Monthly Archives: November 2014

An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 26

THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

If I have actually, by some rare “fluke,” rediscovered the true nature of the Pauline Gospel (as premial justice to Christ), is that really so surprising? Did Copernicus discover that the solar system is heliocentric? Did Newton discover laws of motion? Did Faraday discover laws of electricity? Did Velikovsky discover the nature of gravity? And what of Augustine? Anselm? Luther? Calvin? What did they discover…or rediscover? And why them? Were they the first? Will they be the last? Is there nothing left to discover? Did even they have it all exactly right? How gullible are we prepared to be about the past? About the process of discovery? About the finality of theories? About the status of “facts”? About the doctrines of the creeds, confessions, and catechisms of yore?

If those who attend Calvinistic churches, for instance, continue to “remain in [Christ’s] Word,” they can still overcome the worst effects of their creedal statements and catechisms. Naturally, they will still (in fact, especially) see contradictions and inconsistencies and won’t understand everything (who of us does?). But they will “understand more than [their] teachers” and that is a considerable advance. The truth that they do know will empower their faith to overcome and free them from the worst effects of the falsehoods of their teachers and preachers.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that God did not need to punish every sin…not even every murder! For He can reverse sin’s evil effects! That’s why God could proclaim forgiveness even to Christ’s executioners. This is the reason for the forty-year reprieve for Jerusalem after its egregious crime against their God. Yet, for those who still remained stubborn after God’s demonstration that He had no need to punish them for their sins horrific slaughter befell them…even at their own hands.

It doesn’t take an Aristotle to see the superior logic of premial justice.

REPENTING OF AUGUSTINE’S ORIGINAL SIN

The vast generality of modern Western Christians have not yet repented of Augustine’s “original sin,” i.e., his injuriously erroneous formulation of the nature of Adam’s first and primal sin. The consequence of this theological hardheartedness has been a grossly misanthropic doctrine of sin, indeed, a veritable punitive overcast darkening the resultant semi-Christian worldview. Ironically, this gross misrepresentation of sin, per se, has led to an underestimation of the evil of incorrigible wickedness, especially of an institutionalized form, whether political, military, financial, industrial, corporate, or what have you. If every human motion is equally sinful or at least thoroughly tainted by sin and under equal judgment, then no one is either particularly righteous nor especially wicked. Thus it becomes very difficult to develop a more mature, discerning, or nuanced sensibility to inform the judgments and policies of our institutions. To an evangelist, everyone is a generic “sinner” in need of a standardized “repentance.” But getting down to cases domestically, commercially, industrially, environmentally, financially, politically, militarily, legally, judicially, morally, ethically, etc., shows a very complex interplay of forces, motives, defense mechanisms, hypocrisies, judgmentalisms, compulsions, naiveties, indulgences, etc.

What the work of Christ reveals is not that sin was “paid for” (as if it “needed” to be paid for) at the Cross, but that that Sin (depicted by every sin-offering of the Old Covenant, as well as by the Passover and Day of Atonement rituals and certain other sacrifices) needed to be repaid to Christ by the justice of God, because he, of all human beings, did not deserve such wicked handling. So in the mightiest display of divine justice in history, God overwhelmingly reversed his plight by raising Jesus of Nazareth from the dead and giving him glory before mankind. His reward from God for willingly suffering such indignity and torment, ultimately from Satan, included exaltation to the throne of the universe (promised to the coming Son of David), the inheritance of the universe as his rightful possession, the consequent ousting of Satan and his dark kingdom, and the Gift of the Holy Spirit in inconceivable abundance to freely distribute to any and all of sinful humanity who simply and sincerely believe this extraordinarily validated Message of liberation and rescue.

In summary, sin does not need to be paid for; the sin against the Son of God, however, did need to be repaid him. Sinners who believe this Proclamation and are baptized are included in the benefits and boon of that capacious award to the Lord Jesus Christ. Or to say it another way: not sin as such, but sins against the righteous need “payment”—more specifically, repayment. The cross-and-resurrection of our Lord proves that thesis in spades. In this Gospel Fact we, who suffer not only from our own sins but from those of others, can take solid hope and so live in determined obedience.

Without singeing a hair on their miserable beards, God raised up His beloved Son intact…nay, invincible! This divine tactic gave those killers room to repent without having to bear the consequences, guilt, or penalty of that divine regicide.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 25

Sin destroys life.  This is why a demonstration of bringing life back from the dead was so absolutely decisive as a sign of salvation and an identifier of the true God.  Only the God who created all life forms could obviously know enough and have enough power to restore life forms to being fully operational even after experiencing certifiable deathHoliness is the quality of whatever is fully alive, with no taint of decay or deterioration.  The supreme sign, therefore, of the genuineness of Deity is the power to give life in the wake of its demise, in addition to giving life in the first place.  In other words, true Deity has the power to make life forms holy or wholesome again, even after they have deteriorated due to sin.  The solution to sin, therefore, is intrinsically linked to the power to atone for sin, in other words, to counteract its evil consequences, not only affecting its perpetrator, but also affecting all else that has become harmed by it.  This is a tall order, to be sure, but is there any short cut?  To overcome the wrong of sin a display of right or justice had to be made that, in effect, proved how life itself could be regained, and under what conditions.  The identity of the true God would simultaneously get affirmed in the process.  This is theodicy in a new key!

 This is precisely what the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are all about.  A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad execution of a sinless man was rectified by a wonderful, marvelous, no bad, very good resurrection to a life even more full than before, in fact, overflowing to others in wholesomeness.

THE HERDING BEHAVIOR OF PENAL SATISFACTION THEOLOGIANS

If you wonder how Penal Substitution pundits (whether of an economic satisfaction or a governmental exemplification variety) can be so nonchalantly lumped together under a single broadside rubric—“wrong”—my answer would be that they do it to themselves.  They suffer from herding behavior by all falling prey to the identical erroneous assumptions about the Atonement:  “it must be penal.”  They play follow-the-leader like lemmings.  The same suppression of exegetical cues.  The same systematic bulldozing of informed objections.  The same mislabeling of opponents.  The same linking of scriptures that are not properly parallel.  The same tacit agreement to recognize, endorse, and parrot lame arguments.  It’s a stampede to raise a cloud of dust, a choking smoke screen, and a frightfully intimidating din of proof text references.  It’s really all quite impolite—a collective stiff arming of the Christian public, not to mention honest seekers.

For their part, Calvinists traditionally have proudly claimed to deplore their detractors’ appeals to “reason” in critique of Reformed soteriology, yet no one can outdo the Calvinists’ exhibit of rationalizing their earmark penal-satisfaction bullying of sound exegesis, even going so far as to sacrifice it on the altar of “systematic consistency.”  How very carnal, yet all too human!  But it disrespects Scripture—holy Scripture by its unholy manhandling of God’s authentic, Resurrection-endorsed way of justice and peace.  Only in the apostolic version of the Gospel do justice and peace embrace and kiss.  Only premial justice is up to the rigors and tenderness of lovemaking with peace.

Calvinists may argue that penal satisfaction is “necessary” because of “the doctrine of sin,” i.e., their doctrine of “original sin”!  So when premial inclusion is posed as the authentic apostolic teaching instead, they may claim it has an insufficient doctrine of sin.”  This stock tactic of theirs reveals that Calvinists have slipped off the Gospel long before they lay their hands on the Atoning Sacrifice.  Their Augustinian legacy of logic about sin had set them up for their deception and moves them to further manhandle soteriology in order to make it serve their false doctrine of sin.  Here is the tale wagging the dogma.  But the whole beast needs to be reformed!  Calvinism itself needs a thorough housecleaning—a “reformation.

Orthodox Calvinists can be some of the most sectarian—which is to say, “heretical”—of all Christian traditions, even going so far as to doubt that others are even Christians unless they dot their “Ts” and cross their eyes like Calvinists do.

“…THOUGH YOU WERE CAST OUT TO THE UTTERMOST PART OF THE HEAVENS”—Nehemiah 1:9

This promise, echoing Deuteronomy 30:2-4, essentially pledges a comeback from a curse!  How hopeful is that?!  The return from Babylonian captivity was nothing less than that.  Curses are not irreversible, given a change of heart, turning of stony hearts back into hearts of flesh.  But what the world had never seen prior to the first advent of Jesus, the Messiah, was a return from the abode of the dead.  The unjust curse of Galatians 3 handily shoehorned Christ’s precipitous descent into Hades where he proclaimed his explosive conquest of death to the “undead” hosts of earlier generations.

So, penal satisfaction defenders like to inquire, “Wasn’t Jesus cursed by God?” and expecting an orthodox “Yes.”  We must query in return, “Was Joseph?  Job?  Jeremiah?  Or how about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego?  Or all the faithful martyrs?”  And what about our own circumstances that may occasionally seem to line up with those dread lists of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28—do they allege that we must have been cursed?  Well, if they do, we may still point to Jesus, who bore a “loophole” curse in the favor of God…and lives again to tell about it for our comfort and consolation.

RESTORING THE PREMIAL ATONEMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS:  STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS

Restoring the apostolic truth of God’s premial justice and the surprising (although it shouldn’t have been!) way it was worked out in the Atonement, has not been the maverick brainchild of a Lone Ranger.  Whole crowds of thoughtful, earnest, circumspect, and courageous Bible scholars have led the way through the overgrowth of prickly, penal vocabulary, concepts, metaphors, and illustrations alien to apostolic patterns of sound explanation.  Creeds, confessions, catechisms, and stout volumes of dogmatics often barred the way through the wilderness of overwrought orthodoxy.  But the outcome—the final destination—was never in doubt, at least not from the vantage point of the concordant integrity and unalterability of the New Testament documents.  Their native vocabulary, conceptuality, proportionality, and narrative structure kept course without wavering.  Our whole duty is simply to get in line with that Pole Star and follow, despite the pushes and pulls of cultural preferences, individual biases, sacred traditions, or, of course, threats to position, livelihood, life, and limb.  No small challenge, to be sure.  But God’s Spirit has no other agenda than to testify nonstop to What-Is-Written and will not be put off by our even centuries-long wayward departures from the straight and narrow, but is divinely determined to shepherd us back Home regardless.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 24

The reason penal substitutionists resist speaking of Christ as a “victim” (even though the early church did speak this way) is because they teach that since Christ surrendered himself voluntarily, he was “not a victim.” Some even go so far as to assert that “no injustice,” therefore, was done! This leads to absurd, preposterous conclusions if carried through consistently. It means that voluntarily taking risks in the face of evils unleashed by criminals or alien military forces (think only of a suicide mission) does not entail victimization or injustice! The problem with this whole line of thought—and this explains why it is so tenaciously held—is that any imputation of an injustice done to Christ would implicate either God or Christ or both, in terms of penal satisfaction/substitution assumptions.

However, on assumptions of God’s premial justice THERE HAD TO BE AN INJUSTICE IN THESE EVENTS OR THERE COULD BE NO SHOW OF CONTERVAILING JUSTICE ISSUING IN COSMIC REDEMPTION! That magnitude of justice is what sinners crave! That image of justice would constitute the Light of the world!

God Himself is the one who ends up bearing the sins of penal satisfaction theologians. He has been absorbing all the theological errors of the whole history of atonement theories: all the shame of being misrepresented, all the defamation resulting from the world’s revulsion from both orthodox and unorthodox caricatures of His authentic character.

And that’s not all. God has taken His lumps gracefully!  He has let Evangelicals and other orthodox Protestants twist Scripture and suppress testimony by the semi-load. Yet He seems fairly unruffled for all that. Such equanimity would befit all those of us who wish to represent Him faithfully.

For his part, Hugo Grotius stretched Scripture on the rack of his punitive and natural law preconceptions, thus achieving predictably tortured exegesis and interpretations. In face, his endeavor concerning the Atonement provides a veritable study in tendentious method. He was evidently a man under compulsion to make the results come out “right.” Using Faustus Socinus as a whipping boy to gain dubious leverage for his own novel theory and give it a color of orthodoxy. However, it fell tragically short of the premial justice exhibited in the resurrectionary Atonement as the New Testament presents it in its own native categories and proportionate usages. A milder degree of “enhanced interrogation” of Scripture would surely have yielded superior information and spared the church a merely alternative way of being punitive regarding the Atonement.

Any acceptilation theory of the Atonement founders and sinks in the face of covenantal realities in Scripture.  God did not merely “accept the sufferings” of His Son as “sufficient” deterrent to permit or enable Him to “save others safely” (?).  They two had a deal going!  (The Devil, incidentally, was not in on it.)  The Son kept his side of it, and the Father kept His. That was the deal, and there were no rough approximations or fuzzy edges to “get all acceptilated over.”  It was a clean operation, secured by God’s own voluntary oath to His Son.

Nor did that transaction evidently turn on relative amounts of suffering between Christ’s cross and the deserts of the sinners he came to save.  The issue, after all, was his obedience in doing God’s desire.

What light is thrown on the nature of sin, guilt, punishment, affliction, evil, and consequences by THE VERY FACT THAT THERE IS A PREMIAL SIDE TO JUSTICE TO RECKON WITH, ESPECIALLY IN CONNECTION WITH ATONEMENT? For if there is, then the whole ambience of Atonement discourse is altered in all directions. Everything changes when the premial element is restored to its authentic soteriological role and prominence.

The dominant imagery of the New Testament writers concerning the work of the Lord Jesus Christ is never of “substitution,” but of him doing something “for” us and “for” our salvation. This is simply what we would expect of “body life” where the body parts serve one another. So much the more where the relation is of the “Head” to or “for” the body and its members. Both Paul and Peter speak of “subjection” of wives to husbands; then Paul of husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the church, “surrendering himself for its sake,” while Peter writes of husbands honoring wives as weaker vessels. John, typically, is prominent in his language of “loving one another” as Christ loves us and becomes a protective shelter around our sins. All such exchanges are irreducible to “substitution”—a leaden footed image that tramples the subtlety and variety of mutuality characterizing the lovely complementarity of loving, caring, saving exchanges of service for each other which we find throughout the New Testament and indeed the tangible Body of Christ empirically.

The mounting influence of a punitive worldview since especially Augustine, then growing throughout the Middle Ages with further dominant impulses from Anselm, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Grotius, Owen, et al, has impelled penal substitution.”

ON “READING IN” (“EISEGETING”) PENAL ASSUMPTIONS INTO SCRIPTURE

A number of pivotal New Testament passages abruptly (to our sensibilities) juxtapose contrasting elements in such a manner as to beg for further explanation. And at just such junctures penal satisfaction theory has been at hand to supply its full arsenal of punitive weaponry to meet the challenge. Following are a few of these enigmatic verses:

John 10:17

Acts 2:23-24

Romans, 3:25-26, 7:6, 8:3-4

Galatians 3:13-14

Colossians 1:21-22

Hebrews, 2:9, 9:15-17, 10:9-19, 19-22

I Peter 3:18

Such Scriptures could be multiplied. The temptation, which has felled many a doughty theologian within the Western or Latin tradition, is to read in penal satisfaction presuppositions to make “sense” of THE DRAMATIC REVERSAL FROM DEATH TO LIFE. To be sure, we need an explanation, and there is one; yet it is not penal but premial, invoking God’s restorative, rewarding justice in response to Christ’s voluntary surrender to unjust authorities representing sinful Israel plus the Gentiles.

Furthermore, not one of these passages, taken almost at random from the rich lore of apostolic thought, either explicitly supplies the allegedly necessary penal assumptions, or implicitly requires them. A veil has descended upon theology to mask the liberating premial truth and to quench, if possible, the light of life. The time is long overdue to unmask the imposture and reign of ERROR.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 23

Hugo Grotius puts what he alleges to be a “sovereign Godat the mercy of a “moral governmentthat compels him to “punish” the innocent by His own divine hand and “wrathful” scourge so as to “MAKE AN EXAMPLE” OF Christ and so strike FEAR (!) INTO WOULD-BE LAWBREAKERS! And Grotius presumes to call this “THE GOSPEL”! Where, for Heaven’s sake, do we ever in Scripture observe God at the mercy of “the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN” and “ITS RIGHTEOUSNESS” SO AS TO BE FORCED TO DO A COSMIC UNRIGHTEOUSNESS IN ORDER TO SAVE THE COSMOS? What type of a “MORAL GOVERNMENT” WOULD DARE TO SET SUCH AN “EXAMPLE” OF IMMORALITY IN THE INTERESTS OF “DETERRING” MORTAL, SINFUL EARTHLINGS FROM DARING TO MURDER THE INNOCENT IN PRECISELY THIS WICKED MANNER? Yet Grotius remorselessly passes off this gross fiction as Gospel truth! What will happen to our tender conscience, good judgment, sound reason, etc., if we let such a fatuous SCARECROW of a gospel go unprotested?

Grotius adduces “FEAR” as a centerpiece of his gospel! Shouldn’t this have been the DEAD GIVEAWAY of the dreadfully aberrant tenor of this whole system of “salvation”?

What a world, a solar system, a veritable universe of difference there is between such a grim and spectral gospel of exemplary threat (reminiscent of the curse lists of Leviticus 26:14-39 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68) and the Gospel of the graciousness of God (Acts 20:24) and of “great joy which shall be to all peoples” (Luke 2:10)!

So here we are faced with another, a different, gospel—“the gospel of the moral government of God” versus the authentic Gospel of the Kingdom of God. It should not be difficult to spot the differences. To all, the warning goes out: be careful what you invent by ingenuity or prodigy.

Grotius, instead of accounting for the enigma of the Cross by appealing to the twofold nature of justice as both penal and premial (depending on the particular deserts of the defendant), and then posing exclusively premial justice as executed on Christ’s behalf in the process that achieved the Atonement, took a very different route by positing a twofold role for God—a “personal” and a “rectoral” or “governmental.”

HUGO’S FOREIGN PUNISHMENT EXCHANGE PROGRAM

Hugo Grotius proceeds backwards from the conclusion that God needed to make and example of Christ in order to strike fear into sinners as a deterrent from sinning, then argues to the premise that God must have punished Christ at the Cross so as to supply the requisite substitute for the otherwise forthcoming punishment that their sins deserved. It was a kind of “PUNISHMENT EXCHANGE PROGRAM”!

But Scripture is not very amenable to such an interpretation of Christ’s afflictions and abuse-taking. No matter, Grotius forces his interpretation, text by stubborn text, until it is veritably corseted into a grossly disfigured hyper-penal shape. To be sure, this contortion of texts was not intended to bolster penal satisfaction, only penal acceptilation. In other words, God allegedly did not require full economic satisfaction of the debt of human sin by His Son, but merely a sufficient show of punishment toward mankind to achieve deterrence, and toward God to win His acceptance of its magnitude in exchange for an otherwise equivalent amount of punishment executed on sinners themselves.

So for Grotius, as for Calvin, punishment is the thing: the heartbeat of Atonement. Without that, it isn’t any “good.” Both theories are penal at heart—a heart of darkness. There’s no need to caricature a gargoyle.

I sometimes get the feeling that Evangelicals would not—could not—be grateful for their salvation unless they could somehow think of Christ as their substitute. It’s as if he’s done nothing worth shouting about unless he suffered the punishment of God’s wrath in our place. Dear and cherished though this teaching is as a centerpiece of both dogma and devotion, yet in light of the patterns of more soundly comforting themes in Scripture, it has fostered misplaced gratitude. I don’t doubt its appeal for a moment, however. I too have felt it. I was brought up on this doctrine. It was drilled into me countless times, with a host of flannel-graph stories, during three-days-a-week chapels in Christian school for seven years, and in Sunday School and church on top of that. And from Christian radio and magazines and devotionals and Youth for Christ. Then Campus Crusade, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and an evangelical college and two evangelical seminaries. It was, in short, pervasive. It was everywhere…except in the Bible.

Grotius would have been on solid ground if he had argued that not exclusively Christ’s “dying,” but especially his “being raised for [our] sakes” (II Corinthians 5:15) supplied the contents, the materiél, that constituted what was exchanged for the punishment of death due to sinners.

But now please notice carefully, this “commodity” cannot properly be accommodated to a theological framework of mere “acceptilation” on God’s part. For God would thereby be placed in the unbefitting role of passively “accepting” (as Grotius alleged Christ’s death as “propitiation” was accepted) Christ’s resurrection (!) as “sufficient” to warrant the bypassing or overlooking of punishment to sinners. Whereas, much rather, with this “commodity of exchange,” i.e., Christ’s resurrection, God is PROACTIVELY EXECUTING HIS REWARDING JUSTICE ITSELF DIRECTLY TO HIS SON, WHICH REPAYIMENT CHRIST, IN TURN, WILL GRATUITOUSLY (i.e., without any deserts in terms of sinners’ works, but only on account of their voluntary faith in the abundant testimony of Scripture, which God reckons as justness) DISTRIBUTE VIA THE HOLY SPIRIT.

So here we see that one category after another of Grotius’ theoretical framework must topple before the superiority of the apostolic Gospel of God’s premial justice as demonstrated in Christ’s resurrection.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 22

ALL OR NONE?

Penal substitution devotees are so captivated by their opinion that attempts to set the record straight on behalf of the exclusivity of premial of rewarding justice in the Atonement is invariably met with the uncritical retort that, rather, this must be a case of “both/and,” not “either/or.” This unreflective comeback is an instant knee-jerk response. Hence we must dare to point out, at risk of their embarrassment, that the very scriptures they have traditionally misused to advance an exclusively penal modus operandi actually prove the opposite, exclusively premial case. So now the shoe is on the other—the right—foot! But besides that, if they are honestly and sincerely ready so suddenly to advocate such a stylishly “balanced” explanation that trumpets “both premial and penal” involvement of God in the Atonement, then where were all their “balancing” arguments during the last 500 years when they never whispered so much as a mumblin’ word in defense of God’s rewarding justice? This is scarcely an ingenuous posture but reeks of tactical defense mechanisms to save appearances lest they be forced to eat crow over their highhanded snubbing of the least hint of opposition even before hearing the opposition out on the subject (Proverbs 18:13).

However, they simply can’t have it both ways. Yet they heedlessly shut their eyes in reflexive denial of the facts of logic and sound hermeneutics. To be sure, their restored eyesight will demand a colossal paradigm shift, as famously argued by Thomas Kuhn. The premial model of the Atonement not only does not “need” any penal energy in order to be fully operative, but it logically demands its total exclusion. Any compromise destroys its inner symmetry, intelligibility, and integrity. Perhaps this is why theologians who are habituated to penal explanation are so reluctant even to consider this alternative when faced with its “totalitarian” demands of “no compromise.” They want to keep some sentimental shred of the only security blanket they have ever known. They clutch their rags the tighter.

Moreover, the proof for the premial position amounts to a leveraged takeover of every single Scripture traditionally used to “prove” (specious though it is) the penal thesis concerning atonement. It’s not as though there are a few scriptures that teach a premial side and a few that teach a penal side, and we must “blend” them into a “balanced” picture. No. Although, indeed, there are two sides to divine justice—the premial and the penal—and both in tandem comprise distributive justice, integrally understood, yet only the premial is operative in the Atonement.

So once the premial paradigm has run its course throughout Scripture, there is nothing left over to make a case for saving a penal part of the pie. The Atonement was all premial. Any other position—any attempted compromise—is internally contradictory.

However, if penal satisfaction champions protest that they are behaving in good faith, let them prove it by starting to admit that even with fallibly human justice there is a premial as well as a penal side. That move would open the door to greater comprehension of what is really at stake in this controversy—all the better because the light radiates from the realm of our more accessible cultural experience.

Yet to reiterate concerning the biblical mechanics of the Atonement, once you use a passage for one position—whether premial or penal—it usually becomes impossible to use it coherently to bolster the other. Decisive exegetical choices have strict systematic consequences that ramify willy-nilly. As we get the Bible right, our theological systems of doctrine must acquiesce or suffer obsolescence and expire, barring artificial life support. If penal satisfaction/substitution is indeed dead in the water, it is quite acceptable to fish it out and give it an honorable burial, regardless of the harm it has done. We may owe it that much, if only because of the hard lessons it is enabling us to learn about the profound resistance that a systematic theory can put up against the Truth. This painful lesson can prepare us well for the future.

Who could possibly have anticipated that just when Evangelicals were congratulating themselves on “getting it right” against flimsy naysayers, and even managing to publish new translations of the Bible that cave in to their dogmatic notions by tendentious renderings (or should we say rendings?) of key scriptures, thereby risking “invalidating the Explanation of God by [their] tradition,” “teaching for teachings the directions of humans” (Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:1-13)—that just at this “propitious” moment their most pivotal teachings concerning “propitiation” itself, hand in hand with “justification” and “reconciliation” are coming crashing down over their heads. For an authentic paradigm shift entails a seismic shaking of hallowed foundations, a bit of strategic demolition, and sound and solid reconstruction in terms of clarified verities. We should, moreover, welcome such remodeling of faulty theological models that house vital 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 21

At the Cross, God was not breathing out wrath upon His Son, the suffering servant, but was much rather allowing sinful Israel, by the hand of lawless Rome, to blow off steam by punishing the sinless Messiah, which was explicitly contrary to the will or desire of God as expressed in His Law through Moses that specified what was just and unjust. Yet it played exquisitely into the hands of God’s strategic plan or overarching intention (βουλη), which decreed that justice be executed in favor of those wrongly oppressed…much less murdered! How this could possibly be is the “mystery/secret of the Gospel” only solved by the Resurrection.

Any and all punishment at and around and preceding the Cross was at the wicked hands of sinners, by their own Satanically inspired volition, not by the hand of God. His own hand was played on the third day to spoil their big mess with a judicial order of resurrection favoring the Innocent One.

The Lord Jesus, Messiah, bore those punishing, fatal blows by dying, thus sacrificing his earthly existence (psuche). Yet Jehovah God bore that sin[-offering] by raising from among the dead His thus victimized Son to an inheritance of immortal honor and universal rule, even as Jesus himself, since “He our infirmities got, and the diseases he bears,” (Matthew 8:16-17; Isaiah 53:1) fulfilled that prophecy by casting out wicked spirits with a word and curing all those having an illness. The two miraculous operations of curing and raising are parallel.

In passages like Romans 3:25-26, 8:1-4, II Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13, Philippians 3:7-11, and Hebrews 9:11-17, apostle Paul’s assumptions are not immediately evident, therefore many Western theologians have imported their “penal satisfaction” assumptions in order to make them say something consistent with their own pet theory rather than inquire further from Paul’s immediate and larger contexts and distinctive vocabulary to find the operative assumptions actually present. In each of these classic passages, Paul’s overriding message of God’s rewarding (premial) justice supplies the fitting and necessary resurrectionary assumption that completes the logic and unlocks the glorious meaning.

What Penal Satisfaction teaches, in effect, is that God’s virtues of goodness, kindness, patience, mercy, forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, and graciousness have to be PAID FOR! GOD CANNOT PRACTICE THESE VIRTUES WITHOUT GETTING PAID BACK FOR THEM! And why, you ask? They shoot back: BECAUSE GOD IS ABSOLUTELY “RIGHTEOUS” AND “JUST.” AFTER ALL, SOMEONE HAS TO “PAY FOR” ALL THIS GENEROSITY, RIGHT? THERE’S NO FREE LUNCH! GOD’S JUSTICE DEMANDS PAYBACK!

The crass texture of this predisposition is seldom allowed to surface in polite theological, much less sermonic, discourse. It would scandalize orthodoxy to upend its sacred cow out in the public pasture where some wandering sheep (they are wandering by the drove!) may perchance behold the disturbing spectacle to their dismay. But unless this Baal is slaughtered and sacrificed in the interest of biblical premial justice, the beast will continue to gather followers and worshippers, to the continuing (if not increasing) dishonoring of God’s true character and authentic justice. THIS UNGODLY DOGMA SHOULD BE EXPOSED AND DISMANTLED, DISPLACED FROM ITS PROMINENT PEDESTAL AND DOMINEERING ELEVATION BY THE SHEER COUNTERVAILING WEIGHT OF BIBLICAL EVIDENCE. Otherwise its devotees may continue to play their shell games with words (many of them not to be found in Scripture) and shuffle their arguments, which they substitute, ironically, for the anointed apostolic explanations in Scripture.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 20

MORAL GOVERNMENT SPECULATION VERSUS COVENANT EXPLANATION

Hugo Grotius and his heirs of the New England Theology in the 19th century began with a speculative construction of a so-called ideal “moral government” that bears only partial resemblance to the integral and full-orbed Biblical concept of divine covenant. Most central to this theory is its concept of justice as being penal exclusively, with no premial or rewarding element worth dwelling upon. In stark contrast, the covenantal explanation of justice includes both penal and premial components in its execution of retribution, depending on the respective deserts of the parties involved.

A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Let us suppose for a moment that the Bible is correct (ahem): at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ there was no wrath of God, no punishment by God, no condemnation from God, and furthermore, no righteousness/justice of God manifested, displayed, or revealed whatsoever. What then are we beholding there? That is the watershed question concerning Atonement.

It was when I started confronting this single decisive question head on, with all its attendant difficulties, and with probing honesty, including a willingness to reconsider long cherished formulations and slogans in light of Scripture’s supremacy, especially in the original languages, that human theories of the Atonement started unraveling for me one by one as the rugged pattern of sound explanation emerged with increasing clarity, consistency, and integrality.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the strangely skewed outcome of whatever impact may be attributed to the teaching of and belief in the penal satisfaction/substitution theory of the Atonement, coupled with its virtually total suppression of the premial edge of God’s justice (likewise in the Protestant doctrine of Justification)—the outcome, I repeat, as it bears upon our civilization in general, is a pair of polarized opposite attitudes. First is a hyper-penal impulse to emphasize punitive responses to every departure from legislated, official, and duly policed laws, down to the letter. The second is an anti-penal overreaction to such legalism. These are the predictable tandem results of mutually repellant reflexes triggered by the one-sided concept of justice that grew up in Western civilization with theological justification since the patristic era and received further impulses toward severity from Anselm and especially the Protestant Reformation.

This fact will become more clearly visible when the premial demand of justice is restored to its proper place in our culture. It seems hardly a stretch to suggest that such a restoration is impossible unless theology restores premial justice to its most central role in the apostolic Gospel of the New Testament. Indeed, unless Christian theology takes the lead in this, and unless this is followed by an out-and-out revival of premial proclamation, the new Reformation needed to extend this recalibrated balance to justice generically can never gain the momentum necessary to overcome the current downward spiral of the administration of justice due to the squabbling of hyper-penal versus anti-penal perversions of it.

Without a stunning spiritual revival sufficient to spark an authentic New Reformation radiating throughout the corridors of culture, the inner reactions and overreactions of factions will weaken the integrity of the pillars of our democratic-republican political order which makes possible the flourishing of all other cultural institutions. The alternatives, at our juncture of history, are almost too grim and apocalyptic to contemplate with composure.

It is time to wake up and smell the theological pollution that threatens to toxify the whole crew of the ship of state and hence bring down the bulk of passengers to Davy Jones’ Locker. It may even now be too late to launch the lifeboats, but if not, we must broadcast the imminent peril and urge switching our trust to the bobbing, vulnerable-looking alternative of premial justice with the cry: occupy the lifeboats!

If we would give up all “satisfaction” language in connection with the Atonement (indeed, it is nowhere to be found in Scripture in such contexts) and resorted instead to Covenant-fulfillment terms (“Scripture must be fulfilled,” “it must be,” “promise,” “oath,” “[covenanted] Scripture cannot be broken [from fulfillment],” etc.), we would be well on our way back to apostolic truth and the authentic Gospel rather than the pathetic penal parody that passes for “Pauline proclamation.”

The Old Covenant, after all, had a two-edged sword of judgment to execute a two-faceted justice—both premial (rewarding and restoring) and penal (punitive and avenging). Thus we might surmise (correctly as it turns out) that covenant fulfillment would involve fulfillment of premial justice by the dispensing of promised blessings to the upright, alongside or alternating with fulfillment of penal justice by the enacting of threatened curses against the wicked and incorrigible.

It is then fairly easy to see how the career of Jesus Christ could have won for him the many unfulfilled blessings of the Old Covenant on the assumption that it was right and just and fair that he receive them, because he deserved them. And by extension we can grasp how, by his proven generosity throughout his career, we might become beneficiaries also, by faith in this wonderful Message.

Furthermore, in light of this mighty revelation, manifestation, or display of God’s premial justice via resurrection and beyond, we are at last capable of gaining decisive leverage against the penal necessitism that has been the grim and tediously drawn out legacy of all penal satisfaction views. We are not likely to see the premial flip side of Biblical-style covenantal justice if we keep insisting on “satisfaction” since the theological use of the concept does not usually bear any rewarding freight. In order to turn it around and make it serviceable to the covenant structure of Holy Scripture (if we think it even worth the effort), we would have to argue that God was obligated to “pay”/”satisfy” His pledged promises to bless those who keep His covenant (i.e., its directives/precepts/laws), so that when the Lord Jesus Christ finally came along in Israel’s history of otherwise mass failure, and even though Israel rejected, disowned, cast out, afflicted, bruised, pierced, slandered, mocked, tormented, and cursed him to death, GOD STILL REMAINED OBLIGATED TO “SATISFY” HIS OATH-BOUND PLEDGE TO BLESS HIM WITH LONG LIFE, ENTHRONEMENT, SEED ROYAL, AND INHERITANCE OF THE CREATED UNIVERSE. Accordingly A SHOW OF STAGGERING REDEMPTIVE POWER was called for that would reveal, manifest, and display whether Jehovah God really had what it took to pull off a SUCCESSFUL COUNTER-OFFENSIVE THAT WOULD ACTUALLY MAKE PEACE AND CONCILIATE FOES WITHOUT SHEDDING THEIR SINFUL BLOOD IN THE (ATONING!) PROCESS. We all know what happened. GOD PERMITTED THE BLOOD OF HIS OWN TO BE SHED WITHOUT RETALIATING, AND THEN “UNCURSED” HIS SON BACK TO LIFE—ULTRA-COMPENSATED LIFE! Such an amazing, surprising turnabout of malediction to benediction shocked the hearers of the Story into realizing just how close they had come to experiencing incineration for daring to “lay hands on” the head of the Lamb of God to destroy him, yet were shown not simply abundant mercy, even while enemies, but unprecedented GRACIOUSNESS in its place if they would become believers! This Story could powerfully compute with sinners who well knew what they would have done if they had been in God’s place! THIS PREMIAL GOSPEL is a SHOCK TO HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS! IT SENDS OUT A MAGNETIC PULSE OF DRAWING POWER TO ATTRACT SINNERS TO THE LIGHT.

~to be continued~

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