Stott on Substitution (revisited)

There have been a flood of blog posts offering tributes to the beloved John Stott since his passing last week. Stott authored over 50 books, including eight New Testament commentaries. Many bloggers and Christian leaders have offered their favorite and most formative Stott book. But what is perhaps his most notable work is the classic, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986). Some notable endorsements can be found here.

I blogged about Stott in April in celebration of his 90th birthday. I followed that post with a timely quote from The Cross of Christ pointing out that the substitutionary atonement of Christ was no metaphor. Today, Kevin DeYoung posted on that same issue and is well worth reading. He cites a quote from Stott that I add again here:

So substitution is not a “theory of the atonement.” Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it will be for them to trust in the Substitute (The Cross of Christ, p. 202–03 emphasis mine).

Indeed, substitution is not a picture, image, or metaphor. Nor is it merely a theory. The sacrifice of Christ in our place and on our behalf is not something that the New Testament writers dreamed up after the fact to describe the event of the cross. It is not some creative communication technique devised to relevantly exchange information to their ancient world. Christ’s substitutionary death is the reality toward which all the Old Testament sacrificial system pointed. The long-promised Messiah, who was to suffer in place of the redeemed, was the subject matter of all the Scriptures (Luke 24:26–27). John the Baptizer clearly understood the purpose of Christ’s substitution long before his crucifixion when he, upon seeing Jesus coming to him at the Jordan River, proclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). There is no way any first century Jew could understand that statement as anything other than substitution. Thus the substitutionary atonement of Christ is not a metaphor, and it certainly is not a view or theory that should be easily discarded as irrelevant or impractical for today. As Stott said elsewhere,

“We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its centre the principle of ‘satisfaction through substitution’, indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution” (The Cross of Christ, p. 159).

The rest of DeYoung’s blog can be accessed here.


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