We are preparing for Easter worship an old hymn in our church, "Hallelujah, What A Savior" by Phillip P. Bliss in 1875. Of course, our version is a cool groovy version arranged by worship leader Tommy Walker, but this is all just a backdrop. One line in our printed music had "full of torment…how can it be?" instead of what the original said which is "full atonement…how can it be?" ATONEMENT. This word has become quite the debatable word these days in evangelical circles. Traditionally, us evangelical believers hold that Christ’s death was a substitution for our sin, paying the penalty demanded by a righteous God. This is the central gospel message in our tracts.
Mark Dever, has an article defending this view of penal substitution posted at Christianity Today: Nothing But the Blood.
At stake is nothing less than the essence of Christianity. Historically understood, Christ’s Atonement gives hope to Christians in their sin and in their suffering. If we have any assurance of salvation, it is because of Christ’s Atonement; if any joy, it flows from Christ’s work on the Cross. The Atonement protects us from our native tendency to replace religion with morality and God’s grace with legalism. Apart from Christ’s atoning work, we would be forever guilty, ashamed, and condemned before God. But not everyone these days sees it that way.
Author, Scot McKnight has a this to say at his Jesus Creed blog: Atonement Wars on Good Friday? I really appreciate his words and agree, but not completely with all his points, that the cross means so much more than just a penal substitution. His prose in his post is fantastic and encouraging. Here is what McKnight says in response to Mark Dever’s article:
I beg to differ, not because I think penal substitution needs to be denied, but because the atonement is too important during this Holy Week to turn into the “atonement wars”. Atonement is more than penal substitution. And it all needs to be in front of us, especially today. Here’s what will go through my mind and heart and reflections today and tomorrow, but on Sunday we let go and utter “Christ is risen!”
Where some would do entirely away with the substitionary aspect, McKnight appears to say it is not fully adequate to say that the cross was only for the penalty of our sins. I agree with this premise, and even though it is not good timing as far as McKnight is concerned, it seems that rehearsing music for this weekend’s Easter celebration requires me to address it.
The cross: we share in Christ’s death as believers. We learn to take up that cross daily as we surrender to the kingdom of God. And, we also celebrate the fact that share in the Christ’s resurrection! There is so much to the atonement. I am just beginning to scratch the surface in my own understanding and experience.
Wars or not, I appreciate the discussion. Is the death on the cross more than payment for a penalty? What do you think?