Friday, March 14, 2008

The Next Battle?

There are sources of tension within the UMC that are being openly debated. Homosexuality and war are among them. I believe that there is another issue that could possibly rise up, maybe not to this same level, but enough to cause some debate within the denomination, and possibly church as a whole. If it never gets to a point to where it is seriously debated, it will be because those Evangelicals who have a high regard for the integrity of scripture as well as history were silent.

Laugh if you must, it is just my opinion at the moment. But it has to do with the issue of the atonement. The atonement simply refers to how we are made right with God. The traditional understanding goes like this: Man is sinful. God hates sin and cannot tolerate it. Even though God loves His creation, He is perfectly Holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. It must be punished, because God is perfectly just. Jesus came to earth and lived a sinless life. However, God imputed (counted) our sins upon Jesus and poured out the wrath that we deserve as sinners onto Jesus. When we become a Christian, God then imputes the righteousness of Christ onto us. When God looks down on the Christian, He no longer sees a sinner (even though we are), but the righteousness of Christ. This is known as Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). This has been the tradtional understanding throughout church history.

Attacks on this doctrine are not new, but today they are picking up momentum like never before. The attacks began a few years ago in the UK, and have made there way to the United States. Steve Chalke, a well known evangelical in Great Britain, published a book callled The Lost Message of Jesus. The claim of the book is that the traditional understanding of the atonement is not true.

Instead of PSA, Chalke argues that nothing really happened when Christ was crucified. It is merely a demonstration of God's love for us. Christ took our pain and suffering and showed that He was willing to die to restore our relationship with Him. No punishment was involved, and to suggest that there is punishment involved is "cosmic child abuse." It is a vengeful father who punishes his son for a crime he did not commit. This is contrary to "God is Love."

I'm sure that most Christians in the UK are aware of the controversy. It is now becoming more popular in the US among the Emerging Church movement, particularly Brian McLaren.

Orthodox Christians need to be aware of this attack, and be ready to defend the traditional understanding of the atonement. There are more posts coming in defense of PSA. I may also spend sometime looking at other theories as well. I need so spend some time in study first.

I leave with this question: Does it Matter?

1 Comment:

  1. Stephen Taylor said...
    I think what would matter right now is for people to do the study you suggest in your post. In our Conference, if a candidate for ministry cannot clearly define at least five of the traditional understandings of atonement, it is likely they will not pass the doctrine committee. And though you may think to write that off as too progressive, this conference is a very conservative one.
    I agree that the substitutionary theory is the most popular, even more so today perhaps, but neither the New Testament, nor the early church fathers (and at that time it was only fathers)force only one explanation of "how" Jesus' death frees us from sin and reconciles us to God.
    I pray such an important doctrine as this does not become a line drawn in the sand, daring people to declare "either-or." We have enough of that. Let us pray for openness of spirit in such matters, within the bounds of scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

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