Boy, "In Christ Alone" just will not stay out of the churchy news. A few weeks ago it was standing in for all hymnody ever in the face of the chorus-singing horde; now it's standing in for confessional evangelicals' valiant defense against the liberal horde. Coming soon: "In Christ Alone" as a symbol of resistance to common-cup communion, or missional-everything fervor, or preaching from your iPad.
Why is the death of Christ significant? Some of the church is sure it knows the answer, while much of the rest of the church is deeply uncomfortable with the question. The publicized comment by a feminist theologian at the “Re-imagining” conference a few years ago is only one example of the discomfort: “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement at all.
The very idea of preaching a single doctrine seems misguided, even though it’s far superior to preaching on neat themes that intrigue the consumers out there. So I didn’t expect to like reading Preaching the Atonement.
Looking back to history to find yet another approach to atonement will not solve the problem, but a reconsideration of the physical or mystical theory of how Christ saves us might contribute to more fruitful and civil conversation.
Christians have never embraced blood sacrifice. We have not offered chickens or slain goats, let alone sacrificed our firstborn children to God. Indeed, the very idea of blood sacrifice is abhorrent to us, evoking an almost involuntary visceral reaction. It sends chills down our spines and stirs deep within us a strong impulse to act against such a horrific practice.
Matthew’s Gospel has blood spattered all over it. The story opens “in the time of King Herod” (2:1), the tyrant about whom even the Romans joked, “Better Herod’s hus than his huios” (luckier to be Herod’s pig than one of his sons). Of the latter, nearly all died by their father’s orders, lest any supplant him.