An “Open Letter Review” of The Desire of Divine Love: John McLeod Campbell’s Doctrine of the Atonement, by Leanne Van Dyk


Your dissertation was the perfect follow-up to my “Anselm, Calvin, and Arminius” paper. Thank you! My daughter checked out both your dissertation and published book for me from Hekman library and I have relished your clear thinking and writing and have learned a great deal from your wrestling with this worthy theologian. Years ago already, I photocopied a library copy of the 6th edition of Campbell’s classic, but haven’t had the occasion to peruse it as I had wished at the time. Your book gave me the occasion to dip into a few salient sections.

Thanks for clarifying on p. 111 that Campbell did not intend to set up a parallel with penal substitution by replacing punishment with repentance and that “substitutionary” repentance was far from his mind. I have altered a statement I made in the “Anselm, Calvin, & Arminius” paper accordingly. This common misstep reveals how blithely we are apt to dress new ideas in old garments!

In view of the fascinating similarity of Campbell’s thought to Paul Peter Waldenström’s concerning God’s love, you will surely want to take a look at the latter’s 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 Swedish, with notes and introduction, by J. G. Princell (Chicago: John Martenson, Publisher, 1888 [Swedish, 1873]), (accessed December 22, 2009). For a superb summary of his thought, drawn from the entire corpus of his considerable writings, see Axel Andersson, The Christian Doctrine of the Atonement according to P. P. Waldenstrom, trans. G. F. Hedstrand (Chicago: Covenant Press, 1937), (accessed December 22, 2009). It was a misstep for Campbell to reject “legal or juridical atonement categories” (p. 138), for he then fell into the arms of Edward’s speculative idea—a mere passing remark! Clearly, Campbell was desperate—needlessly desperate, as it turns out.

Yes, Calvin himself was “Calvinian” in your sense, as hugely confirmed by Alan C. Clifford in Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790: An Evaluation (Oxford, 1990), a book I found exceedingly helpful as background reading for my paper last summer. Arminius it was who almost finished the procedure of circumcising Calvin’s basic soteriology, starting from the tag of Calvin’s own authentic unlimited atonement (such as it was—inconsistent because its tissue was connected organically to deterministic notions of Augustine—ultimately Gnostic, demi-Manichaean echoes from his youth, it seems to me). Campbell’s attempt to base “his entire theological system on the love of God” falters on the disconnect between love and legal/juridical categories regarding the atonement. (This, naturally, would distort his view of justification, too, whatever that might be.) For Calvin, as well, this disconnect compels him toward tortuous twists of thought to extrude the love of God through a supremely penal grid. Therefore, I think you risk being unfair to Grensted and, moreover, probably to a majority of students of the subject. Shouldn’t you at least consider the possibility that Calvin was conceptually incoherent here, despite good intentions? Systematicians more easily fall into this trap precisely because they usually attempt a comprehensive inclusion of all that’s s’posed to be included, but not seldom it jangles and rattles with loose parts. This is what I see in Calvin. If Scripture is still the ultimate touchstone, we ought not to get too apologetic or defensive on behalf of any human interpreter (including ourselves, I grant you). Therefore, on balance, I would tend to uphold the good judgment of Grensted’s “concession” (p. 141), after arguing that in Calvin God’s penal justice overshadows His love in actual practice and in the feelings also of his devotees. Calvin’s heart may have been elsewhere, but we cannot judge that. Thus a truly “fair” appraisal of Calvin’s theology will admit this actual historic tendency of his teaching, regardless of what we might prefer. A phenomenal assessment is in order, and not merely an apologetic one. It is not an “old mistake” to point out this tumor; it is surely there, and only growing more obvious and more obtrusive as time passes. Let’s do the right thing: surgery. This alien mass is what makes the patient “lopsided” (p. 142). And Calvin could not keep the mass from growing larger and more prominent in later generations, starting especially with Beza (and the stream emerging from Calvin’s Academy), whom, strangely, you never mention! This really puzzles me. Please see Clifford’s book.

The inner logic of penal substitution is largely responsible for this “takeover” at the expense of love in Calvinistic theology. A return to Calvin does nothing to rectify his inconsistency, which, to be sure, inaugurated it! Why not seek an opportunity to correct the underlying error? Calvin no more than Luther had rightly grasped (or been gripped by) the premial justice of God, and so resorted to convolutions that rewired penal justice to look like it might plausibly carry a salvific charge.

Hebrews 2:9, on which Calvin comments (note 14 on p. 159), should have instructed him that God’s graciousness remained still with Christ, even on the cross—and not His wrath in any sense. How is your statement that Calvin’s discourse on wrath “obscures his emphasis on the love of God” (p. 142, last para.) any more innocuous a concession than Grensted’s? It is true and it is damning. It is the very issue at stake here!

Campbell’s problem of assurance derives from the Calvinistic disjunction between the Cross and Pentecost (for Campbell had little to say concerning the role of the latter). Paul had it together (via assumptions not shared by the Reformation) in Gal. 2-3, II Cor. 3-5, Phil. 3, and elsewhere.

As a counterpoint to Calvin’s summary, “apart from Christ, God is, so to speak, hostile to us” (p. 160, note 18), may I commend to you Paul Peter Waldenström’s treatment in Andersson’s book (chaps. on “The Love of God” and “The Relationship between the Love of God and His Righteousness”)?

Calvin never makes a sufficient or satisfying comeback to God’s LOVE from his treatment of God’s WRATH for the simple reason that even his handling of the saving event of the Cross entails wrath—MORE WRATH!  This does not compute.  It can not compute.  It never will compute.  IT MUST BE TOTALLY JETTISONED.  RADICAL SURGERY ALONE CAN SAVE THE BODY OF “REFORMED” SOTERIOLOGY.  This entails a RADICAL REFORMATION, OR ANY TALK OF “SEMPER   REFORMANDA“ WILL RING HOLLOW.

Calvin is correct that the Son did not reunite us to the Father “that he might now begin to love those whom he had hated [been ‘hostile to’!],” but incorrect that “we have already been reconciled to him who loves us.” (See Waldenström on this crucial point.) The world is conciliated believer by believer (all who believe and respond to God’s entreaty, “We are beseeching: ‘For Christ’s sake be conciliated to God!’”). However, your quote (p. 143) ends on the right note, if somewhat inconsistently (as others have noted). Yes, Calvin struggles (…“ineffable”…), and so should we! So did Campbell! However, only TRUTH truly satisfies. We must be willing to go beyond Calvin to re-read Scripture and re-consider Protestant dogma about God’s justice/righteousness. The most revealing statement is Calvin’s, “In some ineffable way, God loved us and yet was angry [‘in some sense hostile‘] toward us at the same time, until HE became reconciled to US in Christ.” This whole rat’s nest perpetuates the error that God was reconciled to us, contrary to Scripture. “Thus in a MARVELOUS [!!] and DIVINE [!!] way he loved us even as HE HATED US” (p. 143). This is why we cannot—must not—be reconciled to Calvin’s theology. It is marbled with irresolved contradictions that grate and lacerate. This the Bible, by its own authentic and inspired language, does not do. Later generations of Calvinists (for it has appeared impossible, historically considered, not to tumble off Calvin’s slippery inconsistencies into the waiting jaws of the yet more harsh Calvinism of the Academy and its graduates, Arminius and a small minority excepted) progressed to a more internally and intentionally consistent penal payment theory (the “5 points”), hardening up against the attempted correctives of Arminius.

Yet with all his talk of God’s wrath, it is but “cheap wrath” that can be bought off with a sacrifice. The costly wrath of Romans 1:18-3:20 can not be “appeased” and, in historic fact, made its advent in 70 A.D., exactly as prophesied.

You write of Calvin’s “idea of a mystery or ‘some ineffable way’ that God alone understands.” It has echoed down to Packer, Stott, and the host of Evangelicals who are still reacting to Abelardian, Socinian, Grotian, Ritchlian, and other challengers. Why not settle down and open up to other alternatives (come Holy Spirit!)? A belated, uncritical (so it seems to me) defense of Calvin and a sweeping of Campbell under his shadow accomplishes nothing beneficial or curative in the long run, but only delays the healing process for another tedious go ’round. Ironically, it seems to parry Campbell’s intended thrust! The “corrective” you speak of on p. 144 is most surely needed. I took a stab at it myself, in my paper. There, I was considerably aided by Alan Clifford’s book.

But the idea of “satisfaction” itself is flawed. Such a word is not used in apostolic Scripture, as you know. This should tell us something. Are we ready to learn from others’ mistakes? Our presumed theological “enemies” are our truest friends if we will take their criticisms to heart. CHRIST’S DEATH WAS NOT A “SATISFACTION,” NOR WAS EVEN HIS LIFE AND CAREER (nor, furthermore, would Irenaeus have seen them in this dubious “light”). Rather, Jesus’ entire career, inclusive of youth, baptism, teaching, mighty deeds, suffering of abuse, and crucifixion, constituted the perfect career of OBEDIENT FAITHFULNESS whose wicked destruction by Israel and the Gentiles under Satan’s clueless inspiration EVOKED THE DIVINE “SATISFACTION” OF THE FATHER’S OWN AUTHENTIC PREMIAL JUSTICE IN “REPAYING” JESUS WITH RESURRECTION AND EXALTATION TO THE THRONE OF GOD, PLUS THE OVERCOMPENSATING OUTBURST OF HOLY SPIRIT AS JUST SETTLEMENT (dikaiōma), WHICH CONSTITUTES THE POWER OF OUR OWN SALVATION, ACCESSIBLE BY FAITH (WHICH, IN TURN, GOD GRACIOUSLY IMPUTES AS RIGHTEOUSNESS, APART FROM OUR OWN WORKS). I’m sure you see the radical difference between this and Calvin’s position. COVENANTAL “SATISFACTION” WAS THE NECESSARY INGREDIENT IN THE SOTERIOLOGICAL FORMULA, and it was all but entirely missing in Protestant theology of his day. This COVENANTAL satisfaction (i.e., of the covenant Partners to each other) DOES NOT ENTAIL “SUBSTITUTION” AT ALL, and it may not (I’m still thinking this through) entail any highly wrought “representation” in some profound sense since GOD   APPOINTED JESUS TO BE THE SAVIOR OF THE WHOLE WORLD REGARDLESS OF HOW HUMAN BEINGS OR CIVIL GOVERNMENTS MAY PERCEIVE THE RIGHTFULNESS OF CHRIST’S AUTHORITY TO RULE. HE RULES REGARDLESS!   HE SAVES, REGARDLESS, ALL WHO COME TO HIM, NOT A FEW!

“Identification” (with sin) is a pale substitute for COMMUNION   WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.   For it is by that Spirit of adoption/sonship that we are included in the achievements of Christ. Talk about Christ’s “identification” with Israel, sinners, humanity—whomever or whatever—is moot and overshadowed by the OVERARCHING FACTUALITY OF JESUS’ LORDSHIP AND MESSIAHSHIP. God gave Jesus ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH, PERIOD, without asking anyone’s permission! Therefore Paul Van Buren’s remarks can be seen as completely missing the point of Christ’s work by misapprehending its mechanism in relation to God’s justice and human need for that kind of justice (the premial). NO SUBSTITUTION IS REQUIRED FOR PREMIAL JUSTICE TO DO ITS REWARDING, RESTORATIVE WORK, FOR IT WAS SUPER-COMPENSATORY SUCH THAT IT’S EFFICACY REACHED BELIEVING SINNERS DESPITE ALL! Moreover, and very importantly, THERE IS NO LIMITATION OF EXTENT, FOR THE UTTERLY SIMPLE REASON THAT JESUS DID NOT “PAY FOR SINS,” whether few or many or all! He paid for mankind, to buy us for God. GOD’S REPAYMENT TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST FOR ALL THE ABUSES HE UNJUSTLY SUFFERED IS THE ACTIVE INGREDIENT IN OUR REDEMPTION AND OVERFLOWS SUPERABUNDANTLY TO US EVER SINCE PENTECOST.   THIS IS GRACIOUSNESS IN FULL REGALIA!

This may vindicate Campbell’s repugnance for any talk of “satisfaction.” I don’t see any necessity to rehabilitate the notion by altering his. For it is really not “satisfactory” as an ingredient in a Biblically covenantal accounting of the mutual behaviors of the Father and Son for our salvation. The Son fully revealed the Father’s graciousness, and the Father, for His part, never reneged in a show of wrath at the Cross to show “how seriously He takes sin.” ALL OF ROMANS 2:18-3:20 REVEALS THAT…BECAUSE ALL OF HISTORY DOES!

I personally did not find Swinburne’s treatment convincing, perhaps because the premial view had so transformed my outlook that the old machinery he was cranking seemed quaintly obsolete. We corresponded cordially a couple of times, as well, and he was gracious, but I don’t think he ever gave my “77 Questions” a complete read through (I’ll admit, it may be a strain even for much younger eyes).

On my accounting, Christ never “absorbed” the wrath of God, but DID BEAR THE WRATH OF SINNERS at Satan’s instigation, WHICH WAS WRONGFULLY IMPOSED, YET VOLUNTARILY AND GRACIOUSLY BORNE, AND, BEST OF ALL, WAS DIVINELY REPAID WITH THE JUST AWARD OF RESURRECTION TO IMMORTAL BODILY LIFE AND UNIVERSAL RULE, TO WHICH HE NOW HAD A DIVINE RIGHT, BECAUSE OF HAVING ENTERED HIS OWN CREATION, BEEN ADAPTED TO A HUMAN BODY, AND BEEN UNJUSTLY DEPRIVED OF IT!   FOR THAT MADE HIM ELIGIBLE, BY RIGHTS, TO WIN THAT SOMATIC PROPERTY ALL BACK, AND SOME!   Generally speaking, there was no “absorption of wrath,” in any sense, by Christ, for he did not suffer divine wrath but Draconic fury/wrath; he “BORE SINS.” I hope this makes sense. To say it another way, it was not “penal justice at the Cross” but “premial justice at the Resurrection” that was the ACTIVE REDEMPTIVE INGREDIENT. Accordingly, saving justice was not substitutionary but direct to Christ, yet overflowing to us by faith and hence participatory, or even better, inclusive, on our part.

So if “to absorb wrath” is ipso facto “to satisfy wrath,” then we might elliptically be implying that Jesus “SATISFIED SATAN” at the Cross. Is that a problem? Who can doubt Satan’s “satisfaction” and relief over having done in his arch rival? But such a big boo boo! Here’s where I find the old illustration of God’s trickery of Satan so appealing. One need only read the Proverbs to make perfect sense of how this actually works. Of course, that was a short-lived, Pyrrhic victory, even as Jesus’ cry of dereliction was short-lived before the Grand Turnabout which he died expectantly waiting for.

With respect to Campbell’s understanding of Christ’s obedient life, I think this may be one of his most luminous and appealing contributions to the advance of a true atonement theology, in addition to his abjuring the notion of God’s wrath against Jesus (but here he compromised and back-stepped into a needlessly complicated, obscure, and hardly validated elaboration of Jesus’ “psychology,” something I think needs to be jettisoned). Calvin’s notion of the transference of “guilt” from us to “the head of the Son of God” is also a wrong accounting of what was being depicted symbolically by the ancient sacrifices. Instead, THE SIN OF SLAYING THE FLAWLESS LAMB OF GOD IS WHAT WAS FORESHADOWED. It prophetically anticipated the MURDER (THE EGREGIOUS SIN-offering) that would ultimately FREE us from our sins by WARRANTING GOD’S SUPER-COMPENSATING GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Thus did Satan do us a favor by triggering the trap that would JUSTLY SEAL HIS OWN ULTIMATE DOOM. Yes, this is funny, but all too true.

Hence Calvin’s theory of the Son’s taking upon himself God’s righteous vengeance is but a cleverly contrived myth, never contemplated by the early church, never fully articulated before the Reformation. That’s FIFTEEN LONG CENTURIES! Is it in the least credible that such a theory could be true, after all? You now know where I stand. Modern critics will not tolerate a rehash of that old error (or will they?). YET WHAT THEY DEVISE TO REPLACE IT MAY BE SCARCELY BETTER. What we most desperately need is a REARTICULATION OF THE OLD, OLD STORY, long predating Calvin and Anselm and even Augustine.

With respect to whether we dare repose our confidence in substitutionary punishment, I side with Campbell unhesitatingly and urge the yet more edifying consistency of Waldenström. Do check him out. For Calvin’s teaching UNDERMINES THE FULL RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD AND THEREBY UNDERMINES OUR EMULATION OF IT BEFORE THE NEEDY WORLD! How tragic is that! WE NEED THE FULLY RESTORED ACCOUNT OF GOD’S REWARDING, PREMIAL JUSTICE AT THE RESURRECTION TO REDRESS CALVIN’S GRIM NOVELTIES, well-meant though they be, I don’t doubt (though quite erroneous for all that). Let’s FORGIVE Calvin and MOVE ON! How many wistful theological pillars of salt now strew the wilderness between him and us!

John McLeod Campbell came very close to grasping, from what I have now learned, the valid connection of God’s HOLINESS and LOVE to Christ’s SUFFERING OF ABUSES. (See my own questions #11-14 in “77 Questions about the Atonement,” attached.) We do, indeed “partake in His own life in the Father’s favour” (p. 154), but in fact a favor greatly magnified toward Christ on account of his voluntary, obedient subjection to the sinfully inflicted injuries and insults of all who surrounded him, and which NEVER DEPARTED FROM HIM, EVEN UNDER THE SIMILARLY INFLICTED CURSE OF DIVINE “ABANDONMENT” (here, too, I salute Campbell for being profoundly on target!).

Campbell’s absence of reflection on the Holy Spirit is more than redressed by his compatriot and friend Edward Irving’s voluble reflections! Was Campbell self-consciously or unconsciously recoiling from Irving? C. Gordon Strachan’s The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving explores this remarkable early contribution in considerable detail. And, of course, R. C. Moberly, following in Campbell’s direct line (whatever their technical differences), surely opened up the latent ramifications of a kindred position into a much fuller doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

This concludes my remarks, Leanne. Your book has occasioned much valuable reflection on my own part, and induced a greater appreciation for Campbell’s labors than I could have anticipated at this point in my research on the atonement. I hope these thoughts may be of some use to you, as well. In any case, your labors wonderfully clarified a good many things. I thank you sincerely! May God grant you increased insight into the uniquely redemptive truth of the Gospel. I welcome any response you may have to this “review” of parts of your splendid book. Press on in your discipling of the next generation!

With gratitude, your fellow-pupil of the Lord Jesus,

Ron Roper

January 11-12, 2010; revised February 5, 7, 14, 2010

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