Evangelical Christianity and Atonement Again
*Note to potential commenters: read one of my previous posts here for the “rules of the road” and please follow them.*
Here are some additional thoughts on evangelical Christianity and the atonement:
1. I considered the possibility of “substitute atonement” without the “penal” but Craig’s book convinced me that it really isn’t possible. If Jesus Christ was crucified as our substitute and for our salvation, then there must have been a penal aspect or dimension to his substitution. I don’t consider the MOT “criminal” necessary, especially if it’s a stumbling block for someone considering substituted atonement.
2. I have studied and taught extensively on the atonement throughout my many years of studying and teaching theology and writing about it. I have read about the substitutionary atonement in the scriptures (see Craig’s book or even the older version of the same argument by Leon Morris titled The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Or just “Google” the Bible and the substitutionary atonement for find the many Bible passages that strongly imply it.)
3. My argument was (in the previous post) that the rejection of substitutionary atonement is a significant departure from evangelical Christianity. I’m an evangelical theologian, so I know that’s the case. I could also mention important theologians not generally categorized as “evangelical” (in our American sense) who held very strongly to substitutionary atonement (including penal substitution): Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Juergen Moltmann among others.
4. Having recently delved deeply into liberal Protestant theology (see my forthcoming book Against Liberal Theology: Putting the Brakes on Progressive Christianity [Zondervan]), I am convinced that the rejection of substitutionary atonement is a step towards liberal theology if not a sign of it.
5. Anselm’s so-called “satisfaction theory” was/is a form of substitutionary atonement, even though it is not exactly the same as the reformist theory of “penal substitution” which is highly medico- legal.
6. Forensic soteriology, in its fullness, as taught by Luther, Calvin, Turretin, et al., is not necessary for substituted atonement. Craig seems to think so, but I disagree. However, I also believe that some degree or form of forensic soteriology (that God “considers” us righteous because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross and our faith in him) is biblical.
7. Every evangelical Christian denomination that I have studied holds to some form of substitutionary atonement; it seems that, historically and empirically, the substitutionary atonement has been and is an essential part of evangelical Christian theology. Sometimes the word used is “vicariant” (instead of “subsidiary”), but the meaning is the same.
8. I did not say that my belief in the substituted atonement is BASED ON emotions and I take umbrage at that suggestion. It is based on scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I freely admit that I am simply baffled whenever I meet someone who claims to be evangelical Christianity but who rejects the substitutionary atonement because the latter is so intrinsically linked to the former – historically and theologically.
9. I do not reject as non-Christians those who reject the substitutionary atonement according to the reason for which they reject it. Eastern Orthodox Christians generally reject it. I gladly embrace many of them whom I have known as Christians, but partly because of their rejection of the substituted atonement, I do not consider them evangelical Christians. Yes, that means I consider their Christianity to be flawed – for this and other reasons. They reciprocate, so don’t criticize me without criticizing them.
10. I have read the church fathers and found there undeniable affirmations of substitutionary atonement even though in some cases their main theories of atonement are something else (e.g., the so- saying “ransom theory”). I was surprised that Craig didn’t appeal to the spectacle of Athanasius, in De Incarnatione (On the Incarnation of the Word), assert the substitutionary atonement and even assert that through the death of Christ all are saved. Of course, he meant “potentially” saved (in light of the whole book and other things he wrote).