I am convinced that a real theology—as distinct from a theory—of the Atonement properly commences with the "mind of Christ." I mean "mind" here in a plain and most elementary sense. When Jesus hung on the Cross, what did he think he was doing? What was his understanding of Calvary? What was his defining frame of reference?
Obviously, the deepest reaches of such inquiries elude inspection, because Jesus' understanding of the Passion was embraced within his unique relationship to the Father. Consequently, a real theology of the Atonement will insist that there must be no interpretive reference extraneous to that relationship. There, and nowhere else, can a real theology of the Atonement begin.
With respect to the meaning of the Cross, the Father and his incarnate Word shared a mutual understanding. And that understanding of the Cross is the only one that counts. This is the sole entrance into the mystery of the Atonement; we enter it cautiously and by invitation.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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