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Slippery Language on the Atonement Debate

Adrian Warnock is again posting on the penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) issue, now about an interview with the authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions.

Now I’m not going to post on PSA today in detail. But Adrian manages to demonstrate some aspects of this discussion from his side of the fence that annoy me-no, that’s not strong enough. I think these statements are just plain wrong.

At the end of his post Adrian says:

Where do you stand? Will you join arms with Andrew, Steve, and a whole generation of those of us who feel this issue is quite literally one of life and death?

Or will you seek to compromise, maybe downplay the importance of precisely how Jesus saves us, and adopt a gospel message that, whilst sounding more acceptable to the modern ear, is in the opinion of many of us nothing less than “another gospel.”

The stakes couldn’t possibly be higher.

I’m willing to allow most of the first paragraph. My answer to that would be a resounding NO!. I do not in any sense stand with them on this issue. But I do think that for some people it may be an issue of life and death. Those who malign the character of God through their doctrine may well have to answer before God for those they have driven away. I don’t want to overplay that point, however, because as imperfect humans I suspect we all have those moments and even years when we do not perfectly represent the gospel of Christ. Nonetheless, grace abounds! Where is there evidence that such grace is comprehended on the PSA side of the debate?

But my major concern here is with the second paragraph: “Or will you seek to compromise . . .” This is the method of extremist madness. You dismiss the opposite extreme, and divide the rest of the world into people who are right and people who have compromised. The compromise, of course, is with that unmentionable evil that has been cut out of the spectrum. It’s “us good guys” versus the compromisers.

Adrian continues with “maybe downplay the importance of precisely how Jesus saves us . . .” Downplay? Who’s downplaying? I reject absolutely and utterly the notion that precisely how the atonement is accomplished is a critical piece of knowledge. I call that view “salvation by correct doctrine” and I reject it along with all other human based systems of salvation. However Jesus did it, he did it.

And again: “and adopt a gospel message that, whilst sounding more acceptable to the modern ear, is in the opinion of many of us nothing less than ‘another gospel.'” Of course I adopt what Adrian and many others regard as “another gospel.” Why? I regard what they are preaching as dangerously close to “another gospel.” The only reason I don’t call it another gospel outright is that I think many people sincerely grab hold of the message of PSA and are saved, never understanding any other aspects of atonement. The preachers of PSA are grabbing a part and making it the whole, and it gets twisted on the way. But even further, I do not adopt my view because it is “more acceptable to the modern ear.” I adopt my view because I believe it is right. I believe scripture teaches a multifaceted understanding of the atonement and I also believe scripture teaches that we should realize that we don’t fully comprehend any doctrine, but most especially the incarnation and the atonement.

I’m not heading again into writing on PSA in detail right now. I’ve written a few things before. My response here is simply to the dismissive type of language that tries to pretend opponents are not working from conviction, but rather from a desire to be more acceptable to the modern world, and to “compromise,” that compromise being with something that is dismissed without discussion.

Almost Instant Update: Just after I hit the “Publish” button, my RSS feed showed a new post by Peter Kirk which is well worthwhile reading.

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