So Easter is almost here, and the Sunday Telegraph is kicking off the seemingly annual row over the meaning of Easter. The source of the argument this time is a radio broadcast going out tomorrow given by Canon Jeffrey John, which according to the article “is set to ignite a row over one of the most fundamental tenets of Christian belief”.
The fact is that what Jeffrey John is questioning – the theory of Penal Substitution – seems to be something that Tom Wright and Rod Thomas would have people believe, incorrectly, is the only explanation for the meaning of Easter. Christians have been trying to understand the meaning of Easter for over 2000 years, and there have been a variety of attonement theories put forward with Penal Substitution being just one. If you need a summary of the various theories that have been put forward, in response to the article Father Jake has given a good introduction to the various theories on his site.
Indeed, Jeffrey John is not the first to speak out in recent years, nor will he be the last. Previous controversial arguments against the theory of Penal Substitution have been presented by Bishop John Spong, who mentions it in several places including his call for a new reformation. Only two years ago, Steve Chalke caused consternation amongst the Evangelical Alliance of which he was a prominent member, by describing Penal Substitution as “a theory rooted in violence and retributive notions of justice” and as incompatible “at least as currently taught and understood, with any authentically Christian understanding of the character of God.”
Igniting a row over one of the most fundamental tenets of Christian belief? The row has been ‘ignited’ for many years – it’s old news – 2000 years old…
Update: More press coverage. Firstly a couple of junior Bishops (Wallace Benn and Pete Broadbent) have followed on from Tom Wright and attacked a talk they had neither read nor heard – Evangelical Bishops Attack Jeffrey John Talk (Without Reading It) – a fact which becomes glaringly obvious when you compare their statement to what Jeffrey John actually said. Benn and Broadbent, like Wright earlier in the week really do neither themselves, or their positions as senior Churchmen any good at all by making such public and obviously inaccurate statements.