"Put a circle around it, underline it, or put a star by it... I really want you to remember this one."
Our pastor was discussing the message of the cross, the gospel message. He was giving a summary, of sorts, of what accepting Jesus is all about. He was giving us an outline of what we could share with our friends in order to get them to cross the line, and so on and so forth. As usual I found myself disagreeing with most of what he said. I was doing fine, thinking "ok, that's legitimate," to each point except for one. "put a circle around it..." he said, "He [Jesus] died as our substitute." Oh no, of all of them, he wants me to circle this one. Too bad this one, substitutionary atonement, is the only one I really have a problem with. I guess it's a legit view if accompanied by some other perspectives but on its own it's at least misleading.
If Jesus was our "substitution," if he "took our place," if he went to the cross so that we wouldn't have to then what do you do with "take up your cross and follow me?" Is it just about some superficial self denial? What do you do with "as the father sent me so I am sending you?"
I guess this is why the crucifix no longer makes sense to us. When we look at the cross we only see Jesus there in our place. Why should we focus on this? It's all about the resurrection right? We don't see ourselves on the cross, we don't see Jesus' sacrifice as a call for us to do the same, to lay down our life for our friends (Jn. 15:13). Jesus' crucifixion is a call to suffer, to lay down our lives so that we may truly live, not just a substitution. Substitution on its own no longer makes sense if we understand that Jesus has called us to sacrifice, the same sort of sacrifice he himself performed. Substitutionary atonement downplays the call of the Church and could easily lead us to believe that the cross is all about what Jesus did for me and has nothing to do with what I am now free to do as his follower. We could revert to the sort of Christianity which only involves my personal benefits.