Over the past few days I’ve been helping a friend as he writes an essay on how evangelicals should respond to non-violent models of the atonement. One of the big issues identified was, of course, the way in which the Father/Son relationship is articulated in presentations of Jesus dying on the Cross. And I have to say that as I have read some of the ways in which the Cross is explained I sympathise with those who oppose a penal model (even though I strongly disagree with their proposals) – stories of trains crossing bridges at the expense of the station-keeper’s child, or parents strapping their children into electric chairs to free an unrelated criminal, or judges sending themselves to jail seem to naturally lead to the critiques levelled against penal substitutionary atonement. Of course a thoughtful and orthodox theology of the Trinity will help in addressing some of these issues (Barth’s The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country (CD IV/1) is a great place to start, but many of the myriad of ‘trinitarian’ books being published of late will do the trick). But Mark Thompson’s words remind us that it is only recourse to the Scriptures as a whole that will ultimately protect and promote the glorious news of the Cross.
'Despite its faddishness at the moment, trinitarian doctrine is not the great panacea which will solve every theological problem. It certainly will not give us the answer to every criticism made against the orthodox Christian understanding of the death of Christ in our place and for our sin. Too often our theological reflection is built upon a very narrow base. A much broader base is needed, and I am convinced that that base is provided by the teaching of all the Scriptures. We must beware the reductionism that collapses all theological questions into one particular doctrine, particularly when the doctrine, in the way in which is it often the subject of scholarly investigation, is not the focus of attention throughout the Scriptures. A more robust biblical theology, borne of the conviction that what we have in the Scriptures is the word of God to us, is what is needed in the churches and in the theological academy.'
Mark Thompson, ‘From the Trinity to the Cross’
Reformed Theological Review 63:1 (2004), 28.
By the way, anyone who preaches or explains the death of Christ would do well to read pages 329-336 in Jeffery, Ovey and Sach’s Pierced for our Transgressions.