I have been watching lots of conversations about the paradigms we use to share what God is up to in Christ. Of course, the classic method is heavily grounded in Anselm’s understanding of Jesus being a stand-in for our punishment. It uses categories of wrath and condemnation as a base, counters them in Christ with grace and forgiveness, and so rather than being punished for being sinful, Jesus takes our punishment and we are forgiven.
This being the dominant paradigm doesn’t mean there aren't problems with it. Is God really so wrathful and angry that someone has to be punished? Who wants to belong to a God who has decided, “Someone has to die.” Plus, penal substitution paints a picture of a God that almost no one outside the church seems worried about. That means it has lost its ability to bring people to Christ in meaningful ways. You actually have to convince people that God wants you dead now so that you can convert them to believing in Jesus so they can live again! Since no one is prepped to care about the first step (God wants me dead), we can never get anyone to the second phase (just believe in Jesus and you can have your life back).
So the issue today has changed. Studies show that most people still think some sort of God exists. While the number fluctuates a bit, long term statistical trends show little change in this. So, we don’t have to spend a lot of energy convincing people about the reality of some sort of god. It is a broadly held belief/assumption.
The issue today then is, “What kind of god is this god?”
Christians have a witness to offer here. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus bring a view of what God looks like for us. The work of Jesus to teach, heal, and bring things into right relationships is clearly witnessed to in scripture. The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit inspires followers of Jesus to continue this work and to celebrate it and see it as the work of God in our own times and places.
So, if you want people to join in this band of followers we know as the church, you have to show and share evidence that God is not neutral about life. You have to bear witness to the kinds of work that Jesus continues to do in the world around you. And you have to invite people to watch and see where they see God working in and through their lives as well. Guilt and forgiveness are no longer enough.