The SBJT Forum: The Atonement Under Fire -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 11:2 (Summer 2007)
Article: The SBJT Forum: The Atonement Under Fire
Author: Anonymous

The SBJT Forum: The Atonement Under Fire

Editor’s Note: Readers should be aware of the forum’s format. D. A. Carson, Thomas R. Schreiner, Bruce A. Ware, and James Hamilton have been asked specific questions to which they have provided written responses. These writers are not responding to one another. The journal’s goal for the Forum is to provide significant thinkers’ views on topics of interest without requiring lengthy articles from these heavily-committed individuals. Their answers are presented in an order that hopefully makes the forum read as much like a unified presentation as possible.

SBJT: What are some of the reasons why the doctrine of penal substitution is again coming under attack?

D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Heis the author of numerous commentaries and monographs, and is one of this country’s foremost New Testament scholars. Among his many books are The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan, 1986),Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2005), and How Long O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil (2nd ed.; Baker, 2006).

D. A. Carson: A book could usefully be written on this subject. To keep things brief, I shall list a handful of developments that have contributed to this sad state of affairs.1a

(1) In recent years it has become popular to sketch the Bible’s story-line something like this: Ever since the fall, God has been active to reverse the effects of sin. He takes action to limit sin’s damage; he calls out a new nation, the Israelites, to mediate his teaching and his grace to others; he promises that one day he will come as the promised Davidic king to overthrow sin and death and all their wretched effects. This is what Jesus does: he conquers death, inaugurates the kingdom of righteousness, and calls his followers to live out that righteousness now in prospect of the consummation still to come.

Much of this description of the Bible’s story-line, of course, is true. Yet it is so painfully reductionistic that it introduces a major distortion. It collapses human rebellion, God’s wrath, and assorted disasters into one construct, namely, the degradation of human life, while depersonalizing the wrath of God. It thus fails to wrestle with the fact that from the beginning, sin is an offense against God. God himself pronounces the sentence of death (Genesis 2–3). This is scarcely surprising, since God is the source of all life, so if his image-bearers spit in his face and insist on going their own way and becoming their own gods...

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