Atonement theory and the Naughty Step

One of the parents in the congregation recently was saying how hard it is to answer good questions from children about why Jesus came and had resorted to trying to explain it in terms of the Naughty Step.

I thought it might be helpful to lay out some of the main theories of the Atonement thus:

  • Ransom theory – our parents were so naughty that they deserve the naughty step and have passed their naughtiness onto us. Justice requires that someone has to go to the naughty step to pay for this and God tricked the devil into seeing Jesus on the naughty step as sufficient payment for this.
  • Christus victor theory – Jesus has gloriously broken down the powers and dominions of naughtiness and only has to glance at the naughty-step for his holiness to turn it in to dust. Nothing can withstand his might and power.
  • Moral influence theory – Jesus came to teach us how to be so good that we would never be sent to the naughty step.
  • Penal substitution theory – God simply won’t forgive anyone until He is satisfied that the naughty step punishment has been fulfilled in full. Fortunately, Jesus comes along and takes on that naughtiness for himself, freely offering to pay the debt of naughtiness to God the Father. We need urgently to recognise this offer and accept it.
  • Incarnation theory – the amazing thing is that Jesus comes and sits on the naughty step with us, sharing our frailty and sharing our sorrows.

There are other possibilities, but those should keep you going for a bit.

Now, all these things have been believed by Christians. However, it doesn’t make much sense to claim that you believe them all at once. Notwithstanding that, I’d say that they all move me at one time or another, even though I tend towards one of them as my dominant way of understanding why Jesus came. We encounter all of these theories in our hymns, if not elsewhere.

That’s the way atonement theory works for me.

Taking Children to Church


I’m on holiday at the moment, and will be until Friday. This last weekend, I was in Englandshire staying close to one of the places I lived when I was in secondary school.

I had a whole new experience of church. I got to do something I’ve never done before – I got to take children to church. How different it makes the experience. Turning up at a strange church with twin nephews (and my father) was an absolute delight.

There is so much to do in church!

Including the following:

  • Looking up the hymns to check if you have sung them in school.
  • Counting the number of times the priest mentions Jesus in the sermon. (A variation is to bow each time he does so).
  • Bowing when the cross or the priest goes past.
  • Making the sign of the cross in all the right places.
  • Learning about the secret prayers that the priest is praying.
  • Standing on the pews when everyone else is standing up so you can see.
  • Counting the crosses in church. (We got to 31 but I think we missed quite a few).
  • Kneeling on the kneelers, which is trickier than it sounds.
  • Praying the communion prayers along with the priest. (We did it by whispering along!)
  • Listening to the choir and watching the organist.
  • Sharing the peace. (Very enjoyable)
  • Chatting to some of the older ladies who were pleased to see us.

I experienced the mass in a whole new way that was altogether lovely. Especially walking up to communion hand-in-hand with an eight year old whilst we both sang:

I will hold the Christ-light for you,
in the night-time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.