Friday, April 10, 2009

Thank God for the Atonement of Christ

On this Good Friday my mind has been repeatedly drawn to one word: atonement. Or more specifically, one event: The Atonement. Of course I mean the atoning death of Jesus Christ, whose crucifixion and death we celebrate on this day. I believe in that gracious, wonderful and amazing doctrine known as the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. The entire Biblical story, starting from Genesis in the distant past and proceeding on through Revelation looking to the future, testifies to this truth. The truth that God the Father poured out His just and righteous wrath and punishment for sin - my sin - on His Son Jesus Christ on the cross, in my place, as a substitute for me. And for all who will trust in Him for justification and righteousness. This is the historic - and Biblical - understanding of Good Friday. Penal, referring to a penalty that must be paid to satisfy God's justice. Substitutionary, referring to the vicarious death of the sinless Son of God in the place of the elect. And atonement, referring to the complete covering of and payment for sin. Indeed, without these three elements, how can Good Friday be good?

Of course, there always have been and always will be those, even within the nominal ranks of Christianity, who find this doctrine unpleasant, grotesque, revolting, and seek to develop an alternative view of the cross of Christ. Just today I read an article by emergent/emerging leader Tony Jones, who seeks to do just that. Here's a snippet:

Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction
took place on that day 1,980 years ago, that God's wrath burned against his son
instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither
intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the
biblical narrative. Instead, Jesus death offers life because in Christianity,
and in Christianity alone, the God and Creator of the universe deigned to become
human, to be tempted, to reach out to those who had been de-humanized and
restore their humanity, and ultimately to die in solidarity with every one of
us. Yes, he was a sacrifice. Yes, he was "sinless." But thank God, Jesus was
also human.

To die in solidarity with every one of us? First off, what does that mean? And secondly, how is that good news? Of course, there's a bit of truth in what Jones says here. But it's an adventure in missing the point, if you ask me. And it's also completely and intentionally misunderstanding the clear Biblical narrative.

But then, what would I expect from someone like Jones from the emerg*** movement. A movement that features such popular heretics like Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren, who have both referred to the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as "cosmic child abuse".

No, rather than attempt to redefine the cross of Christ in some humanistic terms like this, and in the process redefine Christianity and the Gospel of Christ, I'll stick with what God has already revealed to us in His word and in His Son. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."


Theodore A. Jones said...

The error in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is removal of the fact that whenever any human male's life is taken by bloodshed this act always sets up the residual condition of having to give God an account relative to the previous action. In other words if you whack any man in your place you become worse off than before you whacked him. Therefore substitutionary atonement is not a perfectible concept. And before you jump to the conclusion I am not in anyway associated to Tony Jones.

Anonymous said...

Theodore, interesting theory. You are right, PSA is not a "perfectible" concept because it is already perfect, being according to the eternal redemptive plan of God. But you seem to have some faulty assumptions about God, Christ and the nature of the atonement. Your main problem is considering the death of Christ as an act of murder by God the Father. The Bible is clear that Christ was a willing sacrifice, not an unwilling murder victim. Murder involves motive of malice, which is not present in God's ordaining the death of His Son. God the Father ordained that God the Son would die to satisfy the just requirements of the Law and God's wrath. God the Son agreed and willingly took on flesh so as to be willingly killed. There is no murder involved. Other that the true killers involved, that being you and I and every other person who have rebelled against God. Hence there is no murder involved on the part of God, any more than a priest could be said to be committing murder when sacrificing a bull or goat in the OT system.

And I wouldn't have made any connection between you & Tony Jones. You at least attempt to apply some logic to your understanding.