“The central thrust of the cross is the substitutionary atonement, but this does not exhaust its meaning. The cross also teaches a lesson in humility. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:… being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5, 8). This is where the Christian is to dwell if he is to know something of the power of the Spirit. Just as Christ was humbled in the external space-time world, in the hard stuff of history, not merely in someones imagination nor in some idealistic setting that makes his death a Utopian statement withdrawn from life – so, too, a Christian should have a truly humble heart in the hard reality of the practical world. There is to be a practical reality of the seed falling into the earth to die.” Francis Schaffer, No Little People

It’d be hard to pull it off if you said Schaffer had a ‘mild’ passion for substitutionary atonement, or that he thought the climate in his day was pro a substitutionary description, but at the end of the day Schaffer couldn’t leave describing the Bible’s portrait of Christ’s atoning work in ‘polemical’ laden terms alone. For Schaffer the atonement wasn’t merely a theological therom. The biblical-theology he consumed in his life lead to a description, better yet a prescription for humility and self-emptying toward his neighbor and creation itself.

Schaffer’s third way is shown in that he retains the centrality of the substitutionary nature of the atonement, while also acknowledging that the theological and praxiological import of Christ’s atoning work is not exhausted by one expression of its value, ie substitution.

I guess what I’m trying to say by pointing to Schaffer’s quote above is that you only truly hold to the Bible’s portrait of Christ life and death when you live it, not just cognitively hold out a description of it. Its meant to change you and I, how we think of our neighbors, how we think of the pricely-ness of the cost of our sin, and how we empty ourselves for others.

The atonement like a Rubiks Cube’s square shape is biblically described as centrally one thing – the answer to our sin in the sight of God (ie substitutionary character). Like a Rubiks Cube as well, it also has many sides and colors to it, whereby it changes us and turns us from sin by showing us again and again Christ sacrificial work as an example of how we should live for others, and the promise that the same power that resided in him dwells in us – His Spirit. My prayer is that this truth lights up in us a deep worshipful life of enjoyment and glorying in the majesty of Christ’s love for us. That this worship shines out of us to others in such a fashion that they can behold the great exchange that took place in Christ incarnation and humiliation.

(Photographic art by Rick Harris)