Over my lifetime in theology, I have found the subject of atonement a difficult one. Mostly because even more numberous that the various theories of Biblical Inspiration, atonement as a subject is even more disjointed. There are at least nine theories on how atonement works. It also is an issue that not only has theological implications as regards to Christ and salvation but it actually also has implications for apologetics. One of the things critics of Christianity base some of their criticism on is what kind of picture we get of God if certain atonement theories are true.
My own reluctance has been that perhaps my own salvation has not hinged on what atonement theory I follow. For me the issue has either been good theology or apologetics. It is actually this last issue in regarding dealing with critics that has caused me to drop at least one theory of atonement. If non-believers can quickly and decisively shatter and atonement theory because it clearly creates God as an evil bastard then I am going to be quick to drop it as well.
Theologically though my objection is a little more complicated. 1) As a Biblical theologian I dislike systems and some of these atonement theories are integral parts of systems of theology. They have and all or nothing feel to them and I dislike that I might find myself trapped theologically by some theory of atonement. There is a flexibility I like to continue to develop and grow theological ideas that once you strap yourself into a certain theological car you lose. 2) Because I believe the gospel is different from what most people portray, I balk at something that might cause that view to lose its key elements. My belief is that the gospel’s main message is an offer of eternal life through the resurrection of Christ. What happened on the cross is important but it is not quite as central to the gospel in my theology as the theology of the resurrection.
That said. I have put this quest off for far too long. How salvation works is pivotal to understanding practical ministry issues of discipleship, evangelism and worship. The what and why of Christ’s actions dominate many discussions and that needs to be considered. So I begin with this post.
My method will be much the same. I will start with a series of posts that deal with what the Bible says about atonement. It will be a Biblical chronological study as looking at how God teaches atonement through the history of Him and his people. This will probably involve looking at concepts such as ‘sacrifice, propitiation, etc.” with the idea of identifying and understanding the passages that speak to the issue of atonement. Next will be a study of the various theories of atonement in relationship to the understandings the Scripture has given us. Finally will be to look at both of these series and see if any genuine conclusions can be stated.
I am excited but reluctant, this is in many ways uncharted territory for me.
Blessings and Cheers!