Fortress Press

The Empathic God: A Clinical Theology of At-Onement

The Empathic God

A Clinical Theology of At-Onement

Frank Woggon (Author)


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What if Jesus did not come to die for our sins? What if, instead, Jesus's life and death was intended to provide a way out of our shame? While traditional Christian teachings about the atonement emphasize sin as guilt and transgression against God's will and commandments, Frank Woggon points out that clinical spiritual care reveals that the human condition is predominantly marked by shame rather than guilt.

In The Empathic God, Woggon examines myopic readings of the Jesus event that, in turn, have embedded distortions into traditional paradigms of the atonement. In contrast, Woggon mines narratives of the human condition to engage in a critical examination of the Jesus story. As a clinician and ordained Baptist minister, Woggon presents the Jesus event as God's empathic initiative toward humanity and convincingly argues that salvation comes through empathy rather than forgiveness.

Woggon's work constructs a clinical theology of "at-onement" from the perspective of clinical spiritual care. The Empathic God calls for a practical response of caring participation in God's ongoing work of salvation through an empathic praxis of spiritual care. Most importantly, The Empathic God takes seriously that lived human experience is the starting point for theological exploration rather than doctrine.

This book will help practitioners and students of spiritual care in the Christian tradition to reflect more critically on the intersection of spiritual care practice and theology. The book also will challenge pastors, ministers of pastoral care, chaplains, pastoral counselors, spiritually oriented therapists to interrogate and re-interpret traumatic, shame-filled Christian teachings about the atonement so that they, too, can join in God's ongoing and liberating work of salvation.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506496689
  • eBook ISBN 9781506496696
  • Dimensions 6.25 x 9.25
  • Pages 306
  • Publication Date May 7, 2024


"The Empathic God is a masterpiece. In this groundbreaking contribution, Frank Woggon skillfully engages pastoral, theological, and clinical perspectives from his experiences as a spiritual care provider, educator, administrator, and researcher to explore new understandings of at-onement. This book will stimulate new conversations among theological educators and students, clergy and chaplains, and other readers who seek to interpret human experience with fresh insights into a classical theological doctrine."

Kenneth J. McFayden, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean,and professor of practical theology, Union Presbyterian Seminary

"Frank Woggon redefines the narrative of the concept of atonement in a way that liberates it from traditional themes that often suppress and oppress. In the context of spiritual care, this reframing invites all to see this move as a means of healing of body, mind, and spirit. Practitioners in both the clinical and congregational setting can utilize this text to enhance their care of persons who are seeking to integrate faith practices into their lives."

Bishop Teresa E. Snorton, Clinical Pastoral Educator (ACPE and BCC) (retired),Ecumenical Bishop, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

"Atonement theology has fallen on hard times, it seems, but Frank Woggon's book The Empathic God: A Clinical Theology of At-Onement breaks open this central Christian understanding with freshness, clarity, and comprehensiveness. This book will remain a valuable resource that touches this core Christian understanding with theological and spiritual integrity as well as grounded life-praxis. Pastoral practitioners as well as theological and spiritual seekers--even those soured on the question--will find a guide and a friend in this book."

William S. Schmidt, professor, Loyola University Chicago

"Human flourishing is a buzzword of the day, yet how is it possible? Frank Woggon brings years of clinical engagement in hospital chaplaincy and palliative care to explore existential questions of shame, guilt, personal trauma, and social fragmentation that haunt our lives and make flourishing feel impossible. In The Empathic God, he first deconstructs and reconstructs a theology of at-onement, illuminating God's union with Jesus and solidarity with humanity. Then he urges us toward empathic spiritual care for ourselves and others and invites us to embrace a salvation that embodies wholeness, healing, and flourishing."

Rev. Dr. Eileen Campbell-Reed, visiting associate professor of pastoral theology and care, Union Theological Seminary, and author of Pastoral Imagination: Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life

"A brilliant reinterpretation of the Christian understanding of atonement. Dipping deftly and in great depth into the best of Christian theological reflection as well as actual life experiences, Frank Woggon demonstrates the value of seeing God as a God of empathy to address our human struggle with shame. The Empathic God should be a must-read for all persons engaged in spiritual and pastoral care."

E. Glenn Hinson, professor emeritus of spirituality and church history,Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

"Frank Woggon's book The Empathic God: A Clinical Theology of At-Onement is faithfully researched and thoughtfully presented, describing the painful and universal human experience of shame and varied therapeutic responses that are grounded in a nuanced practice of empathy and a theology of wholeness. Woggon powerfully envisions a movement away from shame- and guilt-inducing theologies of redemptive violence to a form of spiritual care that is informed and supported by the restorative, revolutionary, and radically inclusive life of Jesus. The Empathic God is a call to a deeper understanding of Jesus's essential message of healing and wholeness, and to the practice of that empowering love in our daily encounters with others and ourselves. As an artist who sings and writes about human condition, spiritual practice, and the ongoing process of healing and becoming, I found this work professionally intriguing, personally encouraging, and artistically inspiring."

Carrie Newcomer, Emmy- and Grammy-recognized songwriter, author, activist

"Dr. Woggon demonstrates the power of pastoral theology to weave together theological and psychological scholarship, stories from Scripture and contemporary life, and empathic healing practices. His singular focus on the destructive power of shame and the healing power of divine and human empathy drives broad and deep examinations of Scripture, theology, human suffering, and salvation-healing. Those who practice spiritual care, theological construction, and contemporary meaning formation will be informed and challenged."

Steven Ivy, professor of the practice of pastoral care,Baptist Seminary of Kentucky