Bruce Charlton is thinking deeply about the Atonement. He is working out alternatives to the customary belief that Christ took on the punitive consequences of sin for us and to the customary liberal notion that the atonement was fundamentally an act of symbolic engineering to excise our retrograde belief in sin and guilt. Charlton thinks he’s found one.

I can’t do justice to his understanding here. Read the whole thing, poppets.

Still, I’d like to respond here with two necessary caveats. The first caveat is that the atonement is always more important than theories about the atonement. We need to spend time at the foot of the cross. The second caveat is that my representation of Charlton’s idea is callously simplified.

Callously simplified, Dr. Charlton says that deeply repenting means wrestling with your sin and really coming to grips with its wrongness so you can reject it. Perforce we can’t deeply repent of most of our sins. We lack the time and the patience and the strength to go through this kind of life-changing hullabaloo with each one. We don’t have the intellect for it either. Christ did have the strength, he did have the wisdom and the insight, and he did have the capacity. So Christ deeply repented for us in the Garden and perhaps later on the cross. Our necessarily more superficial repentances are acceptance of his deeper repentance.

Atonement theories are a matter of taste. This particular one doesn’t do much for me, and perhaps only for me.   I just came across a beautiful passage in Charlton’s other writings which helps explains why:

The overall purpose in life (over a timespan of eternity) might tentatively be defined as creativity, in the true-est sense of the word; in the sense that creativity can perhaps be understood as increasing the productivity of meaning.

In other words, making a given, fixed situation more meaningful; or getting more meaning out of the same situation, ingredients, or energy.

-thus Bruce Charlton. I want to be a participant in my own life. I want every detail to be meaningful and don’t want any part of it to be lost to me.   That’s a blog theme, collected under the tag All Things Before My Face. I don’t want the nitty-gritty particulars of repentance to happen for me offscreen. I’m a guy who literally shovels out the manure from his own corral and butchers his own meat; I want to see how the sausage is made.

Charlton’s notion can be salvaged for people of my temperament. Instead of saying that Christ repents deeply for me, I’d say that he enables my deep repentance. He grapples with every punctilio of my sins so he can lead me to understand and repent them myself. I repent through him. Such an understanding of the atonement fits with the implication in Alma 7:11-12 and Matthew 25:40 that Christ’s atonement involved a total communion with human experience.



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