Photo by Jacob Bøtter. Used under the Creative Commons license.
Recently I preached a sermon on Jesus’ death, as part of our doctrinal series on the gospel. At one point I explained four different models of the atonement. All four models come from the Bible. First, Jesus’ death is an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21). Second, Jesus’ death is a demonstration of the love of God (Romans 5:8). Third, Jesus’ death is a victory over death and the devil
(Hebrews 2:14). Fourth, Jesus’ death is a substitutionary sacrifice for sins
(1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18).
All four models are Biblical, but only one of them is adequate to explain the atonement sufficiently. The first three models of atonement only make sense in light of the fourth. Jesus’ death is only an example for us to follow or a demonstration of God’s love because he died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Otherwise those models, by themselves, do not make sense. In my utter sinfulness I am facing the judgement of God. I don’t need merely an example of how to live a good life to be right with God. In my sin I cannot follow Jesus’ example anyway. Only penal substitutionary atonement is adequate to explain Jesus’ death on the cross. Only penal substitutionary atonement makes sense of the other three models of atonement.
However the point I want to make here is as follows. A Biblicism that produces a proof-texting, ‘flat’ reading of the Bible will not be able to distinguish between the different models of atonement in the Bible. Only if we think theologically can we see that only one of the four models is adequate. Thinking is not liberalism. A ‘fundamentalist’, flat, Biblicist reading will not be able to think theologically.
Everyone has a system of theology. That system may be good or bad, but everyone has one. Denying I have one doesn’t mean that I don’t! My system of theology should come from the Bible and be corrected by the Bible. But I will have to use my theological system also to read the Bible. It’s a two-way process.
I should use the mind God has given me to think things through theologically. Theology is not a matter of merely quoting proof-texts from the Bible. I will need to use the data of the Bible and think it through as well. Thinking theologically means that I will be able to see that only one of the four models of atonement from the Bible is adequate.
The Bible is indeed sufficient. However I still need to think theologically about it. I pray, as I leave Hills Bible Church, that our members and attendees will be people who think deeply and theologically about all matters of the Bible, and don’t just accept a shallow proof-texting theology.