I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 CEB)
I wanna focus on that phrase "died for our sins" a little. Fellow blogger and friend David Kenney blogged about this verse a little bit today (check it out) and as he casually mentioned "substitutionary atonement," my allergies flailed up a bit. You see, especially lately, I have my beef with substitutionary atonement. As I've written in the past (look for a quick word on it in my Good Friday Post), I think there are big holes in classic substitutionary atonement theory, especially penal substitutionary atonement, and with the recent help of Tony Jones on the subject I've been really more attracted to the "solidarity" theory, that essentially what happened on the cross was that Jesus was assuming and taking on the worst of the human situation and was redeeming it through the affirmation of God's transforming presence therein. The cross was injustice at its worst, it was all the systemic corruption and cussedness of a broken human culture being heaped upon Jesus as God's way of saying "yes" to crucified and oppressed people. Then of course the resurrection, the only "logical" product of God's presence in death and injustice, vindicates and restores that which God has assumed and incorporated into God's experience. When you break it down, it's not any more complex than substitutionary atonement (although it may not come easy to a mind that's been steeped in SA for so long).
Where SA emphasizes and operates on the guilt of humanity and the sin that's been passed down through "Original Sin", "Solidarity" can end up neglecting human guilt altogether by its sensitivity to our victim-status to sin. But Paul does use that oh-so-common phrase, "Christ died for our sins."
So what does Paul mean by, "Christ died for our sins." Do you have to be a proponent of Substitutionary Atonement theory to affirm this statement? Does "for" necessitate "in our place" or "in order to appease the wrath of God against us" or "imputation of righteousness"?
In Jesus' act of affirming humanity as victim, Jesus assumed a victim status himself. That is, after all, how the whole solidarity thing works. But he did this not in an artificial or merely symbolic way like when we skip a meal "in solidarity" with the hungry. The injustice that was heaped upon Jesus was historically authentic. He became the victim of our injustice, our oppression, our sin. Paul does not want us to get in the habit of only seeing ourselves as victim recipients of salvation and justice. He is pointing out our complicity with injustice. The line dividing good from evil does not only stretch between systems of power and everyday working and poor communities, it does not only stretch between slaves and masters, it stretches right down the middle of each one of us.
SA, in it's slavish obsession with human guilt, forgot to deal with oppression and systemic injustice. It's important that, as we rethink atonement in order to deal with the reality of the human situation, we don't lose track of our own complicity in sin. We are indeed guilty, not because of Original Sin, as it were, but because of our persistence in unjust systems and dehumanizing internal perspectives. Let not the pendulum swing too far. Jesus did die for our sins--our indifference, our apathy, our selfishness, our ignorance. We are a part of the injustice from which we are being saved through the radical Grace of God. And God is inviting us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.