Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Meaning of the Cross


According to the SCM's (the Student Christian Movement) 1919 "Aim and Basis" this is what the cross means:
It is only as we see on Calvary the price of suffering paid day by day by God himself for all human sin, that we can enter into the experience of true penitence and forgiveness, which sets us free to embark upon a wholly new way of life...This is the meaning of the Atonement.
Reading these words afresh it struck me that this statement resonates with several, shall we call them 'Emergentesque' for want of a better word, affirmations of the cross.

This is hardly surprising since the SCM statement is the impulse of a certain caste of heart and mind, and it rests on specific presuppositions concerning God and man, and concerning the breakdown in divine-human relations and how they are to be restored.  If those presuppositions are shared we should expect contemporary authors to assemble, using Biblical vocabulary, a message about the meaning of the cross akin to that of the non-Evangelical SCM.

John Stott offered the following observations on this statement in the preface to his book The Cross of Christ:
But we have respectfully to respond that the meaning of the atonement is not to be found in our penitence evoked by the sight of Calvary, but rather in what God did when in Christ on the cross he took our place and bore our sin. 
This distinction between an 'objective' and 'subjective' understanding of the atonement needs to be made clear in every generation.
Whilst I agree with what he wrote back in 1986, we should be able to see that the SCM statement has an objective element ("the price of suffering paid day by day by God himself") as well as a subjective one ("we can enter into the experience of true penitence and forgiveness, which sets us free to embark upon a wholly new way of life").  In fact we can say that the SCM statement acknowledges that the objective act of God precedes the subjective response on our part.

The crux of the matter is not the distinction between the objective and the subjective aspects of the atonement but the nature of the objective understanding of the atonement, the meaning of what God did at the cross, why he did it, and why it was necessary for him to do it in the first place.

On this point the SCM position and that of the classical Evangelicalism with its roots in the Reformation really represent two different religions both using the same stock of language.  Look at what they are saying about God and his nature, man and his fall, sin and its effects, and you begin to see that no amount of verbal similarity can compensate for the fact that they represent diametrically opposed theologies.

1 comment:

Tony-Allen said...

I had not thought of it this way. Thanks for sharing.