By Ken Silva
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Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. [1]
 
Atonement Under Siege
This article is also the new ending to a previous piece Prognosis For The American Christian Church, but tragically the most ferocious attack on our Lord's incredible sacrifice has now come emerging from men who would also lay claim to being evangelical "followers of Jesus." Why exactly men like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Steve Chalke would feel they are doing God a service by causing people to question His Christ's sacrifice on the Cross truly escapes me. Yet this is precisely what these "evangelicals" are involved with, the denial of "the evangel," and they are doing so as pastor-teachers within the Christian church.
 
In the cover story of the May 2006 Issue of Christianity Today Mark Dever does a good job of laying out three major sets of theories concerning penal substitution. Dever is "senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., and executive director of 9 Marks." Here I'm concerned with the third group of theories which he says "assumes that our main problem is God's righteous wrath against us for our own sinfulness, which puts us in danger of eternal punishment."
 
Dever then goes on to say these theories "such as the satisfaction theory and the penal-substitution theory, emphasize how Christ represents us." Here's the critical point so often lost in all of this inane discussion concerning something so plainly revealed in Holy Scripture as our Lord's substitutionary atonement:
 
The new wave of criticism has targeted this last set of theories, especially the view of Christ as a penal substitute–a theory long central for most Protestant groups, especially evangelicals. The criticism follows a path laid by others throughout history, from Abelard to Socinus to Schleiermacher to C.H. Dodd. [2]
 
As he further discusses the critics of penal substitution Dever says that perhaps "the most powerful criticism of penal substitution has come from a swelling chorus of scholars who decry its violence." One of the names he brings up, "French scholar Rene Girard," will sound familiar to those of you who have read the extremely Christ-denying Reimaging Christianity by the "living spiritual teacher" Alan Jones. Jones by the way refers to our Lord's penal substitutionary atonement as "this vile doctrine." [3] Another familiar name also emerges as Dever tells us how some "evangelicals have taken to the work of Anthony Bartlett, J. Denny Weaver, Steve Chalke, and Alan Mann, who decry the language of violence in substitutionary Atonement."
 
Speaking of Chalke, perhaps we might file this under "Your Parents Must Be Very Proud" as Dever informs us that:
 
Two years after publishing his controversial book The Lost Message of Jesus (Zondervan, 2004), Chalke wrote, "The church's inability to shake off the great distortion of God contained in the theory of penal substitution, with its inbuilt belief in retribution and the redemptive power of violence, has cost us dearly." [4]
 
It truly does amaze me just how spiritually obtuse one can actually be and still be allowed to pastor a Christian church today. Let's look again; Chalke says above that the Church couldn't "shake off" what he sees as "the great distortion" in the Biblical doctrine of God's Gospel plan of the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the Cross which he says "has cost us dearly."
 
O whatever was the LORD God Almighty, the Self-existent Creator of all life, thinking? If only He'd had the foresight to consult Mr. Chalke concerning His merciful idea to save creatures like us that hated Him due to our own sinfulness. Dr. John MacArthur addresses this mistaken and man-centered idea by Chalke very nicely in his book Hard To Believe when he reminds us that:
 
1 Corinthians 1:21 says, "it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." It is this scandalous, offensive, foolish, ridiculous, bizarre, absurd message of the cross that God used to save those who would believe. Roman authorities executed His Son, the Lord of the world, by a method they reserved only for the dregs of society. [5] 
 
MacArthur is telling a timid American Christian Church bent on pleasing the surrounding culture the absolute Truth when he brings out that the true Body of Christ actually has a:
 
shameful message than we preach of Jesus on the cross. Being crucified was a degrading insult, and the idea of worshipping someone who had been crucified was unimaginable. Of course, we don't see people being crucified now as Paul's listeners did in the first century, so the impact is somewhat lost on us. But Paul knew what he was up against: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Cor. 1:18); "For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (vv. 22-23). The message of the cross is foolishness, moria in Greek, from which we get the word "moron."
 
A Willful Ignorance
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. [6]
 
This will become quite obvious in part two as Dever discusses Emergent theologian Scot McKnight's presupposed view of the atonement and the way he twists the Scriptures to force it onto the Biblical text.
 


[1] Isaiah 53:4-5.

[2] Mark Dever, "Nothing But the Blood," Christianity Today, May 2006, p. 30, emphasis mine.

[3] Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005), p. 168. 

[4] Ibid., pp. 30, 31.

[5] John MacArthur, Hard To Believe, (Thomas Nelson, 2003), p. 25.

[6] Romans 1:22, 25.

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