The majority on the PCUSA hymnal committee apparently favor the subjective or moral theory of the atonement: Christ died on the cross to show us how much God loves us. Surely this display would persuade us to repentance. To illustrate this view, Leon Morris used the analogy of a person responding to a drowning friend by jumping into the river and drowning himself. The demonstration might express one’s love, but it doesn’t do anything to actually save the friend.
Strictly speaking, Christ’s death has no significance for God according to this view. He loves and accepts people regardless of their guilt. God has no enemies. We may need to be reconciled to God, but God does not need to be reconciled to us. We simply need to be reminded how much God loves us. Thus, the death of Christ could only serve as an object lesson. And what a cruel one indeed! After all, if Christ’s death was unnecessary for satisfying God’s righteous law, then it is the symbol of senseless slaughter.
The Apostle Paul says that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:8-9). Christ’s death manifests God’s love for sinners only because it actually propitiates God’s wrath. He took our place— fulfilling the law, bearing our sentence for violating his law—and thereby removed every legal basis for our condemnation. It is this point that the committee voted to omit, and yet it is precisely what makes the cross the manifestation of God’s amazing love.
In other words, God’s love is manifested and magnified in Christ’s death only if it is more than a demonstration or object lesson. Christ’s cross can be a demonstration of God’s love only because in it God reconciled enemies to himself forever. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). Now that’s good news!Read the rest.