Getting the Cross Right

Over at Church Matters Greg Gilbert has contributed some great posts dealing with the doctrine of the atonement. Among those posts Gilbert interacts with N.T. Wright who has become increasingly popular in evangelical circles. To be sure, Wright is an excellent scholar who has done particularly good work on the historicity of Christ's resurrection. However, Wright's contributions to the doctrines of the atonement and justification are increasingly troubling.

"Christ defeats evil by letting it do its worst to Him."

That's Lee Irons characterizing N.T. Wright's understanding of the cross, at least so far as anyone is really able to untangle it.

Here's an excerpt from Irons's
excellent article:

Wright's book Simply Christian (2006) is supposed to be his presentation of the essence of the Christian faith. Here, if anywhere, you would expect a clear, simple statement of the gospel. But it is not there. The book has many good things to say, but it doesn't explain the basic gospel -- "Christ died for our sins." Forget about imputed righteousness. We'll set that debate aside. He didn't even explain the basic concept that (a) God is holy and hates sin, (b) we are sinners deserving his just wrath, and (c) the only way we can be right with God is through the death of Christ which satisfied God's justice and gives us forgiveness and acceptance before God. Instead, we find statements like this:

God's plan to rescue the world from evil would be put into effect by evil doing its worst to the Servant--that is, to Jesus himself--and thereby exhausting its power (p. 108) ... It was time for the evil which had dogged Jesus's footsteps throughout his career--the shrieking maniacs, the conspiring Herodians, the carping Pharisees, the plotting chief priests, the betrayer among his own disciples, the whispering voices within his own soul--to gather into one great tidal wave of evil that would crash with full force over his head. So he spoke of the Passover bread as his own body that would be given on behalf of his friends, as he went out to take on himself the weight of evil so that they wouldn't have to bear it themselves (p. 110).

This is all very consistent with his earlier formulations in chapter 12 of Jesus and the Victory of God (1996). You can see how, on Wright's theory, he can say with a clear conscience that Jesus' death was substitutionary, since Jesus let evil do its worst on himself so that it would not have to do so on us. But it is much harder to see how it is penal, i.e., relating to divine punishment. "Evil doing its worst on Jesus" is not the same thing as "Christ Jesus, whom God put him forward as a propitiation by his blood ... so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:24-26).

This is precisely the woefully incomplete understanding of the atonement that seems to me to be taking up residence in too many evangelical minds.

Read the entire post HERE.

Check out the other posts in this helpful series HERE, HERE, and HERE.