Premial Justice, the Unjust Cross, and Power from on High [Abstract]

Ronald L. Roper

Abstract of a proposed workshop paper for

The First Annual Conference of

The Society of Vineyard Scholars

on the theme:

 The Theology and Practice of the Kingdom of God:  Justice, Power, and the Cross

February 11-13, 2010

Sugar Land Vineyard

Houston, Texas

The theme of God’s justice, or “the righteousness of God,” is widely alleged by the various traditions of the Protestant Reformation to lie at the very heart of the Gospel of the Kingdom.  This stress on the rectitude of God’s judgment has remained front and center, not only in connection with the doctrine of justification, but also in relation to the atonement.  And although Anselm explored “penal satisfaction” in the course of developing his theory of “vicarious satisfaction,” it was John Calvin who raised the penal justice of God to pre-eminence.  His theory of “penal substitution” eventually came to overshadow all other views of the atonement within Protestant theology, and even became definitive for Evangelicalism.

            Nevertheless, the Western church also produced numerous theologians who disputed the dominance of justice over other Biblical themes relating to the atonement, even apart from Eastern Orthodoxy, which had never accorded it such a paramount role.  Anselm had his Abelard, Calvin his Socinus, and subsequent champions their able challengers.  Objectors, particularly to the centrality of penal justice in the atonement, proposed many alternatives.  However, the assumption that divine justice, per se, is basically penal was left curiously unchallenged for all practical purposes.  To this day, the restorative, rewarding, or “premial” justice of God continues to be overlooked in its potential bearing on the atonement.

            The burden of this paper is to explain the premial righteousness of God’s Kingdom and to prove that there is no need to abandon the high ground of divine justice in relation to the atonement in order to resolve the increasingly evident and intractable problems of penal substitution.  Accordingly, the thesis developed herein is that the atonement was achieved by a righteousness of God that was exclusively premial and not at all penal—entirely restorative, and not in the least punitive.  Fruits of this radically re-centered paradigm of the atonement must inevitably ramify into the revival of power ministries, authentic community, ethics, civic renewal, economic stewardship, societal reformation, schooling/education, healing the environment, transforming culture, a Christian approach to global development, and more.

© 2010  Ronald Lee Roper

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