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.