Rethinking Atonement

Directly from Derek’s desk:
I am currently engaged in a project, with several Vineyard theologians from the US, UK, Europe and RSA, to review the doctrine of the atonement. There is a positive and a negative reason for this.
• The negative reason is that, over the last few decades, there are growing voices challenging and sometimes repudiating the doctrine of Penal Substitution. Some credible evangelical theologians can be listed among those who do so. Penal Substitution is so ingrained in all post-Reformation forms of Protestantism that many Christians have no idea that alternative theories of the atonement exist. If Penal Substitution is questioned, they might feel that the very basis of their faith is being questioned. We need to get ahead of this pastorally so that we can equip our pastors and people to think through such issues.
• The positive reason is that we are living through a major development in theology, which I call The Kingdom Reformation. The theology of the kingdom of God has emerged in the post Second World War era, and while not repudiating either orthodoxy (the creeds) or the Reformation, it does lead to a review of the whole history of theology through the newly discovered perspective of the kingdom of God, brought to us through Jesus Research (The Quest for the Historical Jesus – specifically the 3rd Quest). The striking fact is most of the recent debate about the atonement does not reference kingdom theology at all. However, the major alternative theory of the Atonement, Christus Victor, championed by Gustav Aulén in 1931, is much closer to kingdom theology than Penal Substitution as originally articulated by Anselm of Canterbury (1011-1109). The obvious presenting problem is one of reductionism. Western Reformation evangelicalism has reduced the gospel to the cross and justification through faith, removing it from the big picture of the kingdom. Our task is therefore to begin with the kingdom of God and review the atonement, and both major theories of the atonement, from that perspective.