The other day I stumbled upon a user forum discussion with a catchy title, “Christianity is founded on four absurdities.” Here they are according to the original poster:
Absurdity #1: The Scapegoat solution, or the premise that the guilty can be pardoned by the death of an innocent. It simply makes no logical or moral sense to punish an innocent party for the crimes of another. A judicial solution of this nature, passed in any earthly court, would be deemed insane, and the judge would be immediately disbarred and whisked to the nearest mental asylum.
Absurdity #2: The notion that in order to forgive sins, God had to sacrifice Himself to Himself.
Absurdity #3: You must believe that God sacrificed Himself to Himself in order to obtain salvation; failure to believe this absurdity results in eternal torment.
Absurdity #4: That Jesus’ death qualified as a sacrifice. Real sacrifice entails real loss. Jesus didn’t really die, nor did he suffer any permanent loss. So where is the sacrifice?
This is an interesting, post-modernist view of Christianity that is gaining much traction. If you want to raise children that will be able to argue Christian principles in an increasingly anti-Christian social culture, you must be prepared to answer objections like the ones above.
And today’s pop Christian culture is not going to help.
The answer to most of these issues was, however, given already 160 years ago by Charles Finney, the “father of modern revivalism,” in his Systematic Theology. Here’s a summary from his lecture on the atonement.
In substance, Finney shows that those four claims are straw-men; the atonement was not a scapegoat solution, nor was it meant to sacrifice God to Himself. Finally it was a real sacrifice, not because it was meant to satisfy retributive justice (in which case the first and fourth points would make sense), but rather public justice, and ultimately as the best way to promote universal obedience to moral law, which leads to virtue, which in turn promotes happiness, which is the ultimate good of the universe (this hasn’t unfolded yet; we are in the final part of the plot).
Also, not all Christians believe that sinners are tormented in hell forever.