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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 25

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 deathHoliness 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.


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.


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 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~


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An OPEN LETTER to Jesse Morrell and FRIENDLY CRITIQUE of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), part 24

The reason penal substitutionists resist speaking of Christ as a “victim” (even though the early church did speak this way) is because they teach that since Christ surrendered himself voluntarily, he was “not a victim.” Some even go so far as to assert that “no injustice,” therefore, was done! This leads to absurd, preposterous conclusions if carried through consistently. It means that voluntarily taking risks in the face of evils unleashed by criminals or alien military forces (think only of a suicide mission) does not entail victimization or injustice! The problem with this whole line of thought—and this explains why it is so tenaciously held—is that any imputation of an injustice done to Christ would implicate either God or Christ or both, in terms of penal satisfaction/substitution assumptions.

However, on assumptions of God’s premial justice THERE HAD TO BE AN INJUSTICE IN THESE EVENTS OR THERE COULD BE NO SHOW OF CONTERVAILING JUSTICE ISSUING IN COSMIC REDEMPTION! That magnitude of justice is what sinners crave! That image of justice would constitute the Light of the world!

God Himself is the one who ends up bearing the sins of penal satisfaction theologians. He has been absorbing all the theological errors of the whole history of atonement theories: all the shame of being misrepresented, all the defamation resulting from the world’s revulsion from both orthodox and unorthodox caricatures of His authentic character.

And that’s not all. God has taken His lumps gracefully!  He has let Evangelicals and other orthodox Protestants twist Scripture and suppress testimony by the semi-load. Yet He seems fairly unruffled for all that. Such equanimity would befit all those of us who wish to represent Him faithfully.

For his part, Hugo Grotius stretched Scripture on the rack of his punitive and natural law preconceptions, thus achieving predictably tortured exegesis and interpretations. In face, his endeavor concerning the Atonement provides a veritable study in tendentious method. He was evidently a man under compulsion to make the results come out “right.” Using Faustus Socinus as a whipping boy to gain dubious leverage for his own novel theory and give it a color of orthodoxy. However, it fell tragically short of the premial justice exhibited in the resurrectionary Atonement as the New Testament presents it in its own native categories and proportionate usages. A milder degree of “enhanced interrogation” of Scripture would surely have yielded superior information and spared the church a merely alternative way of being punitive regarding the Atonement.

Any acceptilation theory of the Atonement founders and sinks in the face of covenantal realities in Scripture.  God did not merely “accept the sufferings” of His Son as “sufficient” deterrent to permit or enable Him to “save others safely” (?).  They two had a deal going!  (The Devil, incidentally, was not in on it.)  The Son kept his side of it, and the Father kept His. That was the deal, and there were no rough approximations or fuzzy edges to “get all acceptilated over.”  It was a clean operation, secured by God’s own voluntary oath to His Son.

Nor did that transaction evidently turn on relative amounts of suffering between Christ’s cross and the deserts of the sinners he came to save.  The issue, after all, was his obedience in doing God’s desire.

What light is thrown on the nature of sin, guilt, punishment, affliction, evil, and consequences by THE VERY FACT THAT THERE IS A PREMIAL SIDE TO JUSTICE TO RECKON WITH, ESPECIALLY IN CONNECTION WITH ATONEMENT? For if there is, then the whole ambience of Atonement discourse is altered in all directions. Everything changes when the premial element is restored to its authentic soteriological role and prominence.

The dominant imagery of the New Testament writers concerning the work of the Lord Jesus Christ is never of “substitution,” but of him doing something “for” us and “for” our salvation. This is simply what we would expect of “body life” where the body parts serve one another. So much the more where the relation is of the “Head” to or “for” the body and its members. Both Paul and Peter speak of “subjection” of wives to husbands; then Paul of husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the church, “surrendering himself for its sake,” while Peter writes of husbands honoring wives as weaker vessels. John, typically, is prominent in his language of “loving one another” as Christ loves us and becomes a protective shelter around our sins. All such exchanges are irreducible to “substitution”—a leaden footed image that tramples the subtlety and variety of mutuality characterizing the lovely complementarity of loving, caring, saving exchanges of service for each other which we find throughout the New Testament and indeed the tangible Body of Christ empirically.

The mounting influence of a punitive worldview since especially Augustine, then growing throughout the Middle Ages with further dominant impulses from Anselm, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Grotius, Owen, et al, has impelled penal substitution.”


A number of pivotal New Testament passages abruptly (to our sensibilities) juxtapose contrasting elements in such a manner as to beg for further explanation. And at just such junctures penal satisfaction theory has been at hand to supply its full arsenal of punitive weaponry to meet the challenge. Following are a few of these enigmatic verses:

John 10:17

Acts 2:23-24

Romans, 3:25-26, 7:6, 8:3-4

Galatians 3:13-14

Colossians 1:21-22

Hebrews, 2:9, 9:15-17, 10:9-19, 19-22

I Peter 3:18

Such Scriptures could be multiplied. The temptation, which has felled many a doughty theologian within the Western or Latin tradition, is to read in penal satisfaction presuppositions to make “sense” of THE DRAMATIC REVERSAL FROM DEATH TO LIFE. To be sure, we need an explanation, and there is one; yet it is not penal but premial, invoking God’s restorative, rewarding justice in response to Christ’s voluntary surrender to unjust authorities representing sinful Israel plus the Gentiles.

Furthermore, not one of these passages, taken almost at random from the rich lore of apostolic thought, either explicitly supplies the allegedly necessary penal assumptions, or implicitly requires them. A veil has descended upon theology to mask the liberating premial truth and to quench, if possible, the light of life. The time is long overdue to unmask the imposture and reign of ERROR.

~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


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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