FOURTH ANNIVERSARY BLOG!

March 11, 2016

I wish to express my gratitude as well as congratulations to my readers for enduring the vicissitudes of this atypical blog site. At this point it seems appropriate to give a bit of explanation for newcomers, then review its irregular history, and finally to attempt a peek into the future.

For some time, I had been pondering how to communicate several decades of writing on the topic of Christ’s Atonement. Naturally, several friends suggested writing a book. Problem is, I had much more material than would fit handily under two covers. Moreover, my notes on the subject were cumulative and betrayed sharp transitions at points of fresh insight, as well as stages or phases of cumulative development. It occurred to me that keeping these changes visible might actually be helpful to many readers who were likewise struggling with our prevalent traditions on atonement.

Then in early 2012, I happened to view the blog site of my friend Ted Gossard (www.communityofjesus.wordpress.com). It quickly dawned on me that my extensive notes on the Atonement might fit perfectly into a blogging format. I could post the notes chronologically and comment occasionally on my departures from earlier formulations, using the occasion to reflect on the process of hermeneutics (the discipline of interpretation) and how my thinking has changed in light of further reflection on Scripture plus the input of the many historic attempts to “get it right.”

So I kicked things off slowly with only a handful of blogs in March, 2012. I explained my personal background and rationale for the site and its name in the “About” page at the very top of the site. Because of the chronological sequence of my notes, I wish the newer blogs could appear below the older ones in a manner that seems more normal and accessible as well as less cumbersome when searching for antecedent references. All of which is to say, this is not a normal blog site. It is an attempt to make private notes public for comment, critique, and hopefully improvement. This would aid me in undertaking the writing of a book.

As I entered old notes, I was able to further ponder the difficulty of making fundamental alterations in long-ingrained assumptions. But I was definitely getting a rush out of posting discoveries hot from the anvil…at least at the time I actually penned them (originally on 3 by 5 note cards, but soon transitioning to 4 by 6 cards—virtually none of my notes were composed on a typewriter or computer, even to this day).

A couple of years into my posts, I started adding tags. I know, I know, that should have been an obvious thing to do in order to draw readers. And I hope to go back to those earlier posts and add tags, including Scripture references. I also eventually discovered the utility of back posting blogs to earlier dates. In fact, that’s what I did throughout most of 2015, probably to the confusion of some readers. Especially after I started posting my blogs through Facebook, folks may have wondered why most of what appeared day by day was dated way back in 2014! Well, my simple-minded strategy was to eventually “catch up” with the present! While working on other research and writing, I figured I could still post my older Atonement notes during those past months when I was too busy to do any regular daily blogging. This seemed more sensible also because my entries are not linked to current events that would require a corresponding date so that readers made the connection. Not that my notes were abstracted from the historic flow events; they were simply more connected to one another and to my exposure to my own reading schedule on the Atonement—ideas and authors that were scattered throughout modern history.

Then came several key interruptions of that steady chronological blogging. The series of some two dozen blogs in response to Jesse Morrell’s anticipated hardcopy publication of his online book, The Vicarious Atonement of Christ, which espoused the “governmental” view developed by Hugo Grotius, absorbed an immense amount of study and writing time. Then my experience early last winter and spring at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids demanded the lion’s share of attention.  I still have several month’s worth of blog posts on that episode!

The upshot is that I stopped any further blog posts with later dates after posting the remarkable excerpts of John Lightfoot’s expositions concerning the wrath of God and Christ. So for anyone who opens my blog site, those have been at the top of the site for many months. All of my other posts have been backdated to August and September 2014. Those keep getting posted on Facebook, of course, but that’s why you don’t see them when you open the site.

I do have a deadline, however, for posting my regular Atonement notes. October 31st of 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of “Reformation Day,” when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. I will have much to say about Luther’s development ere that date approaches. But in the meantime, I would encourage readers to start reading at the beginning of this blog site and simply process through. Later notes will often make best sense in light of those earlier ones, since I may leave out the explication of assumptions that had earlier demanded fresh energy to readjust, but which I now take for granted, to the puzzlement of some readers.

Lastly, thank you so much for taking the time and energy to visit this blog site. I have actually had less than a score of blog responses over the last four years. For that I am somewhat grateful since it leaves more time to enter notes. But I have greatly appreciated each and every response I have received. I only hope I have provided worthy responses in return. After all, there’s nothing that can’t be improved!

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The challenge of the Rev. John Lightfoot, D.D. to the Westminster Assembly concerning Christ BEARING THE WEIGHT OF GOD’S WRATH (cont’d.)

May 13, 2015

The following are two more excerpts from Dr. Lightfoot’s sermons that expound his Biblical objections to what became the “orthodox” teaching about Christ bearing, on top of all his affliction from the wicked, the wrath of God as well.  Judge for yourself whether he has been arguing in a Scriptural manner or not.

VOLUME XII

CONTAINING

HORAE HEBRAICAE ET TALMUDICAE ;

OR

HEBREW AND TALMUDICAL EXERCITATIONS

UPON THE

GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN ;

(excerpt, pp. 367-368)

Ver. 28 ; “ I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” This petition of our Saviour’s, “ Father, glorify thy name,” was of no light consequence, when it had such an answer from heaven by an audible voice : and what it did indeed mean, we must guess by the context. Christ, upon the Greeks’ desire to see him, takes that occasion to discourse about his death, and to exhort his followers, that, from his example, they would not love their life, but, by losing it, preserve it to life eternal. Now by how much the deeper he proceeds in the discourse and thoughts of his approaching death, by so much the more is his mind disturbed, as himself acknowledgeth, ver. 27.

But whence comes this disturbance ? It was from the apprehended rage and assault of the devil. Whether our Lord Christ, in his agony and passion, had to grapple with an angry God, I question : but I am certain, he had to do with an angry devil. When he stood, and stood firmly, in the highest and most eminent point and degree of obedience, as he did in his sufferings,—it doth not seem agreeable [congruum], that he should then be groaning under the pressures of divine wrath ; but it is most agreeable, he should, under the rage and fury of the devil. For,

I. The fight was now to begin between the serpent and the seed of the woman, mentioned Gen. iii. 15, about the glory of God, and the salvation of man. In which strife and contest, we need not doubt but the devil would exert all his malice and force to the very uttermost.

II. God loosed all the reins, and suffered the devil without any kind of restraint upon him to exercise his power and strength to the utmost of what he either could or would ; because he knew his champion Christ was strong enough, not only to bear his assaults, but to overcome them.

III. He was to overcome,—not by his divine power,—for how easy a matter were it for an omnipotent God to conquer the most potent created being ;—but his victory must be obtained by his obedience, his righteousness, and his holiness.

IV. Here then was the rise of that trouble and agony of Christ’s soul, that he was presently to grapple with the utmost rage of the devil ; the divine power, in the mean time, suspending its activity, and leaving him to manage the conflict with those weapons of obedience and righteousness only.

It was about this, therefore, that that petition of our Saviour, and the answer from heaven, was concerned : which may be gathered from what follows, ver. 31, “ Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”

“ ‘ Now is my soul troubled (saith he), and what shall I say ?’ It is not convenient for me to desire to be saved from this hour ; for for this very purpose did I come : that therefore which I would I beg of thee, O Father, is, that thou wouldst glorify thy name, thy promise, thy decree, against the devil, lest he should boast and insult.”

The answer from heaven to this prayer, is, “ I have already glorified my name in that victory thou formerly obtainedst over his temptations in the wilderness ; and I will glorify my name again in the victory, thou shalt have in this combat also.”

Luke iv. 13 ; “ When the devil had ended all his temptations, he departed from him for a season.” He went away baffled then : but now he returns more insolent, and much more to be conquered.

And thus now, the third time, by a witness and voice from heaven, was the Messiah honoured according to his kingly office : as he had been, according to his priestly office, when he entered upon his ministry at his baptism, Matt. iii. 17 ; and, according to his prophetic office, when he was declared to be he, that was to be heard; Matt. xvii. 5, compared with Deut. xviii. 15.

* * * * *

VOLUME VII

CONTAINING

A    S E R M O N,

(excerpt, pp. 234-237)

PREACHED UPON

HEBREWS, x. 29

And hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he

was sanctified, an unholy thing.

Therefore, as the Scripture saith, “ The life is in the blood,”—so are we to look for something besides the bare substance of his blood, that flowed from him, and besides the bare flowing of his blood from him ; something that was as the life of that blood, that gave it the vigour, virtue, and efficacy, of justifying and saving. And what was that ? You will say, His infinite ‘sufferings ;’ let me add, His infinite ‘ obedience :’ in both which is included, the supposal of the ‘ dignity of his person ;’ and the whole is spoken.

I shall not much insist upon his sufferings, because his obedience to those sufferings was the life of those sufferings, the very life of his death, as I may so phrase it, and that, the dignity of his person computed in, that gave virtue, vigour, efficacy, to his sufferings, death, and blood.

Of his sufferings, I shall only say thus much ; ‘ That he suffered as much as God could put him to suffer, short of his own wrath ; and that he suffered as much as the devil could put him to, with all his wrath.’ You will say, I speak too high, when I say, ‘ He suffered as much as God could put him to suffer ;’ and that I speak too low, when I say, ‘ short of his own wrath.’ I dare not say, ‘ He suffered the wrath of God,’ as many do ; but the prophets and apostles teach me, that he suffered the tryings of God. And more he could not be put to suffer, than what he did. “ It pleased the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief ;” Isa. liii. 10. And more could not be laid upon him, than what was laid. Have you seriously weighed the meaning of those words of our Saviour himself [Luke, xxii. 53], “ This is your hour, and power of darkness ?” The plain English of it is, “ ‘ This is your hour,’ that God hath let you loose upon me, to do with me, what you will, without restraint : and so hath he let loose upon me the kingdom of darkness, in its utmost power, at the full length of the chain, to do against me the utmost it can do. I was daily with you in the temple, and ye stretched out no hands against me : for then providence restrained them, because the hour was not yet come. But ‘ this is your hour ;’ and now hell, and all its power, and all its agents, are let loose against me ! and providence does not check them with any restraint.”

I might insist to show you, that, whereas God, from the day of Adam’s fall, had pitched a combat and field, to be fought betwixt the serpent and the seed of the woman, in which the ‘serpent should bruise his heel,’ and he ‘break the serpent’s head ;’—the hour of that encounter being now come, the Godhead of Christ suspends its acting ; the providence of God suspends its restraining, and lets Satan loose to do the utmost of his power and malice, and leaves Christ to stand upon the strength of his own unconquerable holiness. The providence of God hath the devil in a chain, yea, as to wicked and ungodly men. Else, why are they not carried bodily to hell by him ? Why are they not hurried to their own place by him, body and soul together ? But here God let the chain quite loose ; ‘ Satan, do thy worst against him ; use all they power, rage, and malice.’—But all would not do ; for God very well knew, what a champion he had brought into the field to encounter him. And, therefore, I may very well say it again, ‘ That God put him to suffer as much, as he could put him to suffer on this side his own wrath ; and the devil put him to suffer as much, as he could do with all his rage and power.’

But his sufferings were not all, that gave his blood and death that virtue, that most justly is ascribed to it, of justifying and saving. The torments that he suffered, were not the godfather, that named his blood by that precious name of justifying and saving ; but it was that infinite obedience, that he showed in bowing so low as to undergo those sufferings. And there especially does the Scripture lay and lodge the stress of it ; “ By the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous [Rom. v. 19] :”—“ He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [Phil. ii. 8] ;”— “ Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered [Heb. v. 8].”

Our Saviour, in his sufferings and death [for to that I will confine my discourse concerning his obedience, as the text confines us to treat only of his blood, and as the Scripture more peculiarly lodges his obedience there. For, though he performed obedience to God all his life, yet the obedience that he showed to, and in, the shedding of his blood,—was the very apex and top-stone of his obedience. And for this it is, that I scruple to say, that he suffered the wrath of God in his sufferings ; because it is hard to think, that he lay under the depth of God’s displeasure, when he was now in the highest pitch of obeying and pleasing God] : I say, that our Saviour, in his sufferings and death, had to deal with God and Satan, upon different accounts ;…. And with one and the same instrument, as I may call it,—his obedience, he effected these contrary effects….

I. Christ was to break the head of the serpent, as the serpent had broke the head of Adam and all mankind. He was to conquer the devil, who had conquered man. And what was that, by which he conquered him ? By his divine power, as he was God ? That had been no great mastery ; for the great God, by his omnipotent power, to conquer a creature. When he did but exert a little of his divine power at his apprehension, he made Judas, and all his band of ruffians, to “ go backward, and fall to the ground [John, xviii. 6].” But he was to conquer Satan by righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God. He had not needed to have been incarnate, to conquer the devil by his omnipotent divine power ; but he was to conquer him, and he did conquer him, by obedience and holiness.

John xiv. 30 : “ The prince of this world cometh, saith he, and hath nothing in me.” And he came with all his forces, all his fury, all his power ; and do all he could, he could find nothing in him, that could serve his turn. All that he did, or could do, could not move him one hair’s-breadth from obeying God, and persisting in his holiness. The apostle, in the ninth of this Epistle, ver. 14, saith, “ He offered himself without spot to God.” One spot had spoiled all the offering ; but the devil could not fix one spot upon him, though he flung against him all the sink of hell : but still he keeps to his obedience and holiness. “ Vicisti, Galilaee ;” Julian, a child of the devil, once said, “ O Galilean ! thou hast overcome me.” The devil, himself, hath cause to say so now. The devil let loose upon him, to do the utmost against him that he could, without any restraint, to bring him from his obeying of God, and so to foil him ; and all will not do. All the temptations, and tricks, and assaults, that the anvil of hell could forge and sharpen, were bent and used against him, and all return blunted, and avail nothing. All that Satan can do, cannot bring from him one repining word for all his tortures ; not one desponding thought, for all his pangs ; not one unbecoming passage, for all his passion. But still he will obey God, come what will ; he will still retain his holiness and integrity, let devils and men do what they will.

Satan, art thou not conquered ? O devil, where is thy power now ? O hell, where is thy victory ? Thanks be given to God, that hath given us such victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Satan, thou hast not the first Adam now in handling, who was foiled by one devil ; and, in one and the first temptation, presented to him. Now all the power and army of hell is let loose ; all the machinations of the bottomless pit put in practice against the second Adam ; but all to no purpose : he stands, like a rock, unmoved in his righteousness and obedience, and, by such a “death, destroys him, that had the power over death, the devil.”

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The challenge of the Rev. John Lightfoot, D.D. to the Westminster Assembly concerning Christ BEARING THE WEIGHT OF GOD’S WRATH

Session 841, May 12, 1647.  Wednesday morning

On this date, 368 years ago, the decision was made by the famous Westminster Assembly in London to approve Questions 49 and 50 of the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Resolved upon the Q.:  Q [49]:  How did Christ humble himself in his death?  A:  Christ humbled himselfe in his death in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors, having also conflicted with the terrors of death, and the powers of Darknesse, felt and borne the weight of Gods wrath, he played down his life an offering for sins, injuring the painful and shameful and cursed death of the crosse.

Resolved upon the Q.:  Q [50]:  Wherein consisted Christs humiliation after death?  A:  Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried and continewing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day, which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, “he descended into Hell“.’

I have highlighted words which were analyzed jointly and in part contested by at least one Westminster divine.  I learned this only a few months ago.  At that time, I was posting my lengthy critique of the Governmental view of the Atonement originated by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).  I had been reading relevant sections of the rousing book, The Natural Ability of Man:  A Study on Free Will & Human Nature (www.OpenAirOutreach.com, 2010), by the dauntless young evangelist and publisher, Jesse Morrell.  Since I was rendering him the (okay, uninvited) service of preparing to critique his online version of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), I decided to read whatever else he had written on the Atonement that might be relevant.  On page 461 I came across this stunning passage:

Dr. Lightfoot, one of the Westminster divines, even said, ‘Was Christ so much as punished by God?  Much less, then, was He overwhelmed by the wrath of God, damned by God?  Was a lamb punished that was sacrificed?  He was afflicted, but not punished; for punishment argued a crime or fault preceding.  Were the sad sufferings of Christ laid on him as punishments?  Certainly not for his own sins; no, nor for ours neither.  He suffered for our sins, bare our sins; but his sufferings were not punishments for our sins.’

I could hardly believe what I was reading.  So Paul Peter Waldenström was not the only other theologian to have denied that God’s wrath was expressed against Christ?  And a Westminster divine at that!  That made me curious to know if Dr. Lightfoot had elaborated on the matter.  And how!  So in the remainder of today’s posting I will let Dr. Lightfoot speak for himself.  In tomorrow’s blog I will post the relevant parts of two more of his sermons that touch on the same matter.  Ponder prayerfully.

THE

WHOLE WORKS 

OF THE

REV. JOHN LIGHTFOOT, D. D. 

MASTER OF CATHARINE HALL,

Cambridge.

______________ 

EDITED BY THE 

REV. JOHN ROGERS PITMAN, A. M.

Alternate Morning Preacher at Belgrave and Berkeley Chapels ; and alternate Evening

Preacher at the Foundling and Magdalen Hospitals.

_______________

IN 13 VOLUMES

_______________

John Lightfoot (1602-1675), prominent Puritan divine, was educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he was regarded as the best orator among the undergraduates. He was much loved and esteemed as a faithful preacher and shepherd during several pastoral appointments. He became an eminent scholar of Hebrew and rabbinic literature. He was one of the original members of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1652), which drew up the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms (1647). His “Journal of the Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines from January 1, 1643 to December 31, 1644” (Vol. 13) is the most important single source for that period. He exercised considerable influence on the outcome of the discussions. He was appointed Master of Catharine Hall in 1643, renamed St. Catharine’s College (1650), which he held until his death. He earned the doctorate in 1652. He was chosen Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1654. His varied publications include sermons, addresses, disputations, expositions, commentaries, a harmony of the four Gospels, a Polyglot version of the Bible, and Talmudic studies relating to Scripture. His following opinion was rejected, at least for the Catechisms (LC #49, SC #27). But who was more true to Scripture?

 

LONDON :

PRINTED BY J. F. DOVE, ST. JOHN’S SQUARE:

SOLD BY HATCHARD AND SON, PICCADILLY ; W. CLARKE, NEW BOND STREET ;

RIVINGTONS, ST. PAUL’S CHURCHYARD, AND WATERLOO PLACE; BAYNES

AND SON, PATERNOSTER ROW; R. PRIESTLEY, HIGH HOLBORN; LLOYD

AND SON, HARLEY STREET; J. BOOTH, DUKE STREET, PORTLAND PLACE;

R. BAYNES, IVY LANE : J. PARKER, OXFORD : DEIGHTON AND SONS ; AND

J. HATT, CAMBRIDGE.

MDCCCXXII, MDCCCXXIII, MDCCCXXIV.

(1822–1824)

VOLUME VI

CONTAINING

A N   E X P O S I T I O N

OF THREE ARTICLES OF

T H E A P O S T L E S’ C R E E D 

 1. He descended into Hell.

(excerpts, pp. 3, 10, 17-24)

 

THE ground of this article of the Creed is in Acts ii. 27 ; “ Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.” The reason of its insertion we shall see afterward. An article obscure, and that hath bred many disputes; and the rendering of it so in English, some offences. For it seemeth harsh, that Christ’s soul descended into hell, which, in our English language, speaketh most plainly and usually, ‘ The place of the damned ;’ a place very improper to look for the soul of Christ in, when departed out of his body. He and his betrayer Judas, to meet in the same place ! He that had by death purchased heaven for others,—himself, after death, to descend into hell ! Not an article in our Christian faith hath more need of explication to bring it to common reason, or analogy of faith.

The course I shall take in explication of it, shall, first, be to clear it from that meaning that is improper and offensive, and that carries not probability with it ; and then to unfold the proper and genuine meaning of it.

I. The general interpretation of it in the church of Rome is,….

* * * * *

II. A second opinion and interpretation is, that he descended locally to triumph over the devils and the damned. An interpretation that seems to carry more sense and innocence ; and yet is far from the meaning of the article. To take it into examination ;….

* * * * *

III. A third interpretation, then, is this,—that it means the torments he suffered in soul upon his cross. Some word it, that ‘ he suffered the extreme wrath of God :’ some, ‘ the very torments of hell :’ some, ‘ that he was, for the time, in the state of the damned.’ I reluct to speak these things : but this gloss some make upon this article : and while they go about to magnify the love of Christ in suffering such things for men, they so much abase and vilify his person, in making it liable to such a condition.

The sense of the article we must refuse, unless we should speak and think of Christ that, which doth not befit him. The soul of the dearly-beloved of God, to lie under the heaviest wrath of God ! The Lord of heaven and earth to be under the torments of hell ! And the Captain of our salvation to be under the condition of the damned ! Let it not be told in Gath ; publish it not in the streets of Ascalon ! Let not the Jews hear it, nor the Turks understand such a thing ; lest they blaspheme our Lord of life more than they do.

The colour which is put upon this opinion by them, that hold it, is because Christ upon the cross bare the sins of men ; and, therefore, that he was to bear the wrath, torments, and damnation, that man had deserved. And for this they produce those places ; “ The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all [Isa. liii. 6] :” “ Who his ownself bare our sins in his own body on the tree [1 Pet. ii. 24].” And they would have Christ to mean no less, when he cried out, “ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ?”

For the stating of this matter, I lay down these two things :—

I. That it was impossible, Christ should suffer the wrath of God, the torments of hell,—and be in the case of the damned for any cause of his own.

II. That he did not, could not, suffer these, though he bare the sins of all his people. I shall speak to both these, under these five observations :—

I. In all the passages of Christ at his suffering, you cannot find that he looks upon God as an angry God. Begin at his prayer at his last supper [John, xvii]. Can you find there even the least hint, that he doubted of God’s favour to him ? It is the rule of the apostle [1 Tim. ii. 8], That “ we lift up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Can we think, that Christ ever prayed with doubting ? Especially, look into that prayer, and there is not the least tincture of it [John, xvii. 1] ; “ Father, glorify thy Son.” Did his heart then any whit suspect, that God was angry at him ? “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life [ver. 2].” Are these the words of one that suspected he could come under the heaviest wrath of God ?—“I have glorified thee on earth ; I have finished the work, which thou gavest me to do [ver. 4].” Are these the words of one, that thought he could ever be repayed for so doing, with wrath and vengeance, and the torments of hell ?—“ And now, O Father, glorify me with thine ownself, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was [John, xvii. 5] :” “ And now, Father, I come unto thee [ver. 13] :” “Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee [ver. 21] :” “ Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory [ver. 24].” Had Christ, when he spake these things, any suspicion or thought, that he could possibly come under the heavy wrath of God ?

It is said, John xviii. 1, he went beyond Cedron. There he is in his agony : then he prays, “ Let this cup pass from me.” Why ? What did he see in the cup ? Bitterness enough,—but not one drop of the dregs of God’s wrath. Guess his case by the case of sinful men. A Stephen, a Cranmer, a Ridley, a martyr, is brought to the stake : he hath a cup put into his hands, and that very bitter ; but doth he see any of God’s wrath in it ? Martyrs could not have gone so joyfully to death, had they seen God angry in that bitter dispensation. Christ could not have gone so readily to his sufferings, had he thought he had gone to encounter God’s indignation.

Look at his words on the cross, “ Hodie mecum in paradiso :” “ To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Were these the words of one under the torments of hell ? “ Pater, in manus tuas:” “ Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Did he apprehend God angry, as at the damned, when he spake these words ? Nay, those words, “ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” speak not, that he felt the wrath of God, but a bitter providence ; that God had left him to such wrackings and tortures, and to such wicked hands. So that look at Christ’s passages at and near his passion, and you find not one word or action, that doth bewray, that Christ felt himself any whit at all under God’s fury.

Nay, look through the Scripture : whatsoever is spoken of Christ, it sets him far from being to be thought liable to the wrath of God. Was Christ a child of wrath, as well as others ? Scripture tells you No. “ Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth : I have put my Spirit upon him [Isa. xlii. 1].” How far is that from such language as this, ‘ Behold Christ under my wrath, behold him under the torments of hell.’ And so that passage, “ Lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased [Matt. iii. 17] :” and, at his transfiguration, “ in whom I am well pleased.” And does he ever come to be angry at him, as at the damned, and to lay his fury on him, as on the tormented in hell? It troubles me to think any Christian should hold such an opinion concerning our Saviour; and, indeed, where there is little need to imagine such a thing. Could not Christ have wrought redemption without enduring such heavy wrath, then it were not so improper to conceive so :—but,

II. Christ, in the work of redemption, had not to deal with the wrath of God, but the justice of God : not with his wrath, to bear it,—but with his justice….There is a great deal of difference may be made betwixt wrath and justice….Consider, what was the debt men owed to God ? What owest thou to my Master ?…Damnation was the penalty upon forfeiture of bonds, but the debt was obedience ; that which man owed to God, before he became sinful ; which he owes to God, as he is God ; and which the law challengeth, and which the gospel does also. Does man owe damnation to God, as he is God, as he is Creator, as he is lawgiver ? Or as man is man? No ; God rather owes, and will pay, damnation to man for being sinful.

Therefore, that which Christ was properly to pay for his people, was that…which they could not pay,—viz. obedience. And that the Scripture harps upon : “ As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners ; so by the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous [Rom. v. 19].” “ He became obedient unto death [Phil. ii. 8].” Now, what was Christ obedient to ? To say, ‘ To the wrath of God,’ were hardly sense : but, ‘ To the will of God ;’ which would prove and try him, and could do it thoroughly, without wrath.

It was the justice of God,… : and if he could not have…that, then there would have been some reason he should have suffered his wrath. The justice of God challenged obedience of men, or no coming to heaven ; …disobedience, or they must to hell. “ Here is enough (saith Christ) to serve for both ends :—they have disobeyed ; here is obedience more than all their disobediences do or can come to : they cannot obey as they should : here is that that makes it out,—viz. obedience infinite.”

III. The truth was, that Christ had to deal with the wrath of the devil, but not at all with the wrath of God. Consider but these passages, and see what was the stress, that Christ had to deal withal in his passion. First, that, Gen. iii. 15 : “ ‘ He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel :’—Satan, the seed of the woman shall destroy thee.” This is explained, Heb. ii. 14 : “ Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same ; that through death he might destroy him, that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”—And 1 John iii. 8 ; “ For this purpose the Son of God was manifest, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” And then observe that, John xiv. 30 ; “ The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” And Luke xxii. 53 ; “ ‘ When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me : but this is your hour, and the power of darkness;’ while I preached, there was a restraint upon you ; because my hour was not come : but now you and hell are let loose, to have your full swing against me.” There was a combat proposed in the sufferings of Christ, before God and angels. Betwixt whom,—Christ and the wrath of God ? No, but betwixt Christ and Satan, and all his power.—What doth God in this quarrel ? Doth God fight against Christ too, as well as the devil ? Was his wrath against him, as well as the devil’s wrath ? What, against his own champion, his own Son ? No ; he only tries him by affliction, not overwhelms him with his wrath. He only lets him alone to himself, to be the shock of Satan. He little assists Satan by his wrath laid on his own champion.

See the great mystery of this great dispensation in brief. God had created the first Adam, and endued him with abilities to have stood. Thus endued, he leaves him to stand of himself, and permits Satan to tempt him ; and he overcomes him, and all mankind are overthrown. God raised up a second Adam, endued with power to foil Satan, do he his worst : and not only with power to withstand Satan, if he will, but a will that could not but withstand Satan. He sets him forth to encounter, and leaves him to himself ; lets Satan loose to do his worst. Satan vexeth him with all the vexation hell could inflict upon him. Did not God love his Son, look with dear bowels upon him all this while ? It is a very harsh opinion to think, that Christ undertaking the combat for the honour of God against his arch-enemy,—that obeying the will of God even to the death,—that retaining his holiness unmoveable in the midst of all his tortures, paying God an infinite obedience ;—it is harsh, I say, to think, that God should requite him with wrath, and look upon him as a wretched, damned person. No, it was the wrath of the devil, that Christ had to combat with, not the wrath of God at all.

IV. Though Christ is said to bear sins, yet for all that God did not look upon him any whit the more wrathfully, or in displeasure,—but rather the more favourably, because he would bear the sins of his people. For God looked on Christ not as a sinner, but as a sacrifice ; and the Lord was not angry at him, but loved him, because he would become a sacrifice. “ Therefore, doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life [John, x. 17].” “ Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great ; and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he hath poured out his soul unto death [Isa. liii. 12].” Do those words speak the anger of God ? No, his well-pleasedness, his rewarding him for that he would be numbered with transgressors, being none, but a lamb without spot and blemish.

Some say, That Christ was the greatest sinner, murderer, &c. because he bare the sins of those that were so ; which words border upon blasphemy, and speak, besides, a great deal of imprudence and inconsideration. See Lev. xvi. 21, 22 : “ And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities.” Is it not senseless now to say, That the goat was the greatest sinner in Israel ? Was he any whit the more sinful, because the sins of the people were put upon him ? And so of other sacrifices, on whose heads hands were laid, and sins put : was the wrath of God upon the sacrifice ? No ; the pleasure of God was upon it for atonement.

In such sense are those places to be taken : “ The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all [Isa. liii. 6] ;”—“ Who his ownself bare our sins, in his own body, on the tree [1 Pet. ii. 24] :” —“ He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin [2 Cor. v. 21].” He bare our sins, not as a sinner, but as a sacrifice. And that John [John, i. 29] makes plain : “ Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world !” As a lamb at the temple bare the sins of the people,—so Christ bare our sins. How ? Was the lamb guilty or sinful ? No ; as an atonement and sacrifice. And so God looked on Christ as a sacrifice well pleasing to him, not as sinful at all.

Need we any more illustration ? Observe that, Exod. xxviii. 36. 38 ; “ And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it like the engravings of a signet, ‘ Holiness to the Lord.’ And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts : and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.”—‘ Holiness to the Lord,’ because he bare iniquity ? It should rather have been ‘ unholiness,’ if Aaron had been any whit the more sinful for bearing the people’s iniquities. But, he is said to bear their iniquities, because he, by his office, undertook to atone for them. How did God look upon Aaron in his priesthood ? With anger, because he bare the iniquity of the people ? Nay, with favour and delight, as so excellent an instrument of atonement. Such another passage is that, Lev. x. 17, &c; “ Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin-offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord ?”

Let me ask those, that hold this opinion, two or three questions.

Was Christ so much as punished by God ? Much less, then, was he overwhelmed by the wrath of God, damned by God. Was a lamb punished, that was sacrificed ? He was afflicted, but not punished : for punishment argues a crime or fault preceding ; “ Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins [Lam. iii. 39] ?” Were the sad sufferings of Christ laid on him as punishments ? Certainly, not for his own sins : no, nor for ours neither. He suffered for our sins, bare our sins ; but his sufferings were not punishments for our sins. For, observe two things : First, Christ merited by suffering. Is it good sense to say, ‘he merited by being punished ?’ Strange sense ! to say, ‘ he merited salvation for his by being punished for their sins ;’ but most divine ! to say, ‘ by suffering for the redeeming of them.’ He suffered as a sacrifice to atone, not as a sinner to be punished. Secondly, Did Christ die upon any debt to the law ? Much less, upon any debt, that he owed to God’s wrath. Did the law lay any thing to Christ’s charge ? Did the law condemn him ? And then can we dream of the wrath of God charging him, and damning him ? It is true, that it is said [Gal. iii. 13], “ Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us ; as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” But doth this mean, accursed of God ? Was the good thief accursed of God, when he hung upon the cross ? The meaning is, that he appeared so to the view of men.

So that, as it is impossible, that Christ should lie under the wrath of God for any fault of his own, so it is not imaginable, that he did for ours.

V. It is impossible, that Christ should suffer the torments of hell, or be in the case of the damned. A priest could not fall under the plague of leprosy : and yet, is the High-priest under a damned condition ? Certainly, if his body could not see corruption, his soul could not feel damnation. If his body were not under that, which the bodies of the best saints fall under,—certainly his soul could not be under that, which damned souls fall under.

I might clear this by considering especially three things, which are the chief torments of hell :—1. Separation from God, without any glimpse of his favour. 2. Horror and hell in the conscience, because of guilt. 3. Utter despair. Now need I to show, that it was not possible, that any of these should seize upon Christ ?

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AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Introduction (cont’d.)

“I am insignificant and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts.” — Psalm 119:141 (CVOT)

April 10, 2015, ORTHODOX GOOD FRIDAY

Over the next few weeks, I plan to post episodes from what has been a momentous tragicomedy. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious—and deadly serious if it weren’t so side-splittingly funny. I’ve shed both kinds of tears over this perennial drama…soon to be a docudrama in the pages that follow.

Not infrequently, it has struck me, “This is theater!” So much staging and posing and acting and histrionics and show of force. I enjoy good drama, but, even though I’m from North Hollywood, knew actors in the neighborhood, went to high school with some—or maybe especially because of it—I steered away from theater myself. I couldn’t remember lines, or was paralyzed at the thought of forgetting them on stage.

However, interaction with ordinary “actors” in real life is another thing. We’re not following a script; we all forget our lines; we’re out of costume; we could all use better directing. Still, we’re all getting opportunities to practice. I’m remembering…Moses didn’t think he was too good at remembering his lines either, or at least speaking them in public. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts….” Thus Shakespeare (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII).

Recently I read most of the autobiography of James Garner (who was likewise paralyzed at the thought of stage acting), The Garner Files, and watched a couple of his earliest movies—“The Americanization of Emily,” with Julie Andrews (both of their personal favorite of all their films), a dark comedy with a surprising dénouement, and “The Children’s Hour,” with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, a searing, dark drama. Both black-and-white films from the early ‘60’s play on superb writing, captivating plots, and extraordinary acting for their power to grip audiences. Out of such darkness, light still shines.

At the end of March, God used Dan Schutte’s devotional song from the “Glory and Praise” album “What You Hear in the Dark” to impress on me the urgency of speaking in the light what He had been showing me in the dark during previous weeks, in fact during quite a few nights of uneasy sleep by then. I herewith start to comply.  In a number of previous painful scenarios in my life, I have used writing, in effect (I was not intending it this way), as therapy.  But then I tend to bag the results and no one else ever sees the struggle or the results.  It’s different this time.  I sense the Lord is saying, O.K., therapy is complete for you; now I want others to start getting healed, this time around.

I have chosen Orthodox Good Friday—the Eastern church liturgical calendar differs from the Western by a single week, this year—to commence “An Open Journal” about my recent experiences at New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This will take the form of a series of blog postings that I will back date to the date each note was actually penned. In addition to the original note, I may make additional comments to place it in context or expound it further. Although I first attended on Sunday morning, February 1, 2015, my first reflection was written on March 9, but I shall actually begin with my entries of March 10.  In addition, although I did not make notes during the first few Sundays, I hope to pen some recollections about the sermons and relevant accompanying conversations or events.

Not infrequently, the notes betray “an attitude.” I contemplated editing out such matters as not being edifying to readers. On the other hand, they honestly reflect the emotion of the moment, so they really belong to the original setting. This is, after all, a Journal—an Open Journal—to the attendees of New City Church of Grand Rapids. I am no longer inclined to hide my findings. My feelings, however, are another matter, unless there are sound lessons to be learned and shared with propriety. My exposé of the doctrine of the Atonement has certainly not been done in a corner. I originally intended simply to cull professional responses from pastors and others I met who I judged qualified or appointed to an office whose duties require evaluation of such matters. This submission of my results was thus a scholarly undertaking, as originally conceived. It has unexpectedly morphed under the heat applied by the elders to bottle up my “teachings” and seal them under a ban instead of distributing their extraordinarily refreshing contents. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I urge you to ask the Lord for discernment as you proceed. This cup of polemical or scholarly tea may not be for everyone. Yet I would stress that I have no interest in abstruse, speculative theology. It is God’s revealed explanations that captivate me and provide my chief delight. “The words of Yahweh are clean words, silver refined in a kiln, fine gold refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6, CVOT). “Every saying of God is refined; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He should correct you, and you be proved a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6, adapted from the CVOT). These have been working me over for some six decades by now. May God bless us all with growing discernment and “absorptive” powers as we examine together His oracles in the biblical Scriptures.

Since an apology is most unlikely to come from the elders of New City Fellowship for what has transpired recently, by default it appears that I shall have to be the person to issue one. Accordingly, this new blog series may be regarded as “My Apology”—that is, my defense (apologia). In the spirit of fair play, readers are welcome to respond by blogging, but if I can’t keep up, I may have to issue further apologies!

Let us press on to maturity in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Introduction

“My zeal gnaws at me, for my foes forget Your words.” — Psalm 119:139 (CVOT)

April 5, 2015, EASTER SUNDAY

Nine years ago, today, I “published” my first piece on the Atonement.  I encourage you to click on the link to “Resurrectionary Atonement,” at the top of this blog site, and take a few minutes to read it.  In fact, I might suggest that you scroll to the end of the piece and click on the link to the original blog site where it appeared–Prof. Scott McKnight’s “JESUS CREED.”  My submission was evidently the final one in the discussion, thus it appears conveniently at the top.  But if you want to get a feel for the reason that compelled me to burst forth with this volley of words, I encourage you to scroll through the prior discussion (starting at the bottom; you’ll have to click the “Load more comments” bar to get to the very start).  My original version was in ALL CAPS–not an easy read, as McKnight was instant (within four minutes!) to point out.  It was my very first blog, so my etiquette was a bit rough at the edges, I confess.  But the cause seemed worthy of the attempt.  As the adage goes, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong.”

Today, then, is the NINTH ANNIVERSARY of that blog post.  Woo hoo!!!

Now for the bad news.  What follows is a letter I received this morning from an elder of the church I have been attending since February 1st of this year–barely two months.  I even dressed up for the occasion in the nice black suit I wore at my daughter Marie’s wedding!  Plus the whimsical “Easter egg” tie that my sister Marilyn gave me for Christmas 2013!  It was shortly after I received it that one of her best friends, Tina Harrell, died after ten years of struggling with cancer.  An extended phone conversation with Marilyn after her return from Tina’s memorial service at Valley Baptist Church in Burbank, California (http://www.vbcburbank.org/, a Conservative Baptist congregation, http://www.usachurches.org/denomination/conservative-baptist-association-of-america.htm), which we all attended together in our youth, prompted me to respond to her charge (perhaps justified–you can judge) that I see the Atonement issue in too severely black-and-white, either/or terms.  The result was my most recent and arduously argued piece (save one), “Unscrambling the Easter Eggsplanation.”  If I may say so, that paper would also make a fine and edifying read in this Easter season…if you dare; it’s at the top, too.  Hence the Easter egg “tie” between the two occasions.

The approach I take to the Atonement that God accomplished through the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation is exceedingly controversial.  Christians of all traditions would probably acknowledge that.  Any reader of this blog site will have to struggle–as, indeed, I myself have–with the challenge posed by what I have termed “premial inclusion” as distinguished from “penal substitution.”  If, in fact, I do see the choice in too black-and-white terms, I have yet to see an adequate argument for blending the two strikingly contrasting positions.  As you would expect, I allege that the premial position is in best conformity with Scripture, when understood on its own terms.

And that’s what gets me in trouble with nice churches like the one that handed me the letter below.  New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, MI (http://www.opc.org/feature.html?feature_id=220) is a mission church of Harvest Church, Wyoming, MI (http://www.harvestopc.org/), where it’s pastor, Mika Edmondson, had been an intern, and later a church-planting pastor.  These are congregations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC — http://www.opc.org/).  NCF is just one year old as of last Sunday; when they celebrated their Anniversary with a beautiful big cake and a prayer of thanks.

I first heard of NCF one Sunday evening in January when I visited Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church (http://www.holytrinitypc.org/), likewise a recent church plant, located on the west side of downtown Grand Rapids, and walkable for me.  One of the elders from New City was attending that evening, too, and was in the lobby with one of his children when I arrived late.  We got into a conversation that came around to the fact that he attended an OPC church (Holy Trinity is Associate Reformed Presbyterian, a friendly sister denomination–the first Presbyterian denomination founded in America, 1782).  I didn’t know of any OPC churches in Grand Rapids!  I first learned about the OPC as a college student in the late 1960’s.  I had even once contemplated studying at their Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia (http://www.wts.edu/), especially with Robert D. Knudsen.  My wife and I attended the Christian Reformed Campus Forum (formerly, Geneva Forum) at the University of Minnesota during the early 1980’s, soon after we got married.  The pastor, Bob Drake, was a Westminster graduate, ordained with the OPC.  Since that was a campus ministry, you can imagine the stimulating conversations we enjoyed together during those years.  But the Atonement had not become a serious issue for me quite yet, so was never an occasion for controversy.

I started pursuing a Ph.D. in Ancient Studies at the Univ. of Minn. around that  time (1982-83).  However, after a year I transferred to the home campus of Bethel Theological Seminary (https://www.bethel.edu/seminary/, of the former Baptist General Conference [Swedish] denomination, now renamed Converge, http://www.convergeworldwide.org/about/facts-and-info/our-story) in nearby Arden Hills, 1983-85, before completing my doctorate, for reasons I may explain another time.  I graduated from Bethel College (now University, https://www.bethel.edu/) in 1970.  I studied at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO (http://www.covenantseminary.edu/), fall 1979, which the L’Abri Fellowship (http://www.labri.org/) ministry of Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer had been giving increased exposure.  It was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA — http://www.pcanet.org/).  The reason I chose Covenant Seminary at the time was largely on the recommendation of my previous pastor, Rev. Jack Buckley, a Covenant graduate, founder of Fellowship of His People in Berkeley, California (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152658241222219&set=a.40379212218.55671.648752218&type=1&theater)–a daughter church of Fellowship of the Lamb, one of the L’Abri-inspired churches that popped up around St. Louis in those days.  I visited Covenant in the summer of 1979 with my dad, while on a cross-country trip to visit my sister in Pittsburgh.  I learned of their two new degree programs in Historical Theology and Exegetical Theology.  I chose the latter.

It was while I was at Covenant that Randy Nabors visited Grace and Peace Fellowship (http://graceandpeacefellowship.org/), the very first of those L’Abri-inspired gatherings, where I was attending.  Randy was pastoring a very vibrant congregation in Chattanooga (where Covenant College, the undergraduate component of the Seminary had earlier located, http://www.covenant.edu/).  Randy’s church was–are you ready for this?–New City Fellowship, Chattanooga (http://www.newcityfellowship.com/).  Ta da!!!  Okay, so now you know one reason why I dragged you through the above circuitous route to get from there to here.  Many Covenant College students attended this inner-city church, which was a powerful witness for inter-racial fellowship.  Randy was a livewire, wherever he spoke.  This is the heritage of New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, whose pastor, Mika Edmondson, a very gifted young black Ph.D. student at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids (http://www.calvinseminary.edu/), is carrying on the legacy of Randy Nabors in sterling fashion.  In fact, Mika is from the Chattanooga, Tennessee area himself, although originally from a Baptist background.  He is preparing to defend his Ph.D. dissertation in a couple of months.  It’s on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sooo…  Back to Holy Trinity on a frigid February night.  Harold Schnyders (Assoc. Prof. of Physics, GVSU) was that visiting elder from NCF who informed me about New City Fellowship (though he must rue the night he ever told me).  It so happens that it meets in the former Hispanic Seventh-Day Adventist church on Burton near Eastern.  That was my old stomping grounds when we moved to Alger Heights in 1996 from Pella, Iowa.  And it’s right off the #4 bus route (I haven’t had a car for almost five years).  Voila!

But why, you may ask?  Why did this spark my interest?  Simple.  Take a look at the responses this present blog site has evoked over its three-year history.  ‘Bout a dozen.  It’s not as if I haven’t sent out e-mails (by the hundreds, which takes me two or three days to send because of Hotmail limits) and made personal contacts where I try to encourage folks with what I’ve been learning over the decades.  Even the hard copy papers at the top of this site I’ve distributed by the score, even hundreds, since I first went public nine years ago, today.  In fact, at one of the recent session meetings of NCF where I was grilled, the pastor asked me if I had done “this” before–i.e., passed out my documents to pastors in other churches.  That caught me up short.  I could think of a few occasions, right off, that might qualify.  And more came to mind.  But after going home and thinking about it, I started making a list (I’m an irrepressible list maker).  Two dozen churches later…!

But that’s not quite what Mika was fetching for, it seems to me on further reflection.  I’ve been “planning” (as I tell everyone) to write a book on the Atonement.  For years.  But in view of the few actual responses in terms of written or extended oral objections to my findings, I personally find it a bit difficult to polish up my arguments and shore up the evidence.  Then again, I’ve already posted nearly thirty years of earlier “Atonement Notes” already…although I am now roughly seven-and-a-half years in arrears in posting them.  In other words, except for my most recent series of 26 (so far) postings on the Governmental view of the Atonement, for the benefit of the powerful young open-air evangelist Jesse Morrell (http://www.openairoutreach.com/), almost everything else is well over seven years old.  My point?  I still haven’t been able to scare up much solid, informed critique that might correct blind spots, force me to examine Scripture passages I might not have considered in this connection, deal with weighty scholars I hadn’t known about already, etc.  So if my current methods aren’t culling much informed response…HOW DO I GET A REACTION?  At virtually all of those previous churches, I might slip a few papers, or maybe a whole folder full, to a pastor.  And if there was no response,  I would quietly slip away.  But this is really no behavior for an evangelist.  And at heart, that’s what I am.

That’s where NCF comes in.  The Orthodox Presbyterian denomination (we’re talkin’ a “sect” here, but, of course, from the inside they don’t see it that way) is concerned about “doctrine” in a very conscientious way.  That can be all for the good…if handled properly.  But what it means for the further development of my book is that if they disagree about a point of doctrine, they are not reticent to say so.  Aha!  So why not approach hard-core Calvinists with a position that they can, uh…”react” to?  Hmmm?  If I had known of an OPC church in Grand Rapids in earlier years, I might have had an earlier start on the process.

Therefore, I decided to pay them a visit and provide the pastor (initially) with the documents you see at the top of this site (except for the first one by my friend Donald McKay of St. Francis, Minnesota), and in normal page format (instead of the uniform narrow-column format I’m limited to within this WordPress “Pilcrow” theme) so that they are more readable.  This way he could mark up the hard copy with comments (my personal preference).  Sorry, I still don’t warm up to sophisticated marking methods that Microsoft Word facilitates.  (Only my brother and Prof. Peter Davids have ever even tried those on my stuff).  Later, I put them into the hands of another elder, and another.  The son of a Westminster Seminary professor whom I esteem, Richard B. Gaffin, also attends NCF, so, naturally, he became a doubtful recipient of my labors.  His father’s book, Resurrection and Redemption:  A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (1987), (http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Redemption-Study-Pauls-Soteriology/dp/0875522718),  has a significant role to play in what follows.

But nobody wanted to come out and play with me!  It’s not a matter of method so much as an issue of content that challenges deeply held assumptions.  (Okay, and also of not having time to read into a set of stapled papers, no matter what the content.  But I bracket that for now…)  It’s, frankly, just too scary to reconsider revising historic understandings of the most fundamental matters of our faith.  I quite understand how this goes.  If I had not been remaining in the Word of God as the Lord worked me free from a few “bedrock” presuppositions of my youth that turned out to be merely shifting sands of that much vaunted “historic Christianity” that traditionalists like to boast in, I too would surely never have been able to shoulder the psychological load of “error divestiture” that can be truly paralyzing.  To say it another way, folks naturally feel vertigo at the thought of “giving up” basic premises of their religious faith.  “Losing one’s faith” is not something to treat lightly.  “The faith once for all delivered to the saints” by Christ’s apostles is a LIFE or DEATH matter!  It’s not to be trifled with.  It has ultimate consequences, and many more immediate side-effects on ethics and practice.  But when the Word of God is going through the transition with you, there’s a different quality about the changes you undergo.

Ergo:  shouldn’t we try to become mighty sure that our denomination/sect–which may flaunt “antiquity,” size, respectability, devotion, “radical Christianity,” “orthodoxy,” fabulous worship, social conscience, global missions, vital evangelism, Christian schools, top-ranking universities, and a welter of other virtues–actually “has the goods” when it comes to an accurate grasp of “the givens,” or basic documentary data of apostolic origin?  Hmmm?  Well, I think so.

Problem is, Christian tribes that hold hard to old (it really doesn’t matter how old) “statements of faith” must somehow struggle with the problem of human fallibility (even “divines” are human, for heaven’s sake!) and obsolescence.  Things “under the sun” wear out, or in any case wear thin, unless renewed and recharged with the original fire.  And unless there is a way to revise or amend such statements (creeds, confessions, catechisms, etc.), they tend toward obscurity and harden up into shibboleths…and worse.

But we have to start somewhere, right?  My psychological comfort came with the territory of the kind of “concordant” hermeneutic (click my “About” link at the top of the site to read a thumbnail sketch) I have been pursuing since high school days.  As a young “fightin’ Fundamentalist,” the top of the list of my youthful beliefs was the authority of the Bible.  The “downside” of that belief (I thank my dear mother for doing things right!), was in how very seriously I took it.  The more and more I studied the Bible “with my concordance on,” as I like to say, the more and more the Lord blessed me with edifying (not merely speculative or highfallutin’) discoveries.  “Doggone it, this Book really does make sense!”  So after  a while I got bored just defending it and started using it.  You don’t defend a sword; you practice your swing and observe the effects.  There’s a feedback loop.

I say “downside” because the first casualty was Dispensationalism, I think,  This was something my mother adhered to with lifelong devotion and undiminished ardor.  So family ties were attenuated by learning the Bible just a bit too well.  Then simplistic evangelismism also fell before long.  Yet some positions didn’t fall.  Since the eighth grade, when Mom had the foresight to buy me a couple of books by Harry Rimmer on the Bible and science, and especially The Theory of Evolution and the Facts of Science, I was an ardent creationist.  But it did morph a little uncomfortably along the way and became much more nuanced, deepened, and supplemented.  Such books (I eventually procured most of Rimmer’s) early instructed me in the importance of argument–a virtue seldom applauded among church folk.  And this virtue is part of what got me in trouble with NCF.  They had done arguing over the faith some 350 years ago and only wanted to get everyone else (correction: the “elect,” i.e., the ones who happen to respond positively to the language of their “doctrinal standards”) to knuckle under without too much fuss and bind their consciences to understand holy Scripture “according to the Westminster Confession.”  Or do I have that reversed?  An NCF elder insisted it was the other way around:  they hold to the Confession “according to Scripture,”  But that doesn’t really work, as we shall explore below.

To summarize, I had been long and steadily familiarizing myself with the distinctives of Calvinistic Christianity even before moving to Grand Rapids in the summer of 1996 so Jan could teach at Calvin College.  It was then that I was introduced up close to the bondage of conscience that Calvinistic institutions could enforce.  In order to teach there, my wife had to sign a statement that she would not oppose the faith standards of the Christian Reformed Church, namely, the Belgic Confession (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/belgic-confession), the Canons of Dort (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/canons-dort), and the Heidelberg Catechism (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/heidelberg-catechism).  Since she taught Geography, Geology, and Environmental Studies, she was not expected to teach or expound them, of course.  Nevertheless, since I had been preparing to start a Vineyard-style (http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/) Reformational (http://kuyperian.blogspot.com/2004/08/introduction-to-kuypers-thought.html) hybrid on a cell-church model (http://www.touchusa.org/default.asp), I did feel the friction this could generate.  Feature a church planter whose worldview and vision for action must be trimmed by certain little silences imposed on a beloved spouse by her employer.  Don’t get me wrong; we came to Calvin with the red carpet treatment!  Jan was a celebrated scholar, greatly esteemed by the school and rightly so.  She held the Spoelhof Chair from the git go.  And there’s the rub.  With honor comes obligation.

I had already attempted to plant a hybrid Vineyard in Pella, Iowa–just a smaller version of Grand Rapids.  So I was gearing up for what it would take to do something bigger and better “right here in River City.”  Fact is, however, my Pella attempts were not particularly “successful.”  That was okay with me, so long as I was learning from all my mistakes (count ’em…).  In the meantime, we did join “a church in the Reformed tradition,” which was a requirement for virtually all Calvin faculty except for those whose spouses might happen to pastor a church outside of that tradition; that was still allowable.  We weren’t in that category yet.  And my wife never wanted to occupy that category.  She was a PK and had felt from the inside the sacrifice of quality family time that such a life could entail, not to mention expectations put on a pastor’s spouse.  But I’m getting too autobiographical.

The upshot is that we got involved with a very contemporary CRC congregation called Centre Pointe, pastored by a black pastor borrowed from the Reformed Church in America (RCA — https://www.rca.org/),  His co-pastor was a white Southerner.  They modeled reconciliation and mutual honor.  It was special.  We loved it.  Our daughters especially enjoyed the free-wheeling and laid back style of worship–all sitting around banquet tables at The Bluff in Grand Central Mall, able to draw or whatever.  Marie and Karis were baptized there.

But “doctrine” didn’t come up for review there.  I attempted to help them adopt a modified cell-church model, but just as it was about to be inaugurated, the co-pastor left for a congregation of his own (having just graduated from Calvin Seminary as an older student), and the new seminary intern had ideas of her own, so shelved what we had labored over so arduously.  (The up side is that the co-pastor took the plan with him to his next church, hoping to put it into practice.)

But that’s water over the dam.  My marriage suffered a divorce in late 1999, and the new millennium saw me in a wandering mode.  During the intervening years, the pain of that has worked hope and deepened insight, not to mention the mining of fresh comforts from the eternal Gospel.  Friends took me in at a decisive point and before long, I was back on track, wrestling with Scripture over the heart of the Gospel so as to teach it one day in a holistic setting designed to organize God’s people penetrate to the world with supreme effectiveness in the Spirit of Christ.

Then in the spring of 2006, I got terribly sick with influenza or undulant fever for about six weeks.  That’s the time, while staying in the extra bedroom of some dear friends, that the Lord chose to bring me more complete closure concerning the doctrine of the Atonement.  The rest is history.  But first a bit of recent history so you can see how my findings have so far played out in one “orthodox” setting.

Below you will find the letter I was handed by Doug Felch on Easter Sunday.  I will forbear commentary on it until the conclusion of these journal entries concerning NCF.

Bon voyage!


Dear Ron,

New City Fellowship provisional session has labored hard to do right by you.  We have given you a fair hearing, beyond your standing as one outside of the body.  We have presented you with the fullness of God’s word, and plead with you to merit the supreme abundance of Christ’s reward not through your own faltering obedience, but by the assumption of Christ’s righteousness through faith.  Ron, don’t underestimate just how righteous one has to be to stand in the judgment (Psalm 1), if indeed the Lord “will by no means pardon the guilty” (Exodus 34:7).

We have additionally patiently sought your willingness, even as a sojourner in the midst of the Lord’s people, to submit to the rule that God has appointed for His people, the elders, in the very place where his people assemble to hear the message of salvation.  You have shown yourself unable to comply, and persist in obstructing others on the path of salvation, which itself bears a grave penalty (Matthew 18:6).

In spite of this, out of our desire that you not miss this great salvation (Hebrews 2:3), we offer you the opportunity to continue to receive the counsel of the elders of the church through contact by email, by phone, or by arranged meeting, while at the same time stating that until you repent to the satisfaction of the elders, you have no place in the assembly, neither during worship services, fellowship meals, nor any other New City activities.  If you are found on the NCF property again, we will consider it trespassing.  With the Lord’s voice, we firmly admonish you to respect this unanimous decision by the shepherds of the Lord’s people at New City.

The NCF Provisional Session

Harold Schnyders

Doug Felch

Jim DeRuischer

Mika Edmondson

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WHAT IF

by Ron Roper

What if God was only giving the Devil enough rope to hang himself, on that dark April day when he hung up God’s Son to torment and shame? I may be wrong, but what if the only wrath shown against Jesus at the cross was the wrath of Satan, who was about to get his head crushed by heavy fallout from his own diabolical deeds of terrorism—the prelude to God’s turning the ancient world upside-down?

What if the heinousness of human sin was sufficiently portrayed at the cross by the savagery of the malevolent who trumped up defamatory charges and brutally whipped, hit, mocked and pierced the Just and Holy One of God, without any alleged downpour of divine wrath on him (as if he were bearing God’s punishment for sins instead of suffering from their actual wrongs, which fatally took him down)?

What if sin was wrongly imputed to him by false witnesses and popular conjecture, not by God? What if that false condemnation justified the display of the true justice of God in reversing his death? What if Jesus, by surrender to death, was really paying his soul to ransom mortals from slavery to Sin (due to fear of death) without paying one thin drachma to God for sin’s penalties, much less to the Devil!

What if the only satisfaction God received from His Son’s death—far, far from any satisfaction for our debt of sins!—was observing his faithful obedience in the face of grisly assaults, staying sinless and non-retaliatory even to the bitter, bludgeoned, bloody end, so as to win immortality for humankind?

What if the love of God was demonstrated by His not avenging the malicious execution of His beloved Son with immediate wholesale slaughter by angelic hosts (after all, such displays of divine anger against the vicious do fill grim pages of the Old Testament), but letting this crime slip by in forbearance?

What if God was simply letting a day or two pass to let tears dry before unveiling His real, unimaginable justice by raising up His mangled Boy from such an indecent yet indubitable death to the pinnacle of honor, thus unleashing a flood of joyful tears from his loved ones in exchange? I wonder.

What if the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice signifies not his death but his resurrection from the dead? Could it possibly be that the ancient sacrificial blood had all along depicted the restorative power of Christ’s own resurrected life? Is that why it could serve for cleansing, sanctifying, healing, atoning, etc.?

And what if Christ’s well-deserved award for his heroic ordeal was God’s whopping reparation to make up for such tragic loss of innocent life and Spirit-powered career—teaching all he was instructed and doing all he was directed by God—to become a life-making Spirit, crowned at God’s side, peaceably drawing foes to conciliate with God and share in his promised inheritance of all, with plenty of siblings?

So, what if the graciousness we enjoy from God is simply the surplus of favor that God in His restorative or premial justice—not merely His indulgent tolerance or measured patience, kindness, or mercy—bequeathed to Jesus for voluntarily suffering such abuse from evildoers yet responding with resolute forgiveness, as attested by the wonders of Pentecost and showers of gifts from the Holy Spirit?

In short, what if—just what if!—God flat out ransomed Jesus from the grave as a sample of what He was preparing to do for any who would dare like fools to believe such a topsy-turvy story about His unfathomable graciousness and then respond accordingly by lifelong loyalty to His ethic and example…

APRIL FOOLS?

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AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI—Day Four

“Roll reproach and contempt away from me, for I have preserved Your Testimonies” Psalm 119:22

Saturday, March 14, 2015

In Augustine’s time, controversies between Christian partisans were all too often “settled” by the sword, not by the Word of God—the carnal sword, not the Sword of the Spirit. This was repeated in Luther’s and Calvin’s and Knox’s day. True also in the days of the Arminian Remonstrance in the Netherlands in the early 1600s, in the Thirty Years’ War, during the English Revolution and Cromwell’s day around mid-century, during the Dutch Afscheiding of the 1830’s, on so on, and many episodes in between. It’s an old and pervasive imperial habit.

Although in the 18th to 19th century American republic a sea change was taking place, especially along the frontier, not until late 19th century did free churches start abounding in Europe.

* * * * *

I’ve been trying for years to scare up a conversation about some central issues of the faith. I’ve peddled my stuff around to churches and pastors. I’ve sent these pieces around for nearly eight years now—since Pentecost season of 2007. I crave high-level friendly exchanges where I can learn why my findings and discoveries seem to contradict so much of theology and dogma. I did get some heartening responses, but mostly silence (and, of course, a few rebuffs, which I only expected).

Then I started a blog site, “The Premial Atonement,” to rouse some conversation. It has just passed its Third Anniversary—March 11th. Yet I have only received about a dozen blog responses total. This is fine with me from one perspective: I can continue to load up my years of exegetical notes and systematic musings in peace and tranquility. Plus, I can even go back to correct and tweak whatever I’ve written. I can post “Papers” at the top of the site and revise them to my heart’s content without embarrassment.

However, pastors are too busy to broach the reading of my stuff. Professors have burdensome loads of papers to grade, their own lectures to prepare, and graduate students to supervise. But bloggers? They want something more “sexy” to read than my jargon and idiosyncratic approach. I get that.

Yet nobody takes time to dig into the Word these days! [Okay, okay—just a bit of rhetorical exaggeration there.] Even with the inestimable boon of computerized Bible search engines of extraordinary capabilities and vast libraries of biblical and theological reference works and commentaries at our fingertips, few take the time to exploit the treasures.

Now, granted the deleterious effects of electronic media on the emerging generations, I suspect that more fundamentally we need a sufficient reason—something with solid threat value—to stir us to action. Many of my writings would pose such a threat to traditional doctrines—doctrines formulated in days preceding development of our modern study tools. Since that day, their dogmatic errors, despite numerous and able objectors, have become enshrined and entrenched beyond criticism. Like the Talmud, which often tended to bumped the Torah in authority, they serve to divide the unity of Christ’s body into sects/“heresies” mutually contending for territory and human souls, on the lookout for “converts,” or at least pew sitters, to give some semblance of truth to claims to be “growing.” But growing up and growing fat are very different processes.

The early church at Jerusalem saw fit to make room for people willing and able to devote their time and skills to serving up the Word of God. Jesus himself was a rabbi, as scholars are coming to agree. [See Rodney Stark, “Jesus and the Jesus Movement,” Chap. 3 in The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion (New York: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2011), pp. 49-70] Thus he established this genetic code for his disciples/learners, and hence for the church at large.

Study of God’s Word—close examination—is normative for churches of God, in fact definitive. It is what makes us followers and “disciples”/“learners” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not sermons. Paul argued the Gospel from synagogue to synagogue, and even his epistles to churches are arguments. Being in that sense “argumentative” is not a bad thing…just so long as we keep up the argumentation over Scripture in sincerity, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and “believing all things” good (1 Corinthians 13) about one another, instead of fragmenting into sects and “fighting over words” and casting each other out of the church—think only of Diotrephes (“Zeus-nurtured”—thunderbolts and all!) in 3 John. Let God’s Word prevail among us. All progress starts when we heartily believe we might be wrong! For to believe that is to remain always repentant in mood. To be unwilling to engage fellow “fallibles” is to harden up, become stiff-necked, and risk “cardio-sclerosis” hard-heartedness. That is a prelude to judgment from God. And as we know, “judgment begins at the house of God.”

So in the spirit of last Sunday’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 13, let us submit ourselves to one another in love and proceed to investigate God’s life-giving Word from Heaven instead of remaining stuck in earthly creeds and confessions and catechisms whenever it becomes sufficiently evident that they have become human traditions that obscure God’s Word (as I now sincerely believe they have).

* * * * *

The apostle Paul charged that elders of the flock should be “apt-to-teach” (1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:24) presumably the Word of God in preference to “confessions,” “creeds,” or “theology”—doing their own digging instead of retrenching the ruts of fallible forbears, although paying due respects for their efforts.

* * * * *

You cannot become right unless you believe you might be wrong. Even so, you can’t become righteous unless you believe you might have done wrong and get forgiveness for it. Western civilization, granted its irregularities, has absorbed much of this wisdom. It is the mainspring of sustainable progress.

* * * * *

If you insist that everyone must agree with all your extra-biblical distinctives and shibboleths in order to stay under your roof, you are, in effect, a schismatic (i.e., a “heretic”) and will divide the one body of Christ, as indeed you have. You have let an imposter insinuate itself into the place of honor that should be reserved for Scripture alone.

Sunday morning adult discussion has been a real comedown for me, because it is never a time for real Bible study, investigation, or exposition. [I understand you have a week night small group where this may happen. Does it?] You tend to stroke your source of separation: confession and catechisms. Creedal assumptions simply shine your shibboleths.

* * * * *

Harold is, in effect, acting schismatically to insist on parroting the creeds (unless the Apostles’). We can do better. Diotrephes went so far as to expel the saints. If Harold is not a “Diotrephes,” he’s honing dangerously close.

* * * * *

It is my opinion that well-known mid-20th century evangelical author Leon Morris is guilty of a kind of criminal negligence in the field of theology. Moreover, he is a repeat offender. As I came across these instances I lost my composure and became indignant. Yet the man is highly honored among Evangelicals. J. I. Packer is similarly guilty, yet is still held in highest esteem. This baffles me. Don’t folks study the Bible for themselves? Isn’t the Word of God living among us? How can we be so put upon by such trifling with Scripture? “Them’s fightin’ words” for some fans of these popular authors. But whose indignation is the more justified?

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