As I have pointed out in another post, emergents have set to unpack the tradition passed on to them, leaving nothing untouched, not even the foundational Christian doctrines.
NOTE: they have not discarded them (as is often the charge) but, exactly because of the fresh look, found richer meaning that has been lost in the annals of history.
One such example is the doctrine of the atonement.
[the work of Christ in dealing with the problem that has been posed by the sin of human beings, and bringing sinners into a right relationship with God]
The theory of Penal Substitution
[PS from here on – simply put, Jesus was punished (penalized) in the place of sinners (substitution) thus satisfying the demands of God’s justice in forgiving our sin]
has been the privileged view of Atonement for much of the Christian Church history. As a result, to believe in atonement one, has been thought, has to embrace the theory of Penal Substitution. And this is where difficulties have started.
First, the PS theory is but one of the many expressions of the doctrine of atonement found in Scriptures and throughout the Christian tradition. Both the Old and New Testaments reveal many truths about Christ’s atonement, so it is hard, if not impossible, to find any single “theory” that fully encapsulates or explains the richness of this doctrine. Emergents would love to see the PS theory dethroned (not eliminated!!!) as the supreme expression so that all the different facets of the doctrine of the atonement diamond can shine and so enrich this profound truth.
Secondly, there are various caricatures of the PS view of the atonement that are not biblical. N. T. Wright says it well here:
“When people present over-simple stories with an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn’t much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent. You’d have thought people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ‘God was so angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ‘God so loved the world that he gave us his son’.”
Unfortunately emergents have not always been very clear in dealing with this, so they need to pay careful attention to what Wright continues to say:
“The biblical (emphasis mine) doctrine of God’s wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates – yes, hates, and hates implacably – anything that spoils, defaces, distorts or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation, in an act of proper (emphasis mine) wrath and judgment, the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.”
So, Wright aptly warns
“to throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed”.
You can’t be against PS without having to explain away a good portion of the Scriptures. We should be against the various caricatures but fully embrace the biblical doctrine.
“Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God. There is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ, because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son who, as the expression of his own self-giving love, had been sent for that very purpose. ‘He did not spare his very own Son, but gave him up for us all.’”
What are your thoughts on all of these? Questions?
Your comments are needed to enrich this conversation.