Holy week services – Thursday

I said I probably wouldn’t blog this one as it was my own minister, but it’s probably worth noting something in particular from his sermon. The sermon itself drew on a couple of his recent sermons in our own church on the run up to Easter, so, in a sense, there was nothing new. But I was struck by his emphasis on one aspect of the cross, or rather the cross as a means through which we are saved – soteriology, in other words. His focus was on the idea of ‘substitutionary atonement’. This was his theme last Sunday as well and I was chatting to a retired minister after the service and we got round to discussing the ins and outs of substitution.

Substitutionary atonement is just one of many models that seeks to describe how the cross brings salvation, but it’s one that I have a few issues with. These are principally ethical, by which I mean the ethics of punishing one in place of many however ‘willing’ they may be to accept that punishment. In a very real sense, having a substitute lets us off.

Soteriology is not simply about saving from, but saving to. We are not saved from punishment, rather we are saved to a right relationship with God. Most of the classic atonement models are ‘transactional’ where we are uninvolved. Everything is done by Jesus, with God. Substitution can fall into this category. It says, “we can’t do anything to get right with God, it needs someone else (Jesus) to rebuild the relationship”. That, in itself, I don’t have a problem with but all too often it stops there. Standing alone like that it reduces our role to nothing, but our role isn’t nothing. We are required to respond to the cross and whether we see atonement as substitution, moral influence, ransom or whatever, the crucial thing is that each of these demands a response from us.

To focus on one limits our ability to respond; to acknowledge the range of metaphors does justice to the breadth of God’s salvation; to demand a response should underpin all of them.

2 responses to “Holy week services – Thursday”

  1. The trouble with systematic theologians is their ability to disect theological arguments and end up arguing where no argument is really necessary… thus speaks a practical theologian (a work in progress too)
    I don’t see the need to make it an either or as you do in your discussion over substitutionary atonement. There is a real sense in which we are let off the hook, and that should demand from us a response.
    The work of the cross is done for us already. The determining factor for me is the response we make to that. Salvation is offered to all. Not all will receive it because they choose not to accept it. (I have a feeling that I will get some feedback on that !!!)

  2. I can’t help myself. I just like to poke and probe to make sure I understand the weaknesses and potential pitfalls.
    You’re quite correct though – it’s shouldn’t be presented as an either/or, but all too often there isn’t a rounded picture presented at all and this often gives the impression of “this is salvation, whether you like the method or not!” The fact that there are many ways to explain and view the greatness of God’s mercy is often overlooked for the sake of preaching the ones we are most comfortable with.
    Not blogging on tonight’s service – wasn’t there. I’ve been spending time with parents.

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