Mickey Maudlin, Senior VP and Managing Editor at HarperOne (and a former editor of Christianity Today) has spoken out about his satisfaction at seeing Love Wins do so well in sales — but also his “deep sadness about the book.” With as many as six condemning books being rushed to press, the Southern Baptist Convention passing a resolution against Bell, and many evangelical leaders joining in the condemnation, Maudlin writes,
So, in the wake of all the Love Wins kerfuffle, I received an email from someone who listened to the radio interview I did with Michael Horton. And the question he asked was this: Are penal substitution and universalism mutually exclusive?
Here’s how we got there. On the interview, I asked Mike if understanding the atonement via the penal substitutionary theory was essential for a person to be considered a Christian. He answered that yes, it is. Other metaphors that explain the atonement are important, and even biblical, he said, but the penal substitutionary understanding is the most widely attested in scripture. It is necessary and primary. All other metaphors explaining the atonement take a back seat.
OK, let’s say, hypotehtically, that Mike is right about this. Let’s say that Jesus did die as a sacrifice, to mitigate God’s wrath against every human being, wrath that was kindled because our sins of disobedience against God.
Couldn’t a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement also be championed by univeralists? Couldn’t a universalist affirm that Jesus did, indeed, die to take the stain of Original Sin from us, to appease God’s divine sense of judgment, and to open the gates of heaven to all people?
The obvious counter to this is that Paul said that one must believe in her heart and affirm with her lips, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9-10). But universalists have to answer for this verse regardless of how they understand the atonement.
So, I put it to you, are penal substitution and universalism mutually exclusive?
I was thrilled when Mike Horton agreed to come on Doug Pagitt Radio with me last Sunday to discuss Love(s) Wins. Mike is known to be among the more thoughtful, enjoyable members of the Neo-Reformed tribe, and he proved to be just that on the show. The first of three video segments is below the jump, and you can find the other two by clicking through to YouTube.
Two thoughts about my chat with Mike. First, what he gets right. Mike suggested that some emergent leaders need to grow a thicker skin, and I think he’s right. His point was that some emergent authors wade into deep theological waters with their writings, then beg off debate because they say they’re not theologians. “I’m not writing that kind of book,” they say, and thereby attempt to avoid confronting criticism. I think he’s got a point there.
But when I asked him why his tribe seems to be the first to jump on the criticism bandwagon, he demurred. In fact, he said that I was asking a leading question, and he said that the national media didn’t pick up the story of Rob’s book because the Reformed crowd spoke against it. But here, I think Mike is being disingenuous. The story popped precisely because John Piper tweeted against Rob. And what’s more, the contrary doesn’t happen: Rob Bell doesn’t write nine-part blog series going chapter-by-chapter through a Michael Horton or John Piper book, trying to show the world how bad it is.
The Reformed crowd does this, and they do it often. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying that they should be honest about it.
And we emergents should be honest that our skin is too thin sometimes.
Here’s my interview yesterday with Rob Bell on Doug Pagitt Radio. I’ll post the rest of the show throughout this week, with my thoughts. But for now, here’s this. And, if you’re in the Twin Cities, maybe I’ll see you at Rob’s appearance tonight at Wayzata Community Church.