Have you heard the one about the father who operates a railroad drawbridge and sends his young son to manually fix the tracks, only to watch his son be crushed by the oncoming train? Or the one about the judge who condemned the prisoner to death only to disrobe and go to the electric chair in the prisoner’s stead? Or maybe you’ve see the drawing with God on one side of a chasm called “sin,” a stick-figure man on the other, and a cross as the bridge between the two.
These metaphors for the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross are powerful, and they capture the imagination. But these metaphors and images — the ones that many of us grew up with — are predominantly reflective of one theory of the atonement, called “penal substitution.” As far as atonement theories go, penal substitution is important, to be sure, and it commands a lot of respect these days, particularly among Western, Reformed theologians. But it’s merely one of several theories of the atonement that have held sway over the Christian imagination for the past 2,000 years. In Scot McKnight’s superb book, A Community Called Atonement, he likened the many historical theories of the atonement to the many clubs in a golf bag — each useful in a different situation.
three runners-up and one winner have now been posted on the ev blog. i really enjoyed them, and think they offer great sermon and talk fodder:
(Note: All documents are PDF files, which require Adobe Acrobat Reader to open.)
“A Dad Who Is Mad” by Paulette Lovelace
“Atonement and Atonement” by Jenny Warner
“The Who Cane” by Marty Folsom
“Three Stories of Grace” by Steve Sherwood