Christianity without the Atonement

The committee preparing a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA) has thrown out a popular praise song, “In Christ Alone,” not just because it refers to the “wrath” of God, as originally reported, but because of the word “satisfied.”  That is, because it says the wrath of God was satisfied in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  What was objectionable is the doctrine of the atonement.  (See Abby Stocker, writing for Christianity Today, and follow her links, which show how this bedrock teaching of the Christian faith has become controversial lately, even among many ostensible “evangelicals.”)

What is the point of Christianity without the atonement?  It becomes turned into another religion.  I suppose the attraction is that it gives us another religion of law, which people somehow prefer to a religion that says they are sinners in need of forgiveness and, yes, atonement.  Jesus becomes the example we have to emulate, though surely those who are honest will have to admit that this is an even higher standard that they fail to live up to.

At any rate, after the jump I quote Timothy George on the controversy, who, though he focuses on “wrath” rather than “satisfaction,” makes some excellent points as he puts the controversy in the context of church history.  I also appreciate his account of how hymns have been tinkered with.  See, for example, the Mormon Tabernacle choir version of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and what the Unitarians have done to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” [Read more...]

Rejecting Christ’s sacrifice

Liberal Catholic intellectual Garry Wills has a new book out entitled Why Priests?:  A Failed Tradition in which he makes the rather un-Catholic argument that Jesus institute the priesthood.  But he goes farther, giving a Catholic version of what many mainline Protestants and even some supposed evangelicals are saying:  That Christ was not sacrificed for our sins. [Read more...]

Christmas in Lent

Last Sunday was not only the 5th Sunday of Lent; it fell on March 25.  That’s nine months before Christmas.  Thus it’s Annunciation Day.   So just as Lent ramps up into the greater intensity of “Passiontide,” just before Holy Week, we reflect on what we normally associate with Christmas, marking the day that the angel appeared to Mary and she conceived the Son of God.

Our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, preached a powerful sermon on the occasion, tying together Christ’s Incarnation and His Passion.  Read it all, but here is a sample:

And so to do what you and I could not do, the Son of God became like us in every way. He didn’t just come and assume a full-grown, 30 year old, adult body, but began as a single cell, just like us. He grew in the womb just like us, and was born just like us. He was an infant and then a toddler, a child and then a teenager, and finally an adult, just like us. Except without sin. And so through every stage of life, He offered to God that service that we do not – theologians call it His active obedience – a perfect life, of perfect love, of perfectly reflecting the image of God. A life of mercy and compassion, using His eyes, ears, mouth, hands, mind, and heart – all His body, all His being, in true service to God. And having bound Himself to us in every stage of life, that no matter how old or young you are, pre-born, newborn, or long ago born, Jesus has fulfilled the desire of His Father for you; He fulfilled what all of us, bound in sin, are unable to do. . . .

And so in the body prepared for Him and given this day as it began to grow and develop in the womb of the virgin, He lived our life and died our death. For perfect in every way, He was able to bear not His own sins, but our sins and the sins of the whole world – from the beginning of time to the end of time – on the cross, to atone for them; to be the true sacrifice and offering for them. He became homeless for us homeless and dead for us dead, that we might have His home and rise from death in His life. To live . . . how does the Small Catechism put it? To live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.

And that’s the life you have now begun to live – a life of righteousness and purity. A life where the words of Mary, let it be to me according to your Word, have begun to be fulfilled in you. For when you were baptized, the Word of God came to you and conceived a new life in you, that by water and the Word, physical and spiritual, body and soul, you live a new life. An image of God life. A life of faith and love. No longer the old faith-in-yourself and loving-yourself life, and expecting others to do the same; but now a life of faith toward God and love towards others. As the One who did that perfectly, Jesus, now lives in you. As that life now grows and matures in you, as you drink the living water of God’s Word and Spirit and forgiveness; as you eat the food He has provided to nourish and sustain you – His very body and blood. To sanctify you through the body and blood Jesus offered for you.

And so now those words – let it be to me according to your Word – are not just the words spoken by Mary, but words spoken by you. Words of faith.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Lent 5 Sermon.

John Stott, defender of the Atonement, dies

The evangelical Anglican John Stott, a pastor and influential author died.  I remember reading Stott at a crucial time in my own spiritual pilgrimage.  Lutheran Anthony Sacramone offers a good tribute:

If you entered the evangelical world when I did, in the 1980s, you were immediately introduced to a Hall of Fame whose inhabitants, some living, some dead, and representing a variety of denominations, had a somewhat uniform presence in the various churches: C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, J.I. Packer, A.W. Tozer, Martin Lloyd Jones, even an Anglo-Catholic such as Dorothy Sayers and a Roman Catholic such as G.K. Chesterton. And, of course, John R.W. Stott, who fell asleep in the Lord today at age 90.

Stott was an evangelical Anglican who for many years preached at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, where no matter the controversy then roiling the Church of England you would always hear the Gospel, and the utter centrality of the Cross. In fact, Stott’s most significant contribution as a teacher may have been his classic work entitled just that, The Cross of Christ, a thorough and biblical defense of the penal-substitution theory of the atonement. In other words, in answer to the question, “What exactly happened on Calvary? What exactly did Jesus accomplish?” penal substitution replies: “Jesus took upon himself the just judgment and punishment due sinners. He accomplished the salvation of those who believe.”

This contentious doctrine continues to drive many up the walls, eliciting some of the most hysterical (in all senses of the words) reactions from Christians who come from traditions that construe the atonement in other ways. Stott never denied that Scripture pictures Christ’s death as multi-dimensional (as Savior, he is also our liberator, model, and healer), only that the minute you lose sight of His role as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, you have lost the key that unlocks the mystery of the Incarnation and how and why God saves.

via John R.W. Stott: Defender of the Faith » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows

On this Good Friday I urge you to read and to meditate upon that astonishing prophecy of Christ’s Passion and His redemptive work in Isaiah 53.  In doing so, consider these words:

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

We are familiar with the notion that Christ on the Cross bore our transgressions and our iniquities, though we can never plumb the depths of that truth.  But we don’t hear much about how He also bore our “griefs” and our “sorrows.”  What does that mean, and what difference does that make in our lives?

No end runs around the Cross

Here is a graphic that our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, at St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, Virginia, uses to explain how we should always factor in the Cross when we consider our relationship to God and His relationship to us. (A parishioner made this visual image to illustrate what our pastor had been teaching.)

So, in God’s relationship to us, we might wonder, “Am I really saved?” “Am I of the elect?” “Is God angry with me?” “Why does God allow suffering in the world?” In each case, if we leave out the Cross, questions like these can drive us to despair or insanity. But consider them in light of the Cross–of Christ’s intercession, His atonement, and His suffering for us–and the paradigm shifts. I am saved because Christ paid my penalty. I am elect in the Cross where God placed my sins. God’s anger is appeased in the death of His Son. God does not just look down in detachment at the sufferings of the world; rather, He entered that world in His incarnation in Christ and Himself suffered on the Cross, where He also bore MY afflictions.

In our relationship to God: “Does God hear my prayers?” “What do I need to do to satisfy God?” “I’m not worthy of God’s love.” God hears us through our Intercessor Jesus who has won perfect access for us to the Father through His death and resurrection. God is already satisfied because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are not worthy, but Christ is worthy, and because of the Cross His worthiness is imputed to us.

Again, end runs around the Cross lead to doubt and torment, but considering God through the lens of the Cross, and understanding that God considers us through the lens of the Cross makes all the difference.


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