An Apologist for the Atonement

Normally, we think of apologetic writing as a defense of the Christian faith to those outside of it. I wonder if it could be used for inter-Christian debate. Dave Warnock at 42 has taken up a defence of Steve Chalke and his understanding of the atonement.

Chalke, an British evangelical leader, has caused controversy in the last few years by rejecting the Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement (the theory that Jesus’ sacrifice was made to appease the wrath of an angry God looking for someone to punish). On the positive side, it has created a lot of discussion, in particular in evangelical circles. Most recently, this is seen in the book, The Atonement Debate.

On the negative side, it has caused a lot of name calling, declaring from some people saying Chalke is no longer an evangelical (which could be read non-Christian).  Enter Adrian Warnock (no relation to Dave).  He has posted a series deriding Chalke, and by implication all those who disagree with Adrian.

Dave has posted his own series to dialogue with Adrian (as much you can – I don’t know Adrian, but it appears that there is not a lot of ‘dialogue’ on his side).  I think the Penal Substitution Theory has dominated too much of evangelical Christianity thinking, in particular the image of God of full of wrath, almost upset he has no one left to punish because he can only think, ‘Oh, yeah – I sent Jesus.  I can’t smite them now.’  Penal Substitution has always only been ONE theory among many, and now people are seeing the faults.  So, I think discussion is important enough to highlight, and I list post to Dave’s comments (he also gives the links for Adrian’s post).

I thought better to highlight it here than in my week’s end post.


3 thoughts on “An Apologist for the Atonement

  1. Will:

    People are not only now recognizing the “faults” of penal substitutionary atonement. Rather, our time is witnessing the extension of a historic debate made pertinent thanks to the continuation of the liberal/fundamentalist conflict. Having grown up hearing the gospel framed by substitutionary atonement more often than other models I still have sympathy for the ideas present within that approach. However, I have come to a more well-rounded understanding of the atonement through exposure to other viewpoints. In this regard one book I found helpful was Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement.

    For an example from the Methodist tradition relevant to this post, see the divide between William Law and John Wesley. You might be surprised to find Wesley arguing strongly for a conception of God’s wrath as necessary for the doctrine of justification. On this point of doctrine Wesley seems a far cry from Methodists I know and walk alongside today.


  2. Pam: Thanks – PST can seem that way, can’t it?

    Ben: I agree with you, and your journey sounds similar to my own. And if we thought through a lot of things Wesley believe, we might turn green!

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