Atonement by Michael Winter Research Paper

Pages: 6 (2293 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

Atonement, as contemporarily understood, is about the recognition of one's transgressions and involves the process of making amends. That is the strict definition. But as a theoretical construct, one might define a transgression as a sin, both against God and man. Atonement might involve asking for forgiveness and making amends. Again, within a theological framework, the notion of atonement can be taken a little further: to include not only the asking for forgiveness but also being granted forgiveness en route to gaining salvation. (Kent, 1907)

Christianity (and some other religions) might easily include this extended definition. Indeed, the dictionary defines atonement in two ways, reserving a special definition that is reserved for the Christian perspective. The generic definition: "Amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; expiation." The Christian definition: "The reconciliation of God and humans brought about by the redemptive life and death of Jesus."

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Clearly the above has continued to pose a conundrum to Christian philosophers as this unique Christian dogma has evolved. Therefore, it is justified that Michael M. Winter's treatise "The Atonement" (Winter, 1995) should be included in the series titled "Problems in Theology." From the very introduction, the author fires a salvo across the bow of contemporary thinking as relates to atonement. Winter teases the reader by claiming that he will works towards dispelling previously held notions of atonement and redefine Christian atonement as we know it. The author believes that the notion of Christian atonement needs to be reassessed and prevailing dogma challenged. This prevailing dogma came in the form of the notions forwarded by St. Anselm. St. Anselm believed that atonement was due to God because of the "affront to his honor by sin" and also to Christ who as is believed died on the cross in extremis, taking upon his human self the burden of the sins of the world.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Atonement by Michael Winter Assignment

In the first chapter, the author wishing to dispense off with the "Preliminaries" starts out by challenging the and most believed assertion, that the degree of suffering that Christ faced during his trial, crucifixion and death bore a direct correlation to the amount of suffering in the world. He does not believe that Christ should have suffered as much. This is controversial and perhaps, paradoxical. Winter supports this assertion as a way of redefining atonement. He uses examples from both the Old and New Testament delving often into the prophecies of Isaiah as well as the epistles of Paul to show that the writers in the bible were very precise in how they defined atonement. The word atonement and associated words such as grace, salvation and redemption had been bastardized to a point that it was akin to a pop-theology construct. Winter illustrates how the notion of salvation has been reduced to a cliche by excoriating the overuse of the phrase "Are you saved, brother?"

Winter also uses biblical passages to reassess atonement. He also describes Judaic celebration of the Day of Atonement. On this day, two goats were readied for sacrifice. One was driven out of the city: this sacrificial animal was purported to carry with it (out) the sins of the city dwellers. The other goat was sacrificed. Supported by biblical passages, Winter demonstrates how atonement can also signify a union with God. This does not involve supreme sacrifices or painful penance, but it does involve the recognition of the love of God. Winter seeks to redefine atonement, more in keeping with a reinterpretation of different aspects of Christian thought. The move is a definitive one: from a vengeful God to a forgiving and loving one. Winter provides several examples of certain Greek words and phrases that have been misinterpreted. One example has to do with the Messianic Prophecies where the Greek word hupomon?, which, according to Winter is preferably interpreted as "optimistic determination" and not as it has been hitherto believed, "patient endurance."

No matter what the interpretation, the notion of atonement, specifically, its entry into Christian doctrine is in answer to the how and why of Christ's death. Winter is critical of revisionist philosophies with deist leanings who question Christ's death because of the horror it evokes or who seek to question why a benevolent and loving God would allow such bad occurrences. Winter makes no point about free will, he often alludes to it

Winter believes that people all over the world need religion (once again, he is mindful that we fall for poorly written and imprecise prayers and pop-theology) because the issues of morality and those that have to do with free will cannot be addressed by the latest innovations in science or technology. The notion of atonement as a means to communicate with God, be one with God and provide ourselves with a moral compass comes across very strongly.

An exposition of Atonement wouldn't be complete without a historical perspective of how the descriptions of atonement and its relationships to the ideation of sacrifice and Christ's death came about. And the author does that very well, albeit, concisely, in keeping with the general theme of the series, and perhaps, in an attempt to get to his thesis.

In this chapter, perhaps as a segue, Winter also introduces the concept of "conscientization," which he believes is a true measure of sinful behavior. This is crucial because atonement is a choice-driven consequence of sin. He believes that a recognition of sin does not come about unless the conscience recognizes it. Winter avers that historically, there were clearly defined notions of what constituted sin. But revisionist ideas have blurred those lines, therefore one has to rely on the conscience. From a societal perspective, this is no less true today that it was while sin was being associated with the need for atonement. This notion of sinfulness is important. Because if taken to an extreme, if what was once construed to be sin, in modern thinking isn't, then the idea of Christ's death as a means to atone for man's original and continuing sin becomes meaningless.

But despite the brevity of the historical perspective, Winter clearly sets up what will be his ideas about atonement. The theme of this chapter titled "First attempts at synthesis: The Fathers" shows that the notion of atonement evolved. This evolution was guided by the context within which the writers were, their level of education, the environment in which they found themselves. For example, the early Christians, by this Winter means, the post-New Testament Christians had ideas of atonement that came from the general fear that pervaded those who would seek to introduce a new religion in the midst of pagan and Jewish beliefs. Since pagan rituals involve sacrifices (albeit, to demons or a pantheon of Gods), atonement began to be seen as closely associated with sacrifice. In the next chapter, titled "Medieval solution to the problem (of the definition of atonement), Winter demonstrates how atonement began to be seen in a different light, though not completely removed from the influences of the time. Formal education became more widespread and cosmopolitan. People did not see sacrifices as a daily occurrence and therefore sacrifice (in this context, Christ's sacrifice) began to be seen only from a historical perspective, and theologians began revisiting it.

This chapter is mostly about expiating the notions advanced by St. Anselm and how Winter goes about refuting it -- averring that St. Anselm was right, but to a point. This theory, largely supported for several centuries was about the need for pain and suffering to appease a God who was unhappy with the amount of moral revisionism that went on among people -- the competing forces of evil, before the coming of Christ. Many theorists, even until the beginning of the 20th century described atonement in graphic terms of Christ's pain and suffering with, creating several variations of St. Anselm's theme.

Eventually, as Christianity was established and spread world wide the philosophies became more rooted and independent. Despite that, influences of the strong Constantine Empire played an important role in how atonement was established. Philosopher-theologians like Origen and Tertullian brought their own brand of genius, independence of thought and legal training to bear on the notion of atonement. St. John Chrysostom, one of the Church's greats, who after enjoying being a highly regarded bishop, was stripped of his bishopric and exiled, but still continued to write introduced into what he purported to be Christ's suffering some of his own difficulties.

Winter gives some space to three noted theologians who he believes distilled the idea of atonement to its essence. These are St. Basil, his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine. These three he believes provided the first correct interpretation. But Winter is critical of most of the early theologians. After quoting their opinions of atonement -- which in large part boils down to Christ's involvement, primarily because this burden could be borne by no one else, everybody having been tainted by original sin, Winter often expounds on the density and ambiguity of the language.

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