Chapter 5, titled ”The Salvation of God” starts “I believe God will save every person”. It is, in essence, about Atonement, or how salvation is affected. And McGulley as an interesting view, at odds with mainstream thought.
Atonement is a word invented by William Tyndale in the 15th Century, and means the state of being “at one”, hence at-one-ment. It derives from the Hebrew Kaphar (from which we get Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). In the context of the priestly tradition of Israel, blood had to be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22 states “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”. But for the most part the Gospel of Christ introduced a much wider set of concerns in the debate, as has 2000 years of church history.
McGulley’s critique with the current “orthodoxy” (for want of a better word) is a critique of the “Penal Substitution” (hereafter PS) theory of atonement. This has held sway in Protestantism since Calvin. Most Protestants are not even aware that there are other theories out there. In fact there are at least 10 of them evident in church history. I am not going to go into these details, as important as they are in this discussion. (But I am currently working on a larger set of writing which will deal with the overall context of our thinking about atonement, on my blog).
In essence, his problem with PS is that its emphasis is on blood, payment for guilt, and the appeasement of a wrathful God. Although he grew up with it, he never felt comfortable with it, and now rejects it. In its place, he offers a view of atonement with mercy and love at its centre. Salvation is not so much from personal guilt as it is from self absorption (or ego). The emphasis of the atoning work is the transformation of man by Gods love.
While McGulley does not feel that the divinity of Christ was key to this transformation, not that the inerrancy of scripture is an issue, he does hold to the resurrection being fundamental. So while liberal in many aspects of his theology, he can perhaps still be counted as an “evangelical”; we must not forget his Anabaptist (Quaker) roots.
In atonement theory, his theology is similar to what is known as the “moral influence” view, in which the death of Jesus effects our transformation rather than appeases God.
Traditionally, atonement is understood as having 4 components: Sacrifice, Substitution, Propitiation (Punishment), and Reconciliation. In PS, all 4 are crucial. However, McGulley places emphasis on Reconciliation at the expense of the first 3. Not holding to the inerrancy of scripture, and therefore not compelled to reconcile all texts, he argues that those aspects he ignores have been made redundant by a fuller revelation of God in Christ.
Be that as it may, when examining his set of key texts, his anti-sacrifice view is of mercy as primary, does provide a compelling picture:
Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Isaiah 1:11 ‘The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?’ says the LORD. ‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.’
Psalm 51:16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
Mt 9:13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
Mark 12:33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Titus 4:4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
To bring the argument into the wider context of the book, the last concern raised has to do with the scope of the atonement. Clearly, McGulley holds that this is universal, not limited to the elect few. At face value, it is apparent that this scope presents the biblical picture – just look at the word “all” in conjunction with “salvation” or “save”. The idea that only few are to be saved, is in my opinion an aberration to true orthodoxy, and a flat denial of a wide set of texts.
Millard J Erikson, in Christian Theology, in discussing the extent of the atonement, points out the disjunct between unlimited atonement and limited salvation. He illustrates the situation whereby God gave himself for all (unlimited atonement) and yet does not expect all to be finally saved (limited salvation), thus: “It was as if God, in preparing a dinner, prepared far more food than was needed, yet refused to consider the possibility of inviting additional guests.” [Millard J Erikson, in Christian Theology p 835]
It is one thing to accept that Christ’s Cross atones for all, but harder to accept that all will in fact be saved. At that point it becomes a matter of faith. And McGulley is clear, that “Salvation is not the hope of a few, it is the destiny of all.” [p 160]
In summary then, I believe McGulley’s view to be a welcome corrective to the Penal Substitution emphasis on sacrifice, punishment and justice. However, it does jettison some of the key components in Atonement, which are necessary for a fuller picture to emerge.