Putting Theories of Atonement in Their Place

Earlier on this blog, I asked, “Is DA Carson right about the ‘Heart of the Gospel?’”

For Carson, the “Heart of the Gospel” is the penal substitution theory of the Atonement. My case is that this is not the “heart,” but rather an “aspect” of the gospel.

Dallas Willard writes,
“If you ask anyone from that 74 percent of Americans who say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ what the Christian gospel is, you will probably be told that Jesus died to pay for our sins, and that if we will only believe he did this, we will go to heaven when we die. In this way what is only one theory of the ‘atonement’ is made out to be the whole of the essential message of Jesus. To continue with theological language for the moment, justification has taken the place of regeneration, or new life. Being let off the divine hook replaces possession of a divine life ‘from above.’” (The Divine Conspiracy, p. 42)

Leonard Sweet writes,
“Over a two-thousand year period, but especially in the last two hundred years, we have jerked and tugged the Christian faith out of its original soil, its life-giving source, which is an honest relationship with God through Jesus the Christ. After uprooting the faith, we have entombed it in a declaration of adherence to a set of beliefs. The shift has left us with casual doctrinal assent that exists independent of a changed life. We have made the Cross into a crossword puzzle, spending our time diagramming byzantine theories of atonement. How did the beauty of Jesus’ atoning work get isolated from the wonder of restoring an authentic relationship between God and humanity?” (Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, p. 5)

What do you think? Do you think that it’s possible that we’ve been teaching and preaching an anemic gospel? And what is the overall effect (or lack of effect) of such a gospel?

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Bob said...

Possible? Probable.

Net effect: stagnation rather then "rivers of living water".

Anonymous said...

Almost certainly.

lyricano said...

I think the "problem" might be: if Christians focus on an "authentic relationship between God and humanity" or "regeneration or new life" or "a changed life" they are acknowledging that there is more than one "authentic" way to relate to God. This doctrine of knowing God only through Jesus requires a marginalization of the transformed life.

Anonymous said...

I have read enough of D A Carson's books to believe that he theologically emphasizes atonement as you state it to be, but I also believe that he acknowledges all the aspects of what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. This makes it difficult to sort through this issue of placing proper perspective on what should be emphasized in a balanced way. I wonder if the challenges of scholastic credibility have much to do with the way Carson expresses his theology. He has been classically trained in modernistic assumptions, and he responds to challenges based in this tradition and training. Reformed theology is masterful at addressing modernistic challenges to our faith. The problem arises when the culture begins to shift and classical thinking looses credibility. Our faith does not change, nor does our relationship with Jesus, but how we express both of these are definitely (thankfully) having to change or we are going to continue to loose any impact upon those around whom we love and are without the experience of our salvation and relationships. My unsaved friends do not have a clue about atonement, but they have a crying need to be in right relationships. Their lives scream of it and they acknowledge it, albeit in sinful and unhealthy ways.

I do not have much hope that the church that has been steeped in a traditional and modernistic culture is going to break through and accept the cultural change that has already occurred. They will go to their last breath claiming their faith in their terms only. This will not change the culture any more than it has lamely done in the past fifty years.

I love Carson's stuff and he has aided me greatly with certain concerns to my faith, but I have little expectations from him to help with what our culture and church faces in the future.

p.a.hiles said...

dear bob,
i have not read any of d.a. carson's books but i agree with miche. i feel that the presentation of the gospel rather than the gospel itself, that needs to change. we are in a ever shifting culture and if we desire to impact our culture we need to engage people a view of the gospel that people can relate to. please take into mind that this is my personal opinion, so I may or may not correct. i just felt the need to share my view.

Anonymous said...

I am 29 yrs. old and have gone to church all my life and in the last couple of years I believe that I am just beginning to understand the gospel. Ironically I am not attending
"church" now, but am living life with my family, friends, neighbors, and Jesus like never before. I was so involved in my "church" that I lost my first love. Now that the trappings are gone I am finding that life is REAL. It is not necessarily easy, and the real ME shows up a lot more, which is not usually a very pretty sight. :-) I am more overwhelmed with how much He loves me, how much He loves us! The gospel seems more and more like GOOD news to me. At least in my circles the Gospel was lost amidst all the trappings and busyness of saving the world and raising up leaders. It seems to me that we spent so much time trying to do a work that has already been done and that in our unbelief we just kept trying harder and wearing down, burning out. Wow, there is so much I could say, sorry I got windy. All that to say, yes,I think I have been presented with an "anemic" gospel and I have presented it myself to others.