Atonement (Part 5): A Wright Account of the Atonement

Today we wrap up our series on the Atonement as well as our mini-series on a Wrightian account of Penal Substitutionary Atonement….


Atonement and Substitution

According to the Old Testament, exile is the punishment for sin. Thus a return from exile must mean that sin has been forgiven. If death at the hands of the powers and principalities is the exile that Israel, represented by Jesus, has gone through then resurrection means that Israel has been vindicated and has come out of exile. The resurrection of Jesus means that Israel’s sins have been atoned for.

What does this mean for us today? It means that those who are united with Christ, have vicariously gone through the exile with Jesus himself.  First, those who are united with Christ no longer have to face the consequences for sin. Secondly, in Christ the powers and principalities have been defeated thus they do not have victory over those who are in Christ. Third, it also means that those who are in Christ have vicariously experienced death (this is displayed in baptism).

What does it mean to be united to Christ? We might explain this metaphysically as it has often been done in the Reformed tradition (think Jonathan Edwards), or we might explain it in terms of being “legally” grafted into Israel. However, in explaining it in terms of being a part of Israel, we must be careful to avoid politicized understandings of Israel. We should understand Israel as God’s people, those who are descendants of Abraham, those who have the faith of Abraham.  Thus in virtue of being God’s people, through Christ’s substitutionary atonement, our sins are atoned for.


I would like to end with what I believe are some important strengths of this theory. First, it is rooted in the Reformed tradition of penal substitutionary atonement: Jesus is our substitute taking on the penalty for our sins. Second, it takes seriously the narrative of scripture, especially the covenantal relationship between God and his people and the importance of themes exile and deliverance within the scriptures. Third, it takes seriously the fact that Israel, as called through Abraham, was God’s plan for rescuing creation after the fall. This theory encourages us keep Israel central in redemptive history. Finally, it takes seriously the doctrine of union with Christ.

These four strengths, its keeping with the commitments of a Reformed evangelical atonement theory, and the fact that we can avoid a distorted picture of God makes it seem as though Wright’s Christology and understanding of Scripture provide fruitful ground for thinking about the atonement. Hopefully through this theory, in addition to the other ones within the “kaleidoscope” will provide helpful ways for articulating God’s redeeming and rescuing love for humanity.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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