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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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