Hybels on Atonement

Leadership Summit.
Hybels not so clear.

I’ve been an admirer of Bill Hybels for many years. My first exposure to his teaching was way back in 1988. While driving back and forth between Salina and Manhattan (I was working as a youth minister) I would listen to at least 4 services a week. I was captivated by his clear communication style and by the art they used (back then their tapes still had the music and drama recorded on them). I started going to Willow Creek in 1996 and have been to the actual campus up there probably 5 or 6 times for conferences or services. More recently I’ve attended their Leadership Summit with volunteers from h.k10. The leadership training at the Summit is world class and it’s always been a phenomenal experience.

This year was a great summit, right up until the final session…then the wheels came off the cart. Hybels jumped up to give his last talk which was about communicating with clarity. About halfway through the talk, he takes a left turn and throws the gauntlet down on Substitutionary atonement. He insists this is the central message of Christianity. I was floored. Then he basically goes into this convoluted mix of penalty satisfaction and penal substitution (not the same things), which was very limited in scope. It basically took one explanation for the cross and for atonement and called it the only explanation. The problem is there are many biblical metaphors for this which he seemed to not be aware of.

What became very clear to me was the fact that when it comes to leadership, Hybels is your man. But if you want to talk theology, you better find a more astute theologian. This guy was so far out of his depth. I alternated between being angry at what he was saying and how he was saying it and feeling sorry for the guy because there had to be thousand if not more who were thinking what I was thinking.

About five minutes after he started in, I started getting text messages from some of my friends who were at the conference both at our site and around the country. I pulled in a couple of other guys from our church and it made for an interesting 30 minutes and made the talk more bearable.

Atonement is a hot issue in Christianity right now. There are a lot of people weighing in on this issue in theology. It’s really important to study and talk about these things. We need to hear everyone’s voice on this. However, in my humble opinion, what we don’t need are people who are just absolutely convinced their way of seeing it is the only right way. It’s such a complicated issue, it’s really not as cut and dried as Hybels tried to make it seem. We need to listen more and try to entertain other points of view. Now more than ever we need a well rounded view of the atonement. One which deals with the shedding of scales from our eyes which has occurred through new philosophies and cultural shifts and which deals with the sacred texts of the bible without running home to Anselm at every mention of the cross.

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  • Another issue with his little talk was that the art piece (many different faces from Willow Creek Community Church walked across the stage holding posterboards with words on them describing their lives before they had “converted”, and then flipped the posterboards over to reveal the state of things in their life since “conversion”) didn’t really fit. The changes in those lives weren’t related to the idea of Substitionary atonement, but more, I would speculate, out of being a part of a loving and accepting community of people who have experience God in a real and powerful way, something that Bill didn’t seem to mention was an important part of the message of Christianity. Maybe I missed something he said that day, but it seemed to me that he might have had a little trouble coming up with some kind of artistic representation of what he was trying to convey. I was suprised that the Willow creative team wasn’t able to see the mismatch of art and message with this one.

  • You are so right. Because those cards, that whole artistic piece was really moving and you could see how they were so excited about the changes in their lives. But what Hybels was talking about in the Substitutionary Atonement stuff was really Justification. Those examples were really of Sanctification, i.e., “used to be racist; now the world is my brother.” They were about the healing effects of the renewed presence of God in a life. His invocation of Substitutionary Atonement was focused on the mechanics of salvation or atonement. If you make the point that justification and sanctification are inextricably linked, then you are doing something a little different than Substitutionary Atonement. I think you might be on to something, because you are right their creative teams are so right on when they do images like that. I really don’t think anyone was expecting him to do what he did. I wrote two letters, one to Bill & one to the WCA. I never write letters…

  • I’ve been reading a bit more on atonement theory lately. It seems to me that atonement theory isn’t even a theory. Too many aspects to atonement to call it a theory. Theories tend to be somewhat linear. The aspects of atonement are more multi-faceted. I think I heard of an example of atonement being like the facets on a diamond, shining down on us in different ways. Couple that with my confusion about the violence aspect to penal substitution, it’s obvious I don’t have a clue as to what is going on.

  • You bring up a really good point, though. “Theory” is really a result of the scientific method. You postulate theories, test them and see if they hold up. Theories have never been very effective with unrepeatable events. In systematic theology, my professor wouldn’t let us call them theories of atonement. He made us call them “views” or “perspectives.” He was continually reminding us that these are simply metaphors. They are not laws, they are word pictures trying to explain how we understand thins to have happened.

  • When I was getting my undergrad in communication/journalism, I had to take some classes on communication theory. Our professor, and our texts would call the different “theories” schools instead of theories. You had this school of thought or that school of thought about a particular perspective of how humans communicate. I oughta dig out that old Comm Theory book and freshen up on that stuff. It really turned my crank, but I forgot a lot of it once I walked down that aisle for my degree. C’est la vie (such is life)!

  • As the average guy sitting in the bleachers I’m not sure if I am catching the basis for your comments. Having grown up in churches with solid teaching I guess I’ve never realized there is a big divergence in opinions/schools/theories/dogma/guesses/statements about atonement. Penal substitution and penalty satisfaction sounds like the same stuff I’ve heard about all of my life. Maybe I’m exposing how completely out of my league I am with this discussion, but heck, sounding stupid has never prevented me from spouting off before. Based upon what you said about Hybels’ comments, it doesn’t sound like he was throwing down the gauntlet to say “buy into my view or you are a heretic.” It sounded to me like he was touting the common evangelical view of atonement. Would Swindoll or Stanley say something different? With all of that said, so what’s the big deal about the difference in opinions about atonement? Isn’t it pretty much common ground that we are all jacked up and in serious need of cleaning up? Beyond this how does the divergence in thought about atonement actually change the way we look at ourselves, the world and God? Now that I’ve opened a big can of worms, the neophyte will sit back and listen. Perhaps that should be a new alias for me. No offense will be taken if you don’t want to backtrack and cover this territory.

  • Reluctant – You make a fair point. I think your perspective is really important because most people who have been going to evangelical churches their whole lives have been taught the meaning of the cross is essentially substitutionary atonement. That was my only view until my middle twenties. Here’s my attempt to really paint the problem more clearly.

    The problem is that Substitutionary Atonement is only a metaphor for what happened and it’s not the only one. There are many. If we only use one, we will likely misunderstand the work of Jesus and even who he essentially was, and we can possibly mislead or manipulate people in ways God has not intended.

    Here is where it gets a little dicey. That metaphor is really a criminal-justice metaphor. However the contemporary American idea of courts and justice is quite different from that of 1st century Palestine, or even 13 Century Europe. There are many associations we would make when we hear penalty or guilt or even the idea of personhood and individual responsibility…all those things mean something different to us than they did to the Gospel writers and Paul or even Anslem, (who developed the penalty satisfaction motif clear up in the middle ages around 1075 AD).

    For example, our idea of guilt in criminal-justice has to do with apprehension and punishment of the guilty. We prove who did it and dole out punishment. For Anslem, it hinged on the fulfillment of certain obligations related to royalty and preserving the honor of royalty. It was all about defending the honor of the King. Those are very different understandings of one metaphor, both of which are good. If you understood it one way and I came out and said “no, you are wrong, either you see it my way or you are not speaking with clarity,” that would be not such a theologically good move.

    As it happens there are actually many legitimate metaphors which have obvious scriptural roots:

    – Court of Law: personal justification motif
    – Word of Commerce: redemption motif
    – Personal Relationships: reconciliation
    – Worship: sacrifice
    – Battleground: triumph over evil
    – Medicine: healing our diseased nature

    The current controversy finds one large contingent, very diverse from all denominations and all parts of the world – academia, philosophy, ministers, etc. – full of people like Brian McLaren who are working in metaphors which do not make God out to be violent. They are trying to explain how God can be merciful and forgiving without saying he’s going to kill you if you don’t accept Jesus into your heart.

    The other side is comprised largely of evangelical pastors and academicians (though it seems not too many in the academy)…mostly people like Hybels who are digging in their heels and saying “no the first view is the Christian view, it is the only view which matters.” I think doing that is like taking one piece of a pie you just baked in the kitchen, putting it on the plate and bringing it out to the table and saying…here’s the whole pie. Only you left 5 pieces back in the kitchen that have true significance. Actually that is a great definition of fundamentalism. The problem is this is the only metaphor they know, it’s what they’ve always been taught. It sucks to wake up one day when you are 55 and realize, “I’ve totally misunderstood the nature of the gospel.” I get that it’s hard for people to accept. But I think it is essential because we have to live this thing out. It can’t just be an idea or transaction, it has to be a way of life.

    This is coming to a head right now because when post-modernism really pervades American culture, which it already does to some extent, steamrolling forward with great momentum, the Substitutionary Atonement motif doesn’t work that well. When people disavow individualism for a communal accounting of human nature and guilt this motif is largely irrelevant. It fails when humanity is not considered autonomous but integrally connected to the cosmos. Not only that, as the gospel goes into all cultures in the world, what about cultures where guilt is not really an issue? Salvation would not be possible because they wouldn’t get the metaphor. If our metaphor makes the gospel neutral or largely ineffective in any culture, then it cannot be the controlling metaphor and certainly can’t be the only one.

    It simply not true to argue that the Christian tradition has focused exclusively or even primarily on the theory of penal substitution – historically that is a lie. This is what Hybels did and why it got my goat. To at least some degree a person in Hybel’s position must have an appreciation for the ways in which Substitutionary Atonement is a cultural product of the West. You can actually understand this as just one more example of the Western world forcing its agenda everywhere else. I fear Hybels has never really done his homework on this stuff…reading too many leadership books I suppose, which is the other point. This was a leadership conference not a theological symposium. This was the wrong place to drag out that issue and it was the wrong guy doing it.

  • U-571

    Reluctant –
    You don’t sound stupid and being “out of your league” in this discussion isn’t a bad thing. You’re asking the obvious questions.

    Tim –
    A. Is killing a Good Thing if it is Sin that is being killed? Or is violence NEVER appropriate? It bleeds.

    B. Individualism cannot be disavowed. You can pretend that is what you are doing to water everything down to make yourself feel better (misery loves company?), but we are all individuals and the communities we exist in are nothing more than little important pieces that make up a whole which does not exist without them. It is sad to see people getting hung up on this dressed-up rot about being “integrally connected to the cosmos.” Take a step back for a minute and think about where you’ve been putting your mind lately. It’s a slick hill you’re sliding down. This isn’t a story, this is real life.

    C. Every culture – every person understands the guilt of our indwelt brokenness. If they say they don’t, they are lying to themselves.

    D. Careful when you slam “the west” – If you really mean that, think about what ramifications for your life that holds: Safety, Affluence, Freedom, Air Conditioning. You are a hypocrite to continue living the way you (all of us) are if you are going to radically embrace that thinking.

    E. Christ died on the cross for my sins. It all starts there. It IS the central issue. A “loving and accepting community” doesn’t mean ANYTHING without Truth. Why are you flirting with these delusional concepts? What’s the point of serving a thirsty man water all his long days if he eventually dies for lack of knowledge and salvation?

    F. Why does it bother you to see Hybels stepping back from the edge of the EC cliff a bit? Seriously, why?

  • U-571

    and why don’t you have the fairness to post a comment before you type your reply. let people resonate with the words instead of forcing them to immediately read your reply. seems kinda skewed and controlling that way. you don’t have to post this tag.

  • I look at every post first because little internet robots send out advertisements for penis enlargements and stock tips and they post automatically to open blogs. It’s happened a couple of times to me and I don’t know how to take them off & have to get help to do so. So the very moment I open an email with a post, I publish it. I have never refused to publish a comment or post. Geeze dude, who are you?

    You don’t like the way I run the blog then go somewhere else. Your pants are on too tight, man.

  • A. Is killing a Good Thing if it is Sin that is being killed? Or is violence NEVER appropriate?

    I tend to go the way of Miroslav Volf on this. Violence and vengeance are supposed to be ended by Jesus. However, there seems to be a place for violence when it serves to contain violence or protect the oppressed or helpless. For instance, it would have been a greater evil to allow the German genocide in WWII to continue without stopping it with violence. Does that make sense?

    B. Individualism cannot be disavowed…dressed-up rot about being “integrally connected to the cosmos.”…think about where you’ve been putting your mind lately. It’s a slick hill you’re sliding down. This isn’t a story, this is real life.

    Where I’ve been putting my mind lately has mostly been the Gospel of Mark so I’m feeling pretty good about that. (You seem pretty upset with me, do I know you? Perhaps you should email me off-blog to make sure we’re OK?)

    I think I have a little different view of personhood than you do. The way I see it is that some people like to emphasize individuality as a means of understanding/expressing personhood. Some people like to emphasize connectedness as a means of understanding/expressing personhood. As Christians we know that Jesus generally chose the second option.

    I would urge you to go easy on the rhetoric about the integral connections within the cosmos…”dressed up rot” I think you called it. You need to do some homework here, start with the doctrine of ex nihilo and its ramifications. Your body is part of an ecosystem which God created for a purpose. All of creation is integrally connected, all of the cosmos is integrally connected, have you never read the Psalms? This is a deeply biblical concept. God is not only concerned about people’s souls but about redeeming all creation.

    C. Every culture – every person understands the guilt of our indwelt brokenness. If they say they don’t, they are lying to themselves.

    I’m assuming you are an anthropologist or have some data to back up both of your absolute statements. (every culture, every person)…oh yeah, what about aliens?

    D. Careful when you slam “the west” – If you really mean that, think about what ramifications for your life that holds: Safety, Affluence, Freedom, Air Conditioning. You are a hypocrite to continue living the way you (all of us) are if you are going to radically embrace that thinking.

    Where did I slam the West and what does the other stuff have to do with our discussion of atonement theology?

    E. Christ died on the cross for my sins. It all starts there. It IS the central issue. A “loving and accepting community” doesn’t mean ANYTHING without Truth. Why are you flirting with these delusional concepts? What’s the point of serving a thirsty man water all his long days if he eventually dies for lack of knowledge and salvation?

    What have you got against thirsty people? You want to make them pass a test before they get their water? The “use” of giving them water regardless of their religious convictions is simply that is what Jesus has commanded us to do. To not do it would be to not follow the teachings of Jesus. Besides that, maybe to a thirsty person water is salvation, (read John 4).

    Also, you are dead wrong about a loving accepting community not meaning anything without truth. Do you even have a New Testament? Jesus never defines truth as truth claims or doctrines or even metaphors…truth is a person.

    One of Jesus’ main roles as the Messiah was to reconstitute the true people of God (since Israel was failing) through the new community or the church. His plan was to remake a new people of God who would be his people for the whole world. There is no salvation outside community. Where else would you hear the story, a book? Who wrote the book? Some guy in community I bet. What if you are wrong, what if it’s the other way around? What if the truth doesn’t have any meaning outside of community, because that’s how Jesus portrayed it.

    F. Why does it bother you to see Hybels stepping back from the edge of the EC cliff a bit? Seriously, why?

    I don’t see the EC as a cliff. Hybels can think whatever he wants about the EC, but the leadership conference was the wrong place to stump for it. It was just really out of place.

    As far as cliffs go, you know what I do think is a cliff? People who are so convinced that their views are absolutely right and everyone else is absolutely wrong that they make grand sweeping statements about how their little doctrine is the only one that is right. It’s called “radical positivism” in theological circles. That seems a very arrogant position to me. I think God compels us all to have an open posture toward God and toward God’s ability to mold our thoughts and the way we see him. I think God asks us to have open postures toward each other as well.

  • Bill

    Tim, you need to listen to your pastor:


  • Ok I listened to it. What am i listening for??

  • Bill

    If you listen to all 61+ minutes an intelligent person such as yourself should be able to grasp the import. If not, there ain’t no medical aid that will do the trick. Unless you’ve heard it before now, in which case, you’re simply being obtuse.

  • I guess I’m not sure what you are talking about. Mac’s message is actually a classic example of the kind of person we do want in the discussion on atonement. He’s smart, articulate, and knows his stuff. I think his was an important warning for us about just what our expectations should be terms of culural embrace? The NT is pretty clear on that and Mac articulated it very well.

    Obviously I don’t share all of Mac’s feelings about Emergent stuff but he wasn’t that harsh on them.

    I spent about 4 hours with Mac a couple months ago talking about atonement. He and I see eye to eye on everything of real importance. My understanding of where he is on it is the legal metaphors are so dominant in the NT that they should dominate our preaching. I agree with that as well, but he thinks it’s about 80% legal metaphor and 20% other stuff. He is right if you ignore the OT, where you have to start to listen to the exile themes, freeing the captives, etc. (I’m more open to N.T. Wright than Mac is) But essentially I felt like we’re in the same place with different emphases. BTW, it was McLaren he was quoting in “The Secret Message of Jesus” which is a really good book, those comments notwithstanding.

    I’m reading a killer book on atonement right now called “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross.” I think Todd W. is going to read it and discuss, let me know if you want in on it as well. We’ll probably just catch up for lunch a couple of times and talk about the book.

  • Bill

    Ok. I can see you’re simply being obtuse.

    If you can listen to that sermon fully…carefully, there’s no way on earth you can view it as anything but a warning, and a complete and utter repudiation of the ideas you’re putting forth in your post, and your responses up to this point to those of us who have criticized and called into question your intimation that the atonement is not central to the Christian message; a message which you get paid (ostensibly) to communicate. As a service to those reading this blog who may not have listened (and I HIGHLY recommend you listen to it for yourselves, dear readers! Listen to the full thing here: http://www.heartlandchurch.org/podcast/a/NC-2006-07-18.mp3), here are a few direct transcriptions of quotes from Mac’s talk. This is not just a slightly different tack on your positions, Tim. It’s a complete abrogation of it.

    Quoting Mac:

    “There are two critical arenas, where you’re going to hear an attack in our day, I believe we’re already in it, but you better be prepared because there’s two things postmoderns tell you as a follower of Jesus Christ you ought to be ashamed of. Two things that you’re gonna hear, here’s number one: the atonement. Now the atonement’s just a theological word we use for the biblical idea that Jesus died for our sins. He took the wrath of God upon himself. He took our punishment, our penalty for sin upon Himself and the result is we’re now right, or righteous before God…The Gospel tells us that Jesus came and died, so that, you and I could be seen righteous before God, if we express faith in His atoning sacrifice.

    “Today, there are people, and you need to know this, even in the Church, particularly in America today, who’re saying, ‘THAT’s up for grabs.’”

    “You are going to hear this in your lifetime, if you haven’t heard it already. People are gonna say, ‘well can’t we just make Christianity about being a more spiritual person? Do we really need this atonement thing? Can’t Jesus just be a really good teacher, and a wonderful person of good works? And can’t we just imitate that?

    “But, if Jesus has not atoned for human sin, Paul argues in the book of Romans, we…are…in trouble, because the wrath of God is going to be revealed from Heaven against all mankind.”

    “I believe, that without the atonement, without Jesus atoning for human sin, it is not possible for us to begin to fix this broken world. You’re gonna hear this, in fact there’s a group out there called “Emergent.” Part of their agenda’s to say, ‘…we’re embarrassed by Christians in America today. We need to get ‘em…taking care of AIDS patients, saving the earth, caring for people. You go, ‘yeah, that’s true. But if it’s at the cost of the atonement, all is lost. You see, if Jesus has not atoned for human sin, it’s just a matter of time before you run out of gas on all those projects.”


    In regard to your bit in one of your responses earlier this week asserting that Hybels’ view of the Substitutionary atonement is ‘a cultural product of the West,’ here’s what Mac has to say:


    “The second thing, is you’re going to be tempted to be ashamed when you make the claim that the Gospel of Jesus is for everyone. See, as long as you say it’s for those of us here in Western, uh North America, that’s ok. It’s not for everyone, but for some of us…it’s when we begin to make the claim, ‘Hey look! I’m unashamed to say Jesus is superior to Buddha…’ Paul says, ‘I’m going to tell our culture, I’m going to tell other cultures…because I believe the Gospel is the only thing that saves.’”


    For what it’s worth, here’s what eminent biblical commentator Leon Morris has to say, in his little book, ‘The Atonement: It’s Meaning & Significance’ from the introduction:

    “…any really serious attempt to understand the Christian way must begin with the cross. Unless we come to see what the cross means we do not understand Christianity, real Christianity in the sense the New Testament writers gave to it. THE CROSS IS ABSOLUTELY CENTRAL. We must give time and attention to our understanding of what it means.” [emphasis mine]

    Let me take opportunity to place your comment about Hybels’ message at the Leadership Summit here from your original post, to get the contrast between what Mac, and Morris are saying above, and what you’re saying.

    Tim Suttle quote:

    “About halfway through the talk, he takes a left turn and throws the gauntlet down on Substitutionary atonement. He insists this is the central message of Christianity. I was floored.”

    END Tim Suttle Quote

    If you come back and tell me I’m off base in asserting that what you are saying here, and what I just posted from Mac and Morris aren’t 180-degree polar opposites, I swear, I will leave you to your own devices once and for all. There is no hope of holding a conversation with you if you can’t see this, as either you are a) being purposefully obtuse and disingenuous, and/or 2) truly, incredibly dense.

    In fact, Mac’s talk alone, without the aid of myself or Morris commenting, repudiates not only your intimations that the atonement is not central to the message of Christianity, but in fact, also repudiates one of the first doctrines you and I disagreed about back in June: Hell. Mac makes no bones about it in his message that we need a Savior, and that what we are saved from is the ‘wrath of God,’ and the ‘Lake of Fire.’ Whether you like hearing that or not, it’s there. You and he are not just looking at things a little differently.

    Finally, let me close with this quotation from your favorite saint (I’m sure!) and certainly mine, St. Paul:

    “For I delivered to you as of_ first importance_ what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1Cor 15:3a)

    P.S. To say that you don’t share all of Mac’s concerns about the Emergent movement is certainly an understatement. On the contrary, you don’t seem to share ANY of his concerns about the Emergent movement, or Postmodernism, for that matter.

  • Tony Stark

    Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age; but before we have done with it, by God’s grace, we shall adjust the age to the Bible.

    We shall not fall into the error of that absent-minded doctor who had to cook for himself an egg; and, therefore, depositing his watch in the saucepan, he stood steadfastly looking at the egg. The change to be wrought is not for the Divine chronometer, but for the poor egg of human thought. We make no mistake here; we shall not watch our congregation to take our cue from it, but we shall keep our eye on the infallible Word, and preach according to its instructions.

    Our Master sits on high, and not in the chairs of the scribes and doctors, who regulate the theories of the century. We cannot take our key-note from the wealthier people, nor from the leading officers, nor even from the former minister.

    How often have we heard an excuse for heresy made out of the desire to impress “thoughtful young men”! Young men, whether thoughtful or otherwise, are best impressed by the gospel, and it is folly to dream that any preaching which leaves out the truth is suitable to men, either old or young. We shall not quit the Word to please the young men, nor even the young women.

    This truckling to young men is a mere pretence; young men are no more fond of false doctrine than are the middle-aged; and if they are, there is so much the more necessity to teach them better. Young men are more impressed by the old gospel than by ephemeral speculations.

    If any of you wish to preach a gospel that will be pleasing to the times, preach it in the power of the devil, and I have no doubt that he will willingly do his best for you. It is not to such servants of men that I desire to speak just now.

    I trust that, if ever any of you should err from the faith, and take up with the new theology, you will be too honest to pray for power from God with which to preach that mischievous delusion if you should do so, you will be guilty of constructive blasphemy.

    No, brethren, it is not our object to please men, but our design is far nobler.

  • It is interesting how defensive we can become over an issue that begs for disussion. Tim, I read Green and Bakers book a few month ago and really enjoyed it. Nothing like having something open your mind to new thoughts. Let me know what you thought of it. A side note: I recommended it to a group of guys I get together with for discussion and study. Every three months one of us takes the lead and get to pick a book or topic. I choose said book or A Generous Orthodoxy by McLaren. I think I heard the ‘H’ word (heretic) bantered about.

  • I’m not sure really how to respond to your comments Bill. You sort of backed me into a corner with this comment:

    “If you come back and tell me I’m off base in asserting that what you are saying here, and what I just posted from Mac and Morris aren’t 180-degree polar opposites, I swear, I will leave you to your own devices once and for all. There is no hope of holding a conversation with you if you can’t see this, as either you are a) being purposefully obtuse and disingenuous, and/or 2) truly, incredibly dense”

    It feels like you are saying that either I agree to let you misrepresent what I think or you wish to break fellowship. All I know to do is try and clarify.

    My initial post was meant to express 2 things. First, a leadership conference isn’t the appropriate place for an atonement debate, nor is Hybels the guy because he’s not very theologically astute. Second, Substitutionary atonement isn’t the only biblical metaphor for atonement.

    I DO agree with Mac, even on his warnings about directions that some people would like to take the church in terms of atonement theology. I would like to affirm that I believe atonement is central to the work of Jesus on the cross. The most accurate way I know to state it is that Jesus died “for us and our salvation.” Billy Graham once said “”I have one message: Jesus Christ came; He died on a cross; He rose again. He asks us to repent of our sins and receive Him by faith as Lord and Savior. And if we do, we have forgiveness of all our sins.”
    I affirm this wholeheartedly…individual reconciliation to God through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is central. I affirm the creeds.

    I do not believe that EVERYTHING Jesus did for us in his life, death and resurrection is summed up in the metaphor of Substitutionary atonement. The other metaphors from the biblical witness are so important in helping us understand everything Jesus did. We must study them and include them in our understanding.

    This quote from Mac’s talk: “I believe, that without the atonement, without Jesus atoning for human sin, it is not possible for us to begin to fix this broken world,” is totally right on. This is central. Maybe I don’t fully understand all that EC folks are doing but I haven’t gotten the sense that hey are trying to undermine this. I suppose some might be, but I’m not.

    I have NOT stated atonement is not central to Jesus’ message, it is.

  • OG

    There’s a man going around taking names
    and he decides who to free and who to blame
    every body won’t be treated quite the same
    there will be a golden ladder reaching down
    When the man comes around

    The hairs on your arm will stand up
    at the terror in each sip and each sup
    will you partake of that last offered cup
    Or disappear into the potter’s ground
    When the man comes around

  • Quick questions:

    Tim – Why would McLaren try to take the violence out of the metaphor, doesn’t this reduce the depth of the sacrifice that Christ made?

    Bill – I don’t think Tim’s comments are diminishing (or rejecting, and Tim please correct me if I am wrong) the concept of substitutionary atonement or ultimately the need for justification but broadening the meaning. I think the endgame of the whole discussion (and the EC guys being so vocal and finding an audience) is that there is vastly greater need for the Christian community to focus on sanctification – the whole Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience thing. How in the world do we have such a wonderfully blessed church where most of its members are more concerned about trading up their car to something bigger and better rather than having our hearts broken by needs in our communities and failing to do anything about them? How is it the gay community takes better care of AIDS patients than the church? How can we be such a fruitless community? We should be ashamed. The internal conditions our hearts drive the external behavior. The behavior of American church certainly indicates something about the inner condition of our hearts.

  • Bill

    Have I earned my pie in the face yet?

    Tim, how else is one to interpret your statement that you were “floored” by Hybels’ assertion that the substitutionary atonement is central to the Gospel? That language indicates a serious disagreement with that message. How you can turn around now, and assert the exact opposite, reminds me of a certain former Perpetrator-in-Chief’s typical M.O.

    Secondly, who are you to determine what is and isn’t the appropriate place for a minister to speak on something that must have been on his heart as needful at the time?

    Hybels is a _Christian_ minister. It’s to be expected he might have something to say about the central themes of the Gospel, whenever and wherever he speaks. Contrary to what you’ve asserted, your beef is not with the venue primarily, but with the substance of what Hybels talked about AT the venue.

    The scriptures tell us (Hybels included), be ready in season and out of season. If you think it was out of season, I say, ‘Preach it, Bill Hybels!”

    If you want to feign indignation at his using a platform that Hybels’ own organization arranged for him to preach the message of the cross of Christ, I gotta wonder where you’re at spiritually speaking. It just makes no sense for you to get outraged…outraged enough to write letters to him and/or his organization complaining about it. It makes no sense ESPECIALLY if you believe even a little bit, that the “metaphor” (your term, not mine) of vicarious atonement is even one among many ways to view what Christ accomplished on the cross. Why not just ignore it and just go on your merry emergent way? After all, we all have a valid viewpoint, don’t we? If no one can assert with any confidence he or she’s right, no one’s really wrong, right?

    Instead, you flame off about sending a hot letter to Hybels & Willow about this obvious inappropriate behavior of asserting the centrality of the atonement to the Christian message, in his own conference.

    Very little of what you’ve spewed on here has been blathering on about the venue; maybe 5%, if that. The remainder has been indignation about the narrowness of believing in that crusty old penal substitution doctrine. You’re right about at least one thing: Hybels is no paragon of doctrinal acuity. Maybe you should’ve been dashing off angry letters to Barrington when he invited T.D. Jakes to speak at the Leadership Summit a couple three years ago.

    Talking with you these past few months has brought the return of a feeling I haven’t had in a while. It is the feeling that I’m talking to a Mormon, or a Jehovah’s Witness. Whenever a particular doctrine or concept long established, even from ancient times is brought up, somehow, it’s either been misunderstood, misinterpreted, or you redefine it to mean something else than the received teaching of the Church throughout time. At these times, you seem even more pessimistic about our ability, guided by the Holy Spirit down through the centuries to interpret the teaching of the Lord, than Calvinists are rumored to be about human nature!

    You say you’re not emergent, but you praise uncritically everything they say and do and write. You say you’re not emergent, but you’re employing their materials in your sermons and in the “community groups,” at K10. While Mac makes explicit _warning_ about emergent and postmodern teaching (virtually nothing in his talk I posted the link to is positive), you “embrace” virtually everything postmodern and emergent. How that equates to agreement with Mac, is simply incredible…unbelievable.

    TO Reluctant Pontificator – Mac deals directly with your points (one of the quotes I posted above references it, but there’s more online). He makes the point that yes, while the works are important, if you “get the cart before the horse,” it’s not going to make a difference how many people you serve. You’re absolutely correct that the problem is the inner condition of our hearts. That is the message of the Gospel. Not only did Christ’s death on the cross vicariously atone for our sins. God gives his Holy Spirit to those who put their trust in that atonement, and empowers us for works of service, which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. You need to go back and (re)listen to Mac, and you’ll hear him directly address your points. The difference, I submit, between what Mac has preached, and what Tim and the EC movement’s proponents are espousing, is a great gulf fixed between the two. The EC movement is what Mac WARNS us against…explicitly, by name, and what Tim is espousing IS what Mac has warned his own hearers against. Nothing in that talk could be construed in the tiniest manner as an endorsement of any kind for the theological tack that is being followed, at K10, or in the larger emergent movement.

  • Reluctant: you asked why they want to take violence out of the metaphor. I think those guys are sort of doing “theology from below.” It feels like they want to take the violence out of the metaphor because they don’t see violence as part of God’s moral character. I see why they would go there, but it just seems like violence entered the picture on our dime not God’s dime. The way I think about it is that violence is a human problem that humanity created so our atonement theory is going to have to deal with violence. Besides, to take violence out of the metaphor seems impossible since Jesus died a violent death at the hands of a violent regime – the definitive metaphor is the cross and it is essentially violent.

    I guess I’m not really sure why they are trying to take violence out of the metaphor, for sure. My hunch is that it is based in an egalitarian/pacifist approach which they believe they find in the New Testament witness about Jesus that they sort of read back into atonement passages and try to build theology through that lens. I get where they find the egalitarian/pacifist ethic, but I get lost after that…which includes the violence part. But I’m still studying to try and figure out what they are saying. I’m not an atonement expert; I’ve really just started to read on it again because I was assigned that book for a class at seminary.

    It seems to me that violence is the logical progression of sin. The Genesis account moves from Adam & the apple to Cain & Abel really quickly. Sin is a real problem (I don’t subscribe to the Moral Influence theory, which seems to be sort of the liberal view of atonement). Isn’t sin clearly a universal issue? What Jesus did on the cross has to remain central because of sin. Mac’s talk was rock solid on that point…If you don’t first deal with the sin issue (or more accurately let Jesus work deal with the sin issue) there is no chance for any sustained “following” of Jesus. You can’t get the cart before the horse…I’m totally there. But if all you got is the horse and no cart…you get the metaphor.

    But I think you put your finger on the pulse of where this all gets me. I really want to live a more holy life and follow Jesus more closely. I’m studying at a Wesleyan seminary, which means I have to listen to all of the entire sanctification stuff…I can’t go there. But it has really started me to wondering if the divisional line between Justification & Sanctification is sort of a fruitless distinction. Maybe it works better if we keep those things linked. Then you run into the “works righteousness” charge, which is not where I want to go either. That’s why it all seems so confusing & difficult. Anyway, in your post you are right, I never want to diminish nor reject the concept of Substitutionary atonement and I am concerned with helping us to figure out how to actually follow Jesus with our feet and not just our heads.

    I share the concern that it is a very real problem if you attempt to remove the idea of personal reconciliation to God from the gospel message. (I’m preaching about this by the way this weekend in the compassion stuff) If you lose personal reconciliation to God through Jesus, you don’t have the gospel anymore. But if you lose a compassionate & loving heart, if you lose the way we are all called to see ourselves as integrally connected, then you’re not following Jesus. (see the story of the sheep & the goats in matt.) It sounds like Jesus is saying that if you don’t care for the poor, you are going to hell. It seems like maybe that is good evidence that justification and sanctification are linked?

  • u-571

    TIM NOW HAS SAID: “I never want to diminish nor reject the concept of substitutionary atonement.”

    – If that is the case, maybe you should think twice before you start spouting off about Bill Hybels? That’s what got this whole ‘conversation’ started. You and your text-messaging buddies were all up in arms, huh? You’re casting stones everywhere you go … at Ken Freeman or James Dobson or Mike Horton or … Who are YOU?

    You sound like somebody doing damage control. You also seem to make a lot of bluster toward anybody who makes truth claims … you do the same thing on just about every post on your entire blog.

    You go in on the attack (usually only towards “fundies”) and then you burp up whatever it is you’ve been reading that week and THEN you retreat to the middle ground and flip-flop and get all neutral and say “I don’t know what you mean”?? Or your classic line from a bit ago, “I felt like we’re in the same place with different emphases.” Can you not this see this as confusing?

    I know this all sounds pretty harsh, but … you’re all over the board and it’s hard to believe you’re taking on the responsibility of being a pastor. Why not take a few years and get your thoughts together? Wielders of Christ’s flame should be equipped by the Holy Spirit. You don’t sound like you know for sure what you are talking about. And that’s ok but you’re a paster, supposedly shepherding a flock. I worry about new, seeker people getting a really confusing message from you and your church.

    You sound awfully unsure and perilously open to whichever way the wind is blowing. This emergent stuff is not profitable at best and rebellious heresy at worst. This ‘conversation’ has progressed a good while now, and it’s not coming into focus at all. It’s blurry. Deliberately.

    TITUS 2:6-8 >

    Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

  • OG

    Before reading these cringe-worthy posts, I was unfamiliar with the raging debate surrounding atonement. So I have done some basic research on the subject, and most of the thoughts presented on this blog have thus far been representative of the thoughts and ideas presented in other websites/articles. I also must admit that personally, Christ’s necessary death has always perplexed me and seemed somewhat foreign. I believe in original sin, which is an unfortunate result of our freedom, so I understand the concept that Christ took the burden of ours sins upon Himself. But at the same time, the idea of God killing God, knowing of the resulting resurrection, seems like a unlikely form of punishment. I guess my question is, what is the actual punishment that God inficited upon Himself? Was it the physical act of crucifixion? Surely not. The classic metaphor suggests that we were saved from eternal fire – clearly not a fair trade. If it was merely about the crucifixion, why didn’t God just crucify each one of us at the end of our miserable lives? Many God-loving , God-fearing Christian martyrs have endured more gruesome deaths. I would take the physical pain of crucifixion for eternal life with God in the blink of an eye. My point is that something ridiculously more divine than our limited minds can comprehend happened with Christ’s crucifixion and resulting resurrection. And I think it has more to do with the resurrection. That is the God part. Any man can be willfully be put to death for his belief, but only God can overcome the resulting death. I think that is the personal significance of the Cross. And I only realized that while typing this post. Quite a post-modern experience.

  • U-571: I’m trying to be gracious and I would urge you to regard me as a brother in Christ and one whose life is devoted to the church. To attack me personally seems out of place in a discussion of Christ’s sacrifice.

    If you’ll remember my original post said that my problem with the Hybels’ talk was that “took one explanation for the cross and for atonement and called it the only explanation.”

    You ask for clarity, so I’ll make this humble attempt at better clarity:

    Jesus Christ is Prophet, Priest and King. Do you deny these offices of Christ in his atoning work? As Prophet (Go’el) he is King and defeats sin death and evil. As Priest (Kaphar) he does all of the Substitutionary atoning things you wish to accentuate. As Prophet (Go’el) he reconstitutes the people of God and inaugurates the reign and rule of God, acting as the kinsman redeemer (a financial/social metaphor BTW). If you insist Substitutionary Atonement is the only legitimate metaphor for the work of Christ on the cross, then you abolish the Prophetic and Kingly office of Christ and much of the scriptures along with it.

    You asked for clarity so I now ask the same. I affirm the work of Christ on the cross in all three of Jesus’ offices. Either you wish to clearly come out and reject Christ’s three offices which are found in scripture & supported nearly universally by the theology of the church or you must concede that I am right to insist that we not claim the exclusivity of any one metaphor. Do you support these or not?

    You seem to suggest that a pastor should not be open to new understandings of the Scripture. I’m sure you do not believe this, for it would put you squarely in the lineage of the Pharisees who did not enjoy new interpretations. It seems we should all maintain a posture of openness toward the Spirit of God. For the true miracle of the atonement is not that it happened, but that it happens! His mercies are new every morning.

  • Hey Nate,

    Yeah, that is one of the consistent places that Anselm’s metaphor has taken heat for over the years. There are quite a few. Now, before anybody starts to wig out and accuse me of saying anything bad about Substitutionary atonement, this stuff is not my writing (unless it’s parenthetical). It’s just material I’ve gathered from classes, reading notes and books over the past few years. I’m not espousing it, I’m just relaying where the metaphor has been attacked. Metaphors are always vulnerable since they are only word pictures and not the actual thing itself.

    – Why does repentance not satisfy honor? If the sinner repents and acknowledges that he is wrong, shouldn’t that satisfy gods holiness? Our debt?

    – Satisfaction leaves no room for forgiveness; if god demands satisfaction, the god is satisfied, there is no forgiveness because there is satisfaction. If I owe 100 bucks and I pay it, I’m not forgiven, I’ve paid – or satisfied. If I owe it and you say that’s alright, don’t pay, that is forgiveness.

    There is a danger of a dualism of Father and Son: sometimes preaching in this tradition portrayed god as an angry father, out for his pound of flesh; and a loving son that loves the world so much. (In the Anselmic tradition there was some preaching that came across like this. I don’t think it’s a danger in Anselm himself, but can be a danger in how it is preached.)

    Sin is regarded externally, commercially, quantitatively. Like it is something we do to god. But is seems to say nothing about cleansing of inner sin. This is an interesting criticism of the inadequacy of the Anselmic view. It doesn’t speak to inner sinfulness. It connects to justification, but doesn’t connect to sanctification. Many say yes, this is a limitation and would explain why in the Anselmic tradition why there is such an emphasis on justification and not sanctification

    There is no inner relation between Christ and us. He became human to satisfy god and us, but there is no organic relationship to Christ. It is a commercial relationship, rather than a spiritual connection

    It’s been criticized as a dogmatic edifice independent of scripture. But actually it is not an overtly biblical theology, he just states it abstractly. Yet in its day it was the greatest work on atonement. Could it be that even though he didn’t work it out from scripture, that he did get it right.

  • oops. I posted w/out proofreading:

    Prophet: Go’el // as prophet he inagurates the kingdom

    Priest: Kaphar // as priest he mediates the sacrifice.

    King: Padah // as king he rules and reigns and has victory.

    Those are the proper original language words for each the three traditional office.

  • Tim, can’t there be satisfaction and forgiveness simultaneously? Using your example of the $100 debt: You owe someone $100, I pay that debt for you. Your debt has been satified and I simultaneously inform you that you don’t have to pay me back. God supposedly needed satisfaction. Jesus was the substitution for us and then he forgave our debt. This may be a bit simplistic it has been spinning in my head.

  • Wow, I hardly know where to start so I just will.

    1. I think one of the most dangerous things about the internet is anonymity. Don’t be a coward and hide behind a ‘user name’.

    2. Raise your hand if you have actually read any emergent literature, or if you are just quoting someone else. (Mac is a great teacher, but not the holy spirit. Last time I checked, I can say the same for Bill Hybels)

    3. There is a great deal of debate about these topics today, but in classic western christian style (yes, I had the bad taste to say it) truth is more about the smartest sophist (i’ll give you all a minute to look it up)in the room keeping the rest of us straight. Wow, what a sad state of affairs. Is there no room for conversation about even the most important tenets of our faith. By the way, I did not say monolog or recitation. Christianity is the relationship of a people and their God, not intellectual ascent to a well defined list of theological ideas. Christ never seemed to try and boil anything down to the handful of nonegotiable ideas. he spoke in parables more often that not to get us to engage with his teachings, not learn them for the test. There has to be room for dialogue in a blog, over a beer, and perhaps most importantly from the pulpit.

    4. Most of what Tim said are statements about a journey of faith for those who have already arrived and missed that point. He has strong opinions/most people who presume to write on a blog do. Where is the danger in this? Should we drown him, cut off his head, or burn him at the stake? No, those are old fashioned christian methods, we just want to beat him up on a blog. Here’s to civilization and centruies of growth and maturity. Same thing, different methods. Very nice guys…

    5. By the way, there is nothing more attractive than a bunch of christians sniping at each other. It would seem we have re-written scripture to read something more like they will know we are christin by our right and logical thinking on all subjects. (I won’t need to write scripture references as all the smart people here will know exactly what I am refering too.)

    6. One last comment that cannot go without saying:

    U-571 wrote – I know this all sounds pretty harsh, but … you’re all over the board and it’s hard to believe you’re taking on the responsibility of being a pastor. Why not take a few years and get your thoughts together? Wielders of Christ’s flame should be equipped by the Holy Spirit. You don’t sound like you know for sure what you are talking about. And that’s ok but you’re a paster, supposedly shepherding a flock. I worry about new, seeker people getting a really confusing message from you and your church.

    My reply – this might be the stupidest thing I have read in a long time. Tim are you sure you didn’t write that to yourself to stir the pot.

    That is all for now, I can’t wait to hear the reasoned logical pontification why I should jump on Tim for being willing to have an open vulnerable conversation about a current issue.

  • todd

    I don’t hear Tim, McLaren, or anyone saying that atonement metaphors are invalid or unuseful. I think the issue is when the message of Jesus is reduced or made to hinge solely on endorsing this idea. I read the red letters in my bible and I don’t find Jesus talking about it anywhere. He spends most of his time telling us to rethink our lives. He is very concerned about injustice on earth and he wants us to believe there is a better kingdom to live in here and now.

    I think telling people the message is substitutionary atonement alone can be a very real problem. Christian authors have been hinting at it for years when they talk about cheap grace. It minimizes the significance of the way we live our lives. It enfranchises carelessness toward the poor and oppressed. It focuses our attention on heaven after we die. This is why I think authors like McLaren are passionate about reconstituting other metaphors. It’s not to dethrone the ones that have dominated Western Christianity, but to balance and enhance them.

  • There’s a reason I don’t give a damn about theology. This thread is a prime example. People are getting angry at each other about why Jesus came! The irony drips…

    There is a simple Gospel, that all can understand, from the simplest to the most intelligent:

    God loves us. (Who knows why?)
    God (Jesus) became man.
    God (Jesus) died so that we could live.
    God (Jesus) rose from the dead, conquering death, once for all.
    The end.

    Why do we fight over such things?

  • Kevin, we should be willing to “fight” over these things if by fight we mean a lively conversation. If you mean ugly personal attacks, well that is an unfortunate by product of the human condition. saved we may be, sanctified we are not…yet.

    the church has always fought over such things. the difference is that with the web it is real time and widely diseminated. we are so impatient. when the early church discussed things like this the discussion took place over years and decades. emotion was much less an issue and limited the “i’ll take my balll and go home” reactions that we see on web posts and chat boards today. we take a few minutes to post what we think is a logical and thorough explanation of our thoughts and position. They took months and too many pages for most of us to read to make their case. it is easy to miss the subtlty of the argument when it is perhaps hundreds of pages. now we want people to net it out as though most christians are just big heads full of knowledge and not broken people in a dynamic relationship with thier God, Creator, Saviour, and to use a biblical metaphor, their lover. there are lots of dynamics there that cloud the issue and take it far away from an internet “net it out” discussion. (after all this blog string is too long for most of us to want to read all of). Therefore, there is no committment to work things out over time and be brothers to each other. there is always a church down the street that agrees with me so I will just go there and get “fed”. As if i am not fat enough already and couldn’t use a little exercise on sunday morning at church.

    this should be a wrestling match under the close supervision of the holy spirit, scripture, and the historic witness of the church as referee. Shake hands before the bout and shake hands after the bout. we tend to treat it like the zero sum game of a sales engagement, or a trial, or at worst a war where someone gets to live and someone has to die (metaphorically).

    have fun boys and girls, this is not a game…that is correct, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have, dare I say it, Joy and even enjoyment in the fact that we do not know it all yet. It is wonderful being a work in progress. embrace it and enjoy the journey. too many of us seem to be trying to hold our breath till the end so we don’t have to smell what goes on around us. it stinks in the church sometime, but it is still the body in all of its varied parts. be careful what you try to cut off…you might miss it later.

  • Scott, good point. In legal terms there is a difference between the satisfaction of a note (paying back the money you owe) and a release of a mortgage (having the bank’s lien released from your property). “Satisfaction” and “release” are what attorneys like to artfully call magic words. Just because a promissory note has been satisfied it doesn’t mean that the lien of the mortgage has been released. I think this is analogous. Oh the fun we could have comparing secured transactions under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code to atonement theology.

  • Reluctant How about this… We are fortunate to worship a triune God. Therefore God can be satisfied and Christ can forgive. Thereby both events occurring simultaneously in the person of God.

  • Should not our debates be centered around the best and most effective way to reach a world that needs a savior? It seems that when we get mired in “family feuds” over minutae of theology that we turn inward, focusing on “self” (the church) instead of on “others” (the world).

  • Hey Kevin,

    Thanks for posting. I understand and appreciate your point of view. Hostility and “fighting” does seem to run contrary to the message of the gospel – you are spot on there and I could not agree more with that critique.

    I’ll preface my response with this, I agree with you that we should be about being a light to the world and I agree with you (I think this is accurate to your point) that when we bicker and argue about minutia like petulant children, we belittle the gospel and fail to be the people of God.

    You asked should our debates be centered on the most effective way to reach the world. I would agree with you and what I think about the atonement debate is that it is precisely how to reach the world that is at issue. Not only how do we reach the world with the message, but what exactly should that message be? What is the nature of it and do we have it right or have we been distorting it over the past few centuries?

    I do think there is more than just minutia at stake in this issue. Much of what is happening right now in current atonement theology debate is that the Gospel as it has been defined in many Christian sectors in America, especially in evangelical churches, can be seen from one point of view as a reductionist form of the message Christ preached in the Gospels. For instance:

    John Chapter 3
    Nicodemus comes to Jesus and wants to talk about his message. Jesus talks about being born again with him, total life transformation. Then Jesus talks about being born of water and the spirit, he relates himself to Moses and salvation by seeing and then believing, culminating in John 3:16, the famous verse you see in the end zone at football games.

    Now we have been fine with taking John 3:16 and making that paradigmatic for what it means to be saved. “anyone who believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 has been equated with the whole message of the gospel and has essentially been equated with a certain Penal Substitutionary model of the atonement. Believe this and you will be saved. Yes Jesus said that and we must affirm that this is truth. However, to distill the entire gospel in that one verse does not do justice to the entirety of the New Testament.

    Look at Mark 10:17-27; story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus in much the same way as Nicodemus, you find a different criteria espoused by Jesus. He says, if you keep all of the commands except the first one (you shall have no other God’s before me), then you are lost. The young man goes away sad because he has a bunch of money and, apparently though he believes in Jesus and wants to follow him, he’s restrained by the fact that money is, at least in some sense, part of what he worships. Jesus in this instance doesn’t say one thing about believing, he says you must worship the one true God and not have anything (money) which comes between you and God. If we would focus on this verse as a paradigm for what it means to follow Jesus would it not turn the lifestyle of many professing Christians (mine included) on its head?

    Look at Matthew 25:31-46, the story of the sheep and the goats. Here Jesus says nothing about what you “believe.” He simply says if you don’t care for the hungry, thirsty, naked poor, stranger, sick, etc., in our midst then we will inherit eternal punishment. Does that not also challenge the idea that the gospel is simply believing certain truth claims about Jesus?

    I think that part of what we are wrestling with in the church is the fact that much of our atonement theology, and what I mean by that is how we express the fullness of what Christ has done through his death and exaltation, has a very narrow scope. As a result it has a very narrow effect which is not at all what Christ intended. We need to reflect John 3:16, Mark 10:21, Matthew 25:40 and indeed many other verses from the New Testament in our atonement theology.

    Many people in the church, especially those over 40 years of age who were weaned and indoctrinated on a certain brand of theology, are very hostile to any discussion on this issue. They would wish that we simply repeat the doctrines of the past couple hundred years verbatim and not have a discussion about the richness of biblical imagery when it comes to atonement. They are not open to a discussion of what the text might mean, BTW discussing the meaning of scripture and doctrine is a rich tradition of the church, and often times get very hostile when things are said which they do not agree with.

    My feeling is that we need to have this discussion in the church precisely because of what you bring up. We don’t possess the Gospel, it’s not locked in our hearts and minds or anything like that…the gospel is supposed to possess us. We are not bringing Jesus to a lost world, we are to BE Jesus to a lost world. The church is meant to be more than a big mouth which proclaims the truth, but the church is supposed to be the body of Christ and express the fullness of God’s love for all people. The church is meant to embody all that Christ came to express and do and we are to be God’s people for the world.

    So essentially that is a long way of agreeing with you while supporting why I think matters of atonement are very critical to discuss and wrestle with. They are critical because we must be faithful to Jesus’ actions and proclamations and we must be faithful to what the early church wrote about in the scripture AND we must not share only part of the message and thereby circumvent much of what Jesus has called us to do.

  • Here is how Jesus summed it up.

    (1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart.

    (2) Love your neighbor as yourself.

    In my view, if a person is doing those two things, what they believe about atonement doesn’t matter at all. If people want to believe in substitutionary atonement, fine. If they don’t, fine. My question is, “Are you loving the Lord with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself?” If the answer to that is “Yes!” I don’t care at all if the person doesn’t believe like I do about atonement, the end times, or any other minor theological concern. To me, the answer to those two questions is all I need to know. If people feel that makes me a theological simpleton, that’s fine. I have my own beliefs about how things work in regard to those theological concerns, I just don’t think they matter enough to become as vitriolic as I’ve seen people become when discussing them. (Here, I’m not just referring to this discussion, but other off-line discussions I experienced at MCC, and other places.)

  • (Tim you can choose to post this, or not post it if you think it will cause anymore grief…I just really feel upset with all that has happened with this and wanted to show my (and my family’s) support for you!)

    Tim, I’m sorry to read these and have the feeling you were a little crucified because things got so personal. I have SO many thoughts and opinions of my own, but I refuse to give Bill, and especially those that hide behind screen names, more of my time.

    Long story short, I appreciate you having the courage to post all of this because, quite frankly, before all of this, I was beginning to question whether or not I still considered K10 my home. After reading all of these posts and Bill’s Friday email, I have to say a HUGE “Thank you!”

    Thank you Bill and U-571 for your actions and words, because they have lit a fire in me that has been gone for a bit. A fire that tells me K10 is, always has been, and always will be my home. Kevin, Tim, Ben, and so many more at K10 have made such a HUGE difference with my family and have supported us through some very rough times. We would not be where we are today without them!

    Do I care about what is being preached at a service? Absolutely! Have I ever disagreed with the message? Absolutely! The wonderful thing is, with God in my heart and my love for them and this church, I choose to stay because I am not perfect either. Yes, they are pastors and have a huge responsibility, but who are we to judge them…especially publicly on a blog site? I am not a biblical genious by any stretch of the imagination, but I am pretty sure we are not to judge!

    I’m thankful that we have choices! We can choose to stay at a church, or we can choose to leave. If we choose to leave, we can choose to do so and keep respect, or we can choose to do so and through negative actions, lose respect.

    We can choose to try to decimate someone’s character publicly, or we can choose to respectfully take it up with them in private.

    I am SO thankful that the email sparked so much discussion between people and as far as I can tell, it has brought our congregation behind Tim and Kevin more than ever! For that, and the fact that my commitment to K10 is stronger than ever, I am very grateful!!

  • The Cathloics had it right… have service in a dead language no one understands and only let the priests read/teach scripture… damn the printing press and second Vatican Council!

  • Oops… I mean Catholic. 🙂

  • Did Willow Creek ever respond to your letter? It may be personal and I’m not trying to pry, I’ve just been curious as to how they would defend the view that Substitutionary Atonement is the only explination for the cross.

  • No response as of now. I’m sure they get an unbelievable amount of mail so I don’t expect one. Atonement is a really charged issue right now, but I think it is very important to understand it aright and not just propigate dogmatic answers which have not been fully thought through and do not represent the teachings of the Bible.

    Here is a great post on another blog which characterizes a conversation between Tony Jones and John Piper. This actually does a much better job of explaining what I really believe:


    I just finished the book “A Theology for the Social Gospel” (Rauschenbusch – 1917), and I came across a quote that made me think of this whole discussion:

    “Theology needs periodical rejuvenation. Its greatest danger is not mutilation but senility. It is strong and vital when it expresses in large reasonings what youthful religion feels and thinks. When people have to be indoctrinated laboriously in order to understand theology at all, it becomes a dead burden. The dogmas and theological ideas of the early Church were those ideas which at that time were needed to hold the Church together, to rally its forces, and to give it victorious energy against antagonistic powers. Today many of those ideas are without present significance. Our reverence for them is a kind of ancestor worship.” (p.12-13)