Monthly Archives: October 2014

An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 6

Now I have a few observations concerning the notion of “government” itself, because Grotius places so much stress on the concept within his theory.

God’s “government” over mankind was not altered in its sanctions by the atoning or justifying work of Jesus Christ. Paul sketches that “government” in the epistle to the Romans from mid-chapter one through mid-chapter three, in its bearing both on Israel and on the other nations, then later recurs to it in chapters twelve and thirteen. And, note well, this “government” bears little resemblance to that which Hugo Grotius, for all his brilliance as the inaugurator of the “law of nations” (now called international law), elaborated in his novel governmental theory of the Atonement. He might have gone back to Old Testament Scripture for an accounting of how God ruled the nations. He could have taken stock of the key defining differences between the Old Testament (Covenant) and the New Testament (Covenant), and most particularly the radically altered status of the Law of Moses. Instead he spun out a natural-law-dependent theory of “moral law” that steamrollers the whole Bible flat, without nuancing or even passing notice of the vast gulf fixed between these covenant administrations (as far as I have yet encountered). Had he paid attention to these defining traits, he might have observed that the power unleashed by the New Covenant in Christ’s blood was derived exclusively from the premial necessity of God’s justice and not in the least from its penal function. This means that Paul’s treatment of God’s revelation of His wrath against unrighteousness, whether of Gentiles or Jews, does not even figure into the internal mechanics of the Atonement, justification, conciliation, etc. Instead, starting in mid-chapter three of his epistle to the Roman Christians, Paul delineates the amazingly “other” way God devised for dealing with the actual target of His wrath: hardened, callused sinners.

The premial solution to the threat of recurrent wrath, due to buildup and hardening up of sinfulness, is such a radical departure from the old penal measures of Moses, even superior as those were to the often shockingly brutal and perverse ways of the other nations, that we must prepare ourselves to do “violence” to our inherited traditional assumptions (and whatever criminal, legal, or juridical experience we may have culled till now via our cultural conditioning) in order to come to grips with an angle on justice that rattles our penal cages and disarms our self-protective armor and weaponry.

By taking recourse to permitting the aggravated victimization of His own “flesh and blood”—His only-born Son, ever obedient and well pleasing—God set the stage to make His very own historical appearance as definitively as imaginable for One Who is, in principle, invisible: He brought back to corporeal life that Loved One who, although divinely begotten before the ages of time began to roll, descended himself in time by taking on our mortal nature, now banned from the Tree of Life due to Adam’s sin, in the usual way of conception (although by an invisible Father), birth from a descendant of Israel’s King David, child rearing, maturation to adulthood, and then, for the ultimate benefit of us doomed mortals (thus, now symptomatically, sinners by reflex), acted out visibly the character of his invisible Father in Heaven, to perfection, and thereby provoked the predictable backlash of the petty sovereigns under the control of the kingdom of darkness then pervading the whole world. Accordingly, by their stripping him of his corporal existence—his rightful property, long hallowed for this rescuing purpose—God could now strategically play His rightful hand at the propitious moment of the cosmic war games and thus rout the diabolical advances of evil wherever and whenever this proclamation gains a believing hold in human hearts.

By submitting to the wrongful depriving of his exemplary life, allowing sinners to shed his faithful, innocent blood, Jesus of Nazareth could resolutely and justifiably expect justice from on high as “immediately” as commensurate with a credible certification of death, i.e., a tactical delay until the third day after his demise by execution (untimely by human reckoning of what an heir apparent to David’s “eternal” throne should be able to expect “from life”). For that justice entailed a premially magnifying factor to him—virtual spoils of his triumph over Satan’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction, totalitarian human mortality.

Those “damages” came in the form of a resurgence of God’s own life-making Spirit of wholesomeness that embraced the mortal remains of His cruelly abused offspring with an explosive compassion that radiated with a seismic shudder across our darkened planet after Pentecost in 30 A.D. The carefully trained disciples of Jesus, now the risen Lord of all nations, without fleshly inhibitions, received the overflow of that Spirit of graciousness to expel demons, heal the sick, cure lepers, and raise the dead, at their discretion, as signs of this freshly inaugurated Kingdom, in order to vindicate all the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel and now also Lord of all other nations as well, and to accredit his Proclamation of rescue to every descendant of Adam who believes and stays faithful.

The “Governmental” theory of Atonement unravels at the point of retribution. It vastly overemphasizes penal justice while it neglectfully overlooks premial justice. The seriousness of this quirk can itself hardly be overemphasized. This is because penal justice (…at least God’s) plays no role whatsoever in the Atonement. Only and exclusively this high and holy cosmic event unreels the staggering nuclear forces of God’s premial justice in full swing. This is the “either/or” alternative par excellence. Here there can be no compromise, no blending, no segueing, no scrambling and mushing. This is the “black-and-white” issue without equal.

The whole Governmental Theory shatters upon this Rock of premial necessity and exclusivity in relation to the ATONEMENT. That theory’s proportionality is all wrong, reversed, in fact antithetical to God’s revealed emphasis at the “Crossurrection” events. In those unparalleled episodes God was unveiling “THE GOODS”—THAT PART OF “DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE” THAT ONLY MEAGERLY GOT DISTRIBUTED HISTORICALLY THERETOFORE. Governmental theory virtually IGNORES “HALF” OF THE LAW—THE BETTER HALF! It weighs in very heavily on punitive sanctions, but manages to shuffle and slide right past God’s restorative sanctions. Even merely in relation to human governmental institutions of justice (including the ancient Mosaic/Levitical) this is grossly, grotesquely ONE-SIDED. But relative to the divine method of Atonement this BLIND-SIDING must be ruled “FOUL!” and not merely offside. It is nothing less than a hideous distortion of Scripture, and must therefore issue in a fundamental distortion of created reality. The behavioral effects of such disproportionate doctrine must follow as day follows night, for both of these sequences are covenantal realities sustained by divine bonds of troth. We cannot simply skirt over half the truth without giving a false coloring to the half we think we can see “perfectly.”

Turning now to some of your own pieces, Jesse. You build up such a head of steam for punishment in “The Purpose of Punishment” and “What the Purpose of Punishment is Not,” that your momentum appears to bulldoze reward into oblivion. You don’t appear to write a single word about restitution or reward or recompense or compensation, i.e. PREMIAL RETRIBUTION, in those two pivotal sections of your online version of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ, pp. 10-13. This oversight (actually, a systematic suppression by the Governmental Theory tradition…we might even somewhat whimsically dub this Governmental suppression of premial dissent!) is fatal to the ultimate success of this theological theory of the Atonement. The sooner we acknowledge this repentantly and wholeheartedly, the more effectively we can evangelize those people groups that are justifiably offended by any penal theory of Atonement.

Within theology, a little repentance goes a long way. Fundamental changes of conception are so difficult to forge that when a solid footpath is finally beaten through the jungle of entrenched neologisms, a rush of fresh traffic can serve to preserve the new thoroughfare back to apostolic simplicity expeditiously. The Bible, after all, is such a surprising book: it stands everything (especially a carnal theory) on its head!

From observing your behavior with people in crowds, you are not one to flinch at attacks. How much less should you flinch at well-meant (if not always well-directed, I suppose) attempts at correction that you may be yet more fruitful! You don’t strike me as one who would settle for running stuck half way between John Calvin and the full glory of the Truth.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 5

The so-called “Governmental” theory of the Atonement, in my estimation, appears to be a lengthy and tedious detour around the authentic premial nature of the Atonement. Its diversions into the fragility of human government and its dilations on the “necessities” of exemplary, public, punitive justice and penal exactions, although evidently well-meant attempts to outflank full-bore penal, economically-qualified, satisfaction theories, are in the end, themselves unsatisfactory. It is a wobbly careening away from the positive face of God’s exclusively atoning (“protectively sheltering”) premial justice awarded directly to Christ Jesus.

Because the “Governmental” theory of atonement does not start at the center of the Gospel—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—it lingers endlessly over matters of mere forgiveness of sins (important as that is for our present well-being and peace of mind), including its conditions and grounds, the punishments otherwise suffered, how God can be just and still merciful, and so forth. But from all this dilatory elaboration, one is left with feelings of ennui, exhaustion. Such defenses of so-called “Moral Law” systems somehow lack the virtues of conclusiveness, exuberance, simplicity, and emotional appeal. They seem, in short, sterile, inert, overwrought, and non-intuitive. In effect, they lack moral influence (ironically). Despite these fatal drawbacks, they may still cover much valuable ground, but it simply is not atoning ground. For to attain atoning virtue, we must explain, indeed proclaim, the justice that overcame death, and hence overcame sin and all lesser enemies. Governmental theories start at the wrong end of evil. Christ’s resurrection is only conspicuous by its absence from their treatises as any vital, indispensable, pivotal, activating factor.

That said, the Governmental view still stands heads (if not quite shoulders) above the Penal Satisfaction view of Calvinism. Yet it is similarly saddled with an exclusively penal conception of justice (but more exemplarist than economic), so the poor beast hobbles and lists always to one side. And because it is penal it must logically employ substitution in its soteriology. It is unable to break away from the disturbing conundrums that have ever afflicted Calvinism in all its broad variations, writhing to escape unsavory implications, painful accusations. Accordingly, far from being the best theory of the Atonement, it comes off second worst.

The Governmental theory of the Atonement fails resoundingly in its “allowance” hypothesis concerning why God can forgive sins. Although denouncing the out-and-out Penal Satisfaction assertion that God needs to satisfy His “personal” wrath against sin in favor of “governmental” wrath (and, by the by, relieving God of “personal vindictiveness” only at the cost of rendering their scheme calculating and impersonal), yet God’s freedom gets corseted by denying Him the authority, right, and power to exert graciousness until He has executed enough governmentally expedient wrath. This is yet another wretched result of totally ignoring premial justice and limiting the entire discussion to penal concerns alone, whether economic or rectoral. God is not permitted even to merely remit sins, much less bestow everlasting life, unless He first shores up His otherwise sagging justice (penal only, of course) lest His kingdom crumble.

However, what about God’s sagging (in fact virtually nonexistent) restorative justice? Shouldn’t He feel obliged to give some concern to rewarding the upright, especially when they have been viciously attacked and left for dead? Will God’s Kingdom (founded on justice!) collapse only if the murderers “are not punished,” but yet somehow inexplicably, miraculously, not suffer demise if the righteous himself is left dead? How is this imbalance justified? Isn’t such merely penal justice—whether “personal” or “governmental”—ultimately worthless unless the righteous get rewarded, raised to agelong life? Doesn’t God’s entire Kingdom hang, finally, on whether He can perform the ultimate justice of super-compensating every injustice, as supremely demonstrated by raising Jesus from the grave? Isn’t He publicly represented as disgracefully inept if He devotes all His divine energies to assure penally “retributive” justice gets thoroughly executed against…someone, lest He look like a celestial wimp, and His Kingdom turn to dust, and yet “leaves undone” the greater “retributive” justice of giving the upright their just due? Do I hear an “Amen!” for heaven’s sake?

Why would the Lord Jesus have cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” if that same God were all along inflicting wrath until that moment? This scenario does not quite compute. Alternatively, had God been comforting His beloved Son in his mortal distress until that plea, but thereupon began pouring out His wrath on the pathetic sufferer to intensify his wretched agonies? If so, then had Jesus been experiencing his Father’s favor and graciousness only up to that “turning point”? This, too, strains sound judgment and lacks the backing of explicit Scriptures. Furthermore, it contravenes even penal substitution theories, which insist that the entire previous proceedings were evidence of God’s wrath against him “in our place,” “as our substitute,” none of which dare be mitigated, at the cost of compromising the “vicarious payment of sufferings to God’s penal justice” whose very magnitude constituted the measure of salvation that we need (whether for the whole world, or for all who believe, or even just for “the elect” who are “pre”-destined alone to believe).

Without belaboring that holy scene of a tortured Savior with the added indignity of a tortured logic, let us direct our minds to another (dare I say “satisfying”?) scenario: God’s graciousness never for so much as a nanosecond departed from the Son of His love throughout his life and career on earth, much less the ordeals of his final hours. No wrath from God could possibly have defiled that scene with His shedding of innocent, faithful blood. This was an Enemy’s doing! Satan’s leash was cut by God so he could culminate his criminal career with a crowning achievement of wickedness that would (happily) make necessary divine intervention of a true justice that surprised the whole universe by avenging that extreme vivisection with a rightful super-compensation of extreme vivification, a diametrically opposite crowning achievement of goodness that alone could launch a new creation!

The drawing power of the Story about Jesus’ crucifixion (and, indeed, its “moral influence”) belongs not to a bare recounting of his terrible suffering there but to the “rest of the Story” about Who he actually was, what he had been teaching, the wonders of healing he had been doing for everyone, and the bitter envy, jealousy, and hatred of his nation’s leaders toward him. But “the rest of the Story” whose “moral influence” must be taken into account supremely concerns his resurrection from the dead! For only that event revealed unequivocally, unambiguously, and conclusively that, all along, he had been the Messiah incognito! It is only this “little” piece of the Puzzle—it must be little, right?, or how could Penal Substitutionary theologians of all stripes have missed it for so very, very long?—that precipitated the shocking revelation that this man whom we crucified (gulp!) really was the Son of God, and yet both he and God let us get away with the infamous and treacherous deed scot-free…at least for the time being!

It is the rest of the Story that brought the house down in amazed, wondrous, grateful applause and propelled the multitudes to rush back to God in Christ for His stupendous love and unfathomable graciousness! It was this whole, complete, integral Story that causes conciliation to happen and that makes peace break forth on earth and delight among mankind. For only this fuller context of Scripture demonstrates convincingly not only God’s delight at the manger-birth, but also His lovingkindness toward human beings at the Cross-death, as well.

The altar of sacrifice was the place of death, but the Ark of the Covenant was the place of life. We must weigh the revealing significance of the distance between them. Hence the protective cover on top of the ark was “renewed,” “reactivated,” or “refreshed” once a year by spattering the blood of an unblemished, flawless (figuring a blameless, innocent, sinless) living soul, which was slain on the altar. That blood symbolized the living soul of the wrongly slain animal legally demanding retribution and accordingly receiving it direct from God in the miraculous form of restored life, now transmitting abundant life and wholesomeness and cleansing and release (forgiveness/pardon) from sins and renewal, in turn, to whatever was spattered or sprinkled or splashed with it.

The Day of Atonement (i.e., of protective covering) depicted prophetically both the murder of the Lamb of God on the “altar” of the cross, and his resurrection into a life-making Spirit to cleanse and hallow heaven and earth by employing the ritual symbolism of spattering the blood on the protective cover of the Ark of the Covenant in the “Holy of Holies” (i.e., the holiest place of all)—the Heaven of heavens…God’s throne.

This all means that Romans 3:25-26 is not at all speaking of the “sacrifice of” Atonement, i.e., the cross of Christ, the antitype of the altar in the ancient Levitical ceremony, but of the Ark itself, containing the elements for sustaining, protecting, and directing toward life.

The current stage of the perennial Atonement controversy seems to come down to this watershed question: Is God more honored and glorified by His destroying the wicked or by His rewarding the upright? Or to state the matter with a related question: Is God’s law more honored by Him punishing the lawbreaker or by Him rewarding the law-abiding…and the more so when they suffer at the hands of the lawless?

The issue at stake (ahem) should not have had to come down to such stark alternatives, because in the Bible the two “options” are often linked within the comprehensive system of restorative justice wherein the offender, when apprehended, is required to restore the loss directly to their victim, with interest! Thus their penalty is channeled to reward the one they harmed.

However, the Western legal tradition during the decisive eras when the now dominant satisfaction theories were in their swaddling clothes (whether Anselm’s earlier non-penal, feudal version of honorial satisfaction to a lord, or Calvin’s later explicitly and severely penal and commercial version of satisfying law or “justice”) was biased toward a preoccupation with penalization without a corresponding emphasis on restorative restitution. (Refer to the masterful chapter by Harold Berman, “Theological Sources of the Western Legal Tradition,” in Law and Revolution.) So justice became unbalanced in a vindictive, vengeful, punitive vein that deprived victims of their proper due. The state should have intervened as the arbiter between offender and victim, assuring that amends (including suitable and proportional penalties added for the benefit and compensating enrichment of the aggrieved victim, and not routinely diverted to the state instead) are fairly made. This punitively skewed juridical tradition entrenched a habit of thinking that minimized and marginalized the rightful due that the premial facet of justice required, in favor of the outsized dominance of the penal.

The disadvantaging, when not in fact silencing, of the premial concerns of integral justice has dictated repercussions in theology that are profoundly detrimental to the well-being of the church, not to mention of all those who have been too offended or puzzled by its compromised Gospel of one-sidedly penal justice to ever darken the door of a church. And this distressing state of affairs is only likely to raise up yet more enemies until the premial is reintegrated with the penal epicenter of justice, particularly with reference to the nature of atonement and justification, but also conciliation.

So back to the initial question, is it credible that God is more honored before thoughtful people by delighting in the destruction of the incorrigible evildoer or by celebrating the worthy accomplishments of the resolutely honest and even rewarding them when they suffer injustices at the hands of evildoers? The answer should be intuitively obvious, even if we didn’t have abundant and explicit Scriptures to decide the question. But if this is so, then why has the gratifying truth not ever sifted down into the nitty gritty of theological reflection about atonement, justification, and conciliation? The application seems so evident, so easy, so salutary! So sad, then, that the therapeutic application has not been hitherto forthcoming! This neglect leaves theology and the church-at-large bereft of a winsome and sensibly conciliatory message that truly honors God’s most winning traits and endearing preferences. Regardless of all makeshifts, all soft-pedaling, all excuse making, all truth-stretching, God comes off looking grim, unfair, vindictive, overly-punctilious, or otherwise pathologically disposed. This is not good.

In principle, Jesus shattered a cartload of preconceptions that had collected around Israel’s God among all classes of the population. But as each successive rabbinic generation “played telephone” with the following one, syllables got dropped, words got forgot, punctuation got switched, and the Message of God’s spectacular graciousness got garbled into a penal caricature of God’s premial character.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 4

Next, I want to thank you for scaring up the most surprising and serviceable quotation from John Lightfoot (1602-1675), the great English Hebraist who was an original member of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1653), in your book, Natural Ability, p. 461. I must say, I never expected to see such a bold and expertly nuanced declaration on behalf of the Biblical position coming from a member of that assemblage of Puritans. It is so striking, in fact, that I reproduce it here (and will soon try to locate the fuller context at ECCO or EEBO):

Was Christ so much as punished by God? [Assuming the answer to be obviously in the negative, he continues:] Much less, then, was He overwhelmed by the wrath of God—damned by God? Was a lamb punished that was sacrificed? [Of course not!] He was afflicted, but not punished, for punishment argued a crime or fault preceding. Were the sad sufferings of Christ laid on him as punishments? Certainly not for His own sins; no, nor for ours neither. He suffered for our sins—bare our sins; but His sufferings were not punishments for our sins. [Whole Works, 13 vols., edited, with a life, by John Rogers Pitman (London, 1822-1825), vol. 6, pp. 23-24. Comments and emphasis added, R.L.R.]

This passage is so unequivocal, yet so contrary to penal substitution, whether in Calvin’s economic satisfaction version or in Grotius’s governmental exemplification form (although I cannot speak for the New England Theology), that I wondered you could cite it as evidence favoring your view. So I’ll let Lightfoot’s remarkable words launch this discussion concerning the Atonement. My approach will often compare and contrast elements of Grotius’s or the New England Theology’s rectoral/ governmental/ acceptilation theory of atonement (inquiring about or noting their differences, along the way) with the broadly Calvinistic satisfaction theory of atonement. But my overarching agenda is to employ this kind of clarification (hopeful!) of both these penal theories (boasting different kinds of necessity, whether Calvin’s economistic or Grotius’s exemplaristic variation) in order to unfold the restorative/rewarding/premial side of God’s justice, which, I hope to demonstrate, solves the “problem” of atonement in a very different manner than these traditions have accustomed us to.

I should interject, at this point, that I am not herewith jumping directly into a section-by-section critique of your book, The Vicarious Atonement of Christ. I plan to do that as a culmination of the extended remarks that follow. These are more general responses to what I have read in your online and hardcopy publications. This is meant to establish and elaborate the premial framework of God’s justice in general, but by way of dialogue with the tradition you are reviving. However, I expect there will be a lot of sloshing around with repetition and overlapping in the process. But I notice from your own writing style that you are not averse to that! So here goes.

The preferential language of the Penal Satisfaction doctrine, such as “substitution,” “in our place,” “in our stead,” is employed in order to reinforce the erroneous concept of “payment for sin(s).” So even though the latter type of expression is never used in Scripture, and the former are not used in connection with the work of Christ, they are felt to be necessary to make a point. Economic concepts are misapplied in clearly non-biblical ways and pushed to extremes. This misadventure leads to conundrums that are embarrassing, to be sure, but Penal Satisfaction champions are okay with that and take it as their cross to bear. That’s just the cost of doing business.

Furthermore, their language of “substitution” is required equally by their errant notion that Jesus suffered a divine penalty “in our place,” “in our stead.” Indeed, if the Cross was a punishment from God that we deserved (even though no Scripture ever hints that every sinner and all sins “deserve” such an ordeal) and which Christ did not deserve, then this misplacement of condemnation must somehow be rationalized. Accordingly, God is alleged to “need” to “satisfy” His honor/justice/law/holiness by punishing even the least violation without mercy on someone, somewhere, sometime, somehow. Such vengeful “necessity” is hardly worthy of or warranted by the language of Scripture in either Testament. This is why foreign words are recruited like mercenaries to handle the dirty work, then kept on the payroll, although they are alien occupiers. (In passing be it noted that the Governmental view of Atonement does concede some ground to mercy in God’s “punishment” of Jesus “in our place,” but this, I suggest, is ultimately an “unsatisfying” makeshift, although in the absence of any grasp of God’s premial justice, it is still superior to out-and-out penal satisfaction.)

Hence, if Christ himself did not deserve the punishment, then there must be postulated either some economic equivalence or some governmental expedience between his measure of suffering (wrongful) and our measure of penal deserts (rightful). What follows from this are all the tediously familiar rationalizations of the Calvinistic tradition broadly conceived—broad enough to include every attempt to make the results come out “right,” whether that of Arminius, Grotius, Amyraut, Pynchon, Baxter, Fuller, McLeod Campbell, Spurgeon, Moberly, et al. Still, it never comes out quite right, ever.

Only when the rewarding, restorative, or premial justice of God enters the picture is theological harmony ushered in alongside. For exclusively in this unique accounting can God execute the benign avenging of rendering the wrongly injured One directly what he properly deserved, without the bewildering, not to say bedeviling indirection of substitutionary diversions, shifts of “guilt,” transfers of sin and righteousness by imputations, misplacements of penalty—all of which amount to miscarriages of justice and judicial misbehavior, if I can be so bold.

Our Divine Judge also deserves better press than that. Or when does the Heavenly Father get His rightful praise as a genius of justice? “Hallowed be Thy name.”

When the Lord Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses and yet was cursed to death by it, something profound changed in the cosmos irreversibly. That Law of Moses (except for whatever Jesus, the Lord, himself reaffirmed) was itself nailed to his wrongful cross while, by stark, explosive contrast, he was thereby exalted to full mastery over the created universe through resurrection from the dead. Now, as Lord over heaven and earth and all nations therein, with comprehensive sovereignty, authority, power, control, honor, glory, thrones, and more, his Word, as taught during his career on earth, now supersedes every other law whatsoever. So if even the Law of Moses (which God Himself had given), was eclipsed by the Messiah’s “better covenant” with better commandments and better promises, etc. (Heb. 7-10, John 1, Galatians), how much less can any other “moral law” promulgated in history dare to claim any comparable validity. The Word of the Lord Jesus alone abides forever, so as Moses directed Israel: “Hear ye Him!

Accordingly, we are not to take a “flat Bible” approach to “moral law,” as if the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ were on the same plane, worthy of equal honor; they are emphatically not. The decrees of Moses’ Law, which were hostile to us (especially to Gentiles!) have been read the riot act and eternally demoted as unworthy, anymore, of giving orders to those who have been baptized into Messiah Jesus, the Lord. We are lastingly free from Moses’ imperfect Law from Mt. Sinai and now take our cues from Jesus’ perfect Sermon on the Mount, etc. There’s a world of difference between these constitutions. The old Law is kid’s stuff next to the new Law of the Lord Jesus. He had the divine authority to declare, “You have heard it said to you [out of Moses’ Law], such and such, but I say to you something else, something more, even something different.” Abstract philosophical theories of “universal moral law” are simply not conformable to the kind and quality of law that the New Covenant in Christ’s blood and Holy Spirit have inaugurated with epoch-making force and finality. We must beware of muffling or compromising the absolutely revolutionary quality of this Gospel-altered era. The secularized theorists of “moral law,” any more than of “natural law,” are “not able to know the things of the Spirit, for they are stupidity to them” (I Cor. 2). The classical and stale categories are incommensurable with Biblical wisdom unveiled by Jesus and his inspired apostles.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 3

I want to thank you for reprinting Stefan Zweig’s The Right to Heresy: Castellio Against Calvin. Some years ago I came across a copy of Sebastian Castellio’s trailblazing treatment of toleration (long before John Milton and John Locke came on the scene to make the cause famous), Advice to a Desolate France. It is breathtaking, the more so when you take into consideration the century he inhabited. The intensity of his Christian faith and understanding of the law of Christ, particularly as it relates to a whole nation, puts his contemporaries to utter shame. I look forward with anticipation to reading Zweig’s book. It’s worth observing, however, that the penal cast of Augustine’s legacy was by the 16th century simply bearing some of its most poignant fruits, not only in theology, but in the culture at large, with devastation in its wake. The probing question surfaces in my mind: can any doctrine of the Atonement that is rooted exclusively in penal justice be expected to bear better fruits than this when it’s plowed into a culture?

Thanks also for referring to David Bercot (from whom I have learned early church doctrine since 1999. Your references to Charles Kingsley, long-time associate of Frederick Denison Maurice, one of my special heroes of the Faith, was a delight. So also your reference to Greg Boyd, whom I esteem as a deeply thoughtful and earnestly faithful writer and minister. Michael Pearl, along with his wife Debi are a vast treasury of pure gold wisdom on child rearing, but his biblical scholarship has much to be desired. By depending exclusively on the KJV and not analyzing the original languages, he is often specious in reasoning. My hat is off to you for not falling into the quagmire of his imputationism. As evangelists, you two may be cut from identical cloth, but do beware superficial analysis of God’s Word under the pressure of open-air preaching.

In view of your evident interest in theology of the 18th and 19th centuries that stood up to domineering Calvinistic orthodoxy, I have two names to bring to your attention. You may already be somewhat familiar with them, but I would urge your further attention. John Taylor of Norwich (1694-1761) penned what is regarded as perhaps the greatest treatise against “original sin.” His The Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin, Proposed to Free and Candid Examination (4th edition, 1767) is available over Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), which you can access at university libraries. ECCO is an absolute goldmine of often extremely rare books (even only single copies) that barely escaped the flames of persecution, and have existed only with highly limited access for centuries. The other comparable online resource is Early English Books Online (EEBO). I have reproduced entire books from these locations, sometimes being able to expand the page size before printing to make reading easier. Sometimes the only way to do this is one page at a time. I think the investment is worth it. Beats the price of flying!

You will be interested to know that Taylor is “governmental” in at least some respects, maybe most. But there are some surprises. I printed off his sizable tome, The Scripture Doctrine of Atonement Examined: first in relation to Jewish sacrifices; and then to the sacrifice of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (1st American edition, 1809). (This one is available online from the Early American Imprints, Shaw-Shoemaker Digital Edition, SHAW 18728. This service is an American analog to ECCO and EEBO. As a publisher, you are probably quite familiar with these incomparable resources.) I tracked this work of Taylor’s down because some author had alleged a similarity between Taylor’s position and that of John Balguy, whole 1741 book on the Atonement I have found uniquely helpful because he is the man who coined the term “premial” in that volume, and with persuasive effect to describe the rewarding side of God’s justice, applying it to Romans 5 with powerful results. I tell more about Balguy and reproduce relevant sections of his book in the “About” page and first couple of blogs at

The other name I want to highlight for you is Barton W. Stone. He was the leading figure of the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801. Educated at a Calvinist school of Presbyterian vintage in Virginia, he was never comfortable with the Westminster Confession. When it came time for his ordination, he demurred at points, but managed to be approved anyway. But before long, he developed numerous objections and eventually formed a separate presbytery for some years. He was a hard-working pioneer evangelist and church planter in several states on the western frontier of the new nation, where there was plenty of room for everyone. Eventually he began editing a Christian periodical and was able to give voice to his developing positions. He was extremely conscientious in his positions, careful in his biblical research, kindly in his expression, and greatly beloved pastorally. Eventually, because of his passion for Christian unity, he nurtured relationships with Thomas and Alexander Campbell and their associates. The rest is history. Out of the eventual unification of their two movements came the “Stone-Campbell Movement,” which we more commonly known as the Christian Church/Church of Christ/Churches of Christ/Disciples of Christ movement. This remarkable three-fold denomination, which eventually pervaded the whole nation, especially west of the Appalachians, overtook if not surpassed the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists. It was, in point of fact, our very first American denomination (although they hated that word because of their central concern for the unity of all who named the name of Christ).

One of the most unusual features of the Stone-Campbell movement is that it nurtured side-by-side the three major positions on the Atonement, with dominance shifting from time to time among them. This not always too friendly repartee among the three factions, however was overridden by their concern to retain the unity of Christian faith and practice. They had no creeds, as such. (I believe they coined the phrase, “No creed but the Bible.” They certainly got mileage out of it!) Barton Stone held a rather unique position that I have found exceptionally helpful. But he was said (probably out of handy convenience) to hold to an “exemplarist” or “moral influence” position, which is scarcely accurate. Alexander Campbell held rather stridently to the penal substitution position. Other leaders espoused the governmental position. As you might imagine, especially because each position was publicized through several different periodicals, and there would be written and public exchanges and debates on the subject among the respective champions, the ferment among the churches and many educational institutions of this vigorously American Christian movement was immense. By now, from what I gather, the dominant “evangelical” orthodoxy prevails in the conservative wings nearly unchallenged. But this unusual movement contributed considerably to the development of the New England Theology, if I’m not mistaken.

But my own opinion is that Barton Stone’s rather unclassifiable position is worthy of much more careful consideration. He despised speculation, especially later in his life, when with his characteristic humility he expressed regrets at having written on the subject if it may have led others into a speculative direction. But the fact remains that this country preacher/evangelist/church planter across some four or five states, laboring often as a farmer, attained deeper insights into Scripture from his strategic position behind a horse and plow than most theologians ever attain behind lecterns and with access to ample libraries. There’s a lesson here. I have created links along the side of my blog site that include as many of Stone’s books and journal articles as I could find online. Do explore his thought, Jesse. His personal, often anguished struggles with Calvinism led him into rare light on many doctrines, driven always by a mighty pastoral and evangelistic concern.

Now to switch gears, I’m curious how my critiques of Calvinism (included in the package I mailed you in August) may have struck you. These would expose some of the common ground you and I share. They would also doubtless reveal where I am stepping on the toes of Governmental theory, though incidentally, since that position was not purposely in my purview. Nevertheless, I am quite aware that the bull whose horns I am taking hold of is the shared property of both Calvin and Grotius. However sacred this cow may be, I was rather disinclined to let it gore me, so I have used what may seem like rough treatment to tender minds. You be the judge. However, you should know that my overriding agenda in all my writings is to expound the premial aspect of God’s justice in our salvation. My point is always to provide edifying (even comic) relief from the penal overcast of the dominant narrative. You’re gonna laugh out loud when you read some of this stuff. The titles of those pieces explicitly dealing with the Calvinistic version of atonement are:

“Anselm, Calvin, and Arminius: Reconciliation by Resurrection?” (51p)

“Notes concerning Leanne Van Dyk’s The Desire of Divine Love: John McLeod

            Campbell’s Doctrine of the Atonement” (7p)

“I Have Good News and Bad News” (18p)

I would now like to traverse rapidly some of the other common ground adjacent to the Atonement, which we seem to share. Drawing from everything I’ve read of yours so far, I substantially agree with you on the following:

Human nature, including conscience, is constitutionally intact after the introduction of sin.

Sin is not a defect or disability of nature.

“Original sin” is an erroneous formulation.

“Free will,” as you usually call it. I prefer the term “self-authorization,” from the early Christian Greek term αυτεξουσιοτης, derived from the roots for “self” and “authority.” This word was unhappily translated into Latin as libero arbitrio (“free judgment/decision”) and variations, which has led to much confusion, since the Bible itself never associates the Greek word for “free” (ελευθερον) with the word family of “judge/decide” (κρινω), much less with the word families of “will” (θελω) or “intend” (βουλομαι). Therefore concordant analysis of these Greek terms in Scripture would never lead a Bible student to come up with an expression like “free will.” At least the early Christian word for this concept can be inferred from the first chapters of Genesis, where Adam was told to exert lordship over the earth and sovereignty over its creatures. The Vulgate, in a similar vein, uses equivalent Latin roots for subjugating and dominating. These are the linguistic domain of authority. So it was natural to understand one’s own “self” as included under that divine mandate of control. I think this angle is a bit more defensible, under fire, than the more usual usage of “free will,” but the theological payoff is quite similar. I wouldn’t fight over words. In any case, the early church, before Augustine< was quite consistent, as you know. David Bercot has supplied plenty of evidence in his Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs and other books.

The Gospel Story itself is the drawing power of God for salvation. Its explanation and testimony provide the evidence and persuasive power to generate solid faith in the true God and His only-born Son. So if we choose to stay in that Word, and it stays in us, we produce fruit for lasting life.

“Predestination” is an erroneous teaching. The Greek term, προοριζω, means “destine,” not “predestine.” And it is conditional. If we remain in Christ by faith, our destiny of sonship is assured. And, of course, God knows—foreknows—His kids, those who stay faithful to the end. He supplies everything necessary to hang in there.

Jesus did not become a “sinner” on the cross. He became a “sin-offering” (II Cor. 5:21); the same word is used countless times in the Old Testament, especially Leviticus, with this meaning. The very fact that the Holy Spirit chose to use the identical word, “sin” (in both the Hebrew and LXX) for both sin and sin-offering should not be lost on us! I have written at length on this curiosity (which is repeated with the so-called words for “guilt” and “guilt-offering” in the Hebrew text), which reinforces the observation that it actually took a “Sin,” namely, the crucifixion of God’s Son as a “Sin[-offering]” to do what was required to “make us righteous.”

Imputation or reckoning does not refer to any “transference” of either sin or righteousness, in any direction.

Atonement is absolutely unlimited. Nor is God “particular” or partial or preferential about whom he saves…except that they must exercise their faith in the solid evidence and testimony the Holy Spirit has compiled in the Bible. God has “elected” faith as His condition of choice. Ya gotta love ‘im for this!

Atonement is both objective and subjective. See my “77 Questions about the Atonement (Q & A),” where I massage the topic more thoroughly from the premial perspective. For that very reason, I slice matters somewhat differently than any penal theory does. Your response to that would be kindly received.

If a debt is paid it is not forgiven; if it is pardoned it is not paid. This is rock bottom. On this rock, penal satisfaction falters from the git go. Yet it will keep galumphing on until we recover the premial side of all true justice, both human and divine, and therewith put it out of its misery and what it causes others.

Only mankind needs to be conciliated to God, not God to mankind. Paul Peter Waldenström most forcefully and thoroughly defended this truth. In addition to my own study of Scripture itself, he has been my chief mentor in this regard.

God did not directly bruise or punish His Son but only in the sense of “surrendering” him to his foes, and “not sparing” him from their cruel afflictions. These were pre-understood parts of this suicide mission in God’s larger strategy to win the world back to Himself. Furthermore, the General’s superabounding favor surrounded this daring undertaking. There was no divine indignation against Christ whatever. (Okay, okay, maybe you can’t agree with my elaboration here, but let this be a preview, then. Respectful consideration is all I ask.)

Christ died for every person without exception. “The unlimited atonement of Christ does not mean that all will be saved but that all can be saved” (Natural Ability, p. 457)

Christ suffered “a” curse of the Law of Moses, not “our” curse (ibid. p. 459-60)—one which I would point out was not necessarily triggered by any sin. Similarly, as Albert Barnes well commented, Christ’s sufferings “were not the identical sufferings which the sinner would have endured.” (I would add that they were super-compensated to a greatly magnified degree by God’s restorative justice in Christ’s resurrection. But more of this later.)

“Jesus died for the whole world, but the world is still under God’s wrath.” “God will only turn from His wrath when sinners turn from their sins.” Classic. “Those who stay in their sins are those who stay under God’s wrath, despite the atonement that was made for them.” “Those whom Jesus died for are still under the wrath of God and are going to receive the penalty…unless they repent of their sins and believe the Gospel.” “Those whom Christ died for can still perish.” Forgiveness was made available to all at Calvary, but forgiveness only becomes actual at conversion. No man is saved from God’s wrath until they repent and believe…only those who are converted actually have their penalty remitted by God’s grace and mercy.” (ibid. pp. 472, 475, 476) Nicely said. ‘Nuff said.

Jesus drank the “cup” of Satan’s afflictions (like Job, only fatal this time around!), not of God’s wrath.

In David’s sin of numbering the people, he was not alone in sinning, but also his officers and the people sinned. David, their leader, led them into sin, but they “played follow the leader” without a murmur. David was taking all the blame, but, as with Moses, “the soul that sins, it shall die.” Thus God rejected David’s “claim to blame,” even as He rejected Moses’ offer to be a “substitutionary sacrifice” (!) and prosecuted penal justice anyway. Grotius, as you must know, did not hold your position. Now I’m curious, does the New England Theology hold his interpretation of this pivotal passage or yours?

Well, Jesse, that list should provide something of a baseline of agreement on corollary doctrines so that we can proceed to the matters I would like to target below. In addition, I would like to commend you for correcting, in passing, the faulty words of Keith Getty’s and Stuart Townend’s otherwise very lovely modern hymns: “The Father turned his face away…” (from “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”) (ibid., pp. 463-64) and “The wrath of God was satisfied…” (from “In Christ Alone”) (ibid., p. 472). When one reflects, however, on the legacy of English Puritan and Evangelical hymnody (as in my document, “Penal Substitution in English Hymns,” which I mailed you and tentatively posted on my blog site, pending some reformatting and color coding), it seems surprising there is not a great deal more wording of this sort. But, then, Getty and Townend are Englishmen. I can only observe in passing here that the last two generations of hymnals widely used by the Christian Reformed Church (the most recent being a joint effort with the Reformed Church in America), have virtually no hymns that reflect the theology (and nearly none reflecting the distinctive imagery) of penal satisfaction/substitution. I have analyzed them myself. I must say, I find this astonishing since they still contain the confessional standards from the 16th and 17th centuries, which do embody those teachings. I “confess” I don’t quite know what to make of this observation. I haven’t examined other commonly used hymnals on this score. I’m curious to know whether more surprises await me!

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 2

I want to return, for a moment, to another book you have recently published through Open Air Outreach ( Reconciliation and the Atonement according to P. P. Waldenstrom (2012), containing Be Ye Reconciled to God: A Look at the Atonement, along with The Christian Doctrine of the Atonement according to P. P. Waldenstrom, by Axel Andersson, translated from the Swedish by G. F. Hedstrand (Chicago, Ill.: The Covenant Book Concern, 1937). I was overjoyed to see these available in hardcopy again!

However, it would have been nice to see the initial publishing information for the first piece. I first saw it online at TWT Ministries, who credited the original hardcopy edition published by Men for Missions in 1963. I noticed that you eliminated their Foreword, too, which would have provided your readers with a bit of edifying historical and personal background to Paul Peter Waldenström’s marvelous achievement. They also mention that they condensed it from one of the three books then existing by Waldenström in English. That must have been The Reconciliation. Who Was to be Reconciled? God or Man? Or God and Man?: Some Chapters on the Biblical View of The Atonement, translated from the Swedish, with some notes added, and an introduction, by J. G. Princell (Chicago: John Martenson, Publisher, 1888), 118 pages. I first read their handy summary in 2004. However, keeping in mind that your reprint is only 30 pages long, and the original is 118 pages, doesn’t it make you wonder what details the other three-fourths of the book contained? I made a point of rereading it yet again in preparation for this review of your position.

On that note, let me insert parenthetically that a reprint edition of the full versions of Waldenström’s own books in English is soon to be released by Wipf and Stock Publishers, in Eugene, Oregon. That will include the book I just mentioned, plus The Blood of Jesus. What Is Its Significance?: Meditations on all the New Testament Passages in Which the Expression Occurs, translated from the Swedish and furnished with an introduction and some notes, by J. G. Princell (Chicago: John Martenson, Publisher, 1888), 48 pages; and The Lord Is Right. Meditations on the Twenty-Fifth Psalm in The Psalter of King David, translated from the latest Swedish edition by an American minister of the Gospel, translation carefully revised, and some notes added, together with an introduction, by J. G. Princell (Chicago: John Martenson, Publisher, 1889) 303 pages. Also included will be a brand new translation (there was an earlier one, published in the 1920’s) of his allegorical novel, Squire Adamson, from the final of numerous Swedish editions.

Oh, plus one more of Waldenström’s works, a first time translation of his exposition of Isaiah 53, Man of Sorrows (Smärtornas man [Stockholm: Pietistens Expedition, 1881] 317 pages). This will be an exceedingly important new contribution to the discussion about the nature of that most famous chapter of the Old Testament pointing to Jesus Christ.

I have been incomparably helped along in my own understanding of the Atonement by the honest and pious labors of Paul Peter Waldenström. I plan to return to his thought in what follows.

I feel constrained to inquire, at this point, whether you are incorporating any of Waldenström’s thought in your revised version of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ. I noticed that you quoted him in your previous book, The Natural Ability of Man (2010), on pp 249-50. I remember finding it a somewhat odd illustration of our relation to God, using an arm joint in relation to the body, but docked it up to some Swedish cultural factor I might not be relating to. However, upon rereading recently the full version of his The Reconciliation, I came across the original context of the illustration again (paragraph #74—each is numbered—on p. 72). It was the only paragraph in the whole book that I had not highlighted or commented on! So it seemed yet more odd that the only illustration in his book I found not especially persuasive is the only one you chose to quote in your book. What this reveals I’m not sure. I leave it for discussion.

What I am sure of is that Waldenström’s theology of the Atonement is one of the brightest lights illuminating the pathway to a more Biblical treatment of the subject. In a sense, much of what I have written may be but a footnote on Waldenström, since he seems to have seen so much, so clearly, and so fairly dealt with opposing arguments. Even so, there is more to be said, especially to incorporate the full meaning of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Here I should refer you to a marvelous dissertation that finally provides in English the historical background of Waldenström’s development and influence on American Christianity. David M. Gustafson, “D. L. Moody and Swedes: Shaping Evangelical Identity among Swedish Mission Friends, 1867-1899,” dissertation at Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden, 2008, 357 pages, now conveniently online:

It documents in detail, with many photos, the relevant personal background of Waldenström and the Pietistic movement which he led during the Swedish free church revivals of the late 19th century, starting in the early 1870’s. The connection with D. L. Moody and his evangelistic movement is depicted with sympathy and exquisite care. This dissertation is a treasure. Be it noted that Moody’s encounter with Waldenström’s writings and then personally had a profound effect of his evangelism thereafter. As an evangelist, you should find this episode of great interest.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 1

October 26, 2014, Reformation Sunday

Today has been designated as Reformation Sunday, the Sunday before Reformation Day, October 31st, when, 1n 1517, Martin Luther is alleged to have nailed up his famous “95 Theses” on indulgences.  This is the first part of an approximately seven part series, hopefully to conclude next Saturday, November 1st, All Saints Day.  Enjoy!


AN OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and

A FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012)

Ron Roper

(October 6-8, 10, 26, 29 2014)

Dear Jesse,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ! It gives me great pleasure at last to be writing you. I first learned of your ministry (possibly during an online search on Waldenström) in 2012 and probably sent you an email letter (including links and perhaps attachments) concerning my research and writing on the Atonement from a “premial” (rewarding or restorative) perspective. I recall a kind note in reply and maybe a mention of using some insights for your book. Consider this “letter & critique” an apologetically delayed appreciation and rejoinder.

It was your recent Open Air Outreach newsletter of August 26, however, that finally spurred me to action. When I read the announcement of your 2014 Fall Tour, which included nearby Kalamazoo, I printed it off on August 29th to keep the agenda handy. I was hoping possibly to invite you to take a short jaunt up to Grand Rapids, or to get to Kalamazoo myself (although I don’t have a car) so that we could meet and converse about atonement.

What riveted my attention was the announcement that this summer you have been working on your book, The Vicarious Atonement of Christ—your primary focus in Winnipeg before commencing the tour. Your words, “It is a big project but I hope to be done with it sooner than later as I diligently work on it,” alerted me that I needed to alter my own research and writing agenda immediately to accord with your plans. I’ll explain.

As you learned from my above-mentioned email, I too have been studying the Atonement for many years. The online draft of your book had caught my interest, so I printed it off and read it with great care and interest on September 4-8, 2012. I highlighted and annotated it extensively with alternate ovations, observations, and objections. What an education in the governmental view of the Atonement! It is a tribute to your powers of summarization and popular re-presentation of a somewhat sidelined view that still has much to teach us.

However, I never got around to assembling my scattered marginal glosses and compiling a coherent critique, much less sending it to you in a timely manner. So when I recently read of your plans, as I inferred, to revise/expand the online version and publish it as hardcopy, I knew it was now or never to get back to you if my reflections were ever going to benefit you strategically before you went public with a finalized elaboration. From other of your online articles, it appears that you have been plugging away on the contents of this book for a good many years already!

This urgency led me almost immediately to reread (actually, a third reading) and further annotate my print-off before collecting my thoughts and communicating. That impulse was balanced by a desire to explore parts of other books I had acquired from Open Air Outreach through Lulu, which proved most valuable, but time consuming. I didn’t know how near you were to the print stage of publishing, but hoped it was distant enough to permit me to garner a fair assessment of collateral background about your positions on other doctrines necessarily connected to atonement. That would make our communications more efficient and satisfactory, as well as avert needless misunderstandings. The Atonement alone is controversial enough without invoking other differences we might have as occasions to delay crucial dialogue (in my estimation anyway) in the face of your publishing deadlines.

Furthermore, your newsletter caught me in the midst of a freshly begun restudy of Martin Luther’s highly contested development as a theologian and reformer, especially in the light of the absolutely decisive influence of Philipp Melanchthon. As you know, Reformation Day (October 31st) is coming up soon, and we are but three years away from its 500th anniversary. I hope to use these occasions to clarify the epoch-making missteps that occurred at the outset of the Protestant Reformation, echoes of which have tended to drown out noble attempts to return to Scripture alone and thereby correct the Reformation’s surprisingly persistent errors concerning the Atonement and Justification. All this is by way of apology for the lag time in getting the present information to you.

Therefore, in the interest of buying (indeed, redeeming!) time, I decided to mail you immediately the hardcopy of all my Atonement documents that are available at the top of my blog site, (regrettably, not there in convenient PDF form), plus a few more, which I’ll mention in a moment. Although you were still in Canada, I mailed them to Texas so they would be available as soon as you arrived home. They could have posed an unwelcome distraction on your busy evangelistic tour.

Especially after I read Isaac Watts’ hymn in your newsletter, I felt you would appreciate my compilation of hymns stanzas, “’Penal Substitution’ in English Hymns,” which I analyzed in the summer of 2007. The original version is color coded, and I’ve made a note to send it to you by email attachment before long (plus “Premial Justice, the Unjust Cross, and Power from On High,” which has a host of embedded links you should find helpful, as well as its full-color-coded “Appendix: Premial Justice in the Psalms.” In view of some kindred similarities between penal substitution and governmental substitution (if I may pose that comparison), those pages may actually find you sympathetic with a number of lines that, from a premial perspective, are objectionable. Occasionally I’ve included marginal comments to clarify why a potentially innocuous wording is still objectionable when interpreted within the context of the author’s own assumptions, usually voiced elsewhere in their hymns. Your response to this piece (at your convenience, of course) would help me better understand the nuances of the governmental position.

It was while scouring the other books I purchased from Open Air Outreach ( that I came across relevant sections on the Atonement in your own book, The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will & Human Nature (2010). In particular, the sections on “The Justice of God” (pp. 80-88), “The Greatest Moral Influence in the Universe” (pp. 233-37), “A Greater Moral Influence than the Law” (pp. 254-263), “The Atonement as Objective and Subjective” (pp. 270-71), “Men Absolutely Need Jesus Christ” (pp. 271-73), and especially “Man’s Repentance and The Finished Work of Christ” (pp. 435-476). It is almost exclusively the theology of these sections, in tandem with parallel sections of the 2012 online version of your new book, which will be the focus of my attention in the friendly critique, below. I have also given careful attention to your online pieces, “A Basic Presentation of the Moral Government Atonement,” “It’s Good to Obey God’s Law (The Moral Law of Love),” “The Necessity of the Atonement for the Remission of the Penalty of the Law,” “Important Questions Relating to the Atonement,” “The Atonement of Scripture,” your blog post, “Does Jesse Morrell Deny the Penal Substitutionary Atonement of Christ?” and Sam Storms’ “Grotius and the Governmental Theory of the Atonement” (2006).

I must say, your use of terms impressed me as spare (I don’t speak of your Scripture citations!), crisp, proportionate, consistent, balanced, symmetrical, even poetic (which, however, though mnemonically sticky, can also be tricky and mislead us—I suffer from a similar tendency). Your apt turns of phrase and catchy parallelisms play well rhetorically and ease communication of difficult concepts. You have evidently learned much from your many sterling 19th century mentors—evangelists, teachers, and scholars alike.

Which leads me to pay tribute to your significant publishing ventures! I have personally benefited immeasurably from your republication of G. F. Wiggers’ An Historical Presentation of Augustinism and Pelagianism from the Original Sources. I am exceedingly grateful for his painstaking undertaking to set the record straight. He has confirmed a few of my own educated hunches and exposed to the light a host of illuminating exchanges among those decisive personages in Christian history. I’m sure you must hear similar praise from other readers.

As an aside, although quite in line with Wiggers’ splendid achievement, similar attempts should be made (or rediscovered and republished) concerning other controversial figures in Christian theology. I learned of one such treatise earlier this year. Richard E[rnest]. Weingart’s unpublished 1965 Ph.D. dissertation for Yale University, “The Atonement in the Writings of Peter Abailard” (438 pages) painstakingly sets the record straight concerning Abelard’s presumed merely “exemplary” or “subjective” or “moral influence” (it’s been called worse!) “theory” of the Atonement. Weingart is evidently a Roman Catholic, himself, but ably exonerates Abelard of the usual charges. The latter was, in fact, not attempting any alternative to the orthodox Catholic teaching or practice (however we may evaluate those from our own positions), but assumed them from the outset. You’ll appreciate these words from Weingart’s Summary: “Rejecting the Augustinian doctrine of original sin, Abailard constructs his own theories of the penalty imputed to Adam’s progeny and of the nature of actual sin. By defining sin properly only as consensus maii seu contemptus Dei, he effects a radical interiorization of sin which heavily underscores human responsibility.” I photocopied lengthy sections of particular interest to me from a hardcopy version in a local library, but it should be accessible somewhere online as well. I have not been able as yet to devote attention to Abelard’s bulky commentary on Romans, which is happily in English now, with critical annotations.

I don’t know if you’re aware that Erasmus wrote a very long final rejoinder (in Latin, of course) to Luther’s Bondage of the Will. It is not well known, is still not in English, and veritably begs for proper attention from Bible scholars and theologians. I have never seen a summary of his arguments; perhaps they are too “dangerous” to make widely available?

Which, of course, is why De Jesu Christo Servatore (The Savior Jesus Christ), by Faustus Socinus, has never been fully rendered into English (I don’t know about other European languages). However, Alan W. Gomes (Professor of Historical Theology at Talbot Theological Seminary in Los Angeles) finally did us splendid service by his “Faustus Socinus’ De Jesu Christo Servatore, Part III: Historical Introduction, Translation and Critical Notes,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary, June 1990. (I learned of this through Ken Pulliam’s seven-part blog series, “Faustus Socinus on Penal Substitution,” June-August 2010, which is definitely worth a look: See also his important blog post, to which I shall refer later, “Hugo Grotius on Punishing an Innocent” from October 29, 2010: —exactly four years ago to the day I’m typing these words…which coincidentally happens to be the date of the 1929 Stock Market Crash, for what it may be worth…in a declining market!) It was available online at the time, and I printed it off and pored over it with growing astonishment. Although Gomes only translated Part III of the work, written in 1574 and published finally in 1598, he handily includes the author’s entire “Index of Parts and Chapters,” which provides illuminating summaries of each chapter, without the elaborated proofs and Scripture quotations, of course. Why didn’t Gomes eventually translate the whole work? I tried to communicate with him a few years ago about that question, but never received a reply. Obviously it was too massive an undertaking for a dissertation. Part III alone comes to 140 pages (double column, Latin plus English), and that comprises only eleven chapters. Part I is eight; Part II is twenty-six; Part IV is fourteen! Socinus was nothing if not thorough. I doubt if any argument for penal substitution escaped his scrutiny. His refutation is truly devastating, without being particularly abusive (a rare accomplishment in that era, although more typical of the Polish Brethren than of perhaps any of the other streams of the Protestant movement).

That brings me to Hugo Grotius. Defensio Fidei Catholicae de Satisfactione Christi (1617), was his attempt to refute Socinus, as made explicit by it’s English translation: Defense of the Catholic Faith concerning the Satisfaction of Christ against Faustus Socinus, translated with notes and historical introduction by F[rank]. H[ugh]. Foster (Andover, Mass., 1889). Certainly Grotius felt the wide-ranging blast of Socinus’ numerous trenchant arguments against Calvin’s theory of penal substitution. And since Arminius had not lived long enough to take on frontally that central pillar of Calvin’s entire soteriological system (and might never have—we’ll never know), Grotius took up the gauntlet…trying also to pick up the scattered pieces of the old theory, whence his own “governmental” theory emerged de novo in those pages.

Therefore, I must disagree with Sam Storms’ statement, “Grotius himself…believed that he was simply defending the historical doctrine of the church and never intended that his work be taken as an attempt to bring ‘balance’ to the issue.” That the learned Grotius himself could possibly have been so naïve is most unlikely. He was a prodigy and a natural law philosopher, drawing explicitly on ancient Stoic ideas and was celebrated for applying them to the theory of international law. Is it at all possible that he was unconscious of imposing his espoused categories upon Scripture? No doubt he felt he had warrant for such a synthesis, but it remains an artificial system nonetheless, not one that arises from the native and proportionate categories of Biblical explanation. I have been helped to clarity on Grotius by the following works: Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1953-58); William J. Wolf, No Cross, No Crown: A Study of the Atonement (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1957); Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, Chap. 4, “Theological Sources of the Western Legal Tradition” (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 1983); and John Witte, God’s Joust, God’s Justice: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006). But more on this as we proceed.

~to be continued~

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Calvary vs. Calvin

…[A]nd the day of avenging of our God.”  Isaiah 61:2b

There’s another perfectly good—in fact superior—reason why Jesus did not finish his quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18-19, and that’s because at his first coming he appeared to save, not to destroy, even his/our ENEMIES (whom the original passage had exclusively in view as the object of God’s avenging wrath).  [5/05/08]

The self-styled “evangelical” position on the Atonement leads to a resurrection tokenism.  [5/08/08]

The self-styled “evangelical” doctrine of the Atonement is without question “A DIFFERENT EVANGEL” (Galatians 1:6-9)!  [5/08/08]

Because HE ROSE, there will be HEROES!  [5/08/08]


What transpired historically on the Hill of the Skull, Golgotha, or Calvary, was in diametrical contrast to what John Calvin taught about that Messianic climax (or penumbra of the Resurrection).  He taught that Christ suffered the wrath of God, divine condemnation, separation from his Father’s favor, plus the pains of the damned in hell, none of which is ever remotely taught in apostolic Scripture nor in the early church!  The historic Calvary, to the contrary, reveals the exceeding sinfulness of sinful humanity under the diabolical inspiration of Satan…alone!  God had nothing to do with initiating such hatred and fury, nor did He in any way endorse it.  He did not “rubber stamp” such appalling deeds.  In fact, the Cross had nothing whatever to do with “hell,” neither as Hades (the “unseen”), much less as Gehenna.

Calvin was guilty of egregious distortion and Scripture-twisting, attributing to the most holy God the corrupt behavior of a deviant angel.  Can such a contortion of the truth not fail to dictate horrible results in ethics and human relations, as well as public policy?  History illustrates it grimly.  [5/12/08]

The Puritans, we must remember, not only obliterated the authentic apostolic and uniformly early Christian understanding of the afterlife, they were also the most ardent champions of the penal satisfaction theory of the Atonement (including the notion that Christ suffered the flaming pains of “Hell,” by which they meant Gehenna).  That’s one incendiary combination!  [5/14/08]  For a grisly exhibit of its ethical outworking, one need only consult the history of Oliver Cromwell’s treatment of Irish Catholics, burning churches down over the heads of innocent men, women, and children—with the approval, I am constrained to add, of such eminent Calvinistic theologians as John Owen, a chaplain during that infamous campaign of Protestant terror.  [4/18/16]

In my writings on the Atonement, I employ the term “overcompensate” differently from its typical psychoanalytic use.  I use it transitively, i.e., in conformity with the normal economic usage of its stem, “compensate.”  Psychoanalysis uses it only intransitively, with a reflexive sense, focusing on a presumed subjective psychological mechanism (of defense, etc.).  [5/16/08]

BLASPHEMY may well come suddenly to mind in association with Protestant ORTHODOXY whenever we actually come to grips with its shocking doctrine of Atonement.  [5/28/08; 5/17/16]

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