Why did Jesus die?

I’m not actually going to try to answer the question of why Jesus died. But Adrian Warnock has reopened the controversy on this issue in the way that he has started his new series on the atonement. In doing so he has ruffled a few feathers, including making Dave Warnock write “It seems I have no gospel”, and has apparently suggested that Steve Chalke, Spring Harvest and the Evangelical Alliance teach that “Christ Did Not Die for Sin!”

The first part of Adrian’s post is not too controversial. Adrian quotes Article VII of the T4G statement on the atonement:

We affirm that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man, in perfect, undiluted, and unconfused union throughout His incarnation and now eternally. We also affirm that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, as a sacrifice for sin, and as a propitiation of the wrath of God toward sinners. We affirm the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ as essential to the Gospel. We further affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord over His church, and that Christ will reign over the entire cosmos in fulfilment of the Father’s gracious purpose. …

So far, so good. While I don’t think the word “propitiation” is suitable for general purpose Bible translations, I understand what is meant by it here, and I am happy to see it as one of a list of the reasons why Jesus died. But the statement continues:

… We deny that the substitutionary character of Christ’s atonement for sin can be compromised without serious injury to the Gospel or denied without repudiating the Gospel. We further deny that Jesus Christ is visible only in weakness, rather than in power, Lordship, or royal reign, or, conversely, that Christ is visible only in power, and never in weakness.

The last part is excellent. But what do they mean by the substitutionary character of the atonement being compromised? I can agree that the substitutionary death of Jesus is a central part of the Gospel message, along with Jesus’ life as an example and his resurrection and ascension as victory over death and the devil. But am I, or is anyone else, to be accused of compromising this for drawing attention to Jesus’ life and his resurrection as being of comparable significance to his death? Or for pointing out that certain distorted ways in which Jesus’ death has been described are neither biblical nor evangelistically and apologetically helpful?

Now for the more controversial part. Adrian certainly seems to imply, without explicitly stating, that he considers Steve Chalke to be one of those who have compromised the substitutionary character of the atonement. Referring to him, as made explicit in the posts linked to, Adrian writes:

one of the most prominent people in the Evangelical Alliance and the Spring Harvest Conference in the UK would not feel comfortable with this language.

But does Chalke really “not feel comfortable with” the language of this T4G statement? Well, he may agree with me that words like “propitiation” are not helpful for most modern audiences, but that by no means implies that we reject the concept. But what Chalke called “cosmic child abuse” was not the basic concept of substitutionary atonement, as outlined in the T4G statement, but distorted versions of it, such as (quote from Chalke and Mann taken from the first comment here) that:

at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his Son.

Adrian then moves without a break from his discussion of Chalke to quote the Sunday Telegraph headline Easter Message: Christ Did Not Die for Sin! The way in which he does this is dishonest because it seems to suggest that this is the teaching of “one of the most prominent people in the Evangelical Alliance and the Spring Harvest Conference in the UK”, which libels not only the person involved but also these two well-known and respected Christian organisations in which he is prominent. In fact the clergyman who made the remarks reported in the Sunday Telegraph (not a “vicar”, Adrian, but a Dean) is very far from being connected to the Evangelical Alliance or Spring Harvest. Adrian really should apologise for this unfortunate collocation.

Indeed, two leaders of Spring Harvest who are also bishops have released a statement criticising the Dean’s supposed position as reported in the Sunday Telegraph. I doubt if Adrian will find anything to disagree with in the two bishops’ presentation of the atonement, such as:

the truth that Jesus died as our sin-bearing substitute carrying the punishment for our sins on the cross is the glorious heart of the Gospel.

For the Evangelical Alliance’s position on the atonement controversy and some helpful comments, see this article.

Anyway, as Dave Warnock points out, in fact the Dean did not say “Christ Did Not Die for Sin!”, but the precise opposite, as taken from the BBC transcript of his talk:

On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God but by God. As St Paul says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.

Now I don’t expect Adrian to agree with everything that the Dean says; nor do I. But the Sunday Telegraph headline and much of the article was clearly more about sensationalism than accurate reporting of anyone’s teaching on the atonement.

But I can agree with Adrian that

part of the reason for this new wave of concern about this [doctrine] is that we have not been very good at articulating its truth well.

When the doctrine has been presented in such immoral terms as

at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his Son

and “the Father killed the Son”, language which indeed “makes God sound like a psychopath”, then is it not surprising that some people, failing to see the truth behind the ways in which it has been distorted, reject the whole package? What is needed is proper clearly nuanced teaching, which avoids the error that the Father somehow became opposed to the Son with a split in the Trinity, yet upholds the truth that God and his Son working together through the death of the Son saved humans from the penalty and power of sin.

So, Adrian, I have no trouble at all agreeing, and I am sure that Steve Chalke, Spring Harvest and the Evangelical Alliance also have no trouble agreeing, with this which you write in the second post of your series:

I remain convinced that what happens at the cross lies at the very heart of the Gospel — that without the death of Jesus we cannot be saved!

8 thoughts on “Why did Jesus die?

  1. Pingback: Threads from Henry’s Web » Blog Archive » Just in time for Easter

  2. Deliver A Messiah “Mistaken Identity” By Agron Belica

    About the Book:

    Deliver A Messiah, “Mistaken Identity” by Agron Belica brings forth an elaborative examination of who was put on the cross. Many theories suggest that the son of Mary (aka Jesus Christ) was not the person placed on the cross, but someone other than Jesus Christ himself. The author takes you through an examination paving ways of new insight of who might have been put on the cross.
    To contribute to the present work, the author investigated and researched to seek the truth about the assumptive facts leading up to what people of Christendom believe to be the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Bible and the Koran are the main resources used as references formally presented in use of persuasive arguments and theories of why the author strongly does not believe that the son of Mary was killed nor crucified.
    The author has made every effort to be as unbiased and objective in presenting the facts and interpreting the events in this present work. The author is not trying to stir up controversy, but only wishes to lead people towards what might be considered the truth about the events believed about the crucifixion. The author strongly believes that the prevailing powers during that era have camouflaged the truth. The cover-up of the crucifixion with a false pretext was to lead the masses of people in the past and at present to believe, that the son of Mary was really crucified, by the leading elite that was influenced by the Jewish religious hierarchy at that time.

  3. It will be interesting to see how the Islamic world responds to this one. The Islamic veiw point is that it was Judas Iscariot who was crucified and not Jesus. This author of the book deliver a messiah mistaken identity claims an independant theory. It is not just a challenge in my opinion to the christian world, but to the islamic worls as well. After seeing the cover-art I think I know where he is headed with this one. Sounds like an interesting read. Christians should act christian like, and not make such comments. This is free country an the author has the right to express his ideas-opinions or what have you. Let us not forget that “History is not truth” but an attempt to get at the truth. Peace to you all.


    Subtitle: LIBERATION DAY

    By: Author Agron Belica

    As an avid reader of the Holy Bible, how many countless times have you
    drawn your own interpretations, and conclusions? How many versions
    of the Bible have you read, comparing ancient manuscripts to modern
    day Scripture? As an open minded reader in faith, and Christianity, has
    your bias lead you directly to extensive research on the words, and
    works of Christ? Is is possible that Jesus did not die on the cross?
    Is the accepted view of the life of Christ incomplete? Are we thirsty
    for the mysterious, thus craving for more information on what we
    doubt, or believe is missing? Are we comfortable, and completely
    satisfied in what we’ve learned in a lifetime about the son of Mary,
    and the crucifixion? These are only a few questions that the curious
    reader is left to ponder, after reading the cleverly written book,
    “DELIVER A MESSIAH MISTAKEN IDENTITY.” As an educated scholar
    on Christian history, Agron Belica fills the pages with contradictions
    and controversy on the life of Mary,Jesus, and the crucifixion. The
    author presents persuasive arguments on theory which surrounds
    the events, and circumstances which took place during that era,
    obtained from years of elaborate examination. The reader is left with
    yet another crucial question, has prevailing powers camouflaged
    the truth? The author’s comparisons are undeniable plausible, while
    he sites religious documents to support his arguments, leaving the
    reader amazingly surprised. I would recommend this book to all reader’s
    who wish to explore facts, and seek additional knowledge obtained
    through research about faith, and Christianity. In comparison to the
    book “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” Agron Belica enlightens his open minded
    readers to other possibilities as they absorb each bit of information
    with a grain of salt. The author does not shoot the facts into the reader’s
    face. Instead, he gently challenges the senses while using theory as the
    key to open the door to other possibilities as we draw our own opinions,
    precise, and interesting. Regardless of which road the reader takes
    on the teachings of the life of Christ, Agron Belica provides us with the
    ultimate message that remains the same, eternal Blessings in the light
    of Christ. Combined with that message and the author’s presentation
    of research, if just one reader is left with any doubts, then the author’s
    mission has been accomplished. This novel is an impressive, passionate
    read, and is as Powerfully Moving as “THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST”
    with Mel Gibson!

    Geraldine Ahearn, A.I.O.M.
    author of 6 books, CCRN
    Author Geri Ahearn, INC.
    Lifetime Member ABI Women’s Review Board

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