Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Sermon - 2009

Here are the sermon notes I provided for the congregation from the sermon I preached today at the Good Friday Service. I have been wrestling with issues surrounding the doctrine of penal substitution since I taught a 4000 level seminar course "God, Violence and the Atonement" a couple of years ago. I have sought to listen carefully to criticism of the penal substitutionary view of the atonement from feminist, liberal, emergent and non-Christian sources. After reading a dozen books or so books and thinking about it for about three years, I have come to a position of peace with regard to the whole issue. Penal substitution does not say everything there is to say about the meaning of the cross and it does not exhaust the teaching of the NT on the cross, but it is an indispensable element of an orthodox doctrine of the atonement. The Church must not follow the culture into oblivion, but be a sign of contradiction on this matter. Sin, judgment and atonement are of central importance in the preaching of the Gospel.

The Doctrine of the Atonement as the Basis of Christian Worship
Dr. Craig Carter - Westney Heights Baptist Church - Good Friday, 2009

Introduction - Is it possible to be “too atonement-centered?”

I. Is the Atonement Out-dated?
There are a number of Evangelicals who are wavering on the importance of the atoning death of Christ as the basis for forgiveness of the sin that separates us from God. (eg. Alan Mann, Atonement for a ‘Sinless Society’).

He argues that the post-modern self of the modern world has constructed a narrative to explain the nature of reality in which the concept of sin as breaking God’s law & thus incurring moral guilt no longer makes sense.

Mann quotes another author who says that Christians have allowed the biblical concept of sin as broken relationships to be reduced to sins, that is, to guilty thoughts, words and deeds, especially of the sexual variety. Sin has been reduced to what could be termed a “petty moralizing.” He says that we need to stop talking about: “sinners,” “guilt,” “forgiveness,” “separation,” & “judgment, and talk instead about “persons,” “relationships,” “acceptance,” & “openness to the other.”

II. Two Explanations of the Meaning of the Cross
There are two main explanations of the meaning of the cross:
1. Traditional Evangelical preaching on the cross emphasized Jesus dying in our place bearing our sins and making possible our forgiveness. (Rom. 3:22b-26)
2. Traditional liberal preaching on the cross emphasized the death of Christ as God demonstrating His love for us. (Rom. 5:8)

Now, what is confusing here is that both ways of preaching the cross are true unless the second way chooses to deny the truth inherent in the first way. And this is exactly what is happening in certain circles of the Church today.
To say that we are sinners under God's wrath does not in any way diminish God's love for us. The whole point is that it is guilty, condemned sinners that God loves, not pretty good people who deserve to be loved - or at least tolerated. The wonder of the cross is how God's wrath and love come together and how love emerges triumphant, but only because God has taken his own wrath upon himself.

III. The Rejection of the Penal-Substitutionary Doctrine of the Atonement
Many Evangelicals and many popular authors who are being read by Evangelicals today are attacking what is known as the penal-substitutionary doctrine of the atonement, eg. Steve Chalke:
“The cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.” (The Lost Message of Jesus)

“Though the sheer bluntness of my imagery shocked some, I contend that, in truth, it represents nothing more than a stark unmasking of what I understand to be the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind the popular theory of penal substitutionary atonement.” (The Atonement Debate, 34)

Three things hang together in this debate: sin as law-breaking, moral guilt as a result of sin, and penal substitution. If you deny any one of the three, you deny them all implicitly.

IV. The Gospel is A Call to Repentance and Faith
There is mystery in the cross. We can never hope to understand it totally. But the NT does make it clear that we are sinners lost without God and without hope in the world.

The liberal, heretical version of the Gospel, as taught in Liberal Protestantism, is the so-called “gospel of inclusion.” It starts with the idea that God loves everyone as they are and so preaching the gospel means calling everyone into one big inclusive tent where they do not have to repent or change. All they have to do is celebrate their diversity, accept each other unconditionally and pat themselves on the back for being so open-minded.

· Forget sin - that is just old-fashioned mythological baggage
· Forget about guilt – there is no such thing as guilt, just guilt feelings that can gotten rid of in therapy
· Forget about repentance – that is just Fundamentalism

But the true Gospel is all about confessing our sin, repenting & believing in Christ’s atoning death as our hope.

Conclusion - The Fathers of the Church, in meditating on John 19:35, understood the water and the blood as symbols of Baptism and Eucharist. As we come to the Eucharist, (the word means "thanksgiving") we come as sinners saved by grace, as those who have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Christ shed for us. Let us truly be thankful.


Nick said...

If you are uncomfortable with Penal-Sub, have you ever considered the Catholic view?

Here is a debate I had with a Calvinist:

I believe the doctrine has insufficient Scriptural support and thus not binding on the Christian.

Craig Carter said...

If I were, I would. But I'm not. I would advise you to concentrate on refuting liberal Protestants and liberal Catholics, who deny the atonement altogether for they are the real problem.

Nick said...

Thank you Craig. I understand your suggestion, but I think arguing with liberals is a waste of time. How can we get anywhere with people who deny the authority and inspiration of Scripture?

I believe the real strength would come from educating Catholics and Protestants who are willing to learn more and study God's Word on the atonement, because that will build a base to build from. If I'm dealing with someone willing to take God's Word seriously, then half of the headache in discussing theology is taken care of.