I know that I'm stealing the title of this post from a book by that name, edited by Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III, but it says so well what I feel after having spent a week teaching Christology and ending with reflections on the atonement. The beautiful realities of what we have because of Christ's work on our behalf are indeed glorious and Scripture describes those realities in a myriad of ways. It seems to me that God revealed the glory of the atonement with so many images because none of them, standing alone, can capture that glory completely. But not everyone agrees with such an assessment. In my limited investigations, the larger part of contemporary evangelical theology seems to think that one of the images must serve as a controlling paradigm for all the rest. Here are a few examples that show this to be true:
Robert Letham, in his The Work of Christ from the IVP Contours of Christian Theology series, wonderfully describes 9 aspects of the the atonement that illustrate how magnificent was Christ's work on the cross. But only when he comes to the idea of penal substitution does he speak so categorically. "At the heart of the biblical doctrine of atonement is the idea of penal substitution." (p. 132)
In IVP's The Nature of the Atonement, edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, three of the four contributing authors promote a different atonement image as the controlling paradigm. Greg Boyd says that the Christus Victor motif should serve that role. "All models of the atonement can be understood as distinctive aspects of one thing: overcoming evil with good ... Yes, Jesus died in our place, brought about or forgiveness, [and did all of the other things that various other atonement models proclaim that he did on the cross]. But, I submit, all these marvelous aspects of Christ's work can be understood, and are best understood, as distinctive aspects of the "rich variety" of God's "secret and hidden" wisdom by which he overcame evil with good and calls us to the same." (p. 45)
In the same work, Joel Green seems to show the promise of a view that would integrate the various models in his "kaleidoscopic view." However, in his other writings, in the formal presentation of his view and in his response to Thomas Schreiner's "penal substitutionary view," Green seems, at times to downplay, at times to reject the penal substitutionary view altogether. He says that the penal substitutionary view doesn't have the support of Church history, is based on an improper understanding of God's wrath, causes the inter-trinitarian life of God to break down, plus a whole host of other weaknesses that leave one thinking that the penal substitutionary view has no warrant being in the kaleidoscope. This integrative theory leaves a bit to be desired.
And so, when we come to next week's theological discussion group, be prepared to discuss which theory of the atonement should have pride of place among the others, if indeed you think that one should. Between now and then I plan to read Henri Blocher's, "Biblical Metaphors and the Doctrine of the Atonement" in the December 2004 issue of JETS. I'll be as prepared as possible to propose that a fully integrative atonement theory does the most justice to the glory of the atonement, but I'll be ready to be convinced otherwise. See you next Thursday.