Maintaining a good witness about the atonement

In a comment Dave Warnock reminded me of the importance of Christians maintaining a good witness to outsiders as they disagree about the atonement. Dave believes that the split between Spring Harvest, UCCF and the Keswick Convention is a bad witness. In my comment in reply I did not disagree, but noted:

Perhaps here the marketing, if not entirely open and honest, is managing to avoid too much of a bad witness.

In other words, it can only be a good thing in terms of Christian witness that the organisations involved are not publicising their disagreements, but presenting this more positively as an opportunity for God’s work to be broadened.

But in that case perhaps those of us who are blogging about the split, such as Adrian, Dave and myself, are being the bad witnesses by opening up this issue in public, by washing Christian dirty linen in a public forum. Should we keep quiet?

Well, I am reminded that I first got into this debate nearly a year ago when I discussed the reaction of a real non-Christian to an offensive presentation of the gospel by CJ Mahaney, a presentation for Christians read by an outsider. So I have to be aware that outsiders will read these Christian blogs. And I intervened because I was very concerned about what they were reading, including offensive material (now here) like

Who killed Jesus?The Father. The Father killed the Son. Feel God’s love for you revealed in this verse. He crushed his son. For you. He crushed Him. He bruised him. He punished him. He disfigured him. He crushed him. With all of the righteous wrath that we deserved. That’s what the Father did.

To which the typical reply seems to have been “Preach it!”! Which could be more offensive to outsiders, this kind of unbiblical distortion (see the PS below) which we know was found offensive, or some of us bloggers pointing out that not all Christians agree on this kind of theology? Is it better to be united in giving a false and offensive witness or to present the truth of the gospel even if that means disagreeing with others?

My main motivation in discussing these issues continues to be to struggle against these kinds of offensive presentations so that the true gospel of Jesus’ love can be taught. My motivation is essentially evangelistic. Let me repeat what I wrote in a similar context last June:

The reason why I am treating this matter so seriously is that I am so passionate that everyone comes to hear and respond to the good news that Jesus loves them, so much that he died for them, and that they can respond, turn from wrong things, and receive the forgiveness and freedom which they crave for. So I react strongly, perhaps too strongly (but then Paul’s reactions were similar e.g. in Galatians 2:11-14, 3:1-10), when I hear other Christians perverting that message, for example into something immoral and repulsive like “the Father killed the Son”. The repulsiveness of that version of the message is evident from Duck’s reaction. But the true gospel, although sometimes veiled, is never repulsive or immoral in that way. But it has power from the Holy Spirit to break down the barriers which some people, sadly within the Church as well as outside, put up to hinder its progress.

PS: Here is a comment which I made on Adrian’s blog; part of it also appeared on Dave’s. This was in response to claims that Isaiah 53:5,10 state that God punished Jesus.

No, Isaiah 53:5 does not say that God punished Jesus. Look at what the verse actually says. The four key Hebrew words are mexolal “pierced, wounded”, medukka’ “crushed”, musar “discipline”, and xabura “stripe, blow”. Only the third of these can possibly have a penal significance, but its common use in Proverbs is not so much penal as corrective. Also note that the verbs here are passive and do not state that God was the agent of any of this, something which is in fact denied by the “But” at the beginning of the verse which clearly contrasts with the misunderstanding “we considered him punished by God” (53:4 TNIV).

As for verse 10, Don, you have put your finger on a bit more substance here. TNIV reads “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin …”. NRSV is “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin …”. ESV is “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt …”. All these translations offer various alternatives. One thing is clear: TNIV is in error, or at least imposing its own interpretation, to make “the LORD” the subject of “makes his life an offering for sin”, for the subject must be either “you” (masculine singular) or “she” (3rd person feminine singular) which could refer to “his life/soul”. But we do have the crushing of the servant being the LORD’s will, which is not quite the same as saying that the LORD is the agent of this crushing, compare Acts 2:23 where Jesus’ death is God’s plan but the agents are the Jews and the Romans. And we also have the LORD as the subject of hexeli which probably means “make sick/weak”. This seems to be about the limit of what we can biblically consider the Father’s direct agency in Jesus’ death.

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