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Coolness and Complacency

OK, I’m going to try for three short notes at a time. In this case I’m helped by Dave Warnock, who already wrote on the topic.

It seems that Adrian Warnock doesn’t like people to be “cool-headed” about the atonement. He says:

To be honest, when I heard this book was going to be “cool-headed” I was already concerned about it. I’m not sure the atonement is a subject that it’s possible to be terribly cool about. That’s because another word for cool is lukewarm. Jesus hates us to be lukewarm about crucial issues, even threatening to spit the lukewarm from his mouth (Revelation 3). I much prefer interacting with someone who is either hot or cold about important issues like this.

Dave correctly points out that Adrian is using a questionable definition of “cool-headed.” But I would like to make a few more remarks.

There’s a tendency among many religious or spiritual people to believe that the more belligerent and confrontational one is, the more truly one believes and is committed to one’s beliefs. I would suggest that just as frequently the one who is belligerent and pushy is quite insecure about those beliefs and makes up for confidence with bluster.

I’m frequently told that my self-designation as a passionate moderate is an oxymoron, as one cannot be both passionate and moderate at the same time. There’s a grain of truth to this, if I accept that the meaning of words is determined by usage. But many people who self-identify as moderates would also regard themselves as passionate about their moderate beliefs. Having determined on a position that is not at either extreme on a particular issue, I can be quite passionate about opposing either of the extremes.

But there’s another point here. Often being cool-headed is the best way to advocate for a particular course of action. You stir more people up by being confrontational, but you don’t necessarily persuade anybody that you’re right.

Having said that, I’m not sure that I’m as cool-headed as Dave on this one. Frankly I do find the hard-line position of penal substitutionary atonement, when it includes the idea that this is the meaning of the atonement, rather than one (only slightly) helpful metaphor amongst many, is not just wrong, but dangerous. It is a position that drives people away from God’s grace, not toward it in many cases. I also believe it is scripturally wrong.

Often the liberal or moderate position is argued as an OK, not so tense, alternative to the conservative position–acceptable, rather than more correct. That is unfortunate. I believe what I do because I believe those positions to be better than, not merely an OK alternative for more relaxed people. I regard the teaching of PSA as the meaning of the atonement as wrong. I regard exclusion of women from positions in ministry as wrong. It is not that I ask tolerance from my more conservative brethren for my sake. Rather, I believe tolerance would be good for them.

So perhaps I’m not the best person to argue for cool-headedness in this case.

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