Can we have doctrinal preaching?
Sir, I agree with John Richardson’s article (28 February) on The Dearth of Doctrinal Preaching but, as he points out, oftentimes it has been divisive. As a prime example, given the centrality of the atonement consider the fallout following Chalke and Mann’s (2004) arguments against the expression of penal substitution. One outcome seems to be that Steve Chalke has been labelled apostate by some and one of my evangelical lay-preacher colleagues concurs. So how and what do we instruct new ministers and CoE readers and others: don’t touch the Atonement? But the atonement of Jesus for salvation and forgiveness is largely what defines the Christian message. The following parable, presented as an example of a possible teaching aid for formal (or informal) theology students, could be tried out to see how much accuracy and agreement there is in cogently explaining the atonement:
A young boy was told repeatedly not to kick a football near the old man’s house in case he broke a window. Sure enough, he disobeyed one time too many and he broke the bedroom window. But his older brother seeing what had happened, said a quick prayer, picked up the ball and turned to face the owner. The angry old man didn’t just blister his ears but gave him a clip round the head as well. An hour later, the father of the two brothers returned to pay for the window. Finally, the next day, the younger son came round to tell the old man that his brother was not responsible but he was, and he apologised. The old man hesitated but then accepted the apology without further ado.
Students are to submit a 2,000-3,000-word essay showing how this parable helps to explain the atonement and reconciliation with the following guidance. Your essay should make clear the difference between being responsible, and assuming responsibility for immoral acts. You should make clear to whom recompense and apology are due and why, and whether retribution is sufficient for justice. What do you think are the limits of the parable for your explanation of atonement? Students may be marked down if they use words like ‘mystery’ or ‘mystical’ as part of their explanation.
(Send answers to your theology lecturers, not to me. I lectured in geoarchaeology and the chronology of human evolution (semi-retired)).
Dr Alf Latham,