The New Testament never says that Christ lived for us, thirsted for us, was tempted for us, or became weary for us, true as all this is. What it says, and says repeatedly, is that he died for us. More precisely, it says that he died for our sins, bearing them as his own, assuming responsibility for them, and suffering the full wrath of God in consequence. In view of the clarity and insistence of this apostolic witness, the fact that it is so commonly misunderstood is remarkable.

In 1894 R. W. Dale wrote in Christian Doctrine that there were two types of belief about the Atonement, and his division still holds. According to the one conception, “Christ achieves our redemption by revealing God’s love to us,” and according to the other, “he reveals God’s love to us by achieving our redemption.” In both views, Christ’s life shows human life in its perfection and his work divine love at its height. But to the question, “Does Christ redeem us by revealing God, or does he reveal God by redeeming us?,” they give differing answers.

That Dale’s delineation is still strikingly accurate suggests that despite the more biblical insights injected into Protestant theology during the Barthian era, matters now stand more or less where they did during the age of classical Protestant liberalism; indeed, theologians today are not infrequently pleased to speak of themselves as “chastened liberals.”

Protestant liberals like Ritschl and especially Harnack expressed an optimism that grew out of their evolutionary understanding of life. They announced the coming Kingdom that would consist of the realization of God’s universal fatherhood and man’s corresponding brotherhood; Jesus was the historic pioneer of this message, they said, and his pioneering, ...

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