Item description for The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement by Derek Tidball, David Hilborn & Justin Thacker...
Overview When a popular British evangelical leader appeared to denounce the idea that God was punishing Christ in our place on the cross as a "twisted version of events," "morally dubious," and a "huge barrier to faith" that should be rejected in favour of preaching only that God is love, major controversy was stirred. Many thought the idea of penal substitution was at the heart of the evangelical understanding of the cross, if not the only legitimate interpretation of the death of Christ. Yet for some time less popular evangelical theologians had been calling this traditional interpretation of the atonement into question. The public debate which resulted was often heated. In order to act as reconcilers, the Evangelical Alliance and the London School of Theology called for a symposium in which advocates of the different positions could engage with each other.
Publishers Description Recent days have seen a debate among evangelicals over how the death of Christ is to be interpreted. When a popular British evangelical leader appeared to denounce the idea that God was punishing Christ in our place on the cross as a 'twisted version of events, ' 'morally dubious, ' and a 'huge barrier to faith' that should be rejected in favour of preaching only that God is love, major controversy was stirred. Many thought the idea of penal substitution was at the heart of the evangelical understanding of the cross, if not the only legitimate interpretation of the death of Christ. Yet for some time less popular evangelical theologians had been calling this traditional interpretation of the atonement into question. So, is the traditional evangelical view of penal substitution the biblical explanation of Christ s death or one of many? Is it the non-negotiable heart of evangelical theology or a time-bound explanation that has outlived its usefulness? What does the cross say about the character of God, the nature of the law and sin, the meaning of grace, and our approach to missions? The public debate which resulted was often heated. In order to act as reconcilers, the Evangelical Alliance and the London School of Theology called for a symposium in which advocates of the different positions could engage with each other. The symposium, which was attended by some 200 participants, was held when the July 7th bombings took place in London and drew together many of Britain s finest evangelical theologians. This book contains the collection of papers given at the symposium, supplemented by a few others for the sake of rounding out the agenda, and grouped in convenient sections."
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More About Derek Tidball, David Hilborn & Justin Thacker
Derek Tidball is visiting scholar at Spurgeon's College, London. Previously, he served as principal of the London School of Theology, where he lectured in pastoral theology. He is appreciated as a Bible expositor at conferences and conventions for which he is much in demand.
Derek Tidball has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about Atonement Debate?
Papers from the London symposium on the theology of atonement Aug 1, 2008
Steve Chalke opened a can of worms with his book 'The Lost Message of Jesus' in 2003 when he cast doubt on the penal substitution theory of atonement and in July 2005 a symposium was held to discuss the issues. Various papers were given at the symposium and several of these are gathered together in this volume, some having been reworked. It's a collection of very different essays, some focusing strongly on exegesis of particular texts, others giving an overall view of the issues, several peppered with Greek and Hebrew text (which might cause problems for readers) and most assuming a fair knowledge of the overall theology of the atonement. Generally the papers are all erudite and well written with the obvious disadvantage of a fairly short space in which to discuss important issues.
Chapter 12 contained what I found the most helpful summary of the penal substitution theory along with its problems (although the writer, Oliver D Crisp, did not find these insurmountable). However the arrangement of the book felt so piecemeal that it was difficult to find much overall coherence. This book would serve better as something to dip into rather than read through (as suggested in the introduction).
Joel B Green pleads in his paper "...that we remind ourselves, often, that debates regarding the appropriateness of penal substitutionary atonement as an exposition of the saving message of the cross of Christ comprise an intramural conversation and not one that can serve to distinguish Christian believer from non-believer or even evangelical from non-evangelical." The very next essay by Garry Williams comments "I cannot see how those who disagree [with the penal subsitutionary view] can remain allied without placing unity above truths which are undeniably central to the Christian faith." In some ways this characterises the tone of this book - a handful of articles by those looking outside the traditional evangelical view of penal substitutionary atonement, interspersed with a far larger number of articles from those upholding the view and attempting to counter the arguments from the other side. Although generally couched in polite language the overall feel of this book was of people on either side of a divide shaking their fists at each others' inability to see the 'truth' of their position.
Derek Tidball's paper is the final one in the book and, as such, apparently provides a conclusion to all the debate (and comes down on the side of penal substitutionary atonement). This reader felt that many of the points made on both sides weren't answered by the opposing view and, as such, the book didn't particularly move the debate on. Tidball does, however, state "I do not believe that penal substitution atonement is the only legitimate interpretation of the cross, or that it says all that needs to be said about the cross"; it's just a shame, when reading this book, that few others seem to hold with this view and that the overall feeling is one of conflict and disagreement.
Important Reading Apr 25, 2008
On the cross of Calvary, God poured out his wrath on Christ, in the place of sinners.
Do you think that such a notion is a "twisted version of events," or "morally dubious," or a "huge barrier to faith"?
Do you think that the doctrine of penal substitution, God punishing Christ in our place, is a form of "cosmic child abuse"?
Did you know that there is an ongoing debate among some in the evangelical camp who are embarrassed and even hate the truth claim that Jesus' death was a divine wrath-bearing event?
A brand new book by Zondervan brings forth part of this discussion, focusing on the controversy as it appeared in the UK in the Evangelical Alliance. The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement is a collection of papers from a symposium held by the Evangelical Alliance and the London School of Theology.
The undermining of penal substitution is not new. Attacks and redefinitions of this core doctrine have been around for ages. However, in recent times, it was the book The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalk that sought to take away the doctrine of propitiation while at the same time claiming a place at the evangelical table.
The Atonement Debate is a response to Chalke and others within the EA. It is long (360 pages), substantial, and contains chapters by numerous authors, including Chalke himself. Sections include "Biblical Foundations," "Theological Contributions," "Historical Perspectives," and "Contemporary Perspectives." In other words, biblical, systematic, historical, and contemporary apologetic angles are all addressed in this book.
Make no mistake, mixing up and altering the doctrine of the atonement is an offense against the gospel itself. This is a doctrine of first-order importance. The Bible is clear that sins must be atoned for, and it is equally clear that we cannot make that atonement for ourself. Only a sinless savior can become the "curse" for sinners. Only Christ's atonement can fulfill the work of both substitution and satisfaction. He substituted himself on behalf of sinners. He satisfied the demand of divine punishment (wrath, propitiation). And all that was done by Christ in suffering for us was done as a work of Trinitarian harmony.
Pastors, we must especially deepen our understanding of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, as well as the historical and contemporary attacks on it. This will involve diligent study and hard work. But the reward is found in knowing and defending and preaching a gospel that truly leads to life and salvation.