Having admitted my early theological debt to Paul Peter Waldenström, this Easter week seems like an ideal time to introduce him to a wider readership. (Click the links under his name to snoop further.) This outstanding free church pastor, theologian, Bible translator, missions enthusiast, journalist, and political leader of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Sweden (virtually coterminous with Abraham Kuyper, free church leader in the Netherlands, with whom he is comparable in significant ways) was known especially for his theology of reconciliation or atonement (for which there is but a single Swedish term). Although he wholeheartedly affirmed that sinners must be reconciled to God and that the “Word of reconciliation” is exclusively suited to the purpose, he stoutly denied that God ever needed to be reconciled to mankind. The purpose of the cross of Christ was to reconcile persons individually to an always-loving Father in heaven. This teaching of an individual, one-by-one reconciliation, Waldenström only attained after being challenged to find where Scripture declared that all humanity was reconciled to God. He could find no such Scripture. On the contrary, God had conciliated Paul to Himself through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18), and had given him the service of reconciliation, as an ambassador beseeching or pleading with people, “For Christ’s sake be reconciled to God.” The ground for the expectation that such was even possible was simply the sacrifice of Christ. Nor was such a “one-time act of reconciliation on the day Christ died” ever again invoked by Waldenström. It is entirely unnecessary unless one holds the half of the traditional doctrine that he denied, i.e., that Christ’s sacrifice had reconciled God to mankind. For, clearly, if such a reality had ever transpired in history it would certainly have to be “on the day Christ died.” But it was not required, for God needed no reconciliation whatever. Thus, if the “reconciliation of the world to Himself” did not entail any once-and-for-all reconciliation of God to the world, much less did it imply a once-and-for-all reconciliation of the world to God at the cross, but only individual, discrete conciliation of persons to God as they trust the Word. Consequently, neither 2 Cor. 5:18-19 nor Col. 1:20 need be forced into the straitjacketing conundrums of universal reconciliation. [4/10/85]
In a nutshell, the dogmatic insistence on the part of many penal substitution theologians that “reconciliation happened ‘objectively’, ‘once and for all’ at the cross” is based on the erroneous supposition that “God needed to be reconciled to sinners.” Naturally, since God is a singular party, then if He actually did need to be reconciled, that change in Him would obviously seem to equate to a single historic moment. But this is a spurious need, hence the trend of apostolic language regarding conciliation as occurring in a multiplicity of discrete events, when sinners one by one believe the Explanation of conciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) and return to God through Christ. Paul Peter Waldenström secured this important advance in the history of this “doctrine” already in the early 1870’s.
Therefore, if actual reconciliation (but likewise pardon, salvation, etc.) did not occur objectively for us when Christ died, then what actually did happen on that central day of all human history? Very simply: the Lamb of God shed his valuable, innocent blood, thus surrendering his sinless, flawless, unblemished, just soul for our sakes and on our behalf so that we could have a share of his very own agelong life, with which God recompensed him. This we could never do for ourselves. This is the only proper sense of “vicarious” that Scripture warrants on the subject. In the “drinking” of his blood, the “sprinkling” of it on our hearts, we subjectively become conciliated to God, liberated, pardoned, cleansed, hallowed, saved, rescued, etc. New Testament Scripture always focuses on the blood of Christ as the effective agent, the active ingredient, the objective medium of all the above. Under the Old Covenant, safety was not in the mere slaughter of the sacrificial victim but in the application of the victim’s blood on the doorposts (in Egypt), or on the protective cover of the ark of the covenant, etc. Therefore, to include any of the above fruits of “applying” the invaluable blood of Christ within the objective work of Christ (his historic death and Resurrection), is to confuse them with their true root: the vital fluid of Christ’s very existence, forevermore alive from the dead. Our own subjective trust or acquiescence in God’s explanation of the events (i.e., in the Gospel) is the means for obtaining the Son. [10/28/85]
The whole body of Scripture throbs with the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. That which makes the explanation found in this corpus of documents a living explanation is this very vital fluid–the blood of Christ, depicting his own soul or earthly existence now magnified in resurrected glory with life-making power for all who get connected with him. It is his blood that courses through all the arterial categories of the Biblical explanation: salvation, rescue, victory, peace, conciliation, protective covering, forgiveness, justification, liberation, ransom, purchase, freedom, holiness, perfection, cleansing, taking away [sins], washing [“our garments”], nearness [to God], true drink (spiritual nourishment)–all are realized only via their vital link to the central reality of the New Covenant, i.e., the blood of Jesus Christ. This simple observation may prove more important than any other in throwing light on the true meaning or glory of the Lord’s Supper; it is a communion, i.e., participation in the blood of Christ, his life-from-the-dead. [1/25/86]