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

Ronald L. Roper

Workshop paper for

The First Annual Conference of

The Society of Vineyard Scholars

February 11-13, 2010

[Revised March 11, 2013]

on the theme:

 The Theology and Practice of the Kingdom of God:

Justice, Power, and the Cross

hosted by:

Sugar Land Vineyard

5115 Grove West Blvd.

Stafford, Texas  77477

“…seek first the Kingdom [of God] and His righteousness….” – Matthew 6:33


It’s Your blood that cleanses me

It’s Your blood that gives me life

It’s Your blood that took my place[1]

In redeeming sacrifice

Washes me whiter than the snow, than the snow

My Jesus, God’s precious sacrifice.

                                    —Michael Christ

                The doctrine of the atonement rivals the doctrine of justification as one of the most hotly debated topics of contemporary theology.  Not surprisingly, they both turn on a single hinge:  the nature of God’s justice/righteousness.[2]  Hence, whatever happens to be our assumption about justice/righteousness will necessarily play out in both arenas, which, in turn, may seemingly furnish each another “independent” corroboration—actually, merely a deceptive redundancy, reflecting an identical assumption.

            The dominant view of the atonement within evangelical theology since John Calvin is that of “penal substitution.”  This doctrine teaches that God poured out His wrath on His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, as our sinless substitute, in order to show his holy hatred for sin and simultaneously to pay for sins at the cost of Christ’s infinite suffering on the Cross so that God could be both holy and just in forgiving sin.  This position, even in Anselm’s famous softer version of “vicarious satisfaction”—a theory more dependent on feudal categories of civil law concerning satisfying violations of honor than on penal concepts of satisfying law or justice—has routinely aroused determined opposition.  Emergent rival motifs range from love (championed by many, from Abelard to Nygren) and regeneration (Schleiermacher) to perfect confession (McLeod Campbell) and vicarious penitence (Moberly); from martial victory (Aulén) and sacrifice (Frances M. Young), to reconciliation (Ralph Martin) and liberation (Sobrino, Gutierrez, Miranda, Segundo, Boff).  And the list goes on.  In our day, antithetical alternatives tend to be avoided in preference to nuanced balancing, blending, and patchwork versions.  Yet tension and controversy remain unabated for all that.  Something still isn’t quite right.

            The thesis of this paper is that the nature of justice itself has not been properly comprehended.  One “easy” but unsatisfactory solution to the ill-ease concerning God’s exhibition of wrath against his perfectly innocent Son, rationalized in a cumbersome, allegedly “trinitarian,” fashion, is simply to abandon the attempt to understand the atonement from the standpoint of God’s justice at all and then fetch around for some other likely categorical explanation for the Cross, while leaving this prevalent assumption about justice unchallenged.  It is high time that the penal aspect of God’s justice, which is only one component, is put in its place.  However, to do so requires stepping back into the Old Testament usage of righteousness/justice (tzdq).  Justice/righteousness is there predicated of both God and human beings.  The covenant with Israel at Sinai stipulated the mutual obligations of both partners to the covenant.[3]  It was right/just to keep the covenant, by definition; God had his part and Israel had theirs.  God promised blessings for human obedience, leading to prosperity, health, and life; for disobedience, He threatened curses that tended toward poverty, disease, and death.  Covenant-keeping was a matter of troth, or truth, and faith[fulness].  The aim of steadfast faith and obedience would be growth in the knowledge of God and holiness/wholesomeness of one’s whole being.  Failure to keep the laws constituted transgression or sin.  The result of sin was eventual death.  The fear of death set up addictive cycles whereby escape was sought by means that violated God’s express desire in the Law.  These vicious cycles, which might spiral to premature destruction, could only be broken by repentance and the assurance of forgiveness and subsequent restoration.[4]  Accordingly, God added sacred rituals that prophetically depicted His ultimate historic solution to sin and its attendant evils.  The Levitical system of animal sacrifices and blood-sprinkling, in its many applications, was intended to illustrate in a shadowy manner that future once-for-all solution.

            The curses of the covenant, enumerated at grim length in Deuteronomy 28:15-68, were evils resulting from continued disobedience, even as Deut. 28:1-14 elaborated the goods that would bless faithful obedience.  Thus we have both retributive or penal and restorative or “premial”[5] outcomes, depending on the human response to God’s directives, statutes, ordinances, etc.  When a person “penalized” another by injustice, justice demanded restoration with interest.  For God’s part, His justice/righteousness entailed faithfulness in executing both his promises and threats according to the timing of His fatherly pedagogical wisdom.  This basic polarity structured the expression of God’s righteousness in the execution of divine justice.  Toward the stubbornly sinful, God showed himself punitive; but to the steadfastly upright, He showed a premial aspect.

            We may well ask what happened historically to account for the suppression of the premial side of the justice/righteousness of God, especially with respect to His chosen Messiah.  To answer this we first turn to a respected Reformed theologian of the early 20th century who pondered the matter within the traditional Calvinistic framework of penal substitution.  Geerhardus Vos, of Princeton Theological Seminary, saw God’s righteousness in tension or “balance” with divine love precisely because he viewed the former as “penal recompense” rather than as God’s rescuing execution of justice/righteousness on behalf of His faithful covenant partners.[6]  Naturally, God’s saving displays of upright judgment are often accompanied by penal scourging of His precious people’s vicious enemies, but its effect upon believing Israel is comfortingly premial.  Think only of Psalm 136:18, “And who killed prestigious kings, For His lovingkindness is agelong”!  These two facets must be sorted out.  And much as one may disdain to single out particular advocates of penal substitution for special mention, it is necessary in order to illustrate how even esteemed minds can sadly obscure God’s Proclamation and in order to ferret out what motives may be operative that could have led them into such error.  Vos well typifies how a most eminent American Calvinist of unimpeachable credentials, sterling teaching gifts, and distinguished career, surrounded by a galaxy of orthodox luminaries during the high point of Princeton’s orthodoxy could nevertheless articulate a string of words that darken God’s counsel in the New Covenant regarding indisputably the most central and essential matters of the apostolic proclamation.  This snare is so paradigmatic in orthodox Evangelicalism that it demands the most careful scrutiny lest we ourselves likewise acquiesce, for it shows profound lack of sympathy with, and comprehension of, the sine qua non of the Gospel (Johannine, Petrine, Lukan, Pauline—all are in unison).  What follows is a textual extract from one of Prof. Vos’s journal articles, followed by the most relevant part of the footnote that elaborates.

…[T]he right of God to curse in case of transgression of the law is, from Paul’s point of view, after all but the reverse side of His prerogative to bless and reward with the gift of eternal life where the law is obeyed.6

6 The above statement is not intended to deny that a distinction may be drawn between the two directions in which the forensic principle works, as to the necessity with which the principle is set in operation by God.  Dogmatically it is a much disputed question whether the function of rewarding the good is as essential to the righteousness of God as the opposite function of punishing the evil.  Paul coordinates the two without intimating a distinction (Rom. 2:9, 10).  Nevertheless it is possible to assume that he believed the latter necessary, the former a matter of choice.”[7]

            These words make clear that Vos does not view the love of God in quite the “constraining” way (II Cor. 5:14-15) that Paul did, nor does he regard the vindicating impulse of God’s justice/righteousness with a conviction equal to His “vindictive” impulse.  Notice how Vos grasps at straws—in this instance from some straw man of Albrecht Ritschl’s, a conveniently liberal whipping boy—to exonerate his own forensic one-sidedness, even tossing in ostensibly apostolic indifference for good measure, imagining that Paul would have concurred!  Observe carefully how God’s “prerogative to bless and reward” finishes a poor second to His essential obligation to punish evil.[8]  Despite his vociferous advocacy of Paul’s legal categories, Vos so minimizes God’s rewarding righteousness that his argument sadly deteriorates into enthusiasm for the mere “forensic principle” (i.e., concerning God’s prerogative to judge, per se), and drags the apostle down with him.  He shows little holy passion for God as a compassionate advocate of those who fear Him, rescuing them by ardent love that brings a saving judgment by necessity.  He does not seem to catch the obligatory quality of God’s redemption of his faithful ones.  Has he not read the Psalms?  Yet, as we shall see, even Luther tripped over the most unequivocal Psalms.  Thus far the Achilles heel of Vos’s footnote.

            Elsewhere, by the expression “purely forensic justification such as Paul teaches,” Vos actually means to denote his own penally one-sided notion of God’s righteousness.  And insofar as he labors to place this half-truth over against the liberal overreaction in the direction of an emphasis on God’s love, he only further aggravates that overreaction without himself actually forging a satisfactory concept of the relation of God’s love to His justice.  By not honoring (but in fact explicitly derogating from) God’s over-compensatory awarding of immortal life (plus a whole new creation!) to His Son, Vos obscured the most obvious manifestation of God’s love in its “legal,” “forensic” form:  gratuitous justification of all, both Jews and other peoples, who simply trust Jesus as Messiah and Master.  For the sake of his faithfulness, our faith is accounted as being righteousness by the Creator God who alone can call forth being out of non-being.  By casting a blind eye toward God’s rewarding of the Messiah in accordance with divine justice, or at least by minimizing its importance compared to God’s punitive measures and their “necessity,” Vos de facto and decisively fumbles the argument of Paul.

            However, Geerhardus Vos did not originate this immensely influential trend of thought that he so sadly illustrates.  His typical suppression of the premial component in God’s justice can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation itself.  Martin Luther, in his mounting overreaction to the so-called “analytic” justification characteristic of Augustine and the Roman Catholic church of his day, and with indispensable assistance from Philip Melanchthon, attained a new understanding of justification based on the “alien” righteousness of Christ “imputed” to the sinner by faith.[9]  He clearly perceived, from excruciating personal experience, that any righteousness of his own, even that produced within him by the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, could never provide a secure foundation for his assurance of being sufficiently righteous in the eyes of the truly righteous Judge of all.  So far, so good….

            It was during his second course of lectures on the Psalms in the years preceding 1517 that Luther started to come to grips with his famous understanding of “the righteousness of God” as “alien,” i.e., outside of himself entirely, contrary to Augustine’s conception of God graciously “making” the sinner righteous gradually through the infusion of the grace of the Holy Spirit.  In Psalm 31:2, the Psalmist cries out, “In Your righteousness deliver me!”  Similarly, Psalm 71:2 urges, “In Your righteousness rescue me and deliver me!”  Luther’s breakthrough amounted to the characteristic teaching of the Protestant Reformation that such passages referred to Christ’s own perfect righteousness, i.e., “merits,” forensically (i.e., by judicial decision) imputed to the believing sinner.  This doctrine of the “righteousness of Christ” bestowed “as a garment” around the needy sinner seemed liberating, to be sure, for all who had been in the grip of medieval Augustinian teaching, which relied on the variable sense of one’s own righteousness even though attained with the help of the Holy Spirit.  The uncertainty of such a state had left Luther in mortal terror.  Now he was “at peace.”  However, this was to prove an uneasy peace, judging from its historic fruits, and a hazardous exegetical short cut, taken too hastily.

            Luther supposed that this “breakthrough” was authentically Pauline, but in actuality he had only traded one set of partial truths for another.  Nor had he returned to the authentic teaching of the early church.[10]  He too easily concluded that the Pauline expression, “the righteousness of God” actually meant “the righteousness of Christ/Jesus,” an expression entirely foreign to Paul.  In truth, by “the righteousness of God” Paul refers to exactly that justice of Jehovah repeatedly found in the Psalms and which entails the execution of God’s covenantal obligations to rescue, deliver, save, and raise up His threatened human covenant partners (of which the Lord Jesus, David’s “greater Son,” was clearly the most deserving) in mighty historic acts of loyal kindness toward them that restored the promised blessings and, when necessary, destroyed their enemies.  This was premial justice, not penal; or, while penal to their foes, it was premial for them.

            Not only did Luther not grasp this truth about covenantal justice, neither did Calvin, whose successors[11] only further entrenched Luther’s and Melanchthon’s peculiar formula concerning the “imputed righteousness/merits of Christ,” some of whom even defended the idea that Christ’s own personal “active” righteousness throughout his life and career (in addition to his “passive” righteousness on the Cross) was “imputed” to non-meriting sinners so as to render them righteous before God, completely aside from their own “actual” exertions toward right conduct.  Promising as it might seem, this substitutionary teaching tended to prove subversive of Christian conduct and thereafter cast a long “antinomian” shadow across various streams of Protestantism wherever it flowed.

            Worse, this conception of God’s saving righteousness in effect obscured the significance of Christ’s Resurrection and relegated it to an afterthought from which it has still not fully recovered.  For only from the standpoint of God’s premial justice can we recognize that the Resurrection of the Messiah is the supreme manifestation of God’s justice in history.  Indeed, it was exactly then that God was finally able to start unloading His ancient magnanimous promises to Israel and to David’s “Seed.”  It is precisely Resurrection that is writ large across the mighty span of Psalms by the score, if we have eyes to see.[12]  Accordingly, if that Resurrection was the advent of the triumphant epitome of divine justice, then what did the Cross achieve?

            At this crucial point as well, the entire Protestant Reformation faltered tragically, for the Reformers never took in hand to fully reform the received doctrine of atonement.  Anselm of Canterbury had articulated a fetching theory of “vicarious satisfaction” based on feudal categories of civil law—the restoration of God’s honor from human infraction by the vicarious repayment of One who owed nothing on his own behalf.  And, no surprise, this theory had zero need for Christ’s Resurrection, which was conspicuous only by its virtual absence.  This doctrine eventually swept the church and still exerts considerable influence in Western Christianity.  Yet, to his credit, Anselm wisely rejected the stated option of “penal satisfaction,” rooted in criminal law and a show of divine wrath.  It was Calvin who rehabilitated this more severe position and parlayed it into the familiar “penal substitution” doctrine.  The mechanics of this theory are well known.  God exerted His righteousness/justice by pouring out His holy wrath (a punitive/penal expression) at the Cross upon his innocent Son as a substitute in our place, instead of upon its proper target, guilty humanity.  The substitutionary element was absolutely indispensable to this conception since Jesus clearly did not deserve punishment in “his own place.”

            The teaching of the Psalms, not to mention the Prophets, especially Isaiah, should have come rushing to the doctrinal rescue, announcing that Messiah, the Servant of Jehovah, would get what he deserved from God in spite of any and every enemy, and regardless of whatever they might do to him.  In other words, Jesus would get repaid by the covenant-keeping God of Israel what his own hands had earned him by flawlessly faithful obedience as God’s human partner in covenant, despite the punitive wrath and fury he suffered from human beings under Satanic inspiration.  In addition came a vast surplus as recompense in exchange for that wrongful deprivation itself.  For the Word of God was commissioned as a human being with the goal of destroying the Adversary’s works by effectually introducing celestial power to restore righteousness and life where death—and sin in death—had hitherto reigned on earth comparatively unchecked.  Here we behold in stark contrast to both the medieval and the Protestant concepts of “the righteousness of God” the authentic saving, rescuing, restoring, rewarding, or premial justice that started engulfing the earth at Pentecost in unprecedented copiousness.  This dispensing of the Spirit is identical with the dispensing of God’s righteousness (II Cor. 3:3-11; Gal. 2:19-3:14).  It commenced at Jesus’ baptism, was magnified in his Resurrection, and thereupon trickled down….  Not!  Avalanched upon believing humanity after Pentecost.  Nothinsgonnastopit!

            Needless to say, this amounts to a staggering assault on our traditions.  There was no divine justice at the Cross whatever.  None.  Much less any divine wrath or condemnation.  Rather, that was the most aggravated historic exhibit of the fury of the great Dragon (Rev. 12).  Jesus did not die “in our place” (an expression foreign to Scripture), since to the degree that “our place” was under the wrath of God, the Lord Jesus Christ never occupied it.[13]  Indeed, “we are observing Jesus, who has been made some bit inferior to angels—because of the suffering of [wrongful] death, wreathed with glory and honor [rightfully, in God’s premial justice]—so that in the graciousness of God, he should be tasting death for the sake of everyone” (Heb. 2:9).[14]  In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ received directly from God what he actually deserved because of his own sinlessly faithful and obedient keeping of the covenant, in just retribution for humbly accepting treatment that he did not deserve from human beings deceived by Satan.  To say it another way, “Christ also, for our sakes, once died concerning sins, the Righteous for the unrighteous, that he may be leading us to God; being [unjustly] put to death, indeed, in flesh, yet [justly] vivified in spirit” (I Pet. 3:18), i.e., “justified in spirit” (I Tim. 3:16), for Christ’s becoming a life-making Spirit constituted his glorious salvation from death and thus his vindication by God (Rom. 5:16-21; cf. Gal. 3:21 & Heb. 7:16).  The assertion that Jesus “satisfied,” “propitiated,” “pacified,” or “absorbed” the wrath of God plays on the assumption of “cheap wrath” (Bonhoeffer warned us only about “cheap grace”)—the wrath of a god that can be “placated” by a sacrifice (even a human sacrifice), hardly the sturdy stuff of Scripture.  The focus of the atonement is the “subjective” (though objective to God’s sight) sins that, if “treasured up,” call wrath down (Rom. 2:5).  “Costly wrath” showed up in 70 A.D., as prophesied by Daniel and Jesus (Luke 21:20-23; 23:27-31).[15]

            This all means that the graciousness of God is rooted in His justice/righteousness (in its premial expression—supremely so in the case of the Sinless One),[16] for it strictly parallels the way God’s wrathfulness is rooted in His justice/righteousness (executed for penal ends, of course).  Luther had wanted to secure his faith somehow in the rigor of God’s own righteousness.  And he was not wrong in this impulse.  But he was emphatically wrong in his one-sided concept of God’s justice/righteousness.  This fateful step plunged Protestant Christianity into a punitive, vengeful, sectarian career that has disgracefully compromised the peace of the Kingdom of God, tarnished the character of God the Father, sullied the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and suppressed many veritable operations of the Holy Spirit.[17]  Time and space fail for detailing the full biblical evidence for God’s resurrectionary justice to Jesus.  What follows may only tantalize my readers.[18]  The entire theological tradition of the Protestant Reformers concerning “justification” must come under renewed scrutiny and be subjected to a major overhaul.[19]  In one fell swoop, the Resurrection justified God, Jesus, and believers alike.

            The premial expression of God’s justice, “revealed” (Rom. 1:17), “manifested” (3:21), and “displayed” (3:25-26) stunningly in Christ’s Resurrection,[20] “apart from the Law” (3:21), hence apart from wrath, “for the Law is producing wrath” (4:15), cannot help but throw the doctrine of the atonement proper into an enormously fresh and happy light.[21]  Accordingly, the animal sacrifices should be seen as prophetically portraying the crime, i.e., sin, of crucifying a sinless Messiah, thus evoking God’s just recompense.  “Laying hands on” the victim depicted complicity in its slaying.  Indeed, the very Hebrew and Greek terms for sin-offering are none other than the respective words for sin—a curious fact that eases us into the proper translation and interpretation of II Cor. 5:21.  It means Jesus never “identified with our sin” at all, but only with our temptation to sin, yet proved ever triumphant over it.  Jesus became a sin-offering so we could become God’s righteousness, for this is the achievement in reality of what the Levitical animal sin-offerings did as ritual substitutesSacrificial blood signifies nothing other than the release of the power of Resurrection life in divine response to the slaying of the Lamb of God.  It signalled the just avenging demanded by the guilty taking of that Sinless Life.  In a nutshell, sacrificial blood symbolizes not death, but life from the dead.  Always.  Only.  The exhaustless wonder of the Gospel story inheres precisely in the non-violent[22] manner in which God performed this execution of “avenging” (ekdikēsis, literally, “out-just-ing”—rendering justice, whether penal or premial), namely, by raising His Son from the dead, thereby more than reversing his murder.  We see the love of both Father and Son at the Cross by virtue of the fact that neither of them lifted a finger to penally avenge this paramount injustice on mount Calvary.  The Son of the Most High left more than twelve legions of angels to sit on their hands while he opted to let his blood flow in agony he did not deserve, for if he had saved himself, the Savior could not have saved others.  Likewise, the Father’s love for mankind—John 11 allusively teaches us that “God wept” on that fateful Friday—left His Loved One nailed there when by a show of force He could have rescued him and terminated his assailants.[23]  Only love moved Him to choose the grief of surrendering His beloved Son to the gruesome ignominy of that trial and Cross, even knowing full well the glorious outcome.  Before the ages of time, They secretly collaborated to conspire these strategic choices and to pledge Their mutual covenantal troth to fulfill them and make possible a vast transfer of wealth “for us and our salvation” as well as the agelong credit of Their reputation.  The mind reels to take it all in!

            To reiterate, the “righteousness of God”—that divine equity hardly less visible in the Mosaic Law than in the Prophets, Psalms, and Wisdom literature—demands super-compensation[24] for the victim, not merely an “even” recompense.  Think only of Job (chap. 42).  This is why the blood of the sacrifices could be used so extensively for pardon, cleansing, healing, hallowing, consecration, dedication, etc., regarding whatever was ritually spattered:  it signified the miraculous creation-restoring power of everlasting life—God’s own just repayment to Jesus—made available gratuitously, in turn, to sinful people through sacred procedures.[25]  Can we see where this is going—where it resolutely must go?  This award (Paul’s technical term for it in Rom. 5 and 8 is dikaiōma, i.e., the rightful due, just deserts, fair settlement, judicial damages, or juridical award, stipulated by covenant) is the promised Holy Spirit from on high.  Accordingly, this premiated (“stipulated as a reward”) benefit of everlasting life, i.e., bodily immortality, was bestowed directly to Christ as his own premial judgment from God, and thence to those in faith union with him, not indirectly, following a substitutionary endurance of penal judgment from God.  By this adequate restitution to Jesus, God could start to renew the face of the stricken earth and rightfully overturn the interloper, Satan, along with his whole abysmally corrupt regime.  This Spirit is the “Gift of graciousness” “welling up” (John 4:14) and “gushing” like “rivers of living water” (John 7:38), originating from “a river of water of life… issuing out of the throne of God and of the Lamb [slain]” (Rev. 22:1):  a vivifying outpouring of hallowing Spirit in rightfully atoning exchange for a fatal outpouring of sinless Blood.  Sweet waters from the Rock struck not in wrath (Exodus 17:6).  The alternatives come down to “penal substitution” versus “premial inclusion.”  They cannot be scrambled and mushed together without logical incoherence and theological confusion; they are mutually and utterly exclusive.  The exuberant graciousness of the latter alone is the font of the apostle Paul’s characteristic superlatives and “much rathers.”  Significantly, early Christian authors spoke of the “grace of the Resurrection.”  The old question, “Is there healing in the atonement?” should seem rather moot in light of apostolic logic.[26]

It is a curious fact that there is one and only one word associated in Scripture with virtually every arterial mainline of soteriology, including healing:  blood.  And no wonder, for inasmuch as the criminal spilling of the blood (taking the life/soul) of the blameless Lamb of God irrevocably demanded its superabundant repayment by Resurrection to immortality in a regenerated human body (for the Lord’s native “body of flesh” had been criminally stripped off him in his sanguinary “circumcision” by the Cross, Col. 2:11), the life-giving Spirit is discernible as the active ingredient.  “Three there are that are testifying:  the Spirit and the water [of baptism] and the blood [of sacrifice, in the Lord’s Supper], and the three are for the one thing” (I John 5:7-8):  the cleansing gush of resurrection life.  Whether “salvation,” “rescue,” “victory,” “peace,” “conciliation,” “protective cover[ing],” “forgiveness,” “justification,” “liberation,” “ransom,” “purchase [for God],” “freedom,” “holiness,” “perfection,” “cleansing,” “taking away [sins],” “washing [our garments],” “nearness [to God],” “true drink” (nourishment)—all are fruits of the radically unjust death that evoked God’s premial justice to repay with an extravagant inheritance in God’s Kingdom, now passed along to His every adopted child.  It’s only right!  That’s where our “right to become the children of God” (John 1:12) is anchored.  The deciding issue, after all, is not the unworthiness of “Man”, but the worthiness of “the Man of God’s own choosing”; he earned a hard-won right to royal offspring.  This panorama of splendors unfolds by rediscovering the authentic glory of premial atonement.  These blessings aggregately constitute the full dimensions of God’s graciousness, at last justified in bursting forth on account of an Object sufficiently wronged that God could thus vindicate and ransom him “in peace” (Ps. 55:18) before an astonished universe, with abundant eyewitness testimonies.  These riches collectively add up to our “full coverage” under the indemnifying blood of God’s Own.[27]  This is our legacy as those “begotten above,” destined to become naturalized citizens of the New Jerusalem (Ps. 87, John 3:1-13, Rom. 8:17-25, Eph. 1:18-22, 2:19-22, Phil. 3:20-21, Col. 1:5, 3:1-5, Heb. 11:8-19, 12:22-24, Rev. 21-22).  Since the Resurrection proved conclusively, if retrospectively—its very delay exhibiting longsuffering mercy—that Jesus had been unceasingly under God’s favor and covenantal kindness all along, and never under His wrath, likewise we can revel in God’s graciousness, provided we get immersed in Christ and stay there by durable faith.[28]  He is the protective cover (hilastērion) that God Himself proffers (Rom. 3:25) to blot out and obliterate our sins.  Makes perfect sense.

            And what of the Vineyard?  Shall this mighty movement of God move on to still greater conquests of territory unjustly held by the Enemy?[29]  Shall we take our stand in the full light of a premial justice of God revealed in a resurrectionary atonement triggered by the unjust death of His beloved and ever-favored Son?  This is our rightful legacy.  Are we daring enough to enter the Promised Land of new adventures against giant adversaries, in the miraculous power that can shake the Enemy from strongholds of decadence in our land and over our planet?  This calls for a fresh succession of living sacrifices and even potential bloodshed—our own (Rev. 6:10-11, 12:11).[30]  If we are to grasp a graciousness that will cause the waiting world to catch its breath in wonder, repentance, and joyous conciliation to God, our own paradigm must shift first.  Expansive new horizons of redemptive transformation beckon in the wake of restoring the restorative doctrine of atonement that characterized the apostolic preaching of the Resurrection.  The solution to the dreary, bewildering “atonement puzzle”—how to reassemble the many scattered fragments into an intelligible and integral unity—has always been right under our nose.  Nothing I have unfolded above should come as a surprise, much less a scandal.  Have you read this Book?  Yet many a Christian may gaze at the hard facts and turn away, “forgetting what manner of person s/he was” (James 1:22-24).  To conclude, penal substitution[31] needs to be gently yet decisively repudiated and dismantled, while retaining what is salvageable and reintegrating the vital elements into the complete framework of God’s righteousness/justice.[32]  Get it?  Go like this…[nod] .  Good.  Now back to doin’ the stuff![33]

[1] This justifiably beloved and deeply moving Vineyard communion song includes words of penal substitutionary origin that I wish to reconsider in this workshop paper.  In accord with the thrust of my presentation, might I submit an alternate wording?  “It’s Your blood that flowed for me.

[2] There is little consensus as to which English word family best renders the Hebrew and Greek root families in many contexts.  I shall use them interchangeably and in combination.

[3] Here I’m drawing gratefully on the corpus of Meredith G. Kline’s insightful scholarship concerning covenants.

[4] The most thorough theological exposition to date of restorative justice, especially in contemporary application, is Christopher D. Marshall, Beyond Retribution:  A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime, and Punishment (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans; Aukland, N.Z.; Sydney, Australia: Lime Grove House Publishers, 2001).  Yet ironically, it lacks a consistently restorative paradigm of atonement, so its cogency suffers; see esp. pp. 53-69, 172-3.

[5] This term, deriving from the Latin verb praemiare, “to stipulate for a reward” (from which we get the English words “premium” and “premiate”), was first used by the Anglican theologian John Balguy (1686-1748) in Essay on Redemption (1741) to refer precisely to the rewarding or restorative aspect of God’s justice.  Cited in Timothy Gorringe, God’s Just Vengeance:  Crime, Violence, and the Rhetoric of Salvation  (Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 170-72.

[6] “[W]e discover that God’s righteousness, seen in terms of covenant faithfulness and through the image of the lawcourt, was to be the instrument of putting the world to rights—of what we might call cosmic restorative justice.”  N. T. Wright, The Letter to the Romans:  Introduction, Commentary and Reflection, vol. X (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2002), p. 400, emphasis added.  Yet it may be anachronistic in some texts to visualize a “lawcourt” executing justice instead of, e.g., a battlefield.

[7] Geerhardus Vos, “The Alleged Legalism in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, pp. 383-99, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Nutley, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 389-90, all emphases added.

[8] Tertullian sagely declares, “A good deed has God as its debtor, just as also an evil one, because a judge is a rewarder of every cause.”  De Poenitate 2.  Quoted in Gorringe, God’s Just Vengeance, p. 90, note 16.  Even a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name will not be forgotten at the heavenly assize, by the strictness of premial justice.

[9] Here I rely on two splendid and authoritative treatises, Uuras Saarnivaara, Luther Discovers the Gospel: New Light upon Luther’s Way from Medieval Catholicism to Evangelical Faith (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1951) and Lowell C. Green, How Melanchthon Helped Luther Discover the Gospel:  The Doctrine of Justification in the Reformation (Fallbrook, CA:  Verdict Publications, 1980).  See also Gerhard O. Forde, The Law-Gospel Debate:  An Interpretation of Its Historical Development (Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1969), pp. 3-9.

[10] For the early Christian stance on the atonement, see the balanced work of David W. Bercot, particularly his 3-CD series, “Atonement,” which distills the whole sweep of Ante-Nicene teaching, available from Scroll Publishing Co., (accessed Dec. 22, 2009).  See also David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998).  For the Nicene and Post-Nicene period (mainly), see Georges Florovsky, “Redemption,” chap. 5 in Creation and Redemption, vol. 3 in the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Company, 1976), 95-159.

[11] Most formative historically, on this score, Theodore Beza, Johannes Piscator, and William Ames.

[12] See, below, my appendix on “God’s Premial Justice in the Psalms,” adapted from the Concordant Version of the Old Testament (Santa Clarita, CA: Concordant Publishing Concern, 1994).  I have color-coded the online text to distinguish various categories of traits, virtues, obligations, rewards, etc., both of God and His covenant partner, David/Israel (ultimately, Jesus, the Messiah).  I do apologize to those brothers who may be color blind.

[13] The watershed treatments in English on this subject are by the theological forbear of the Swedish free churches in North America—the Evangelical Free and Evangelical Covenant denominations—Paul Peter Waldenström, 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 Dec. 22, 2009); also The Lord Is Right: Meditations on the Twenty-Fifth Psalm in The Psalter of King David, translated with notes and introduction by J. G. Princell (Chicago:  John Martenson, Publisher, 1889 [Swedish, 1878]).  Significantly, by 1889 Waldenström’s book-length exposition of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Smärtornas man [“Man of Sorrows”] (Stockholm: Pietistens Expedition, 1881), had similarly been translated and theologically annotated by Princell, the leading co-founder of the Evangelical Free Church, and readied for publication, likewise, by John Martenson, another of the three co-founders.  However, the manuscript was evidently suppressed due to the controversy stirred by his earlier books and has been lost.  A modern translation of this pivotal treatment would be most timely for the current debate.  A compact summary of Waldenström’s position, drawn from his considerable theological corpus, is Axel Andersson, The Christian Doctrine of the Atonement according to P. P. Waldenstrom, trans. G. F. Hedstrand (Chicago: Covenant Press, 1937), (accessed Dec. 22, 2009).  For an informative editorial, see Elder Lindahl, “Where is Waldenström?” in Pietisten, XII, 3 (Fall 1997), (accessed Feb. 11, 2010).  A superb and thoughtfully accessible recent dissertation has finally situated Waldenström in the historic American evangelical context: David M. Gustafson, D. L. Moody and Swedes: Shaping Evangelical Identity among Swedish Mission Friends 1867-1899 (Linköping, Sweden: Linköping University Department of Culture and Communication, 2008),, and the review by Runar Eldebo, (both accessed Jan. 26, 2010).  Gustafson has documented that D. L. Moody’s knowledge of the above two books by Waldenström, whom he held in high regard as a fellow Evangelical and revivalist, caused a shift in his preaching and a change from his view of a God that “needed to be appeased, to the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” p. 188.  The rest is history.  The two men eagerly conversed when Waldenström came to America in 1889 and made a point of visiting Moody in Northfield, Mass. for a few days.  The two men’s sermons were published in almost equal abundance by Swedish-American periodicals of the day—an honor accorded very few others.  According to Gustafson, they reacted in common against a “hyper-Anselmian” (actually, Calvinistic) view “that portrayed God principally as stern, cruel, and wrathful, and preferred a view that emphasized God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness,” pp. 189-90.  I know only one modern theologian of the atonement who is aware of Waldenström and his potential to calm the unresolved turmoil over the atonement: R. Larry Shelton, Cross & Covenant:  Interpreting the Atonement for 21st Century Mission (Tyrone, GA: Paternoster, 2006), 208-11.  I thank Todd Hunter, his former student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, Portland, OR, for occasioning our e-mail acquaintance.  Significantly, the revivals that swept Sweden were blessed with abundant signs and wonders.  This was documented, along with extensive personal interviews with Waldenström, the main theological leader and defender of the revivals and resulting free church movement, by M. W. Montgomery, “A Wind from the Holy Spirit in Sweden and Norway” (Bible House, New York: American Home Missionary Society, 1884).

[14] This is my own adaptation from the Concordant Literal New Testament, Memorial Edition (Saugus, CA:  Concordant Publishing Concern, 1966), and elsewhere in this paper.  This version, despite my differences of word choice and theology from A. E. Knoch, its originator, has been utterly indispensable to my progressive understanding of Scripture.  I readily acknowledge my long indebtedness to this exceptionally consistent version, whose “concordant” method of translation has done double duty as a veritable hermeneutic, as well.

[15] The fairest handling I have seen of the O.T. teaching on this subject is H.G.L. Peels, The Vengeance of God:  The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament (Leiden; New York; Köln:  E.J. Brill, 1995).  In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis famously depicts a non-penal-substitutionary “atonement” by Aslan for Edmund’s betrayal.  Any “wrath,” “condemnation,” or “punishment” by Aslan’s father, “the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea,” is nowhere in sight.  Rather, we behold heroic substitution for a king’s ransom!  The White Witch was totally clueless about the “deeper magic” that “Death itself would start working backward” when she snuffed that particular Lion.  Christ’s “suicide mission” was also a strategic secret (I Cor. 2:7-8).  Moreover, after his resurrection, Aslan was “larger than they had seen him before”—i.e., super-compensation, (accessed Jan. 27, 2010).  Lewis’s theology should come as no surprise to anyone.  He never concealed that he regarded as “my master,” the revered Scottish novelist George MacDonald, an ousted Congregational pastor who breathed fire against penal substitution (and in that sense, vicarious sacrifice) as well as any “imputed righteousness of Christ.”  See George MacDonald, “Justice” and “Righteousness,” in Unspoken Sermons, Series Three, and “The Truth in Jesus,” in ibid, Series Two, (accessed Jan. 27, 2010).

[16] This has been defended in what was to become one of the most justly famous footnotes in theological literature, Andrew Fuller, The Gospel Its Own Witness; or, the Holy Nature and Divine Harmony of the Christian Religion, Contrasted with the Immorality and Absurdity of Deism (n.p., 1799), 157-58.

[17] Here I must refer the reader to exceptional volumes by Timothy Gorringe, God’s Just Vengeance, cited in footnote 5 above, and Willard M. Swartley, Covenant of Peace: The Missing Piece in New Testament Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006).  A grim but highly instructive exposé of the socio-economic effects of penal satisfaction may be surveyed in Boyd Hilton, The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1785-1865 (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1988).

[18] The most satisfying treatments that connect Christ’s resurrection with God’s righteousness are the seminal studies by Markus Barth, especially, Part One: “Interpretation” and “Comments” in Markus Barth and Verne H. Fletcher, Acquittal by Resurrection (New York, Chicago, San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964), 3-96, 151-63 and Justification:  Pauline Texts Interpreted in the Light of the Old and New Testaments, trans. A. M. Woodruff III (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans, 1971); see also his Was Christ’s Death a Sacrifice?  “Scottish Journal of Theology Occasional Papers,” 9 (Edinburgh, 1961).

[19] The most accessible semi-popular elaborations remain those of Robert D. Brinsmead, “Justification by Faith Re-Examined,” The Christian Verdict, Special Issue 1 (1983); “The Scandal of God’s Justice—Part 1,” ibid, Essay 6 (1983); “The Scandal of God’s Justice—Part 2,” ibid, Essay 7 (1983); “The Scandal of God’s Justice—Part 3,” ibid, Essay 8 (1983).  A delightful essay that nicely remixes some of these key insights is Caleb F. Heppner, “A Covenantal View of Atonement,” (accessed Dec. 22, 2009).  Powerful new strides towards a fuller restoration of Paul’s authentic treatment of justification have recently been made in extenso by Douglas A. Campbell in his monumental The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans, 2009).  A most significant skein of argumentation is his peerless defense of the “faith[fulness] of Jesus/Christ” passages that occur in Galatians, Romans, and Philippians 3 as referring to the Son’s own faithfulness.  This is utterly decisive for grasping a premial view of the Father’s own righteousness; they amount to complementary covenantal counterparts or correlates.  On this topic, see also Douglas A. Campbell, The Rhetoric of Righteousness in Romans 3.21-26, JSNT Supplement Series 65 (Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992) and “The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ in Romans 3:22,” in The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical and Theological Studies, ed. Michael F. Bird and Preston M. Sprinkle (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 57-72.  Here he builds solidly on the worthy labors of Richard B. Hays.  In a further important advance, echoing that of a notable predecessor, R. C. Moberly (cited below, note 27), Campbell endeavors to close the gap between the “forensic” elements (construed in a non-Lutheran/Calvinistic way) of Paul’s soteriology and the “participatory-pneumatological” ones.  The success of this achievement may go far to restore the original holistic contours of the Gospel, not only in explanation, but in practice and power.  On the other hand, judging from his section on “Homosexual Relations” (pp. 206-7), Campbell has ominously underestimated the full ethical import of the Pentecostal induement of redemptive, creation-restoring power.  (This shortfall is likely due to Campbell’s entirely missing the resurrectionary import of sacrificial blood and hence the centrality of Christ’s Resurrection in the book of Romans and in the Gospel as a whole.)  Michael F. Bird interviews Campbell at gratifying length for the fascinating story behind this magnum opus, (accessed Jan. 21, 2010).  Another author who lends confirmation to a resurrectionary emphasis (similarly weighted more toward the topic of justification than atonement) is Michael J. Gorman in Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001) and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2009).  Although I would differ with his reversion to “theosis” discourse, this should not be allowed to detract from his splendid contribution to a practicable resurrectionary spirituality.

[20] There is no better place to start than Robert D. Brinsmead, “A Theology of the Resurrection,” The Christian Verdict, Special Issue 2 (1984).  The landmark volumes by French Catholic scholar Francis Xavier Durrwell are unique treasures (though marred by excessive reference to “mystery”): The Resurrection:  A Biblical Study, with an introduction (not to be overlooked!) by Charles Davis (New York:  Sheed and Ward, 1960) and Christ Our Passover: The Indispensable Role of the Resurrection in Our Salvation (Liguori, MO: Liguori, 2004).  Those undaunted by the most penetrating exegetical scholarship will be well rewarded by tracking down the astonishing and groundbreaking dissertation by Alexander LaBrecque, “The Resurrection Faith: Paul’s Somatic Soteriology Apart from the Circumcision Controversy” (University of Sheffield, 1995).

[21] Robert D. Brinsmead handily obliges with extracts from diverse modern theologians in “Documents on the Atonement,” The Christian Verdict, Essay 11 (1984).  None has surpassed Alexander LaBrecque’s semi-popular introductions to this approach, “No Other Foundation,” Evangelica: A Journal of Christian Renewal, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1986) and “Atonement Theories and the Reality of the Gospel,” ibid, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1986).

[22] Cogent arguments for this point have been elegantly and sensibly summarized in Brad Jersak, “Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ,” in Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ, ed. Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin, foreword by Willard Swartley (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 18-53.  See also the fine chapter (and responses to other authors) by Thomas Finger, “Christus Victor as Nonviolent Atonement,” in Atonement and Violence: A Theological Conversation, ed. John Sanders (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), 87-111.  The most endearing presentation I have seen of “Christus Victor” is that by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, “The Atonement Debate,” chap. 7 in Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009 [2002]), 124-44.  See also Darrin Snyder Belousek, Atonement, Justice, and Peace:  The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans; Cambridge, U.K., 2012).

[23] God’s Kingdom strategy in the messianic career of Jesus is trenchantly conveyed in the works of James Kallas, The Significance of the Synoptic Miracles (Greenwich, CT:  The Seabury Press, 1961); The Satanward View: A Study in Pauline Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966); and Jesus and the Power of Satan (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968).  I am grateful to C. Peter Wagner, via John Wimber, Power Evangelism (San Francisco:  Harper & Row, 1986), for introducing me to Kallas’s bold and often original thought.  I gratefully acknowledge his “Satanward” view of Christ’s work as mightily reinforcing the premial justice of God.

[24] Few have explored this prominent element in God’s justice, so evident from Scripture.  F. C. N. Hick’s chapters, “Life Transformed” and “Life Shared,” in The Fullness of Sacrifice: An Essay in Reconciliation (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1930), 153-91, provide a very suggestive treatment.  John Milbank gets his feet wet with his ideas of gift-exchange, counter-gift, non-identical repetition, and asymmetrical reciprocity, in Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon, Radical Orthodoxy Series (London; New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 154-61.  For lack of grasping this indispensable element of justice (both premial and penal—flip sides of the same coin) the literature on restorative justice seems to score low on the exuberance that should accompany such a victorious evangel.  Rehabilitating this essential of divine fairness to our theologies of atonement and justification could help transmute leaden scholarship into golden proclamation.

[25] Theological progress among Evangelicals toward the actual resurrectionary significance of ritual blood was peremptorily stifled in the mid-20th century by the publication of A. M. Stibbs, The Meaning of the Word ‘Blood’ in Scripture, 2nd ed. (London:  The Tyndale Press, 1954 [1948]).  In its brief 30 pages can be found a doleful succession of non sequiturs.  Worse, however, is his cavalier and derogatory treatment of numerous worthy evangelical scholars who had made sterling, if incomplete, progress toward recovering the full meaning of sacrificial blood in Scripture, antiquity, and anthropology.  The essence of the now widespread declension is quite simple:  Stibbs ferociously championed the assumption that sacrificial blood signifies death and not life.  It is chiefly this stumbling-stone, exalted to the keystone of atonement doctrine, that precipitated the rapid descent from that arduously recovered ground by otherwise respectable evangelical scholars, most notably, Leon L. Morris, J. I. Packer, and John R. W. Stott.  Having rebuffed the gentle overtures of new Truth, some theologians have re-mystified the Gospel, daring anyone to turn on the Light, at the cost of getting written off as a “Rationalist,” “Socinian,” “Liberal,” etc.  Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can do real damage.  Mr. Stibbs was Vice-Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, London.  It is surely no coincidence that from this school has originated a successor-in-kind to his own work, namely, Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 2007).  To redress such tendentious exhibits, driven by strident commitment to Calvin’s novel theory of penal substitution, I recommend the gratifying, even startling advances of the earlier body of maligned scholarship:  P. Waldenström, The Blood of Jesus: What Is Its Significance?  Meditations on All the New Testament Passages in Which the Expression Occurs, translated with an introduction and notes by J. G. Princell (Chicago: John Martenson, Publisher, 1888 [Swedish, 1880]); William Milligan, The Resurrection of Our Lord, 4th ed. (London:  Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1894 [1890, 1883, 1881]), 135-40, 274-304; H. Clay Trumbull, The Blood Covenant:  A Primitive Rite and It’s Bearings on Scripture, 2nd ed. (Kirkwood, MO:  Impact Books, Inc., reprint ed., 1975 [1893, 1885]); Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews:  The Greek Text with Notes and Essays (New York, London:  Macmillan and Co., 1889), 258-65, 293-98, Commentary on the Epistles of St. John (London, 1892), 34ff., and St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: The Greek Text with Notes and Addenda (London:  Macmillan, 1906), 11-12; S. C. Gayford, Sacrifice and Priesthood (London, 1924); F. C. N. Hicks, The Fullness of Sacrifice: An Essay in Reconciliation (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1930); Vincent Taylor, Jesus and His Sacrifice (London, 1939), and The Atonement in the New Testament Teaching, 3rd ed. (London: Epworth Press, 1958 [1946, 1945]); Oliver Chase Quick, The Gospel of the New World: A Study in the Christian Doctrine of Atonement (London: Nisbet & Co., Ltd., 1944); W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism:  Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology (Phila.: Fortress Press, 1980 [1955, 1948], 234-37.  Numerous others theologians and scholars of every hue likewise lend authority to the meaning of the blood as life, including Horace Bushnell, William Sanday & Arthur C. Headlam, P. T. Forsyth, W. R. Smith, W. O. E. Oesterley, C. H. Dodd, and Nathaniel Micklem, although they made negligible theological use of it.  Profoundly consonant from medical and physiological perspectives is the section on “Blood” by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey in their book, In His Image, chaps. 4-8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1984), 50-105.  The final and conclusive linkage of sacrificial blood to resurrection life could not have delayed but for wholesale condemnation and ridicule of its many thoughtful precursors.  Now, I realize this takes all the mystery out of the atonement.  For those who prefer to think of the Gospel as a “great mystery,” this may come as a great disappointment.  Let’s get over it.  The Light has come; there is nowhere to retreat.  The secret is out, and it puts the Devil on the run.

[26] F. F. Bosworth’s message, “Did Jesus Redeem Us from Our Diseases When He Atoned for Our Sins?” in Christ the Healer: Messages on Divine Healing, 7th ed. (Miami, FL:  F. F. Bosworth, 1948 [1924]), 22-47, is still timely.

[27] The classic by R. C. Moberly, Atonement and Personality (London:  John Murray, 1901), which opened the 20th century, was a faithful landmark, not so much for its dubious view of Christ’s work as a “vicarious repentance” for sins to God on behalf of mankind, but for its grand exposition of “The Holy Spirit in Relation to Human Personality” (pp. 216-55), which linked the atonement with the operations of the promised Spirit.  This was a significant theological impulse toward recovering what the Reformation had lost by substitutionary indirection—its roundabout rationalizing of divine “grace” somehow exacted as an outcome of God’s executing “wrath” on the Innocent.  Such theologies had bequeathed their heirs a primitive “dial-up” connection—slow and meager.  By contrast, Moberly, like Edward Irving before him, foreshadowed the Pentecostal outpouring that was just around the corner.  See Gordon Strachan, The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving (London:  Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd., 1973; reprint, Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1988).  Yet Moberly’s volume was but “a cloud, large as a man’s hand” before the imminent voluminous downpour.  A more thoroughly integral theology would reinforce a more sustained revival.  Andrew Murray, profoundly influenced by John Wesley’s early mentor, William Law (in his later phase; regarding the atonement, especially The Spirit of Love, 1752, 1754) similarly secures the operation of the Holy Spirit to the atoning blood in many of his devotional works.  See especially his elaboration, “The Power of Christ’s Blood to inaugurate the New Sanctuary and the New Covenant” in The Holiest of All: An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Old Tappan, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell, 1960 [1894]), 283-326.

[28] The Second Great Awakening, commencing with signs and wonders at the outset of the 19th century, produced the first substantial advance in the modern era toward recovering the apostolic doctrine of the atonement and prepared the way for the Restoration Movement—the first association of churches whose identity originated on American soil instead of European.  See the treatments penned by the pastor whose name is most closely associated with the unexpectedly powerful camp meetings at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, and who ably defended the miraculous phenomena as from God—Barton W. Stone, Atonement:  The Substance of Two Letters Written to a Friend (Lexington, KY: Joseph Charless, 1805), (accessed Jan. 15, 2010); A Reply to John P. Campbell’s Strictures on Atonement (Lexington, KY: Joseph Charless, 1805), (accessed Jan. 15, 2010); “The Atonement,” Section III in An Address to the Christian Churches in Kentucky, Tennessee & Ohio on Several Important Doctrines of Religion, 2nd ed., corrected & enlarged (Lexington, KY: Printed by I. T. Cavins & Co., 1821), (accessed March 4, 2010); two Letters and an Apology to Thomas Campbell, in The Christian Messenger, 7/7 (July 1833), 7/8 (Aug. 1833), 7/10 (Oct. 1833), (accessed March 31, 2010).  For further elaboration, see Barton Stone’s numerous vigorous exchanges with Alexander Campbell on the atonement at the end of his career (1840-41), (accessed Jan. 15, 2010).  It is no coincidence that those camp meetings were annual Presbyterian communion services, as were the Pentecostal throwbacks in Cambuslang, Scotland, the immediate precursor of our First Great Awakening (1730’s-40’s).  For a stirring historical recounting and theological explanation of the Lord’s Supper, understood as a conduit for conveying the power of the atonement into continuous spiritual revival, see William L. De Arteaga, Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).  See also his earlier treatment, Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit behind the Charismatic Controversy (Orlando, FL: Creation House, 1996 [1992]), which masterfully handles the curiously enigmatic progress, missteps, and setbacks along the way toward recovering the powerful gifts of the risen Lord for his body on earth.  We can rightfully expect that closing the gap between the theology of the atonement and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit may unleash floods of wholesomeness to transform us and reform our cultural surroundings.

[29] I am delighted to recommend some amazing practical teaching about God’s premial justice (though not expressed in these terms) for our recurrent experience of injustice, in the unique and powerful expositions by erstwhile Vineyard pastor and prophetic minister John Paul Jackson in Keys to Receiving God’s Justice, DVD, CD-ROM (Colleyville, TX; North Sutton, NH: Streams Ministries International, [2009]) MP3 and e-booklet download, (accessed Jan. 16, 2010).  However, the rousing implications have not quite impacted his substitutionary view of the atonement in the Streams Ministries Doctrinal Statement.

[30] Few have better grasped or put into more thoroughgoing personal and social practice the multifarious self-sacrificial ramifications of the Cross of “redemptive love” than Toyohiko Kagawa.  See his Meditations on the Cross, trans. Helen F. Topping and Marion R. Draper (Chicago; New York:  Willett, Clark & Company, 1935).  On a parallel trajectory, theologically, is Thomas A. Smail, who writes similarly about “Calvary love” in “The Cross and the Spirit:  Toward a Theology of Renewal,” in The Love of Power or the Power of Love: A Careful Assessment of the Problems Within the Charismatic and Word-of-Faith Movements, ed. Tom Smail, Andrew Walker, and Nigel Wright (Minneapolis, MN:  Bethany House Publishers, 1994), 13-36.  His earlier book, Reflected Glory: The Spirit of Christ and Christians (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans, 1975), with roots in Edward Irving, has helped foster a sound theology and practice of contemporary signs and wonders within the Vineyard.

[31] Sadly, Wayne Grudem’s treatment, “The Atonement,” in Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, chap. 27 (Leicester, U.K.: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994), 568-607, may stand alone for its tally of vain repetition of the penal satisfaction litanies: “bearing God’s wrath,” etc., over 20 times and “pay[ment] for sin,” no less than 65 times, in 25 pages.  As if by reflex, this disproportion necessarily abridges the proper development of “Resurrection and Ascension,” which follows immediately in chap. 28, pp. 608-23.  The first litany is Calvinian, the second, Anselmian; neither is Pauline, Lukan, Johannine, nor anything else resembling “a pattern of sound explanations” from Scripture alone.  Still, it’s not too late to repent.

[32] The Vineyard USA Statement of Faith, in point 6, “Christ the Mediator and Eternal King,” declares, “in His atoning death on the cross [Jesus] took God’s judgment for sin which we deserve as law-breakers” (my emphasis).  However, I Peter 2:24, the appended prooftext for the first clause, does not teach an “atoning death” (in Scripture, only the blood is said to be atoning, for reasons explained above); nor do Gal. 3:13 and II Cor. 5:21, the prooftexts for the second clause, imply that Christ “took God’s judgment” (the I Peter 2:24 passage just stated that he took “our sins”) but rather that he became “a curse”—a wrongful effect of his wrongful hanging—and a sin-offering—a wrongful victim of priestly envy, popular clamor, and Roman compliance.  God’s judgment concerning those wrongs fell on the third day.  Moreover, this particular curse of the Law, significantly, was not activated by a sin at all.  Hence, that distinctive curse no more entailed the wrathful judgment of God than did Job’s sufferings.  Instead, by this tiny thread God was able strategically to pull the Law of Moses off its pedestal and replace it by the Law of Christ.  It is a marvel how some theologians can defend a “sovereignty” of God (a term never predicated of God in the Bible, but only of the exalted Messiah) that embraces human and angelic actions that God does not perform by His own hand, yet in this singular instance “He must!”  Who says?  Has Scripture become a wax nose?  Hence, their own theology students shall be their judges.  We’ve all been snookered here.  The cost of truth is the sacrifice of all our falsehoods that are threatened by it.  This is gonna hurt.  Deal with it.

[33] This workshop paper is the latest in a series of documents I’ve written on the atonement.  I would be pleased to send any as e-mail attachments upon request.  Of special interest to scholars will be “77 Questions about the Atonement” (May, 2007; revised June 2009), “95 Theses on the Atonement” (October/November 2007) and “Anselm, Calvin, and Arminius:  Reconciliation by Resurrection” (July/August 2009).  I request your thoughtful criticisms and prayers as I gear up to write a fully documented defense of this restored emphasis.

© 2010, 2013  Ronald Lee Roper

4 responses to “Premial Justice, the Unjust Cross, and Power from on High [complete paper]

  1. I am doing academic work related to this topic and I am hoping to find Waldenstrom’s Latin writings without having to fly to Europe. Have you been able to resource them? Sincerely, Pastor Jonathan Wilson, Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin, Illinois.

    • Pastor Wilson,
      I have never actually attempted to locate Waldenstrom’s Latin works. The only one I know of is his dissertation on Justification in the Augsburg Confession. I confess I was surprised to learn that anyone in the 1870’s was still writing academic treatises in Latin (especially outside the Roman Catholic tradition)! However, his achievement did peak my interest. My main source for this detail was page 96 of David M. Gustafson’s dissertation, D. L. Moody and Swedes. There he writes:

      “In a sermon published in Pietisten in September 1872, Waldenström presented his view of Christ’s atonement, a view that set off a storm of controversy.23 In essence, Waldenström held that Christ died on the cross to reconcile humankind to God; God the Father was the subject of reconciliation, not the object as in the penal substitutionary view held by the Church of Sweden.24 In defense of his view, in 1873 he published the book, Om försoningens betydelse (On the Meaning of the Atonement), and in 1874 he published his Latin treatise, De justificatione quid statuant libri symbolici ecclesiæ lutheranæ (The Doctrine of Justification in the Lutheran Symbolic Books), concluding that Confessio Augustana (Augsburg Confession) and Pia Concordia (Formula of Concord) were confusing and contradictory and therefore not trustworthy or authoritative for church life; only the Bible was a trustworthy source of doctrine and life.25 Waldenström further argued that to use the Augsburg Confession to counter his arguments violated Luther’s sola scriptura principle, namely, that “the Holy Scriptures are the supreme authority in all matters of faith.”26 Waldenström’s question, “Hvar står det skrivet?” (Where is it written?), soon became his watchword, as well as that of his followers.”

      Alas, it is not in the catalogues of Rolfing Library at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Brandel Library of North Park University, or Bethel Seminary Library in St. Paul, which you have probably already searched. Have you tried contacting Philip J. Anderson (Prof. at North Park University), David M. Gustafson (Prof. at University of Houston), or Mark D. Safstrom (Chief Editor of Pietisten and teaches Scandinavian literature and Swedish at the U. of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana)? These are my only suggestions. I understand that Anderson, a church historian, has quite a collection of his own Waldenstromia, so he may have that in his private stash.

      I wish I could help you more, especially because I would find an expanded English synopsis of his work on Justification of greatest interest. Justification and the Atonement are intimately linked, so I find it necessary to probe those connections thoroughly. I’ll look forward to learning from your studies. Press on in your labors in the Lord!

  2. Nelson Camacho Tirado

    I am not a theologian and English is my second language (Spanish being my native language). I am trying to integrate your thesis into my understanding of the atonement achieved by God my Father, Jesus my Lord and my Paraclete. I have always had a kind of mistrust for the penal substitutionary atonement theory. I think it is legalistic (contractual more than covenantal), unjust (punishing the Innocent for the guilty), unbiblical (it is read into Scripture) and even blasphemous (it likens God to Baal).

    Until I read your post, I held a view of the atonement that combined elements of the Christus Victor and Recapitulation views. I believe Jesus won the spiritual war against the enemies of God and His creation, earning back what was lost and eternally renewing (in all of this word’s senses) in Himself all of God’s covenants with His creation (humanity being the head over creation). However, I was still searching for the way to integrate all elements into one coherent view. In your exposition of Premial Justice I have found what I was looking for to make my own view coherent without resorting to extra biblical concepts. In Jesus’ resurrection, God is proclaiming both Jesus’ righteousness and His righteousness, by righting Jesus’ wrongful death and giving Him all and everything as reparations. Now I, being a disciple and friend of Jesus, participate in His work and receive His inheritance because He’s not ashamed to call me His brother and a child of His Father. And the Spirit that God sent to Jesus, Jesus now sends to us to call us back from exile and to give us new life.

    Now, that’s what I call Good News and a New Song. We have arrived at the promised land. Now, with God’s love, let us drive the Adversary out of the land.

    Thank you, brother, for the fresh understanding. I will pray for you. Pray for me, too. Love, Nelson.

    • Nelson,

      First of all, I apologize for not getting back to you earlier. As you can see, I haven’t added a blog post since April 23rd until just yesterday, when I posted a long piece that exposes penal substitution as the central error of Calvinism that spawned all “Five Points” (and more) by an inner necessity.

      I was deeply touched, even thrilled, by your own words of creative reiteration at the end of your main paragraph. You’ve got it! I can’t remember the last time I heard or read such a fine summary of the core burden of the Gospel that I’ve also been trying to convey! More power of the Holy Spirit to ya’!

      I’m also delighted that you caught my own throbbing concern that we strive to integrate all the elements of the original Gospel into a coherent view without resorting to extra-biblical concepts. I feel a new Reformation coming! Woo hoo!

      Regarding covenants, you may enjoy the little essay by Caleb F. Heffner that I posted as a link in my “biblioroll” along the right side of this site.

      I would call your attention to only one matter to reconsider. You wrote, “God is proclaiming both Jesus’ righteousness and His righteousness….” You put matters the way that Darren Snyder Belousek does in his hefty volume, Atonement, Justice, and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church (Eerdmans, 2012), which I have also linked to my “biblioroll.” We had some correspondence before his book appeared, but we part ways at this decisive point. I insist that the complete absence of the expression “righteousness of Christ,” or anything similar, in Paul (or in any other New Testament writer) is no accident. Paul ONLY WRITES OF THE “RIGHTEOUSNESS/JUSTICE OF GOD” because he is trying to expound GOD’S INPUT ON BEHALF OF OUR SALVATION, an input OCCASIONED BY “THE FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS CHRIST,” a correlative expression found in all three of the only contexts where he speaks the language of “justification”–namely, Romans, Galatians, and Philippians 3.

      Accordingly, I would like to challenge you to keep reading my earlier blogs, starting with my first on March 11 of 2012. You may have noticed that this is not a “normal” blog site. I am intent on uploading my many years of notes on the subject (notice the dates that appear at the end of many paragraphs) in chronological sequence. So there is some development in the history of the site. That’s because I hope to to share with others the joy of discovery to whatever extent I can (without actually teaching things that I have since abandoned as seriously incorrect).

      I strongly resonate with your zeal to drive the Adversary out. In the real Gospel the power resides to do that. The Holy Spirit thereby brings the Kingdom into our midst as a solid testimony of its ultimate presence at Christ’s coming. Let’s go for it!

      My prayers will surely go with you, Nelson! It is so very encouraging to have a brother on the same wavelength! I so appreciate your prayers for the advance of this message of God’s Justice to Jesus as the proper means for our experiencing the saving fruits of the “Atonement.” Let’s both pray that God raises up many other workers for the coming harvest of God’s Kingdom.

      Now I dare you to translate these truths into Spanish!

      Greatly rejoicing, your brother,


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