The doctrine of the atonement can be encapsulated in the simple yet profound statement that Jesus died for our sins. But if one begins to break down the details of what this claim means biblically, the theological implications are massive. So much so that one quickly discovers how central the death of Christ is to the Christian faith. Along with the resurrection, it is part of the very foundation of salvation itself. In recent years, however, debates have emerged among many evangelicals regarding the proper way to interpret how biblical language describes Christ’s death. For example, there are disputes over the question of whether atonement language necessarily entails the concept of violence or not. There are also ongoing polemics about the validity of classic models of the atonement that have developed throughout Christian history. It is for reasons like these that we are devoting our Spring 2021 edition of CTR to this subject. Readers are invited to engage the following articles from several scholars who address an assortment of issues related to this crucial doctrine.
Our lead article is written by Carl Mosser, an independent scholar who previously served as Professor of Christian Theology at Gateway Seminary in Ontario, California. Mosser engages recent discussions among some Southern Baptists who believe a specific interpretation of penal substitution is essential to an orthodox understanding of the atonement. Mosser counters that penal substitution is not only a concept that has been interpreted in a variety of ways among Protestants historically. It also has been understood in numerous ways by Southern Baptists throughout the history of the denomination. Consequently, to advocate theological categories that are overly stringent regarding this topic can do more harm than good to the collective health of Southern Baptists.
Our second article is by Matthew Pinson who is the President and Professor of Theology at Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee. Pinson argues that the government theory of the atonement––as originally popularized by Hugo Grotius––has not been the uniform view shared within all Arminian traditions. He supports his claim by tracing views of the atonement that were advocated by thinkers such as Arminius, the later Remonstrants, Thomas Grantham, John Goodwin, John Wesley, and other strands of Arminian thought in the General Baptist tradition. By doing so, Pinson demonstrates that various conceptions of penal substitution are present in Arminian theology.
The third article is written by David Allen who is the Distinguished Professor of Preaching and holds the George W. Truett Chair of Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Allen addresses the question of what role the Holy Spirit possibly had in relation to Christ’s death. Using Hebrews 9:14 as a point of reference, Allen argues that the phrase “the eternal Spirit” is referring to the Holy Spirit and the larger passage is describing his cooperative role in the offering of Christ’s life as an atoning sacrifice.
The fourth article is provided by Adam Johnson who is Associate Professor of Theology for Torrey Honors College at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Johnson surveys several major contours of thought in the historical development of the doctrine of the atonement. He does so with the hopes of offering some correctives to certain misconceptions that have emerged in recent scholarly works on this topic. He also proposes some various sources that can possibly be used for further advancements in our understanding of Christ’s death.
Finally, our fifth entry is by Mac Brunson who is the senior pastor of Valleydale Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Brunson discusses how Anabaptist views of the atonement developed in some ways that were distinct from other Protestant traditions. To do so, he analyzes various perspectives that Anabaptists held on the extent of the atonement as well as assorted points of emphasis regarding the nature of the atonement.
Following these articles are seventeen book reviews that inform readers about works which can improve their theological libraries. Also remember that past issues of CTR can be accessed online at atla.com. Your local university or seminary can provide you with a password.