As regular readers know, my book The New Adam: What the Early Church Can Teach Evangelicals (and Liberals) About the Atonement was just published. In the next few posts I plan to introduce the message of this book by quoting and commenting on sections of the introduction and conclusion. These are sections not available in the Amazon.com preview. I hope these posts will motivate you to read the book and tell others about it. I don’t get invited to appear on Fox News, CNN or MSNBC. There are many thousands of books published every day. So, my book and most others find their way into the hands of readers by word of mouth recommendations. Many early readers have already done this, and I am grateful. Books like mine don’t make money…but in certain cases they change lives. I wrote this book for that individual who at this moment in their life needs this message. I pray that they find it.
Let me tell you a bit about the book. As a young adult I realized that churches within my circle had focused nearly all their thinking and teaching on small doctrinal differences at issue among Christians and taken for granted the central truths of the faith and the Christian way of life. I sensed that someday these central truths would no longer be generally accepted by the majority of a fast-evolving post-Christian culture. I came to believe that within my lifetime, believers would be forced to explain and defend the basic affirmations of their faith to a hostile audience. They were not prepared to do this then and they not prepared now. Many have and will fall away for this reason. As I was writing these lines the solemn words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 24 came to mind:
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Though the immediate occasion for these words was the impending divine judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple, they express the perennial situation of those who seriously embrace the way of discipleship to Jesus.
So, I made it my life project to think through, defend, and explain the basic teachings of Christianity to my contemporaries and the next generations. For the past twenty years I have been writing about the major topics of Christian doctrine: God, Trinity, creation, providence, and church. I aimed to read the best, highest level thinkers on each topic and write at the highest level I could while keeping the book readable by students, ministers, and interested others. For years I’ve wanted to write on the atonement. Only after I wrote the other books and attained the age of 64 years did I think I was ready to begin this profound topic so central to Christian faith. That was six years ago. I am now 70 years old. The New Adam contains the fruit of that labor. Here is the first section of my Introduction along with a teaser from the next section:
Friends sometimes ask how long it takes to write a book. “A lifetime!” I reply without hesitation. We bring everything we have learned to each project we take up. In writing this book I have been acutely conscious of this truth. I have been listening to the Christian message of sin, salvation, and atonement my whole life. I heard it in church services and college classes. I read about it in the Bible and in books of theology. All along I thought I understood what my teachers were saying. A few years ago, however, after having taught theology for over a decade, I realized I did not understand at all. Whenever I taught about the atonement, I found myself repeating phrases taken from Scripture and describing textbook theories of atonement apart from a lively sense of their truth.
Nor was I able to help my students understand. I began to pay closer attention to the ways contemporary preachers, teachers, and popular authors explained the message of salvation. I concluded that they understood it no better than I. At that point, I determined that I had to write this book. It has been a long journey, and there were times when I thought I would never achieve the breakthrough I was seeking. But the moment came when I saw a little light, a glow that grew brighter as I moved toward it. Now when I contemplate the salvation that has come into the world through Jesus Christ I rejoice with my mind as well as my heart.
I hope this book can help others understand the Christian message of salvation in a way that resonates with their experience and strikes them as good news. I offer it as a guide for professors, students, pastors, teachers, and church leaders in their ministries. The book aims to help readers gain a sense of rapport and continuity with the community created by the original gospel events and discover new ways of presenting this good news to those outside. In working toward these ends, I desire to be faithful to Scripture, respectful of tradition, and consistent with reason. Of course, many other writers care about these matters and hold dear these values. I engage with their ideas to affirm or criticize, accept or reject. However, two theological viewpoints on salvation require extensive examination because of their outsized influence and largely negative impact on contemporary Christianity. I consider them soteriological dead ends, and we must move past them if the light is to grow brighter.
Soteriological Dead Ends
Two options dominate the field for making sense of sin and salvation in contemporary Protestant Christianity, the evangelical penal substitution and the liberal moral influence theories of atonement…[to be continued].