From the Editor: Atonement
The doctrine of atonement has recently been the site of much “discussion” among Mennonite Brethren pastors, scholars, and conference leaders. Some of the many participants in that discussion are represented in this issue.
The papers you’ll find here explicate, from various angles, some aspect of the doctrine of atonement. Many come out of two Mennonite Brethren study conferences held in the last several years: “Deep Spirited Friends Study—The Cross of Christ,” sponsored by the B.C. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, hosted by Gracepoint Community Church in Surrey, B.C., November 3, 2010, and “The Mystery of the Cross” study conference, sponsored by the Canadian Conference of MB Churches and held at the Kitchener MB Church, October 27–29, 2011. Walter Unger argues that in the Bible, Christ’s atonement is so dominated by substitutionary language that it cannot be softened much by other biblical atonement images and metaphors. Doug Heidebrecht’s study of Mennonite Brethren confessions of faith suggests that the biblicism of Mennonite Brethren have served them well in their handling of the doctrine of atonement. Changes in the Confession of Faith over the years are not all positive, yet commitment to the authority of the Bible ensures that the Scriptures will be at the center of related discussions. Jon Isaak and Andrew Dyck, in a shorter paper based on a study conference workshop, pursue two questions raised by the Heidebrecht study: (1) Has Mennonite Brethren atonement language recently taken a new direction? (2) Why have MBs emphasized the atoning value of Christ’s resurrection?
In Pierre Gilbert’s paper he argues that the fall had ontological consequences requiring an atoning intervention capable of healing that rupture in the fabric of reality. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus was that intervention. Paul Cumin’s Augustinian treatment of sin continues the ontological discussion. Sin, he says, is manifested in religion, lust, and cowardice—each a kind of ontological violence which diminishes us and others. Christ is the condition of ontological fullness and peace. Erwin Penner draws attention to the cosmic significance of Christ’s atoning work. Suffering in our place the penalty for our sin is but one part of what Christ accomplishes; his death and resurrection also motivate mission in all its forms in anticipation of God’s future new creation. In another paper based on a study conference workshop, Bryan Born and Mark Wessner ask us whether we see the big picture that makes sense of Christian mission. They echo Penner’s insistence that God’s mission is cosmic in scope and helpfully develop an outline of a theology of mission based on the biblical themes of cosmos, calling, cross, and commission.
Mark Baker attempts to answer critics of his thinking on atonement but also seeks to advance the conversation by suggesting that Jesus’ life, understood against the backdrop of the Old Testament, is the foundational story that renders intelligible what happened on the cross. Ryan Schellenberg joins the discussion by noting the points at which the recent second edition of Baker and Green’s Recovering the Scandal of the Cross differs from the first. His careful analysis should clarify some issues, even as it raises others.
We include an essay by Denny Weaver and Gerald Mast on Anabaptist Christology. Weaver will be known by many readers as the author of The Nonviolent Atonement (now out in a revised edition), and here he and Mast review some of those arguments as they address racism and locate the key differences between Anabaptist and postconservative evangelical theology. As Mennonite Brethren continue to struggle with the question of how they can be both evangelical and Anabaptist, Weaver and Mast’s reflections may be helpful.
The Mennonite Brethren churchman and theologian, A. H. Unruh, has not been with us for fifty years, but given our theme we thought it appropriate to publish Harold Jantz’s English translation of an address delivered by Unruh in 1935, “We Preach Jesus Christ, the Crucified.” The paper illustrates, if illustrations are necessary, that biblicism has indeed long characterized Mennonite Brethren approaches to doctrine.
In Recommended Reading readers will find a bibliography of some of the many Christian attempts, older and newer, to explain the meaning of Christ’s atonement. Our Ministry Compass column is a reprint of a chapter from Preaching the Atonement in which Peter Stevenson explores how one might preach “the crucified God.” We have reviews of recent books on the Bible, Christian history, religion, youth ministry, and things Mennonite. And this being the spring issue, it also includes our annual Current Research bibliography.