Thursday, March 26, 2009

Substitution Is Not a "Theory of the Atonement"!

In chapter 7 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott looks at the four principal New Testament images of salvation, taken from the shrine (propitiation), the market (redemption), the court of law (justification) and the home (reconciliation). This beautiful chapter on "The Salvation of Sinners" ends with a masterful summary of the four images (198-99).

"First, each highlights a different aspect of our human need. Propitiation underscores the wrath of God upon us, redemption our captivity to sin, justification our guilt, and reconciliation our enmity against God and alienation from him. These metaphors do not flatter us. They expose the magnitude of our need."

"Second, all four images emphasize that the saving initiative was taken by God in his love. It is he who has propitiated his own wrath, redeemed us from our miserable bondage, declared us righteous in his sight and reconciled us to himself." Texts like 1 John 4:10; Luke 1:68; Rom. 8:33; and 2 Cor. 5:18 remind us of this precious truth.

"Third, all four images plainly teach that God's saving work was achieved through the bloodshedding, that is, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ." Again, Stott reminds us of the most important texts that make this point: Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:20.

The chapter concludes with a much needed paragraph for our day. Everyone who marginalizes penal substitution by calling it a "theory" (like one of the blurbs on the back of the book does), everyone who minimizes this doctrine by making it just one aspect of the atonement, everyone who shies away from this teaching in a misguided effort to rescue the love of God, everyone who undermines this essential truth by refusing to declare it confidently in plain, unambiguous terms, should pay careful attention to this concluding paragraph.

So substitution is not a "theory of the atonement." Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it will be for them to trust in the Substitute.


R.D. Potter said...

A thousand times Amen! I am thankful for a pastor who treasures and defends this doctrine.

merlotmudpies said...

Wow -- what a great paragraph and reminder. It is just within recent years that I've heard this talked about so specifically and often. I am glad he makes the clarification, "I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand...before one can be saved." I agree entirely. But I do know for my own walk with the Lord that it was was when the Lord allowed me to begin to understand and accept this knowledge that my relationship with Him, worship of Him, passion for Him really began to emerge. I am so very aware that the depth of my understanding of this is...well...not deep. But even the small insight I have been given has had drastic impact on me. How could it not? What a magnificent God.

Eddie Eddings said...

Isn't it amazing that the "heart" of the Gospel is about the "blood"?! Strict substitution makes the Lord Jesus Christ even MORE of a personal Savior than any Arminian "theory" could ever imagine!

Nick said...

I'm in a Penal Substitution debate right this moment, and it most certainly is a theory. In fact it is an incorrect and unBiblical one.

The notion of God damning Jesus in our place - while it might be central to Penal Substitution - is not grounded in Scripture or proper Christology.

WES ELLIS said...

I tend to be more than skeptical of "substitutionary" atonement... I'm almost ready to discard it as something which maliciously undermines the work of Christ on the cross and his continued work through the church. I guess I should read Stott's book.

randy buist said...

If the heart of the gospel is really about the 'blood,' then it's not fair to claim being a reformed pastor.

The resurrection became central to protestant theology during the reformation. The cross was significant, but the resurrection was primary. Thus, part of the tension over the crusifix between reformers and catholics.

If we claim to hold baptism leaning theology, it's fair to put your emphasis on the 'blood.' If you claim to be reformed, the kingdom of God as both current and future reality are also of importance.

randy buist said...
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randy buist said...


Just so you know that I posted a few thoughts about your words at the place where I graduated from seminary.

May your grace abound more and more.

Kevin DeYoung said...


I've been asked this before. Stott believes in annihilationism (or conditional immortality), not universal salvation. Annihilationism is a big mistake in my opinion and am sad that Stott holds to it. His work on the cross is what I am reading right now and am grateful for it.

randy buist said...

Doesn't Stott's belief in annihilationism make his teachings heretical and thus negate all of his other teachings as well?

John said...

Be encouraged,
Martin Luther said that "when the cross is abolished, and the rage of tyrants and heretics ceases on the one side, and all things are in peace, this is a sure token that the pure doctrine of God's Word is taken away." The world's hatred is is sometimes a sign that we are being faithful to scripture, provided the world hates us due to the message we preach, not because we are obnoxious. If we meet no worldly opposition, it may mean that we are not being true to the offense of the cross. (from today's Tabletalk)

randy buist said...


But when we lie about others, make claims about others that are untrue, and then we claim to preach the gospel? Not so fast.

The Apsotle Paul writes in I Cor. 13, "When I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."

Lots of dishonest speaking about others apart from one's preaching negates all preaching. On stage at Calvin Seminary on Thursday night there was bad theology, bad text-proofing, and simply bad scholarship on display.

To say that Kevin is preaching the truth is fine if you are a fundamentalist baptist who cares not for integrity, but you can't call yourself a good reformed theologian when all of those things are shoddy along with the fact that integrity is thrown to the wind.

Using the words such as heresy and heretic to get the attention of your very conservative friends doesn't mean that someone is right. In the traditions of the church, using those two words were ususally reserved for large groups who would ponder and pray over difficult issues.

Instead, Kevin finds it his given right to throw those terms around as if he is sitting on a float at a 4th of July parade.

Throw candy; I guess it sells books... and buy the way - you make more than 35 cents for each book you sell. If you expect the life of Jesus to show in your preaching, let's begin there.

BoldLion said...

Thank you for bringing this up to remind me what I had study and read last year. It is very interesting to read about that. I will have to read it again before Tuesday Morning Theology Group.

I am currently reading Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem. I am in Chapter Fifteen about The Atonement. I am learning a lot about "Penal substitution", Vicarious atonement and different views (incorrect view along with the correct view). The bottom of page 254 to 258. I will have to share this with my Tuesday Morning Theology Group and let them go to The Cross of Christ too.

This is from Bible Doctrine, Chapter 15, page 255:
The four terms show how Christ's death met the four needs that we have as sinners:
1)We deserve to die as the penalty for sin. (Sacrifice)
2) We deserve to bear God's wrath against sin. (Propitiation)
3)We are seprarated from God by our sins. (Reconciliation)
4)We are in bondage to sin and to te kingdom of Satan. (Redemption)

I would encourage you all to buy this Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem. I am learning a lot in his book.

Hungry to eat His Word,
'Guerite ~ BoldLion

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