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The Atonement And The New York Times

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Dr. Carrell further takes issue with conflating British Empire building, muscular Christianity and evangelical Christianity, noting that they are not identical terms. Not all muscular Christians are evangelical Christians, nor were either agents of the British imperial venture.

The New York Times also misses the deeper issue of the theological dispute over the nature and purpose of the Atonement that lies behind Fraser’s arguments. Over the past thirty years a debate has arisen within English-speaking Protestant theology over the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, which claims that Christ died as a substitute for sinners. God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ, and, in our place, Christ bore the punishment that we deserve. The classical evangelical position is best summarized in the Cross of Christ by John Stott -- himself a product of the Iwerne summer camps.

Against this viewpoint has arisen a school of thought that sees the penal substitutionary atonement as a form of “divine child abuse.” In 2003, British Baptist Steve Chalke, the head of the Oasis Trust, wrote in The Lost Message of Jesus:

“The fact is that the cross is a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a construct stands in total contradiction to the statement ‘God is love.’ If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and refuse to repay evil with evil.”

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