The Atonement - Introduction

I began “the drama of dogma” a little over two years ago as a simple way to organize and chronicle my life as a student, reader, pastor and amateur theologian. With that purpose still in mind, I’m very excited to announce that over the next nine weeks or so, I’m going to be sharing this platform with my nephew and fellow blogger, Michael Blankenship. A few months ago, Mike started blogging at “Our Simple Faith” and I’ve really enjoyed reading his posts on everything from hope, to good works, to the problem of evil.

What makes me so excited about this particular endeavor is the coming together of two very different life-stages around a central tenet of the Christian faith. Mike is a sixteen-year-old-high school student from rural Oregon considering a future in Christian ministry. I’m a twenty-seven-year-old seminary graduate in Portland entering my second year of full-time, pastoral ministry. While these worlds could certainly be further apart than they are (after all, we’re both white-American males) bridging them—both conceptually as well as stylistically—should be a lot of fun and (I hope) both challenging and encouraging to those of you following along.

Our plan for this series is to focus on the contested and often misunderstood doctrine of “limited atonement” (also referred to as “definite atonement” or “particular redemption”). In the simplest terms possible, the doctrine of limited atonement claims that Jesus’ death secured (in the past) and applies (in the present) all the redemptive blessings necessary to save God’s people. The atonement, in other words, does not simply make salvation possible; it actually and effectually saves.

In an effort, however, to make “first things first,” as well as to make sure that we don’t get ahead of ourselves, our first goal will be to explore what the atonement in and of itself is all about. (A quick side-note: Whenever debating the “finer” points of a doctrine, which is what limited atonement is, it’s important to keep in mind the “broader” points of agreement that orthodox Christianity has, more or less, maintained throughout its history. This helps us not only to concentrate on the “essentials” but to also approach the “finer” points, as we’ve called them, with humility, love, and a real sense of unity.)

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears offer the following definition in their book Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe:
Jesus’ work for us on the cross is called atonement (at-one-ment); Jesus our God became a man to restore [the] relationship between God and humanity. . . . Scripture repeatedly and clearly declares that Jesus died as our substitute paying our penalty “for” our sins (253).
Using that relatively simple summary as our starting point, it is possible to further define the atonement as the historical realization of three interlocking theological concepts: (1) propitiation, (2) expiation, and (3) reconciliation.

Because these words are new to most people, our aim in the next three posts will be to unpack each one in turn, examining them, defining them and rooting them in Scripture.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in doing some further reading on the subject, here are a few recommendations:
Death by Love by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears
Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray
Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die by John Piper
The Cross of Christ by John Stott
Lastly, you can read Mike’s introduction here.

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