Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pannenberg on Substitutionary Atonement and Teaching Doctrine

It's kind of the en vogue thing amidst evangelicals to bash and/or question substitutionary atonement. Some find it "unhelpful" or "not intellectually or spiritually stimulating." Some have suggested moving on in the language we use to describe the effects of the cross.

In contrast, I read a refreshing thought in Wolfhart Pannenberg's Systematic Theology today. About substitutionary atonement he says:

The fact that a later age may find it hard to understand traditional ideas is not a sufficient reason for replacing them. It simply shows how necessary it is to open up these ideas to later generations by interpretation and thus to keep their meaning alive. The problems that people have with ideas like expiation and representation (or substitution) in our secularized age rest less on any lack of forcefulness in the traditional terms than on the fact that those who are competent to interpret them do not explain their content with sufficient force or clarity.

I like these words. But it surfaces the tension I face as a preacher: Who is my target audience on Sunday morning? Do we discuss the intricacies of doctrines like substitutionary atonement and talk over non-Christians who have gathered with us to hear from God? Or do we keep everything at street level? The former option excludes outsiders but grows insiders. The latter option includes outsiders, but leaves insiders wanting more.

No comments: