Friday, March 14, 2008

New Doesn't Mean Right

I want to draw some attention to a post that Eric has on the atonement. We are going to be at opposite ends of the discussion. He is reviewing the book A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight. I am doing a review of the book The Truth of the Cross by RC Sproul (look for it next week). They are definitely in conflict with each other. I think that Eric and I will have some meaningful dialogue on the subject, we have already traded some comments on his post.

McKnight seems to argue that the atonement is communal in nature and not so much personal in nature. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that means, so can't really comment on that part yet.

However, he does attack the traditional understanding of substitutionary atonement.

"This generation is tired of an old-fashioned atonement theology that does not make a difference, of an old-fashioned atonement theology that is for individual spiritual formation but not for ecclesial-reformation, and of an old fashioned atonement theology that does not reconcile humans with humans....If a previous generation was taught that evangelism and social justice were disconnected, even if one could [or even should] flow from the other, the present generation knows of a holistic human being in an interlocking society of connections where any notion of gospel or atonement must be one that is integrated and community-shaped if it is to be called 'good news' at all." p.2

This generation is living in a world that is quickly changing, due to a lot of factors, technology among them. The computer purchased 6 months ago is outdated. That fancy new iphone won't be the latest and greatest for long. The HDDVD player could soon be going the way of the Betamax.

So why should biblical interpretation be different? Whats wrong with changing and updating the theory of the atonement to make it catch up with the times? We must make it relate to our present generation. We must change it and make it better and more appealing. The problem is that these rules can't be applied to scripture. The scripture is an absolute. The reason that penal substitution has been taught for 2,000 years is because it is what the scripture teaches. If you change it, you change scripture. Just because someone comes up with a new theory on biblical interpretation, or some new doctrine, doesn't mean it's correct. Let the Bible reamain a constant.


  1. Steven Manskar said...
    Your argument is valid. However, there are more than one atonement theory, penal substitution being but one of them. You can read summaries of some of the historic theories here:
    Brett said...
    I'm going to spend some more time doing some resarch. Thanks for the link. I know that penal substiution has been attacked before, the attacks just haven't had that much momentum. I'm getting ready to post a follow up. I've about got it ready, so I can't incorporate the link that you just gave, but will in the future.
    lehall said...
    Throughout its history the church has had different ways to understand and explain Jesus' work of atonement. I totally agree that "new" does not mean better or right. Fortunately on this particular question we have centuries of material to consider. Some of the older theologians have really interesting things to say. And they are generally very well grounded in scripture.

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