PREACHING ATONEMENT: A historical review from nine decades of the Preacher’s Magazine

1

Joey & Tammy Condon
Co-pastors, Grace Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City, Missouri

Last month, the Wesleyan Theological Society met in Nampa, Idaho for their annual conference. This year’s theme was the atonement. This gave my husband and me an opportunity to research and present a paper on 87 years of The Preacher’s Magazine’s treatment on the atonement. The following is the paper we presented titled, “Preaching Atonement: A historical review from nine decades of the Preacher’s Magazine.” Note: Since we co-presented, our names indicate who read which sections.

JOEY – The 1920’s in America really began on January 16, 1920 with what was called the noble experiment, or the prohibition of the sale of alcohol, and then really ended on a black Tuesday, October 29th, 1929 with the Stock Market Crash. It also began with women in the US being able to vote for the first time under the 19th Amendment in August of 1920. A decade traditionally given the title the roaring twenties.

In the middle of this decade, Hitler published Mein Kampf, A.A. Milne publishes Winnie-the-Pooh, and Martin Buber’s book, “I and Thou,” was published. America was caught up in the Scopes Monkey Trial from the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, while the world gathered to form the League of Nations. It was the decade that we saw the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon, bubble gum was invented and thanks to Otto Frederick Rohwedder, for the first time in 1928, we could actually say the “greatest thing since sliced bread” – since he invented the automatic bread slicer a decade before but partnered with Wonder bread to package it. Then in 1928 we saw, or should I say heard, The Jazz Singer – the very first talkie, which slowly brought an end to silent pictures.

TAMMY – Also, in 1926, J. B. Chapman launched The Preacher’s Magazine as “a journal devoted to the interests of those called to preach the full gospel.” He went on to describe, in his first editorial, that this magazine was never intended to serve only Nazarenes, but be open to all preacher’s in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. “The central purpose will be to help preachers to preach holiness effectively where they are…,” wrote Chapman.

As such, The Preacher’s Magazine has a substantial collection of sermons, articles and commentary gathered and published across nearly 9 decades. This resource shows the traditional thinking and preaching on the atonement by a wide range of prominent theologians and influential pastors, as well as the every Sunday morning preachers of the last century.

JOEY – The purpose of this paper was to examine the 87 years of The Preacher’s Magazine’s approach to the subject of the atonement contextually throughout the twentieth century. The research that follows surprised us and after a whirlwind tour through last century, we will share our conclusions.

TAMMY – There was a crisis in the American church in the 1920’s, specifically there
was a battle waging within the American Presbyterian Church, and it affected and was reflected in many other mainline denominations. The crisis was this: with the growing popular confidence in science, in particular evolutionary theory, and the growing influence of humanism, and the rise of Biblical higher criticism, the struggle became in discovering and determining the role or influence of Orthodox Christianity would have in a modern, scientific culture?

JOEY – America was churning in what has been labeled the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy. Although conceived and developed in earlier decades, this decade truly experienced the twin births of Modernism, or liberal Christianity – and Fundamentalism. Modernist’s defined the role of the church as an attempt to reconcile new discoveries in history, science, and religion with the Christian faith. This position was supported by billionaire John D. Rockefeller and exemplified in a sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick on May 21, 1922, titled,

TAMMY – On the other hand, Fundamentalists like William Jennings Bryan wanted to return to the basics and held that there are five core doctrines that were essential and necessary for the Christian faith and one of those fundamentals was the belief that Christ’s death was an atonement for sin.

JOEY – Surprisingly, this fundamentalist belief was echoed and affirmed in the early years of The Preacher’s Magazine. In fact, in an editorial by C. E. Corsell in the March 1926 edition, titled A Baptist Pronunciamiento, the official resolution of the Baptist Bible Union of North America was published in the Preachers Magazine to express Wesleyan’s support of the disapprovalof the principles of the Rockefeller- Fosdick “new movement,” which was the leading modernist, or liberal wave of Christianity of that day.

TAMMY – the following introduction was provided in response to the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy. “It will be of genuine interest as well as information for the preachers to read the Baptist declaration relative to Rev. Harry
Emerson Fosdick. The following is a resolution passed by the Baptist Bible Union of North America at Seattle last June. It is striking and gives information as well as the splendid stand of the Baptists relative to the Word of God. The resolution follows: And for the purpose of our study, this following part of the resolution states, “Whereas . . . that we must believe in a special theory of the atonement— that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible, welcome for the returning sinner.” (pg.4, March 1926)

JOEY – A further tribute and recognition of this battle is that on the cover of the January 1, 1927 Preacher’s Magazine was a portrait of William Jennings Bryan, one of the early generals in the fight against Christian liberalism, defense attorney in the Scopes Monkey Trials, and a very strong Calvinist, who passed away just 18 months before this edition was published.

TAMMY – E.P. Ellyson, third General Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene, in his article The Present Crisis or Christianity verses Religion, in February of 1926, stated, “Another tenet that was held essential by those who were first called Christian was that of the blood atonement of Jesus and redemptive salvation by a supernatural new birth and forgiveness and cleansing from sin through the blood.” (pg. 8) He continues, “Nothing is found in the modern talk about religion of this blood atonement and redemptive salvation unless it be, to ridicule it or deny it and place in its stead a salvation by culture and the human will, which is reformation rather than salvation.”

JOEY – E. E. Wordsworth warned of mission drifting, or preaching on trivial things. He declared in his article, A Message vs. a Sermon that, “A Gospel message should deal with vital and fundamental things in the main . . . Preach on the great themes . . . evangelical repentance, a blood atonement, regeneration, sanctification, etc. We believe there is enough in these great themes of the Bible to occupy the minister’s time and attention for a lifetime.” (pg.
11, June 11, ’26) W. D. Sueloh, in an earlier edition in 1926 warned against distractionary doctrines and stated that to preach anything as “being equal in the atonement, with regeneration, and with sanctification, is to unduly emphasize a non-essential at the sacrifice of the essential.” (pg. 11-12, January
1926)

TAMMY – Ellyson then concludes with this response to the modernist, “They believe strongly in God and correct ethical living but they have no Christ in their Godhood, no God-man, no virgin birth, no blood atonement, no redemptive salvation through the blood, and no inspired Scriptures. This is religion, but it is not the Christianity of the disciples who were first called Christians at Antioch, nor is it the Christianity of the Church for the first two centuries of its history. Leaving out the essential differentiating tenets of Christianity it can have no just right to the name Christian.” (pg.11)

JOEY – A.M. Hill added his voice of concern about the modern preacher in 1927 stating that, “They do not believe either in the personality of God or the devil; either in sin, sinners, or salvation. They take the crown of deity from the brow of Christ and reduce Him to the level of a deluded halfinsane bastard, denying His miracles, His atonement, His resurrection and ascension.” (pg.4, August, ’27)

TAMMY – A.M. Hill then made this observation about the theological education of the latter part of the decade of the twenties, “We have a host of preachers in our pulpits today, trained in our theological seminaries by infidel professors, who have repudiated all faith in the great doctrines of the Bible, the fall of man, the wickedness of sin, the necessity of atonement, the supernatural in Christianity, the deity of Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, and of God himself, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the personality of the devil. It is an abuse of language to call them Christians.” (pg. 3, September ’27)

JOEY – In a very critical article on Biblical criticism, Floyd W. Nease defended atonement and the faith this way, “It is unnecessary for me to suggest the results of critical investigation in the study of the New Testament. With the historicity of the Gospel narratives largely, if not totally, discredited, the miraculous subtracted from it, first and last, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and the significant elements of the atonement barred by their “principles or canons of interpretation,” the New Testament is devitalized and shrinks to the status of an Elizabethan drama.” (pg. 25, August ’27) Although we initially sided with the Baptist Bible Union and their fight against Modernism, the Church of the Nazarene parted ways with the Fundamentalists with very clear actions in the 1928 and 1932 General Assemblies, but we were also quick to point out a Wesleyan distinction on the atonement, separate from a Calvinist view, as F.M. Messemeer stated in his article Predestination, “That there is truth in the idea of predestination; no one can intelligently deny, but when taught as fatalism, it destroys man’s free moral agency on the one hand, and God’s free grace offered to all men on the other. It nullifies the meaning of the atonement . . .” (pg.4, June 1, ’26)

TAMMY – However, A.M. Hill strongly preaches against a “limited atonement” based on the passage of Titus 2:11-12, where he supports grace by stating, “Making salvation possible for all men—No horrible theology here teaching that “Some men and angels are foreordained to everlasting life, and all the rest are foreordained to everlasting death; and the number of each class is so definite and fixed that it can neither be increased nor diminished.. Thank God such blasphemous slanders of our heavenly Father’s grace are not found in this text, nor in any other.”

JOEY – Peter Wiskman articulated the role of the Holy Spirit in the atonement in this way, “On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost came in His full Pentecostal glory. He convicts the world of sin, testifies of Christ, applies the merits of the Savior’s atonement to the soul, leads into all truth, anoints for service. . .” (pg. 17, July, ’26)

TAMMY – Arthur F. Ingler, added to the role of the Holy Spirit in atonement in his sermon, The Cleansing of the Leper, based on Leviticus 14, where he alludes to the sacrificial ceremony, “After the blood of atonement (the work of Christ) comes the oil of anointing (the work of The Holy Spirit).”(pg. 14, August ’27)

JOEY – T. M. Anderson contributed to The Preacher’s Magazine monthly in an article titled Sermon Seed, where he offers this connection of the atonement with the Holy Spirit, “The coming of the Holy Spirit depended upon the merits of Christ’s sacrifice. It is important to emphasize this fact because the gift of the Spirit is in the atonement, and is necessary to salvation; and not a mere privilege of the believer. The Spirit was not yet given, nor could be given, until Jesus paid the price in His coming, with His blood.” (pg.13, December ‘27)

TAMMY – Continuing in another sermon, this one based on Hebrews 11, T. M. Anderson affirms that “We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. By a new and living way. Thus faith has full assurance in His atonement.” (pg. 14, August ’27)

JOEY – In an outline of a sermon on Christian Perfection, C.E. Cornell alluded that, “Christian Perfection was a provision of the atonement” according to Hebrews 7:10, 25 and then, continuing in Hebrews, W.W. Clay’s article, Sermon Studies in Hebrews, connects sanctification with the atonement and states that it, “portrays sanctification as the perfection of Christ’s salvation. It is perfect in that it is the full expression of the will of God for man. It is perfect in that it is the crowning gift of the atonement,” (pg.19, December ’27)

TAMMY – These were the expressions of the doctrine of the atonement as expressed in the early years of The Preacher’s Magazine.

JOEY- The battle lines were firmly fixed and there was a clear understanding of the meaning and purpose of a Wesleyan view of the atonement, how it related, not only to a believer’s salvation, but to their sanctification as well.

TAMMY – For the next several decades the Wesleyan voices on the atonement were strong and consistent remaining the same. Strong and clear. The view of the atonement was relatively unchanged.

JOEY – The voices however, became those more of leadership and theologians, and less of the average pastor – but those voices continued to echo the refrain.

TAMMY – As we approached the middle of the 1980’s, the use and frequency of the term atonement dwindled to a point where it all but vanished in The Preacher’s Magazine by the turn of this century.

JOEY – But along the way, we were hearing warnings from significant voices, like Richard S. Taylor, in an article in 1970 titled Among Ourselves, who reminded us of our foundation for preaching: “Our holiness preaching will be more on the mark if attention is always directed to the atonement as the ground of faith and to the Resurrection as our assurance of power.” (pg. 49, March 1970)

TAMMY – Another concern was addressed by General Superintendent Lawlor, “We must not stagger at preaching the glorious truth of Christian perfection. Anything less than this would be dishonorable to the atonement of Jesus Christ and the operation of the Holy Spirit. He who denies a second Crisis experience denies the full scope and design of the mission of Jesus Christ to our world. Our age, enmeshed in sin and self-centeredness, gripped by evil, and infected by fear, reveals the fact that our task is to declare the greatest need of our time—holiness.”

JOEY – Mendell Taylor, professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary continued the monthly series Seeds for Sermons with an article titled, Three Basic Principles of Holiness, where he emphasizes the doctrine of the atonement this way. “The doctrine of the atonement is clearly stated in this declaration: Christ, the infinite Son of God, laid down His life for one purpose—to redeem us from all iniquity. Christ paid the price in full to provide a full salvation, that all men can be free from all sin. He has made provision to take care of inherited sin as well as acquired sin; of the power of sin as well as the pollution of sin; of the sins of evil deeds as well as the sins of the disposition. This doctrinal position – should, be believed without reservation.” (pg. 25, January, 1976)

TAMMY – Dr. Taylor continued with another Seeds for Sermons titled, That’s what it is all about where he states, “the meaning of His death was, namely, to provide a remedy for our sins. He had one objective in mind —that was to take care of our sin problem. This means that His death was theologically oriented. He endured the death on the Cross, to make salvation through atonement a reality. There are two types of religions in the world. One is based on achievement, and the other is based on atonement. One is based on merit by good works, and the other on a rescue operation. Christianity is the only living religion that accents the aspects of atonement and rescue; He died our death for us so He could live His life through us.” (pg. 25 June_76)

JOEY – Ralph Earle, distinguished professor of New Testament at Nazarene Theological Seminary continued the warning of
works righteousness to replace the atoning work of Christ in his article, Meditating with the Master in Matthew: Two Ways and Two Houses, when he states, “Everyone must enter the narrow gate of renouncing all his own good works as a means of salvation and accepting the one good work of Christ on the Cross as the only atonement for his sins. Then he must walk the narrow way of continual submission to the will of God, It is narrow because it is the way of a single purpose: obedience. We do not seek our ‘own’ way, but only and always His way.” (pg. 26 – March, 1974)

TAMMY – John W. Bruce, a Nazarene pastor in Ohio provided this warning in 1984, in his sermon, The Three R’s of Redemption, “Forgiveness is the divine miracle of grace; Never accept a view of the Fatherhood of God if it blots out the Atonement. To base our preaching of forgiveness on the fact that God loves us and therefore He will forgive our sins is to make the cross unnecessary and redemption, ‘much ado about nothing!”

JOEY – Tom Findlay, professor at the European Nazarene Bile College, in his article, A Profile of John Wesley reminded us that, “For Wesley, full salvation was the natural outcome of the death of Christ. As the finished work of Christ, the atonement is complete and the perfection which belongs to it belongs also to the new relation to God into which we enter by faith in the death of Christ. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Their relation to God is not determined now in the very least by sin and law, it is determined by Christ the propitiation and by faith . . .”

TAMMY – Professor Finlay continues, “The position of the believer is not that of one trembling at the judgment seat, or of one for whom everything remains somehow in a condition of suspense; it is that of one who has the assurance of a divine love that has gone deeper than all his sins and has taken on itself the responsibility of them, and the responsibility of delivering him from them. A relation in which sin has nothing to say but which is summed up in Christ and His perfect atonement for sin. Full salvation NOW is the burden of Wesley’s gospel.”

JOEY – the question before us this today is, is that burden of full salvation NOW through the perfect atonement of Christ all but been replaced by other priorities of the gospel? As we entered into the 1980’s in The Preacher’s Magazine, this question was asked – Who Cares About Theology Anymore? in an article by C. S. Cowles, Professor of Religion, Northwest Nazarene College.

TAMMY – In that article Cowles, somewhat tongue-in-cheek states, “Shame on you, John Wesley, Phineas Bresee, and a great host of other ‘‘holiness types,” for raising the impossibly high standard of freedom from sin and life in the Spirit. Would it not have been better to let the good Christian folk drift along believing that they were helplessly and hopelessly sinners until the day they died? That way they could cling to a magical concept of the Atonement in which God’s grace is imputed to them without radically disturbing their particular lifestyles. Just look at the splits and trauma that you initiated in the body of Christ by your devotion to your funny little doctrine of entire sanctification.” (pg. 29, December, January, February, 1979-1980)

JOEY – In this hauntingly prophetic article, Cowles goes on to say that “theology deals with absolutes, with ultimates and with truth.” Furthermore, “theology is unprofitable in preaching, unproductive in evangelism, and it is, by nature, divisive.”

TAMMY – And after that, the references to the atonement became less frequent and slowly disappeared off the pages of The Preacher’s Magazine. On the threshold of a post-modern, post-Christian World – Cowles article was truly timely and prophetic.

JOEY – One final curious note, in that inaugural year of The Preacher’s Magazine, editor J.B. Chapman and other contributors recognized that they were in the fight of their lives against the Modernists, against the liberal Christianity as represented by Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, admittedly one of the greatest pulpiters of last century
and pastor of the historic, interdenominational Riverside Church in New York City, founded by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr.

TAMMY – But in an article in the late seventies, by pastor C. Neil Strait, he referenced a famous prayer by that very same Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a prayer he whispered whenever he got up to preach to his church at Riverside saying, “Somewhere in this congregation is one person who desperately needs what 1 am going to say; O God, help me to get at him.” And oddly, in that same article Strait reminds us of a famous quote of Adam Clarke who said that “the gospel does not make allowance for sin; it makes atonement for sin.” (pg. 22, August, 1977)

JOEY – In addition, there were subsequent articles expressing what one could learn from Fosdick, his sermons and his writings – to embrace him as an example as a preacher to follow. What does this mean? How have we arrived at this point?

TAMMY – In conclusion, we must speculate why we have this historical track, what happened? Why the disappearance of the treatment of the atonement in this Wesleyan publication in recent decades?We see four possible explanations after examining the content of recent issues:

JOEY – Perhaps, as a denomination and as a Wesleyan movement, we have become more Modernist in our thoughts and theology – less dogmatic and concerned with doctrine, but more concerned with reconciling ourselves and the gospel with our culture.

TAMMY – Another possible explanation is that because of the establishment of Nazarene Theological Seminary and the
strengthening of our religion departments in our colleges and university, and in morerecent years additional publications like Didache and other resources available, the need to explain and affirm the doctrine of the atonement, and other theological positions became unnecessary, as other, more practical needs became prevalent for the craft of preaching.

JOEY – A third possible reason was that The Preacher’s Magazine became more thematic in recent years, tackling more of the administrative and ministerial side of the preacher’s life. The need for theological clarity was replaced by practical theology equipping ministers with tools to handle the various diverse demands on the life of the contemporary minister and the average Christian.

TAMMY – One final possible explanation is that our preaching style, as a denomination and a movement, has become less
proclaiming of doctrine, and with the use of theological terms, but more relational and equipping through narrative and storytelling – giving our congregations the simple tools necessary to survive in this complex world.

JOEY – There you have it, 87 years of The Preacher’s Magazine’s views on the atonement – but what does the future hold? One final observation, as we have spent nearly nine decades defining what The Preacher’s Magazine is and is not, we must admit that it is not meant to be a theological journal – but a preaching resource – and even though theology informs our preaching, it may not enter into the discussion anymore, and for good reasons.

TAMMY – As the new editor of The Preacher’s Magazine, this publication is adapting to the digital age, it is now an online publication attempting to reach a new generation, a new age, with a global voice – not just select voices and not only from America, but from all regions of the world. The Preacher’s Magazine is inspiring the pastor’s heart with a passion for preaching.

Leave a Reply