Peter Kirk goes over some of the T4G language and also looks at a couple of folks that Adrian believes are not in accord with that doctrine. I know Peter accepts the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and so do I, for that matter, though the devil is definitely in the details on that point. Simply stating that Jesus died for our sins is not sufficient for many people; one has to believe that Jesus not only died for our sins, but did so in a specific way, accomplished specific things by it, and also that this idea of substitution is the most central and important aspect of the whole doctrine of atonement.
In fact, I think it is very easy to replace “salvation by works” with “salvation by doctrines” instead of with “salvation by faith.” It looks to me like Dave Warnock has this very problem in mind with his post on the atonement.
This whole problem was brought to my attention forcefully when reading The God Delusion over the last few days. (I’m writing a response to that and will probably post it on Monday.) In chapter 7, “The ‘Good’ Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist” Dawkins spends a bit of time on the atonement (pp. 250-253). Now any theologian is likely to be dismayed by the superficial overview involved here, but if you’re honest, you’ll admit that you’ve heard it from the people in the pews, and even from some theologians. There are so many variations on this doctrine, that it is hard to tell a non-Christian that they have it wrong; generally they merely have someone else’s expression.
There are two points I have on this. First, if the gospel is to be an offense, please let it be the gospel that is the offense, and not all the extras we like to stack up over and around it. We’ve been playing with metaphors to use in talking about atonement for centuries, surely we can admit that we’re doing just that–playing with metaphors–most of the time. Playing with metaphors is not bad in itself. It becomes bad when we forget that we’re dealing with metaphors, and mistake them for reality. Second, let’s try to state what we do mean by the atonement as carefully as possible. The problem here is that “cosmic child abuse” is indeed something that can be gotten from some of our statements, and unfortunately I think it is fair in some cases.
I’m certain I’ll say more about this in the next couple of weeks, but right now I have to get back to writing my review of The God Delusion before I have to return the book to the library where someone else has it on hold.