Anyone who has visited this space over the years knows my thoughts on atonement, I believe it profoundly more mysteriously redemptive than the myopic view of atonement being solely about Jesus' sacrifice for my sins, or your sins. As Eugene Peterson muses in the Message in Colossians 1;
15-18We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
18-20He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.
Even through reading all four gospels we are hard pressed to draw that conclusion when the redemptive imagination of the Kingdom consumes the story from beginning to end. There is many who have not awakened that we are living in a post-christendom era. I don't know why, but these same people clutch with absolute fear, hanging on for dear life to this one theory...even if it means the death of christianity itself.
David Fitch ( is doing a Ph.D at Northwestern University, b.) teaching in a large city church, c.) leading a small intentional community in the city of Chicago, and planting a missional church, Life on the Vine Christian Community in the northwest suburbs of Chicago ) says this around atonement in a recent blog post around some recent comments by Mark Driscoll .
1.) The Focus on the Substitionary Atonement. Towards the end of the interview, Driscoll asks Brierley if he believes in the penal substitutionary atonement. When Brierley affirms it as one of many ways to view the cross, Driscoll suggests he’s being cowardly about it. Driscoll then insists on singular commitment to penal substitutionary atonement is essential to the success of the gospel.
To me this speaks to the singular focus on the penal subtitutionary atonement that is central in many parts of the Neo-Reformed matrix regardless of contextual considerations. Am I right? Driscoll is blind to contextual considerations concerning salvation. In other words, the atonement is many faceted (read McKnights Community of Atonement for example). One size does not fit all. It could be argued that penal substititionary atonement makes the most sense in Christendom, amidst a culture shaped under Medieval Catholicism, it’s theology and penitential system (Driscoll grew up Catholic). Moral guilt, you could say, was (and is) the singular Christendom condition into which Reformed theology was born. It is not however as universal in the West as it once was. If we insist on being locked into this one view of the atonement, we will in essence be narrowing our context for mission.
The atonement is wider, bigger and more multitudinous than substitionary theory. And the hurts and pains of the world we are engaging cannot be put fit into this one theory. I believe in the substitionary theory of the atonement. But it is limited. The work that God is doing in the world includes reconciliation, healing, restoration, justice, and the victory and authority of Christ over Satan, evil, sin and death. It is in short God at work through Christ making all things right. A narrow focus on substitionary atonement disables the church from engaging the world outside Western Christendom culture. It discounts the manifold ways God in Christ has come to set the whole world right. Mark Driscoll can’t understand this. And so when he enters a post-Christendom context he gets frustrated.
Does not Drsicoll’s frustration then reveal the atonement myopia at the heart of the Neo-Reformed movement. Does it not reveal the weakness inherent in Neo-Reformed theology for those of us minsistering in post Christendom contexts (like Brierley’s Britian)? Does not his whole fiasco reveal how the singular focus on subtititionary atonement hinders missional engagement? Yes? no?
I think David reveals some deep honest questions that many on the fringe of church are struggling with, along with many who have left the faith. We live in a world to put it mildly is creeping closer and closer to extinction...environmental collapse, economic collapse, societal collapse, poverty, war, injustice, fundamentalism...the list goes on. If the best the gospel, and Jesus has to offer is forgiveness for sin...it is like throwing a band-aid to a world that is hemorrhaging it's life away.
In this post modern, and post christendom context...christianity needs more than ever the " mind of Christ "...to plumb the depths of the gospels to re-imagine a redemption that will not only glorify God, but also honor and recapture the mind of " ALL " humanity.
I encourage you to read the rest of David Fitch's post where he addresses other Neo-Reformed theological issues such as ; Hierarchal Authority and Male Dominated Preaching. You can read the rest...here.