Atonement Wars Starting to Heat Up in England

Christianity Today reports that three of Great Britain's most prominent Christian groups have ended their 14-year conference partnership because of a disagreement over a speaker, Steve Chalke. Chalke has been quite controversial in that he demeans the Penal Substitutionary view of the Atonement in favor of the Christus Victor view. Chalke's caricature of the Penal Substitutionary view compares it to "divine child abuse."

"The Word Alive committee, in good conscience, just didn't feel it would be appropriate, during that week, for Steve Chalke to be given a platform," said UCCF communications director Pod Bhogal. "Steve Chalke has made his dislike of penal substitution really, really clear, and … we didn't feel the nature of the atonement was one of those things you could agree to disagree over."
Keswick and UCCF (the U.K.'s sister body to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) plan to launch a new Word Alive conference without Spring Harvest's sponsorship in 2008. World Alive has scheduled two strong proponents of substitution as speakers: Donald A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and John Piper, preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

Here we go. D.A. Carson and John Piper are called in like the Calvary to save the day (and the church from supposedly false doctrine). Interestingly, in this same article, we read the insights of one of evangelicalism's greatest living theologians:

According to J. I. Packer, British-born board of governors' theologian at Regent College and CT senior editor, various biblical understandings of the atonement need not conflict. Rather, penal substitution, Christus Victor, and other Scriptural views of atonement work together to present a fully orbed picture of Christ's work.
"To omit any part of this story," Packer said, "is to distort and damage the gospel."

Let's remember Packer's words before we begin the next ugly round of Christian battles.

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Dan Turis said...

I Immediately have changed my view of J.I. Packer.
Talk about encouraging.

theologien said...

And what of René Girard's concept of Scapegoat theology? I personally find that it complements the prior mentioned theologies. Packer is right, to focus on one theology over another is to create something from a test tube that seems to be viable, but is little more than a monstrosity let loose on the world.

joeldaniel said...

it seems to me that Chalke and Carson/Piper all make the same mistake in demeaning other views, demanding exclusivity with their views. is this a fair understanding?

Bob Robinson said...

joel daniel,
that's exactly what's happening. sad that we can't take the packer view and quit the quibbling.

Ted Gossard said...

Yes, it sounds to me all the said speakers are mistaken.

The atonement is too great to be pegged into just one hole when you look at it in the full scope of the story in Scripture.

Scot McKnight said...

I can't find your e-mail address.

Scot McKnight said...


Oddly enough, I'm one who thinks Packer is defending not having Chalke on the platform. He uses the word "omit" carefully I think.

Bob Robinson said...

I think that as long as Chalke caricatures Penal Substitution as "divine child abuse" he will, rightly, be excluded from ecumenical conferences like this. He is being divisive, calling for the omission of penal substitution as a legitimate atonement theory. So, Packer would be right to say he distorts and damages the gospel.