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 substitution” is 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, this “RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD” THE 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.
GOD DUMPS GRACIOUSNESS ONTO OUR FAITH, IN HAPPY ANALOGY WITH THE “CROSSURRECTION” OF JESUS WHERE HE OVERMATCHED THE SON’S VIGOROUSLY, ERNESTLY, PERFECTLY HUMAN SHOW OF GRACIOUSNESS—put forth as an example of what would eminently please God to see showing up in us—WITH A PROPERLY DIVINE GRACIOUSNESS OF REWARD.
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]