Nothing But the Blood
Still, when we give attention and authority to all parts of the New Testament canon, substitution becomes the center and focus of the Bible's witness to the meaning of Christ's death, and the measure of God's redeeming love. As New Testament theologian George Eldon Ladd said, "The objective and substitutionary character of the death of Christ as the supreme demonstration of God's love should result in a transformation of conduct that is effected by the constraining power of that love." Theologian Donald Bloesch is in line with this when he insists: "Evangelical theology affirms the vicarious, substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ. It does not claim that this theory does justice to all aspects of Christ's atoning work, but it does see substitution as the heart of the Atonement."
No Sacrifice Too Great
And what about that charge of being "too Atonement-centered"? We must center our lives around Christ's Atonement. We don't want to encourage violence, marginalize the gospel, or promote individualistic passivity. But I haven't seen sinners who are gripped by Christ's substitutionary death respond that way. Instead, I've more often observed responses like C. T. Studd's famous statement: "If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him." Charles Spurgeon put that point well: "It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed."
In C. J. Mahaney's new book, Living the Cross Centered Life (Multnomah, 2006), he shares with us his advice to his young son, Chad. "This is what I hold out to my young son as the hope of his life: that Jesus, God's perfect, righteous Son, died in his place for his sins. Jesus took all the punishment; Jesus received all the wrath as he hung on the Cross, so people like Chad and his sinful daddy could be completely forgiven." Like Chad, we would do well to accept our guilt and admire God's grace, to let the Holy Spirit encourage us by the Savior's self-denying love to follow his example, and to savor God's love to us in this almost incredible sacrifice.
Mark Dever is senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., and executive director of 9Marks (www.9marks.org), a ministry for pastors and local churches.
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Dever's website identifies the nine marks of a healthy church.
Also posted today is:
Tying Grace to the Cross | The old hymns capture our condition.
Other CT articles on the atonement include:
The Good News of God's Wrath | At the heart of the universe, there is a just and gracious God. (Feb. 23, 2004)
Stephen King's Redemption | The master of horror's latest novels show a rich appreciation of the atonement. (March 6, 2000)
Our sister publication, Books & Culture, ran a series on the atonement:
Violence and the Atonement | Perhaps no doctrine has been more central to evangelical theology, yet today among evangelicals, as among orthodox Christians more generally, one often hears that the classical understanding of this doctrine is deeply flawed, that we must "rethink the atonement." Is that really so? By Richard J. Mouw (January 1, 2001)
The Disappearance of Punishment | Metaphors, models, and the meaning of the atonement. By Hans Boersma (March 1, 2003)
The Meaning of Christ's Suffering | Graphic meditation on Christ's suffering doesn't appear before the late medieval era, approximately the 14th century. Before that, the presentation is more in accord with the way Christ appears in the Gospel of John. In iconography, he reigns serene from the Cross, a victorious conqueror who has rescued us from Death. By Frederica Mathewes-Green (March 1, 2004)
Antonement: The Penal View? | Toward a trinitarian theology of atonement. By Stephen N. Williams (January 1, 2005)
More is available on our theology page.