In Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the Creator. This perfect atonement vindicates the righteousness of God’s law and the graciousness of His character; for it both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming. The resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death. It declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow. (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 22:1; Isa. 53; John 3:16; 14:30; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:15; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 John 2:2; 4;10.) (John 3:16; Isa. 53; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Col. 2:15; Phil. 2:6-11.)
Aside from a reshuffling of the biblical evidence at the bottom, there are no changes in the wording of FB9. Since this fundamental focused on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one wonders why it isn’t listed after number four, which dealt with the nature of Christ. The answer probably is that the first five fundamentals focus on the persons of the godhead and the next five or so focus on the actions of the godhead. There is never a perfect grouping of beliefs like these, the order that was chosen is probably as good as any.
The religion scholars at Loma Linda have historically expressed concerns that legal substitution not be seen as the controlling metaphor of the atonement, as it often is in Protestant Christianity. But this statement certainly does not limit itself to legal substitution. This statement offers an excellent balance among the various biblical metaphors of the atonement. Legal, substitutionary atonement was seen as liberal and “new theology” in the 1970s, and therefore suspect, but now it has become the conservative view. It is interesting how theology changes over time and people hardly notice, because a new generation sees what was recently new and the new normal. In our resistance to change we often end up changing without realizing it.
In the broadest sense, atonement is seen as having both objective and subjective elements in it. The objective side of the atonement focuses on what happened outside of us on the cross. Did the cross in some way change God’s mind? Did it defeat Satan in some way? Did it somehow satisfy the justice of God? The subjective side of the atonement, on the other hand, focuses on how the cross changes us. Through the cross we learn that God is fair and just, that the law is for our good, that God is on our side. We are moved from serving God on account of fear to trusting Him. Another way to express this contrast is this: Which is more important, the Christmas story or the Easter story? Do you focus on the life of Jesus or on His death and resurrection as the driving forces behind the atonement? At Loma Linda there is a tendency to focus on the life and death of Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God’s character, the strong emphasis of chapter one in Steps to Christ, whereas at Andrews and other places, the emphasis is more on the death and resurrection of Christ as an atoning sacrifice. This fundamental affirms both as part of a balance and tension.
For SDAs it is good to see an increasing focus on atonement at the cross, but it would be unwise to lose the pioneer sense that the cross has ongoing significance. It represents the way that God behaves and rules in all times and places. The gospel is not about sinners in the hands of an angry God, it is about God in the hands of angry sinners. In addition, the cross is not just about how God behaves on this earth; past, present and future. It also has a cosmic dimension, it changes everything at the level of the whole universe, not just earth.
2 Corinthians 5 has an interesting universal tone. God was reconciling the whole world to Himself in Christ. But a universal tone is not the same thing as universalism. The very ones who are reconciled to God at the cross still need to “be reconciled” to God. Having said that, the availability of universal salvation involves the possibility of universal salvation. No one is excluded, all have equal access to God and salvation at the foot of the cross.
In our discussion we considered one possible corrective to this excellent fundamental. The way this fundamental expresses the cross focuses much more on us than on God. It might have been helpful to explore a bit more questions like, What did it cost God to go to the cross? What does it mean when divinity suffers? Did the experience of sacrifice leave a mark on God? Did He lose something that He doesn’t get back? The natural human tendency to focus on ourselves is not easy to overcome, even in the writing of fundamental beliefs!