Embracing the Divine Impulse

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : May 3, 2007

I recently shared some of my thoughts about the Atonement (here). While the Christus Victor and the Penal Substitutionary views of the Atonement aren’t mutually exclusive, Protestants tend to start with one or the other these days (yes, I know these aren’t the only two views).

People don’t pick one or the other objectively…often their choice is predictable, based upon which theological lens they’re starting with. And it seems to me that there are two dominant theological impulses in Christianity today: the MISSIONAL impulse and the DOXOLOGICAL impulse. In other words, some folks TEND to think the Church primarily as the community sent by Jesus, whereas others see the Church primarily as the community that worships God. Yes, I realize that these aren’t mutually exclusive, but almost everyone I have ever known starts with one or the other. Here’s the two ways I see these two impulses play out theologically:


The worshiping community elevates the Glory of God. God is the one we worship. Church is the gathering of the people of God for worship. Evangelism is bringing people into the worship of God. The Atonement assuaged God’s wrath so that we might come before God in worship.


The missional community elevates the Love of God. God is the one who loves us. Church is a movement of the people of God to show the love of God in the world. Evangelism is reflecting and describing the love of God. In the Atonement, Jesus triumphed over those things that keep us from loving God and neighbor so that we might know the love of God and be able to love God and neighbor rightly.

Clearly, every church has a blend of the two. But churches tend to start with one. And I’d like to argue that we start with the latter, rather than the former. Why? Because I think the provocative thing about Christianity is that we are called to embody Christ in the world, not that we, among all people, can worship God in the most correct manner. The amazing thing about Christianity, to me, isn’t so much that we are square with God because of the work Jesus did, but that because of who Jesus is, we can be partakers of the Divine Nature.

In Jesus, we not only see the proper worship of God, but also God embracing the world. And we the church are to follow Jesus–both in his worship of God, but also in his embrace of the world. And we know from Jesus that it is in his ultimate embracing of humanity on the Cross that we see Jesus’ most profound act of worship. We are called to embrace the Divine Impulse. We are called to embody Christ to the world by his Spirit. And insodoing, we bear witness to the Glory of God.

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10 Responses to “Embracing the Divine Impulse”

  1. Mak on May 3rd, 2007 8:50 am

    I agree, good thoughts :) And while it doesn’t have to be an “either or” situation, where we start/where we focus is extremely key and shapes much of the rest of our practice.

  2. Norm on May 3rd, 2007 9:04 am

    Mark, how does the image you include in this post link to your thoughts on this? I see some connections but wondered what it evokes for you.


  3. markvans on May 3rd, 2007 12:19 pm

    The picture depicts a sensual, loving embrace. I think it captures the way in which God embraces creation. I think we are supposed to offer the world a tangible loving embrace from God.

  4. Steve Treichler on May 3rd, 2007 3:57 pm

    i like the picture… glad I’m married!

    Anyway, I don’t disagree with your assessment, except for the fact that you seem to be speaking out of both sides of your mouth - in that in previous posts you rail against the traditional view of penal substitution and the wrath of God being satisfied, but here acknowledge it.

    My whole deal is that the gospel is a WHOLE LOT more than the penal substitution of the Father’s wrath upon the Son for the reconcilliation of humans, but certainly never LESS. I see a loss of this precious doctrine in much of the writing of today on the Atonement. Perhaps this is a reaction to the single lens look at the cross many have had, but it is the baby and must not go down the drain with all the other baby poo of underemphasis of other beautiful aspects of our Lord’s passion (you supply the mental imagry and smell associate with that on your own!).

    My main idea is that you can never OVER emphasize penal substitution - you just must elevate all the other elements of the cross as well:

    Christus Victor
    Christus Exemplar



  5. Mak on May 3rd, 2007 4:22 pm

    glad you’re married? you really find it to be THAT sexual? I don’t see any “talking out of both sides of the mouth” … perhaps you can explain? I must be missing something.

  6. Steve Treichler on May 3rd, 2007 10:02 pm

    I find everything sexual…but I digress…

    Here’s what I mean. In his post on The Retribution of God about Chalke’s book, Mark states the traditional evangelical view of propitiation as:

    “If Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, and the reason my sins are such a big deal is that they warrent death and wrath. In the end, the Big Consequence for my sins is Hell–which is the eternal pouring out of God’s hot wrath. I need the Cross to save me from God’s hot wrath. Any attempt to diminish or deny this view is an assault on the very Gospel itself!”

    Then he goes on to describe his view as:

    “Want to know what I think? I think the penal substitutionary view of the Atonement as it currently is articulated by conservative evangelicals is a profound distortion of the Biblical telling. Basically, evangelicals tend to have a bad habit of reading things through bad lenses. When you read the Old Testament and the Gospels through Paul, who you read through the lense of Luther or Calvin, who you read through the lense of American Evangelicalism, who you read through the lense of individualism, you’re going to see things off kilter.”

    Then in this post he states that the atonement is both propitiation and now about having victory over those things that kept us from loving God and neighbor, and that one must start with that view in order to be missional (which completely doesn’t follow in my simple Iron Range, Public School trained mind - toss me a bone on why it is missional to hold Christus Victor?)

    I couldn’t agree more that the atonement is the cornerstone of the Christian worldview and faith. However, I am one of those crazy, mystical guys who thinks that God can actually have multiple purposes and emotions at the same time (intense love and hot wrath, his desire to be glorified and our desire to be forgiven and fulfilled, him being just and merciful - etc.)

    The reason I get there is (WARNING - OVERSIMPLIFICATION COMING!!) from the Bible:

    God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished… Romans 3:25

    For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17

    16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:16-19, NIV).

    That’s enough for now…



  7. Norm on May 4th, 2007 8:32 am

    Thanks Mark, I also see a loving sensual embrace. I wonder however whether the image is a way to hold together the distinctions of worship and mission? I agree the image can evoke images of God’s love for creation and reflect God’s invitation for us to live in the world that way. I wonder however, if the embrace is also an appropriate, and maybe primary image to shape worship. What if we saw our worship as such an embrace between God and us, mutual, that then shapes our being in the world. I’m increasingly aware that people who experience minimal loving embrace, find it difficult or impossible to love others that way. How would it transform our worship if we used an image such as this to shape it? Would we leave that embrace more able to embrace the world as Jesus did?


  8. markvans on May 8th, 2007 9:27 am


    I’m not speaking out of both sides of my mouth. The view I put forth in recent posts is decidedly NOT the traditional view of penal subsitution. It may be substitution, but not of the “Jesus receives the hot wrath of God” variety, unless you believe that “wrath” refers to the given-overness of humanity to itself. The way I’m articulating it subordinates the idea of substitution to the Christus Victor view. But I try to do so in a way that honors the commonly quoted passages that have to do with blood atonement and the wrath of God.

    I find it a bit odd that you think one can never OVER emphasize penal substitution. Of course one could over emphasize it! One can over-emphasize the divinity of Christ (by obliterating his humanity). And so too can the penal view be over-emphasized if it means that it is higher and more central than the other views or if the primary problem humans must deal with is God’s anger.

  9. David Fitch on May 8th, 2007 4:12 pm

    I love you … and I think your post is borderline brilliant (like most of your posts) but alas I still disagree .. because I see worship as formational … liturgical … not for expression but formation into being a certain kindof person born of a certain Narrative (read Mission) … here is where our vision is shaped, our character molded for the missional and economic practices you talked about on the other post above (also even more brilliant) … and so I think the two cannot be sepaarated .. doxo-logic is to shape all things towards His created order … the restoration of creation. .. which then reflects His glory … And if we truly view worship as reenacting, remmebering and participating in this Drama, being invited into this Narrative to live in and out of it … Christus Victor has to be the dominnat mode for understanding the work of Christ …
    Can an Anabaptist understand this without some Roman Catholic help? I don’t think so .. they both need each other … (and come toegther in hauerwas et.a l.) ..
    peace bro …
    PS My toilet still doesn’t work since the last time you visited? (hahhahhah ) ..

  10. markvans on May 9th, 2007 10:58 am


    That toilet is the bane of your existence!

    Regarding the formative nature of worship: I have always found your perspective on this pretty convincing and compelling. I don’t think I disagree at all–I think I’m only a few degrees away from you on this. You embrace missional worship. I embrace worshipful mission. Tomay-to, Tomah-to. ;)

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