Monday, July 04, 2011

163. The Atonement and Evangelism

 Me and my wife, along with another couple are moving into a new neighborhood across town to plant the gospel in that area. This is a move from the edge of town back to the center of town for us. Needless to say, there is a different culture, socio-economic people group with their own rhythm of life.

Moving into another cultural environment has reminded me once again that speaking about the gospel in meaningful ways requires two things. First, I need to be familiar with the multiple images and metaphors of the atonement. Typically, in the evangelical setting, we have majored on the penal substitution model of atonement, to the neglect of the other images and motifs contained within scripture. i.e Christus Victor, Recapitulation, etc. Second, I need to be familiar with the ways this particular culture experiences sin and the fall in both personal and systemic ways. Anytime you try to do cross-cultural evangelism (apostolic ministry to a degree), you should immediately ask yourself this question: What image or metaphor of the atonement will resonate most effectively with this person or people group? This may sound like splitting hairs, but it is worth a second look.

This article by Mark Baker illustrates how the image of the penal substitution model has co-opted the other images and supplanted the foundational narrative narrative, making itself the only image through which the other images are interpreted.

I will briefly quote it here:

"A number of factors may contribute to an articulation of the gospel that hinders understanding or connection. One contributing factor is viewing the penal substitution model of atonement as being the one and only explanation of how the cross provides salvation. In the New Testament, legal language of justification is one of a number of images used to proclaim the saving significance of Jesus‘ life, death and resurrection. Yet this one image has, in the form of penal substitution theory, become for many the foundational narrative of how the cross saves. When someone only has this one tool in their gospel toolbox it leads to situations like those we have just observed.

New Testament writers use a variety of images and motifs to proclaim the saving significance of the cross and resurrection, including: redemption, reconciliation, victory/triumph, justification, sacrifice, and ransom. They use different images for differing pastoral situations and for different audiences or contexts. Also, however, they use a diversity of images because no one image can capture the full meaning of the cross.


A foundational story is broader and deeper than an image. The various images, represented by arrows in the diagram, build off of, or find a place within the foundational story of how the cross and resurrection provide salvation. In essence, however, the penal substitution theory has taken
one image and sought to make it the foundational story. It is like taking one of the arrows from
the diagram above and turning it sideways as if it was foundational as in the diagram below.

It will not have the breadth to provide space for all the images. Although there will be room for
the sideways arrow to support a few other images, they will end up communicating something
very similar to the image used as foundation. One image does not have the depth of a true
foundational narrative to support diverse imagery. No foundational narrative of atonement can
fully capture the depth of the cross, but, in terms of the toolbox metaphor, we should work to
have a foundation, or toolbox, that will provide us with a rich variety of images, or tools, we can
use in evangelism."

I think Mark Baker is spot on here. He is not saying to get rid of the penal substitution model, he is merely trying to locate it within its proper environment, among other images, metaphors and motifs of scripture. This is something I will be keeping in mind as we begin to listen for the next six months on what aspects of sin and the fall are most clearly pressing in on this neighborhood and the peoples lives in it.

If the problem always defines the solution, then becoming intimately familiar with how sin is finding expression in a particular person or culture is a good indicator as to what model of the atonement will most easily connect with their experience. It is not to say you wont reference or utilize the other models of the atonement at some point in the process. Everyone stands to be enriched by a full exposure to the ways in which the gospel saves, and atones. The question is, which one will you lead in with??? Part of doing apostolic ministry is seeding the gospel into different cultures and people groups. In order to do this effectively, you have to be like Paul in Athens and let their culture provide the initial entry point and starting place to speak about the "unknown God."


Brent Barger said...


Great blog my friend. Excellent content, topics, and insights here. How is everything in Tennessee? Should see you next month in Indy at the learning community.

Planter said...

Hey Brent, yep, I will be there and look forward to seeing you there. Things in Tennessee are cooking.