Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gandalf And The Atonement (Part 1)

Gandalf (one of the Gandalfs who is not the guy in this picture - I just wanted to narrow the possibilities by one) recently posted a comment on my series NT Wright v The Gospel where he questioned whether people's salvation hinges on their view of the atonement. Here is what he wrote:

Hi Cameron,

having read your series about N.T. Wright (and other posts about him as well) I must say that I still think some of your conclusions are at least out of scope maybe misjudging Wright.

Here my arguments for that (maybe I posted some of this earlier but I want to make it as a summary here):

First: Theories about how the atonement works (including PSA with all its content) are not the atonement or belief in the atonement itself. Therefore what Christians must believe in is the atonement of their sins through death and resurrection of Christ whereas ideas on how this works are secondary to this (In C.S: Lewis book Mere Christianity there is a discussion about this issue which I find very convincing).

Notably much of the real discussion about the atonement comes from liberals/progressives who openly dismiss that Christ's death had anything to do with human sins and human redemption (Maybe the name of the German protestant pastor Burkhard Müller is known to you for causing some stir here for saying such things).

Discussions about how this works are probably interesting for theologians but error on how it works does not amount to something you quoted McArthur for (that without imputed righteousness no salvation is possible).

You know probably that Eastern Orthodox christians as one example do not believe (according to their churches doctrine) in PSA, imputation etc. are they all damned?

Second: You repeatedly note that certain concepts and issues are missing in Wright's books or are presented in sketchy or ambiguous manner (individual sin, hell etc.).

Have you read "Surprised by Hope"? I did not find you quoting that in your posts. In that book I found both explanation for his lack of mentioning certain things in other booke in detail, namely, that he likes to view all things as "big picture" where God wants to redeeem and bring back to right the whole cosmos (with the fate of individuals just being part of it, like in a puzzle consisting of numerous pieces but all belonging to the same story). However, in the same book he really gives explanations for questions like individual sin (includng an explanation of the word hamartia), final judgment and hell.

You probably will object to his view that hell isn't like a torture chamber in the midst of Gods kingdom and that he very much follows a middle ground between traditional teaching and a view that sees the lost ones simply becoming what they desire/practise (a grumble instead of a grumbling man or woman is an example for this from "The great Divorce") and hence being at some point no longer humans in Gods image. But I think you'll have to admit that he teaches final judgment with two outcomes, completely dismisses universalism and that God really cares for righteousness and is not laissez-faire with sin on an individual level.

Third: I generally think the amount of flame and vitriol in this debate goes beyond its purpose. People on both sides should handle it more in a manner like the one you advised in your post about the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, otherwise we would only deserve the laughter of the Spongs, Borgs, Bells and McLarens in this world for our quarreling.

Gandalf, I welcome your comments and the ensuing discussion it will evoke. Over the coming days I will be responding to each issue that Gandalf raises. Unlike the emergent "conversation", I love to come to the table and reason together from the Scriptures with those who disagree with me. Our view of the atonement sets the framework through which we understand and communicate the Gospel. We must remember what Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

For this reason our view of the atonement matters and I will set forth my contentions from Scripture over the next week or so. In the meantime I offer this ten minute video of Paul Washer explaining the meaning of the word "propitiation" as found in Romans 3:25 (also in 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10). The importance of this word is central to the issue at hand.

Go On To Part 2

1 comment:

gandalf said...

Hi Cameron,

A great thanks in advance that you devote so much attention towards my remarks, I'm looking forward to read your posts.

I just want to make one short statement about your sentence in the opening, where you wrote "where he(Gandalf) questioned whether people's salvation hinges on their view of the atonement".

I want to make it very clear that what I want to question is, whether people's salvation hinges on their proper understanding on HOW atonement works, which is in my opinion something different.

Compare it with a life-saving diet.
Along with the diet itself comes a diet plan but there is also the theoretical groundwork about how nutrition generally works, and which vitamins are good for a specific purpose and much more.

It is essential to take the diet (=conversion) and to consume it (=life transformation) and also to do it according to the diet plan (=scriptures that teach how to be converted/regenerated and live as a disciple).
It will however work even if I have no or an incorrect understanding about the nutrition theories that explain how the diet works internally.

In my opinion atonement theories like PSA, SA, ransom/recapitulation theory and maybe others fall in the same category as the nutrition theory in the example.

But enough words for now...