He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:3-5).

Atonement Under Siege

This article is also the new ending to a previous piece Prognosis For The American Christian Church, but tragically the most ferocious attack on our Lord’s incredible sacrifice has now come emerging from men who would also lay claim to being $evangelical$ “Christ-followers.” Why exactly men like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Steve Chalke would feel they are doing God a service by causing people to question His Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross truly escapes me. Yet this is precisely what these “evangelicals” are involved with, the denial of “the evangel,” and they are doing so as pastor-teachers within the Christian church. In the cover story of the May 2006 Issue of Christianity Today “Nothing But the Blood” Mark Dever does a good job of laying out the three major sets of theories concerning penal substitution. For those who may not know, Dever is “senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., and executive director of 9 Marks.” In this piece I’m concerned with the third group of theories which he says “assumes that our main problem is God’s righteous wrath against us for our own sinfulness, which puts us in danger of eternal punishment.”

Lord willing I will have the time to expand on this another time, but for our purposes here I point out that Dever goes on to say these theories “such as the satisfaction theory and the penal-substitution theory, emphasize how Christ represents us.” Then Dever makes a critical point that is so often lost in all of this inane discussion concerning something so plainly revealed in Holy Scripture as our Lord’s substitutionary atonement:

The new wave of criticism has targeted this last set of theories, especially the view of Christ as a penal substitute–a theory long central for most Protestant groups, especially evangelicals. The criticism follows a path laid by others throughout history, from Abelard to Socinus to Schleiermacher to C.H. Dodd (ibid., 30, emphasis mine).

O what a sorry bunch of scholars to be found among; chances are that if you were able to talk with these gentlemen today, you would find they would regretfully wish they had come to a different conclusion while they still had the chance. As he further discusses the critics of penal substitution Dever says that perhaps “the most powerful criticism of penal substitution has come from a swelling chorus of scholars who decry its violence.” One of the names he brings up, “French scholar Rene Girard,” will sound familiar to those of you who have read the extremely Christ-denying Reimaging Christianity by the “living spiritual teacher” Alan Jones. Jones by the way refers to our Lord’s penal substitutionary atonement as “this vile doctrine” (168). Another familiar name also emerges as Dever tells us how some “evangelicals have taken to the work of Anthony Bartlett, J. Denny Weaver, Steve Chalke, and Alan Mann, who decry the language of violence in substitutionary Atonement.”

Speaking of Steve Chalke, perhaps we might file this under “Your Parents Must Be Very Proud,” he recently said of Christ: “a dying Saviour is no Saviour.” Dever also informs us in CT that:

Two years after publishing his controversial book The Lost Message of Jesus (Zondervan, 2004), Chalke wrote, “The church’s inability to shake off the great distortion of God contained in the theory of penal substitution, with its inbuilt belief in retribution and the redemptive power of violence, has cost us dearly” (30,31, emphasis mine).

It truly does amaze me just how spiritually obtuse one can actually be and still be allowed to pastor a Christian church today. Let’s look again; Chalke says above that the Church couldn’t “shake off” what he sees as “the great distortion” in the Biblical doctrine of God’s Gospel plan of the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the Cross which he says “has cost us dearly.” O whatever was the LORD God Almighty, the Self-existent Creator of all life, thinking? If only He’d had the foresight to consult Mr. Chalke concerning His merciful idea to save creatures like us that hated Him due to our own sinfulness. Dr. John MacArthur addresses this mistaken and man-centered idea by Chalke very nicely in his book Hard To Believe when he reminds us that:

1 Corinthians 1:21 says, “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” It is this scandalous, offensive, foolish, ridiculous, bizarre, absurd message of the cross that God used to save those who would believe. Roman authorities executed His Son, the Lord of the world, by a method they reserved only for the dregs of society; His followers had to be faithful enough to risk meeting the same shameful end.

MacArthur is telling a timid American Christian Church bent on pleasing the surrounding culture the absolute Truth when he brings out that the true Body of Christ actually has a:

shameful message than we preach of Jesus on the cross. Being crucified was a degrading insult, and the idea of worshipping someone who had been crucified was unimaginable. Of course, we don’t see people being crucified now as Paul’s listeners did in the first century, so the impact is somewhat lost on us. But Paul knew what he was up against: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18); “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (vv. 22-23). The message of the cross is foolishness, moria in Greek, from which we get the word “moron” (25).

A Willful Ignorance

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… They exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:22,25).

All of this becomes quite obvious as Dever discusses Emergent theologian Scot McKnight’s presupposed warped view of the atonement and the way he twists the Scriptures in his attempt to then force it into the Biblical text. McKnight would do well to remember God the Holy Spirit’s warning through His chosen vessel Peter who wrote – Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16). In a moment you will see a clear example in the scholarship of Scot McKnight of the malignant spiritual disease that the evangelical community in the Body of Christ has contracted, and it is a terminal one unless it is removed immediately.

Men like McKnight who deny the verbal plenary (full) inspiration of Holy Scripture have now come emerging into our Lord’s Church through the cult of the Emergent Church. That McKnight denies the proper doctrine of Biblical inspiration emerges with crystalline clarity as Dever lays out McKnight’s denial of the vicarious (Christ did something) penal (Christ was punished) substitutionary (Christ substituted) atonement (Christ satisfied God the Father’s judgment). Dever first covers a range of Scriptures dealing with substitution and sacrifice that should present a “problem” for “critics of substitution.” He then points out that these critics are getting around this type of problem the only way any cult-like group can “by downplaying its importance or reinterpreting it.” And Dever is correct when he says that this ends up in his view doing “violence to the plain meaning of the text.” Those of us who have studied the methodology of cults recognize the dangers of followers being “indoctrinated” by mangled views of the Bible from “scholars” within a given organization.

Make what you will of this important information in the case of the Emergent Church, but I am already on record that if Dr. Walter Martin were alive today he would be warning people about this schismatic and destructive group now that it has become obvious they will not adhere to the authority of the Word of God. In illustrating how critics of the substitutionary atonement twist their way around the Biblical text Dever will use the work of “Scot McKnight, for example, in his recent Jesus and His Death (Baylor, 2005).” He points out that McKnight “does lots of careful work with the Gospel text.” Even so, says Dever, McKnight:

assumes that the last phrase in Mark 10:45– “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” –reports not Jesus’ original words but Mark’s theologizing. And while admitting that the idea of substitution is strongly suggested here, he finally rejects it” (32).

Teachers Twisting Scripture To Tickle Fickle Ears

We stop right here. This was not the subject of Dever’s article so it isn’t covered there so I highlight McKnight’s idea that to give His life as a ransom for many was Mark’s adding a theological view to his Gospel. RED WARNING FLAG: What you have just read is a denial of the Biblical doctrine of the verbal plenary inspiration of Holy Scripture! Once we open this door to injecting our own opinions–regardless of how “scholarly” they may be–into the text of the Bible we are doomed to a mystical merry-go-round of subjective opinion. This is the grave danger with the inherent Gnosticism of the Contemplative Spirituality movement central to the warped theology of the Emergent Church. In perfect circular reasoning McKnight denies the substitutionary atonement of Christ and when faced with a verse of Scripture which pointedly teaches it McKnight simply dismisses the text with his superior gnosis that it was Mark who was “reading in” (eisegesis) a theological view with this text.

Rather the truth is that it is the blind fool McKnight who is reading his own theological position into the Biblical narrative and then this “evangelical” scholar must go on to deny the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible to do so. Men and women, McKnight denies both the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the Cross and now he is denying the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture. For the sake of our Lord’s suffering, how many things believed by evangelicals does someone have to deny before he is no longer considered evangelical? McKnight brings out the idea that Jesus didn’t actually say those words, but rather in his scholarly opinion this is Mark implanting a theological view into the text of Holy Scripture. How does McKnight know this? He doesn’t. Can McKnight produce a single scrap of credible evidence to support his theory? He can’t. And yet through this kind of Emergent scholarship we witness yet another passage of the Bible being fulfilled:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

Again, time permitting I will include further discussion concerning defending the Bible from this kind of attack which has now been launched from inside the evangelical community itself through the Emergent Church and scholars like Scot McKnight at a latter time. So for now I just want to close here by showing you that as these Christ-denying vipers who are attacking the atonement from inside the Christian Church are doing so through their denial of the historic orthodox Christian doctrine concerning the proper view of the inspiration of the Bible. And the cult of the Emergent Church is one of the clearest examples of a group of people gathering around themselves a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. As Dr. Martin once pointed out itching ears is an expression that means to tell someone exactly what they had already wanted to hear beforehand. The example from Scot McKnight brought to our attention by Mark Dever serves as a shining example of someone who is actually following the questioning methodology of the Devil himself – “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1)

Sadly, in the above example of Scot McKnight, as well in the work of Steve Chalke, Brian McLaren and Richard Foster of the Emergent Church, we can also see more Truth come emerging from God’s Word:

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done (Romans 1:28).

And men like these are also:

always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).