Bad Friday

Here is a most disturbing article on the meaning of the atonement by Tony Jones, a leading voice in the Emerging Chruch.  Let me know what you think.

11 thoughts on “Bad Friday”

  1. Well… I guess I don’t really understand what he’s getting at. But I do get that the ending of the article does just about everything it can to belittle God’s righteousness and holiness.
    Doesn’t make sense to me to say that God’s wrath could be satisfied by Him being able to “identify with humans.”


  2. Comforting to know that God died for my lonliness – really. He made it sound like the reason Christ suffered on the cross was so that I would be able to relate to His lonliness. Give me a break. Should send him a copy of “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott


  3. Did he really say that Jesus death offers life because he came to reach out to humans who had been de-humanized and restore their humanity and die like us? So according to Jones we needed to be rescued to humanity, not from it? And that was the big point of calvary? Christ dying to identify with us for the 70 or so years we may live. Wow. Please correct me if my perceptions are wrong on the previous points but all I can think is,
    “If for only this life we have hoped in Christ we are of all men most to be pitied.”


  4. I think the line of thinking for the whole humanity thing goes like this:

    What is it to be truly, fully human? The answer that I would have once given is that to be fully human is to be with fault–sinful. But that gives a problem, because that would be saying that Christ was not fully human.
    So that leads us back to the original question… what is it to be truly, fully human? The perfect example would be the Christ, right? After all, we do believe that He was fully God and fully man… and if we believe that His humanity was any less than 100%, then we at the very least go against 1700 years of church history (or thereabouts).
    But if Christ was fully human, then we can’t be, can we? Because to be fully human would be to live like Christ, i.e. be perfect. Because we are not fully human, we are all dehumanized, in a sense.
    Christ, then, came and showed us perfect humanity. He then identified with our lack thereof 1) by doing miracles, where he gave people back physical humanity, and 2) by dying on the cross, where he dealt with the least human of all things (when thinking of Christ as the perfect human), i.e. death. (Tony Jones could probably come up with other ways the Christ identified with our dehumanity, but I haven’t studied it, so I can’t.) After identifying with the most dehuman attribute, and then overcoming it to be fully human again (i.e. the resurrection), He gives us hope to overcome as He did… and as Paul said, hope does not disappoint.

    Now that you’ve read that, think of it like this: at the crux of things, “perfect humanity” and “perfectly human” are just another way of saying “without sin.” “Dehumanized” and “not fully human” are just another way of saying “with sin.” We all know that “sin” is an ugly word to emergent Christians… this just seems to be the way that Tony Jones deals with it. But whether or not their semantics match ours, they’re still saying the same thing… just with a postmodern semantic spin.

    Now that that’s done, I’ll do a little afterword disclaimer: I’m not emergent. I do like some ideas that I have read by authors that are labeled emergent, but I’m not emergent. However, I am sympathetic, as I think I’ve showed. And now, for a verse from a song:

    “Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth,
    Her charter of salvation: one Lord, one Faith, one Birth.
    One holy Name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
    and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.”
    2nd verse of The Church’s One Foundation [feminine pronouns refer to the Church.]


    1. I don’t think Tony is simply putting a fresh semantic twist on sin. I think it worse than a euphemism to say that Jesus became de-human for us so that we might become human. This is bad contextualization. It captures none of the biblical language used to express sin. Sin is a transgression, law breaking, and covenant-breaking. Good contextualization does not numb the reality of sin, it uses fresh language to impact it with us, such as when Sproul defines sin as “cosmic treason”.

      I agree that what it is to be human should be defined by who Adam was before the apple rather than after. I agree that Jesus came to restore, to redeem man. I think it deadly to contextualize sin such that it is no longer seen as the plague of our spirits, the bane of our souls, the belittling of God, the breaking of His law, enmity against His throne, rebellion against His authority, hatred toward the God of heaven, malice toward fellow man, and the stealing glory that belongs to the Sovereign alone. Certainly sin is de-human, and makes us de-human, but Tony’s language captures nothing of the reality of sin.

      When men talk of a little Hell, it is because they think they have only a little sin and believe in a little Savior—it is all little together! But when you get a great sense of sin, you need a great Savior, and feel that if you do not have Him, you will fall into a great destruction and suffer a great punishment at the hands of the Great God! – C.H. Spurgeon


      1. 1a) I understand transgression… but what is lay breaking? I’ve never heard of that before…
        1b) What covenant are non-Christians breaking? I could see Christians sinning as being rebellion against the covenant of salvation… but what are your thoughts as far as non-Christians?

        2a) In reply to the quote: a little Savior is better than no Savior, isn’t it? Being saved by the skin of your teeth is certainly not preferable to total abandon to the Christ, but it is certainly preferable to not being saved at all, isn’t it?
        2bi) To state another thought on the quote, a small sprout can grow into a huge tree… but no tree will result if there is no sprout with which to start.
        2bii) That being said, Tony Jones certainly seems to be rebelling against letting the sprout grow…


      2. I do use the term “covenant” freely here. Remember the law as given was within the framework of the covenant. So why do we apply the “law” part of the covenant to unbelievers minus the “covenant” in which it was given? I am not saying that the national covenant Israel was under is made with all men, but it is reflective of a “covenant” that all men are under. Covenant theologians have long regarded Genesis 2:15-17 to involve a covenant of works, or to be covenant-esque. All men are in a convent-esque relationship with God as their creator. All things were created for His glory and man has violated this arrangement.

        Does any truly converted person see Jesus as a “little savior”? Does repentance allow us to see little sin, or faith a little savior? While certainly we do not grasp all the depth of the atonement or the all the seriousness of our sins, we do feel depth, and we do realize sins seriousness.

        Finally I do not believe in being saved by the skin of one’s teeth. I believe in being saved by faith, and a faith without works is dead. Surely some saints demonstrate less fruit than others, but there is fruit. There must be fruit for there is a “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).


  5. I agree with Katie that the article is kind of vague, but it seems Jones is working with a “liberation theology” idea of the cross. I think it is problematic to reduce the meaning of the cross only to earthly suffering, but at the same time I find the Reformed position of “penal substitutionary atonement” equally problematic for a lot of reasons I won’t go into. I think the best approach is not to take a reductive reading of the cross (reducing it either to the alleviation of physical suffering or to some idea about God’s wrath) and instead to think of each of these positions as models to help us understand certain aspects of a beautiful mystery. I think this is really nicely expressed in the following quote:

    “That great doctrine [the cross/the atonement] has been faintly set forth in figures taken from man’s laws and customs. It is represented as the payment of a price, or a ransom, or as the offering of satisfaction for a debt. But we can never rest in these material figures as though they were literal and adequate. As both Abelard and Bernard remind us, the Atonement is the work of love. It is essentially a sacrifice, the one supreme sacrifice of which the rest were but types and figures. And, as St. Augustine teaches us, the outward rite of Sacrifice is the sacrament, or sacred sign, of the invisible sacrifice of the heart. It was by this inward sacrifice of obedience unto death, by this perfect love with which He laid down his life for His friends, that Christ paid the debt to justice, and taught us by His example, and drew all things to Himself; it was by this that He wrought our Atonement and Reconciliation with God, “making peace through the blood of His Cross”.”


  6. Also, I don’t think this should be an issue that divides Christians. If Reformed people want to make “penal substitutionary atonement” that kind of an issue, then they are setting themselves against the previous 1500 years of church history. Neither the Nicene Creed nor the Apostles’ Creed include any mention of a specific doctrine of atonement.


    1. There are a lot of “penal substitionary atonement” adherents that equally hate reductionism regarding the atonement, myself being just one lowly one. Jeffrey, Ovey, and Sach in their excellent work on Penal Substitution claim they have never read a proponent of the doctrine who says it is the only motif of the atonement. In their research of their opponent’s material they note that they never document a proponent who does so. I equally hold to Christus Examplar (Christ our example) and Christus Victor (Christ the Victor) . However I believe that penal substitutionary atonement is central and essential to the others. Without it the others fall. For example the Christ who is our example in 1 Peter 1:21 is the same Christ who bore our sins in His body, the Christ by whose stripes we have been healed. He died for our sins, that we might die to sin (1 Peter 1:24). Also part of Christus Victor is the saint’s triumph over Satan, the accuser of our souls. The reason Satan can no longer accuse us is because of penal substitutionary atonement (Colossians 2:13-15).

      I think substitutionary atonement is a divisive issue. I think it was for Paul as evidenced in Galatians and Romans (justification by faith is bound up with substitutionaly atonement, as are reconciliation, redemption, and propitiation [Romans 3:23-26]). John R.W. Stott has labored this point beautifully in the work Mark mentioned above. I think myself in good company. Also, I think it central to the author of Hebrews as well. Indeed, I think it central to all of Scripture. Luther said it is on the article of justification by faith that the church rises or falls. Calvin said it is the hinge on which Christianity turns. J.I. Packer said the doctrine of justification by faith is the Atlas of Christianity.

      Regarding the creeds it must be remembered that they were systematic theological statements crafted in response to the issues of their days. They don’t mention the atonement because that is not the issue they were crafted in response to. While the church has not always clearly stated this doctrine, it has always been necessary for mans salvation.


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