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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 18

Jesse, if, as you rightly emphasize, we are only responsible for what we know, then you could not be held responsible for knowing the premial explanation of the Atonement…until now. If I have somehow hit the mark, and the punitive overcast of Augustinianism can at last be expeditiously dispelled by the sunny rays of God’s premial justice streaming through the misty formulas of traditional Protestant dogma, the question arises: what now? This exposé seems to demand some kind of accounting for the rise and development of penal necessitism over the centuries. I shall have more to say about this later on, especially as a result of my very recent picking through Grotius’s compilation, at the end of his book, of quotations from earlier centuries on the nature and rationale for the Atonement. We all have seen similar lists in recent treatments of the topic, but I must say, more than any of the other compilers, Grotius (I cannot challenge his Latin translations) has forced me to admit that penal necessitism has been building steadily, almost exclusively during the post-Nicene era. Prior to this reading, I was undecided whether the penal position was simply an innocent, fair, and even natural attempt at elaborating the high-water mark of apostolic proclamation, or whether the penal development reflected a growing corruption of biblical doctrine by other influences insinuating themselves over the centuries. The language of a score of those authors now seems quite unequivocal to me. I want to return to this later, with greater attention. Only to say now that this conclusion affects much that I have previously written that attributed to John Calvin a novelty that he does not deserve, although only partly mitigating the blame for culminating a late tradition he might have exposed as a distinct departure from ante-Nicene tradition, much less the purely New Testamental. But, then, Augustine was Calvin’s most esteemed guide to doctrine, and such a filter would predispose anyone to overlook the premial character of divine justice.

So although it is too late for Calvin to repent of his over-reliance on Augustine, it is not too late for me to repent of making Calvin the whipping boy for my antipathy to Atonement by penal satisfaction. It has validly been spotted numerous times earlier. Which still doesn’t excuse it or render it apostolic by concession. But I can see why Grotius might be forgiven for thinking he had a legitimate warrant to push a variant on that theme. He had enough precursors to give it plausibility. But more interesting, it means that Socinus was simply giving belated voice to at least aspects of the previous consensus of ante-Nicene authors on this point. Who would have thought! He certainly did not restore the full potency of premial atonement by resurrection and beyond, or he might have defused the furious opposition (but maybe not…). Still, it was a worthy effort at restoring Biblical truth, and from what I have seen so far, his arguments against the penal explanation are mostly sturdy and should have been heeded. The next frontier is to account for the widely scattered formulaic expressions about “satisfaction” that had accumulated well before even Anselm’s century.

Moreover, it is passing strange that pivotal figures Luther, Calvin, Socinus, and Grotius all had legal training before pursuing theological concerns. Or is it? The same was true of the influential Tertullian, thirteen centuries earlier. Hmm. I wonder if there’s a pattern. Then I wonder how that kind of education plays into the spread of penal necessitism. No time here to pursue it among other personages, earlier or later, but this is probably no anomaly. And for good or ill it has certainly had profound effects on controversies and outcomes of theology as a “science.” This matter, too, I want to pass over for now, but please keep these facts in mind when considering how this penal frame of mind could have been perpetuated so tediously down to the present while obscuring the New Testament Explanation of God, for it surely did happen.

Having completely overlooked even the possibility that God’s premial or rewarding justice is the exclusive showpiece of the Atonement, all penal doctrines of the Atonement, although they may pay some lip service to the Biblical strains of saving or rescuing or delivering or preserving justice, play them like “grace notes”—“not necessary to the melody, added only for ornamentation” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language College Edition, [Cleveland & NY: The New World Publishing Co., 1962]). However, the grace is not dwelled upon! The graciousness is scarcely even heard! Or, as “Webster” goes on to define it: “It is usually printed as a small note just before the note that it embellishes, from which its time value is subtracted.” How apt. Penal substitution theories (whether Calvin’s commercial or Grotius’s rectoral—these two really culminate the history of the doctrine for most practical purposes) pass all too quickly from the mere embellishment of any premial grace appearing in Scripture’s melodic narratives, treating it as optional ornamentation, and then rumble on with the “necessary” and “dominant” penal melody line of their own transcription! In doing so, however, they in effect major on the minor harmonies and bring a grim overcast to obscure the sunny truth about God’s justice—the whole, integral truth…the rest of the Gospel Story.

The governmental, rectoral, or acceptilation theory of penal substitution, even as the commercial or economic exchange version to which it was reacting, is a monument to sophistry and rhetoric. They may both “preach” well, but we must beware our loyalties.

It’s not the death of Christ that atones for sins. It’s THE LIFE WHICH OUTLIVED HIS DEATH that atones for sins. Because since that life was returned to him GREATLY MAGNIFIED by way of just retribution, Christ possessed the right and capability to SUBDIVIDE and REDISTRIBUTE it via the Holy Spirit he had received without measure. Pentecost was the historic unveiling of that Gift of graciousness in superabundance…in transmission mode!

If “Penal Substitution” is finally recognized to be wrong and false, with any degree of near certainty, within our lifetimes, theologians and historians will be faced with the unsettling fact that, then, it must always have been wrong and false for, contrary to post-modern protestations, truth itself is reliably change-resistant. They must somehow deal with the fallout of such a theological cataclysm. Probing questions about the socio-cultural effects, searching investigations into the political-economic results of so many people believing so great a falsehood about something so fundamental for so many centuries are bound to make disturbing waves that upset entrenched interests and self-complacent certitudes along a wide front. Compensating for this shake-up, however, should be the fresh confidence and energizing joy of the more authentic Gospel. Picking up the pieces and rebuilding can be undertaken with new hope.

Can God “tolerate,” even “use” other “gospels”? He has! What was being preached before Augustine or Anselm or Aquinas or Francis of Assissi or Luther or Calvin or Loyola or Socinus or Grotius or Fox or Wesley or Campbell or Finney or Moody or Booth or Barth or Graham came along?—make your own list of heroes, gurus, epoch-makers. Each was a collector, rejecter, and re-arranger of received traditions and understandings. They all gained followers; most fostered whole movements; some started schools. “The Gospel” sounds quite different from each of their pens. Is God boggled by how to get us to get it right? Not so much. So let’s keep trying.

~to be continued~

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 14

GOVERNMENTAL LOVE?

In contrast [to Christianity], in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice. As E. A. Judge explained, classical philosophers taught that “mercy indeed is not governed by reason at all,” and humans must learn “to curb the impulse”; “the cry of the undeserving for mercy” must go “unanswered.” Judge continued: “Pity was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up.  Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion (New York: Harper Collins, and HarperOne, 2011) p. 112. Quoting from E. A. Judge, “The Quest for Mercy in Late Antiquity,” in God Who Is Rich in Mercy” Essays Presented to D. B. Knox, edited by P. T. O’Brien and D. G. Peterson, (Sydney: Macquairie University Press, 1986) pp. 107-21.

Jesse, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying it’s wrong to punish the righteous if you’re doing it for penal substitution reasons, but it’s right to punish the righteous if you’re doing it for governmental substitution reasons. Am I reading you correctly and fairly on this point? I want to get this exactly right because at present it seems to me that these both come down to the identical injustice. In effect, you thereby EXALT THE GOVERNMENT ABOVE JUSTICE. YOU HONOR THE INSTRUMENT MORE THAN THE CRITERION.

Penal substitution errs by magnifying penal justice to the complete eclipsing of premial justice. Governmental substitution errs by magnifying the administration of justice (basically penal, of course) above justice itself. You may pick your poison if you are so inclined. I prefer to escape the lethal dilemma entirely.

This approach places government beyond criticism, beyond judgment! This is a perfect formula to justify arbitrary oppression by human regimes. God’s authentic Kingdom does the opposite. It forces governments to buckle under to justice, under threat of downfall. Jesus didn’t submit to Roman oppression in order to honor Roman law but to bring the Roman empire to its knees…in humble worship. Christ’s cross brought Roman law into submission to God’s mission, which is to rule the whole world with real justice.

And what of Moses’ Law? “If, indeed, then, perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for the people have been placed under Law with it), what need is there still for a different Priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not said to be according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood, being transferred, of necessity there is coming to be a transference of Law also…and it is still more abundantly sure, if a different Priest is rising according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has not come to be according to the Law of a fleshly precept [i.e., the ancient decrepit penal regimes], but according to the power of an indissoluble LIFE!” (Hebrews 7:11-12, 15-16)

Neither ancient government could rule any longer with impunity now that the Son of God had been installed via resurrection from a death to which he had been highhandedly and ignominiously consigned by treacherous—treasonous in fact—“moral [read: immoral] government” that had dared to plot and execute the murder of the King of kings and Lord of lords, presuming to act with political/governmental immunity. Now that Christ has assumed the throne of the universe, with all authority in Heaven and on earth, he has continued to bring down throne after autocratic throne that practices oppression.

Any questions?

The great “must” of the Gospel is no musterion (μυστηριον), i.e., “mystery.” It is the oath-promise sworn by God to His own Son that he would be a Priest for the age according to the order of Melchizedek. So in effect the New Covenant entailed by this divine oath would, under the ”right” circumstances, DEMAND A RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. Hebrews 6:9 through 8:13 unfolds this ROUSING CENTERPIECE of the New Covenant—of the Gospel—which would with power displace the Old Covenant—priesthood, Law, and allboth ceremony and “morality.” For the New Covenant is simply better in every way!

There is no so-called “governmentalnecessity that can trump this supreme imperial imperative that achieved ATONEMENT.

Jesse, it is exceedingly important, although it may be exceedingly difficult, to entertain the possibility that, in view of the alternative exegesis and argumentation I have presented so far, the entire history of accounting for the Atonement that is based on penal justice is not merely incorrect “partly” but fundamentally and irremediably.

Neither Anselm nor Aquinas,

neither Luther nor Melanchthon,

neither Calvin nor Grotius,

neither Owen nor Wesley,

neither Edwards, Sr. nor Edwards, Jr.,

neither Finney nor Burge,

neither Miley nor Barnes,

neither Jenkyn nor Booth,

neither Park nor Foster,

neither Pratney nor Olson,

neither Beman nor Otis,

appear to have escaped the tenacious thrall of Augustine’s perversely pervasive penal predisposition.

What kind of sophistry is it that can correctly and ardently, even passionately, if not indignantly insist that it is always wrong to inflict punishment on the innocent, and then perform an awkward mental about-face to rationalize an exception in just this one case of Jesus Christ, on account of he’s “substituting” his wrongful penalty in place of our rightful punishment? Oh. So God can do wrong against Christ and still not be guilty of wrongdoing so long as it’s for a “higher purpose”—that of respect for government. Did I get that right? Is the moral government theory implying that God’s will is that we honor an allegedlymoral government” and its rights more than we honor the rights of His own Son to get what he justly deserves and not to suffer punishments that he does not deserve? Isn’t it actually asking, nay teaching, nay proclaiming that unjust sinners who “drink wickedness like water” should believe that God is just like them? That would be an “immoral influence theory” without equal! And that “draws” sinners to God? GET A LIFE! GET A GRIP! GRIP THE RESURRECTION IN ITS FULL NEW COVENANT SIGNIFICANCE, AND “RECTORAL” SOPHISTRY WILL BECOME VISIBLE FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS: A COUNTERFEIT. A TAWDRY SUBSTITUTE FOR THE GOSPEL OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. A PHONY, A FICTION, A FANTASY, A PHANTOM.

Them’s hard words, I know.  But I would urge folks to get back on track, my dear brother. I believe your evangelizing will undergo a revolution when you weigh in on the atoning meaning of the Resurrection.

When the risen Jesus sat down on his throne at the right hand of God, THAT ATONED FOR EVERYTHING. So the “Apostles’ Creed” really says it all: “…died and was buried. On the third day he rose from the dead. He ascended to the right hand of God…” It was precisely this grand exhibit of God’s overruling and exalting justice that atones for the sin[-offering] of crucifying the Lord Jesus Christ.

~to be continued~

 

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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 5

The so-called “Governmental” theory of the Atonement, in my estimation, appears to be a lengthy and tedious detour around the authentic premial nature of the Atonement. Its diversions into the fragility of human government and its dilations on the “necessities” of exemplary, public, punitive justice and penal exactions, although evidently well-meant attempts to outflank full-bore penal, economically-qualified, satisfaction theories, are in the end, themselves unsatisfactory. It is a wobbly careening away from the positive face of God’s exclusively atoning (“protectively sheltering”) premial justice awarded directly to Christ Jesus.

Because the “Governmental” theory of atonement does not start at the center of the Gospel—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—it lingers endlessly over matters of mere forgiveness of sins (important as that is for our present well-being and peace of mind), including its conditions and grounds, the punishments otherwise suffered, how God can be just and still merciful, and so forth. But from all this dilatory elaboration, one is left with feelings of ennui, exhaustion. Such defenses of so-called “Moral Law” systems somehow lack the virtues of conclusiveness, exuberance, simplicity, and emotional appeal. They seem, in short, sterile, inert, overwrought, and non-intuitive. In effect, they lack moral influence (ironically). Despite these fatal drawbacks, they may still cover much valuable ground, but it simply is not atoning ground. For to attain atoning virtue, we must explain, indeed proclaim, the justice that overcame death, and hence overcame sin and all lesser enemies. Governmental theories start at the wrong end of evil. Christ’s resurrection is only conspicuous by its absence from their treatises as any vital, indispensable, pivotal, activating factor.

That said, the Governmental view still stands heads (if not quite shoulders) above the Penal Satisfaction view of Calvinism. Yet it is similarly saddled with an exclusively penal conception of justice (but more exemplarist than economic), so the poor beast hobbles and lists always to one side. And because it is penal it must logically employ substitution in its soteriology. It is unable to break away from the disturbing conundrums that have ever afflicted Calvinism in all its broad variations, writhing to escape unsavory implications, painful accusations. Accordingly, far from being the best theory of the Atonement, it comes off second worst.

The Governmental theory of the Atonement fails resoundingly in its “allowance” hypothesis concerning why God can forgive sins. Although denouncing the out-and-out Penal Satisfaction assertion that God needs to satisfy His “personal” wrath against sin in favor of “governmental” wrath (and, by the by, relieving God of “personal vindictiveness” only at the cost of rendering their scheme calculating and impersonal), yet God’s freedom gets corseted by denying Him the authority, right, and power to exert graciousness until He has executed enough governmentally expedient wrath. This is yet another wretched result of totally ignoring premial justice and limiting the entire discussion to penal concerns alone, whether economic or rectoral. God is not permitted even to merely remit sins, much less bestow everlasting life, unless He first shores up His otherwise sagging justice (penal only, of course) lest His kingdom crumble.

However, what about God’s sagging (in fact virtually nonexistent) restorative justice? Shouldn’t He feel obliged to give some concern to rewarding the upright, especially when they have been viciously attacked and left for dead? Will God’s Kingdom (founded on justice!) collapse only if the murderers “are not punished,” but yet somehow inexplicably, miraculously, not suffer demise if the righteous himself is left dead? How is this imbalance justified? Isn’t such merely penal justice—whether “personal” or “governmental”—ultimately worthless unless the righteous get rewarded, raised to agelong life? Doesn’t God’s entire Kingdom hang, finally, on whether He can perform the ultimate justice of super-compensating every injustice, as supremely demonstrated by raising Jesus from the grave? Isn’t He publicly represented as disgracefully inept if He devotes all His divine energies to assure penally “retributive” justice gets thoroughly executed against…someone, lest He look like a celestial wimp, and His Kingdom turn to dust, and yet “leaves undone” the greater “retributive” justice of giving the upright their just due? Do I hear an “Amen!” for heaven’s sake?

Why would the Lord Jesus have cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” if that same God were all along inflicting wrath until that moment? This scenario does not quite compute. Alternatively, had God been comforting His beloved Son in his mortal distress until that plea, but thereupon began pouring out His wrath on the pathetic sufferer to intensify his wretched agonies? If so, then had Jesus been experiencing his Father’s favor and graciousness only up to that “turning point”? This, too, strains sound judgment and lacks the backing of explicit Scriptures. Furthermore, it contravenes even penal substitution theories, which insist that the entire previous proceedings were evidence of God’s wrath against him “in our place,” “as our substitute,” none of which dare be mitigated, at the cost of compromising the “vicarious payment of sufferings to God’s penal justice” whose very magnitude constituted the measure of salvation that we need (whether for the whole world, or for all who believe, or even just for “the elect” who are “pre”-destined alone to believe).

Without belaboring that holy scene of a tortured Savior with the added indignity of a tortured logic, let us direct our minds to another (dare I say “satisfying”?) scenario: God’s graciousness never for so much as a nanosecond departed from the Son of His love throughout his life and career on earth, much less the ordeals of his final hours. No wrath from God could possibly have defiled that scene with His shedding of innocent, faithful blood. This was an Enemy’s doing! Satan’s leash was cut by God so he could culminate his criminal career with a crowning achievement of wickedness that would (happily) make necessary divine intervention of a true justice that surprised the whole universe by avenging that extreme vivisection with a rightful super-compensation of extreme vivification, a diametrically opposite crowning achievement of goodness that alone could launch a new creation!

The drawing power of the Story about Jesus’ crucifixion (and, indeed, its “moral influence”) belongs not to a bare recounting of his terrible suffering there but to the “rest of the Story” about Who he actually was, what he had been teaching, the wonders of healing he had been doing for everyone, and the bitter envy, jealousy, and hatred of his nation’s leaders toward him. But “the rest of the Story” whose “moral influence” must be taken into account supremely concerns his resurrection from the dead! For only that event revealed unequivocally, unambiguously, and conclusively that, all along, he had been the Messiah incognito! It is only this “little” piece of the Puzzle—it must be little, right?, or how could Penal Substitutionary theologians of all stripes have missed it for so very, very long?—that precipitated the shocking revelation that this man whom we crucified (gulp!) really was the Son of God, and yet both he and God let us get away with the infamous and treacherous deed scot-free…at least for the time being!

It is the rest of the Story that brought the house down in amazed, wondrous, grateful applause and propelled the multitudes to rush back to God in Christ for His stupendous love and unfathomable graciousness! It was this whole, complete, integral Story that causes conciliation to happen and that makes peace break forth on earth and delight among mankind. For only this fuller context of Scripture demonstrates convincingly not only God’s delight at the manger-birth, but also His lovingkindness toward human beings at the Cross-death, as well.

The altar of sacrifice was the place of death, but the Ark of the Covenant was the place of life. We must weigh the revealing significance of the distance between them. Hence the protective cover on top of the ark was “renewed,” “reactivated,” or “refreshed” once a year by spattering the blood of an unblemished, flawless (figuring a blameless, innocent, sinless) living soul, which was slain on the altar. That blood symbolized the living soul of the wrongly slain animal legally demanding retribution and accordingly receiving it direct from God in the miraculous form of restored life, now transmitting abundant life and wholesomeness and cleansing and release (forgiveness/pardon) from sins and renewal, in turn, to whatever was spattered or sprinkled or splashed with it.

The Day of Atonement (i.e., of protective covering) depicted prophetically both the murder of the Lamb of God on the “altar” of the cross, and his resurrection into a life-making Spirit to cleanse and hallow heaven and earth by employing the ritual symbolism of spattering the blood on the protective cover of the Ark of the Covenant in the “Holy of Holies” (i.e., the holiest place of all)—the Heaven of heavens…God’s throne.

This all means that Romans 3:25-26 is not at all speaking of the “sacrifice of” Atonement, i.e., the cross of Christ, the antitype of the altar in the ancient Levitical ceremony, but of the Ark itself, containing the elements for sustaining, protecting, and directing toward life.

The current stage of the perennial Atonement controversy seems to come down to this watershed question: Is God more honored and glorified by His destroying the wicked or by His rewarding the upright? Or to state the matter with a related question: Is God’s law more honored by Him punishing the lawbreaker or by Him rewarding the law-abiding…and the more so when they suffer at the hands of the lawless?

The issue at stake (ahem) should not have had to come down to such stark alternatives, because in the Bible the two “options” are often linked within the comprehensive system of restorative justice wherein the offender, when apprehended, is required to restore the loss directly to their victim, with interest! Thus their penalty is channeled to reward the one they harmed.

However, the Western legal tradition during the decisive eras when the now dominant satisfaction theories were in their swaddling clothes (whether Anselm’s earlier non-penal, feudal version of honorial satisfaction to a lord, or Calvin’s later explicitly and severely penal and commercial version of satisfying law or “justice”) was biased toward a preoccupation with penalization without a corresponding emphasis on restorative restitution. (Refer to the masterful chapter by Harold Berman, “Theological Sources of the Western Legal Tradition,” in Law and Revolution.) So justice became unbalanced in a vindictive, vengeful, punitive vein that deprived victims of their proper due. The state should have intervened as the arbiter between offender and victim, assuring that amends (including suitable and proportional penalties added for the benefit and compensating enrichment of the aggrieved victim, and not routinely diverted to the state instead) are fairly made. This punitively skewed juridical tradition entrenched a habit of thinking that minimized and marginalized the rightful due that the premial facet of justice required, in favor of the outsized dominance of the penal.

The disadvantaging, when not in fact silencing, of the premial concerns of integral justice has dictated repercussions in theology that are profoundly detrimental to the well-being of the church, not to mention of all those who have been too offended or puzzled by its compromised Gospel of one-sidedly penal justice to ever darken the door of a church. And this distressing state of affairs is only likely to raise up yet more enemies until the premial is reintegrated with the penal epicenter of justice, particularly with reference to the nature of atonement and justification, but also conciliation.

So back to the initial question, is it credible that God is more honored before thoughtful people by delighting in the destruction of the incorrigible evildoer or by celebrating the worthy accomplishments of the resolutely honest and even rewarding them when they suffer injustices at the hands of evildoers? The answer should be intuitively obvious, even if we didn’t have abundant and explicit Scriptures to decide the question. But if this is so, then why has the gratifying truth not ever sifted down into the nitty gritty of theological reflection about atonement, justification, and conciliation? The application seems so evident, so easy, so salutary! So sad, then, that the therapeutic application has not been hitherto forthcoming! This neglect leaves theology and the church-at-large bereft of a winsome and sensibly conciliatory message that truly honors God’s most winning traits and endearing preferences. Regardless of all makeshifts, all soft-pedaling, all excuse making, all truth-stretching, God comes off looking grim, unfair, vindictive, overly-punctilious, or otherwise pathologically disposed. This is not good.

In principle, Jesus shattered a cartload of preconceptions that had collected around Israel’s God among all classes of the population. But as each successive rabbinic generation “played telephone” with the following one, syllables got dropped, words got forgot, punctuation got switched, and the Message of God’s spectacular graciousness got garbled into a penal caricature of God’s premial character.

~to be continued~

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Overreaction against “Penal Substitution” brings Remystification in its wake.

Scripture is actually not nearly so silent about the inner nature of the Atonement as many theologians have been insisting. Out of commendable reaction away from “penal substitution,” many have regrettably remystified the subject. Perhaps this is why it has taken so very long to finally get down to the nitty gritty of a resurrectionary justification that was there all the time! The mighty host of especially English, and particularly Anglican, theologians and clerics who have performed the necessary service would have done better to issue a challenge to younger students to search for breakthroughs instead of throwing up their hands in pious agnosticism. For in the absence of this next step in doctrinal development (i.e., returning yet again to the fount of deposited apostolic explanation in New Testament Scripture), ugly “orthodoxy” continued its galumphing march onward to reassert ever more stridently the same old Protestant errors. Alas! Mystical hand wringing intones its feckless mantras against an Error unchecked by solid advances in systematic concordant analysis of Scripture. If the earliest Christians don’t appear to have elaborated on the subject, it may well be due to how obvious the truth was to them. Indeed, I must personally confess how obvious the Biblical truth now appears to me at every turn, although I too had suffered most of my life in puzzlement. But thank God for His most gracious unveiling of the simple truth in simple (New Testament!) language. [01/16/07]

Anselm actually “makes too much of” sin as an “offence against God’s honor” (not so defined by Scripture itself, however), while straight-jacketing God’s freedom (ironically, for thereby derogating from the honor attaching to such freedom!), to forgive and pass over sins as much as He deems just, merciful, kind, and prudent. Anselm’s tidy little “lap god” appears to have no will of his own aside from that allowed by Anselm. Here is a glaring case of a theologue walking his dogma on a very short leash indeed.

But if sin had been properly defined in terms of the great variety of ways in which humans violate the law of love and thereby call down upon themselves hurtful creational consequences from which a loving God would spare us, then could be seen a Creator more concerned with the ways we dishonor His own image and likeness in us and thereby degenerate from the high estate and destiny He desires for us out of His great love. (In response to Cur Deus Homo, I, xix-xxiv.) [01/17/07]

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GETTING IT STRAIGHT

Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo “makes no reference to sacrament or penance or priesthood.” (George Cadwalader Foley, Anselm’s Theory of the Atonement [New York, London, Bombay, and Calcutta: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1909] p. 259, emphasis added.) In view of how much has been attributed to Anselm as an innovator on the doctrine of atonement, it is well to keep in mind what he did not say (that was later taught by the Reformers) and what he did not perpetuate (that was earlier taught) as well as what he said that had not been taught before and what he said that was not perpetuated by later writers on the subject.

To mention only two more ready examples: Anselm did not speak of the “wrath of God” falling on Christ at the Cross nor of Christ as a “substitute” under God’s “punishment” or “condemnation” as a satisfaction for sinners.  Much rather, God “made the satisfaction of death A SUBSTITUTE FOR PUNISHMENT! (Foley, p. 73.)

And finally, but ultimately of the greatest significance, he speaks of Christ’s resurrection not at all! The word is only used once in the entire treatise (II, 3), and then only as “a future resurrection of the dead at some time….”! Alternate language is equally disappointing by its virtual absence. [01/15/07]

The whole force of the orthodox Protestant view of the Atonement as “payment for sins” turns on the entirely dubious validity of equating the “debt of sin” with a monetary debt, i.e., confusing the moral modality with the subordinate economic modality. Once this substitution was indulged in, others meekly followed. The realities of financial exchange were mistaken for moral processes, though only at the “cost” of introducing seemingly clever new parables concerning judges and debtors and “substitute payment” that Jesus never knew, much less “endorsed”! Thus was the Explanation of God invalidated by human tradition (Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:1-13). The economics of “penal substitution,” not to mention the jurisprudence and ethics, is a hideous caricature of the Gospel truth. [01/15/07]

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THE REFORMATION’S “IMPROVEMENTS” ON ANSELM’S ERRORS

1. Christ’s “satisfaction” was his “passive,” not his “activeobedience (as it was in Anselm).

2. Christ’s “passivesuffering was satisfaction by punishment rather than satisfaction instead of punishment (as in Anselm).

3. Christ’s punishment was “substitutionary,” “in place of” an equivalent penalty exacted from mankind.

4. Christ’s punishment was “infinite,” not merely an “acceptilation” (as in Duns Scotus and eventually Hugo Grotius).

5. Christ’s punishment was the “wrath of God,” nothing less or other, therefore it must be ipso factojust.”

6. Christ’s “penal substitution” “appeased God’s wrath” and “satisfied His justice.”

7. Christ’s “righteousness” was “imputed” to the sinner, while the latter’s sins are “imputed” to Christ, thus Christ “became ‘sin’.”

(Adapted from George Cadwalader Foley, Anselm’s Theory of the Atonement, 1908.)

[01/14/07]

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WHICH HOLDS PRIORITY—JUSTICE OR MERCY?

Anselm’s fiction about there being a conflict of attributes in God, namely, a dialectical tension between “justice” and “mercy,” along with giving priority to justice over mercy, is overthrown by the single, simple, and pervasive observation that Scripture teaches everywhere precisely the opposite. If sonship is God’s abiding purpose for mankind, then it is just to be merciful to those who change their minds about committing sin and reverse their ultimately lethal practices. But first come mercy, leniency, patience, kindness, and longsuffering. And if these are fruitless to bring about a change of mind, then and only then justice in its penal aspect becomes appropriate. This is quite in line with the apostolic teaching that God’s wrath is aimed only at the stubborn/unpersuadable (John 3:36, Romans 2:8, Ephesians 2:3, 5:6, Colossians 3:6), the calloused of heart (Mark 3:5), the hardened (Romans 2:5, 9:22, Hebrews 3:11), the ever straying (Hebrews 3:11), those retaining the truth in injustice (Romans 1:18), the practitioners of evil (Romans 13:4), and unrepentant (Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7, 21:23, Romans 2:5). The whole book of Revelation represents “the era of judging” (11:18) and “the day of wrath” (6:16-17) and “wine of fury” (14:10, 16:19, 19:15) as coming at the end of the age after kinder means proved futile to effect a turnabout. By that time, God and the Lamb employ a “fixative”: “Let the injurer injure still; and let the filthy one be filthy still; and let the just one do righteousness still; and let the wholesome one be wholesome still” (22:11).

It should be clear, therefore, from an inductive, concordant analysis of the New Testament evidence (the Old is no different) that because of God’s love for the world—sinners and enemies included—His mercy always takes priority over penal justice, which is forced to wait its turn until the harvest of righteousness has been reaped to the full. But there does come a point of diminishing returns! This is most poignantly if horrifically demonstrated in the full generation—40 years—of generous mercy upon Jerusalem, (“which slew the prophets”) between their hideous execution of the Messiah in 30 A.D. and their own national extirpation of 70 A.D., when God’s and the Lamb’s cup of fury and anger was full and running over.

Therefore, diametrically contrary to Anselm’s and Calvin’s and Shedd’s preposterous reversal of divine judicial priorities, God does actually forestall exacting penalties as long as wisdom requires in order to gain the largest harvest of good.

On the other hand, God’s rewarding justicefor the applause of the good(Romans 13:3-5, I Corinthians 4:5) is quite another matter! For although His full overcompensation of awards must, indeed, await the final grand Awards Banquet of the Lamb, vindicating the steady faith of His children who stayed expectant for such an outcome when all seemed lost, yet God often demonstrates His preference to bless what is good and overcompensate the righteous RIGHT HERE IN CURRENT HISTORY. In fact, the oldest complete book in the Bible after Genesis teaches precisely this lesson so that we, future sons (if we endure) may have expectation and courage to press on through the tough times. Job was heavily compensated for his suffering of abuse and loss by Satan (see the final chapter). And things continue like that through the Old Testament.

The climax of truth, however, is not exhibited until the coming of Messiah Jesus. It is crucial that we grasp what is really happening at the Cross or all seems a jumble (as, indeed, the whole Gordian Knot of “Atonement” doctrines and theories sadly comes down to). If we properly see God’s display of rewarding righteousness at the Master’s resurrection, then where is His penal righteousness seen? If we say “on the Cross,” we land in hopeless confusion and clash of divine attributes. Much rather, “God commended this love of His to us, seeing that, while we are still sinners, Messiah dies for us” (Romans 5:8) and God, “for a display of His righteousness in the current era” (Romans 3:26) raised him from the dead and gave him glory! This was Messiah’s “just award” (dikaioma) in front of his enemies! God’s penal justice was nowhere in sight in this historic event, nor anywhere close by! At the Cross folks could only behold the vicious fury and spite of Satan and his pawns. GOD HELD HIS FIRE! THAT ONLY DESCENDED AFTER FORTY MORE YEARS OF DIVINE MERCY ON THE CITY THAT PERSECUTED THE PROPHETS: 70 ANNO DOMINI.

All of these Messianic events powerfully demonstrate that God’s true (two-fold) justice and mercy work harmoniously in tandem to effect His highest ends with the wisest methods: our maturation as daughters and sons, prepared for an agelong inheritance won by Messiah Jesus as the divine award for his obedience on our behalf! What love and generosity! What undeserved GRACIOUSNESS!

By contrast, any inner tension between mercy and justice is attributable to the Gnostic influence of Marcion, revived and rehabilitated to do yet more damage upon God’s people through the agency of Anselm’s theory and his successors, particularly Protestant variants. [01/11/07]

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Filed under The Atonement