Mark Baker, associate professor of mission and theology at MBBS-Fresno and author of Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts, has written a letter of apology to the B.C. conference executive and pastors for remarks he made in public and in writing concerning penal substitution.
In November, B.C. conference minister Steve Berg sent an email to the seminary board expressing his concerns, saying “it is troubling to us that Mark Baker states that penal substitutionary atonement is unbiblical.
“We believe that penal substitutionary atonement is an essential part of the biblical presentation of how Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection saves us … [and] is part of a beautiful diamond that the Bible presents in giving a full picture of the atonement. Mark’s ‘unbiblical’ rhetoric gives the impression that the penal substitution atonement theory is ‘anti-biblical.’
“In what is already a very challenging time for MBBS, we are concerned that there is a disconnect underway between BCMB churches and MBBS, and the atonement debate is accelerating the process.”
Although Baker’s basic theological position, which is outlined in his book and articles, remains unchanged, he says he hasn’t always communicated in the most accurate or charitable ways. In his letter, Baker says he regrets that he “wrote that penal satisfaction is not biblical. I recognize that those who use the penal substitution theory are seeking to faithfully interpret the Bible.
“I regret that some people have felt that by critiquing the theory of penal substitutionary atonement I am rejecting their ministry or claiming God does not use them. That was not my intention and I apologize.
“I regret that some people reading my books and articles interpreted me as communicating that everyone who hears a presentation of penal substitution theory experiences God as an angry judgmental figure. That was not my intention.
“I regret how I responded to two people at a recent study conference in Saskatoon. They affirmed the diamond image of the cross having many facets and asked why I did not accept penal substitution theory as one of the facets. I wish that I would have first strongly affirmed them for using diverse atonement imagery in their evangelism and preaching. We do have significant common ground. I did not acknowledge that and I apologize.”
Baker went on to say that he upholds the MB Confession of Faith Article Five on salvation. He also affirms that “God’s work through the cross is richer and deeper than any of our explanations of it. Therefore I advocate following the New Testament in using a diversity of images and metaphors to proclaim the saving significance of the cross and resurrection.”
In a subsequent letter from MBBS president Lynn Jost to Berg and BCMB executive, Jost thanked the provincial conference for communicating their concerns directly with the seminary and said that “all of us at MBBS are committed to biblical authority and to interpreting the Bible in a way consistent with the MB Confession of Faith. We at MBBS do not all have identical interpretations of atonement. All of us seek to be thoroughly biblical…. We are grateful for the opportunity to clarify and correct statements that fail to express our biblical convictions clearly.”
For a more complete look at Baker’s writing on the atonement, see www.mbseminary.edu/baker/atonement.
— Laura Kalmar