Promise of Peace

As a new minister I’m required to continue my studies for three years in a programme called Education for Ministry 2. (EM1 was the four years in college, EM3 is the rest of my life.) The latest element of this was to attend a Theological Reading Day in West Yorkshire. We were looking at Alan Spence’s book “The Promise of Peace: A Unified Theory of Atonement.”

Alan is a Zimbabwean currently ministering in the URC. The book was written in response to Tom Wright’s view of the atonement as being essentially the Christ as Victor model – the Good News is that Jesus is Lord. For Spence, Wright overlooks key sections of Paul to justify his position. “The Promise of Peace” sets out to show that a model of Christ as Mediator is a better fit for the Biblical record. In his talk to us he outlined six(ish) presuppositions that we need to wrestle with when thinking about the atonement.

1. God hears his people cry. Therefore, there is judgement and accountability.
2. The announcement of God’s rule (The Kingdom of God) is not unambiguous Good News. It’s not good news for those who are complicit in evil, for example.
3. The cross is absolutely central.
4. Jesus’ action in the atonement is in his humanity.
5. (Not a presupposition but a question.) On what terms does God forgive us?
6. We must wrestle with what it means to say to God: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I was convinced by the book and I was even more convinced by Alan in person. His position is Biblical, historically grounded and relevant. He continues to ask questions of this nature in this month’s Reform.

What impressed me most, though, was his commitment to the historic Gospel and yet his total graciousness to those who disagreed with him. There were other speakers on the day – a liberal atonement-denier, an eastern Orthodox apologist and an Anglican. As I sat listening to the others I was shaking my head in disbelief and excommunicating as I went. If I was in Alan’s position I would have lost the plot – he didn’t. He was a great example of how to stand up for the faith, without acting like an imbecile.

All in all, a good day – and it’s not often I say that of URC events.

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4 thoughts on “Promise of Peace

  1. You have a particular gift… to challenge and to share in equal measure! It really is good news to know that good things are happening within our denomination. I have always believed that being biblical, historical and grounded should be at the core of who we are in Christ Jesus, but we have often kept it well hidden, often because of our inability to ‘not lose the plot’ or because many of us feel ill equipped to argue ‘academically’ with those who put their case with words some of us don’t understand or concepts that are beyond our reality.

  2. sounds like a worryingly easy dismissal of Wright. The idea that in Wright’s massive, comprehensive, magisterial and still growing corpus he has ‘overlooked’ anything is deeply unlikely. Whether or not you approve of Wright’s overall methodology is another matter. still anything that gets one thinking about the atonement is good, and hopefully a ‘unified’ theory of atonement would be able to accomodate understandings of Christ as both victor and mediator, as, after all, the Bible proclaims both.

    On another note, isn’t excommunicating a Gk Orthodox and a Anglican a little difficult when you are in the URC? They probably wouldn’t care much if you did! More to the point what was it they said that you didn’t like?

  3. Jon,
    The book’s an in depth look at the whole issue – my cursory review of one day doesn’t do it justice. There’s a great section where Spence looks at Wright’s hypothesis (from “What St Paul Really Said”) which is based on a passage from Romans. Spence then shows how Wright has “overlooked” whole swathes of the same section that contradict his message. Spence doesn’t want to get rid of the victor model but points out that Christus Victor in and of itself is not Good News. Read the book and be convinced.

    As for the “excommunicating” I was outlining how my sinful mind works when people disagree with me – and how Alan was an example of how to do it with grace and love. A bit of hyperbole for effect.

    Oh, and thanks for causing trouble on my blog!

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