From the Archive: A Straw Man on the Cross?

Originally published April 14, 2009:

Some of my favorite commenters (like Annie) have accused me of “straw man” arguments this past week. I disagree. That would mean that I had overinflated the arguments of my theological opponents and then popped their balloons. But, in fact, I have used actual blog posts and quotes — their very serious charges of heresy about me — in my responses. Anyone who has actually dealt, face-to-face, with persons like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Justin Taylor, and Kevin DeYoung knows that they are not straw men. I am responding to things they have actually said and written — and things, I imagine, that they actually believe. (In all honesty, I don’t believe that they treat my arguments as fairly.)

via A Straw Man on the Cross? | Tony Jones.

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  • I know this post is from over a year ago, but I’m curious about your thoughts on something.

    The past few months I’ve been taking a test to all theological debates, namely this:

    1) Can we find evidence in the history of Christianity of people supporting this doctrine?

    2) Is there sufficient evidence in Scripture for this doctrine, enough that we’d have to take some time explaining what those passages mean?

    3) Is this doctrine mutually exclusive to other “competing” doctrines?

    Thus, I look at PSA and I see that it fits all three categories. Your view of the atonement, that Christ came to identify with humans, is I believe a very Biblical and historical view. At the same time, I also believe that PSA is very Biblical and historical (when properly defined). However, your view and PSA are not mutually exclusive. It’s possible that Christ’s death accomplished quite a bit. It’s possible that He identified with us AND took on our sins.

    I guess what I’m pointing out is that not all debates in Christianity have to be either/or. It’s easy to get sucked into such a debate (especially with the more Reformed leaning Christians, who think that PSA is the primary reason for atonement or the only reason for atonement), but I really do think that on many levels, the atonement is a “both/and.” Now, I happen to believe that some views are more essential than others. I do think that PSA, ransom theory, and your own view would hold primacy above all other views…but you need all three to get a complete view of the atonement. Other views, such as liberation, exist, but fall under a viewpoint that must go through these three other views.

    Even though I qualify as one of your critics, it seems that people criticizing you on this issue are being hyper-critical and/or elevating PSA above all other views of the atonement. PSA is a beautiful view and is extremely Biblical, it demonstrates God’s justice in the cross more than any other view of the atonement, but it is still incomplete without other views.

  • PSA aside, what thrills me is tying the Cross to the covenant with Abraham. Remember the smoking fire pot? God, astonishingly, took the position of the conquered vassal king in a customary covenant cutting ceremony. Apparently smoking fire pots can’t talk, but if they could, this one — as it passed between the halves of the carcass — would have said something along the lines of “May this happen to me if what I promise does not come to pass.” In other words, “If the fruit of your loins, Abraham, which I will bless, does not become a blessing to all nations, I’ll kill myself”.

    And when God DID kill himself, he tore his symbolic cloak (the enormous thick tapestry which cloaked the devir) … and symbolically covered himself with ashes 40 years later. I could chew on the thick Biblical layers of meaning surrounding Good Friday for decades and never tire of them. Arguments about PSA or not-PSA seem thinly cutaneous compared the thick slab of meat I find in the Biblical story of God. Is anyone else tracking with me here?

  • Sean LeRoy

    One thread that seems to unite the various models is that of “substitute”. No matter which theory you’re talking about, Jesus came and did something on my behalf, something that I couldn’t do (for) myself . IMO, that sometimes gets lost in translation as these various models vie for attention.

  • Steven


  • Annie

    I rescind my straw man accusation but I stand by the observation that the blog posts in question are not the most sophisticated version of the doctrine one could fine.

    As for PSA, I think it’s insufficient but then so is any single explanation of the atonement. You aren’t going to nail down the central mystery of Christianity.

  • Annie

    one could find that should say.