Yesterday, I mentioned while teaching at Raintree that the view of Christ as the “Lamb of God” is increasingly being abandoned. Specifically, the thought of Christ as a substitute for sinners, perhaps surprisingly to some of you, is not as common as it once was among those who claim Christianity.
The main reason for this is because many, starting most prominently with Friedrich Schleiermacher 200 years ago, have decided that there is no need for an atoning significance to the Cross of Christ. God does not require sin to be “paid for.” In my mind, this is obviously a blatant disregard for the testimony of Scripture. The view is that Jesus’ death on the cross was merely a “revelation” of God’s love, and did not involve a redemptive salvation of sorts. Again, I don’t think you can read much of the New Testament without seeing the prevalence of Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sin.
But Don Carson’s thoughts are almost always helpful, and to-the-point. So, here is an excerpt from Don Carson’s commentary of John that I found helpful. He goes into much more detail than this, but I have given the short version for your sake :).
“Many have argued recently that in the Fourth Gospel the power of God issuing in salvation emerges from revelation, not redemption; from God’s gracious self-disclosure in Jesus, not from expiation of sin; from the demonstration of God’s love on the cross, not from a work of atoning significance on the cross. In its strongest form this view is exegetically doubtful, illogical, and reductionistic.”
Doubtful: because there are too many passages in John whose most obvious meaning includes the notion of sins dealt with by means of Jesus’ sacrificial death.
Illogical: because, as James Denney pointed out at the turn of the century, it is as meaningless to detect profound, revelatory love in a cross of Christ that achieved nothing as it would be to detect profound love in a man who tries to prove his devotion to his fellow human beings by jumping off Brighton pier and drowning, with no purpose in view and no result achieved.
Reductionistic: because we are being forced into an ‘either/or’ argument when the Fourth Gospel itself demands ‘both/and’.
Obviously, Don Carson has a lot more to say on this topic, but these short excerpts might prove particularly helpful on the incoherency of denying the gospel’s emphasis on substitutionary atonement– Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. Or as John puts it in his gospel:
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b ESV).
Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Apollos, 1991. Pages 152-53.