I have taken a step back from blogging for a few weeks now, and during that time I have thought allot about the atonement. I really started thinking about this because of the current cover story of Christianity Today and some concerns that were raised about a small view of atonement… and of course, there were the responses to peoples thoughts on the article.
What I have noticed in all the talk about “atonement stories” is that we all are talking about the mechanics of salvation, but not really focusing on the accomplishment that is salvation.
We evangelical Christians tend to want to talk about how God forgave us and justified us. So we tell atonement stories and throw out theories of penal substitution, ransom, recapitulation, and so on. As pointed out in some of the above links, all these stories are good, and all are needed to get a full picture of the full atonement. But, this is all talk about the mechanics of salvation: How it works… how God did what He did… how we are forgiven. The hows are important to think about, but they must not replace the what: what Jesus sacrifice did… what it accomplishes in our lives… what hope it makes real to us.
If that last paragraph seems nebulous, let me put it this way: we talk allot about how the car works (the parts and their functions, the gas millage it gets, the way internal combustion works inside the engine, etc…) but we are scarcely talking about why the car was made in the first place, namely to transport us around.
Maybe it’s just me; maybe everyone else is hearing conversations about what atonement is and not just how it works. All I know is a very important word seems to be missing from evangelical speech when it comes to verbalizing the atonement.
This is the word Paul uses to define the service God has given him (and us) to do.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Paul’s entire proclamation of Gospel and what the good news means for our lives now is centered only upon God reconciling us and the world to himself. This is the “what” that the atonement accomplished, this is salvation.
Over the next few posts, I want to look at two texts that can help us focus on what atonement accomplished as we continue to explore and talk about the different atonement theories/stories.
What the atonement did II: Simon’s second speech (Acts 3)
What the atonement did III: Defining Love (1 John 4.7-21)
What the atonement did IV: Only because of the atonement