Atonement War of the Roses

The Gospel of "Placing My Faith in a Proposition"

This month’s cover of Christianity Today reads, “No Substitute for the Substitute.” The article ("Nothing But the Blood," CT, May 2006, Vol. 50, no. 5, pp. 28-33) makes the case that the central essence of Christianity is the atoning death of Christ understood in terms of penal substitution. Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., is an outspoken advocate for a very strict Reformed (Calvinist) interpretation of the Bible.

Dever believes that the “Good News” is that Jesus died to pay the legal debt for the sins of individuals like you and me. We are saved only when we understand this fact and place our faith in this fact. He says so in the opening lines of his article in CT: He tells the story of a woman he knows that was accused of being “too Atonement-centered.” “A Christian friend told her that she talked too much about Christ’s death, which dealt with our guilt due to sin. I responded that knowing and accepting this truth was the only way to a relationship with God, and that I didn’t think it was possible to be ‘too Atonement-centered’.”

Did you catch that? Dever’s gospel is this: There is a particular proposition about what Christ accomplished on the cross—Jesus died to pay for your guilt due to your sin. You must place your faith in this truth as the only way to have a relationship with God.

I have some questions: Is this biblical? Where does the Bible tell us to place our faith? Does it tell us to place our faith in particular statements of facts or to place our faith in the person of Jesus Christ? This may seem like nit-picking, but this troubles me a lot. Please hear me out on this one.

I have been sharing the gospel with people for many years. For the longest time, it looked pretty much like how Mark Dever states it. When we believe that God sent his Son to die for each of us in our place, as our substitute and atoning sacrifice to fully satisfy God’s righteous standard, the guilty verdict that hangs over our heads is shifted to Christ—we are forgiven of the legal guilt for our sins and can be guaranteed our place in heaven.

So, you can see where this gospel presentation led me: To a place in our conversation where I am trying to convince my hearer that they must believe in these facts in order to save themselves from Hell and gain the benefits of a relationship with God. The focus of our conversation subtly transferred from faith in Jesus to faith in a set of propositions. Instead of asking the person to have faith in Jesus, I was asking the person to have faith in my particular understanding of what happened on the cross.

Now, I’m not saying that propositions are completely illegitimate. To tell the story of Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice, I often pause and offer statements that spell out what I believe to be true about that. But this is not the end; it is the means to the end. What Dever (and myself, in my earlier attempts to explain the gospel to people) is guilty of doing is making a specific understanding of the Atonement the end-point. For Dever (and, as I understand it, many of my fellow modern evangelicals), one must believe that Christ died as our legal substitute on the cross in order to be saved. Dever insists, “At stake is nothing less than the essence of Christianity.”

But why is that the ONLY way to explain the love of God in Christ for us? If the actual end-point is to usher people into a real relationship with God through Christ, then why are other means demeaned by Dever?

  • If I explain to people that Christ died for them in order to free them from the systemic evils that are destroying lives and culture (the “ransom” or “classical” theory of the atonement), am I not preaching the gospel?
  • If I explain to people that Christ died for them so that the image of God that is wonderfully in them can blossom and flourish so that we can become the kind of humanity that we are meant to become (the “recapitulation” theory of the atonement), am I not preaching the gospel?
  • If I explain to people that when we place our faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it gives us the ultimate example of how life is meant to be lived—that we are to also sacrifice in order to advance the cause of righteousness (the Abelardian “example” theory), am I not preaching the gospel?

Each of these varying stories (and more, including the Reformational view of Penal Substitution) of the Atonement is found in the Bible, and each leads to faith in Jesus Christ. Each is a beautiful rose in the bouquet that encompasses the multi-faceted aspects of what Christ accomplished on the cross.

For Dever, or any other Calvinist (including myself—I consider myself a neo-Calvinist as well), to insist that ONE of these stories of the Atonement is essential to Christianity is simply unbiblical.

The Bible offers a full bouquet of Atonement stories, with differing colors, differing fragrances, differing textures, so that we can embrace the fullness of what Christ accomplished for us. The Atonement is so big and spectacular that it takes all these stories to capture its beauty. People are so different in the various cultures in this world and in their assorted life-situations that these diverse stories speak to them wherever they are and whatever they believe and however they need the grace of God.

Dever pulls one rose from the bouquet and sets it alone as the single most significant story of the Atonement. It certainly is a beautiful rose, but we are missing so much more!

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rob horton said...

Excellent point! I am right with you on this one! Excellent articulation!

Sivin Kit said...

The single rose and bouquet of roses pictures beautifully illustrates and brings clarity *smile* on what you are trying to emphasis - The Bible offers a full bouquet of Atonement stories, with differing colors, differing fragrances, differing textures, so that we can embrace the fullness of what Christ accomplished for us. The Atonement is so big and spectacular that it takes all these stories to capture its beauty. People are so different in the various cultures in this world and in their assorted life-situations that these diverse stories speak to them wherever they are and whatever they believe and however they need the grace of God.

Ted Gossard said...

Great post Bob! I could just smell the roses!

This is evidently all that is seen, as to Christ's atoning work. Really, a tragedy.


Ted Gossard said...

I must add, that I too saw only that, at one time. I'm thankful to see more, now, and understand that Christ's atoning work covers the full extent of what our sin really is and entails.

Ted Gossard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ted Gossard said...

...and, even goes beyond that (sin), to bring us in towards God's goal for humanity- in Jesus!

Scot McKnight said...

Evocative image and good analogy -- and the bouquet never denies the rose but gives it a home.

p.a.hiles said...

great post! people have many different needs,lifestyles,cultures,etc,etc,that the atonement speaks to them in many different ways! the handicapped need to hear that they will be restored, the criminals need to know that they are forgiven, and the fatherless need the love of a fatther that really does love them! these atonement stories are the threads in the patchwork of the gospel!

Nick said...

Is this (Dever's article) a response to some trying to remove that rose from the bouquet?

Rick said...

I had not picked up this issue and am glad I won't have to read through Dever's article, which is what I fully expected from him.


great post

Bob Robinson said...

Yes, Dever perceives that some are trying to remove the rose of Penal Substitution from the bouquet.

However, he was not careful of pinpointing the culprits. He devoted two paragraphs to Scot McKnight's book, Jesus and His Death, as evidence that scholars are attempting to debunk Penal Subsititution, but McKnight is one of the many scholars that insist that there is, in fact, a bouquet (including Penal Subsitution!-Dever is simply mistaken that McKnight denies Penal Substitution).

At the end of the article, Dever edges close to admitting that there is a bouquet of Atonement stories, quoting Frank Thielman and Hans Boersma ("By allowing the entire choir to sing together, I suspect we may end up serving the interests of God's eschatological shalom"-Boersma).

However, Dever insists "Still, when we give attention and authority to all parts of the New Testament canon, substitution becomes the center and focus of the Bible's witness to the meaning of Christ's death."

tony said...

Great post, Bob. Welcome back.

lyricano said...

Bob rhetorically asks, "[b]ut why is that the ONLY way to explain the love of God in Christ for us? If the actual end-point is to usher people into a real relationship with God through Christ, then why are other means demeaned by Dever?"

This CAN all be accomplished without a penal substitution and without any atonement story. Many a non-evangelical experiences the love of God through Christ without any of the roses in your bouquet.

There is no reason to limit the flowers to those in the evangelical bouquet. There are many true and beautiful flower arrangements without a single rose.

Anonymous said...


What exactly does one need to believe to be saved? Can I deny Dever's "rose" and embrace the others? Do I have to embrace them all? What specific truths about Christ must I place my faith in to be saved? Everything in the OT and Christ's life culminates in the atoning work of the cross. To what end? Galatians 3:13 states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.” The law condemns us for our sin; and yet we are no longer under condemnation because of Christ’s atoning work. Paul says the same thing in 2 Cor 5:21. I am unaware of scripture emphasizing some other salvific aspects of the cross. Am I missing something?

Bob Robinson said...

Anonymous (give me a name next time, please),

You ask, “What exactly does one need to believe to be saved?”

My answer to your question is this: Acts 16:31. “They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." The way to be “saved” is not belief in “specific truths about Christ,” but belief in Christ. This may seem like semantics, but there is a world of difference. To paraphrase James 2:19, even the demons can “believe” certain facts about God — but this is not the same as saving faith.

Belief in Christ, as I understand it, means a trusting relationship. Christ is "the Truth." Biblically, the primary truth is not a set of facts about Christ, but Christ Himself. Truth, in pre-modern understanding, was very personal — a social and relational concept. Truth meant covenantal faithfulness. This is reflected in the old English words for "truth," “troth” and “betroth.” When a man pledged to love a woman and to marry her, it was said that they were betrothed to each other. Parker Palmer writes, “To know something or someone in truth is to enter troth with the known…to become betrothed, to engage the known with one’s whole self, an engagement one enters with attentiveness, care and good will."

The person of Christ is who we are to believe in! The Atonement stories lead us toward that relationship — and I am awed by each of them and they make me embrace the love of Christ all the more. Lyricano (above) claims that “many a non-evangelical experiences the love of God through Christ without any of the (atonement) roses in your bouquet.” I think, while that may be the case for him, the stories of Christ’s atonement are meant to initiate and enrich faith. I fear that some refuse to hear these stories and meditate on their significance and thus miss the full beauty of Christ.

My point is that we evangelicals need to go beyond the standard evangelical atonement story, which Dever and you, Anonymous, have articulated. Lyricano is wrong in lumping the other Atonement stories in with evangelicals - they are not fully embraced by most evangelicals. My point is that we should include what Eastern Orthodox believers embrace (recapitulation of the Image of God in humanity), and what the early church fathers embraced (ransom from systemic evil).

I feel that no single Atonement story has to be the only route to that end of belief in Christ. Of course, the Atonement is a major part of what Christianity is about. But the Atonement is not the end. It is the means to the end of believing in Christ.

The verse you cite is very legitimate, but the Scripture emphasizes many other salvific aspects of the cross. I, for one, am very attracted by the first two that I bullet-pointed above. For instance, the Exodus is the central story of the Old Testament — the story of liberation from enslavement. It doesn’t take too long to find that theme woven throughout the New Testament as to the purpose of Christ’s atonement. (For example, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” [John 8:36]; “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 6:22-23]; see also Hebrews 2-4 which makes the explicit parallel between the Exodus and our freedom in Christ and Gal 5 which explains that Christ’s mission was to set us free).

My point is not to elevate liberation (ransom) as the only atonement story, but to say that it is at least as key to the message of Atonement as the legal aspects that Dever emphasized.

Eric Steen said...

Hi Bob,

My name is Eric Steen. I am "Anonymous". Or at least I was. You claim that to be saved one must "believe in Christ," and to this assertion I agree. But I perceive that you and I hold different understandings of what "believing in Christ" means. We also seem to differ regarding our understanding of the term "salvation".

Let me deal with the latter issue first. As a Christian, from what is one saved? Are we not saved from God Himself? Bob, the simple truth is that God is righteous, and I am not. Yet He lovingly and graciously sent His Son to bear the wrath due me that His demand for justice would be satisfied. I can now worship God because Christ's righteousness has been imputed to me (2 Cor 5:21). I see no biblical precedent for the claim that one can experience salvation without grasping what he is saved from and how. Please, if there is such a precedent show me, and I will submit to God's word in this matter.

Now let me address the first issue, what it means to believe in Christ. I fully agree with Acts 16:31, but let's be certain to understand this passage in terms of what God intends it to mean. Let's observe this passage in its proper context. Paul and Silas were imprisoned, and when God miraculously freed them the jailor, trembling with fear for his soul, asked what he must do to be saved. In verse 31, "They said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" Then in verse 32, "And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house." Verse 32 clearly indicates that there was much explanation of who Christ is and what He accomplished. This information must have included facts about Christ's death and glorious resurrection, especially since elsewhere in scripture Paul proclaims, "But we preach Christ crucified." (1 Cor 1:23)

I concur with your reference to James 2: there is a vast difference between understanding facts about Christ and trusting Christ. But what specifically am I to trust, that Jesus was a nice guy who turned water in to wine and fed the masses with a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish? No. I am to understand Him in the context of what the Bible says of Him, which necessarily includes the cross and necessarily includes penal substitution. Without it we have lost the gospel. All of the OT, the sacrificial system, Christ’s life, the Epistles, everything in the Bible points to the cross. Am I wrong?

Ironically, Bob, you criticized Mark Dever for preaching a proposition, but by your own testimony the gospel is preached when one proclaims a theory: ransom, recapitulation, and the example theory. That aside, do these theories address repentance? Can one lay hold of Christ without confessing his sin before a Savior with the power to save because He was our substitute?

In the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Galatians, Paul spells out that there is but one gospel. He didn't use a metaphor of a rose or a bouquet of roses because he had a specific understanding of God's gospel that did not vary. Furthermore he had very firm words for those that corrupted the gospel: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" (Gal 1:6-9) I strongly urge you to familiarize yourself with what Paul preached when he proclaimed the gospel. It included the cross; it included penal substitution. And it was not a theory.

In His grip,


Bob Robinson said...


Thanks for responding—and for revealing your name! :-)

Please hear that I do not necessarily deny everything that you say (though I have some disagreements). I only state that such an articulation of the “gospel” is truncated. It does not tell the whole story.

First, about “salvation.” From what are we saved? My contention is that many Christians have believed other biblical concepts besides that idea that we are saved from the wrath of a holy God.

Some contend that we are saved from our enslavement to sin. As the gospel is announced to Joseph by the Angel of the Lord, we read, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). I do not think it is right to say we are “saved from God.” We are saved from the ravages and results of sin. We are saved from God’s just dealing with sin. But we are not “saved from God.” God is the savior himself. We must not fall into the notion that God the Father is wrathful against us but God the Son saves us from the wrathful Father. God the Father and God the Son are one — they are in this salvation business together. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

Still others contend that we are saved from Evil Empire. There are a growing number of New Testament scholars that are agreeing that Paul’s message must be read in the context of Caesar worship. That the “gospel” of that day, being propagated by the Roman government, was that Caesar was Savior and Lord - that all must worship him as the protector and peace-maker through his imperial power. To read Paul in that context, we begin to see that Paul was telling people that the Jewish Messiah was the real Savior and Lord. It was a direct challenge to Caesar. This connects well with the central theme of the Old Testament — that God is a liberator from imperial tyranny. The most essential story of the OT was the Exodus (not, as Dever and yourself contend, the sacrificial system). The greatest accomplishment of God for his people was the parting of the Red Sea, saving his people from the Egyptians. Paul summarizes his gospel in Romans 1:1-4, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is written to the Romans, who are surrounded by the propaganda machine of Caesar. Instead of power being in Caesar, Paul insists that power in in Jesus, the “Christ” (Messiah); instead of Caesar’s new “gospel” that insists that he is supreme ruler and God, Paul insists that Jesus is the fulfillment of the rightful Kingship as a human descendant of King David and as the Son of God (proven by his death and resurrection); instead of Caesar being trumpeted as Lord, Paul insists that Jesus Christ is Lord. For a more on this line of exegesis and historical background, read NT Wright’s lecture, "Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire.”

I contend that when Paul states in Galatians that there is only one gospel, he is not saying it is simply the story of penal substitution. Sure, he didn't use a metaphor of a rose or a bouquet of roses (this is my metaphor). But when you read all of Paul, he expounds the different roses in different contexts. So the “gospel” that he is talking about must include all these roses and be something bigger. So, what was that bigger “gospel” that Paul was so adamant in protecting?

Your presumption that the jailer in Acts 16 was preached to about Christ crucified is a stretch. The text does not say this. It says, “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house." The gospel (good news) that Jesus proclaimed was this: “The good news of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23, 9:25, 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43, 8:1, 16:16). This is the gospel that the Apostles preached as well (It was Philip’s gospel in Acts 8:12). In fact, the last verses of Acts tell us this was the gospel Paul preached—“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:30-31).

So I contend that a penal substitution understanding of the cross is a PART of the gospel (and a very true and salvific part of the story — one cannot read Romans 3 without hearing this story), but that the gospel is bigger than that…it is the fullness of Christ as King (Davidic Messiah or Christ) and His Kingdom freeing us from the evils of this world (including our personal sin, the world’s systemic sin, the evil one’s attempts to destroy, and the coming justice of God that all this sin must reckon with).

One more thing: The good news must not be relegated to just the cross; it also must also include the resurrection. Without the resurrection, we have no hope for a new creation (both for ourselves and for the entire cosmos). The cross is not the full story. Resurrection tells how God is redeeming the world.

Matt said...


I've been following your conversation with Eric. You end your last post to him by stating that: "The good news must not be relegated to just the cross; it also must also include the resurrection."

Are you now stating that one must believe a certain fact about Christ--that He was resurrected--in order to be saved since you say that the good news must also include the resurrection, or would this fit into the bouquet?

I would think one must believe that Christ was resurrected or indeed we are most to be pitied if the dead are not raised.

My point is that there are certain things one must believe about Christ--substitutionary atonement, resurrection, etc.

Another point to consider is that Christ warned of false Christs in the Gospel of Matthew. How do you identify a false Christ if you do not know certain facts about the true Christ? So we must be certain that we believe true-facts (redundant statement, I know) about Christ in order to identify those that are false.

Bob Robinson said...

Once again,

The contention of this post is to state that there are many roses in the bouquet, and that it is a mistake to make penal substitution the single rose that explains the fullness of the atonement. Nowhere do I deny that Penal Substitution is true.

I think Christians should think less about what excludes people from the love of God in Christ, and more about how God uses many biblical metaphors to explain the depth of the love of God in Christ.

The word of faith that I preach is this: "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'" (Romans 10:9-11)

Therefore, I contend that if you embrace all or some or even just one of the roses in the bouquet of theological explanations of the fullness of what happened on the cross, that will get you to the point of believing that he was resurrected and confessing that "Jesus is Lord." Again, the main thing is the object of faith. Verse 11 says that if we trust in him, we will never be put to shame. Our trust (or belief) is in the person of Jesus.

Yes, Matt, there are key aspects to the story of Christ. If you deny his death and resurrection, are you believing in the real Christ? No. If you deny that he was God-in-the-flesh, are you believing in the real Christ? No. The story is there and so the one who chooses to deny the story is denying Christ. But how we theologically understand the story is very full - the Bible itself makes the story very full.

I have a book on my shelf from John Piper that came out when The Passion of the Christ was released in theaters. It's title? The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die.
That's a huge bouquet!

Eric Steen said...

Hello again, Bob. I sincerely thank you for the thoughtful response.

The critical issue here is what information about Christ must be understood to be saved. To take hold of the risen Savior one must embrace the concept of penal substitution. From a soteriological perspective this message is not lacking (assuming that included are fundamental facts such as the Deity of Christ, etc.). Unless one proclaims what Christ accomplished at Calvary (to include the resurrection), that Christ is the Perfect Sacrifice, the Lamb that takes away personal sin, then the gospel is incomplete. Should one’s understanding of Christ end here? Absolutely not! A Christian continues to pursue a deeper and more intimate knowledge of the Risen One.

One of the so called roses you consider part of the gospel bouquet, emancipation from sin, is the fruit of the gospel effective in the life of the convert. Knowledge of this freedom is invaluable to the believer, but alone is insufficient to usher one into God’s kingdom. Other “roses” such as the “Example Theory” and “Evil Empire Theory” are but weeds that have crept into the garden of truth. They seek to choke out and diminish Christ’s glory.

Certainly we are saved from enslavement from sin, but only after we take hold of the Savior. Freedom from sin is a fruit of salvation. Romans 8:1-2 says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Paul says that this freedom is yours if Christ is in you and the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you (vv.10-11). Perhaps Romans 6:5-6 makes is more clear that freedom from sin is a fruit of having been justified: “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” Understanding freedom from sin is certainly part of the good news, but from a soteriological standpoint, this information alone it is insufficient for ushering one into the kingdom of Heaven. The uniting with Christ occurs prior to and results in freedom from sin.

The idea that the gospel is a message that saves us from the “Evil Empire” is unbiblical, regardless of what NT Wright thinks. Quite plainly, he’s wrong about his “new perspectives on Paul” and the conclusions to which these perspectives lead regarding justification. I urge you to read the following article, which has helped me understand Wright’s ideas: http://audio.gracechurch.org/shepnew/2005notes//Johnsonwwww.pdf Bob, do you think that God will withhold punishment from those who Call Christ “Lord” but do not embrace His substitution? (Matt 7:21.)

The Example Theory has been around since the 16th century, and the Reformers classified it as heresy. This theory claims that Christ saves men by providing an example of obedience that they should follow. His death, in this case, is not linked to payment for sin, nor does it compel God to pardon sin. This is no rose, Bob! Do you honestly believe that God will pardon those who see Christ’s sacrifice as merely an example of obedience?

Please do not misunderstand me when I say that we are saved from God Himself. In no way would I suggest a dichotomy between the Father and the Son. God forbid! There is perfect oneness and harmony within the Trinity. You said yourself, “We are saved from God’s just dealing with sin.” Sin is the reason for God’s punishment, but sin is not the Punisher. God is. Our sin is an affront to His holy character, and His wrath awaits those who do not trust in the blood of the Lamb. Heb 10:31 says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Romans 1:18 states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Acts 17:30-31 says, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness …" (See John 3:36, Rom 2:5, Rom 3:5, Eph 5:6, Col 3:6, Rev 6:17.) To loosely paraphrase RC Sproul: God is in Hell, punishing sinners for all eternity. While this idea may appear horrific to some, God’s justice is in keeping with all of God’s unchanging attributes including His mercy, His grace, and His love. He so incredibly loved the world that He punished His Son for me!

One final comment: You took umbrage with the assertion that Paul proclaimed the glory of the cross to the jailer and his family. How could he have avoided it? The purpose of the incarnation was to live a perfect life fulfilling the covenant of works and then to go to the cross. The purpose of the cross is that He bore the sins of the elect to reconcile them to God through faith. Penal substitution! In 1 Cor 15:14 Paul writes, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain." Without the resurrection the Christian faith is meaningless. To think that Paul ever excluded Christ’s death and resurrection when presenting the gospel is absurd. The Christian faith is nothing without it.


Bob Robinson said...

For those who want to read more on the recent "Atonement War" that is going on in evangelical circles, I suggest you read some of the posts that Scot McKnight has offered.

First, he explains the different Atonement stories that I say are in the bouquet. Then he responds to the Mark Dever article in Christianity Today.

And then he explores Penal Substitution in two parts: Here and Here.

Byron said...


Wish I'd joined this conversation when I meant to. I have a bit of a beef with you, and it's this: I think that you are misunderstanding the point of Dever's article. Here's why: it seems to me that he's dealing with people, not who want to "add roses to the bouquet", but who want to replace the rose of substitutionary atonement altogether. One section early on is "Hearing the Critics", and he names four different criticisms, but the common thread between them is that all of them suggest eliminating substitutionary atonement because it's either "not enough", or "irrelevant", or "individualistic", or "too violent". These are not people who want other roses in the bouquet, Bob; these are folks who (UNlike you) would seem to want to yank the rose of substitution altogether.

Ergo, I think you've written this on a faulty premise---although you make some good points. It would seem to me that Dever would agree with some of your points, for he says, "...the Bible does include many different ways of talking about Christ's death". Isn't that what you're saying? His point---and a point with which I agree---is that penal substitution "is the dominant Atonement imagery used in the Bible." Not the only---a la your single rose illustration---but the most essential, the sina que non, while others add to the picture.

Great to have you back, buddy, to argue and rassle with... :)

Bob Robinson said...

You're almost right. As I said above in my comment to Nick, Dever is indeed reacting to what he perceives to be an attempt by some to remove the penal subsitution rose from the bouquet. But he picks the culprits poorly. In a phone conversation I had last week with Scot McKnight, he told me that Dever completely misrepresents his position on the issue.
Byron, you need to know that there is a group of people (like Dever) who have decided that Penal Substitution IS the gospel, and that everything else is extremely secondary. They can say that "Christus Victor" or other Atonement theories are biblical (for if they don't they prove to be bad readers of their Bibles), but they insist that all these other roses, in the end, are not relavant to the Gospel. They simply are not important. Only Penal Substitution is.

This is the sad thing about the current Atonement Wars.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Jesus says that says guilt relative to sin is the remaining issue on God's mind AFTER his crucifixion there must be at least one illegality that the crucifixion of Jesus has not resolved. Dever missed one and Jesus as a substitute has not been entirely successful. See Jn. 16:8.
Theodore A. Jones

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Anonymous said...

"It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Rom. 2:13
" The Lord is our Lawgiver" and "For law will proceed from Me. Isa. 33:22 & 51:4
A law has been added to the law after Jesus crucifixion to make taking his life by bloodshed an accountable sin directly to God.
"The law was added so that the trespass (of Jesus' crucifixion) has increased (as an accountable sin). Rom. 5:20
Yeah. You really need to smell the roses.
Theodore A. Jones

Bob Robinson said...

I am not denying the truth of the verses that you cite. Atonement certainly is taught in terms of Law.

But I simply submit that there are also other ways that the Bible frames Atonement other than in terms of the Law. There is no denying this.