At the 2006 Ancient Evangelical Future conference, historian Martin Marty commented briefly on the Atonement theories proposed by the early church. Did the church fathers hold to penal substitution, Christus Victor, or Anselm's view of the Atonement? Yes. All of the above.

Panelists pressed Marty to declare one view or another the "right" one. Whatever one thinks, he responded, the reality is that the church held to multiple versions.

The same is true today, in evangelical thinking about the nature of the gospel. Because we are a biblical people, we want to preserve the gospel in as pure a form as possible, which is why many people and institutions (like this magazine) prioritize substitutionary Atonement. But because we are an evangelistic, missional people, we want to contextualize the gospel to reach as many as possible.

The danger of the conservationist impulse is that it can lead to static reductionism. The danger of the entrepreneurial impulse is that it can lead to utilitarianism or relativism. At our best, we hold these impulses in tension, creating gospel approaches that are both timeless and timely. The result is multiple ways of explaining the gospel—and that makes some of us nervous.

Communication theory teaches that messages are conditioned by the social location of both sender and receiver. You can tell two people the same sentence, and they might hear entirely different things. Likewise, people naturally tell the gospel in their own particular way. Some focus on a change of heart, mind, or direction; others major on judgment or conviction of sin. Some speak about the promise of new life, now and eternally; others stress individual transformation or societal and cosmic renewal.

We need all of the above. Jesus ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Kingdom Sightings
Al Hsu is an editor at InterVarsity Press and author of The Suburban Christian, Grieving a Suicide, and Singles at the Crossroads. His column ran in 2008.
Previous Kingdom Sightings Columns:
July/August
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
From Issue:
Read These Next
Also in this Issue
Locking the Doors for the Last Time Subscriber Access Only
Customers 'feel like one of their family members has died.'
RecommendedGreg Laurie, Calvary Chapel’s Big Crusader, Joins Southern Baptist Convention
Greg Laurie, Calvary Chapel’s Big Crusader, Joins Southern Baptist Convention
Amid shared hopes for revival, Harvest Christian Fellowship goes denominational.
TrendingFinding My 'True Self' As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman
Finding My 'True Self' As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman
In my young-adult struggle with sexual identity, both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.
Editor's PickForgive Us Our Debts: How Christian College Grads Pay the Price
Forgive Us Our Debts: How Christian College Grads Pay the Price
Evangelical schools work to capture the real cost of student loans.
Christianity Today
A Multifaceted Gospel
hide thisApril April

In the Magazine

April 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.