The first flurry was in the news over an article in the London Telegraph entitled Easter message: Christ did not die for sin discussing a yet-to be-broadcast BBC radio Easter message from Dean Jeffrey John. Fr. Jake chalked the Telegraph article up to "an attempt to sell more papers" and it seems to have worked. It certainly got the conversation going ... as Ekklesia reports: Two junior evangelical bishops have attacked a Lent talk to be given tonight on BBC’s Radio 4 by Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans cathedral, without reading it.
Yes, by all means, none of this pesky waiting about to actually HEAR what those whom one presumes one disagrees with have to say -- what a time saver in these busy days to get the attack launched ahead of time! Wished I'd thought of that.The aforementioned Fr. Jake proceeded to post a most excellent "atonement 101 cheat sheet" which is highly recommended -- whether you're needing a seminary/EFM brush-up or starting-from-scratch introduction to the various theories of atonement.
But in an extraordinary turn of events, theological discourse on the atonement appears not to be restricted to bloggers and newspapers -- some has actually leaked into the PULPIT!
Both Michael Hopkins (Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene in Rochester, New York) and Ed Bacon (Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California) took on issues of the atonement in their Palm Sunday sermons last week.
Michael's entitled "Turning Stones Into Glory" is available here,
Ed's entitled "A Profound Grief Has Humanized My Soul" is available here
Very different sermons with a very similar "take away" -- that there ARE ways to understand the salvific power of the cross without having to swallow substitutionary atonement hook, line and sinker. And how thrilling that you don't have to get to seminary before someone takes the time to explain that to you but that preachers are actually gifting congregations with the theological tools they need to -- well -- to think for themselves!
But wait ... there's more!
Across the theological spectrum, Dan Martins (Diocese of San Joaquin) was also commenting on theories of atonement on his blog with this Palm Sunday post which contained this reflection on atonement in general and Jeffrey John's as-yet-unheard-or-unread-Easter-message in specific:
"... there are other equally biblical and equally plausible theories of the atonement, and to the extent that this may be Dean John's point, then he indeed has a point. As C. S. Lewis wisely observes in his classic Mere Christianity, none of the possible theories can alone account for the mystery of the atonement, and none have ever been declared official dogma by the Church. In fact, they need one another, even though they cannot be neatly reconciled, and appear to contradict one another in certain ways. (my emphasis!)
As for the love of God versus the wrath of God--this is just one in a long series of polarities that comprise the truth of the gospel. (Just to name a few: God is one and God is three, Jesus is divine and Jesus is human, salvation requires faith [Paul] and salvation requires deeds [James], prayer is "art" and prayer is "craft," faith is individual ["I believe"] and faith is communal ["we believe"]). The object of the game is to maintain the tension in the line between the two poles, the two ends of the spectrum. The temptation is always to resolve the apparent contradiction in favor of one and at the other's expense. This is precisely how we fall into error, into--yes-- heresy."
Imagine what could happen if this kind of news got out ... and if there's actually room for more than one theory of the cross during HOLY WEEK in the church is it possible that there might be room more than one theory on some other things as well? It could happen!
So stay tuned for more on the atonement in these pages ... I'll put the link up to Dean John's BBC gig when it comes available. But let's close with this quote from C. S. Lewis -- referenced by Dan Martins and quoted by Fr. Jake:
By dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself ...