Culture Driven Atonement Theory

One of the more intriguing papers at the recent conference was by Steve Burnhope entitled, Culture, Worldview, and the Cross: Penal Substitutionary Atonement and 21st Century Mission. The main thrust of the paper was to undermine the idea of a central theory of atonement and, in our attempts to communicate atonement, to shift out of a content centered approach and into a learner centered approach. (To borrow language from the realm of education...)

He repeatedly referenced the stereotype of evangelism; "let me explain to you why God hates you, okay, now that you have a sense of guilt and fear, let me tell you the Gospel of Penal Substitutionary Atonement!" We are offering a solution to a problem most people don't think they have, and so we must first convince people they have the problem that we have the answer to!

His paper's main argument was that Scripture itself is more concerned with communicating atonement to culture on culture's own terms rather than in terms of some sort of 'timeless truth.' If this is so, then we have a mandate to do three things.

1) Get into Scripture until it gets into us... it must become the soil we are rooted in.

2) Exegete culture... it is the surrounding environment that provides the opportunity for pollination and propagation (to continue the plant metaphor).

3) Engage culture on it's own terms... we must provide fruit that is attractive to others! It would be an odd strategy for a fruit tree to produce fruit that made other creatures sick in the hope that someday they would adapt to it!

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