In his latest rant at CRN, the editor is deriding this contest at the Emergent Village site.  The contest is described in these terms on the EV website:

In order for the rich benefits of alternative atonement theology to move beyond the circles of those who read theology books we must develop alternative imagery. We need not just a golf bag full of different explanations; we need a bag full of different imagery to use in conversations over coffee, in sermons, youth meetings, on blogs, etc. This contest aims to help this happen both through encouraging a wide number of people to work at developing an image, and then also by sharing the best images so that many others can use them.

So can somebody enlighten me as to what is wrong with this?  We commonly speak in metaphors when describing Biblical principles because it is a way to bring understanding to a wider audience.  Many of the narratives and events in Scripture contain truths that can be gleaned from a surface level reading, but once one digs deeper, a more multi-faceted picture emerges.  By limiting ourselves by saying our view of Christ’s death and resurrection is the “one true meaning of Christ’s atonement”, as the Editor puts it, we are, I believe, closing ourselves off from important truths that God might want to reveal to us.

I would be interested to hear what the Apostle Paul said was the “one true meaning” of the Atonement.  It seems to me that Paul used a whole arsenal of images and metaphors at his disposal to describe the work of Christ on the cross to the people to whom he was writing.  In Romans, Christ’s death is described in judicial terms because these image were something the Romans saw everyday.  They knew what it meant to be condemned by the law.  In Colossians, Christ is described as being victorious over the power of Satan.  These images would be normal to a city that celebrated milatary strength and power.  In Philipians, Christ is held up as the ultimate example.  The list could go on and on.

The thing is that none of these descriptions invalidates the other.  They are merely different perspective on the grand, cosmic event that was the death and resurrection of Christ.  As long as we point to the that as the center of gravity that our faith orbits around, it seems part of the Church’s mission is to communicate it as best as possible wherever and whenever we are.

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37 Comments(+Add)

1   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 9:41 am

“As McKnight argues, to only use one explanation atonement would be like going out to play golf with only one club in your bag. ”

Or…only one club is so perfect, so majestic, that it can hit every single shot on the course. The Atonement is the core, the essence, and the comprehensive truth that was finished on the cross. To extract doctrinal tributaries from that river is unsubstantiated in the New Testament. And to place the atonement in the context of a “contest” to provide a forum for a doctrinal free-for-all. It is unseemly and removes the sacredness of the eternal sacrifice. To present the deepest and most holy of all Biblical truths as some kind of distorted doctrinal contest reduces the entire truth.

It substantiates the perception that in the emergent movement every doctrinal view is equally legitimate, even when elicited from a contest. My contest offering is that when Jesus said he was not of this world he was revealing in code that he was an alien, and the cross was his way of exhibiting that his race was pursuing peace with us. (A form of scientology) What do I win? A Schofield Bible!?

Behold the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.

2   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 10:29 am

BTW – x= 5.2915026221291811810632315072785

3   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 10:31 am

or 5

4   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 7th, 2008 at 10:44 am

What is the real point or hope this contest is trying to achieve? That somehow there will be a winning metaphor or image that will finally click with people, and they’ll come rushing to the church?

The entire premise of a contest is wrong. But the premise of redefining something as simple and clear as the death and resurrection of Christ? That’s even more wrong and unnecessary.

This is what happens in a society (or should I say “culture”?) where people no longer desire truth. I can just see a contest like this taking place in China or Africa or Asia for example…. hmmm.

Quit the psychology and all this unfruitful nonsense that is just the result of idleness and being overfed.

5   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 7th, 2008 at 10:49 am

Remember Paul’s instructions to Timothy (2 Tim 3):

“Look for neat little metaphors and ways to communicate the gospel to the unchurched while have coffee at the local Starbucks. The more your metaphors relate and the more clever you are, the better the chance this person will be drawn to Jesus.”

No…

“Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season (when you are getting through and not getting through, when people listen or when they ignore, when you feel like and when you don’t): reprove (correct), rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine.”

WHY?

“Because the time will come (it’s here now) that people will not endure sound teachings, but will heap to themselves teachers who will tell them exactly what they want to hear…”
(of course… all paraphrased)

6   Nathan    
February 7th, 2008 at 10:52 am

wow… we are the one’s being overfed and idle. That is certainly a first.

I went back through some of my notes and really, the atonement theories are quite complex. I mean here are a few with the theologian that presented them.

Patristic theories (Origen)
Commercial / Satisfaction (Anselm)
Moral Influence (Abelard)
Penal Substitution (Calvin)
Governmental (Grotius)
Victory
Vicarious Obedience (Forsyth)
Costly Suffering (Mackintosh)
Cruciform Forgiveness (Humphreys)

It’s not easy to explain the depths of something like this. I think finding ways to communicate the gospel to a world that doesn’t speak “our language” is great.

7   Joe Martino    http://joemartino.name
February 7th, 2008 at 10:54 am

What do people like Paul C and John C have against Starbucks. It’s like they can’t find a way to insult people unless the bring that in? weird

8   Nathan    
February 7th, 2008 at 10:56 am

Look for neat little metaphors and ways to communicate the gospel to the unchurched while have coffee at the local Starbucks. The more your metaphors relate and the more clever you are, the better the chance this person will be drawn to Jesus.

Paul,

Too bad Jesus didn’t follow that advice. I mean all those parables and stories. Goodness… I guess the guy hardly ever preached the gospel. It’s so simple right? Why use metaphors to help people understand complex theological ideas. Mustard seeds, lost coins, sheep, virgins with lamps, dinner parties, thieves, oil jars, fish… the guy was practically a watered down circus show, right?

He probably would work best with the Rick Warrens and Rob Bells of the world. Not those who have arrived, like the ODMs

9   nator    http://whydowenatorblogspot.com
February 7th, 2008 at 10:57 am

I think we need to take into account the mindset that Paul was addressing. Need an example? We can’t even agree between the Post-modern or Modern mindset and we are here right now.

10   Kevin I    
February 7th, 2008 at 10:59 am

I think this contest is a great idea, I think that the ODM’s problem is their heads work like word search functions on a computer, unless everything is written and spelled exactly as the search string is, they miss it.

This isn’t about changing the atonement, this is about exploring all the ways we have to explain it. It says right in the rules that this image must not divert from a Biblical understanding of the atonement. I can see this especially useful in reaching out to people who used to be part of the church but left it and their faith because of a particular church they where involved in, for them if we show up with the exact same words of explaining the atonement (a debtor/debt, a captvie/rescue, a legal swtich approach) in the same words the church that pushed them away used.

It would be very helpful in that situation to have new words to explain the same thing. I know in my ministry the stuff I say that usually sticks is the stuff people respond to with “I’ve never heard it put that way before…”

Lot’s of the people I minister to have been in the church a while, and tend to tune me out if it sounds like I’m just saying the same thing in the same way they’ve always heard it before. Faithful preaching involves always remaining active, aware and picking up new metaphors if necassary, faithful preaching means doing everything but sin to reach out to everyone you come across.

All this contest is doing is asking us to do what missionaries and pastors have done for thousands of years, looking for stories, images and metaphors to present Biblical truth in a way their audience may not have heard it explained before.

11   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 11:02 am

The entire premise of a contest is wrong. But the premise of redefining something as simple and clear as the death and resurrection of Christ?

They’re NOT redefining the death and resurrection of Jesus – they’re looking for metaphors which will convey the truth of the significance of his death and resurrection.

That somehow there will be a winning metaphor or image that will finally click with people, and they’ll come rushing to the church?

You’re confusing teaching with evangelism, Paul.

This is what happens in a society (or should I say “culture”?) where people no longer desire truth. I can just see a contest like this taking place in China or Africa or Asia for example…

Or, more charitably, it is what happens when people want to explain to their culture – in the language of the culture – the significance of the Gospel and its truth.

Bible translators have had to do this all the time. A friend of ours talked about how with a particular regional dialect in Africa that there was no word or concept for “perfection”, which made it difficult to describe Jesus as the perfection of our faith, or him living a perfect life, etc. They came to find out, though, that when the tribe members went hunting, if they were catching monkeys, they wanted to shoot them in the mouth (which keeps from rupturing organs and spoiling the meat), and that a phrase “shooting the monkey in the mouth” (which is very difficult) is their definition of perfection, so he used this imagery to get across the idea of ‘perfection’.

In the case at hand, it seems that EV is looking for metaphors that describe what Jesus’ atonement repaired in the world. “Substitutionary Penal Atonement” is only one aspect of Jesus’ work, whereas – in its entirety – his crucifixion and resurrection was a total victory over Satan, not simply a victory over individuals’ sins.

12   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 11:07 am

“Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season (when you are getting through and not getting through, when people listen or when they ignore, when you feel like and when you don’t): reprove (correct), rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine.”

Funny, but Paul’s instruction to Timothy on “preaching the word” was (in context) referring to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), and there’s no indication that Paul’s instruction to Timothy included his own writings in canon. Every time Paul wrote, it was rooted in scripture, but the examples he used (as noted by Phil) were ones in the context of the people he was writing to (judicial atonement to the Romans, military victory to the Colossians, type/archetype to the Philippians, etc.).

Now, I consider everything in the Bible to be canon, and following Paul’s advice we need to preach the word, but we need to do it in the language of the people we’re speaking to, just as Paul did.

13   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 7th, 2008 at 11:15 am

Nathan,

Good point regarding the parables. And yet, I highly doubt that this is the actual aim of this contest. I also agree that the message we preach must be relevant to those who we are speaking with. However, the premise that we need still more ammo to break through the wall is what I have an issue with.

We don’t need more ways to explain the atonement. We need to live more according to God’s word, more sacrificially (me included), love more and so on. (BTW, my issue with Starbucks, Joe, is that it seems to nicely encapsulate the state of many churches today in comparison to the way the gospel should be lived out daily – sorry to offend your tastes Joe).

IMO, The issue is not that people are simply not grasping the atonement (I know nothing of the ones specifically mentioned by Nathan – I think it’s much simpler)… those might be a waste of time altogether and fly over the heads of believers and ungodly alike.

14   Phil Miller    http://veritasfellowship.blogspot.com
February 7th, 2008 at 11:20 am

I think part of the issue that people might have is the use of the word “metaphor”. In the early part of the 20th century, when liberal theologians were trying there best to seperate Scripture from reality, a lot of them ended up saying most if not all of the narrative were not historical, but rather metaphorical or allegorical. So I think when some people hear the word “metaphor”, there’s a reactionism that’s built in to protect Scripture.

I think Christians need to the word back, though. Metaphors aren’t bad. They help us to see more clearly. Just think of how many times you use them in everyday speech. I think one can hold to the historical veracity of Scripture, and still recognize the different literary devices used throughout. I actually think it becomes much more powerful when read this way.

15   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 7th, 2008 at 11:25 am

Chris, I completely agree with your point made at 11:07am, except that I don’t think Paul was telling Timothy to limit himself to the OT. Rather, he was to preach the gospel, perchance God would grant sinners repentance from their sins.

When I mentioned that scripture, I was trying to draw a distinction between Paul’s directness vs what we see today.

The simplicity of the gospel works in every age because the same root problem (our sinful nature) never changes despite our outward circumstances and surroundings. Remember, it is the Lord who saves.

16   Tim Reed, Owosso MI    http://churchvoices.com
February 7th, 2008 at 11:31 am

If I may offer up some imagary on why the ODMs have a problem with this.

17   Joe Martino    http://joemartino.name
February 7th, 2008 at 11:38 am

(BTW, my issue with Starbucks, Joe, is that it seems to nicely encapsulate the state of many churches today in comparison to the way the gospel should be lived out daily – sorry to offend your tastes Joe).
You really didn’t offend me, and I would agree although I think we disagree on what do do with our agreement. I think that often Starbucks does a better job of creating community than many churches, to the churches shame.

18   Phil Miller    http://veritasfellowship.blogspot.com
February 7th, 2008 at 11:39 am

Hey, my church only charges $3.00 for a latte…

19   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 7th, 2008 at 11:52 am

Allow me another stab at my reasoning on this issue:

We live in an age where knowledge about almost every topic is pervasive. There have never been more books, videos, and other media in circulation about Jesus and Christianity as there is today. We have the airwaves and television. We have massive campaigns all over the place.

And yet, with all this, the question I have is: Is the gospel – the true gospel – really being spread and revolutionizing lives. Perhaps at some level, but certainly not on par with all the activity.

I believe that this is not just because people are ineffective in spreading the gospel (though this may also be a factor) but because of the age we’re living in. Scripture seems very clear about what things will be like: people will love religion, but not God; the love of many will wax cold; knowledge will be everywhere, but people will not endure sound teaching (just change the channel to something that relates with you).

It is not more ways to explain the gospel that we need. We need God. Right now the world is in gross darkness and the church is asleep (not in activity, but it is just as worldly as the world making it largely intoxicated).

So that’s the issue I have with this premise of a contest and trying to find yet more cute methods of explaining. My 2 cents.

20   Joe Martino    http://joemartino.name
February 7th, 2008 at 11:53 am

LOL, I personally am a Kava house guy or Panera but the point stands.

21   iggy    http://wordofmouthministries.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Paul C,

So that’s the issue I have with this premise of a contest and trying to find yet more cute methods of explaining. My 2 cents.

Thank you for taking the time to show us why we should not find more ways to communicate the Gospel. (?????)

iggy

22   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 12:12 pm

Some of you have missed the point. This wasn’t a call for different ways to share the ataonement gospel, it was a contest (I wonder who decides who wins) about different ways to share the alternatives to the atonement theology.

Some of us have issues with calling those the gospel even though we are open to practical and object lessons that reveal a greater understanding to the atonement itself.

23   Tim Reed, Owosso MI    http://churchvoices.com
February 7th, 2008 at 12:28 pm

This wasn’t a call for different ways to share the ataonement gospel, it was a contest (I wonder who decides who wins) about different ways to share the alternatives to the atonement theology.

That’s not quite true Rick. As pointed out above its not about alternatives to atonement theology its about alternative atonement theologies. In various places on this blog its been pointed out that historically speaking there’s several different versions of atonement theology that have been embraced as orthodoxy by the church throughout her history.

Paul C,
Please note that for anyone who isn’t a dispensationalist your objections are meaningless.

24   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Tim – you know as well as I that there are theologies out there that don’t discount the atonement, but are parallel alternitives. That is what I believe McKnight was referring to, no?

25   Tim Reed, Owosso MI    http://churchvoices.com
February 7th, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Rick,
Sure, but I think you’ve moved the intent of the contest from “alternatives atonement theories” to “alternatives to the atonement”.

Read the very first sentence in the contest posting: “Discussion about alternative ways to understand the atonement is thriving.” There’s no indication this is about abolishing the atonement, but rather explaining it.

It becomes rather more obvious when reading this requirement:

Biblical – the presentations may borrow biblical imagery and adapt it for your context, or may use language and imagery not found in the Bible. In either case what it communicates should resonate with biblical teaching on the atonement. See the books mentioned above (McKnight and Green & Baker) for guidance on this point.

I don’t see abolishment of the atonement ont he table here.

26   iggy    http://wordofmouthministries.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 12:45 pm

RIck,

Would it have been better if they stated, “let’s have some fun and discuss…” instead of used the word contest?

Really that is all I see when I read it.

iggy

27   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Tim – I understand what you are saying, however I did mention that some alternatives do not reject the atonement, but do see a different focus. I reject the contest concept, Iggy, but that is a side issue.

I hope McKnight prints all the theological theories so we can compare them to the original concept. I fully embrace the idea that there can be many ways to communicate the gospel. Many tribes throughout the earth could never understand redemption without some practical and creative linguistic bridges.

I will wait to see what people send in. My alien theory could win??

28   iggy    http://wordofmouthministries.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Rick,

So by stating you reject the contest “concept” then are you saying that we should not have fun discussion theology?

iggy

29   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Yes – no fun, no entertainment – only a long, protracted journey of misery and suffering. Only then can we find any truth.

In seriousness, I believe doctrinal revelations will be uncovered and strengthened by men of God who are commited to study, prayer, and the ministry of the Word. I am for humor but serious doctrinal journeys as well.

30   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 7th, 2008 at 1:20 pm

Tim, dispensationalist or no, someone would have to be blind to not see some of the things I pointed out. In this case, I must plead ignorance as I have no idea what a dispensationlist even is.

31   Phil Miller    http://veritasfellowship.blogspot.com
February 7th, 2008 at 1:34 pm

I think we have to remember that there all called “theories” for a reason. A theory isn’t saying with 100% certainty that it explains the way something is in reality. Theories are by definition an attempt to explain the way something works, but they are always open to being refined.

I think of it like an asymptope type relationship where the actual truth would be the axis that the curve which is the theory is running beside. The curve keeps on getting closer to the axis, but it will never quite touch it. This is how see the atonement. We may come of with a lot of ways to describe it, but we won’t really see the full scope and beauty of it until Christ returns.

32   Tim Reed, Owosso MI    http://churchvoices.com
February 7th, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Paul C,
Dispensationalism.

It can be seen clearly in that you’re advocating that we’re somehow in a different era as defined in that verse.

Contrast that with non-dispensational theologies that see that verse as an on-going condition of the world/church.

33   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 1:39 pm

“This is how see the atonement. We may come of with a lot of ways to describe it, but we won’t really see the full scope and beauty of it until Christ returns. ”

That is wonderful, Phil. But some theories see Christ’s sacrifice as something different than a greater revelation of the atonement. It is sometimes subtle but a divergence nonetheless. Your description was great.

34   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 7th, 2008 at 1:40 pm

“It can be seen clearly in that you’re advocating that we’re somehow in a different era as defined in that verse.”

Tim, what particular verse?

35   Tim Reed, Owosso MI    http://churchvoices.com
February 7th, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Paul C,
The verse from 2 Tim 3 you quoted earlier.

36   iggy    http://wordofmouthministries.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Rick,

In seriousness, I believe doctrinal revelations will be uncovered and strengthened by men of God who are commited to study, prayer, and the ministry of the Word. I am for humor but serious doctrinal journeys as well.

As long as it is not in the concept of a fun contest?

OK…

iggy

37   Henry (Rick) Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2008 at 3:38 pm

I am not sure how fun fits within the sufferings of our Savior and the consequences of eternity in heaven and hell. When we seek to explain and expand the meaning of the cross and the atoning blood that was shed, I think we must be very careful how we interject fun.

I am all for fun and contests about many things, but I feel the atonement and its understandings should not be within that framework. I do not believe that western Christians are starved for fun in these days, but many are in need of a more serious and commited view of Christ and His Word.

Now, with that said, have you heard the one about the Rabbi and the stork? Never mind.