Without the Trinity the Doctrine of the Atonement Goes off the Rails

The Apex of God’s Mission

The atonement is the apex of the triune mission of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together to reconcile sinners and renew creation. And without the doctrine of the Trinity, everything in the atonement goes off.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. One is a classic—you could say infamous—sermon illustration by preachers where there’s the train track conductor who’s looking down and he sees his son playing in the tracks. He looks over and he sees the train coming down, and he has to make the decision. Does he sacrifice his son and save everyone else by shifting the gears, or does he not? And the train goes off of the tracks.

The problem with this illustration, even though it makes the point that God is a father who sacrifices his son, is that it puts the son in a position where he’s not willingly giving his life. He’s blindsided by the father, and the father’s not doing what he does out of love. He doesn’t even know the people on the train. It’s this utilitarian principle of saving the most people.

The Atonement

Jeremy Treat

In this addition to the Short Studies in Systematic Theology series, pastor Jeremy Treat gives a foundational understanding of what Scripture teaches and what the church confesses about the doctrine of atonement.

So that doesn’t show what happens at the cross, where Christ is willing. He offers up his own life and the Father does what he does out of love for the Son and for the people.

Another example of where the atonement goes off without the Trinity is when the Father and the Son get pitted against one another, as if we have an angry Father and a loving Son. Now, there are hints of truth in that the Father is angry and the Son is loving.

The atonement is the apex of the triune mission of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together to reconcile sinners and renew creation.

But the Father and Son are working together, along with the Holy Spirit, throughout the doctrine of atonement, throughout the work of atoning for sin. And so the Father is angry towards sin, but yes, so is the Son. And the Son is loving, but so is the Father. So we need to recognize that, through and through, the doctrine of atonement needs to be thoroughly Trinitarian. It’s centered on Christ. Jesus is the Son of the Father who is empowered by the Spirit.

Jeremy Treat is the author of The Atonement: An Introduction.

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