By Jonathan Wynne-Jones., Sunday Telegraph
The Church's traditional teaching of Christ's crucifixion is "repulsive" and "insane", a controversial cleric will claim on the BBC this week.
The Very Rev Jeffrey John, who had to withdraw before taking up an appointment as bishop of Reading in 2003 after it emerged he was in a long-term homosexual relationship, is set to ignite a row over one of the most fundamental tenets of Christian belief.
Clergy who preach this Easter that Christ was sent to earth to die in atonement for the sins of mankind are "making God sound like a psychopath", he will say.
Christian theology has taught that because humans have sinned, God sent Christ as a substitute to suffer and die in our place.
"In other words, Jesus took the rap and we got forgiven as long as we said we believed in him," says Mr John. "This is repulsive as well as nonsensical. It makes God sound like a psychopath. If a human behaved like this we'd say that they were a monster."
Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about "love and truth", not "wrath and punishment". He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could "share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us".
Church figures have expressed dismay at his comments, which they condemn as a "deliberate perversion of the Bible". The Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, accused Mr John of attacking the fundamental message of the Gospel.
"He is denying the way in which we understand Christ's sacrifice. It is right to stress that he is a God of love but he is ignoring that this means he must also be angry at everything that distorts human life," he said.
Bishop Wright criticised the BBC for allowing such a prominent slot to be given to such a provocative argument. "I'm fed up with the BBC for choosing to give privilege to these unfortunate views in Holy Week," he said.
The Rev Rod Thomas, of the evangelical group Reform, accused Mr John of "attacking the fundamental nature of the Gospel". Reform, which represents about 600 clergy, opposed Mr John's nomination as bishop in 2003.
Mr Thomas said denying the "wrathful" nature of God was an attempt to play down the importance of sin and allow a more liberal approach to sexuality.