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"I've just been told that I'm too Atonement-centered."

My sister in Christ was serious, humble, and a little confused. I said, "What do you mean 'too Atonement-centered'?" I had never heard the charge.

A Christian friend told her that she talked too much about Christ's death, which dealt with our guilt due to sin. I responded that knowing and accepting this truth was the only way to a relationship with God, and that I didn't think it was possible to be "too Atonement-centered."

Few other doctrines go to the heart of the Christian faith like the Atonement. Congregations sing at the top of their lungs: "My sin, not in part but the whole, has been nailed to the cross, so I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!" ("It Is Well with My Soul"). The priestly work of Christ separates Christianity from Judaism and Islam. Not surprisingly, the Cross has become the symbol for our faith.

Still, God's work on the Cross leaves us with plenty of questions. In fact, there have always been a few Christians who question whether we need the Atonement, including, in recent years, some evangelicals who have challenged the dominant understanding of Christ's death on the Cross as the substitute for our sins.

At stake is nothing less than the essence of Christianity. Historically understood, Christ's Atonement gives hope to Christians in their sin and in their suffering. If we have any assurance of salvation, it is because of Christ's Atonement; if any joy, it flows from Christ's work on the Cross. The Atonement protects us from our native tendency to replace religion with morality and God's grace with legalism. Apart from Christ's atoning work, we would be forever guilty, ashamed, and condemned before God. But not everyone these ...

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In the Magazine

May 2006

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