Monthly Archives: April 2013


The novel theory of atonement articulated by Anselm via synthesis with medieval notions of justice has little resemblance to the view represented in all Scripture. Yet it s understandable that long familiarity with his much inferior and unsatisfactory theory may yet seem superior to the virtually non-legal view of Abelard or the seemingly non-legal view often called “Christus Victor.” But we must at least consider whether with regards to this latter view, perhaps only partially rediscovered by Gustaf Aulén. A native legal basis may need to be more fully restored so as to, once and for all, thoroughly cast off Anselm’s late historical innovations, now far beyond obsolescence.

The Old Testament represents Jehovah as manifesting judgments from heaven in a marvelous historic succession of variety, both positive and negative, both vindicating and condemning. But uniformly, Jehovah’s judgments on behalf of His prophesied Messiah are all positive. Even in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 where we see unveiled in the longest, most sustained treatment in Hebrew Scripture Messiah’s (God’s Servant’s) sufferings of abuse from his own people, yet Jehovah’s own mind is revealed uniformly in his favor.

But more. Because His Servant was faithful and submissive to Jehovah and bore all the assigned evils without calling for avenging, he was justly awarded: Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death and was numbered with the transgressors” (53:12).

However, I must confess, I too was carried away with the vicarious caricature of this profoundly entrancing scenario myself. Who in the evangelical tradition has not? For both our ignorance of the real truth and our conceit in a virtual substitute have held us fast lest the glory/proof/authenticity of this secret of the Proclamation hidden since the disruption of the world by sin, should dawn upon us and so transfix our gaze and inner attentiveness that we become forever bondslaves in love with this Son and this Father who in magnificent and munificent collusion became our joint-Savior.

Yet to better grasp the superior satisfaction of the authentic apostolic Explanation of the Cross (including, by powerful metonymy, the Resurrection), we must dwell on the “portion” or “spoils” of Jesus’ triumph on the cross, that is, we must come to better appreciate at full value the rightful award that his triumphant crucifixion won for the human race—all offspring of Adam the sinner—if they will but freely take from his now more centrally and publicly transplanted Tree of Life.

This rightful award of his abuse-taking (Paul uses the term , dikaioma for it) embraces his resurrection back from death, his newly immortalized body, his ascension, his enthronement, his coronation, his inheritance of the created universe—let’s see, have I forgotten anything…—oh, and a vast multitude of brothers/sisters whom no one can calculate to join with him as adopted sons/daughters of God in ruling over this vast glorified estate along with him.

Penal substitutionis utterly eclipsed, incomparably upstaged, by SPOILS PARTICIPATION.” THIS IS GOD’S MOST SOLID AND SUBSTANTIVE EXHIBITION OF DEEPLY, RICHLY AND TRULY SATISFYING JUSTICE that history knows. Our imagination boggles just to take it in! This, at last, is what puts our restless, desperately mortal hearts at perfect repose. No vision can match it, no horizon exhaust it.

It is precisely this justice, thisRIGHTEOUSNESS OF GODTHE FATHER THAT IS PUT TO THE ACCOUNT OF MERE, INSIGNIFICANT-IN-ITSELF HUMAN FAITH. For when the Father sees this voluntary human emulation, weak and faulty though it always is, of the seamless, flawless faithfulness of His only-born Son Jesus, He “instinctively,” “reflexively” DIVIDES A PORTION OF MESSIAH’S SPOILS UPON THAT LOWLY FAITH.

For God chooses the ‘stupidity’ of heralding this Message about the Cross, along with the weakness of human faith that alone can properly answer to it, in order to save us from our sins.


In this apostolic version of the “Crossurrection” God publicly displays His full capacity for teamwork quite beyond the ken of the usual Trinitarian shell games. Here is a unity of conception and execution that puts to everlasting shame the fixation with penal brutality that commits perpetual mayhem with the divine character, leaving only dry sherds of broken, brittle “attributes” to show for all their bludgeoning spadework. Let “ichabod” (Hebrew for “the glory has departed”) be inscribed on that virtual “cross,” and let us visualize anew the veritable Cross of the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles—a gibbet with infinite drawing power, BOTH TO DRAW DOWN GOD’S SUPERABUNDANT VINDICATION of this unjustly victimized Holy One, even against the ravages of the ultimate weapon: Death-and-the-Unseen, BUT ALSO TO DRAW UP THE DOWNCAST GAZE OF MORTALLY OPPRESSED SOULS and induce within their breasts fresh expectation and a quickening of heart by the galvanizing touch of the Wholesome Spirit of regenerating life itself. [5/29/06]


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The “Penal Substitution” theory of the Atonement is a prominent symptom of a theological malady that includes several other symptoms to make up a single syndrome in which all are mutually compatible and reinforcing. The symptoms include:

  1. original sin
  2. vicarious satisfaction
  3. penal substitution
  4. double imputation
  5. TULIP”
    1. total depravity
    2. unconditional election
    3. limited atonement
    4. irresistible (invincible, sovereign) grace
    5. perseverance of the saints

The first symptom, “original sin,” is actually a kind of “imputation” of Adam’s own sin to the whole human race, and it prepared the way for the other two errors of imputation—of Christ’s own righteousness to believers and of their sins to him. It was developed by Augustine. All are without proper Scriptural support. The second symptom was Anselm’s position. Symptom three represents that of the Protestant Reformation, especially as articulated by Calvin. Symptom four was championed by both Luther and Calvin. The composite symptom, number five—a syndrome in itself—represented Calvinism a generation after Calvin himself, in response to the astute criticisms of Jacob Arminius. These in particular flow quite naturally, if not quite necessarily, out of the theory of penal satisfaction, being rigidly wedded to penal payment logic and metaphors. [5/29/06; 4/22/13]

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A “substituteatonement gets us off the hook of earnest discipleship, for it passes off much of our own necessary suffering of abuse onto Him who ostensibly “substituted” for us.  This, formally speaking, should not be a consequence of Someone else suffering abuse vicariously for us when that abuse derives “from the wrath of God.  But this nevertheless seems to be an effect all the same.  And the explanation is close at hand.

Since Messiah certainly did not suffer abuse by God’s wrath in even the least respect, then all those passages of Scripture referring to his “suffering abusefor us are taken to entail that element in the face of evidence to the contrary!  This interpretive habit then distances the abuses Jesus suffered from the ones I suffer!  For his are alleged to be from the angry hand of God while ours are not.  Ponder that for a good long moment.

The perversion is manifold.  For one thing, Jesus is construed as SAVING US FROM GOD!  Can a figment  more defaming be imagined?  To be sure, this is dressed up in knee-length qualifiers and skimpy “clarifications” and “don’t-get-me-wrongs” such as “I mean salvation from God[‘s wrath].”  BUT ON THE CROSS JESUS DID NOT PRESUME TO SAVE ANYBODY FROM GOD’S WRATH, AND MOST ASSUREDLY NOT BY SUFFERING IT IS HIS OWN BODY AS IF TO EXHAUST OR STANCH IT.  Such pacification is but a pagan superstition.

On another level, the notion of “substitutionary suffering of God’s wrath as the just, legal penalty for our sins, demanded by God’s holy law and required by his honor,” boasting a merely medieval patina going back only halfway to the origin of our Faith, is ethically subversive of authentic discipleship and thus of human maturation.


Therefore, the mutuality of our reciprocal participation as Messiah-and-his-people is compromised and sabotaged by the VSPS theory.  Yet the confidence that God’s Spirit, graciousness, and sympathy abide with us throughout our individual ordeals to stand up, stand up for Jesus against the daunting pressure to relinquish here a scruple and there a millimeter of his directives, is the very inner pressure we need to help us bounce back from the hits we take in our predictable skirmishes.

Therefore it is urgent that we both restore and ever hereafter retain the full New Covenant teaching that Jesus, the Savior, suffered abuse not at all from the wrath of God, the Savior (God forbid!) but exclusively from the fury of Satan, the Adversary, inciting the nation of Israel and the authorities of Rome to sin against and criminally abuse him without the least just cause whatever.  In submitting to this gross indignity, Jesus was faithfully following orders from on high, obedient to the letter, never once using his Messianic powers to destroy any of his enemies, but only to heal (think of Malchus’ ear), thus rounding off his earthly sojourn of humiliation, from start to finish, with a flourish!

This means, if it’s not already clear, that our getting abused while we do the truth as it is in Jesus stems from the IDENTICAL SOURCE THAT HIS DID!  SO HE CAN TRULY SYMPATHIZE WITH OUR SORROWS AND ABUSE-TAKING!  And we can rightly expect him to help us with his mercy and graciousness.

The weight of devious traditional exegesis has short-circuited and Cross-wired the Gospel so that the proper comfort of God’s overwhelming graciousness that responds to our unjust abuse-taking on behalf of his reputation and his directions, seems in short supply.  For unless we see God’s Proclamation in its true, glorious colors, HIS STUPENDOUS GRACIOUSNESS NEVER SEEMS AS RIGHT AS IT OUGHT TO BE.  That seems to me why some sort of SUBSTITUTE LEGALITY is so often craved.  Anselm, with the help of earlier Catholics, and cheered on by the later Protestants, concocted a SUBSTITUTE LEGALITY THAT REPLACED THE OLD TESTAMENT LEGALITY.  His new system altered basic definitions of righteousness, justice, etc., to the enormous loss of our whole sense of justice.  The very logic of the Cross became twisted and cast to the earth!  God’s reputation became tarnished, His attributes butchered and scholastically dissected almost beyond recognition.  Christ’s Resurrection became a virtual theological nullity, a dangling afterthought.

Repentance from giving too much credence to Anselm’s words must be a high priority in clearing away the rubble that has collected and attached itself to his tradition.  All such accumulations are too “original” to be of lasting worth; we must return to Scripture alone.  To be truly Protestant is to KEEP PROTESTING Protestant novelties and corruptions no less than others.  To be worthy of the Reformation demands that we do not rest until the decadent vestiges of the Reformation be cast aside equally and heartily renounced.  Or are we just kidding ourselves?  [5/29/06]

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John Calvin built his theological systematics–summarized by the next generation in “TULIP,” an acronym for its five main points, with subcontracting and materials from Augustine of Hippo–but on shifting sand…the sands of Anselm of Canterbury.  If one penuriously economizes the victory of Messiah Jesus in such a feudal fashion, ignoring the stunning impact that the original, apostolic Proclamation had on the ancient world to explode such a poverty mentality, then almost every other vital element of the authentic Proclamation becomes distorted, twisted, contorted, perverted.  We can almost hear the apostle Paul’s indignant anathematizing such a parody as a mockery of the joyous announcement of graciousness galore, beyond all expectations, surpassing all rights, passing all bounds!

We should long since have traded Calvin in for further truth, but the defenders of tradition have managed again and again to hire only those who, for all show of “originality,” are after all only pliable catechumens parroting non-negotiable shibboleths of Augustine.

Calvin’s TULIP must topple, we can be assured, but not before it is plenteously employed to flog the true fear of God out of a few more generations of catechumens and perpetuate servile exegesis enslaved to “approved” mentoral prejudices rather than wing freely throughout inspired Scripture under buoyant waves of the Wholesome Spirit–a precedent nobly set by Jacob Arminius, it so happens.

This TULIP, long on such artificial life support and short on roots that reach as far as the candid soil of Scripture (prooftexts to the contrary notwithstanding) is ultimately doomed.  [5/28/06; 5/26/08; 8/13/09; 8/18/09]


The public powerplant of God’s Kingdom is the Explanation of the Cross.  If we get this wrong, the entire dynamics of Christianity is altered…for the worse.  The dominant and domineering theory of the self-proclaimed “orthodox,” namely, the “Vicarious Satisfaction/Penal Substitution” (VSPS) view of the Atonement has indeed long muffled the fully apostolic Explanation, with deleterious effects far beyond the academic.

The fundamental design of God’s dynamo situated at the core of the created universe entails drawing down uncreated energy from the heavens by leveraging against the divine principle of “graciousness instead of graciousness” (χαριν αντι χαριτος–John 1:16) that was uniquely revealed in the “crossurrection” sequence at the Messianic transition.  This public, historic event unveiled in starkest contours the universal and strict law of divine justice whereby OVERCOMPENSATION by heaven is activated on earth in reaction to successful, voluntary subjection to destructive tests by adverse forces in the line of duty and obedience to divine orders and directions.  [5/28/06]

Messiah was victorious precisely in his suffering abuse to the very end, bitter though it was, in faithfulness to his covenantal agreement with the Father.  By this strenuous endurance of his ordeal, without wavering, in love for those sinning against him with such untempered viciousness, he WON GOD’S UNQUALIFIED APPROVAL AND A MATCHING AWARD SUFFICIENT TO SAVE THE WHOLE WORLD! THEREBY HE CONQUERED THIS WORLD IN THE BARGAIN.  [5/28/06]

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The surrogate gospel being forced down the throats of God’s puzzled people is a disgrace of both content and communicative method. Scripture twisting is nothing new, but imagine finding it in the holy of holies of “orthodox” non-negotiables! This is a scandal of no small magnitude, which may go far to explain why it cannot be faced honestly and squarely by VSPS theologians. There is more than theological resistance to contend with (I had almost written “exegetical resistance,” but that is ephemeral at best); there is psychical resistance and emotional comfort in the only “atoning truth” one has ever known. Quite understandable. This is why the best defense against “penal substitutes” is the offence of the Cross, apostolically proclaimed. Proof and argument are easily enough had from Scripture (VSPS rationalizations notwithstanding). But forceful conviction of proclamation is in very short supply. Yet this is the only proper and adequate place to start in winning back the snookered hosts of God’s lambs. Once the narrative integrity of the Explanation of the Cross is restored, the storied truth can overwhelm and start to short-circuit the VSPS cross-wiring. The native power of the real truth unfolded (“exegeted”!) in proper sequence and original vocabulary should overcome most honest resistance by blowing the cover of VSPS rationalizing. Even so, come Lord Jesus! [5/27/06]


I strongly suspect that a large part of the appeal of the “substitutionary atonement,” along with its corollary doctrine of “imputation” (falsely so called) is an ethical denaturing that relieves its adherents of earnest, disciplined striving to obey Messiah’s directives. A “vicarious” view of his suffering of abuse can also devalue our own sufferings of abuse rather than strengthen us to endure them as our own part in “bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13:13).

The appeal of such a “substitutionary” Christianity is to the creature comforts of our mortal flesh rather than to the Creator’s aspirations for our renewed spirits. True discipleship must therefore itself suffer where this doctrine prevails (whether in Roman Catholic or evangelical Protestant circles).

Authentic Christianity will have none of this convenient shifting of responsibility and avoidance of wholesome duty. So it is not surprising that “Substitutionary Christianity,” in its taking offense to the stiff disciplehood requirements of Real Christianity, has invented the label “legalism” to reproach it with. But in thus ostensibly “liberating” their followers from having to bear the reproach of submitting to lifestyle standards higher than the surrounding world, they are by the same token freeing them from the very adverse circumstances that normally evoke the graciousness of God in order to endure! The result is a cheap grace that can’t pay off in wholesome behavioral results. Gutless “Christianity” then predominates.

However, when Messiah’s self-sacrifice is seen as our example to emulate—NOW GLORIFIED BY THE FATHER’S OVERWHELMING COMPENSATION TO THE SON IN HEAVENLY RESPONSE TO THE CROSS—then bearing our own cross daily seems but a light burden. For since we are then following in his footprints (1 Pet. 2:21), we too can expect the very same response from Heaven for our faithful endurance and voluntary humiliation: EXLTATION IN DUE TIME, IF WE DON’T FAINT OR GROW WEARY IN WELL DOING (Gal. 6:9, 2 Thess. 3:13, Heb. 12:3). [5/28/06]

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The Resources to Overcompensate

God is well able to overcompensate us for our losses by our enemies from His own creative treasuries, without having to resort to penal measures to take it out of their hide. JUSTICE IS NOT A ZERO-SUM PROPOSITION WITH GOD. [5/27/06]

Before a person can fully see and wholeheartedly embrace the “righteousness of Godas authentically proclaimed in the whole New Testament, they must come to a point of TOTALLY RENOUNCING THE “SUBSTITUTE” DOCTRINE THAT, IRONICALLY, HAS DISPLACED IT.

This was true for me and, from what I have quite uniformly noticed thus far, seems equally true for others. The old entanglements are tenaciously seductive and provide a false theoretical security. A change-of-mind (μετανοια, metanoia) is called for before a recognition of the Truth can dawn with full power and conviction. Halfway measures and half-hearted gestures are no better than half a bridge. [5/27/06]

Just as the resistance became even more fierce and bloody after D-Day against the Allied troops, so pockets of resistance among all “orthodox” parties can be expected to continue and become the more furious especially as they start to suffer significant losses from their ranks by defection to the Truth. Battles will become bitter and dirty.  May we behave ourselves as Jesus did for us! Let us follow in his footprints, bearing his reproach. [5/27/06]


Anselm’s vicarious satisfaction and John Calvin’s penal substitution theories of the Atonement are not out-and-out frauds, since their originators certainly nurtured no intent to deceive. However, having said that, I would hasten to point out that the subsequent course of performance of these errant theories takes on a markedly different cast. A considerable host of opponents have exposed their unbiblical language as well as their logical, economic, legal, and ethical fallacies. In light of this further information, are the champions of these doctrines no less guilty than their creators? Even so, it is quite understandable that in the absence of the resurrectionary solution to the Atonement, the numerous alternative solutions, one and all, proved successively unworthy of replacing these domineering contenders. However, the battle lines have now changed, and how will they fare? Entrenched as they are, we will need to expose and refute them vociferously and occasionally severely, snatching out everyone who has become prey to them, with fear and trembling, lest, once entering the fray, we retreat and give up the battle before tasting the inevitable victory. [5/27/06; 4/18-20/13]


The warping of Biblical vocabulary by the tendentious ploys of the Vicarious Satisfaction/Penal Substitution (VSPS) theorists is extensive and deep and persistent. The major terms that now appear to carry the heaviest weight of traditional conceptual error are:

sovereignty,” “faith,” “works,” “love,” “grace,” “wrath,” “holiness,” “sin,” “righteousness,” “imputation,” “election,” “predestination,” “atonement,” “propitiation,” “reconciliation,” “death,” “cross,” “resurrection [5/27/06]

The much vaunted “balanced” view of God’s “attributes” bandied by the VSPS theory of atonement looks more like the pre-Copernican universe, replete with “epicycles” and “wheels within wheels” that defy unified analysis. Their definitions, not derived from painstaking concordant examination of all Scripture contexts (especially in Hebrew and Greek, including the Septuagint), but more readily from lexicons, dictionaries, and popular sayings and songs among Christians, have little persuasive force or arguable consistency from passage to passage, have little but tradition to recommend them.

One of the most popular and disturbing defenses of “balanced attributes” is the “Trinitarian” one, behind which they can shove cartloads of implausible inconsistencies. Here is a “dynamic” view, quite demanding of juggling skills and cleverly indemnified by a fearsome shibboleth that covers their lapses of logic quite handily.

A classic example is that of “God’s love.” Having passed over, ignored, neglected, suppressed, or outright denied that God supremely displayed His love by both righteously rescuing Jesus from the shadow of death and overcompensating him transcendently with exaltation, enthronement, and an incalculable inheritance of a whole new creation for his very own, VSPS advocates will “counter” (oh how tragically and pathetically pale by comparison!) that the Father’s “[always and virtually exclusivelypenal”] justice” was displayed at the Cross so that he could forgive our sins ‘justly’ and thereby display his love. Always they pose this “necessary balance of opposites” in typical Puritan fashion, based not on Scripture exclusively, but on the medieval logic of Peter Ramus, William Ames, et al. The net effect is…bathos.

The native exuberance inherent in the apostolic view of what God did for Messiah that amounted to nothing less than a fireworks display of divine “attributes” in full regalia, is shrunk to the dimensions of unenthusiastic “necessity” and impersonal “balance.” This is scarcely superior to Deism. Its inspiration, far from the white heat of Scripture, falls to the level of a rote catechism, defensible only by the puerile “rod.”

After hearing the gripping Story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in authentic flow and inner connection, the VSPS “story” seems insipid. And if it were not for all the official and theological hootin’ ‘n hollerin’ that goes into “glorifying” and “proving” this effete substitute for REAL ATONEMENT, no one would believe it! So let’s get the word out that there’s an AUTHENTIC ATONEMENT out there (“objectively”!) that puts to shame all the “substitutionary” surrogates and changelings—counterfeits all! Let us boldly (and bravely) jettison the PROXY OF ORTHODOXY once we are adequately convinced of the voice of the True Shepherd, and his apostles’ testimonies about his heroic atoning feat, including God’s mighty response from heaven! [5/17/06]

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When Jesus’ trial, verdict, sentencing, abuse, and crucifixion were all said and done, then followed a “little” episode called the “resurrection.” How we understand this scenario in relation to all that preceded will make a colossal impact on our concept of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, of the “intermediate state,” of eschatology, of the “final estate,” of simply everything!

Was the Resurrection a rubber stamp that officially came down from on high to approve all the “good stuff” that allegedly happened “at the Cross” on “Good” Friday? Did it constitute the Father’s golden seal of approval on His Son’s brave exertions to play the nuclear moderator, absorbing, like a lead shield or heavy water, the toxic emissions of divine wrath that would otherwise sizzle us? Was he like some Golgothic lightning rod, drawing fire from the celestial spheres so as to discharge—“once and for all”—Heaven’s capacitors, thereby neutralizing the “penal charge” against mankind for their sins and sparing us a withering electrocution?

Or was the Resurrection more like a rubber ball, compressed to a shriveled caricature of its official regulation size and world-class competitive capacity by the adverse pressure of a hundred atmospheres, suddenly getting released from willingly unnatural confinement and presumed retirement from service and BOUNCING BACK WITH EVEN GREATER QUALITY, DURABILITY AND CHAMPIONSHIP SERVICEABILITY—BACK IN THE GAME WITH A VENGEANCE?!

Was Messiah’s resurrection a rubber stamp of celestial bookkeeping, applied with dutifully actuarial precision and clinical distance from the battle front, or was it a rubber ball of Olympic caliber, making a serendipitous comeback from desuetude? [5/26/06]

The attempt to “blend” the diverse atonement theories into a composite “balance”—generous-hearted as it may seem—is badly misconceived and way off the mark. It spells spiritual confusion as well as intellectual complication. We need, rather, to snap onto the central meaning of this decisive sequence of core events in the history of redemption. “Seeingthis pattern or gestalt for exactly what it is, and in terms exclusively of the Biblical vocabulary provided and forged and molded by God’s Spirit is the shortest and surest path to progress amid all the patchwork.

The attempt to salvage the “vicarious, penal substitutionary satisfaction” theory in any “essential” respect is to thwart the clear and crisp and perspectivally deep and truly satisfying realization of the truth about the Proclamation of God’s Kingdom and graciousness. This persistent travesty must bow the knee and surrender absolutely and unconditionally or the body of “atonement” doctrine will continue its feverish infirmity for yet more tedious, disabling years. We are all hobbled by the delays. [5/26/06]

I sincerely urge and admonish all faithful devotees of the “vicarious satisfaction/penal substitution” (“VS/PS”) family of theories to lay down your arms and lift up your eyes to behold God’s veritable righteousness manifested uniformly in the whole New Testament without diminution in any part whenever the Proclamation of God is in focus; as GOD’S RESCUING AND REWARDING AND GRACIOUSLY OVERCOMPENSATING JUSTICE IN TANGIBLE, EMPIRICAL RESPONSE TO THE UNJUST ATTACKS OF ENEMIES.

Get this straight, and “penal satisfaction,” by stark contrast, will look like the cheap substitute it actually is. “ACCEPT NO PENAL SUBSTITUTES!” [5/26/06]

If we are ever to get back to a complete and life-centered understanding of the “Atonement,” we will have to thoroughly dismantle and largely discard the scaffolding of the “orthodox” (penal payment) settlement—gallows, noose, trap door, and all. [5/26/06]

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