I don't think I could have chosen to look at anything more controversial. Well, ideas about who are the elect (Calvin/Barth) would have been interesting or justification and sanctification (Piper/Wright) would have been stimulating too. But this is fascinating. According to McArthur and Brow there was a megashift occurring in evangelicalism about 20 years ago to which I was oblivious, having only been 14 years old at the time, but understanding this is helping me to make sense of some of the divisions I have encountered in churches and through the internet between open and conservative evangelicals. It would seem that the difference is often referred to as one between 'old-model' and 'new-model' theology ('open theism' described by John McArthur). There was a shift in emphasis from a wrathful God to a fatherly God and with it an exchange was made in the theories of the atonement from the law-court model of Jesus being inflicted with punishment for sin to Jesus 'absorbing' sin on the cross. I remember once being in a bible study that was being led by someone who declared that she had to remember that God was also a loving God and I remember being quite shocked at this and realising that for me I suffered the opposite problem - that I needed to remind myself that a loving God could also be an angry God and I think I realised at that point that there were two quite different theological stances in that room and this was going to cause me some dis-ease. I'll keep blogging my thoughts along the way.
This is certainly no modern debate, it goes all the way back to the differences between Anselm (PSA) and Abelard (moral theory) or so I am being led to believe, Actually, I have reservations about this - are there really Christians who deny the atoning value of the cross? There surely aren't many Christians, who like Abelard, simply believe that Christ provided us with the supreme moral example to imitate so that we might secure salvation - this would be a kind of works-righteousness, wouldn't it? I'll keep copying you in on my thinking.
Okay so it isn't an either/or. One can hold to substitutionary atonement, against Abelard without holding fully to Anselm's penal substitutionary atonement? Substitutionary atonement doesn't have to be 'penal' for many Christians. There is a difference in people's minds between Christ suffering 'for us' and Christ being 'punished instead of us'.