« From Robert's Rules to Bulver's Rules | Main | Theology and Economics: Distributive Justice »

Apr 13, 2006


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Russell Smith

Right on -- though I'd suggest that even with the "many splendored" appraoch to the atonement, we'll still be tempted to downplay the substitution -- there is after all a scandal of the cross that is both a stumbling block and foolishness.

I've been shocked by how quick people are to dismiss the idea of the substitutionary atonement. Thanks for linking to the article.


Michael Kruse

Thanks Russell. It seems to me that this debate runs the risk of becoming reductionistic (substitionary only)or dimissive (didn't happen) I want to hold (and truly hold)substitionary atonement in tension with other realities I see presented in the Word.


Thanks for a great post Michael. I tend toward the view of a "many splendored atonement." I do however, think there is a great risk of de-empahasizing the substitutionary element. This is central to the cross. I am reminded that without the shedding of blood there is no remisson of sin. Without that remission, there would be no relationship, there would be no eternity with Christ. So it's central, but I do believe there is more to it. Jesus was the full package that brought reconciliation of man to God and to bring restoration of what we lost in the fall.

Michael Kruse

Thanks John. I think one of the problems is our tendency to look at atonement in terms of what it means for us. Placing ourselves at the center, the ultimate aim of salvation becomes our personal well-being.

When we look it from God's perspective, I think atonement takes on a different hue. It moves from being ulitmate to penultimate. God has not just saved us from something. God has saved us to Him and to a community for a purpose: To be His image in loving community as we are stewards of creation. I think atonement is ultimately about God, not us. Substitutionary atonement is an essential penultimate reality as I see it.


Michael -

As usual, I really enjoy your blog and your thoughts. Interestingly, on this subject I like your reactions to the comments more than I like your original post!

I love the idea of atonement being penultimate instead of ultimate. That paragraph is really brilliant!

I was struck by several things in reading Mark Dever's original article:

First, he says "For those of us who maintain that the apostles' writings bear equal authority to Jesus' words in the Gospels . . . " What? How is it that writers who had the intent of interpreting and spreading the good news of Jesus should be accorded equal status with Jesus? Certainly, it doesn't seem to me that they would claim that status. Don't we let Paul interpret Jesus, and not Jesus interpret Paul? This sentence alone seems to put Dever in a very different theological tradition than mine own.

BTW: I certainly see the attraction of elevating the epistles to equal stature with the gospels. Paul and, for the most part, the other letter writers bring a human rationality to the Good News. They are not crazy like Jesus.

Second, I think it's interesting that this article does not even touch on what, to me at least, is a central issue of the atonement: Why did God choose to use this metaphor? There was no "need" for the atonement. Even if we accept that our sin separated us from God, then God could simply have chosen to forgive us and close that gap. He did not have to follow some "rule" that required a sacrifice. In fact, that is the essence of the difference between God and people: People have to follow rules; God makes rules and, therefore, can change them as He thinks appropriate.

So why did God send Jesus?

(Now there's a simple question! Or not!)

Again, thanks for writing great blog posts and comments. I hope you have a blessed Easter.

Michael Kruse

Thanks David.

"Don't we let Paul interpret Jesus, and not Jesus interpret Paul?"

From what I understand, there is a Jesus vs Paul controversy in seminaries. Did Paul extend and apply Jesus teaching or did Paul in some way break with Jesus and conceptualize a different theology?

Conservative scholarship has affirmed the former and I am inclined to agree. However, I also agree with the criticism that there has been a tendency to read Paul and to use his discourse as the organizing framework for understanding Jesus rather than read Jesus and see how Paul “launched” from Jesus teaching.

Critical scholars take the “different theology” angle saying that Paul broke in some significant ways from Jesus’ teaching. While I share their concern about reading everything through Paul I think the “different theology” they are seeing and reacting to is not what Paul wrote but the baggage that has been heaped on Paul since. For instance, it seems to be widely accepted that Paul’s “household codes” were about accommodating to culture. In the piece I wrote a couple weeks ago I made the case that the household code as articulated by Paul was highly subversive. It was also a direct extension of Jesus teaching. (I recently read N. T. Wright’s book on Paul. I highly recommend it because he shows how skillfully Paul was translating Jesus teaching out of its Jewish context in to a gentile context. )

To me, all this goes back to seeing these things as an organic whole rather than segmented pieces to be placed in hierarchy of importance. Jesus is at the center and binds all things together but the fact is that Jesus didn’t write anything down so the only way to Jesus in scripture is through the apostles, and that includes Paul. That is my take.

“So why did God send Jesus?”

Ahem…. You forgot to include the answer. (*grin*)


Michael Kruse

It occurred to me while I was out running that I forgot to mention on other thought. You wrote:

"There was no "need" for the atonement."

I hear what you are saying here, David, and fully affirm that God is sovereign. There are no needs prior to God. Yet I also think that scripture gives us a narrative of God’s work in the world and it is authoritative for our lives. That narrative includes Jesus making atonement for sin. Why was it necessary and precisely what does it mean? I don’t think finite creatures like ourselves can grasp that, but evidently it was necessary in some sense or God would not have acted.

I read once that Isaac Newton had years of scientific research scattered across his desk when his faithful dog Diamond inadvertently knocked over a candle, setting everything on fire. Legend has it that Newton, viewing the destruction, said only, "O Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the damage thou hast done." How could he. He was a dog and it was beyond his comprehension.

I have a suspicion that when it comes to a great many things, including the atonement, we may be like Diamond in the story.

will spotts

Interesting discussion.

While it's a complicated topic (as has been well pointed out), I suspect that one's view of the atonement is linked both to one's conception of what "the Good News" entails, and to one's conception of unredeemed human nature.

If the good news was a vision for a better temporal world, then the atonement is kind of extraneous -- especially the substitutionary atonement. If one views Jesus as a political activist and theorist, calling forth a better society, a kind of lesser Karl Marx or Che Guevara, then the crucifixion will tend to be read as political martyrdom to inspire followers. The resurrection will be de-emphasized. And the atonement will be unnecessary. If these are the "core teachings" of Jesus one espouses, then yes, one should ditch the whole doctrine.

If one has a negative view of human nature -- perhaps concurring with the Calvinist notion of "total depravity" -- then the need for individual atonement is much higher. In that case, one will regard the good news as the statement that one's actions -- whether through error, human frailty, or deliberate evil (or malice) -- are not the final word. This an extraordinarily powerful concept for those who believe they have real guilt (not the feeling, but failures of the kind that should inspire that feeling). In any case, the need for reconciliation to God would be felt by the person conscious of his or her failings.

If one believes that societies are marred by institutional injustice -- then one only looks for better ways of ordering societies. Here one could appeal to a select few of the teachings of Jesus as a pattern for such an ordering. The failure would be one of lack of knowledge, of an inefficient system, not of sin. Again, no atonement necessary. If one believes that societies are expressions of indviduals taken together, then the failings of societies are not due to lack of knowledge, but to the sinful actions of individuals. In this case the potential for individual change is the aspect of the atonement one will emphasize.

Michael Kruse

Good points, Will. I understand why some are frustrated with the obsession about substitutionary atonement in evnagelical circles but I don't think its abandonment is warranted either. If we lose the view of fallen humainty, then we are back to 100 years ago with delusions of being able to usher in the Kingdom of God if we just get the right agenda. I believe in the potential for progressive improvement of human existence but true shalom only comes at an undisclosed time by God's intervention.


Scot McKnight has a good take on this issue: http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=959

Michael Kruse

Thanks David for pointing out the post. I now have it linked.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

Kruse Kronicle on Kindle

Check It Out