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Preaching Atonement to the Scapegoats

Haven for Hope

Haven for Hope in downtown San Antonio (Photo: Courtney Perry)

Last week, my friend Chris Estus invited Courtney and me down to San Antonio to speak at Alamo Heights United Methodist Church, which was a great evening full of lovely people.

Before that, however, he took us to Haven for Hope, a massive complex for the poor, needy, and addicted in downtown San Antonio.Chris has blogged here before about the connections he finds between 12 Step Recovery and the emerging church movement.

I’m pretty comfortable speaking to relatively well-off Methodists in a beautiful church building. But a room full of addicts in a 12-Step Recovery Bible study is among the most intimidating crowds I’ve ever faced. That anxiety was all me, because the men and women at the meeting were extraordinarily welcoming and gracious.

Over the course of three meetings, I got my sea legs, so that by the third time I spoke, I warmed to the idea of talking about my book and the atonement. I briefly explained what it means to be a scapegoat—to be unfairly condemned and punished—and I asked how many of them had ever been scapegoated. Every one raised a hand. Then I asked how many of them had at some point been a part of an angry mob and scapegoated an innocent person. Again, everyone raised a hand.

Penal substitutionary atonement runs deep in this crowd, no doubt. But having introduced the concept of scapegoating, I tried to shine a different light on Jesus’ crucifixion. When I suggested that the primary lesson of the crucifixion is that violence does not stop violence and that scapegoating is a bankrupt system, I got lots of amens.

That was, as I mentioned last week, the very day that René Girard died.

For me, speaking at Haven for Hope was a poignant reminder of how badly we need to spread an alternative view of the cross, and how even those who’ve hit rock bottom are prepared to hear that alternative.

Thanks, Chris, for having me. Hope to be back soon.

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  • Daniel Mann


    I never saw this in Scripture:

    · “When I suggested that the primary lesson of
    the crucifixion is that violence does not stop violence and that
    scapegoating is a bankrupt system, I got lots of amens.”

    Instead, I found these verses, which make no mention “that
    the primary lesson of the crucifixion is that violence does not stop violence.”

    · Galatians 4:4-5 But when the fulness of the time
    was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, so
    redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of

    · Ephesians 2:4-6 But because of his great love
    for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were
    dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us
    up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

    · Hebrews 9:26-28 But now he has appeared once for
    all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just
    as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was
    sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a
    second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting
    for him.

    · Hebrews 10:10-12 And by that will, we have been
    made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day
    after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and
    again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when
    this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the
    right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his
    footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are
    being made holy.

    1 Peter 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for
    all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to
    death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.

    But since you received a lot of “amens” at the end, I must
    be overlooking something. Perhaps you can provide me with your verses.

  • paulwallace

    Amen and alas: In many ways 12 Step programs are more like the church than the church is like the church. Thanks, Tony

  • Steve McKinzie


    Thank you for reaching out to the folks in a 12 step program in San Antonia. But with all due respect, your perspective on the atonement fails to do justice match with Scripture. One could quote the Isaiah 53:4-5 passage for instance. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him and by His scourging we are healed.” This verse and their are many more, suggest the Leon Morris and scores of other Biblical scholars are right. The Lord Jesus died in our place. He bore our sins. Thanks…..