gospel and epistle writers declare that something happened on the cross that has brought those who are in Christ closer to God. Rather than throwing the doctrine of atonement out, we need to instead remember that there were times when Jesus did not tolerate violence (Adulterous woman), when he disappeared from those who wanted to arrest him, when he allowed others to serve him because he was tired, and when he stood up against injustice and oppression.
-Note * While I think that Nakashima Brock and Parker’s conclusions are just a little short, the issues that come up in this book are very serious and church leaders ought to take time to read this book. When we leave space in our teaching for redemption to be twisted into justification for abuse we do the world a huge disservice.