Book: The Biblical Revelation of the Cross

Several years ago, at a time when there was a lot of discussion, on this blog and elsewhere, of different views of the atonement, Norman McIlwain kindly sent me a free copy of his book The Biblical Revelation of the Cross. Norman, like me, was critical of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, and was looking at other ways of understanding the biblical material about the death of Jesus. I intended to read the book and review it here, but to my regret I never did so.

The Biblical Revelation of the CrossNorman has now revised and expanded his book and published it again, but for now only online, and free of charge. The extra material is about the early church’s teaching on the atonement. This is not formatted as an e-book but as one long HTML page, here: The Biblical Revelation of the Cross. See also Norman’s main Bible study website.

I have not read most of this material and so cannot review or endorse it. I can say from what I have read that it seems well argued. His conclusions seem to me on a skim reading a little too close to saying that Jesus’ death was only as a moral example. But I appreciate the way in which he links our salvation in with the Resurrection and the ongoing Christian life:

Our atonement, therefore, is achieved for us through our being raised up in Christ, who gave Himself for us that we might know God through Him and the power of the resurrection.

This is surely a book worth looking at for anyone interested in the atonement.

8 thoughts on “Book: The Biblical Revelation of the Cross

  1. Peter, are you sure he’s advocating moral example as the salient explanation of the atonement. My initial reading is even more of a skim that you imply yours is. But:-

    “Through the cross, He bore away our sins and so provided the perfect atonement for all who believe.
    Jesus forgives and declares righteous all who are covered by His blood—the blood of the Lamb. Jesus felt the full weight of man’s sin as He hung upon the cross, knowing the depths of depravity into which mankind, alienated from God, had fallen. He was ‘delivered up for our sins’, because of our sins—to deliver us from our sins, through His perfect sacrifice. The pure and precious blood of Christ, representing His life, spiritually covers those who believe. In figurative terms, the risen Jesus is the One who serves as High Priest to sprinkle with His own blood those whom He has called and chosen. As the risen Lord, He justifies those who truly repent and place their faith in Him: ‘He was raised to life for our justification’ (Rom.4:25, NKJ; cf. Rom.5:9).”

    That doesn’t sound like moral example to me.

    As part of a course I am doing, I recently had to write an essay on atonement theories. My own conclusion is that the one sure and certain thing one can say about anyone who advocates one atonement theory as the correct one, and all others as wrong – whichever one he or she is advocating or disdaining – is themselves wrong. That is as true of those who deny that there is anything substitutionary about it as those who say that the penal substitutionary model is the only one and everybody who says otherwise is apostate.

    Likewise, those who say that Jesus’s death is simply a moral example are denying that there is such a thing as salvation. But to maintain that this means it is not a moral example denies the fundamentals of almost everything we would understand of ethics, modelling ourselves one Christ or washing one anothers’ feet.

  2. Dru, no, I am not sure. But I note a deliberate backing off from substitutionary language, also from Christus Victor type language. There is the language of being declared righteous through the sprinkling of cleansing blood. I’m not sure that fits into any of the classic atonement theories. I would also agree with you in suggesting there is a little too much confidence in having found the truth about the atonement.

  3. Thank you, Peter.

    In response to Dru, I have tried to summarize my approach to the atonement in both the introduction and the epilogue:

    I agree that elements of various approaches have their value to different degrees and the moral influence view, I believe, certainly has merit. But the picture is greater than that – and I am sure we all, like Job, should exercise the humility to realize that our view of God is very much limited. However, that doesn’t mean that we should not strive to achieve a greater understanding. – Hence the book.

    I won’t comment any further for now, but my hope is that Dru and others will do more than skim the pages before forming a judgment. : )

    Blessings! – And, thanks again!


  4. Norman, thanks for your reply. Dru and I both really need to read your book in detail before commenting. For that reason, and others, I don’t really want to start here a new discussion of the atonement.

  5. You can find the complete answers to atonement in a kindle book called Renegade Gospel The Jesus Manifold by Jamey Massengale.
    1. God is the creator completely soveriegn
    2 My separation from God is due to my knowledge of good and evil because i use it to judge god i.e. why do the innocent suffer etc. is an accusation in interrogative format.
    3 If God is omniscient I cant do other than what God KNEW i would do before He created me and He created me as He did; therefore God is responsible for my sin
    4 If God is responsible for my sin then God should die for my sin
    5 In Jesus God did die for my sin or Jesus as god died for all sin ( which is by the way the ultimate statement of soveriegnty, where God says in essence “I do it all” cause effect and resolution.)
    6 However Jesus the man did not sin nor was He under original sin so He didn’t deserve to die, but being God as man, now by the rule of equity, all men are equal to God, syllogism: Jesus is a man and all men are human therefore Jesus is human and Jesus is God therefore all men are in Jesus equal to God in their HUMAN/GOD rights.
    7 Therefore since only God as the “potter” had the rights of life, liberty, and property; and since Jesus transfers to all humans like Himself those rights, we don’t need a law saying by fiat “thou shalt not kill”, because all men now have the right to life; I know I violate that right if I kill a man. Thereby the law is fulfilled in right-eousness, or “the having of the rights of God”.
    That’s it in a nutshell and it explains a lot of ambiguous statements Paul makes. I haven’t quoted much scripture for brevity’s sake but I find the Jesus manifold completely supported from genesis to revelation. It affirms the homoousion, it satisfies the complete taxonomy of sin(ontologic, deontic, and relational), and it satisfies all of Abelard’s criteria: 1. it’s logical 2. It’s not arbitrary if God is omniscient, therefore actions are predestined, and love demand’s it to satisfy the human cry of injustice. 3 It’s intelligible being stated capable of syllogistic treatment in plain unambiguous language. The implications to a multiverse for an omniscient God require He know everything in all possible universes, this single incarnation would then only be required in this one to satisfy it’s precise constraints, as it exists within the multiplicity of universes in God’s consciousness.
    I apologize if the first part is ambiguous as to the idea of multiverse. Only in science fiction and thought experiment is a multiverse with divergent timelines considered. This universe has the timline it does because of physical constraints that cannot be changed if human life is to exist as it does(see Anthropic principle). There are approximately 20 such constraints that are so precise the universe would cease to exist as it does if they varied even one plank measure. Those multiverses actually possible would be defined by changes in those constants. Therefore there can be no other universe which would value the atonement as this one does(anthropically); however these constants do not forbid interactions at the quantum level, and may derive their stability from these interactions. In that case the incarnation in this universe has it’s meaning only in this universe but would have implications to all other possible universes.

  6. Renegade, that’s an interesting approach. The objection to it is of course simple: it makes God the author of evil. At least you are more open about that than many Calvinists, and bring out its logical consequence: it is God, not humans, who is guilty of all sin and so deserving of punishment. No substitutionary atonement, the one who died is the one who sinned. But I don’t think this evil God is compatible with the broader biblical picture.

    As for your thoughts on the multiverse, I don’t see their relevance to this discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image