Category Archives: Dennis F. Kinlaw “Let’s Start With Jesus”

Thinking about models and concepts of the Atonement

I want to think here a bit about the Atonement. I stumbled upon this topic a couple years ago while reading my daily portion of Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest”. I am seeing that how we think about the Atonement fundamentally influences our expression of the Gospel message. That is a reason why I think the atonement is an important area for renewed scrutiny, something I have been studying over the past months.

The Atonement is an area of doctrine that considers what Jesus accomplished upon the cross. I want to direct the conversation to consideration of a couple questions.

What is the message that most effectively represents what Jesus accomplished on the cross? That message becomes “the Gospel” that is offered to people!

What is the need of man? What is broken or lacking?

What is God’s concern that He was taking care of with the atonement by Jesus?

I was trained as a sales rep in Silicon Valley. Permit me to inject some sales and marketing lingo in the discussion here. The activity of sales is finding out what your prospect needs, and then showing them how your product or service meets that need. Without a felt need, people aren’t motivated to make a buying decision.

I heard an interesting observation a couple months ago in my reading, that during the first 1,000 years of church history, the focus was on the life of Jesus. Then there was a shift of focus upon the death of Jesus. When you think of that in terms of “product marketing”, how and why did the church’s message change? Take a look with me at a couple things I came across in the New Testament.

Remember the EF Hutton commercial slogan “When EF Hutton speaks, everyone listens”? Someone representing the EF Hutton investment firm in the commercial would offer some financial advice in a conversation in different public places and everyone around would hush and listen. I found an “EF Hutton” moment in Acts 5:20. Some number of the apostles were apprehended by the high priest and his cronies, who put them under guard in a local jail. Then the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors at night and led them out. Now the EF Hutton moment when the angel tells them “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” I was intrigued what the heavenly messenger told them to talk about.

Then in John 20:31, the apostle states his purpose for writing his gospel “But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”

In John 5:40 Jesus tells his Jewish listeners “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”

I came across an observation about Martin Luther written by Leonard Verduin:

“We meet in Luther, to put it theologically, a very heavy emphasis on the forensic aspect of salvation and a correspondingly light emphasis on the moral aspect. Luther was primarily interested in pardon [for sins], rather than in renewal [of life]. His theology [Reformation] was a theology that addressees itself to the problem of guilt [of sins committed], rather than to the problem of pollution [of life inherited from the first Adam]. From “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren”. 1964 p. 12

One of my favorite books in the past couple years and one I highly recommend is by Dennis F. Kinlaw, “Let’s Start with Jesus” that presents three metaphors to describe the nature of the relationship God desires with us. He writes in his introduction (and two more quotes following), “I began to realize that the juridical metaphor that was so liberating in the Reformation is biblical enough, but that is not the only metaphor that the Scriptures use to explain the heart of what Christ died to do for us”.

“We see that salvation is God’s gift to restore us to fellowship. Christ died to do more than get us past the judgment and help us escape hell. He became incarnate and died on Calvary’s cross to remove any impediments that would hinder us from being comfortable in his presence and to change us so that we can enjoy him in self-giving love now and forever. Any understanding of the atonement that does not make provision to get us ready for that intimacy with him is inadequate, incomplete, and only partially biblical”. p. 68

“God wants humanity to share in the communion of love that is the inner life of God. That does not come easily. The gospel makes it very clear that the reason for the incarnation and atonement was to prepare us for just such communion with God”. P 44

Back to the question of how the emphasis of the church moved from the life of Christ that he offers to us to an emphasis on the death on the cross – I found some very readable insights in a scholarly work by James A. Fowler.   The 16-page paper is entitled “Concepts and Models of the Atonement”. He describes briefly (and understandably!) over fifteen concepts of the atonement and provides a very engaging account of how these concepts developed over the centuries.

Back to some practical considerations, and this entire discussion gets very practical! When you “share the Gospel” with someone, where are you going to start and with what kind of invitation are you going to end? I suggest that if we give this subject some thought, we could develop a much more compelling expression of the life that Jesus has purchased for us than is currently being presented by the current widespread emphasis on penal substitution.


The Grain of Wheat – a Metaphor of the Enabled Life

The Grain of Wheat – a Metaphor of the Enabled Life


I shared for a couple minutes last Sunday morning around the visual image of a grain of wheat being planted into the ground and the transformation that takes place in the process of germination.  I spent some time this week writing out some more thoughts…


One of the ways that we can respond to the Agape love of God towards us is to offer our own expression of agape love back towards Him.  Our agape is in the form of submissive trust.


Jesus described his own life using the analogy of a grain of wheat being planted into the earth and dying to bring forth new life.  He invites us to follow Him in that process by pouring out our self-contained, self-directed life so that we can exchange that source for a new life lived out of another source, Christ and His Spirit within us.  As a grain of wheat cannot plant itself and initiate the process of transformation, so we are also powerless in ourselves from within ourselves to complete the exchange – we must submit ourselves to Jesus in trusting love so that He can plant us. We express our trusting love to God by choosing to offer ourselves to Him to perform His  transforming work of planting us, watering us, and husbanding us into fruitfulness.    


My Prayer


“Lord Jesus, I want to identify with you as my source of spiritual life.  Your own story is the prototype for us – freely laying your life down as the grain of wheat, to die and become a source of life.  You beckon us to follow, to present ourselves to you in the simplest sense of our identity, without the trappings of our accomplishments, our personality strengths, or any of the ways we extract a sense of identity from our world.  My spiritual identity is not in what I produce, the significance of my work, my status, my possessions, my network of friends and family.  Those psychological elements of who I am do not comprise my spiritual identity at the core of my person.  As simply as I can, I want to cast my lot in with You and follow you through the narrow gate into the way of Your life.  Plant me as a grain of wheat and then bring forth in me your life: life overflowing, fruitful, abundant, able to share your life with others.” 


Quotations from the book, “Let’s Start With Jesus”

Here are some thoughts from Dennis F. Kinlaw’s book, “Let’s Start With Jesus”.  He writes about the design of human persons to be in relationship.  In this section he makes a connection between the design of human persons and the idea of voluntarily yielding our independence in order to be in relationship with God. 


“The key to understanding Jesus did not lie in Jesus. It lay beyond him. He lived joyously from Another, through Another, and for Another. Jesus was the divine son of God and a perfect human being, yet he did not find himself complete within himself.  He was not the center of his own chosen existence.  Since Jesus is the original pattern for the human person, it is safe to say that to be a person, even a perfect person, is to be incomplete, that no person is ever complete in himself or herself.  The person’s completeness lies in an other. The Son is not complete in himself. He draws life from the Father and lives life to please his Father.  Like the Son, who is named the first born among many brothers, we find our completeness in relation to our Source and our Sustainer. 


The secular world has a different plan for and definition of fulfillment.  That self-contained, self-directed life is looked to as providing the “center” and focal point of meaning, values, and even existence itself.  The elevation of the self to the center of the world leads to the well-being of the self as the goal of living itself in this misdirected view of reality. 


Understanding Jesus illuminates personhood’s original meaning, to be expressed in relationship and mutuality.  Modern social science’s concept of the self is at the polar opposite – promoting the notion of the capacity either to mold or actualize oneself.  Like the eternal Son, we find our completeness in relation to our Source and our Sustainer. The person who is alone is not a whole person, because no person is ever supposed to be completely alone.


When Jesus begins to speak to his disciples about the cross, he insists that to find true life one must lose oneself.  Self-protection, the refusal to give away oneself, he says, is self-loss and death.  A person as a person, human or divine, finds fullness of life only in one beyond oneself.  Christ came, died, and was raised again to make possible the reestablishment of fullness of personhood in people like you and me.  That Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, wants to raise us from the death of living in and out of ourselves. The Spirit begets the very life of Christ within us.” 


More thoughts…

The transaction I am suggesting here, where we express our trusting love to God by choosing to offer ourselves to Him to perform the transformation of planting us, watering us, and husbanding us into fruitfulness, is not expected to occur in the area of our psychological realm.  What I am describing is a transformation that occurs in the area of our spiritual identity.  By responding to God’s initiative toward us and by placing our trusting love in Jesus and His Spirit as our source of life, we are identifying with Him as our Other and, in the process, declining to identify with the old source of our spiritual identity.  That old source of identity is the one we inherited from Adam as a human being, the default mode of all humans to operate in self-directed independence.  That source of identity may seem to hold hope for self-fulfillment and meaning, but the end of that story is death.  That death is a spiritual death because those choices do not bring us into relationship with the One who is the Life. This life is not mere biological life but is the true life, zoe, that ushers us into the Great Dance of participating in the jubilant fellowship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must choose to identify with this God as our source of life!  Our responsive, trusting agape love back towards Him ushers us through the door into spiritual fellowship with His Holy Spirit. That responsive choice will launch us into the journey of a lifetime!


Areas for further discussion:

·         Are we really operating as an “independent self” when we function as a self-contained, self-directed person?  What role and influence does “the ruler of this world” have among those who have not entered the Kingdom of Light?

·         The life that happens after the transformation of the grain of wheat coming to life – what does that look like in practical terms for us?

·         What is “the self” that is commonly referred to, with admonitions to “deny the self”?

·         Declining to identify with Jesus as our source of life leaves us to our own resources.  What can we expect to see in our lives as the result of that choice?