Adumbrations Of Atonement Theology In The Fourth Gospel -- By: D. A. Carson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 57:3 (Sep 2014)
Article: Adumbrations Of Atonement Theology In The Fourth Gospel
Author: D. A. Carson


Adumbrations Of Atonement Theology
In The Fourth Gospel

D. A. Carson*

* D. A. Carson is research professor of NT at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Road, Deerfield, IL 60015.

In 1974, J. Terence Forestell published his doctoral dissertation, The Word of the Cross: Salvation as Revelation in the Fourth Gospel,1 defended at the Pontifical Biblical Commission in May 1970. Its thesis is clear from the subtitle: “Salvation as Revelation in the Fourth Gospel.” The theology of the cross in the Gospel of John is presented not as expiation, as vicarious satisfaction, but as revelation by which God in Christ draws people to himself. Forestell has no difficulty demonstrating how central the theme of revelation is in the Fourth Gospel. After all, this is the Gospel in which Jesus prays, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world” (17:6)—a theme constantly recurring. Then he develops several ways in which John treats the cross. The elevation of the Son of Man, focusing on the ὑψόω terminology familiar to all of us, is the revelatory means by which Jesus discloses himself. The theme of the glorification of Jesus, especially from John 12 on, is tightly tied to the cross, which placards Jesus in such a way that he draws people to himself—surely an act of self-disclosure, of revelation. Forestell works through a variety of passages that have traditionally been associated with vicarious atonement to argue that, provided one does not introduce from elsewhere the ideas of expiation and substitution to the texts, in John’s Gospel they have very little to do with such themes, but cluster around the theme of revelation. Forestell then works out this thesis with respect to other Johannine themes—e.g. faith, eternal life, birth from above, eschatology, the Holy Spirit, and sacraments. For example, if Jesus is likened to the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole in the wilderness (John 3:14-15; Num 21:4-9), Jesus is no more a substitution for something than the bronze serpent is. Rather, in both cases the people are exhorted to put their faith in the saving object of faith that God has graciously provided, that God has graciously revealed.

It is vital to be clear on what Forestell is arguing. He is not saying that there is no theology of the cross in John. Like the other canonical Gospels, the Fourth Gospel rushes toward the passion: that is a non-negotiable component of what the gospel is, including the Gospel ...

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