Lessons on the Atonement from Jonathan Edwards, I...

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(Tim: first in a series from David Wegener) Tucked away in my two-volume compilation of many of the works of Jonathan Edwards is a section titled, “Remarks on Important Theological Controversies.” I'll be summarizing one part of this section subtitlted “Of Satisfaction for Sin." But first, let me introduce exactly why Edward's essay is important.
 
In today’s theological climate, particularly through the influence of the Emergent church and the hipness of the Anabaptist movement, many are questioning the traditional Protestant doctrine of the Atonement; that is, the penal substitutionary doctrine of the atonement. On the Cross, did Christ really take our place? Was it really for our sins that He suffered and died? Did God really punish Christ in our stead?
 
Taking their cue from Feminist and Anabaptist theologians, Emergent church leaders consider the traditional Protestant doctrine of the Atonement to be cosmic child abuse. An angry Father has punished His Son for wrongs the Son did not commit. Isn’t that what we'd call child abuse? Isn’t our society trying to enact laws to prevent just this kind of thing? Is this the message we should preach from our pulpits? Does it really square with God's love or justice?
 

The Anabaptist tradition has long been known for its pacifist beliefs. But usually it stopped with a treatment of beliefs about war and a criticism of the just war theory. Now, some Anabaptists are wondering if their belief in nonviolence should remain enclosed, limited to this ethical section of their theology. Shouldn’t it permeate their approach to all things? How can they hold to nonviolence in human relations when they espouse a violent Atonement? Is God really a bloodthirsty and angry deity?
 
Even evangelical leaders are wondering if Christ's Atonement was really necessary? Couldn’t God have chosen another way?
 
Back then to Jonathan Edwards. How would he have viewed the assertion that the substitutionary Atonement is divine child abuse? Would he have considered this question even to be within the boundaries of Christian theology?

We can thank God Edwards gave his time to thinking long and hard on Christ’s death, so let's take these questions back to him and reap the fruit of his work.