Here’s another interesting video interview for a followup to my post, “On atonement theories and the nature of God.” This discussion is between two pastoral leaders in the UK, Steve Chalke and Andrew Wilson, that shows how serious followers of Christ can graciously discuss differing views on the atonement.
This is the third of four video debates on the Bible hosted by Justin Brierley from the show, “Unbelievable?” (They’re more like discussions that actual debates.) In this video, Chalke takes a position opposed to Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) and Wilson takes the position in favor of PSA.
As I’ve said before, disagreeing with PSA doesn’t make Chalke a “liberal” or not a “Bible-believer.” We need to learn how to listen to those who disagree with our view on something without demonizing them and dismissing them as a heretic or false teacher. I’ve seen this demonization done too many times by people who obviously never took the time to really understand the other’s person’s position. This is why these kinds of interviews are important.
What it does mean is that Chalke disagrees with the most popular atonement theory in the modern West. But there are several atonement theories within the faith and, ironically, the more conservative view would actually be with the variations of ransom theory (there are several) that predate PSA by over a thousand years (Eastern Orthodox never did embrace PSA). The point is, both Chalke and Wilson are evangelical Christians who take the Bible very seriously.
One thing I really liked about this exchange was how they brought out areas of agreement and cleared up some confusion on this particular subject. For instance, both Chalke and Wilson did not see Jesus quoting Psalm 22 as justification for saying that the Father had to look away from sin, or that He abandoned Jesus at any time on the cross, which I agree with. Wilson didn’t get into details about his position on PSA, but said it’s focused on Isa. 53:4-6. I imagine there’s a lot of agreement on both sides there, too. The the only disagreement possibly being with who is doing the punishing. (NOTE: I wrote on Isaiah 53:4-6 here.)
While people like Chalke and I may have come to a fundamentally different understanding of the atonement than PSA after much study, it seems that the biggest problem is not so much with the doctrine itself but how people have poorly communicated it with popular preaching, worship songs, and illustrations (the bus driver or the bridge story, etc.), which end up depicting God in a very ugly light, not to mention, creating false dichotomies and cognitive dissonance in our understanding of the Trinity. As Chalke says, “This is a popular grotesque understanding of it.” From what I could gather from the video, it seems Wilson has a healthier view of PSA than this.
I don’t agree with everything Chalke said (I don’t even know if I agree with everything I say!), and may not even agree with him on other theological subjects outside of this one, I don’t know, but I do heartily agree with his basic Christocentric view about how to understand God and the Bible. He seems to have taken a similar theological journey as I have, a journey I wrote about here and in my book. On the other hand, I found myself agreeing with Wilson on things like the future judgment of God.
Here’s the video interview. It’s not real long and worth watching if you’re interested in this subject. I would also be interested in your own thoughtful take on it.