Editorial: Articulating, Defending, And Proclaiming Christ Our Substitute -- By: Stephen J. Wellum

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 11:2 (Summer 2007)
Article: Editorial: Articulating, Defending, And Proclaiming Christ Our Substitute
Author: Stephen J. Wellum

Editorial: Articulating, Defending, And Proclaiming Christ Our Substitute

Stephen J. Wellum

Stephen J. Wellum is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Wellum received his Ph.D. degree in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has also taught theology at the Associated Canadian Theological Schools and Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seminary in Canada. He has contributed to several publications and a collection of essays on theology and world view issues.

This edition of SBJT is devoted to the theme of the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? For at least two reasons. First, there is no more glorious subject to contemplate than the triumphant cross work of our Lord. In fact, if we are thinking biblically and theologically, we must gladly confess that the subject of Christ’s cross is at the heart of the entire message of Scripture and, as such, it takes us to the very heart of the gospel (see, e.g., Luke 24:25–27; 1 Cor 1:8–2:5). No apologies ever should be given for time spent on such a topic of immense and critical importance. But, unfortunately, there is a second reason why we are focusing our attention on the theme of the atonement, and it is this: in the evangelical church today we are in danger of downplaying and even distorting the true meaning and significance of the cross.

A number of examples could be given to demonstrate this last observation, but I want to focus on one disconcerting trend that is increasingly occurring in evangelical theology, namely, an effort to re-interpret the cross in non-substitutionary terms. At least since the eleventh century, and particularly since the Reformation, evangelical theology has sought to argue that the Bible’s view of the cross, at its heart, is substitutionary. John Stott in his classic work on the cross rightly captures this view when he argues that “substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’ Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the images could stand without it” (The Cross of Christ [InterVarsity, 1986], 202–03). Stott, in our view, is precisely correct.

No doubt, the best of evangelical theology has always acknowledged that the Scripture is rich in its presentation, interpretation, and understanding of the cross. In order to theologize correctly about the cross, it is absolutely necessary to do justice to the entire biblical presentation of the atonement. One must faithfully unpack all of the biblical language, images, and themes, across the canon, to ...

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