May 31, 2017

Defendere Propitiationis

In the life of the church, it is often necessary for those who are called to be pastors and theologians to rise up in defense of a central truth of the Christian faith. This is one of those times. A quick review of recent Christian history may set the background for an action that Owen Strachan and I recently took together for the sake of defending the atonement.

A Recent History of Violence: The horrific decades of the early twentieth century with its two world wars resulted in millions of deaths among combatants and noncombatants alike. These were followed by several decades of constant fear that a scenario of mutually assured destruction might be played out in the Cold War between the East led by the Soviet Union and the West led by the United States, wiping out human civilization altogether. These historical factors played upon the Western psyche, among Europeans in particular, stoking great regret about the past and great concern for the future.

A Theological Shift: As a result, many Christians began to question the violence that so characterizes the human race. They displayed a proper revulsion against wanton violence done by humans against humans. After all, all human beings are made in the image of God and are, therefore, precious. However, the revulsion went so far that many began to see violence itself as ipso facto sin. A proper revulsion against flippant human violence now became an improper revulsion, for some Christian theologians revolted against the idea that God may bring about death through violence. European history was now shaping Christian theology, even in contradiction to the apparent advocacy of certain acts of violence in Scripture itself.

This improper revulsion against violence, which began in a proper revulsion against violence, has extended to the point that many are now calling into question the central act of God in the redemption of humanity, the cross of Jesus Christ. Some have even rejected the idea that the cross involves removing the wrath of God, which is summarized in the biblical word, "propitiation," and codified in the theological language of "penal substitution." For these theologians and preachers, the ideas of penal substitution and propitiation are themselves anathema. They cannot see how a God who is love could possibly place his Son on the cross in order to satisfy the wrath of the Father.

Defending the Atonement: Owen Strachan, a leading Southern Baptist systematic theologian affiliated with Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, exercises a powerful voice for truth in the midst of today's culture. Recently, we discussed with a common friend the difficulty that orthodox Christians face in such an environment. A liberal Christian culture is crying out against wanton human violence (while largely and perversely ignoring the mass murder of the unborn), but it is also endangering the central act of Christian redemption and compromising the perfections of God. As a result of these and related challenges, we co-authored a resolution on the atonement and submitted it to the Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Our hopes and prayers are that this demonstration of inter-seminary unity, which is also a demonstration of unity across Calvinist and Non-Calvinist lines, will prompt Southern Baptists to rally once again around the cross as the central doctrine of Christian redemption. We truly believe that a loving God has put his Son on the cross in order to satisfy his just demand for holiness. Without the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope for sinful humanity. This is why we believe it is time to defend the atonement (defendere propitiationis).


  1. Anonymous11:24 AM

    Grateful for your stand regarding the atonement; for your placing a substantive theological issue to be addressed at the Convention which will elevate its discourse; and for your example of cooperation between Calvinist/non-Calvinist which should serve as an example for all in the SBC today.

  2. I, too, deeply appreciate this stand and your efforts to make it a part of our SBC position on the propitiatory aspect of the atonement! Thank you both for this!


Edifying comments always appreciated!