Sin destroys life. This is why a demonstration of bringing life back from the dead was so absolutely decisive as a sign of salvation and an identifier of the true God. Only the God who created all life forms could obviously know enough and have enough power to restore life forms to being fully operational even after experiencing certifiable death. Holiness is the quality of whatever is fully alive, with no taint of decay or deterioration. The supreme sign, therefore, of the genuineness of Deity is the power to give life in the wake of its demise, in addition to giving life in the first place. In other words, true Deity has the power to make life forms holy or wholesome again, even after they have deteriorated due to sin. The solution to sin, therefore, is intrinsically linked to the power to atone for sin, in other words, to counteract its evil consequences, not only affecting its perpetrator, but also affecting all else that has become harmed by it. This is a tall order, to be sure, but is there any short cut? To overcome the wrong of sin a display of right or justice had to be made that, in effect, proved how life itself could be regained, and under what conditions. The identity of the true God would simultaneously get affirmed in the process. This is theodicy in a new key!
This is precisely what the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are all about. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad execution of a sinless man was rectified by a wonderful, marvelous, no bad, very good resurrection to a life even more full than before, in fact, overflowing to others in wholesomeness.
THE HERDING BEHAVIOR OF PENAL SATISFACTION THEOLOGIANS
If you wonder how Penal Substitution pundits (whether of an economic satisfaction or a governmental exemplification variety) can be so nonchalantly lumped together under a single broadside rubric—“wrong”—my answer would be that they do it to themselves. They suffer from herding behavior by all falling prey to the identical erroneous assumptions about the Atonement: “it must be penal.” They play follow-the-leader like lemmings. The same suppression of exegetical cues. The same systematic bulldozing of informed objections. The same mislabeling of opponents. The same linking of scriptures that are not properly parallel. The same tacit agreement to recognize, endorse, and parrot lame arguments. It’s a stampede to raise a cloud of dust, a choking smoke screen, and a frightfully intimidating din of proof text references. It’s really all quite impolite—a collective stiff arming of the Christian public, not to mention honest seekers.
For their part, Calvinists traditionally have proudly claimed to deplore their detractors’ appeals to “reason” in critique of Reformed soteriology, yet no one can outdo the Calvinists’ exhibit of rationalizing their earmark penal-satisfaction bullying of sound exegesis, even going so far as to sacrifice it on the altar of “systematic consistency.” How very carnal, yet all too human! But it disrespects Scripture—holy Scripture by its unholy manhandling of God’s authentic, Resurrection-endorsed way of justice and peace. Only in the apostolic version of the Gospel do justice and peace embrace and kiss. Only premial justice is up to the rigors and tenderness of lovemaking with peace.
Calvinists may argue that penal satisfaction is “necessary” because of “the doctrine of sin,” i.e., their doctrine of “original sin”! So when premial inclusion is posed as the authentic apostolic teaching instead, they may claim it “has an insufficient doctrine of sin.” This stock tactic of theirs reveals that Calvinists have slipped off the Gospel long before they lay their hands on the Atoning Sacrifice. Their Augustinian legacy of logic about sin had set them up for their deception and moves them to further manhandle soteriology in order to make it serve their false doctrine of sin. Here is the tale wagging the dogma. But the whole beast needs to be reformed! Calvinism itself needs a thorough housecleaning—a “reformation.”
Orthodox Calvinists can be some of the most sectarian—which is to say, “heretical”—of all Christian traditions, even going so far as to doubt that others are even Christians unless they dot their “Ts” and cross their eyes like Calvinists do.
“…THOUGH YOU WERE CAST OUT TO THE UTTERMOST PART OF THE HEAVENS”—Nehemiah 1:9
This promise, echoing Deuteronomy 30:2-4, essentially pledges a comeback from a curse! How hopeful is that?! The return from Babylonian captivity was nothing less than that. Curses are not irreversible, given a change of heart, turning of stony hearts back into hearts of flesh. But what the world had never seen prior to the first advent of Jesus, the Messiah, was a return from the abode of the dead. The unjust curse of Galatians 3 handily shoehorned Christ’s precipitous descent into Hades where he proclaimed his explosive conquest of death to the “undead” hosts of earlier generations.
So, penal satisfaction defenders like to inquire, “Wasn’t Jesus cursed by God?” and expecting an orthodox “Yes.” We must query in return, “Was Joseph? Job? Jeremiah? Or how about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego? Or all the faithful martyrs?” And what about our own circumstances that may occasionally seem to line up with those dread lists of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28—do they allege that we must have been cursed? Well, if they do, we may still point to Jesus, who bore a “loophole” curse in the favor of God…and lives again to tell about it for our comfort and consolation.
RESTORING THE PREMIAL ATONEMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS: STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
Restoring the apostolic truth of God’s premial justice and the surprising (although it shouldn’t have been!) way it was worked out in the Atonement, has not been the maverick brainchild of a Lone Ranger. Whole crowds of thoughtful, earnest, circumspect, and courageous Bible scholars have led the way through the overgrowth of prickly, penal vocabulary, concepts, metaphors, and illustrations alien to apostolic patterns of sound explanation. Creeds, confessions, catechisms, and stout volumes of dogmatics often barred the way through the wilderness of overwrought orthodoxy. But the outcome—the final destination—was never in doubt, at least not from the vantage point of the concordant integrity and unalterability of the New Testament documents. Their native vocabulary, conceptuality, proportionality, and narrative structure kept course without wavering. Our whole duty is simply to get in line with that Pole Star and follow, despite the pushes and pulls of cultural preferences, individual biases, sacred traditions, or, of course, threats to position, livelihood, life, and limb. No small challenge, to be sure. But God’s Spirit has no other agenda than to testify nonstop to What-Is-Written and will not be put off by our even centuries-long wayward departures from the straight and narrow, but is divinely determined to shepherd us back Home regardless.
~to be continued~