Reflections on Excerpts from *DOCTOR WHO AND THE DOOMSDAY WEAPON, by Malcolm Hulke

In celebration of this 5th Anniversary of the Premial Atonement blog site, my mind travels yet further back to 1974 (through the marvels of TARDIS technology) and the arrival of Doctor Who in Sector 27 of a planet being newly colonized by people threatened by the criminal encroachments of the Interplanetary Mining Company (IMC). Yes, it’s the same old same old story tragically repeating itself on one virgin planetoid after another—many a courageous community of settlers attempting a sustainable livelihood, being literally undermined by ravenous companies out only for outsized profits at any cost, including that of ‘mere’ human life. You know the routine…unless you’re a devotee of FOX so-called news:

‘The big mining companies don’t bother about people’s rights,’ said Leeson, full of bitterness. ‘They move in, rip the minerals out of a planet, and move on somewhere else. It happened to the planet we got our seed from.’…

…’If it happens here and we even have time to complain to Earth Government, there’ll be no decision from Earth till the miners have finished their job. There won’t be anything left to have rights about!’ [p. 29]

The plot unfolds with growing intrigue as forces of good and evil entwine and tension builds. In chapter 15, “Primitive City,” an instructive dialogue unfolds between the Guardian, a doll-like humanoid figure anciently charged with protecting some fateful structure inside the planet, and Doctor Who, along with his young female assistant, Jo Grant, who had been getting bored with her stalled career plans to become a spy. Their conversation gets embroiled in issues of personal sacrifice, condemnation of the innocent, just laws, the value and purpose of life, the right to continue living, etc.—just what you’d expect from a Time Lord desperately laboring to outwit the grim ratiocinations of legalistic security personnel. Thus a discourse is set up that will play out dramatically in the denouement.

‘I am the Guardian,’ said the little doll figure that seemed to float in the flames. ‘Why have you entered this place?’

‘I was brought here,’ answered Jo.

‘And I came to take her back,’ said the Doctor. ‘May I ask what it is that you guard?’

The Guardian ignored the Doctor’s question. ‘All intruders in this city must die. That is the law.’

‘The race who built this city,’ said the Doctor urgently, ‘were intelligent and civilized. Their laws would not condemn the innocent.’

‘The law must be obeyed,’ said the Guardian.

‘Surely all true laws must be based on justice?’ the Doctor argued. ‘We are strangers to this planet. All we ask is to be allowed to go.’

The Guardian seemed to consider this point. Then it spoke again: ‘You are of superior intelligence, so you may go free.’

Jo hugged the Doctor. ‘Thanks,’ she said to the Guardian.

‘But you,’ the Guardian said to Jo, ‘are of no value. I shall give you to the servants for a sacrifice. It amuses them.’

‘I refuse to leave without her,’ said the Doctor. ‘I am responsible for her safety.’

‘And I,’ said the Guardian, ‘am responsible for the safety of that which I guard.’

‘Does the amusement of your servants warrant the death of an intelligent being?’ said the Doctor.

Again the Guardian seemed to weigh up the doctor’s words before answering. ‘I was sacrificed, and I still live.’

‘Not all are like you,’ said the Doctor, ‘so that is no argument.’

‘I appreciate logic,’ said the Guardian. ‘Is this creature you protect of some value?’

‘She is life,’ said the Doctor. ‘That which is living is always of value. It cannot be replaced.’

‘Therefore,’ said the Guardian, who seemed to be enjoying this debate, ‘do you not eat?’

‘I regret, sir,’ said the Doctor, ‘I do not understand your question.’

‘If you eat flesh then the life of that flesh ceases to exist,’ said the Guardian.

Jo clung to the Doctor’s arm. ‘Tell him we’ll be vegetarians from now on.’

‘I understand your remark,’ said the Guardian. ‘But if one eats vegetation, that too dies. What is your answer to that?’

Jo whispered desperately to the Doctor. ‘Doctor, just plead for my life! I have a right to live!’

‘It’s no good,’ whispered the Doctor. ‘The Guardian only understands logic. Leave this to me.’ He turned back to the little doll creature that floated in the white hot flames. ‘I concede your point, Guardian. All nature kills to eat, but that is for the purpose of continuing life in another form. To throw this girl into those flames would be to extinguish life totally.’

The Guardian thought for a full minute before replying. ‘You make good argument. Both of you may now leave. You will not be harmed.’ Slowly the Guardian faded back into the flames. [pp. 119-121]

We pick up the thread again after events further complicate. Chapter 19 begins:

John Ashe [the acknowledged older leader of the colonists] lay in bed, trying to read in order to calm his troubled mind. He had brought two books with him from Earth: one was on agriculture, from the days before all Earth’s food was taken from the seas; the other was a copy of something written thousands of years ago, and was largely about someone called God. It was this second book he now tried to read, not because he really understood it, but because the strange language fascinated him. It contained four versions of a story about a man who sacrificed his own life for the sake of others. It was this part of the book that most interested Ashe, because it was so difficult to understand. Why, he asked himself, should anyone willingly give his own life for other people? [p. 137]

Hold that thought. After several more chapters, the plot brings us back to the underground chamber, facing the hatch of the white-hot electronic furnace where the Guardian first appeared.

The Guardian addressed itself to the Doctor. ‘Why have you returned?’

‘I was brought here against my will,’ said the Doctor.

The Master [a malevolent renegade Time Lord bent on ruling the universe] still couldn’t believe his eyes. ‘What is it?’ he asked the Doctor quietly. ‘How can it live in that heat?’

‘I think it’s the ultimate development of life on this planet,’ the Doctor whispered.

‘You,’ said the Guardian, looking at the Master, ‘what do you want here?’

The Master smiled. ‘To restore this city and this planet to their former glory. You have here a wonderful invention. With it we can bring peace and order to every inhabited world in the Universe. Your planet will be the centre of a mighty empire, the greatest the cosmos has ever known.’

‘This invention,’ said the Guardian slowly, ‘has destroyed us. Once the weapon had been built our race began to decay. The radiation from its power source poisoned the soil and even the upper atmosphere.’

‘Exactly,’ said the Doctor. ‘The weapon has only brought death.’ He pointed at the Master. ‘This man wants to spread that death throughout the Universe. Only you can stop him. You must destroy the weapon.’

‘I am the Guardian of the weapon, and its radiation gives me life.’

‘Then I am afraid,’ said the Doctor, ‘you must give up your own life so that others may survive.’

‘Don’t listen to such rubbish,’ said the Master. ‘You can continue to live, and I shall protect you! With the Doomsday Weapon, I shall protect all the Universe.’

‘Against what,’ said the Guardian, ‘will you protect the Universe?’

The question took the Master off balance. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘against anyone who tries to attack it.’

‘But the Universe is all matter in Space,’ said the Guardian. ‘So what can attack that which is everything?’

‘I…I shall protect it against itself,’ said the Master, desperately wishing to get out of this discussion. ‘I shall protect it against evil-doers.’

The Guardian said nothing for some moments. Then, it spoke again, ‘The price is too high, the risk too great. The weapon is too terrible to be under the control of any creature that might use it.’

‘Surely it is under your control?’ said the Master, who clearly now doubted whether the Guardian actually controlled the weapon.’

‘No,’ said the Guardian. ‘I am only the Guardian. I have the power, as you saw, to destroy that small metal weapon with which you menaced your companion, but I have no power to destroy you. The controls of the Doomsday Weapon are at your side, there for you to command.’

The Master looked at the control console. ‘Then I am now the master of the Universe,’ he said. He strode over to the controls filled with a sense of victory and total power. ‘That planet you so favour,’ he said to the Doctor, ‘the one called Earth, can become a cloud of ashes at my touch. Even the Daleks will tremble when they know my power!’

‘But this is not to be,’ said the Guardian. It turned to the Doctor. ‘This man proves you are right. The Doomsday Weapon is not only evil, but it creates evil in others. It must be destroyed. And therefore I must die.’

The little doll-like figure of the Guardian began to fade back into the flames. The Master swung round to the open hatch. ‘Just a minute,’ he shouted, ‘you and I can make an arrangement, I didn’t really mean to use the weapon, only to frighten a few worlds.’ The Guardian was already only half visible in the flames. ‘Please come back,’ screamed the Master. ‘I am very clever. I may be able to restore you to the creature you were before you get so small and lived in those flames.’ Only the head of the Guardian was now visible. ‘Let’s discuss this a little longer! Please don’t go away!’ But the image of the Guardian had now vanished completely. The Master turned away from the hatch, angry that he had shown himself so upset in front of the Doctor. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’ve still got the Doomsday Weapon. Do you wish to share it with me?’

‘I somehow think,’ said the Doctor, ‘that very shortly there will be nothing to share…’

The Doctor’s words were swamped by a terrible roaring sound from within the furnace. A blistering wave of heat swept out from the hatch. Then the first sheet of flame burst from the hatch. The whole room started to tremble! The Master stared unbelieving at the now belching furnace. ‘You fool,’ he screamed, ‘you’re destroying yourself! You’re destroying the Doomsday Weapon!’

‘And it’ll destroy us if we don’t get out of here,’ said the Doctor. Another great sheet of flame burst from the furnace. The room trembled violently and a huge crack appeared down one of its silvery-coloured metal walls. ‘If you don’t mind, I’m leaving before we get roasted to death. I suggest you do the same.’

The Doctor ran to the doors, then realized the Master was not following him. He turned back to see the Master still staring at the furnace as though mesmerized. ‘Come on, man,’ he called, ‘you’ll be killed!’ The room trembled again as in an earthquake. Flames were now bursting from the furnace. ‘We’ve got to get away!’ called the Doctor.

The Master turned to him. ‘The Doomsday Weapon,’ he said, ‘it will never me mine.’ Then he followed the Doctor. As they left the room flames spewed out from the hatch engulfing the control console. [pp. 156-159]

‘Doctor?’ It was Jo, running down one of the corridors towards them, Caldwell [IMC’s mining expert, who had lost confidence in the legitimacy of its mission] behind her. ‘Are you all right?’

‘None of us is all right,’ said the Doctor, trying to read the map and understand it, ‘not while we’re down here.’

‘What’s happening?’ said Caldwell.

‘I think the whole place is going to explode,’ said the Doctor. He looked up from the map, ‘I think we may find an exit this way.’ He grabbed Jo’s arm and started running again. As they left the spot, the rock wall fell in. [pp. 159-160]

‘So much for your interest in science,’ said the Master, hurrying along behind the Doctor and Jo. ‘The most powerful machine ever created in the Universe, and you let that fool Guardian destroy it all.’

‘Science like that’ said the Doctor, ‘is something we can all do without.’

Captain Dent [Captain of the IMC spaceship] stepped out from behind a boulder, his gun raised. ‘Stop!’ He signaled with his free hand. IMC men carrying their high-powered guns appeared from all sides. Dent turned to Caldwell. ‘Thank you for leading them to us. Now stand over there.’

Caldwell stood speechless. Jo knew by his expression that he had no knowledge of the ambush. Resigned, he walked over to the spot indicated by Captain Dent. The Master walked up to Dent.

‘Congratulations, Captain Dent,’ said the Master. ‘You’re just in time. Put these people under arrest.’

‘Get back with your accomplices,’ ordered Dent, and pointed his gun directly at the Master.

‘You don’t understand,’ the Master protested, ‘I’m the official Adjudicator, sent here by Earth Government.’

Morgan [an ambitious younger officer] stepped forward, also armed. ‘You’re an imposter. Now get back.’ He pushed the Master back in line with the Doctor and Jo. Then he turned to the IMC guards. ‘All right, firing squad, step forward!’

Six IMC guards lined up in front of the Doctor, Jo, and the Master. They raised their guns, ready for the order.

‘You’re insane,’ said Caldwell, speaking to both Dent and Morgan. ‘You’re murderers!’

Dent turned to him. ‘Caldwell, if we didn’t need you as our mining expert, you’d be over there with them. So shut up!’ He turned to the IMC guards. ‘Take aim!’

Suddenly Winton’s [a young leader of the colonists] voice called out from somewhere among the surrounding boulders. ‘Drop those guns, all of you!’

Dent turned and fired wildly. All around colonists rose up from behind the boulders shooting at the IMC men. The Doctor grabbed Jo to pull her to safety. The IMC men fired at any colonist’s head they could see appearing over the boulders. But they had to fire from crouching positions in the open, whereas the colonists all had the protection of the ring of great rocks. Morgan fell dead as a colonist’s bullet hit him, and Captain Dent’s gun was shot from his hand. Within moments half the IMC men were either dead or wounded.

‘Surrender,’ called Winton. ‘You will not be killed.’

‘We give in,’ Dent shouted. He called to what remained of the IMC guards. ‘Throw down your guns!’

The IMC men dropped their guns, and raised their hands in surrender. Now, from all sides, colonists appeared from behind the boulders. Winton ran forward to the Doctor and Jo. ‘Are you two all right?’

Jo let Winton help her to her feet. ‘But the spaceship,’ she said, ‘it exploded.’

‘Captain Dent left one lookout to make sure no one should escape by leaving the ship,’ said Winton. ‘I stayed behind and knocked him out. That let all the others get out of the ship to safety before it took off.’

‘Did you make it take off by remote-control?’ asked the Doctor.

Winton shook his head. ‘No. John Ashe went up with it. He insisted on doing so. He gave his life for the sake of the rest of us.’ He shrugged. ‘Maybe he was a bit crazy.’

‘Perhaps,’ said the Doctor, ‘or a saint.’ [pp. 160-162]

The colonists stood in a circle around the big grave they had dug a little way from the main dome. Most of the IMC men had been safely locked up in their spaceship, ready to be sent back to Earth. But Captain Dent, Caldwell, and three guards were present at the ceremony to bury their own dead. Colonists and IMC guards killed in the final battle were laid side by side in the grave. Gentle rain fell from the clouds, soaking the colonist’s poor clothing and making the dusty soil turn into mud. When all the bodies were in the grave everybody turned to Winton, expecting him now to speak as John Ashe had done before. He turned to the Doctor. ‘You say something,’ he pleaded.

‘No,’ said the Doctor, ‘it has to come from one of you. This is your land now.’

Winton turned to face the colonists and the IMC men who stood sullenly as prisoners on the other side of the communal grave. ‘I don’t know how to make speeches,’ he said, ‘but I can tell you how I feel. Our people didn’t die for nothing. To get anything worth having, like freedom, sometimes you have to fight, and sometimes you have to die. So now it’s up to us to make this colony work, for the sake of the people who died.’ He paused, then turned to the five IMC prisoners. ‘Your people died for the wrong things, but I’m still sorry they got killed.’ He looked down into the grave. ‘There’s one man missing—John Ashe. We can’t bury him, but we can always remember him. He died so that we could live.’ [p. 164]

It was soon time for the Doctor and Jo to leave the brave pioneers to their tasks.

The Doctor thanked the man and then hurried over to Jo. “I know where the TARDIS is. I think it’s time to go.’

Jo was busy pouring tea for the others. ‘But there are so many things to do here, Doctor. Are we in a hurry?’

‘Stay if you want to,’ he said to her. ‘But I’ll never be able to explain it to the Brigadier [Lethbridge-Stewart, of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), at whose headquarters the Doctor operated a laboratory].’

Jo Smiled. “All right. I’ll just say goodbye to everybody.’

The Doctor checked her. ‘No. They’ll all start asking where we came from again. Let’s just slip out while they’re enjoying their victory.’ He took Jo’s hand and together they went out of the dome. The rain had stopped now, and the sun was shining brilliantly.

‘Look!’ said Jo in wonder. ‘It’s all green!’

As far as the eye could see the one-time impoverished land was shooting up tiny blades of grass. Even the little shrub plants had grown new leaves.

‘We’d better be quick getting to the TARDIS,’ the Doctor laughed. ‘The speed things can grow here, we may find ourselves having to cut through a jungle!’

They hurried away from the dome. [pp. 165-166]

*London: A Target Book/the Paperback Division of W. H. Allen & Co. Ltd, 1974. Based on the BBC television serial Doctor Who and the Colony in Space by Malcolm Hulke, by arrangement with the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Ah, well, I suppose I should have issued a spoiler alert since I’ve given away the climax of this surprising book. My daughter dropped no hint about these plot elements when she gave me the used paperback, although she read it before passing it along. I hope I will be forgiven for giving away the ending of this old series of TV episodes, especially in view of its age. I confess, stumbling across a reference to the central theme of Jesus’ career in this extremely popular British science fiction/adventure/comedy series—the longest-running series in television history—was startlingly unexpected, and delightfully so. Many fine screenwriters have contributed to its success, including Douglas Adams (who, coincidentally was also born on March 11), originator of the outrageously funny The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

So why would a writer fetch way back to the first century for a theme? For one thing, it’s perennial. Western civilization is profoundly influenced by the New Testament narrative. This author gives it a fresh twist by situating his own story far into the future and by indicating that by then it had become forgotten out of memory as the common heritage of the colonists’ civilization. Science, exploitative industries, doomsday weapon—sure, these we know. But Jesus?

Malcolm Hulke (1924-1979), whose “scripts for Doctor Who were known for avoiding black-and-white characterization and simplistic plotting” and “were noted for providing a wealth of additional background detail and character depth” (according to Wikipedia), evidently saw an intriguing way of giving the old, old story a bit of a comeback. “Man Bites Dog”—now there’s a headline that might still make the news. But the heart of the Gospel may by now have become somewhat hackneyed even by comparison with that old cliché. However, I don’t have to try too hard to remind myself that multitudes of American schoolchildren are migrating through our educational system without even a passing acquaintance with the old Story. How is “The Bible as Literature” faring in schools these days? And that’s not even taking into account immigrants of Islamic heritage who may never be “forced” to confront the Bible firsthand in school. And if not there, then where?

So I’m cheered by Hulke’s venture into ancient recollection and re-framing. I’m one to cheer on further adaptations, too. Naturally, certain elements may get highlighted and others dropped for artistic purposes. This process raises questions about the motivational effects of any particular blend of narrative elements. Such attempts suggest interesting questions about the shape of the original narrative, and whether even traditional theological processing has really done that Story justice.

Hulke necessarily gives his own context for the “four versions of a story about a man who sacrificed his own life for the sake of others” that John Ashe reads “in order to calm his troubled mind.” He accomplishes this in the conversation among the Guardian, the Doctor, and Jo. The Doctor insists that all laws should be based on justice, so any arbitrary sacrifice of human life is out of the question. The Guardian alleges that he was sacrificed yet managed to stay alive, but the Doctor counters that the Guardian is a different form of life than most in the universe, so is an exception to the observation that sacrifice kills life.

However, it is interesting to note that the Guardian, having survived being sacrificed (which the novel does not explore further) is indeed an exceptional form of life that can endure the conditions of the electronic furnace. (In the excerpt that followed, the Doctor ventures the opinion, “I think it’s the ultimate development of life on this planet.”) Not exactly the sort of immortality we may wish for, but evidently a superior sort of survival than before. So although this is not resurrection in the fully Biblical sense, it is an artfully contrived demi-form that moves the narrative suggestively along to its finale.

The ‘logic’ of the Doctor finally prevails when he argues that the sacrifices of life we observe in the plant and animal realms are “for the purpose of continuing life in another form,” and not simply “to extinguish life totally.” This dialogue should be kept in mind as the plot unfolds.

John Ashe found it difficult to understand why anyone should “willingly give his own life for other people.” The supplied earlier context hints at why, but he was not in on that exchange. Yet the very difficulty of understanding the reasoning of the story is what makes it so intriguing for him. The following page of this chapter explains that the colonists had become alienated from Ashe, but he “believed that with patience he could win back the support of the colonists. He knew Winton meant well, but the colony needed Ashe’s calmness and maturity. He got back onto his bed, and tried once more to read his book” (p. 138). He was pondering how to conciliate his fellow colonists.

The third excerpt above brings the evil Master into the conversation with the Guardian. In the interests of his takeover of the Universe with the assistance of the Doomsday Weapon, the Master attempts to ingratiate himself with the Guardian, declaring his intention “To restore this city and this planet to their former glory.” Ah, yes. To make it “great again!” Where have we heard that before (well, if not before 1972, when this novel actually appeared, certainly before 2972, when this episode is fictionally set)? Fat chance of that happening during this guy’s watch!

However, here the Guardian reveals that the planet’s previous civilization built the weapon. But the leaking of radiation from it has actually poisoned the planet, including its former inhabitants, except for a few primitives and mutant priests, so that it only sustains most living forms with great difficulty. And although the Guardian itself thrives on this energy, it is eventually deadly to other forms. Accordingly, the Doctor issues a gentle and noble but unwelcome ultimatum to the Guardian” ‘[Y]ou must give up your own life so that others may survive.’ The Master’s response is faintly reminiscent of Genesis 3: ‘Don’t listen to such rubbish,’ said the Master. ‘You can continue to live….’

During the course of the ensuing dialogue with the self-aggrandizing Master, his dastardly intentions are betrayed when the Guardian unreels enough rope to let him hang himself by his own words. It then becomes all too evident that the Doctor was, strictly speaking, correct. And since the Guardian is a creature of strict logic, he faces the Doctor and unemotionally concludes, à la Spock: ‘This man proves you are right. The Doomsday Weapon is not only evil, but it creates evil in others. It must be destroyed. And therefore I must die.’ In short order, the Doomsday Weapon starts to self-destruct, and the others flee for their lives.

Meanwhile, the colonists, who had been forced by the IMC troops into their old spacecraft in preparation for staging a takeoff that would deliberately doom the occupants, had all been secretly rescued. However, it was deemed necessary for liftoff to occur as scheduled in order to mount a surprise attack on the IMC’s armed forces. John Ashe volunteered to undertake this diversion…at the calculated cost of his own life. His suicide mission accomplished, the colonists proved victorious and regained possession of the planet.

Now notice how the author handles this heroic deed:

‘Did you make it take off by remote-control?’ asked the Doctor.

Winton shook his head. ‘No. John Ashe went up with it. He insisted on doing so. He gave his life for the sake of the rest of us.’ He shrugged. ‘Maybe he was a bit crazy.’

‘Perhaps,’ said the Doctor, ‘or a saint.’

Ashe gave his life for the sake of the rest…so that they could live. He had determined to follow in the steps of the Man he read about in the old book. Such a deed may still look “a bit crazy,” especially if a remote-control takeoff could have been engineered to pre-empt its necessity. This is worth a bit more analysis.

Books on the nature of the Atonement will often criticize the so-called exemplary theory of atonement as deficient on the grounds that if Christ had merely intended by getting crucified to set an example of divine love for us to follow in his steps, such a deed still would not have actually “dealt with the problem of sin.” Such a deed is likened to a person plunging into a deadly rapids in order to demonstrate love…but without actually managing to save another person from otherwise certain drowning in those rapids. Something more is called for.

Point taken. It would indeed be “a bit crazy” to risk death unless it resulted in life for others. Lifeguards are trained (full disclosure: I was so trained) to save others without losing their own lives in the bargain. But the point, in any case, is precisely to save lives, not to die unnecessarily. If there is to be a crucifixion, it must be necessary somehow so as to save other lives, not simply as a gratuitous spectacle of self-immolation. It must be efficacious for the sake of others. Such a self-sacrificing deed would be worthy of a “saint.”

In the story before us, if the spaceship could have been launched successfully by remote-control, without compromising the ultimate mission of saving the colonists and neutralizing their enemies, then for John Ashe to pilot it to its fiery end was merely suicidal without being necessary. For him to “insist” on going up despite knowing it was unnecessary would have been truly “a bit crazy,” and not “for the sake of the rest of us.” A nagging ambiguity therefore attends the above quotation.

That said, I would give the author the benefit of the doubt on this point. Perhaps Ashe wanted this liftoff operation to be more fail-safe than the old rickety ship—for that’s how it’s described in the book—seemed to justify. That would make his risk more necessary.

In any case, if Ashe, realistically speaking, can be assumed to have had sufficient time behind the scenes to delve into the four versions of the story that so captivated him, he could have arrived at the answer to his question, “Why…should anyone willingly give his own life for other people?” For Christ well knew that by surrendering to the benign will of his Father, and accordingly surrendering to the murderous will of those he came to save, God would avenge him of that heinous injustice by doing him the justice of raising him from the dead to superabundant immortal life, first of all, and thereby supplying him with an overflowing bounty of the Holy Spirit to give away in graciousness to anyone who would believe this life-giving Proclamation! For the Gospel explicitly promises believers our own individual resurrection from the dead—this is the very essence of our salvation. This fact puts a rational spin on the sacrifice of this present life. And all the more so if it means that others can continue to live out more of their present lives rather than dying prematurely.

If this scenario be granted, then the force of Winton’s final solemn words at the graveside is preserved at full value: ‘There’s one man missing—John Ashe. We can’t bury him, but we can always remember him. He died so that we could live.’

However, significantly, I think, Malcolm Hulke does not end his story there. The final lines of my last excerpt above has new life overtaking the whole planet at record speed! Interestingly, although this seems more a result of the self-sacrifice of the Guardian, it fits hand-in-glove with the self-sacrifice of John Ashe. This elegant little novel has a double-barreled resurrectionary punch! Like the two goats on the ancient Day of Atonement, they unite to tell a singular story of PREMIAL REDEMPTION without a hint of penal subtext. Herein is love. Neither the Guardian nor John Ashe suffered punitively, but voluntarily, in expectation of a vivifying outcome for others. There was no penal substitution in this fine story—only premial inclusion. This, moreover, is my premial conclusion.

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FIFTH ANNIVERSARY BLOG!!!!!

March 11, 2017

Wow!  It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since I launched this blog site.  Just this weekend I finally finished making corrections on the more than three hundred (!) pages that churned out when I decided to print it off as hard copy.  Soon I hope to actually do the online corrections.  There’s nothing that can’t be improved!  As you may have noticed if you have been following this site, I have been back-posting my blog notes and am currently up to about mid March 2015.  Do enjoy, and tell anyone else you think might be edified by its contents!

As a special feature, I am posting the following reflections on one of the series of Doctor Who novels.  My daughter gave me this old episode last Christmas.  Coincidentally, I became a fan wayback (remember the “Wayback Machine” from …was it Crusader Rabbit?) around Christmas 1980.  So last Christmas was the 36th Anniversary of my introduction to Whodom!  Anyway, you’ll see the relevance shortly.

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Reconsidering Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” on Reformation Day

October 31, 2016

Today is the 499th Anniversary of “Reformation Day”–when Martin Luther posted his rumbling “Ninety-Five Theses” concerning indulgences.  This marked an historic turning point in Western Christianity, one fraught with untold opportunities to “get the Story right this time.”  It was only a partial restoration of apostolic truth at best, and a sad caricature at worst.  Consequences follow.

By this time in the career of this blog site, I had hoped to publish more on the historic missteps of the Reformation with respect to the doctrine of the Atonement and its ramifications concerning the Protestant doctrines of Justification, Reconciliation, and Sanctification.  But other opportunities emerged that I felt I couldn’t pass up.  I needed to address the Governmental or Rectoral theory of Hugo Grotius for the sake of a young and able campus evangelist, Jesse Morrell.  A controversial interaction with a local Orthodox Presbyterian church also absorbed much time and energy.

With one year left until the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I feel the need to return to the historic issues and assumptions of that era in order to account for the nearly wholesale declension into the penal-obsessed and death-focused dogmas of Atonement which befell that auspicious movement for human liberation from spiritual bondage.

Accordingly, I have decided to re-post my essay of three years ago that deals with Luther’s so-called “theologia crucis.”  This was by no means the authentic theology of Luther’s mature period.  To be sure, it actually predates even the indulgence controversy that catapulted the Augustinian monk into the limelight forever.  Nevertheless, some problematics of the theologia crucis attended all of Luther’s later thinking, and continually get replayed and rehashed along with  his final position.  I hope to explore these matters periodically over the next twelve months.

But in the meantime, I would encourage you to chew over the following essay in order to bone up on some irresolvable tensions that carry through both periods of the Reformer’s development.

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Since today is Reformation Day, October 31st, when Martin Luther posted his historic “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” I have decided to post the results of my study concerning the theologia crucis (theology of the Cross) that Martin Luther inaugurated. He coined the expression and launched the project on its problematic career. Over the years, I have come across the expression countless times, and with growing doubts about the validity of its varying contents and intended objectives. In August I finally decided to immerse myself in one of the best treatments of the subject to appear in recent decades, Alister McGrath’s well-regarded Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough (Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1985). I was not disappointed by his splendid treatment. However, as one who had arrived at vigorous certainty concerning the long-neglected centrality of Christ’s Resurrection in theology (although never doubting its importance for so-called apologetics), I sensed in the theologia crucis at least a partial explanation for the historic eclipse of the Resurrection. Nor was I disappointed by my own findings, in a sad irony. What follows is not so much a review of McGrath’s treatise, much less a summary, as a response by way of counterpoint. McGrath proceeds via mounting delight and approbation for Luther’s “progress” in his agenda. To the contrary, I advance in terms of growing concern and critical opposition at every new twist and turn of the fated program. What began as a strong hunch has matured into a settled conviction that the virtual neglect of the decisive role of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead for every aspect of salvation was an unintended consequence of the systematic pursuit of the theologia crucis. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, isn’t it high time to reconsider its career as possibly harboring an error of serious and ramifying consequences? You decide.

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Martin Luther’s epoch-making breakthrough concerning the meaning of the phrase “the righteousness of God” is commonly thought to have properly culminated in his “theologia crucis” (theology of the Cross). This is hardly surprising considering the circuitous route his thought traveled from the mortal fear of “God’s righteousness” that “punished sinners” by His wrath to a “righteousness of God” as “that by which the righteous lives by the gift of God, namely by faith, and this sentence, ‘the righteousness of God is revealed’, to refer to a passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous lives by faith’.” He “found the same analogy in other phrases such as the ‘work of God’ (that which God works within us), the‘power of God’ (by which he makes us strong), the‘wisdom of God’ (by which he makes us wise), the ‘strength of God’, the ‘salvation of God’ and the ‘glory of God’” (McGrath, p. 97, quoting from Luther’s 1545 Preface to the first volume of the new edition of his works, published at Wittenberg).

Even so, at that watershed moment, only a slight impulse might have deflected the nascent insights toward a destiny of full-blown “theologia resurrectis” contours. Instead, the Protestant movement chose the fateful alternative of a “theologia crucis,” which in view of the intransigent structure of the New Testament Gospel, then only dimly descried as Greek and Hebrew Scripture were just coming to light in print and in vernacular translation, could never quite fulfill its weighty promise.

According to Alister McGrath, “Luther interprets iustitia Christologically: God’s righteousness, understood as faithfulness to his promises, is demonstrated in the incarnation and death of the Son of God” (Luther’s Theology of the Cross, 107, emphasis added). The words “and death” reveal vestigial assumptions of Luther’s early theological education. As he himself recounts:

I had certainly been overcome with a great desire to understand St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, but what had hindered me thus far was not any ‘coldness of the blood’ so much as that one phrase in the first chapter: ‘The righteousness of God is revealed in it’. For I had hated that phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ which, according to the use and custom of all the doctors, I had been taught to understand philosophically, in the sense of THE FORMAL OR ACTIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS (as they termed it), BY WHICH GOD IS RIGHTEOUS, AND PUNISHES UNRIGHTEOUS SINNERS.  [McGrath, 95-96; all emphases added, R.L.R.]

Luther would draw a connection, then forge a link, between God’s righteousness as punitive and that death of God’s Son—a fateful error, as it turns out. The initial misstep that primed this errant interpretation was Luther’s misapprehension of Galatians 2:16. His above recollection disparages the generally accepted Aristotelian and Ciceronian legal maxim that righteousness/ justice “renders to each his due.” Recurring to the text of Paul, he exults:

A wonderful new definition of righteousness! This is usually described thus: ‘Righteousness is a virtue which renders to each man according to his due’ (iustitia est virtus reddens unicuique quod suum est). But here it says: ‘Righteousness is faith in Jesus Christ’ (fides Jhesu Christi)!  [McGrath, 112; emphases added, R.L.R.]

However, it is increasingly accepted by scholars that the Greek is here better rendered “faith[fulness] of Jesus Christ.” This translation allows for a very different unfolding of God’s justice than the course Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin were to pursue—a course that led inevitably to a theologia crucis as a substitute for the theologia resurrectis of the Apostle Paul and, indeed, of all the New Testament writers who treat the death of Christ.

Because Luther did not perceive that the faithfulness of Jesus Christ required God to render to him his due, i.e., true justice, by raising him from the dead and giving him gloryfrom whence he commissioned his Holy Spirit to all who would merely believe so as to cleanse away their sins, justify them accordingly, and give them the rich down payment of agelong life, including extraordinary power for healing and testifying boldly concerning God’s impending Kingdom, plus the offer of a gratuitous inheritance in it—Luther had to fetch around for some alternative, some substitute for this resurrectionary, restorative, or “premial” (rewarding, from the Latin for the opposite of penal) solution to the justification of sinners.

This premial solution implies that there was actually no need for Luther to jettison distributive justice (iustitia distributiva) in order to find a gracious God. He had only to observe the real nature of God’s avenging (ekdik) via repayment ([ant]apodo) to His abused Son for his spilled blood, the just award or just due of which spilled over generously, in turn, according to God’s super-compensatory premial justice, to all sinners who exercise faith in response to the abundant testimony of the Gospel story.

Almost needless to say, Luther’s theological rejection of distributive justice (which is properly conceived as encompassing both penal and premial judgments) was a fateful move, not only because of its potential to spawn antinomianism (a disposition toward insubordination even to Christ’s law) which has followed Protestantism like a dark shadow, but for its direct ramifications for criminal justice and peacemaking, not to mention a host of other spheres of life.

Another misstep by Luther was his equating or identifying righteousness (as a “gift of God”) with faith in Christ.” He did not see that the actual “faithfulness of Christ” was the worthiness of Christ before God (coram deo) that called forth the righteousness/justice of God to avenge his cross by raising him from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out superabundantly, then shared with all mankind as the Gift of God par excellence, with signs and wonders following.

According to this reading, the “Gift of God” is simply the Holy Spirit of promise, not “faith in Christ” (fides Christi) per se. And, in fact, the biblical vocabulary overwhelmingly conforms to this expectation. But Luther was being shoved and tugged by multiple forces of his legal and monastic education, steeped as they were in the so-called via moderna of the late medieval period (the “modern way” of philosophical discourse that was becoming popular).

Luther had originally put great stock in humility (humilitas) as the contents of a person’s doing “that which in himself lies” (quod in se est) in preparation forgrace.” But he slowly changed his opinion because of the uncertainty of knowing whether one possessed enough humility for God to “give grace without fail,” in fulfillment of His covenant (pacta or testamentum), even though the “merit” of that humility was affirmed to be “de congruo on account of this promise of God and the covenant of mercy (pactum misericordiae)” (Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, 4.262.2-7; in McGrath, 89), and not de condigno (i.e., deserved, suitable, or adequate in itself). He eventually refused to concede that even this was sufficient to bring God’s grace in the absence of God’s prior “special grace.”

This new turn of thought necessarily evoked a change of opinion also about the power of unaided “free will” (so-called). And here we see the origin of Luther’s full-blown diatribe, On the Bondage of the Will (1525), against Erasmus. However, we must carefully observe that his solution for this “sickness” of the will was “prevenient grace” rather than the inherent power of the Gospel story of God’s raising Jesus from a death of the Cross. So here Luther makes yet another misstep and slips off the Gospel path of the New Testament. Even though he sees correctly that sinners are incapable of the true humility that the medieval tradition of the via moderna (of Gabriel Biel, et al) had specified for “the certain bestowal of God’s grace” as the “sine qua non” (lit., “without which not”—an essential condition or absolute prerequisite) of the human side of the covenant (pactum), yet his counter thrust was framed in the same faulty terms of “receiving grace,” only now preveniently (coming before) rather than following faith (as the apostles had taught). It implies that faith itself was entailed in that prevenient grace, so was necessarily also a “gift,” all contrary to the “pattern of sound explanations” found in Scripture alone (sola scriptura), ironically.

So although Luther came to displace humility as the way to enter God’s favor, he did so by replacing it with graceitself instead of with a faith generated by the “power of God unto salvation,” namely, the Gospel proclamation. This led to impossible logical conundrums in theology and, indeed, to a long and very persistent tradition of rationalizing the impossibilities as “mysteries” that “faith” must “humbly” accept. And we have come full circle to another version of insupportable, unsustainable, anxiety-producing humilitas.

The above confusions were further complicated at this stage by Luther’s assumption that faith in Christ (fides Christi), initially understood as the sine qua non of the human side of the covenant—the quod in se est required of human beings—was a human act, achieved by natural ability, without the additional help of “grace.” On the contrary, in Scripture faith is never even categorized under the rubric “act” or “work.” There, the capacity to believe is an in-created faculty of all human beings, ineffaceable even by the fall into sin. The book of Hebrews neatly clarifies faith as a non-work—a sabbath rest from work. The issue therefore is not its structure, but its direction, its object, its focus. The Gospel is worthy of our faith because it has the proof of sufficient, indeed, abundant testimony to back it up.

At the time of Luther’s exposition of Psalms 71 and 72 (70 and 71, respectively, in the Latin text of the Vulgate) in early 1514, he was identifying “the righteousness of God” (iustitia Dei) with faith in Christ (fides Christi), interpreted as humility. This means that God’s righteousness was still a radically subjective intra-human act (although by the end of 1515 one not originating within human beings, i.e., an act of the will, which was in “bondage,” but an act of God), namely, faith in Christ. This construction obscured in a single fell swoop both the faithfulness of the Son to all his Father’s will, as well as the justice of the Father in reciprocating by raising him from the dead—the inextricably tandem epicenters of apostolic covenantal objectivity.

Luther’s authentic Protestant switch from seeing this fides Christi as an act of man to seeing it as an act of God did not alter the fundamental structure of his erroneous framework, which all turns on the oddly and ironically termed “objective genitive” (the grammatical case of the Greek preposition) interpretation of pistis Christou (most decisively in Galatians 2-3, Romans 3, and Philippians 3) to mean human faith ‘inChrist” (who, accordingly, gets duly “objectified” as the “object of faith”), thus ipso facto sabotaging the correct teaching of Paul concerning the objective faithfulness of Jesus, which turns on the so-called “subjective genitive” interpretation of the case. Yet only this subjective genitive places the weight of salvific virtue where it belongs—inside of the Lord Jesus Christ. In turn, only this placement accords the “righteousness of God” its proper significance as the Father’s doing justice to His faithful Son by “objectively,” historically resurrecting him from the dead. Everything else begins to sort itself out and fall into line when we accord these most central truths their just due.

Luther’s Protestant proposal in effect “subjectivized” the righteousness of God, reducing it from a grand execution of due justice on behalf of His abused Son on the third day, to a virtue deposited into human beings as a “direct gift” from God in a “sovereignly” arbitrary manner (a theme Calvin was to take up with a vengeance before long), thereby overriding their enslaved wills by the benign bulldozer of “grace.”

Viewed from another standpoint: The “subjective genitive” demands a resurrectionary atonement; the “objective genitive” can settle for a substitutionary atonement. It is at this crossroads that several novel adjustments are invented by Luther out of sheer necessity in order to avert the vertigo that attends such a falling away from the solid ground of God’s resurrectionary solution to the injustice of the Cross. Not only “bondage of the will” (servum arbitrium), but also “the alien righteousness of Christ” (iustitia Christi aliena) now make their stage debut, followed by the necessity of repeating emphatically and often that believers in Christ are “simultaneously righteous and sinful” (simul iustus et peccator). Other makeshifts will follow concerning “imputation.” These all stem from the tension or dialectic now emergent by having to see the entire man (totus homo) at one and the same time as “before God” (coram Deo) and “before man” (coram hominibus) now that the righteousness of God has been “cast to earth,” subjectivized in “man.” Luther must now do some mighty fancy footwork to account for the “invisibility” of this subjectivized righteousness, “hidden,” “visible only to God,” etc.

Now talk of “hypocrisy” comes to the surface with fresh vigor to lend an explanatory hand or, rather, a heavy rationalizing hand. For if this newly bestowed righteousness is perfect before God, yet barely evident to oneself or others, then it must somehow, paradoxically, be extrinsic or “alien.” Thus Luther parted ways with his former mentor, Johann von Staupitz (vicar of the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg), who still saw righteousness as inherent in “man” (although of course originating “ultimately” in God, as Augustine had rationalized)—“iustitia in nobis,” in us. For Luther it is now viewed as outside of us, “iustitia extra nos.” And the dicing grows apace… interminably. We can only sympathize as he agonizes.

Luther passed his new baton to his celebrated colleague at Wittenberg, Philip Melanthchon, who ran with it to the finish line: “forensicjustification. This, as we can now see in retrospect, was simply code for “penal,” thus effectively stripping justice of its integral bi-polarity and one-sidedly reducing any saving virtue to an exclusively punitive necessity. Hence, Luther’s early choice of paths dictated an ever-widening divergence from earlier traditions and a logarithmic expansion of opportunity for others to elaborate and complicate his errors beyond measure, not to say beyond recognition as apostolic. This set the stage for a Pietistic reaction away from the emerging neo-scholasticism of the Post-Reformation.  Alas!  What a tangled web we weave!

From here we can see the looming specter of a full-blown theologia crucis. Luther first poses a radical dichotomy between human and divine concepts of righteousness, demolishing in principle any continuum between them. Out of this feat are spawned further mysteries and paradoxes and, at length, the dubious promise of existential and dialectical theologies. Essences and qualities and substances are played off against imputations and reckonings and eschatons, reminiscent of the grand old gnostic fabrications of yore. There was indeed a certain air of desperation around the new effusions surfacing on account of the inherent instability of this new subjectivism. It was fraught with inner tensions and polar extremes.

The “eye for an eye” or quid pro quo Code of Justinian was found to be objectionable now that an alternative to the via moderna had presumably been discovered to have more power to give assurance of salvation and grace. But this was an alternative that did not contain the element of resurrection as an intrinsic, integral component of justification to serve as an objective ballast against the storms of life’s temptations and trials.

As a corollary, “reason” was eventually jettisoned since Luther concluded that because God justifies sinners, the process of justification must be completely at odds with reason. And if reason is dispensable to justification, it must be dispensable to theology as well. From that vantage point one could almost smell the rotten fruits that were to follow. The reasonableness of the Resurrection to bring deserved justice to Jesus and gratuitous justification to the rest of us had been sadly obscured, and a measure of darkness fell on Christendom…again.

To pursue Luther’s declension a step further, his famous notion of Deus crucifixus et absconditus (“the crucified and hidden God”) is simply a predictable knee-jerk reflex of absenting Christ’s resurrection from soteriological relevance. Since he held that the Cross was the center of God’s revelation of “righteousness” (dikaiosune), whereas we see only a tortured and allegedly sinless victim of extraordinary injustice there, then something vital is clearly missing. Luther docks that up to its being “hidden” (absconditus). Instead, what has happened is that the Resurrection has been absconded with. For the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus was the actual bona fide revelation (Rom. 1:17), manifestation (Rom. 3:21), and display (Rom. 3:26) of God’s justice (dikaiosune). This is the Gospel. Luther only missed it by a garden tomb. Yet without the integral component of resurrection, the Cross becomes a “mystery,” a “paradox,” and God retreats into an unseemly silence precisely when His rescuing services are most desperately needed. Luther’s well-meant but seriously distorted representations stand as a de facto mockery of the apostolic Gospel and should not go unchallenged.

Naturally, Luther’s chain of reasoning would continue to wind around other theological commonplaces to result in a yet more entrenched bondage of theology. Since the resurrectionary answer of God to the Cross was not loud and clear to him, the alleged “revelation” of God in the Cross was said to be visible “only to the eyes of faith.” (See, by contrast, the only place in the New Testament where any similar metaphor is to be found—Ephesians 1:15-22, “the eyes of your heart having been enlightened”—amid Paul’s stirring resurrectionary riff!) This notion only further reinforced the irrationality of the “gospel” of Luther, building as it did on his imported dualism of “faith vs. reason.” The whole of future Lutheran theology lies here in seed form. Naturally, scriptures would be sought and found (and decontextualized) to shore up such disproportionate developments, e.g., Isaiah 45:15, “Truly you are a hidden God!” “The concept of a hidden God (absconditus Deus) lies at the centre of the theology of the cross…” (McGrath, 150).

Link by steady link, Luther is shackling theology to a dead albatross when it should be soaring aloft to exalted, resurrectionary heights. He represents every impulse to escape this corpse of doctrine as an errant “theology of glory” (theologia gloriae). We retort by way of query: is an “escape” from the Cross into the joy of Resurrection a move to “seek for God apart from Christ” (McGrath, 150)? Didn’t Jesus himself “escape” the fatal cross by this precise route? Doesn’t he—don’t all the New Testament writers—teach us to expect this for ourselves?

Thus alienated from the power of Christ’s resurrection, theologically speaking, Luther must fetch around for a replacement for its evangelically indispensable role. His desperate play meant that the immense value of the resurrection of Christ for providing comfort and assurance in our own sufferings and persecutions was to a significant degree lost, and the resulting churches would limp, spiritually crippled. (See McGrath’s explanation of Luther’s opus proprium Dei vs. opus alienum Dei, 151.) However the alleged “revelation in the Cross” that human “Reason cannot penetrate is unveiled with ease by divine “Raising of the Crucified One to glory, which in turn raises human sights to God’s throne above.

Luther taught that human wisdom takes offense at the Cross. Very well, yet was the Resurrection not wise, or at least was it not perfectly designed to neutralize such offense? Indeed, CHRIST’S RESURRECTION REHABILITATES “REASON” AND REVEALS THAT THE GOSPEL IS ACTUALLY HYPER-REASONABLE. The Gospel of the Cross-cum-Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is only an “offense” (snare—skandalon) or “stupidity” (moria) to those who choose other paths to God or to the summum bonum, etc., as Jews and Greeks, respectively, were culturally disposed to do.

Luther is correct enough that Anfechtung (temptation) drives us to Christ…but in truth, it drives us beyond dalliance at his cross to the solid comfort of his resurrection. Yet in asserting, “The cross alone is our theology” (CRUX sola est nostra theologia), Luther inaugurated a tragic course of departure from the repeated testimonies of apostolic Scripture, and a retarding of real theological progress. By becoming a “theologian of the Cross” he effected a Cross-wiring of the Gospel that, in the long run of elapsed history, has proved to be a dud in significant respects. He declared, “living, or rather dying and being damned make a theologian, not understanding, reading or speculating” (vivendo immo morienda et damnando fit theologus, not intelligendo, legendo aut speculando) (McGrath, 152). Not altogether so for the apostles. They had to know themselves dead and raised with Christ before they really grasped what their Master and Teacher had been talking about all along. The Cross would have been reduced to less than a grave marker for them unless Christ had exploded from the tomb, alive forevermore!

Luther’s neglect or oversight concerning the soteriological role of Christ’s resurrection embroiled him in all the tortured impossibilities of his theologia crucis. Hence McGrath too sanguinarily invites:

For example, consider the wrath of God revealed at the cross. To reason, God thus appears wrathful; to faith, God’s mercy is revealed in this wrath. There is no question of God’s mercy being revealed independently of his wrath, or of an additional and subsequent revelation of God’s mercy which contradicts that of his wrath. In the one unitary event of revelation in the cross, God’s wrath and mercy are revealed simultaneously—but only faith is able to recognize the opus proprium [His own proper work] as it lies hidden under the opus alienum [His “strange” work of wrath]; only faith discerns the merciful intention which underlies the revealed wrath; only faith perceives the real situation which underlies the apparent situation.  [p. 165]

Huh? Still no word of resurrection! God is still silent, still absconditus! Poor, poor Luther! Poor, poor Protestantism! Poor, poor theology! We can barely start to unpack all the errors laminated in this paragraph. The authentic opus proprium is Christ’s Resurrection; the opus alienum is, on the other hand, but a strange figment, an imaginary fabrication, a phantom.

Obscurantism became the fashion in theology and, worse, in preaching. It became a duty to believe in God’s hiddenness, and that soon became a hideout for dark suspicions about His real, His underlying, His ultimate, intentions toward sinful human beings. The specter of “predestination” was conjured into existence, rearing its frightful head as an occulta (concealed) will of God. The shuddering thought that Something monstrous was actually concealed behind the now strange act of God in the Cross (because now severed from the Resurrection that alone gave it authentic, evangelical, user-friendly meaning by revealing God’s conciliatory intentions, thereby dispelling the strange notion that God’s wrath was present there at all) haunted every close inquiry into the Crucifixion, and the church became alienated from a heavenly Father revealed to be merciful and gracious PRECISELY BY HIS RAISING JESUS FROM THE DEAD AFTER THREE DAYS!

Faith itself gets contorted and pressed into involuntary service to probe mysteries; it gets “eyes” that can somehow “see” what theologians conjecture must be there, and all because the theologians cannot see what apostolic testimony has vouchsafed as actually happeningChrist’s victorious resurrection from the cross’s boastful, grisly finality. Indeed, apart from Christ’s resurrection, his cross is transmuted into mystery and deep darkness. We force the cross to bear too much weight—not only sins, but also speculations, suspicions, secrets. THE CROSS IN SUCH GRIM ISOLATION RENDERS GOD INSCRUTABLE. Such invoking of God’s “hiddenness” is a deadly bane to the gracious knowledge of God so realistically offered in the premial, resurrectionary Gospel.

Thus Luther’s treacherous theologia crucis leads not upward to the progressive knowledge of the gracious Father (whom Luther craved so poignantly), but downward through many a thorny dilemma to a new uncertainty, rivaling that which afflicted his youth (and all Western Christendom). However, his new Angst is not so much the fruit of overreaction into a polar opposite as it is the consequence of exploiting a half-truth for more than it is worth. The Cross without the Resurrection is but a half truth, and not the better half. A cross might have happened without a resurrection (usually did), but the Resurrection would have been impossible without the Cross. The Cross is always at least implicit in the proclamation of the Resurrection from the dead of the Lord Jesus Christ; not so the inverse. Thus if there were ever a need to make a choice between them, there can hardly be a debate which to choose.

All talk of “the eye of faith discerning the invisible situation” is a bow to mysticism, which has little in common with “the faith once given over to the saints” (Jude 3), substantiated by “so vast a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) to those empirical, public events. McGrath curiously represents Luther’s perspective to be quite otherwise than apostolically lucid.

In a sermon delivered on 24 February 1517, Luther remarked: “Man hides his own things, in order to conceal them; God hides his own things, in order to reveal them.” [If Luther had the briefly delayed Resurrection in mind by this revelation, we might agree with him; yet if he had meant that, then his theologia crucis would all but dissolve, and this present critique would be pointless. R.L.R.] This is an excellent summary of Luther’s early understanding of the significance of the hiddenness of God’s revelation. God works in a paradoxical way sub contrariis: his strength lies hidden under apparent weakness; his wisdom under apparent folly; his opus proprium under his opus alienum; the future glory of the Christian under his present sufferings. It will therefore be clear that there is a radical discontinuity between the empirically perceived situation and the situation as discerned by faith. To the eye of reason, all that can be seen in the cross is a man dying in apparent weakness and folly, under the wrath of God [rather, “under the wrath of Jewish leaders and Roman authorities,” for only Protestant “reason” can see the wrath of God here; that, too, is merely “apparent”—R.L.R.]. If God is revealed in the cross, he is not recognizable as God. Empirically, all that can be discerned are the posteriora Dei. Reason therefore, basing itself upon [w]hat is empirically discernible, deduces that God cannot be present in the cross of Christ, as the perceived situation in no way corresponds to the preconceived situation. The ‘theologian of glory’ expects God to be revealed in strength, glory and majesty, and is simply unable to accept the scene of dereliction on the cross as the self-revelation of God.  [McGrath, 167]

All these paradoxical words would melt and evaporate in the light and heat of Christ’s Resurrection as the manifestation, revelation, and display of God’s glory, power, and justice, which does not require a so-called “discernment of faith” but only a simple faith in corroborating eyewitness testimonies.  To find Luther emphasizing in the Dictata Super Psalterium (August 16, 1513-October 20. 1515) that

faith stands in total contradiction to the perception of the senses, characterized by its ability to see past visibilia and recognize the invisibilia which lie behind them (basing it on Heb. 11:1), and that empirical verification of the conclusions reached by faith is utterly impossible; in that sense perception necessarily contradicts it [McGrath, 167-68]

is, in spirit, more a reflex of his total lack of integrating the Resurrection into his soteriology than of the prima facie meaning of Hebrews 11:1.  Biblical faith is mounted on solid testimonies about past divine behavior, which handily supply the foundation for action going forward into the otherwise unknown future, with sturdy expectancy. Luther’s construct is a Halloween house of mirrors, unintentionally distorting God’s image into a monstrosity.

Alister McGrath continues his glowing epitome of Luther’s thought: “Whereas worldly wisdom deals with visible things—and hence can call upon the evidence of sense-perception in support of its conclusions—faith is denied this possibility” (p. 168). It is surely no wonder that “an earlier generation of theologians detected a hidden neo-Platonism behind Luther’s statements on faith” (p. 168), for although this opinion “is no longer taken seriously,” the ill effects of such an easily detected similarity played themselves out regardless. Luther was moving toward the shoals of a Platonic-like cosmic, or at least experiential, dualism of perennially vicious tendency. All these dangers can be traced back to Luther’s hyper-cross-centered purblindness concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. For indeed, God’s justice and power and glory were invisible at the Cross, and for a very good reason: they were not there, nor were they “hidden” behind it; they were simply in strategic abeyance for a couple of days…for Heaven’s sake! For how could God the Father reveal His redemptive, liberating, rescuing, saving power and glory unless He had a sufficiently provocative occasion—a worthy victim of Satan’s supreme injustice? But this set-up clearly (?) had nothing to do with a God negligent of His covenanted duties to save the upright, instead hiding from public view in order to make His ultimate intentions (“secret will”) mysterious and arouse phobic awe. No. He was merely waiting—a delay that Psalmists often reported, and usually with frustration, yet with evident faith, which, after all, is the pedagogic function of such divine temporizing. God was certainly taking His own precious time…yet what a worthwhile outcome! Luther need not have acquiesced in any sentiment even vaguely resembling Platonic dualism had he further probed Paul’s Gospel…or John’s, who brought Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to the witness stand.

It must strike us ironic that it was Martin Luther’s own “reason” which, to be sure, did confuse his comprehension of the Gospel so as to spin out a radically wayward theologia crucis, step by treacherous step. This must stand as one of the most tragic mistakes of the Protestant Reformation since it lies at the very heart and soul of the movement and was so needless. Everything else turns on one’s doctrine of God, especially why and how He saves human beings from Satan and sin and evil and death. So, indeed, as McGrath observes, Luther’s Christology is the focal point of his early doctrine of faith, but a cross-centered dualism of visible vs. invisible realms is a dualism nonetheless, and a pernicious one at that. A better integrated comprehension of Christ’s resurrection would have ironed out his bumpy, wrinkled doctrine nice and smooth and straight. (At last, on p. 169, McGrath mentions Christ’s resurrection for the first time!)

Not surprisingly, Luther started resorting to the language of mysticism to help explain his experience. The Anfechtung that afflicted him in the wake of the absconding (!) of the resurrectionary explanation for the Cross (that is, Paul’s authentic “Word of the Cross,” finally elaborated at length, in full view, in I Corinthians 15) compelled and prodded him toward the obscurity of medieval mystics. (To be fair, John Tauler, Luther’s favorite, was arguably the most edifying of these; at the very dawn of the Reformation, Luther republished the Theologia Germanica, a mystical devotional treatise usually attributed to Tauler.)

The descent did not halt there. The further uncertainties of predestination invaded his mind like a pack of demons storming a clean, empty house (see p. 172). Luther invoked this Pandora’s box in his treatise against Erasmus, Of the Bondage of the Will. All these dark forces began to pile up on him in the absence of apostolic, resurrectionary certainty and were aggravated by his general disdain for early Christian authors, who showed so little acquaintance with his gospel.

The attempt at a “theologia crucis” is a grim, five-centuries-long exhibit of the decline that must ensue when the theological centrality of Christ’s resurrection—the vibrant, pulsing, vitalizing, joy-filled heartbeat of the apostolic Gospel and ante-Nicene Christian authors—is neglected and de facto negated. Christ’s resurrection, triggered from on high by the wrongful shedding of his sinless blood, must again be honored, as in apostolic days of old, if a worthier restoration of the New Testament faith and ethos is to be achieved. May the God who raised Jesus from the dead grant us to grasp again in a profound and pervasive way “the grace of the Resurrection.” May this become the pulse, the heartbeat, the drumbeat of a New Reformation to come.

August 19-23, 25-26, November 10-11, 22-25, 27-29, December 1, 6-9, 2013, February 2, August 1, 2014

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A Hearty Welcome to Visitors of “ART PRIZE 2016,” Grand Rapids, Michigan

September 22, 2016

For those of you who may not live in Grand Rapids, you should know that this Western Michigan metropolis hosts “the world’s largest art prize based solely on a public vote”  (http://www.artprize.org/history/story).  It is also “the most-attended public art event on the planet” (http://www.artprize.org/about), and should be approaching half a million visitors before long!  Now in its eighth year, it has a burgeoning reputation among artists in visual media, plus fresh incursions of music and performance.  Art Prize has kicked off our autumn season for two-and-a-half weeks since 2009.  This fall, the Eighth Annual Art Prize is scheduled for September 21-October 9.

Last year, after Art Prize was under way, I decided to print scores of copies of my shortest writings on the premial Atonement in order to hand them out here…somewhere…somehow.  I settled on a box.  Not a soapbox, just an ordinary pasteboard box that had hosted the new range hood for my daughter’s stove.  Perfect!  I turned it inside out, cut a hole for my head, trimmed here and there.  After further shopping for supplies, I settled down to a bit of …”art.”  Since I was daring to stand in good-naturedly for a deity, I jimmied a halo out of glo-sticks, tape, and a yard stick.  I was able to locate a dandy fool’s cap (with bells!) that doubles as a shimmering multi-colored crown!

Bingo!  “God in a Box”!  At least that was the come-on.  I stenciled “HAVE YOU PUT GOD IN A BOX?” on the back side, plus assorted phrases such as you might see on boxes containing fragile, flammable, or dangerous contents.  The front side declared, “THE GOSPEL AS YOU’VE NEVER HEARD IT B4!”  If you’re already a visitor or follower of this blog site, you know what that means.

I finished the funky waterproof-felt-tip-decorated piece of street art only on Saturday of the final weekend of Art Prize 2015.  So I had barely enough time to try it out at select venues.  I kicked off the adventure Saturday night just before dark, handing out a copy to anyone I came across, usually with a few words about the Good News they were about to read.  On Sunday, I occupied a high-traffic area in front of the Bob for much of the afternoon.  My daughter and her boyfriend dropped by and captured the moment in some snapshots.  Then I started meandering around to distribute on the hoof.

Over those two days, I distributed over 300 copies of a half dozen of my shortest pieces on the premial Atonement.  Most were only a single sheet of paper, others were two sheets, stapled.  I was thankful for my children having encouraged me to “get it down to only a couple of pages, Dad…or just one page…or even half a page!  Then I’ll read it.”  So I took on the challenge to summarize decades of reading, thinking, and writing down to the basics.  It was an extremely valuable exercise in distilling all I had learned from concordant analysis of the Bible as well as plundering the entire history of scholarship on the Atonement.  That compelled me to decide what was absolutely essential to communicate.  How well I succeeded you can, of course, judge for yourself, either by reading the papers at the top of this site, or coming across me downtown over the next couple of weeks.

That’s right.  I kept that box handy in my apartment all year as a cheerful visual reminder to get an earlier start this time around!  So if you should happen to be reading this blog as a result of following up the link at the end of any of my handouts, good on you!  The six titles I’m distributing are as follows (in order of shortest to longest):  1) What If, 2) God’s Proclamation of Pardon (in a nutshell), 3) The Gospel Pure and Simple, 4) The Resurrectionary Atonement, 5) The News of Christ’s Victory (2p), 6) What Is the Gospel? (2p).

Feel free to blame me for any unaccustomed jargon you may come across, such as my occasional substitution of “wholesome” for holy, or using “agelong” instead of “eternal,”  or “explanation” for word, etc.  But these are mere preferences, based on my attempts to find superior English translations for biblical terms.  But the real meat and potatoes of my writing is the attempt to represent the New Testament Explanation (!) as accurately as humanly possible.  Let any controversy begin there.  I would sincerely appreciate your feedback!

Now, if you’re a first-time visitor to this blog site, you should know a couple of things.  This is not a typical blog.  It actually amounts to a public-access storage facility for my notes on the Atonement (mostly), going back several decades, and premiered here for the first time.  They are entered chronologically (again, mostly).  That’s why I suggest folks “begin at the beginning” with the “About” page and first few blogs, which define some important terms and mention some key authors.  (Recently I started rereading the blogs from the beginning in order to catch typos and do a bit of rewording and copy-editing.  There’s nothing that can’t be improved!)

You’ll notice that the usual blogroll down the right side is occupied by authors and their writings.  It’s an extremely abbreviated list, which I hope to expand when I can find the time.  I limited myself to some of my most important sources, and whatever I could find online by and about them.  (I hope to finish typing up a much more “complete” annotated bibliography of the most illuminating scholarship on themes related to the Atonement and then post it as a “paper” at the top of the site so anyone can investigate further.)

You’re most welcome to join other “followers” of this site.  Just know that, for the time being, I’m “back-posting” most of my daily blogs.  Currently I am filling up the month of January 2015.  This allows me to accommodate several series of blogs other than my “Atonement Notes” from earlier years.  I don’t know whether any other bloggers use their sites in this fashion, but it’s a main the reason why I even got started in the first place.  What a fabulous way to prepare to write a book on the Atonement, right?  And in the meantime, other folks can study and evaluate and comment on their content.  Which is to say, please feel welcome to add your feedback.  I’ll try to get around to them reply as soon as I can!  (Don’t hold your breath, please!)

I wish a great big blessing from the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ to all of you who found your way here!

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Penal Justice Cannot Substitute for Premial Justice

Sin per se is not nearly as aggravated and intractable and total as Calvinistic theologians have imagined, yet their own sins of misrepresenting its nature and endorsing inhumanly severe, unearthly, even ungodly penalties and brutal, savage vindictiveness are much worse than they imagine or would ever admit.  Jesus reserved his most unrestrained denunciations not for the average sinner—the adulteress, the prodigal, even the persecutor and murderer Saul of Tarsus, but for theologians!  [7/29/09]

Post-Reformation supralapsarian Calvinists, having cross-wired the respective wills of God, of humans, and of Satan, became disqualified from being able to speak with apostolic authority about the Cross and Resurrection.  They in fact muffed the catch, dropped the ball, and muffled the liberating peal of GOSPEL JUBILEE.  There resulted an “indistinct sound” regarding WHO WILLED WHAT AT THE ‘CROSSURRECTION’ EVENTS.  [7/29/09]

The expression “penal substitution” is an evasive euphemism for “penal satisfaction”; the hard core of this theory is the demand for punitive measures, however inflicted, as an absolute, non-relaxable requirement of justice.  Its deflection onto an innocent victim therefore only heightens the presumed “necessity” and stringency of its “rightful” exaltation EVEN THOUGH WE NEVER ACTUALLY, EMPIRICALLY BEHOLD THE CONSISTENT, REMORSELESS EXHIBITION OF SUCH “JUSTICE” (AT LEAST NOT BY GOD) IN OUR DAILY EXPERIENCE UNDER THE SUN!  No matter; it is “justifiable” for human civil, domestic, and ecclesiastical governments to employ it “whenever needful” on the imagined grounds that “this is what divine justice looks like” and even though it doesn’t really look like Jesus Christ suffered “quite that much” on the Cross, yet we are didactically informed that “those are the facts,” and after all Jesus was divine, so his sufferings were of infinite measure.  We may also suspect the veiled threat that if we don’t believe it, we ourselves may need to come in for a touch of that corrective discipline in order that we mend our way of thinking.

Hereby God’s PREMIAL JUSTICE throughout Scripture, BUT ESPECIALLY AT THE RESURRECTION AND ENTHRONEMENT is all but expunged from our consciousness and exchanged for a substitute “justicethat horrendously reinforces the very worst of fallen, sinful, “reprobate” impulses toward taking vengeance against our enemies rather than leaving it in God’s hands.

One of the most horrifying consequences of this penal undercurrent induced by Penal Satisfaction is its exaggeration (again, with thinly veiled threats to dissenters!) OF SIN ITSELF.  This exaggeration is not a side-effect that is comfortable to talk about.  It risks the reproach-by-reflex that the dissenter is “soft on sin,” which trait, naturally, might be taken as a sure sign that they might (oh dread!) be “SOFT ON PUNISHMENT”!  Next thing you know, they’ll be “SOFT ON WAR”!  They’d let our enemies walk all over us!  You can bet your shotgun they’re “SOFT ON CRIME,”  and will vote to take away our guns and empty our prisons!  Yeah!  It’s a slippery slope once you start letting up on good ol’ penal substitution!  If it was good enough for Luther and Zwingli and Calvin and Knox and Beza and Cromwell and Winthrop, and Paisley….  You get the point.  For on those grounds crusades and inquisitions and witch hunts and pogroms and blood feuds and “holy” wars and jihads shall never cease—bloodshed without end, amen.  “If God wills,” of course…which He most certainly does not!  God save us!  [8/01/09]

 

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God’s Gracious Redemption of US Is the Model for OUR Gracious Ethic toward Others

The ransoming procedure by which God saved a stricken and captive humanity is an absolute marvel to behold—a wonder of inter-divine troth and graciousness. Jesus, the Son of God, gave/paid himself in surrender to the ‘tender mercies’ of Satan, in obedience to the suicide mission in God’s redemptive strategy. Satan cheerfully obliged by paying his strangely compliant Victim with a diabolical range of unjust torments and finally, death itself. God, not to be outdone reciprocated by repaying his devout Son by means of His own ransoming payment that rescued His ransoming Son! YES! GOD RANSOMED THE SAVIOR OUT OF DEATH’S FATAL GRIP…AFTER THE FACT! And with what? BY GOD, WITH NOTHING OTHER THAN HOLY SPIRIT RAISING HIM TO FRESH, GREATLY ENLARGED LIFE!

Speak of “role switching”! Every member of Deity got in on the Act and functioned from the IDENTICAL MOTIVE AS REVEALED FORTHWITH BY PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION ON THE ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE STAGE OF HISTORY. Accordingly, a remarkable amplifying circuit of graciousness and troth was closed and a MAGNIFIED POWER WAS GENERATED AND TRANSMITTED FROM HEAVEN FOR THE UTTERLY FREE SALVATION OF ALL HUMANITY.

The sequence is elemental (and wouldn’t be difficult to diagram):

  1. The Son descends downward in weakness

  2. and rises upward in the justice of the Father

  3. in the power of the Holy Spirit that freely overflows downward to all the Son’s adopted siblings.

This revealed procedure of divine ransoming now is likewise our own model for imitating, in full assurance of God’s FULL BACKING! This is THE NEW “ETHIC” FOR THE NEW HUMANITY.

This means there is yet a further element to the sequence (diagram)—that’s where we come in:  to become the next wave redounding to the greater glory of God! A multitude of mature sons emulating Jesus—“a vast host that no one can number lift up praise and glory and blessing and honor and on and on and on…. [7/27/09]

I have learned over the past three years, sadly, that strict Calvinists won’t give my explanations the time of day. No matter, I know what time it is—it’s the ELEVENTH HOUR and repentance for propagating penal satisfaction is long overdue! I therefore exhort all who teach and proclaim that doctrine and all its subsidiary ramifications to please switch their attention to God’s AWARDING JUSTICE and experience the supposed “necessity” for God’s penal justice (as an element of the Atonement) melt away and evaporate in the sunshine of God’s “unseasonable” GRACIOUSNESS! [7/27/09]

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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 of 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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