Letters to Paul, III: language in the Emergent Church...
(Tim: Building on his series on Jonathan Edwards and the Atonement, here's another series--numbers one, two, three, four, and five--by our American African correspondent, David Wegener. But first, a note from David on the purpose of this series.)
Paul is a Zambian Christian leader, a graduate of the school where I teach. I’ve taken him as representative of one of my students so I can have a face to look at in my mind as I write these letters.
Often my students puzzle over what they hear coming from the church in the west. Much of their background has led them to accept without question what comes from western Christians. "After all, they brought us the gospel and keep coming back and helping us." My exhortation to Paul is the one given by his namesake: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21).
Letters to Paul: The Atonement as Cosmic Child Abuse
Dear Paul: Leaders in the Emergent church like Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke have criticized the Bible’s teaching on the atonement. Of course, they don’t put it like that, but this is truly what they are doing. They say they’re criticizing one popular theory of the atonement and use that criticism to undercut the teaching of the Bible.
They say that the way the doctrine is traditionally formulated amounts to child abuse..."God punished His Son for crimes the Son did not commit. Isn’t this child abuse? Isn’t this what we’re trying to eliminate in our culture? Aren’t we trying to pass laws and adopt policies that prevent this?"
Their charge is nonsense. It’s blasphemous. It’s dishonors God. It’s sin.
The Father has loved the Son with an everlasting love (Jn 3:35, 5:20, 17:24). The Father gave the Son a task to do, to go to the cross (Jn 10:17, 17:4). The Son’s obedience to the Father’s command was …
- free, not coerced;
- voluntary, not forced;
- complete, not partial.
There was no abuse. It was voluntary.
Jonathan Edwards spends lots of words talking about substitution. He finds so many examples in Scripture and human culture where one person takes the place of another, where the guilt of the offender is transferred to the account of the substitute.
Emergents like McLaren and Chalke, because of (what I can only call) their hatred for God’s gracious plan of redemption, miss the glory of the atonement. Christ took our place willingly for the joy set before Him (Heb 12:2). He is “our Passover lamb” who was sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7). Because of God’s gracious choice, He took my place.
Where they see abuse, we see the willing obedience at great cost of a substitute and cry, “glory.”
McLaren and Chalke are undermining the teaching of the Scriptures. If anyone is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it’s them. They look like attractive sheep. They sound better than the old, grouchy sheep. They’ve been made up by the best sheep-groomers. But if you look closely, you can see it’s a lie. Under the attractiveness is a ravenous wolf. Beware!
Yours with thankfulness for a violent atonement, Rev Wegener