Last night Scot McKnight spoke at an open lecture in Irish Bible Institute on ‘A Community Called Atonement’. If you haven’t read his book of the same name, it is well worth it. I love the way Scot connects atonement theology with lived life in Christian community. Here’s a flavour of the book:
Since sin is the multifaceted distortion of humans in their relations with God, self, others and the world, and since cracked Eikons create systemic injustice, inherent to the atoning work of God is restorative justice. God’s redemptive intent is to restore and rehabilitate humans in their relationship with God, self, others and the world, and when that happens justice is present and established. The followers of Jesus both proclaim and embody atoning justice by fighting injustice and establishing just that kind of justice. Their forward guard is surrounded with the banner of grace and forgiveness. [p.133]
That’s the thrust of a community called atonement in a nutshell – the gospel is cross centred and leads to transformed relationships in all sorts of directions. It is not only about speaking a message, it is being a community shaped by the liberating and reconciling work of God.
Here’s a quote from last night about penal substitution:
“I don’t want to say it is not important but I do want to say that it should not be more important than the Bible makes it”
While the great (in both senses of the word and I mean that, they are ‘greats’; I grew up as a Christian reading John Stott and J I Packer in particular) defenders of penal substitution like Leon Morris, J I Packer and John Stott, always robustly connected it to a life of discipleship ‘after you believe‘ (to bring N T Wright unnecessarily into the conversation), too often, said Scot, penal substitution is used in a legal transactional way that implies ‘That’s it! Sins, judgement, wrath are all dealt with. There is nothing left. You sort of are supposed to be good, go to church (in a voluntary capacity but it’s not that crucial) and so on’. The point being that if penal substitution is used as ‘the‘ model of atonement theory the gospel gets squeezed out of shape.
The Bible doesn’t do that, why should we?