Good Friday: Conversations about the atonement

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?

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

12 comments

  1. The words and deeds, the very life of Jesus, simply does not allow us to view His death on the cross as merely paying the penalty for sins (not to mention the great body of literature, both Biblical and extrabiblical, devoted to communicating the outpouring of grace that black Friday some years ago).
    To believe that God would suffer Himself so great and terrible a death, merely to remove the guilt of sin, without touching the rest of our being, without removing the sin itself, without granting an experiential knowledge of Himself (that is the definition of the term heaven), makes no sense, and is not in keeping with the scriptural account of the person of God.

    If we take the two rites common to all Christian churches, directly implemented by Jesus (one by his own hand, and the other at his submission to the hand of John), namely baptism and communion, we see that the very essence of Jesus life-and-death-and-resurrection was our joining in his death and resurrection life. This participation in his death, would lead to participation in his life; by repentance and faith, we have salvation (which is another way of saying joining his death, and living his life).

    Atonement is more than erasing guilt, it is a relational term, not a legal term (which does not invalidate the legal metaphor, only give it proper context). We are given more than right status by way of the cross, we are given right relationship, we are given access to God.

    The metaphor Willard uses is the bar-code. Does Jesus death give us the right sticker to wear on our religious derriere? Or does it allow us to enter into fellowship with the God-King?

  2. The words and deeds, the very life of Jesus, simply does not allow us to view His death on the cross as merely paying the penalty for sins (not to mention the great body of literature, both Biblical and extrabiblical, devoted to communicating the outpouring of grace that black Friday some years ago).
    To believe that God would suffer Himself so great and terrible a death, merely to remove the guilt of sin, without touching the rest of our being, without removing the sin itself, without granting an experiential knowledge of Himself (that is the definition of the term heaven), makes no sense, and is not in keeping with the scriptural account of the person of God.

    If we take the two rites common to all Christian churches, directly implemented by Jesus (one by his own hand, and the other at his submission to the hand of John), namely baptism and communion, we see that the very essence of Jesus life-and-death-and-resurrection was our joining in his death and resurrection life. This participation in his death, would lead to participation in his life; by repentance and faith, we have salvation (which is another way of saying joining his death, and living his life).

    Atonement is more than erasing guilt, it is a relational term, not a legal term (which does not invalidate the legal metaphor, only give it proper context). We are given more than right status by way of the cross, we are given right relationship, we are given access to God.

    The metaphor Willard uses is the bar-code. Does Jesus death give us the right sticker to wear on our religious derriere? Or does it allow us to enter into fellowship with the God-King?

  3. The words and deeds, the very life of Jesus, simply does not allow us to view His death on the cross as merely paying the penalty for sins (not to mention the great body of literature, both Biblical and extrabiblical, devoted to communicating the outpouring of grace that black Friday some years ago).
    To believe that God would suffer Himself so great and terrible a death, merely to remove the guilt of sin, without touching the rest of our being, without removing the sin itself, without granting an experiential knowledge of Himself (that is the definition of the term heaven), makes no sense, and is not in keeping with the scriptural account of the person of God.

    If we take the two rites common to all Christian churches, directly implemented by Jesus (one by his own hand, and the other at his submission to the hand of John), namely baptism and communion, we see that the very essence of Jesus life-and-death-and-resurrection was our joining in his death and resurrection life. This participation in his death, would lead to participation in his life; by repentance and faith, we have salvation (which is another way of saying joining his death, and living his life).

    Atonement is more than erasing guilt, it is a relational term, not a legal term (which does not invalidate the legal metaphor, only give it proper context). We are given more than right status by way of the cross, we are given right relationship, we are given access to God.

    The metaphor Willard uses is the bar-code. Does Jesus death give us the right sticker to wear on our religious derriere? Or does it allow us to enter into fellowship with the God-King?

  4. The words and deeds, the very life of Jesus, simply does not allow us to view His death on the cross as merely paying the penalty for sins (not to mention the great body of literature, both Biblical and extrabiblical, devoted to communicating the outpouring of grace that black Friday some years ago).
    To believe that God would suffer Himself so great and terrible a death, merely to remove the guilt of sin, without touching the rest of our being, without removing the sin itself, without granting an experiential knowledge of Himself (that is the definition of the term heaven), makes no sense, and is not in keeping with the scriptural account of the person of God.

    If we take the two rites common to all Christian churches, directly implemented by Jesus (one by his own hand, and the other at his submission to the hand of John), namely baptism and communion, we see that the very essence of Jesus life-and-death-and-resurrection was our joining in his death and resurrection life. This participation in his death, would lead to participation in his life; by repentance and faith, we have salvation (which is another way of saying joining his death, and living his life).

    Atonement is more than erasing guilt, it is a relational term, not a legal term (which does not invalidate the legal metaphor, only give it proper context). We are given more than right status by way of the cross, we are given right relationship, we are given access to God.

    The metaphor Willard uses is the bar-code. Does Jesus death give us the right sticker to wear on our religious derriere? Or does it allow us to enter into fellowship with the God-King?

  5. Hey Steve! Finally got to see your mug at Yaks. We should hang out sometime.
    Yes, it is not merely penalty. However, it is BOTH a payment of sin’s penalty and so much more leading to the removal of sin one day. It is BOTH a subsitution of Christ’s life for ours as well as our joining in His death.

    I am concerned that some discount the fact of the propitiation instead of simply saying that is the beginning or start of the process of the grace of the cross. Saying that is is more is historically and biblically astute. But those who claim we are too bloody forget the words of Jesus to drink His blood and eat His flesh.

  6. Hey Steve! Finally got to see your mug at Yaks. We should hang out sometime.
    Yes, it is not merely penalty. However, it is BOTH a payment of sin’s penalty and so much more leading to the removal of sin one day. It is BOTH a subsitution of Christ’s life for ours as well as our joining in His death.

    I am concerned that some discount the fact of the propitiation instead of simply saying that is the beginning or start of the process of the grace of the cross. Saying that is is more is historically and biblically astute. But those who claim we are too bloody forget the words of Jesus to drink His blood and eat His flesh.

  7. Hey Steve! Finally got to see your mug at Yaks. We should hang out sometime.
    Yes, it is not merely penalty. However, it is BOTH a payment of sin’s penalty and so much more leading to the removal of sin one day. It is BOTH a subsitution of Christ’s life for ours as well as our joining in His death.

    I am concerned that some discount the fact of the propitiation instead of simply saying that is the beginning or start of the process of the grace of the cross. Saying that is is more is historically and biblically astute. But those who claim we are too bloody forget the words of Jesus to drink His blood and eat His flesh.

  8. Hey Steve! Finally got to see your mug at Yaks. We should hang out sometime.
    Yes, it is not merely penalty. However, it is BOTH a payment of sin’s penalty and so much more leading to the removal of sin one day. It is BOTH a subsitution of Christ’s life for ours as well as our joining in His death.

    I am concerned that some discount the fact of the propitiation instead of simply saying that is the beginning or start of the process of the grace of the cross. Saying that is is more is historically and biblically astute. But those who claim we are too bloody forget the words of Jesus to drink His blood and eat His flesh.

  9. Any Friday night I would love to sit down and talk, if that doesn’t work you’re gonna have to wait a few weeks till my schedule frees up…
    I think the “both/and” language is a perfect way to approach the issue! There are so many creative ways to approach the work of Christ, there are so many valid and potent metaphors for God’s Kingdom, there is so much rich language that we can use to approach our lives in Christ, so long as we are not caught up in the intellectual traditions that have been handed to us by well meaning white-affluent-male-cessationist-protestant-reductionist-modern-intellectual-Americans who, for all of their education, could not see beyond their own cultural lenses and allow the whole of the Church to speak to the issues of our day.*

    But as a better man than I has said, “We should always return to the words of Christ, and there find the language we use.” (Paraphrase not quote) So I would jump wholeheartedly into the language Jesus uses in John 6 (one of my favorite passages by the way is verse 68). We cannot simply “sprinkle Jesus” on our lives, but rather we must consume him, he must become for us food and drink, our very source of life.

    *Check my blog for more of this.

  10. Any Friday night I would love to sit down and talk, if that doesn’t work you’re gonna have to wait a few weeks till my schedule frees up…
    I think the “both/and” language is a perfect way to approach the issue! There are so many creative ways to approach the work of Christ, there are so many valid and potent metaphors for God’s Kingdom, there is so much rich language that we can use to approach our lives in Christ, so long as we are not caught up in the intellectual traditions that have been handed to us by well meaning white-affluent-male-cessationist-protestant-reductionist-modern-intellectual-Americans who, for all of their education, could not see beyond their own cultural lenses and allow the whole of the Church to speak to the issues of our day.*

    But as a better man than I has said, “We should always return to the words of Christ, and there find the language we use.” (Paraphrase not quote) So I would jump wholeheartedly into the language Jesus uses in John 6 (one of my favorite passages by the way is verse 68). We cannot simply “sprinkle Jesus” on our lives, but rather we must consume him, he must become for us food and drink, our very source of life.

    *Check my blog for more of this.

  11. Any Friday night I would love to sit down and talk, if that doesn’t work you’re gonna have to wait a few weeks till my schedule frees up…
    I think the “both/and” language is a perfect way to approach the issue! There are so many creative ways to approach the work of Christ, there are so many valid and potent metaphors for God’s Kingdom, there is so much rich language that we can use to approach our lives in Christ, so long as we are not caught up in the intellectual traditions that have been handed to us by well meaning white-affluent-male-cessationist-protestant-reductionist-modern-intellectual-Americans who, for all of their education, could not see beyond their own cultural lenses and allow the whole of the Church to speak to the issues of our day.*

    But as a better man than I has said, “We should always return to the words of Christ, and there find the language we use.” (Paraphrase not quote) So I would jump wholeheartedly into the language Jesus uses in John 6 (one of my favorite passages by the way is verse 68). We cannot simply “sprinkle Jesus” on our lives, but rather we must consume him, he must become for us food and drink, our very source of life.

    *Check my blog for more of this.

  12. Any Friday night I would love to sit down and talk, if that doesn’t work you’re gonna have to wait a few weeks till my schedule frees up…
    I think the “both/and” language is a perfect way to approach the issue! There are so many creative ways to approach the work of Christ, there are so many valid and potent metaphors for God’s Kingdom, there is so much rich language that we can use to approach our lives in Christ, so long as we are not caught up in the intellectual traditions that have been handed to us by well meaning white-affluent-male-cessationist-protestant-reductionist-modern-intellectual-Americans who, for all of their education, could not see beyond their own cultural lenses and allow the whole of the Church to speak to the issues of our day.*

    But as a better man than I has said, “We should always return to the words of Christ, and there find the language we use.” (Paraphrase not quote) So I would jump wholeheartedly into the language Jesus uses in John 6 (one of my favorite passages by the way is verse 68). We cannot simply “sprinkle Jesus” on our lives, but rather we must consume him, he must become for us food and drink, our very source of life.

    *Check my blog for more of this.

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