A nonviolent atonement is an entry point that takes into account all of theology. The work of Christ understood as peaceable (throughout) is not a sub-point to the doctrine of God (God is nonviolent and establishing peace), to hermeneutics (peace is integral to the method), to cosmology (the universe is not a dualism but contains the harmony of the Creator), to hamartiology (sin is violence), or to ecclesiology (the church is to be a culture of peace); rather all of these (and the entire theological catalog) are determined together and to separate them is already to have made a decision about each (an incorporation of violence). How each is treated is determined by the whole and vice versa. One might argue that a violent theory of atonement will result in its own sort of coherence, making God the perpetrator of violence, dependent on a violent hermeneutic (incorporating a violent image of God into the image of Christ’s Father), and dependent on a violent cosmology (a cosmic dualism), and constituting a violent ecclesiology (the Church must make its concessions to violence in a variety of forms), but the person and teaching of Christ sticks out as the exception (though, ironically, there are a variety of ways of glossing over Jesus). But where Christ is made central (the hermeneutic key) – not only in reading the Bible but in apprehending God, understanding creation, recognizing the purposes of the church, etc., then peace is the coherent frame in which doctrine holds together.
The peculiar problem with this understanding is entry into the difference of this Christocentric understanding (depicted by Karl Barth – but which is true to the patristic understanding). How do we get there from somewhere else?
So, for example, how do we read the Bible? Do we make this decision apart from our understanding of who Christ is or is this too determined in conjunction with our understanding of the peace of Christ? Is the Bible a book of eternal trues or is it a by-product of the age that produced it (the fundamentalist and liberal choice, respectively) or can we see revelation unfolding such that the work of Christ functions as the hermeneutic key, bringing coherence where there would otherwise be contradiction? What one does with the contrast between the violence of the Old Testament and the peace of Christ is not only determinate of the view of God, of the Bible, of the meaning of Christianity, but ultimately it is an insight into how self and world are apprehended. What one does with the former picture (the God first glimpsed in revelation) in light of the revelation of the latter (the fulness of Christ), is the very question which the revelation of Christ raises. Hermeneutics must be centered on the peace of Christ or there is no coherent doctrine of revelation or of God.
Or, to take another example, how do we understand the history of the church? Does church history bear an authority that floats free of the specific work of Christ? Two things are clear from the teaching of the early Church prior to Constantine: 1. Christians were forbidden to participate in violence or in those professions connected to violence. 2. Violence is such a pervasive and deeply rooted problem that it often went unnamed and unrecognized even among those advocating its abolition. For example, Tertullian forbids any form of participation in violence for Christians, declaring: “But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?” A Christian, must not bear the sword in any circumstance as the Lord, “in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.”  Yet, Tertullian could also revel in the potential delights of watching his enemies suffer: “What sight shall wake my wonder, what my laughter, my joy, my exaltation?—as I see all those kings, those great kings, unwelcomed in heaven, along with Jove, along with those who told of their ascent, groaning in the depths of darkness!” Tertullian completely rejected violence, in so far as he understood it but he was simply blind to the violence he projected onto God and which he still harbored in himself. If Christ institutes peace in place of violence, the presumption is that the atonement is aimed at defeating violence throughout. But the extent of violence is not a fully worked out understanding in the early church so that only an unfolding Christocentrism (a gradually realized atonement) holds together the contradictions of history.
This problem is compounded with the conversion of Constantine (under whom violence is still equated with sin, but is now allowed) and the developments of Augustinianism (dualism, original sin, etc., which make violence inevitable) which feed into Anselm’s rational theology (the ground of a violent atonement), culminating in Lutheranism and Calvinism (giving rise to penal substitution and endorsement of state violence). It becomes nearly impossible to begin with a positive theology of atonement without deconstructing this error. To state the situation most darkly, a mistranslation (of Ro 5:12) gives rise to sin as a mystery – and this nonsensical notion gives rise to an equally mysterious and nonsensical notion of salvation (divine satisfaction and penal substitution) and an entire system which, in each of its parts, has nothing to do with New Testament Christianity. Total depravity of the entire race gives rise to unconditional election – divine fiat that cannot be penetrated with any insight. This cannot include all (limited atonement) and all of this is built on a flattening out and rendering irrelevant of human will and action (irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints). Where Christ is removed from the center it is questionable if what survives can be called Christianity.
Perhaps the primary tragedy of this misreading is that it renders Christianity irrelevant to real world problems and the reality of the solution Christ provides. But in another sense, this simply returns us to square one – humans have been deceived and religion plays a primary role in that deception. Christ is the resolution to a problem we do not understand apart from his exposure of the problem (again, Christocentrism as opposed to beginning with Augustine’s original sin and all that follows), as stupidity, ignorance, false sophistication, having believed a lie, is part of the problem he exposes (I Cor. 1:20). The answer comes prior to the diagnosis because the disease is one of deception.
Strangely, the theological explanation is, as Anselm and Calvin recognized, in regard to the law, but they make the law explanation of sin and reduce the work of Christ to satisfying a law. Salvation is reduced to payment of a debt or penalty (rather than defeat and deliverance from evil). The biblical picture is that sin involves a misorientation to the law, grounding itself in the very lie that Anselm and Calvin promote. That is, the lie is that the law is the arbiter of life (there is life in the law) and death. This is not only the depiction of sin but gets at the root of evil (the outworking of the law of sin and death) defeated in Christ’s suspension of the law. He does indeed suspend the punishment of the law, but this law and punishment are not from God but is at the root of human evil in its destructive power.
Once the ground clearing is complete, it is obvious the biblical conception of sin and the sinful Subject is built upon a very specific deception, detailed in Genesis, renamed the covenant with death in Isaiah, described as a poisonous lie, a throat shaped sarcophagus, and a bloody path of violence in the Psalms. Paul’s summation of the sin problem calls upon the fulness of this Old Testament depiction, both to describe the problem and Christ’s defeat of the problem. Being baptized into the death of Christ directly confronts the sin condition because sin is entangled with the primordial deception regarding death which amounts to an active taking up of death (Ro 5:12 rightly understood). Death as a lifestyle speaks not only of outward violence but of an inward destructiveness (a psychology of death), and salvation from this orientation to death (death-in-life) is through life in the midst of death.
With a long nod to René Girard, who explains how violent sacrifice/death is projected onto the gods as the genesis of all things, the myth/lie of sacred violence can be dispelled through Christ (even in its Christian form). With the exposure of the lie a series of modern idols (nationalism, capitalism, racism) are exposed as part of the same reifying lie. To put it in the context of Genesis, there are endless means and material for creating a false covering (leaves, sacrificial religion, nationalism, capital, race, etc.) all of which involve a turn to death and violence. Christ does not participate or succumb to sacred violence, but exposes and defeats it.
(Apply for the course, Sin and Salvation: An in-depth study of sin and salvation with a focus on the meaning of the atonement (2022/1/31–2022/3/25) here: https://pbi.forgingploughshares.org/student-applications/new)
 Tertullian (145-220 AD) in On Idolatry
 Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30. Translation by Carlin Barton in Barton and Boyarin, Imagine No Religion, 68. From https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/sites/ca.grebel/files/uploads/files/cgr_35-3_otto.pdf