Thursday, July 29, 2010

No Substitute for Substitution

Over at the Resurgence, Michael Horton explains the cruciality of the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

When it comes to interpreting Christ's saving work, everything turns on our view of God's character and the seriousness of sin. God's law is not merely a reflection of his will but of his moral nature. God cannot relax his holy will or righteous demands. Death is not merely an example of his displeasure or an arbitrary punishment. Rather, it is the legal sentence for violating his covenant (Ezek 18:4; Rom 6:23).

Losing Substitution Yale theologian George Lindbeck says that at least in practice, Abelard's view of salvation by following Christ's example (and the cross as the demonstration of God's love that motivates our repentance) now seems to have edged out any notion of an objective, substitutionary atonement. "The atonement is not high on the contemporary agendas of either Catholics or Protestants," Lindbeck surmises. "More specifically, the penal-substitutionary versions...that have been dominant on the popular level for hundreds of years are disappearing."

This situation is as true for evangelicals as for liberal Protestants, he observes. This is because justification through faith alone (sola fide) makes little sense in a system that makes central our subjective conversion (understood in synergistic terms as cooperation with grace), rather than the objective work of Christ. "Our increasingly feel-good therapeutic culture is antithetical to talk of the cross" and our "consumerist society" has made the doctrine a pariah...

Protestant liberalism repeated the Socinian arguments against any judicial concept of the cross. "And so it came about," notes Colin Gunton, "that various forms of exemplarism took the field, under the impulses provided by the rational criticism of traditional theologies by Kant, Schleiermacher, and Hegel. In place of an act of God centered in a historic life and death, towards the otherwise helpless, the emphasis came to be upon those who by appropriate action could help themselves."

At least implicitly combining various subjective theories already mentioned, this trajectory is especially represented in the work of J├╝rgen Moltmann and liberation theology but also in much of the popular preaching and teaching in contemporary evangelicalism. In much of evangelicalism today, the emphasis falls on the question "What Would Jesus Do?" rather than "What Has Jesus Done?" Jesus provides the model for us to imitate for personal or social transformation. Especially in some contemporary Anabaptist and feminist theologies, the theme of God's wrath against sinners is regarded as a form of violence that legitimizes human revenge. Rather than see Christ's work as bearing a sentence that we deserved, it is seen as moral empowerment for our just praxis (good works) in transforming the world.

Read the entire article HERE.

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