Several years ago at the Congress on Evangelism, Bishop Will Willimon told of going with a group of United Methodists to visit death-row inmates in Alabama. Bishop Willimon sat down for a private conversation with one of the inmates. The Bishop said to him, “I would like to hear what is on your mind. Is there a question you would like to ask me?”
The inmate replied, “I would like to know why preachers don’t talk more about the Atonement.”
Bishop Willimon was surprised, almost shocked. Perhaps he thought the man would want to discuss the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment or the misery of living on death row. Instead, he had Atonement on his mind.
Surely this condemned inmate could identify with Jesus who was executed. Perhaps he could identify even more with the thieves who died on either side of Jesus. They, like him, were paying the penalty for their crimes. But Jesus was an innocent man. Maybe this inmate was longing to hear that Jesus’ death had not been in vain. Perhaps he yearned to believe that Jesus had died for all sinners, even death-row inmates, who repent and claim him as Savior and Lord. Why don’t preachers talk more about the Atonement?