Category Archives: Protestant Reformation

INTRODUCTION TO REFORMATION DAY BLOG SERIES

[What follows is my inbox introduction to the preceding 15-part series, which I have been sending out as a PDF attachment, along with a one-third length abbreviated version, to friends, pastors, ministry workers, and theologians around the world since November 11th.  It explains my rationale for the project along with the circumstantial background.]

Dear Reader,

In honor of the 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day, October 31st, 1517, I have attached complete and abbreviated versions of a “premial” (the flip side of penal) or “resurrectionary” re-centering of the Atonement, Justification, Reconciliation, Peacemaking, etc.  I started posting these “theses” on October 31st, 2017, taking a fortnight to wrap up.  So I’m getting a late start distributing them electronically in a more traditional and perhaps more readable PDF format.  This is only the first of a series of milestone “anniversaries” that will commemorate Luther’s early and rapid development into the full-on Protestant Reformer.  My findings after a decades-long critical re-inspection of our Protestant foundations may not meet wide acceptance.  But the undertaking seems worthwhile and certainly long past due.  I’ll be happy to receive correction and adjust accordingly when shown the error of my ways.  But I do think I smell a New Reformation brewing.  Yet who would have guessed the extent of repairs now necessary on the very foundations of the Protestant Reformation?  Infrastructure can be such a pain to keep up, much less improve, as our nation is learning.  But if the foundations are actually destroyed….  Shucks.  And I was led to believe we had all this stuff nailed down…

I’m starting to tell folks that I’ve been suffering a chronic mental breakthrough since the early 1980’s when my attention was drawn to the doctrine of the Atonement with increasing focus.  My blog site (see below), which launched on March 11, 2012, simply unreels my backlog of Atonement notes chronologically, interspersed with occasional current projects.  However, I stopped posting in early July.  I’ll explain.

One day while biking to the Cornerstone University Library, I thought to drop by the adjacent Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  I learned that an Assistant Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology had been newly hired and would start teaching in the fall.  Kenneth J. Reid is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, well known for its 4-year Th.M. degree requiring classes covering every book of the Bible in the original languages.  He then pursued a second Th.M. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)—reputed to be the most Calvinistic seminary of the denomination—before completing a Ph.D. there in 2015.

The new GRTS catalog lists Ken’s research interests: “Atonement Theology, Trinity, Pneumatology, Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology, Racial Reconciliation, Justice Theology”–overlapping many of my own theological interests.    An African-American, Ken will play a valuable role in nurturing young and working adults, including quite diverse learners and leaders within church and society.

Since the Atonement was his first interest, I suspected he wrote his dissertation on that topic.  Sure enough:  Penal Substitutionary Atonement as the Basis for New Covenant and New Creation  http://hdl.handle.net/10392/4964

I printed off the 370-page volume and commenced plowing through it, hoping to finish by the time he arrived in town and was settled in at home and office.  I’ve been yearning for a qualified, friendly interlocutor who might give steady push-back on my rethinking of the Atonement.

Some five weeks later I wrapped up my reading and marginal notes on the worthy tome, which, as expected, faithfully defended the traditional orthodox Protestant doctrine of penal substitution.  Such stalwarts as R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid (now at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, as of 2015), Bruce Ware, and Jarvis Williams, among others, anchored that position among the vast SBTS faculty of like-minded scholars during Ken’s years there.  Ware had been a Systematic Theology professor of mine at Bethel Seminary (St. Paul) in the early 1980’s, and I have high respect for his integrity and intelligence.  He was a fresh Fuller Seminary graduate at that time and now is at the other end of his teaching career.

However, I was surprised to learn that Ware chaired Ken’s dissertation committee; the other members were Stephen J. Wellum and Shawn D. Wright.  Ten years ago, I sent Bruce a copy of my “77 Questions on the Atonement” (May 2007; still at the top of my blog site after several revisions) for comment.  He begged off at the time, explaining that his focus was more on the doctrine of the Trinity, but that I might consider passing it by his colleague, Tom Schreiner, whose focus is the Atonement.  However, I was mainly looking for those who might cast a friendly eye on an attempt to reframe the Atonement in terms of the neglected premial (non-penal) side of God’s justice, and Tom was certainly not one of those, so I demurred.

How did Ken snag Bruce for his committee?  Simple.  Ken was pursuing his dissertation in the Systematic Theology Department, whereas Schreiner was in the New Testament Department.  Not that the results would have turned out any different, however.

 Ken’s labors triggered my consolidate-and-summarize response.  As I filled the margins with seven colors of ballpoint glosses to remark, refute, revise, or repair what I was reading, I contemplated what sort of format would be appropriate and effective by way of response, without being offensive.  Moreover, Ken was indebted to Ware for a brief formulation of “a rationale for the necessity of Christ’s suffering being penal.”  I knew I needed to tackle my old mentor on this point if I hoped to persuade Ken.

I hit on the idea of asking conjectural questions about what actually might be happening historically, spiritually, and “theologically” at Christ’s Cross and Resurrection in particular, along with other key events of the Gospels/Acts narratives.  I settled on dubbing them resuppositions, in other words, replacement presuppositions.  Which is to say, I’m systematically unraveling penal presuppositions about atonement, justification, and reconciliation, while simultaneously re-knitting stitch-by-stitch the premial suppositions that better accord with my findings after decades of reexamining Scripture and the history of theology.  This process of reparatively reconstructing our all-too-hallowed traditions nearer to the apostolic original has been tricky.  As you know, retro-engineering has often been misused, and the current undertaking runs similar risks.

That novel format swelled in a couple of months from a dozen or two questions to a hundred or two!  Clearly, I had touched a nerve…my own!   In reflecting on what was happening, I saw that, for all my output of articles, papers, occasional pieces, “tracts,” etc., I had never simply sat down and listed my definitive findings from 35 years of theological and historical research, restudy of Scripture, and hard, prayerful rethinking.  Consequently, this increasingly urgent agenda (which I had expected would emerge in a book by this date) actually commandeered the initial plan to pose only a few probing questions about the relation of the Cross to the Resurrection and vice versa and etc.  Sorry for the explosion!

The result is a bit-by-bit deconstruction of the gospel of the Protestant Reformation by way of introducing the premial formulation of the Gospel that steadily emerged as more evident and authentic from long-term concordant engagement with the biblical vocabulary and phraseology.  I have expounded that alternative at length in more normal prose throughout my blog.  The papers at the top of the site encompass several genres and formats, but never anything quite this “driving.”  This may feel like a “jackhammer” or “tommy-gun” treatment.  There’s little cushion, and normal sentence structure gets stretched to the max.  I do apologize.

But consider the advantages of a rapid assault.  Any single statement may evoke the normal thoughtful comeback, “But how about…?” or “But what do you do with such-and-such a Scripture?”  Fair enough.  I’ve asked most of those questions myself.  After perusing the broad history of the subject and many individual theologians, I saw patterns of misunderstanding emerge.  The traditional orthodox evangelical Protestant arguments predictably fell into ditches.  They were compelled to swerve around the truth under the influence of intoxicating presuppositions.  Those assumptions (whether explicitly acknowledged or deliberately hidden or unconsciously suppressed) slowly became more manifest.  Finally, it simply became a matter of how to address these many interlocking assumptions in some comprehensive yet compact manner.  One-by-one?  Aggregately?  Class action?  Question/Answer?   Theses?

I had used the “What if?” sequence once before, in the one-pager for April Fools’ Day and Easter (see “What If” at the top of my blog site).  It allowed successively mounting quick strokes that challenged penal atonement theory in a reader-friendly way.  And even if my current elaboration cannot claim to be so friendly, at least it deals with most of the usual but-what-abouts.

In “A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities,” I have let the resuppositions proliferate wildly (240-something by last count).  I might have (probably should have) rearranged them into subtitled sections, and perhaps even numbered them for easy reference.  I may yet do that; blogs are wonderful that way!  But for now, without further ado, I request your own comments and criticisms.  I hope that slicing the subject into these small (sometimes sharp-edged) chunks makes critiquing easier.  This way you can take issue with discrete resuppositions without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with others.  These unhewn stones could use some knocking around a bit to knock off the rough edges so they can be refitted into a harmonious mosaic.  This is a work in progress, and progress takes time.

These resuppositions or “dialectical queries” will raise many an inconvenient doubt.  I realize that.  But hopefully you’re gonna laugh before this is all over.  One friend observed that whatever humor I interjected helped keep him going through the overly compact and annoyingly obscure litany (and here I thought I was clarifying!).  Another friend said it was like drinking concentrated lemon juice straight up!  He mollified that by adding, “But suppose I’m suffering from scurvy….”  I do hope others find the treatment a healing dose for whatever ills the theory of penal substitution has ushered into history!  I hope after investigating for yourself, you too get “caught in a Truth.”

It seems to me we need to jettison false doctrines as soon as possible in order to loosen up cargo space in our brains for more truth.  The price of learning new truth is the sacrifice of the comfortable falsehoods to which we all are prey, from whatever traditions we may hail.  If my logic does not always seem iron-clad, that’s no worse than I suspected.  But I wager it beats the competition by several lengths.  Judge for yourself.

A vast debacle of Atonement doctrine is underway, and as in politics, sides are being drawn, attitudes are getting calloused, and unseemly animosity is rising.  This cannot be the divine way.  Surely God is saddened by our prickly dismissiveness toward one another.  I have gleaned an immense lore from minority voices down through the centuries who seldom get cited in new publications on the topic.  Our selective neglect may reveal an unscholarly narrowing of interest and a perilous hardening of heart even more than a scarcity of time.  Self-criticism may be grievous toil, but it bears worthy fruit.  We don’t bear that yoke in vain.

While formulating this array of resuppositions, I realized they would be perfect to start posting on October 31st, the 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day.  For years I kept this date in mind for publishing a more detailed challenge to our creaky Protestant assumptions.  I hoped it would appear as a book on the Atonement.  Yet I sensed more groundwork was needed.  Here is much of that groundwork, in primal form.  And now to start refining the raw material into a normal piece of scholarship.   Your “heated” comments would greatly assist the refining process.  As fraught as the topic may be, I hope you find this approach mostly friendly, reasonable, and agreeably Biblical.

I have also attached a 10-page “summary” of the 30-page version.  It was my failed attempt to get it all down to a two-pager I could print off as a single-sheet handout for priming discussions.  But I got too late a start on condensing it by my target date.  Perhaps this stripped-down version will serve as a handy teaser for busy folks who can’t dive into the complete document.  In any case, I’m not seeking agreement, only a fair hearing and honest objections.  There’s no human labor under the sun that can’t be improved.  No one’s perfect…and I’m a perfect example!

May your thoughtful attention be well rewarded.  I quite understand how busy you must be with personal research and academic duties.  So no worries if this does not overlap your particular expertise or interests.  But feel free to forward this missive and attachments if you know of someone else who might find them worthwhile.  This is a one-time mailing, so there will be no follow-up from my end.  Any communication from you, however, is most welcome, and I will try to respond in a timely fashion.

Respectfully yours in Christ

Ronald Roper

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 15

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (“concluded”)

INCONCLUSIONS

What if the greatest impediment to achieving the noblest goals of the Protestant Reformation is the “orthodox” doctrine of the Atonement itself:  Penal Satisfaction/Substitution—having evoked immense opposition, spawned wearisome irresolvable theological difficulties that waste the precious time of God’s people, provoked divisive debates that have decimated the ranks, created ethical dilemmas, fostered scandalous behaviors and monstrous practices, brought on needless reproaches from unbelievers, aroused alienating misunderstandings that promote sectarianism, destroyed faith in the Bible, unsettled young believers, fostered arrogance, compromised intellectual integrity, etc.—but otherwise, no harm done?

What if penal substitution is like putting the emphásis on the wrong sylláble, only, uh…worse?

What if hymn writers have all too often been as guilty of obscuring the New Testament message as so many preachers and theologians have (see my compilation:  “‘Penal Satisfaction / Substitution’ in English Hymns,” above)?

What if 500 years is a disgracefully long time for God to be misrepresented by His loved ones, who have defamed his reputation by laboring vigorously to defend the indefensible instead of thinking through opponents’ conscientious objections with fairness—thinking outside the box?

However, what if even the defamation of God’s character and justice that penal substitution has spread far, deep, and wide has been kindly indemnified by God’s authentically apostolic premial Atonement—yet will its mighty men admit confusion, repent of misrepresentations, jettison their toxic substitute, switch loyalties, and humbly avail themselves of the genuine article?

What if the premial atonement turns out to contain no imponderable mystery, no existential dilemma, no dialectical tension, no economic duplicity, no financial cooking of books, no legal double-talk, no moral compromise, no ethical conundrum, no “cosmic child abuse”?

What if the premial explanation, unlike the penal, is not a theory at all but simply a rediscovery of the New Testament doctrine of salvation?

What if, after all, the Bible’s own explanatory system does make more rational sense than all our cherished theological systems put together (all the King’s horses—you can lead ‘em to water but can’t make ‘em think—and all the King’s men couldn’t do it)?

What if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the paramount theodicy of Biblical Christianity?

What if neglecting to integrate Christ’s resurrection into the atonement disintegrates the Gospel?

What if, as Martin Luther protested, “I am neither so rash as to wish that my sole opinion should be preferred to that of all other men, nor so senseless as to be willing that the Word of God should be made to give place to fables, devised by human reason”?

What if God doesn’t expect us to hold our nose and swallow fables—fur, fins, feathers and all?

What if the wax nose of penal substitution is finally suffering meltdown from over-tweaking—shall we finally pull down our sagging substitute or keep on keeping up appearances?

What if it’s time to jettison the dead weight of penal substitution terms and get back to the Bible?

What if, after reading through these challenges to penal substitution assumptions and implications, you agree we’ve been colossally snookered for roughly 500 years…and the future looks even rougher if we don’t switch courses soon—then who’re you gonna believe?

What if this is the season for judgment to begin from the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17-18; 1 Cor. 5:12-6:7, 11:29-34; Heb. 10:30)?

What if it’s time for a resolute new Protest and a fresh resounding Reform?  What now?

What if you choose to accept this inconvenient truth, this impossible mission?  What then?

Indeed, what if this changes EVERYTHING?

Then again, I may be wrong.

~~ The End ~~

or, just maybe…

A NEW BEGINNING!

And yet the earth does move.  “Neither my thoughts nor the thoughts of all the doctors and priests that live now or ever have lived can the least alter facts.  You have no right, I have no right, to determine what is.  All our determinations must fall before the truth when that is discovered to us.”  — Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

“The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.”  — Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

“Love The Light Forever”  — Marie Roper

August 24-25, 27-31, September 1-2, 5-30, October 1-21, 24, 26-27, 29-31, November 4-5, 7, 9-10, 12, 14-15, 17, 19-20,23-25,27,28-29, Dec. 2, 2017

 

 

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 14

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

SUMMARY  SCENARIOS

Now, what if a highly decorated general asks for volunteers for an explicit suicide mission when, with their full understanding and cooperation, they will be placed strategically in harm’s way; is that military officer exhibiting personal, forensic, penal wrath toward them when they actually do get killed as foreseen, or if he exerted no wrath then what good was their sacrifice anyway?

Or what if a king commissions his own son, with his full agreement, as a ransom in exchange for freeing a shipload of kidnapped loyal subjects held captive at cutlass point by wicked pirates?  Is the king indulging personal, forensic, penal wrath against his own son by sending him to his certain death?  Or would this be an act of compassionate, self-sacrificial heroism for which they would both be celebrated for generations by survivors and loved ones?  Is that prince “satisfying” his father’s royal honor?  Is he somehow paying with his own life a penalty for his subjects’ wrongdoings?  Or is he simply surrendering (paying) himself to the pirates to satisfy their thirst for blood in exchange for his people’s life and liberty?  Moreover, if he should somehow survive walking the plank, would he need to press capital charges against the pirates, who, after all, were unsuccessful in their attempted regicide?  Would the prince be compelled by some statutory necessity to prosecute and execute those treacherous pirates, or could he, at his royal discretion, announce a pardon if the culprits repented, promised to change their ways…and submitted to counseling and probation?  And would they maybe be a little grateful or what?

Finally, what if God Himself intended, carefully planned (bouletai, Is. 53:10,11, LXX; Acts 2:23), and even pre-announced a suicide mission for His Son, with his willing agreement and full cooperation (Ps. 40:6-8, LXX; Heb. 10:7), in order to finally save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), make known His power over Death (Is. 53:10-11; Rom. 8:31-39, 9:23,17) in a display of His restorative justice (Is. 53:10-12; Rom. 3:25-26), to reward His Son’s faithful, loyal service (Is. 53:11-12), against ferocious opposition from Satan (Rev. 12; John 12:31), with extraordinary spoils and a vast inheritance to freely give away to His needy people (Is. 53:12); moreover, what if He expressed His extreme pleasure (Is. 53:10a) at His Son’s willing subjection to strenuous training (paideia, Is. 53:5 LXX) in conjunction with his sterling execution of the excruciating lethal plan, which entailed extreme disgrace at false accusations and wrongful imputation of sin and guilt (Is. 53:4), including the wickedness of unjust fatal assaults by the very ones he came to save (Is. 53:5-9), in order to achieve success in the peace-making negotiation with those at enmity with God, and also serve as a model for the behavior of those under the New Covenant that was to come (1 Pet. 2, 3:8-4:2,12-5:12)—then would this scenario necessarily—could it conceivably?—entail God’s personal, forensic, penal, eschatological wrath against His faithful Son and suffering Servant?

~~ To be continued ~~

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 13

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if the veil of the Temple was torn (Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45) in order to make way for the Son of God, the Forerunner, to pass into the Holy of Holies (Heb. 6:19-20; 10:19-20), or at least miraculously dramatize before human eyewitnesses on earth the heavenly scene soon to unfold (rather than portraying that access for us, first of all, who will follow later)?

What if the opening of the tombs by the earthquake when Jesus’ expired on the cross, then the subsequent raising of many saints from the dead after Jesus’ own raising (Matt. 27:52-53), both highlight the overwhelming vivifying power released from on high by Jesus’ accomplishing in that moment the final Old Covenant prophecy concerning the Messiah’s saving deeds on behalf of the whole world (Luke 22:37-38; John 4:34, 5:36, 17:4, 19:28-30)?

What if, in fact, atonement was not accomplished on earth at the cross (O.T.—altar) at all, but before the throne of God (O.T.—ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies within the tabernacle made without hands, in Heaven (Heb. 8-10), when His risen Son was brought before and presented to Him after the ascension (Dan. 7:13-14), to receive his inheritance?

What if Christ’s covenanted inheritance for his obedience through suffering includes also “the river of water of life…issuing out of the throne of God” (Rev. 22:1)—symbolized by the O.T. ark of the Covenant containing the miraculously written tables of Law for Israel’s life; Aaron’s rod that miraculously came to life and budded, which brought miraculous rescue of Israel’s life; and the jar of manna from heaven that miraculously sustained Israel’s life forty years, all overseen by fearsome cherubim stationed to guard the way of life (Gen. 3:24, Ex. 37:6-9)—namely, the life-making Holy Spirit?

What if Christ’s “inheritance of all” (Heb. 1:2-4; Rom. 8:17; Eph. 1:18; Matt. 21:38; Mark 12:7; Luke 20:14)—a Kingdom covenanted to him by the Father (Luke 22:29)—was founded squarely on the resurrectionary justice (dikaiosune) of avenging (ekdikesis) the sinless blood of the Lamb of God unjustly slain (Rev. 5:6,8,12, 13:8), as the covenanting Mediator (Heb. 9:15-16), so that his just-award (dikaioma), the promise of the everlasting inheritance, inclusive of every covenant blessing, could now get released from on High—the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit poured out richly (Tit. 3:2-7)—and thus we come full circle from the declaration that in Christ’s blood, that is, in Christ’s living soul,  all the contents of Deity (Col. 1:13-19, 2:9) are dwelling:  all the wealth of a salvation of such proportions, so that God may be all and in all (2 Cor. 8:9; Col. 1:15-20, 3:11; Eph. 1:18-22, 4:4-10; Heb. 2:5-10; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Ps. 110; Rom. 11:36)?

What if we cannot do without a Lord, a Messiah, a High Priest, a Mediator and Sponsor of a New Covenant, a Just One, a Holy One, a Passover Lamb, a Forerunner into the Holy of Holies, a Protective Shelter, a Savior from sin, a Rescuer out of divine wrath, a Benefactor, a Teacher, an Example—and with all these genuine, full-on Realities, what need do we have of a “Substitute”?

What if just because the ancient sacrificial animals were substitutes for Christ doesn’t mean Christ himself was consequently the “Ultimate Substitute” or “Supreme Substitute,” any more than just because a school may need to occasionally hire a substitute teacher to fill in for a while doesn’t mean that the originally contracted teacher, when she finally returns, is then the “final substitute,” the real, true substitute teacher?

~~ To be continued ~~

 

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 12

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if Paul, by the “handwriting of the decrees against us, which was hostile to us” (Col. 2:14)—unlike God Himself, who was “getting all our offenses handled graciously” (Col. 2:13), “not accounting their offenses to them” (2 Cor. 5:19), “passing over…the penalties-of-sins which occurred before in the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3:25), “while we are still infirm, still in accord with the era…irreverent…still sinners” (Rom. 5:6,8)—was alluding to “the dispensation of death, by letters chiseled in stones,” “the dispensation of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:7,9) of the Old Covenant economy, which had seen its better days, “growing old and decrepit…near its disappearance” (Heb. 8:13)?

What if, in context, “the handwriting of the decrees” refers to the decrees for Israel regulating circumcision in particular (Col. 2:8-13; Eph. 2:11-22), but also diet, festivals, and sabbaths (Col. 2:16-23), which caused enmity between Jew and Gentile as well as alienation of humanity from God, so can scarcely refer to some insinuated “bond” (RSV), “written bond of our sins” (Lamsa), “note” (Williams), “certificate of debt” (NAS), “unfavorable record of our debts” (GNFMM), or any conjectured “certificate of indebtedness” (New Geneva Study Bible/Reformation Study Bible, notes), record of debt, IOU, or, in the slanted elaboration of Thayer’s Lexicon, “metaph. applied in Col. ii. 14 [(where R.V. bond)] to the Mosaic law, which shews men to be chargeable with offences for which they must pay the penalty” (final italics added), which in any case God summarily “disappeared” from the record by raising and glorifying Christ, thereby more than restoring his losses from all their crimes and misdemeanors, thus obviating any alleged necessity, whether of direct repayment or substitute penalization?

What if by “the circumcision of Christ” that transpired “in the stripping off (apekdusei) of the body of flesh” at the cross (Col. 2:11), God was ipso facto “getting the sovereignties and authorities stripped off (apekdusamenos) with boldness” themselves (Col. 2:15), who had dared to line up against His Son and abuse their power in order to strip him of the last vestige of his humanity—his body of flesh (Jewish as it so happened, significantly)—and then was graciously turning the tables by raising him back to life and conferring all sovereignty, authority, power, etc. (Dan. 7:14) on him in a fair exchange and triumphant show of premially poetic justice?

What if that Old Covenant handwriting of decrees got disabled from holding us in “debt” who possess the “Spirit of the living God” sent to engrave an epistle of Christ on our hearts of flesh, in fulfillment of the New Covenant, in which God would impart His laws to our comprehensions, inscribe them on our hearts, shield our injustices, and under no circumstances still be reminded of our sins and lawlessnesses (2 Cor. 3:1-6; Heb. 8:8-13; Jer. 31:31-34; Ez. 11:19-20)?

What if, because of the titanic labors of Christ to inaugurate the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit got commissioned to dispense the very life and liberty that the Old Covenant curses claimed to preempt to Covenant-breakers, and thus the Holy Spirit duly supplanted that Old Covenant’s merely parenthetical “in loco Parentis” authority as a pedagogue (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:21; Gal. 2:4, 4:21-5:1; 1 Cor. 10:29; Phm.; Heb. 7:11-19; 1 Pet, 2:16; James 1:25, 2:12)?

And what if that liberty was won not by Christ satisfying any debt of, or paying any penalty for, sins, but by God awarding him the superabundant endowment of life-giving Holy Spirit when he was glorified, for his willing obedience to endure even a hyper-undeserved crucifixion?

What if our Savior died for our sins yet never paid a shekel for them?

In fact, what if “pay”/“payment” never occurs among some thirty Greek word families that the Holy Spirit specifically associated with sin in the New Testament to elaborate upon its remedy?:

  • “to be saving [zosei] his people from their sin” (Matt. 1:21)
  • to be “taking away [airon] the sin of the world” (John 1:29; Heb. 10:4,11; 1 John 3:5)
  • “for the erasure [exaleiphthenai] of your sins” (Acts 3:19)
  • to “bathe off [apolousai] your sins” (Acts 22:16)
  • to assure that “sins were covered over” [epekaluphthesan] (Rom. 4:7)
  • “that the body of sin may be nullified” [katargethe] (Rom. 6:6)
  • that we might “die to [apethan-] sin” (Rom. 6:2,10)
  • that we might “be reckoning [logizesthe] ourselves to be dead [einai/ontas nekrous] to sin(s)” (Rom. 6:11; Eph. 2:1, not “in”), “to offenses” (Eph. 2:1,4, not “in”; Col. 2:13), “to lusts” (Eph. 2:4), and “to the foreskin of your flesh” (Col. 2:13)
  • that we might get “justified [dikaio-] from sin” (Rom. 6:7)
  • that we might “be freed [eleutherothentes] from sin” (Rom. 6:18,22)
  • to “die for [apethanen huper] our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3)
  • so God “makes [epoiesan] him a sin-offering [hamartian] for our sakes” (2 Cor. 5:12)
  • to “give himself [dontos eauton] for our sins so that he might extricate [exeletai] us out of the present wicked age” (Gal. 1:4)
  • to “get a cleansing [katharismon] of sins made” (Heb. 1:3), even “from the penalties-of-sins [hamartematon] of old” (2 Pet. 1:9)
  • “to get a protective cover made for [hilaskesthai] the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17); to be “a protective shelter [hilasmon] around our sins, yet not around ours only, but around the whole world also” (1 John 2:1, 4:10)
  • “for the repudiation [athetesin] of sin through his sacrifice [thusias]” (Heb. 9:26)
  • to be “offering [prosenegkas] one sacrifice [thusian] for sins” (Heb. 10:12)
  • to fulfill the New Covenant by “becoming obedient unto death, even a death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8), so that “of [Israel’s] sins and their lawlessnesses [God] should under no circumstances still be reminded [oume mnestho eti]” (Heb. 8:12, 10:17)
  • to be “offered [prosenechtheis] once for bearing [anenegkein] sins of many” (Heb. 9:28)
  • “who himself carries up [anenegken] our sins in his body on the pole [xulon],
  • that coming away from [apogenomenoi] sins, we should be living to justness,
  • by whose welt [molopi] you were healed [iathete]” (1 Pet. 2:24)
  • to “once suffer [epathen] concerning sins, the Just for the sake of the unjust, that he may be leading [prosagage] us to God” (1 Pet. 2:18)
  • who “looses [lusanti] us from our sins” (Rev. 1:5)
  • to “by no means be accounting [oume logisetai] sin” (Rom. 4:6), or “offenses” (2 Cor. 5:19) to us
  • to “be protective [hileos] to their injustices” (Heb. 8:12/Jer. 31:34)
  • to “be surrendered [paredothe] because of our offenses” (Rom. 4:25), “Surely He Who spares not His own Son, but surrenders [paredoken] him for us all, how shall He not, together with him, also, be graciously granting [charisetai] us all?” (Rom. 8:32)
  • to “become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, dealing graciously [charizomenoi] among yourselves, according as God also, in Christ, deals graciously [echarisato] with you. Become, then, imitators of God, as beloved children, and be walking in love, according as Christ also loves you, and surrenders [paredoken] himself for us, an approach present [prosphoran] and sacrifice [thusian] to God, for a fragrant odor [osmen euodias]” (Eph. 4:32-5:2)
  • to be “dealing graciously [charisamenos] with all our offenses, erasing [exaleipsas] the handwriting of the decrees [of circumcision, etc.] against us, which was hostile to us, and has taken it away [erken] out of the midst, nailing [proselosas] it to the cross, getting the sovereignties and authorities stripped off [apekdusamenos], in boldness he makes an example of them, triumphing over [thriambeusas] them in him” (Col. 2:14-15)
  • to “forgive/pardon [aphiemi] sin(s)” (Matt. 9:2,5,6, 18:21; Mark 2:5,7,9,10, 3:28,29, 4:12; Luke 5:20,21,23,24, 7:47,47,48,49, 11:4,4, 17:3,4, 23:34, 20:23; James 5:16; 1 John 1:7, 2:12), “lawlessnesses” (Rom. 4:7), and “offenses” (Matt. 6:14,14,15,15; Mark 11:25,25,26,26; Eph. 1:7)—more mentions than all the above terms combined!
  • but not to “pay [apodo-]” Not once.  Ever.  Did I say never?  ’Cause I meant never.

Therefore, what if there is no Biblical warrant at all for sins getting paid for at the Cross, thus not only is it not “perfectly harmless to teach anyway,” but, much rather, such words are forbidden by what else the Bible does say?

~~ To be Continued ~~

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 11

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if there was no need for any payment for sin’s debt at the cross, because there was more than ample repayment for its injuries at the resurrection, and that made all the difference?

What if the finite terrestrial crime of the cross was repaid to Jesus at a super-compensatory rate in accord with the celestial appraisal of God’s fully restorative premial justice?

What if the New Testament teaches that Christ “bought” and paid for sinners with a “price” (Luke 1:68, 2:38, 24:20-21; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23; 1 Tim. 2:6; 2 Tim. 2:20-21; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4; Rev. 5:9, 6:10, 14:3-4), yet never that he “paid the penalty” or “satisfied the debt” of their sins, but instead simply forgives them like his Father does (and like all God’s children who are maturing in love should be learning to do)?

What if God’s entire ethic of forgiveness is founded not on His Son’s paying Him back for his losses from infractions against His honor, rights, or property, but much rather on His own letting go of His honor, rights, and property…including surrendering even His own precious Son to the tender mercies of maliciously envious rivals, precisely so He could prove to the wondering universe His persistent tough love and genuine mercy against the worst odds imaginable, and thereby even win the additional love and praise of former enemies?

What if the Gospel simultaneously teaches, demonstrates, and empowers the ethic of Jesus?

What if it seems more in Character for our Father in heaven to forgive without payment than to “forgive” after payment, or is He obliged by a postulated “eternal moral order” to somehow, somewhere, somewhen receive payment before He can forgive “justly”?

After all, what if God is “faithful and just that He may be pardoning us our sins and should be cleansing us from all injustice” (1 John 1:9; Rom. 3:25-26)—how exactly does that work…?

What if in Jesus’ parable of the king and the indebted slave (Matt. 18:23-35) the king actually had it right the first time, when he was merciful and forgave the slave who merely entreated him for patience to allow him to repay (whereas the king graciously decided to absorb the cost personally and simply remit the loan in its entirety…), or did the king have a relative handy who could subsidize, indemnify, or pay him back for his losses to the debtor, and yet (by some intra-trinitarian abara c’ dabara) still allow him to claim extra credit for pardoning him as well?

What if the only necessity urged in the parable is that “it was binding [edei] to be merciful [eleesai]” to others if you have been shown mercy, even if to do so entails some loss to yourself, yet without any hint of some necessity to get paid back fully, come Hell or global warming?

What if Jesus taught that to become perfect and holy like our Father in heaven is perfect and holy, we must learn to pardon outright those who ask our forgiveness rather than demanding them to pay us back for the loss first, because after all, children of God are “not simply loving, but also holy” like our heavenly Father is holy, and therefore pardons in such a manner?

What if being “not only loving but also holy” does not mean that we are bound to demand repayment or punishment for every debt or injury, as we have been taught a “holy” God does, but that we are bound to show mercy to those who repent and entreat us to forgive them?

What if the only wrath (orgistheis) in the parable (Matt. 18:34) is actually expressed by the king toward the debtor’s unmercifulness to other debtors, not toward his indebtedness per se?

Hence, what if it is morally incoherent to conceive that God’s holiness requires free forgiveness, yet in the same breath insist that God’s holiness requires that He somehow punish every last sin?

What if a penal atonement spoils the true spirit of Christian personal and social ethics, for it showcases a Savior who not only was not requited (komizo) with wages (misthos) or reward (misapodocia), nor recompensed (antapodidomi) or paid (apodidomi) by God for his superior service, but instead was consigned to a cross in order to suffer God’s wrath in order to pay back God the Creator by himself (were it even possible, Rom. 11:33-36) for the cosmic sin-debt incurred by human beings, so God gets off the hook without having to forgive anything at all?

What if downplaying the fact that the Lord Jesus himself was rewarded for doing good actually undermines our own human incentive to do the good works God intends us to “walk in”?

What if God—His entire contents—was in Christ on the cross (2 Cor. 5:19, cf. Col. 1:19-20), Himself absorbing the cost that released the world from debt, not accounting their offenses to them, self-sacrificially conciliating the universe—He simply “ate the loss” (to get all technical), thus Christ wasn’t paying God to do it, he was demonstrating God doing it?

But since God can be two places at once, what if He was also outside of Christ, doling out wrath on…Them Both—you know, to pay for sin and all that?  On second thought…

That is to say, what if the cross did not somehow “bring,” “effect,” “secure,” “achieve [complete],” “enable [final],” or “provide [full]” forgiveness of sins—instead, these words are linguistic substitutes, decoys, red meat thrown around to distract us from all the clues pointing to the cross as an actual bona fide revelation, manifestation, display, or demonstration of God actually forgiving His embittered enemies, and not merely a penal substitutionary mechanism, instrumentality, or expedient to “get there from here”?

~~ To be continued ~~

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 10

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if “the forbearance of God” in “passing over the penalties of sins which occurred before” Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 3:25), like the other virtues with which forbearance/tolerance (anechomai/anoche) is associated—kindness, patience, amenableness, humility, love, peace, blessing others, pitying and tender compassions, dealing graciously, enduring persecutions, not reviling in return, not threatening others, not avenging oneself (Rom. 2:3-6; 1 Cor. 4:12; Eph. 4:1-3; Col. 3:12-15; 2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rom. 12:17-21; Gal. 5:22-6:2; 1 Pet. 2:20-25, 3:8-18)—is of one piece with the justness (dikaiosune) displayed by God at Christ’s resurrection, although, to be sure, the latter overwhelmingly transcends all the former in magnitude?

In sum, what if God did not need to “pay back” or “hang in effigy” those earlier sinners to “show His hatred for sin,” since He’d devised a way to pay back the Sinned-Against so as to swallow up any deserved wrath by overwhelming graciousness…abundant enough to cover the sins of “the current era” (Rom. 3:26) in the bargain (getting raised from the dead is such sweet revenge)?

Thus, what if Paul is here unveiling God’s premial rationale:  a resurrectionary act of justice that packs enough punch to fund all that historic forbearance in “passing over” past sins (all of which were committed not only against the Father, out of Whom are all things, but also against the Son, through whom all things were made—John 1:1-5; Rom. 11:33-36 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:2-3, 2:10-11, 11:2; 1 John 1:1-9), namely, by bestowing resurrectionary justice that awarded the divine Victim directly (instead of penal justice to punish him indirectly, as a mere substitute)—a rationale equally applicable “in the current era,” and which would render God most eminently just?

What if integral distributive justice must encompass both penal and premial/restorative facets—in other words, it is double-edged or symmetrical, congruent with God’s curse/blessing sanctions in the Old Covenant?

What if, in Romans 2:32, 5:16,18, and 8:4, dikaioma (whose ancient meaning has been very diversely rendered:  “righteousness,” “act of righteousness,” “act of uprightness,” ”righteous act,” “righteous deed,” “establishment of righteousness,” “accomplished righteousness,” “recovery of righteousness,” “righteous result,” “righteous judgment,” “judgment,” “judicial decision,” “righteous sentence,” “sentence,” “sentence of absolution,” “verdict,” “justification,” “justifying,” “God’s approval,” “undeserved gift of ‘Not guilty’,” “acquittal,” “declaration of ‘Righteous’,” “right standing,” “establishment of right,” “establishing of right,” “re-establishing of the right,” “restoration of the right,” “amendment of a wrong,” “legal ordainment of the law,” “legal claim of the law,” “legal deed of right,” “plea of right,” “pleadings,” “document [in a suit],” “fulfilling of the law,” “legitimate claim,” “righteous award,” “righteous demands,” “righteous requirement,” “just requirement,” “duty,” “God’s standards,” “God’s law,” “ordinance,” “decree”—so much for consensus!) can be narrowed by its cultural sitz im leben and these particular contexts to its forensic sense of the just due judicially decreed by law to recompense a defendant’s deed(s)—whether penalty or reward, depending on the criminal deserts or legitimate claims of the individual defendant (hupodikos, Rom. 3:19), according to God’s judgment, such that Paul’s meaning here may most accurately be distilled as “just deserts,” which in Christ’s particular case (not being liable to lawful penalty) would equate to legal damages, i.e., a “just award,” conferred in his favor?

And hence, what if God’s integral Covenant justice (i.e., both penal retribution and premial restitution) is designed to play out as punishments/curses for the sinners who deserve those, but also as rewards/blessings for the righteous/just who deserve those, as the case may be?

What if, instead of giving Christ “what we deserved,” at the cross, God gave him what he himself deserved, at the resurrection, thereby both reversing fortunes and sharing the bounty?

Conversely, what if God, with His Son’s uncoerced prior agreement, strategically authorized (John 10:17-18) him to suffer from Satan what he did not deserve, precisely so He could unload His ultra-compensating premial justice on that single flawless Covenant-keeper who ever lived?

What if God graciously includes us, the undeserving, in the Covenant blessings that the Covenant-keeping Savior exclusively deserved, by means of the graphic rite of water baptism?

What if Paul’s characteristic “in Christ” language is baptismal imagery, referring to the entire creation-renovating contents of our salvation-of-such-proportions policy package (Heb. 2:5) into which we get immersed, namely, the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11, 28:19; Mark 1:7-8, 16:14-20; Luke 3:16; John 1:32-34; Acts 1:4-5, 2:38-39, 8:14-17, 9:17-19, 10:37-48, 11:15-18, 16:30-34, 19:2-6, 22:16; Gal. 3:26-29; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:3-5; Col. 2:9-13; 1 Pet. 3:18-22), the down payment of the future complete inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:13-14), so human options reduce down to either live in Christ or die in Sin?

What if Jesus came to baptize both in the Holy Spirit (the just-award of premial justice) and in fire (the punishment of penal justice) because he was specified by God to be Judge of the living and the dead (Matt. 3:7-12; Luke 3:16-17; Acts 10:42, 17:31; John 5:21-22; Rom. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:1,8; 1 Pet. 4:5-6)?

What if the Holy Spirit just so happens to testify to these factors as well (John 16:7-11)?

What if grace characterizes God’s premial justice, even as wrath characterizes His penal justice?

What if Christ never got “punished in our place,” yet we do get rewarded in his place, as portrayed by baptismal inclusion in his wrongful death and compensating rightful resurrection?

What if Jesus, by getting baptized by John although he had no sin to repent from or get forgiven for, was not identifying with our sin, but with our plight as sinners, in effect saying, “I’m all in!” and so joining us in our deserved judgment ordeal, which for him was undeserved and would be super-compensated when God justified him by a vast overflow of life-making Spirit to baptize us?

What if Christ, on the cross, was “identifying with” neither the guilt of sinners, nor their sin itself, nor their deserved punishment, yet now indeed does welcome all sinners to “identify with” his own undeserved death and well-deserved resurrection, by means of faith and baptism?

What if the Bible’s angle on Atonement should be characterized not as “penal substitution,” but as “premial inclusion,” so aptly depicted by water baptism and realized in Spirit baptism?

~~ To be continued ~~

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