Tag Archives: John Calvin (1509-1564)

CALLING ALL SAINTS! CALLING ALL SAINTS!

October 31, 2017

Midnight, Wittenberg, Germany

6:00 p.m. (EST) Grand Rapids, MI, USA

As I write, it is the afternoon of the 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day—the day Martin Luther is alleged to have posted his 95 Theses concerning indulgences, which kicked off the Protestant Reformation. Although Luther does not mention personally posting his theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, in anticipation of All Saints Day, November 1st, this was the usual place to post such announcements in that academic town. In any case, we do know he started to send them out to academic, ecclesiastic, and civil authorities around that time. And although the public debate it announced did not actually take place, these words made a profound impact on Germany and beyond. These theses were assuredly to be celebrated by all saints, with retrospective gratitude for all the martyrs (“saints”) who had suffered for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

However, Martin Luther was not yet the great Reformer at this time. These academic debate points were targeted at abuses of indulgences—a reputed means of pardon for sins and reduction of penal time in Purgatory. The 21st century mind will boggle at the tedious attention to “penance,” “penalties,” “guilt” (“Huh?”), “remission,” “absolution,” “purgatory,” “merit,” “indulgences,” “punishment,” “letters of pardon,” “paying money to buy pardons,” “grace” (not your Great Aunt), etc. It may look bewildering and overwrought (95 of ‘em!), and all in Latin, for starters! But almost immediately some took in hand to translate them into German. But why the hornet’s nest it kicked open?

It all had to do with getting sins dealt with in order to get right with God and not have to suffer eternal torment. Makes sense when you think about it. But in order to build a palacial new church edifice in Rome? Forgiveness had to be commercialized. Ah, capitalism, right? In a sense, yes. The venal profit motive had entered the calculations of the hierarchy, for sure. And it corrupted doctrine big time. But did the Protestant Reformation get the formula right by way of response?

Well now, that’s what the following conjectural “theses” are all about. They attempt to unravel bit by bit the “unreformed” assumptions or presuppositions underlying what became the dominant, “orthodox” doctrine of the Atonement.  I have decided to dub them “resuppositions.”  You are invited to judge for yourself whether this attempt at mid-course correction is simply bluff and bluster, or whether it really meets the issue and brings a solution to the still-heating controversy over salvation in its various aspects. But it would be a great pity to let another half millennium slip by without at least suggesting a few mid-course corrections, right?

Right up front I confess it seems to me Satan has an iron grip on Atonement theology. I believe we are suffering a “systematizing of the deception” (Ephesians 4:14) and have locked it into various Protestant confessions of faith to ensure it does not suffer…reformation! We need to put the armor of God back on and “stand up to the stratagems of the Adversary” and wrestle against them like our life depended on it, for it may (Ephesians 6:10-17).

That said, Luther undoubtedly made a crucial discovery quite early on in his career as a professor at the new University of Wittenberg: “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17 and elsewhere was a “saving” righteousness. Absolutely correct. And that discovery rendered him joyous and light hearted, in an exultant mood to dance and sing!

But then something sad happened. That righteousness was pulled every which way from Sunday to harmonize with traditional theological, philosophical and legal assumptions. The upshot is that it got interpreted as penal, then administered by way of substitution rather than direct application to sinners who deserved it (which, of course, would have been fatal rather than “saving”). It was never grasped as premial (rewarding) and aimed directly at the Lord Jesus Christ, who deserved that, and who would then redistribute his divine reward graciously to any sinner who simply believed this Good News. In other words, Luther (and Melanchthon and Calvin, right down to present day Protestant theologians of every stripe) incorrectly interpreted “the righteousness of God” as punitive wrath exerted toward Christ as a substitute for getting poured out on the ones who actually deserved it; thereafter “the righteousness of Christ” was alleged to get transferred via imputation to sinners to make them righteous before God. And all that as a replacement for the simple New Testament approach of “the righteousness (justice!) of God” exerted to reward directly via resurrection and exaltation The One Who Deserved it. Get it?

Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I dare anyone to stuff it back into hiding. You’ve seen those “Magic Eye” children’s books? Once you know how to let your eyes refocus just right, it all snaps into place and you’re in a 3-D world instantly, and you never forget how to get there from here. Who of us has ever simply “forgotten” how to ride a bicycle? Impossible. Be preprayered!

So this stuff is “dangerous.” If you’re anything like me, you will be “caught in a truth” you can’t shake. For some 35 years, I’ve been suffering a chronic mental breakthrough. There’s no drug for this. You have to ride it out. See you at the end of the ride…in the Kingdom of God!

Note: The following series of questions is far too long to post all at once. It may take a couple of weeks to post them day by day in their entirety. If you have comments, feel free to post them. I’ll try to keep up with replies. May God pour out His Spirit on us all in a fresh, radical way and thus equip us for communicating whatever clarifications turn out to be truly valid. This will take sifting. If I’m right, this changes everything. Thanks for your contributions to the dialogue.

A COMEDY OF ERRORS, A TRAGEDY OF MISTAKEN IDENTITIES:  THE MASQUERADE OF PENAL SUBSTITUTION ASSUMPTIONS UNMASKED

or

DISSOLVING THE CHAINS OF PENAL SATISFACTION BY AN ALTERNATIVE CONCATENATION OF DIALECTICAL QUERIES—

A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

or

oh alright—just some mind-altering brain-teasers for thinking outside the box for Heaven’s sake

Ronald Roper

Now I may be wrong, but…

What if sacrificial blood is directly associated with virtually every soteriological category in the New Testament?:

Forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:22)

Rescue from wrath (1 Thess. 1:10, cf. Rom. 5:9)

Life everlasting (John 6:53-58; 1 John 5:5-13,20)

Freedom from the law of slavery to sin and the fear of death (Rom. 8:2,21-23, cf. John 6:53-58,

5:21-26; 1 John 5:6-12,20; Heb. 2:10-3:6; Gal. 4:22-5:1; 1 Cor. 7:22-23, 6:20; Rev. 5:9, cf. 1 Pet. 1:18-19)

Procuring the church of God (Acts 20:28)

Atoning/protective shelter around sins (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:14-18; 1 John 1:7-2:2)

Justification (Rom. 5:9)

Salvation (Rom. 5:9)

Blessing (1 Cor. 10:16)

Deliverance/liberation (Eph. 1:7; [Col. 1:14;] Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 9:15)

Nearness to God (Eph. 2:13)

Peacemaking with God and between Jew and Gentile (Col. 1:20; Eph. 2:13-14)

Reconciling the universe to Christ—earth and heaven, Jew and Gentile (Col. 1:20-22, cf. Eph. 2:16; Rom. 5:8-11)

Uniting Jew and Gentile into one new humanity, one body in Christ (Eph. 2:11-4:5; Col. 3:15)

Ministry in the Holy Places (Heb. 9:7-8,11-12,25-26, 10:19, 13:11)

Redemption everlasting (Heb. 9:12)

Hallowing/sanctifying us (Heb. 9:13, 10:29, 13:12)

Cleansing everything from sin (Heb. 9:13-14,19-23, 10:2; 1 John 1:7)

Obtaining the promised everlasting inheritance (Heb. 9:13-18, cf. Tit. 3:5-7; 1 Pet. 1:1-4)

Dedicating covenants (Heb. 9:15-18, 10:19-20)

Rejecting sin (Heb. 9:25-26)

Eliminating sin (Heb. 10:4, cf. 10:11)

Perfecting to finality those who have gotten sanctified (Heb. 10:12-22)

Making Passover to protect from the exterminator of the firstborn (Heb. 11:28)

Crying out for divine avenging for being murdered (Heb. 12:24, 11:4; Rev. 6:10, 19:2)

Leading up from the dead the Great Shepherd himself, the Lord Jesus (Heb. 13:20)

Ransoming from vain behavior (1 Pet. 1:19)

Conquering Satan (Rev. 12:9-11), the Wicked One (1 John 2:13-14) the world (1 John 5:4-8),

and deceiving spirits of Counter-Messiah not confessing Messiah Jesus (1 John 4:1-6)

Loosing from sins (Rev. 1:5)

Buying for God (Rev. 5:9)

Whitening robes for a right to the Tree of Life and holy city, New Jerusalem (Rev. 7:14, 22:14)

Accordingly, what if sacrificial blood is the authentic root metaphor for atonement—in fact, for salvation as a whole—in the Bible?

Hence, what if we need to develop a theological Hematology?

Yet what if sacrificial blood represents “[living] soul” (Lev. 17:11,14) or, by metonymy, simply “life,” particularly life-from-the-dead, vivification, or resurrection, including its power for atoning, sanctifying consecrating, cleansing, forgiving, healing, etc., yet never death, as such?

Thus, what if the resurrectionary power of divine life touches whatever the blood “sprinkles”?

Then what if the diversity of salvation associated with sacrificial blood (virtually every category) should be understood as rooted in and ramifying from the power of Christ’s resurrected life?

What if the sacrificial blood from the slain Lion of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12; Rev. 5:5; Heb. 7:11-19) signifies life from the dead, as does the honey that Samson drew from the carcass of the lion he slew (Judg. 14), and as honey revitalized the exhausted Jonathan, (1 Sam. 14:23-30)?:

“Out of the eater came something to eat,

And out of the strong came something sweet.” (v.14)

“What is sweeter than honey?

And what is stronger than a lion?” (v.18)

What if even Aslan (in C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair) never suffered a moment of penal wrath from “the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea”—does this mean the beloved noble feline couldn’t possibly have saved Edmund and Narnia after all?  (Unimaginable.)

What if sacrificial blood is the Old Covenant ritual symbol of life-out-of-death, foreshadowing the Resurrection of Christ?

What if under the Old Covenant administration there could be no remission of sins without shed blood (Heb. 9:18-22) for the simple reason that such blood was the temporary ritual token of Christ’s life-from-the-dead, i.e., his resurrected living soul…now a life-making Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45), toward which the whole Levitical economy looked for fulfillment as the true power source for removing sins wholesale under the unconditional New Covenant yet to come?

What if the parallelism in Romans 5:8-10, rightly divided, expresses how the sinless blood of Christ bridged death and life—the transistor in the judicial circuit that amplified (by the power of God’s overcompensating justice) the output of the life criminally taken, thereupon super-abundantly returned to Christ—“Whom God raises, loosing the pangs of death, forasmuch as it was not possible for him to get held by it” (Acts 2:24)—sufficient to justify life for all mankind?

What if the Levitical blood sacrifices were prophetic ritual rehearsals of Israel’s prime atrocity, culminating all its depravity in a single outrageous staging of human sacrifice as a once-and-for-all showdown that would unveil how God ventured to solve the agelong sin problem peaceably?

What if the reason God commanded some sacrificial blood to be splashed around the base of the altar is that, as a place of ritual wrongful death, the altar itself needed to be ritually atoned for, and only the blood (not the death itself) could do the job?

What if the cross “really works” to condemn sin, conquer Satan, and abolish death, not because it was right in any sense (not even substitutionally), but precisely because it was dead wrong?

What if Christ, in his sacrifice on the cross, was not bearing punishment for sins others committed, but bearing sins committed against him, which themselves cried out for punishment?

What if the ancient ritual murders depicted by animal sacrifices only ceased with the Ultimate Murder in c. 30 A.D., when the shedding of Christ’s blood—not merely “innocent” but perfectly sinless—would have defiled the whole land in extremis if God Himself had not intervened?

In other words, what if Jesus was bearing crime, not punishment:  Israel’s unjust lethal assault by the hand of priestly representatives (at Satan’s bidding), which itself called upon God’s justice to avenge his innocent blood at their hands (Matt. 23:20-36, 27:4,24-25; Luke 11:50-51, 18:1-8, 21:20-23, 23:27-31; Acts 5:28, 18:6, 20:26; Rom. 12:19; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 2 Thess. 1:4-10; Heb. 10:26-31; Rev. 6:10, 16:6, 17:6, 19:2), consequently his sacrifice was not in the least penal on God’s part—in His eyes, intention, or reckoning?

What if, after all, God did not shed His beloved Son’s blood, nor did Jesus “shed his own blood,” as we sometimes say (but Scripture never does)—rather, others (no exception) shed his blood (Matt. 21:45-46, 22:15, 26:4; Mark 12:12-13, 14:1; Luke 11:53-54, 20:19-20; John 5:15-18, 7:1,19-25, 8:12-59, 11:53, 18:31; 1 Thess. 2:15), even as he himself prophesied they would (Matt. 16:21, 17:23; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 18:31-32), as they did to the prophets before him (Matt. 14:5, 21:33-44, 22:6, 23:33-39; Mark 6:19, 12:1-11; Luke 11:45-52, 13:31-34, 20:9-18; 1 Thess. 2:15), as he warned his disciples that they would do to them (Matt. 10:28, 24:9; Luke 12:4-12; John 12:10-11, 16:2), and as subsequently happened (Acts 12:1-4, 21:27-32, 23:12-15, 20-21, 26-27)?:

  1. “…this One, given up in the specific counsel and foreknowledge of God [although not culpable of what was to follow], you, gibbeting by the hand of the lawless, assassinate” (Acts 2:23).

  2. “…this Jesus whom you crucify!” (Acts 2:36).

  3. “…Jesus, whom you, indeed, surrender and disown before the face of Pilate, when he decides to release him. Now you disown the holy and just One and request a man, a murderer, to be surrendered to you as a favor. Yet the Inaugurator of life you kill…” (Acts 3:13-15).

  4. “Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, whom you crucify…this is the Stone that is being scorned by you builders…” (Acts 4:10, 11).

  5. “…Jesus, on whom you lay hands, hanging him on a pole.” (Acts 5:30).

  6. “…the Just One, of whom now you became the traitors and murderers…” (Acts 7:52).

  7. “…whom they [the Jews] assassinate also, hanging him on a pole” (Acts 10:39).

  8. “…those dwelling in Jerusalem and their chiefs, being ignorant of him and of the voices of the prophets which are read on every Sabbath, fulfill them [according to the Spirit of God’s foreknowledge, not with His complicity] in judging him. And, finding not one cause of death, they request Pilate to have him despatched. Now as they accomplish all that which is written concerning him [by foreknowledge, not “predestination”], taking him down from the pole…” (Acts 13:27-29).

~~ To be continued ~~

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Filed under Biblical patterns of word usage, justification, Protestant Reformation, The Atonement

Untangling “Predestination” — Part 5

Those who have been following this blog site will already be aware of the fuller context concerning God’s premial justice and, in turn, the premial Atonement, into which this treatment of “predestination” is getting unceremoniously dropped. When I started this analysis back in 2008, I had not yet read the brief but trenchantly argued treatise from 1741, An Essay on Redemption: Being the Second Part of Divine Rectitude (104 pages), by John Balguy, who first coined the term “premial” (please see my “About” page at the top of this site, along with the first couple of blogs, where I quote at length the passage containing the only two instances of the new word). I first read the book in late January of 2011, so never used ‘premial’ in this exploration of predestination. Nevertheless, the contents were fully in accord with Balguy’s use of the word, so his label nicely covered the contents regardless.

Therefore, it will not be inappropriate to poise my results more precisely within the context of the premial Atonement perspective which I have already elaborated in this blog site. Readers will know that the apostolic take on the Atonement that I simply label “premial” is free of those several “penal” elements now so commonly assumed by conservative evangelical Protestants and gathered under the rubric “penal substitution” or “penal satisfaction.” This latter position was most fully developed within Calvinism, and is in fact its most characteristic doctrine, although other Protestant traditions share significant elements as well. However the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” have amplified them at greatest length. And among these, “the doctrine of predestination” was simply embedded within “Unconditional Election.”

I have tried to show on this blog site that Penal Substitution logic is stretched entirely on an economic framework of logic that is qualified penally. This is decidedly not the framework of the New Testament explanation of the Atonement, nor, for that matter, of Justification or Reconciliation either, which do, however, likewise draw upon legal language, and thus are jeopardized no less by penal pretensions and impositions.

The fact that every one of the Five Points bears the marks of abuse by stretching on this punitive ‘rack’ will raise the presumptive expectation that what Calvinists do with “predestination” will bear the same marks of torture. Sure enough. “Predestination” is said to be necessary because a “sovereign” God’s plan to pay/satisfy for the debt of sins incurred by a limited number of chosen/elect—for to pay for the sins of all mankind would be uneconomical, hence unfitting for a prudent Sovereign—can only seem plausible on the premise that sins/debts must be paid for by someone, in any case, without fail, in other words: by a Penal Substitute. Such “prudential” logic may be worthy of a for-profit, self-aggrandizing, client-deceiving insurance behemoth; it is unworthy of a God who is Our Rock, who indemnified the whole population without exception, for the sake of His own grand reputation and Brand Name!

We have shown throughout this site that this particular construal of economic metaphors and concepts is not to be found in the Bible. Sin (even as “debt”) is never said to be “paid [for]at all. Indeed, it is exclusively the saints or believers that are said to be bought and paid for. However, their faith itself is their own willful contribution to salvation, turning as it does on their natural (and not “fallen” as such!) human response to the necessary but not sufficient testimony of Holy Writ, which requires getting “blended together with faith in those who hear” (Hebrews 4:2) in order to achieve its intended beneficial outcome. To be sure, this evidence does powerfully evoke or induce faith, but does not “guarantee” faith. This process happily accords with God’s graciousness (Romans 4:16), which, in fact, enhances and fosters human sovereignty, authority, judgment/decision-making, and choice, even if it should happen to result in a rebuff of His gentle advances. God is all about “inviting” folks to the Party of the Kingdom.

Nevertheless, as we know, comparatively few are chosen—only those who exert their own self-authorized faculty of faith—which even as Calvin so validly declared, is simply the outstretched hand (not the laboring hand, mind you!), ready to receive the Gift God is handing out.  That Gift is most emphatically not faith; that Gift is the Holy Spirit itself, which could not consequently show up early (“preveniently”) in order to create the very faith by which itself is thereupon received. The logical incoherence of such a contention should be perfectly clear. My refutation does not exclude, however (as was the burden of my above paper), that a Book inspired by the Holy Spirit may precede faith and perform the honors, without any incoherence or contradiction. (That, in particular, was the burden of my preceding “Appendix.”)

The premial justice of God is directed upon the blameless Defendant to exonerate and then repay him due restitution for his painful labors of love on behalf of the whole blamed (!) world of sinful humanity. However, no quid pro quo equivalence of “pain for pay” characterized the transaction. It was purely gratuitous, which is not to say “wasted,” but simply rationally appropriate to the intended outcome, without overreach or shortfall. It hit its mark precisely: “Now if anyone is loving God, this one gets known by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:3).

This premial rationale relieves theology of any burden to “limit” the divine outlay of beneficence or graciousness to one that accords with alleged economic rationality, much less to economic penury! After all, what the Lord Jesus Christ procured was a prize, booty, spoils, winnings, judicial damages, just deserts, not an “equivalent payment” or “commercial exchange” of any sort, as I have been at great pains to establish in this blog site from the very beginning.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.                   —Annie J. Flint

This was in full satisfaction, if you will, of “the righteousness/justice of God,” as Paul was at even greater pains to establish in his epistle to the Roman believers, but which the Protestant Reformation, at yet more (and needless) pains accidently—let’s be charitable here—sabotaged in favor of a convoluted pretzel of a doctrine: Paul meant rewarding (premial) justice dispensed directly to Christ (who deserved it), thence graciously distributed for free to us (who did not deserve it) by our faith and baptism (i.e., by inclusion in Christ); Luther, et al, meant punitive (penal) justice distributed to us (who deserved it) indirectly through Christ (who did not deserve it) by his substitution. The difference between these alternatives for Christian behavior and mental stability is immense.

Perhaps we need to ponder more deeply the fact that a reward can be distributed at the good pleasure if its legitimate recipient, irrespective of particular “merits” possessed by any subsequent recipients chosen. A penalty/punishment, however, cannot be thus “freely” distributed; that would be immoral and illegal. Yet penal substitution doctrine is based squarely on this latter indefensible premise, and usually even glories in it!

The premial position, we can see, comports with a faith that is exocentric (focused on an outside object) and authentically voluntary, not an “act/work” at all, but simply proper reliance on credible evidence and testimony (so not coerced), and which ultimately comports with an election that is conditional on such faith and, by reflex, with a destiny that is potentially alienable. However, the divine ambience suffusing this perspective is as different from the effluvium of penal substitution as a loaf of bread is from a stone, or a fish is from a serpent, or an egg is from a scorpion, or a REWARD is from a PUNISHMENT.  That is, as opposite as might well be imagined.

The premial framework allows the weaving of a startlingly contrasting systematic pattern of salvation across the board. This, naturally, affects all the familiar “points” of Calvinism: all alike collapse in the absence of the mortar of penal economic necessity. The premial universe is one in which an inheritance in the Kingdom of God is free…but must be claimed with steady expectation as a right of believing children of God answering to God’s promises in His own Words, contracted by Covenant—the Bible.

The premial world is one in which sin is not passed along generationally (needing to be washed away in baptism, even from infants), nor so pervasive or perverse as to make faith impossible without the prosthetic of adventitious “regeneration” to trigger it.

The premial universe is one in which Atonement is universal and plenty powerful for its appointed objective of nurturing lovers of God, but without arm-twisting others. Élégance!

In a premial cosmos, graciousness, appealing and fetching as it may be, does not act so unseemly as to make its drawing influence irresistible as a magic spell. No spellbinding here, only the spell of unforced love. “Prevenient grace” is an encumbering artifice that ought to be perceived as an insult to the grace of Christ’s resurrection, the plain bold Report of which turned that ancient civilization upside down within decades!

A premial reality is one in which believers press on toward God’s impending Kingdom impelled by the covenantal promises and warnings of God’s living Explanation, producing rich fruits of Christ’s personality to encourage others in faith and, reflexively, secure one’s own confidence and delight in the faith once for all drop-shipped to the saints of planet earth.

In a premial creation, the dark oppressive clouds of graphically visualized punishment, wrath, and condemnation poured out on a perfectly innocent, though willing (as if he “needed” to be!) victim so as to satisfy the demanding justice of God (thereby impugning justice wholesale as exclusively penally retributive), is lifted and dispelled, permitting the cheering rays of divine benignity to burst forth and bless earth’s shores.

In a premial civilization, the repugnant spectacle of Christians playing in the dung heap of sordid pleasures, toying with the profane, venal options our culture places on the bottom shelf of easy accessibility with the click of a wayward mouse—all these pleasures of Egypt would lose their glamor under their deceptive marketing as “harmless diversions for the unconditionally elect” and be discerned for the mortal perils they are.

In a premial galaxy, the affecting sight of many a seasoned churchgoer manifesting pathological anxiety concerning their destiny as a child of God, presenting the watching world with an oddly ambiguous, if not highly unsettling testimony to the comforting certitudes of the Gospel as advertised, should be as rare as jellyfish fossils.

In short, the premial justice of God manifested supremely in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from among the mouldering dead to proliferating immortality, agrees to perfection with the heralding of an endless sparkling destiny as children of God, privileged to inherit a whole New Creation, starting with Christ’s resurrected body and proceeding to incorporate all others who believe and get immersed in him by his Holy Spirit. The fundamental heart of the New Testament Proclamation is not, therefore, “penal substitution” but “premial inclusion,” in an inconceivably marvelous destiny as “priests and kings” on the New Earth a comin’! Having announced such a future with abundant corroboration, God leaves the choice up to us whether we wish to join the Party or keep our unsafe distance and sadly perish.

June 2, 6, 8-9, 2017

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Reconsidering Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” on Reformation Day

October 31, 2016

Today is the 499th Anniversary of “Reformation Day”–when Martin Luther posted his rumbling “Ninety-Five Theses” concerning indulgences.  This marked an historic turning point in Western Christianity, one fraught with untold opportunities to “get the Story right this time.”  It was only a partial restoration of apostolic truth at best, and a sad caricature at worst.  Consequences follow.

By this time in the career of this blog site, I had hoped to publish more on the historic missteps of the Reformation with respect to the doctrine of the Atonement and its ramifications concerning the Protestant doctrines of Justification, Reconciliation, and Sanctification.  But other opportunities emerged that I felt I couldn’t pass up.  I needed to address the Governmental or Rectoral theory of Hugo Grotius for the sake of a young and able campus evangelist, Jesse Morrell.  A controversial interaction with a local Orthodox Presbyterian church also absorbed much time and energy.

With one year left until the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I feel the need to return to the historic issues and assumptions of that era in order to account for the nearly wholesale declension into the penal-obsessed and death-focused dogmas of Atonement which befell that auspicious movement for human liberation from spiritual bondage.

Accordingly, I have decided to re-post my essay of three years ago that deals with Luther’s so-called “theologia crucis.”  This was by no means the authentic theology of Luther’s mature period.  To be sure, it actually predates even the indulgence controversy that catapulted the Augustinian monk into the limelight forever.  Nevertheless, some problematics of the theologia crucis attended all of Luther’s later thinking, and continually get replayed and rehashed along with  his final position.  I hope to explore these matters periodically over the next twelve months.

But in the meantime, I would encourage you to chew over the following essay in order to bone up on some irresolvable tensions that carry through both periods of the Reformer’s development.

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

Since today is Reformation Day, October 31st, when Martin Luther posted his historic “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” I have decided to post the results of my study concerning the theologia crucis (theology of the Cross) that Martin Luther inaugurated. He coined the expression and launched the project on its problematic career. Over the years, I have come across the expression countless times, and with growing doubts about the validity of its varying contents and intended objectives. In August I finally decided to immerse myself in one of the best treatments of the subject to appear in recent decades, Alister McGrath’s well-regarded Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough (Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1985). I was not disappointed by his splendid treatment. However, as one who had arrived at vigorous certainty concerning the long-neglected centrality of Christ’s Resurrection in theology (although never doubting its importance for so-called apologetics), I sensed in the theologia crucis at least a partial explanation for the historic eclipse of the Resurrection. Nor was I disappointed by my own findings, in a sad irony. What follows is not so much a review of McGrath’s treatise, much less a summary, as a response by way of counterpoint. McGrath proceeds via mounting delight and approbation for Luther’s “progress” in his agenda. To the contrary, I advance in terms of growing concern and critical opposition at every new twist and turn of the fated program. What began as a strong hunch has matured into a settled conviction that the virtual neglect of the decisive role of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead for every aspect of salvation was an unintended consequence of the systematic pursuit of the theologia crucis. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, isn’t it high time to reconsider its career as possibly harboring an error of serious and ramifying consequences? You decide.

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Martin Luther’s epoch-making breakthrough concerning the meaning of the phrase “the righteousness of God” is commonly thought to have properly culminated in his “theologia crucis” (theology of the Cross). This is hardly surprising considering the circuitous route his thought traveled from the mortal fear of “God’s righteousness” that “punished sinners” by His wrath to a “righteousness of God” as “that by which the righteous lives by the gift of God, namely by faith, and this sentence, ‘the righteousness of God is revealed’, to refer to a passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous lives by faith’.” He “found the same analogy in other phrases such as the ‘work of God’ (that which God works within us), the‘power of God’ (by which he makes us strong), the‘wisdom of God’ (by which he makes us wise), the ‘strength of God’, the ‘salvation of God’ and the ‘glory of God’” (McGrath, p. 97, quoting from Luther’s 1545 Preface to the first volume of the new edition of his works, published at Wittenberg).

Even so, at that watershed moment, only a slight impulse might have deflected the nascent insights toward a destiny of full-blown “theologia resurrectis” contours. Instead, the Protestant movement chose the fateful alternative of a “theologia crucis,” which in view of the intransigent structure of the New Testament Gospel, then only dimly descried as Greek and Hebrew Scripture were just coming to light in print and in vernacular translation, could never quite fulfill its weighty promise.

According to Alister McGrath, “Luther interprets iustitia Christologically: God’s righteousness, understood as faithfulness to his promises, is demonstrated in the incarnation and death of the Son of God” (Luther’s Theology of the Cross, 107, emphasis added). The words “and death” reveal vestigial assumptions of Luther’s early theological education. As he himself recounts:

I had certainly been overcome with a great desire to understand St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, but what had hindered me thus far was not any ‘coldness of the blood’ so much as that one phrase in the first chapter: ‘The righteousness of God is revealed in it’. For I had hated that phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ which, according to the use and custom of all the doctors, I had been taught to understand philosophically, in the sense of THE FORMAL OR ACTIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS (as they termed it), BY WHICH GOD IS RIGHTEOUS, AND PUNISHES UNRIGHTEOUS SINNERS.  [McGrath, 95-96; all emphases added, R.L.R.]

Luther would draw a connection, then forge a link, between God’s righteousness as punitive and that death of God’s Son—a fateful error, as it turns out. The initial misstep that primed this errant interpretation was Luther’s misapprehension of Galatians 2:16. His above recollection disparages the generally accepted Aristotelian and Ciceronian legal maxim that righteousness/ justice “renders to each his due.” Recurring to the text of Paul, he exults:

A wonderful new definition of righteousness! This is usually described thus: ‘Righteousness is a virtue which renders to each man according to his due’ (iustitia est virtus reddens unicuique quod suum est). But here it says: ‘Righteousness is faith in Jesus Christ’ (fides Jhesu Christi)!  [McGrath, 112; emphases added, R.L.R.]

However, it is increasingly accepted by scholars that the Greek is here better rendered “faith[fulness] of Jesus Christ.” This translation allows for a very different unfolding of God’s justice than the course Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin were to pursue—a course that led inevitably to a theologia crucis as a substitute for the theologia resurrectis of the Apostle Paul and, indeed, of all the New Testament writers who treat the death of Christ.

Because Luther did not perceive that the faithfulness of Jesus Christ required God to render to him his due, i.e., true justice, by raising him from the dead and giving him gloryfrom whence he commissioned his Holy Spirit to all who would merely believe so as to cleanse away their sins, justify them accordingly, and give them the rich down payment of agelong life, including extraordinary power for healing and testifying boldly concerning God’s impending Kingdom, plus the offer of a gratuitous inheritance in it—Luther had to fetch around for some alternative, some substitute for this resurrectionary, restorative, or “premial” (rewarding, from the Latin for the opposite of penal) solution to the justification of sinners.

This premial solution implies that there was actually no need for Luther to jettison distributive justice (iustitia distributiva) in order to find a gracious God. He had only to observe the real nature of God’s avenging (ekdik) via repayment ([ant]apodo) to His abused Son for his spilled blood, the just award or just due of which spilled over generously, in turn, according to God’s super-compensatory premial justice, to all sinners who exercise faith in response to the abundant testimony of the Gospel story.

Almost needless to say, Luther’s theological rejection of distributive justice (which is properly conceived as encompassing both penal and premial judgments) was a fateful move, not only because of its potential to spawn antinomianism (a disposition toward insubordination even to Christ’s law) which has followed Protestantism like a dark shadow, but for its direct ramifications for criminal justice and peacemaking, not to mention a host of other spheres of life.

Another misstep by Luther was his equating or identifying righteousness (as a “gift of God”) with faith in Christ.” He did not see that the actual “faithfulness of Christ” was the worthiness of Christ before God (coram deo) that called forth the righteousness/justice of God to avenge his cross by raising him from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out superabundantly, then shared with all mankind as the Gift of God par excellence, with signs and wonders following.

According to this reading, the “Gift of God” is simply the Holy Spirit of promise, not “faith in Christ” (fides Christi) per se. And, in fact, the biblical vocabulary overwhelmingly conforms to this expectation. But Luther was being shoved and tugged by multiple forces of his legal and monastic education, steeped as they were in the so-called via moderna of the late medieval period (the “modern way” of philosophical discourse that was becoming popular).

Luther had originally put great stock in humility (humilitas) as the contents of a person’s doing “that which in himself lies” (quod in se est) in preparation forgrace.” But he slowly changed his opinion because of the uncertainty of knowing whether one possessed enough humility for God to “give grace without fail,” in fulfillment of His covenant (pacta or testamentum), even though the “merit” of that humility was affirmed to be “de congruo on account of this promise of God and the covenant of mercy (pactum misericordiae)” (Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, 4.262.2-7; in McGrath, 89), and not de condigno (i.e., deserved, suitable, or adequate in itself). He eventually refused to concede that even this was sufficient to bring God’s grace in the absence of God’s prior “special grace.”

This new turn of thought necessarily evoked a change of opinion also about the power of unaided “free will” (so-called). And here we see the origin of Luther’s full-blown diatribe, On the Bondage of the Will (1525), against Erasmus. However, we must carefully observe that his solution for this “sickness” of the will was “prevenient grace” rather than the inherent power of the Gospel story of God’s raising Jesus from a death of the Cross. So here Luther makes yet another misstep and slips off the Gospel path of the New Testament. Even though he sees correctly that sinners are incapable of the true humility that the medieval tradition of the via moderna (of Gabriel Biel, et al) had specified for “the certain bestowal of God’s grace” as the “sine qua non” (lit., “without which not”—an essential condition or absolute prerequisite) of the human side of the covenant (pactum), yet his counter thrust was framed in the same faulty terms of “receiving grace,” only now preveniently (coming before) rather than following faith (as the apostles had taught). It implies that faith itself was entailed in that prevenient grace, so was necessarily also a “gift,” all contrary to the “pattern of sound explanations” found in Scripture alone (sola scriptura), ironically.

So although Luther came to displace humility as the way to enter God’s favor, he did so by replacing it with graceitself instead of with a faith generated by the “power of God unto salvation,” namely, the Gospel proclamation. This led to impossible logical conundrums in theology and, indeed, to a long and very persistent tradition of rationalizing the impossibilities as “mysteries” that “faith” must “humbly” accept. And we have come full circle to another version of insupportable, unsustainable, anxiety-producing humilitas.

The above confusions were further complicated at this stage by Luther’s assumption that faith in Christ (fides Christi), initially understood as the sine qua non of the human side of the covenant—the quod in se est required of human beings—was a human act, achieved by natural ability, without the additional help of “grace.” On the contrary, in Scripture faith is never even categorized under the rubric “act” or “work.” There, the capacity to believe is an in-created faculty of all human beings, ineffaceable even by the fall into sin. The book of Hebrews neatly clarifies faith as a non-work—a sabbath rest from work. The issue therefore is not its structure, but its direction, its object, its focus. The Gospel is worthy of our faith because it has the proof of sufficient, indeed, abundant testimony to back it up.

At the time of Luther’s exposition of Psalms 71 and 72 (70 and 71, respectively, in the Latin text of the Vulgate) in early 1514, he was identifying “the righteousness of God” (iustitia Dei) with faith in Christ (fides Christi), interpreted as humility. This means that God’s righteousness was still a radically subjective intra-human act (although by the end of 1515 one not originating within human beings, i.e., an act of the will, which was in “bondage,” but an act of God), namely, faith in Christ. This construction obscured in a single fell swoop both the faithfulness of the Son to all his Father’s will, as well as the justice of the Father in reciprocating by raising him from the dead—the inextricably tandem epicenters of apostolic covenantal objectivity.

Luther’s authentic Protestant switch from seeing this fides Christi as an act of man to seeing it as an act of God did not alter the fundamental structure of his erroneous framework, which all turns on the oddly and ironically termed “objective genitive” (the grammatical case of the Greek preposition) interpretation of pistis Christou (most decisively in Galatians 2-3, Romans 3, and Philippians 3) to mean human faith ‘inChrist” (who, accordingly, gets duly “objectified” as the “object of faith”), thus ipso facto sabotaging the correct teaching of Paul concerning the objective faithfulness of Jesus, which turns on the so-called “subjective genitive” interpretation of the case. Yet only this subjective genitive places the weight of salvific virtue where it belongs—inside of the Lord Jesus Christ. In turn, only this placement accords the “righteousness of God” its proper significance as the Father’s doing justice to His faithful Son by “objectively,” historically resurrecting him from the dead. Everything else begins to sort itself out and fall into line when we accord these most central truths their just due.

Luther’s Protestant proposal in effect “subjectivized” the righteousness of God, reducing it from a grand execution of due justice on behalf of His abused Son on the third day, to a virtue deposited into human beings as a “direct gift” from God in a “sovereignly” arbitrary manner (a theme Calvin was to take up with a vengeance before long), thereby overriding their enslaved wills by the benign bulldozer of “grace.”

Viewed from another standpoint: The “subjective genitive” demands a resurrectionary atonement; the “objective genitive” can settle for a substitutionary atonement. It is at this crossroads that several novel adjustments are invented by Luther out of sheer necessity in order to avert the vertigo that attends such a falling away from the solid ground of God’s resurrectionary solution to the injustice of the Cross. Not only “bondage of the will” (servum arbitrium), but also “the alien righteousness of Christ” (iustitia Christi aliena) now make their stage debut, followed by the necessity of repeating emphatically and often that believers in Christ are “simultaneously righteous and sinful” (simul iustus et peccator). Other makeshifts will follow concerning “imputation.” These all stem from the tension or dialectic now emergent by having to see the entire man (totus homo) at one and the same time as “before God” (coram Deo) and “before man” (coram hominibus) now that the righteousness of God has been “cast to earth,” subjectivized in “man.” Luther must now do some mighty fancy footwork to account for the “invisibility” of this subjectivized righteousness, “hidden,” “visible only to God,” etc.

Now talk of “hypocrisy” comes to the surface with fresh vigor to lend an explanatory hand or, rather, a heavy rationalizing hand. For if this newly bestowed righteousness is perfect before God, yet barely evident to oneself or others, then it must somehow, paradoxically, be extrinsic or “alien.” Thus Luther parted ways with his former mentor, Johann von Staupitz (vicar of the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg), who still saw righteousness as inherent in “man” (although of course originating “ultimately” in God, as Augustine had rationalized)—“iustitia in nobis,” in us. For Luther it is now viewed as outside of us, “iustitia extra nos.” And the dicing grows apace… interminably. We can only sympathize as he agonizes.

Luther passed his new baton to his celebrated colleague at Wittenberg, Philip Melanthchon, who ran with it to the finish line: “forensicjustification. This, as we can now see in retrospect, was simply code for “penal,” thus effectively stripping justice of its integral bi-polarity and one-sidedly reducing any saving virtue to an exclusively punitive necessity. Hence, Luther’s early choice of paths dictated an ever-widening divergence from earlier traditions and a logarithmic expansion of opportunity for others to elaborate and complicate his errors beyond measure, not to say beyond recognition as apostolic. This set the stage for a Pietistic reaction away from the emerging neo-scholasticism of the Post-Reformation.  Alas!  What a tangled web we weave!

From here we can see the looming specter of a full-blown theologia crucis. Luther first poses a radical dichotomy between human and divine concepts of righteousness, demolishing in principle any continuum between them. Out of this feat are spawned further mysteries and paradoxes and, at length, the dubious promise of existential and dialectical theologies. Essences and qualities and substances are played off against imputations and reckonings and eschatons, reminiscent of the grand old gnostic fabrications of yore. There was indeed a certain air of desperation around the new effusions surfacing on account of the inherent instability of this new subjectivism. It was fraught with inner tensions and polar extremes.

The “eye for an eye” or quid pro quo Code of Justinian was found to be objectionable now that an alternative to the via moderna had presumably been discovered to have more power to give assurance of salvation and grace. But this was an alternative that did not contain the element of resurrection as an intrinsic, integral component of justification to serve as an objective ballast against the storms of life’s temptations and trials.

As a corollary, “reason” was eventually jettisoned since Luther concluded that because God justifies sinners, the process of justification must be completely at odds with reason. And if reason is dispensable to justification, it must be dispensable to theology as well. From that vantage point one could almost smell the rotten fruits that were to follow. The reasonableness of the Resurrection to bring deserved justice to Jesus and gratuitous justification to the rest of us had been sadly obscured, and a measure of darkness fell on Christendom…again.

To pursue Luther’s declension a step further, his famous notion of Deus crucifixus et absconditus (“the crucified and hidden God”) is simply a predictable knee-jerk reflex of absenting Christ’s resurrection from soteriological relevance. Since he held that the Cross was the center of God’s revelation of “righteousness” (dikaiosune), whereas we see only a tortured and allegedly sinless victim of extraordinary injustice there, then something vital is clearly missing. Luther docks that up to its being “hidden” (absconditus). Instead, what has happened is that the Resurrection has been absconded with. For the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus was the actual bona fide revelation (Rom. 1:17), manifestation (Rom. 3:21), and display (Rom. 3:26) of God’s justice (dikaiosune). This is the Gospel. Luther only missed it by a garden tomb. Yet without the integral component of resurrection, the Cross becomes a “mystery,” a “paradox,” and God retreats into an unseemly silence precisely when His rescuing services are most desperately needed. Luther’s well-meant but seriously distorted representations stand as a de facto mockery of the apostolic Gospel and should not go unchallenged.

Naturally, Luther’s chain of reasoning would continue to wind around other theological commonplaces to result in a yet more entrenched bondage of theology. Since the resurrectionary answer of God to the Cross was not loud and clear to him, the alleged “revelation” of God in the Cross was said to be visible “only to the eyes of faith.” (See, by contrast, the only place in the New Testament where any similar metaphor is to be found—Ephesians 1:15-22, “the eyes of your heart having been enlightened”—amid Paul’s stirring resurrectionary riff!) This notion only further reinforced the irrationality of the “gospel” of Luther, building as it did on his imported dualism of “faith vs. reason.” The whole of future Lutheran theology lies here in seed form. Naturally, scriptures would be sought and found (and decontextualized) to shore up such disproportionate developments, e.g., Isaiah 45:15, “Truly you are a hidden God!” “The concept of a hidden God (absconditus Deus) lies at the centre of the theology of the cross…” (McGrath, 150).

Link by steady link, Luther is shackling theology to a dead albatross when it should be soaring aloft to exalted, resurrectionary heights. He represents every impulse to escape this corpse of doctrine as an errant “theology of glory” (theologia gloriae). We retort by way of query: is an “escape” from the Cross into the joy of Resurrection a move to “seek for God apart from Christ” (McGrath, 150)? Didn’t Jesus himself “escape” the fatal cross by this precise route? Doesn’t he—don’t all the New Testament writers—teach us to expect this for ourselves?

Thus alienated from the power of Christ’s resurrection, theologically speaking, Luther must fetch around for a replacement for its evangelically indispensable role. His desperate play meant that the immense value of the resurrection of Christ for providing comfort and assurance in our own sufferings and persecutions was to a significant degree lost, and the resulting churches would limp, spiritually crippled. (See McGrath’s explanation of Luther’s opus proprium Dei vs. opus alienum Dei, 151.) However the alleged “revelation in the Cross” that human “Reason cannot penetrate is unveiled with ease by divine “Raising of the Crucified One to glory, which in turn raises human sights to God’s throne above.

Luther taught that human wisdom takes offense at the Cross. Very well, yet was the Resurrection not wise, or at least was it not perfectly designed to neutralize such offense? Indeed, CHRIST’S RESURRECTION REHABILITATES “REASON” AND REVEALS THAT THE GOSPEL IS ACTUALLY HYPER-REASONABLE. The Gospel of the Cross-cum-Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is only an “offense” (snare—skandalon) or “stupidity” (moria) to those who choose other paths to God or to the summum bonum, etc., as Jews and Greeks, respectively, were culturally disposed to do.

Luther is correct enough that Anfechtung (temptation) drives us to Christ…but in truth, it drives us beyond dalliance at his cross to the solid comfort of his resurrection. Yet in asserting, “The cross alone is our theology” (CRUX sola est nostra theologia), Luther inaugurated a tragic course of departure from the repeated testimonies of apostolic Scripture, and a retarding of real theological progress. By becoming a “theologian of the Cross” he effected a Cross-wiring of the Gospel that, in the long run of elapsed history, has proved to be a dud in significant respects. He declared, “living, or rather dying and being damned make a theologian, not understanding, reading or speculating” (vivendo immo morienda et damnando fit theologus, not intelligendo, legendo aut speculando) (McGrath, 152). Not altogether so for the apostles. They had to know themselves dead and raised with Christ before they really grasped what their Master and Teacher had been talking about all along. The Cross would have been reduced to less than a grave marker for them unless Christ had exploded from the tomb, alive forevermore!

Luther’s neglect or oversight concerning the soteriological role of Christ’s resurrection embroiled him in all the tortured impossibilities of his theologia crucis. Hence McGrath too sanguinarily invites:

For example, consider the wrath of God revealed at the cross. To reason, God thus appears wrathful; to faith, God’s mercy is revealed in this wrath. There is no question of God’s mercy being revealed independently of his wrath, or of an additional and subsequent revelation of God’s mercy which contradicts that of his wrath. In the one unitary event of revelation in the cross, God’s wrath and mercy are revealed simultaneously—but only faith is able to recognize the opus proprium [His own proper work] as it lies hidden under the opus alienum [His “strange” work of wrath]; only faith discerns the merciful intention which underlies the revealed wrath; only faith perceives the real situation which underlies the apparent situation.  [p. 165]

Huh? Still no word of resurrection! God is still silent, still absconditus! Poor, poor Luther! Poor, poor Protestantism! Poor, poor theology! We can barely start to unpack all the errors laminated in this paragraph. The authentic opus proprium is Christ’s Resurrection; the opus alienum is, on the other hand, but a strange figment, an imaginary fabrication, a phantom.

Obscurantism became the fashion in theology and, worse, in preaching. It became a duty to believe in God’s hiddenness, and that soon became a hideout for dark suspicions about His real, His underlying, His ultimate, intentions toward sinful human beings. The specter of “predestination” was conjured into existence, rearing its frightful head as an occulta (concealed) will of God. The shuddering thought that Something monstrous was actually concealed behind the now strange act of God in the Cross (because now severed from the Resurrection that alone gave it authentic, evangelical, user-friendly meaning by revealing God’s conciliatory intentions, thereby dispelling the strange notion that God’s wrath was present there at all) haunted every close inquiry into the Crucifixion, and the church became alienated from a heavenly Father revealed to be merciful and gracious PRECISELY BY HIS RAISING JESUS FROM THE DEAD AFTER THREE DAYS!

Faith itself gets contorted and pressed into involuntary service to probe mysteries; it gets “eyes” that can somehow “see” what theologians conjecture must be there, and all because the theologians cannot see what apostolic testimony has vouchsafed as actually happeningChrist’s victorious resurrection from the cross’s boastful, grisly finality. Indeed, apart from Christ’s resurrection, his cross is transmuted into mystery and deep darkness. We force the cross to bear too much weight—not only sins, but also speculations, suspicions, secrets. THE CROSS IN SUCH GRIM ISOLATION RENDERS GOD INSCRUTABLE. Such invoking of God’s “hiddenness” is a deadly bane to the gracious knowledge of God so realistically offered in the premial, resurrectionary Gospel.

Thus Luther’s treacherous theologia crucis leads not upward to the progressive knowledge of the gracious Father (whom Luther craved so poignantly), but downward through many a thorny dilemma to a new uncertainty, rivaling that which afflicted his youth (and all Western Christendom). However, his new Angst is not so much the fruit of overreaction into a polar opposite as it is the consequence of exploiting a half-truth for more than it is worth. The Cross without the Resurrection is but a half truth, and not the better half. A cross might have happened without a resurrection (usually did), but the Resurrection would have been impossible without the Cross. The Cross is always at least implicit in the proclamation of the Resurrection from the dead of the Lord Jesus Christ; not so the inverse. Thus if there were ever a need to make a choice between them, there can hardly be a debate which to choose.

All talk of “the eye of faith discerning the invisible situation” is a bow to mysticism, which has little in common with “the faith once given over to the saints” (Jude 3), substantiated by “so vast a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) to those empirical, public events. McGrath curiously represents Luther’s perspective to be quite otherwise than apostolically lucid.

In a sermon delivered on 24 February 1517, Luther remarked: “Man hides his own things, in order to conceal them; God hides his own things, in order to reveal them.” [If Luther had the briefly delayed Resurrection in mind by this revelation, we might agree with him; yet if he had meant that, then his theologia crucis would all but dissolve, and this present critique would be pointless. R.L.R.] This is an excellent summary of Luther’s early understanding of the significance of the hiddenness of God’s revelation. God works in a paradoxical way sub contrariis: his strength lies hidden under apparent weakness; his wisdom under apparent folly; his opus proprium under his opus alienum; the future glory of the Christian under his present sufferings. It will therefore be clear that there is a radical discontinuity between the empirically perceived situation and the situation as discerned by faith. To the eye of reason, all that can be seen in the cross is a man dying in apparent weakness and folly, under the wrath of God [rather, “under the wrath of Jewish leaders and Roman authorities,” for only Protestant “reason” can see the wrath of God here; that, too, is merely “apparent”—R.L.R.]. If God is revealed in the cross, he is not recognizable as God. Empirically, all that can be discerned are the posteriora Dei. Reason therefore, basing itself upon [w]hat is empirically discernible, deduces that God cannot be present in the cross of Christ, as the perceived situation in no way corresponds to the preconceived situation. The ‘theologian of glory’ expects God to be revealed in strength, glory and majesty, and is simply unable to accept the scene of dereliction on the cross as the self-revelation of God.  [McGrath, 167]

All these paradoxical words would melt and evaporate in the light and heat of Christ’s Resurrection as the manifestation, revelation, and display of God’s glory, power, and justice, which does not require a so-called “discernment of faith” but only a simple faith in corroborating eyewitness testimonies.  To find Luther emphasizing in the Dictata Super Psalterium (August 16, 1513-October 20. 1515) that

faith stands in total contradiction to the perception of the senses, characterized by its ability to see past visibilia and recognize the invisibilia which lie behind them (basing it on Heb. 11:1), and that empirical verification of the conclusions reached by faith is utterly impossible; in that sense perception necessarily contradicts it [McGrath, 167-68]

is, in spirit, more a reflex of his total lack of integrating the Resurrection into his soteriology than of the prima facie meaning of Hebrews 11:1.  Biblical faith is mounted on solid testimonies about past divine behavior, which handily supply the foundation for action going forward into the otherwise unknown future, with sturdy expectancy. Luther’s construct is a Halloween house of mirrors, unintentionally distorting God’s image into a monstrosity.

Alister McGrath continues his glowing epitome of Luther’s thought: “Whereas worldly wisdom deals with visible things—and hence can call upon the evidence of sense-perception in support of its conclusions—faith is denied this possibility” (p. 168). It is surely no wonder that “an earlier generation of theologians detected a hidden neo-Platonism behind Luther’s statements on faith” (p. 168), for although this opinion “is no longer taken seriously,” the ill effects of such an easily detected similarity played themselves out regardless. Luther was moving toward the shoals of a Platonic-like cosmic, or at least experiential, dualism of perennially vicious tendency. All these dangers can be traced back to Luther’s hyper-cross-centered purblindness concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. For indeed, God’s justice and power and glory were invisible at the Cross, and for a very good reason: they were not there, nor were they “hidden” behind it; they were simply in strategic abeyance for a couple of days…for Heaven’s sake! For how could God the Father reveal His redemptive, liberating, rescuing, saving power and glory unless He had a sufficiently provocative occasion—a worthy victim of Satan’s supreme injustice? But this set-up clearly (?) had nothing to do with a God negligent of His covenanted duties to save the upright, instead hiding from public view in order to make His ultimate intentions (“secret will”) mysterious and arouse phobic awe. No. He was merely waiting—a delay that Psalmists often reported, and usually with frustration, yet with evident faith, which, after all, is the pedagogic function of such divine temporizing. God was certainly taking His own precious time…yet what a worthwhile outcome! Luther need not have acquiesced in any sentiment even vaguely resembling Platonic dualism had he further probed Paul’s Gospel…or John’s, who brought Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to the witness stand.

It must strike us ironic that it was Martin Luther’s own “reason” which, to be sure, did confuse his comprehension of the Gospel so as to spin out a radically wayward theologia crucis, step by treacherous step. This must stand as one of the most tragic mistakes of the Protestant Reformation since it lies at the very heart and soul of the movement and was so needless. Everything else turns on one’s doctrine of God, especially why and how He saves human beings from Satan and sin and evil and death. So, indeed, as McGrath observes, Luther’s Christology is the focal point of his early doctrine of faith, but a cross-centered dualism of visible vs. invisible realms is a dualism nonetheless, and a pernicious one at that. A better integrated comprehension of Christ’s resurrection would have ironed out his bumpy, wrinkled doctrine nice and smooth and straight. (At last, on p. 169, McGrath mentions Christ’s resurrection for the first time!)

Not surprisingly, Luther started resorting to the language of mysticism to help explain his experience. The Anfechtung that afflicted him in the wake of the absconding (!) of the resurrectionary explanation for the Cross (that is, Paul’s authentic “Word of the Cross,” finally elaborated at length, in full view, in I Corinthians 15) compelled and prodded him toward the obscurity of medieval mystics. (To be fair, John Tauler, Luther’s favorite, was arguably the most edifying of these; at the very dawn of the Reformation, Luther republished the Theologia Germanica, a mystical devotional treatise usually attributed to Tauler.)

The descent did not halt there. The further uncertainties of predestination invaded his mind like a pack of demons storming a clean, empty house (see p. 172). Luther invoked this Pandora’s box in his treatise against Erasmus, Of the Bondage of the Will. All these dark forces began to pile up on him in the absence of apostolic, resurrectionary certainty and were aggravated by his general disdain for early Christian authors, who showed so little acquaintance with his gospel.

The attempt at a “theologia crucis” is a grim, five-centuries-long exhibit of the decline that must ensue when the theological centrality of Christ’s resurrection—the vibrant, pulsing, vitalizing, joy-filled heartbeat of the apostolic Gospel and ante-Nicene Christian authors—is neglected and de facto negated. Christ’s resurrection, triggered from on high by the wrongful shedding of his sinless blood, must again be honored, as in apostolic days of old, if a worthier restoration of the New Testament faith and ethos is to be achieved. May the God who raised Jesus from the dead grant us to grasp again in a profound and pervasive way “the grace of the Resurrection.” May this become the pulse, the heartbeat, the drumbeat of a New Reformation to come.

August 19-23, 25-26, November 10-11, 22-25, 27-29, December 1, 6-9, 2013, February 2, August 1, 2014

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A Premial Soteriology for Neo-Calvinism?

Against the relative inner consistency of Calvinism stands, like a Gibralter, the rugged, if seemingly rough-hewn, inner consistency of Scripture—to be sure, one very difficult to embrace with tiny arms and brains, but that remains our touchstone nonetheless. Let us remain in that Explanation so that we come to know the Truth, solid as a Matterhorn, for then we shall be free from all the little short-sighted “consistencies” of lesser apostles hailing from a mundane Geneva. [8/19/09]

THE PENAL CORE MOTIVE

The weighty mass of Calvin’s soteriology hangs together and coheres due to the GRAVITY OF PENAL SATISFACTION. This is the “electromagnetic” force that keeps it all together. Dispel this gravitational force and it will fly apart and disperse into out darkness. Only the nuclear power of a premial justice holds the promise of a coherent and rationally compelling soteriology. [8/19/09]

D-DAY JUBILEE

If this 500th Anniversary of Calvin’s birth and 400th Anniversary of Arminius’s death is to be the calling of a liberating Jubilee from the Babylonian bondage of Reformed Christians, then it is but a D-Day victory and the toughest battles are yet ahead. Calvinistic theology (I don’t speak here of the excellent philosophical movements that it has fostered for various curious reasons) lies near the heart of a vast ecclesiastical enterprise and a fifth column of other non-church institutions. We are not calling for revolution but for Reformation…down to the core this time! This is gonna hurt. This has gotta hurt or it’s not radical enough. But the result will be RADICAL HEALING, so it’s worth all the pain.

We can expect a whole new glory to suffuse the magnificent array of Christian organizations that Kuyperian Neo-Calvinism has spawned. Post-Calvinism holds the promise of giving them a Second Wind of the Holy Spirit—a New Wave of Power and Redemptive Vision and Fruitful Prospects. Let us press on without fear or dread, fully expecting that God is with us in this SANCTIFYING VENTURE. But unless Neo-Calvinism transitions to Post-Calvinism in soteriology, that renewal must be throttled and stall. [8/19/09]

Anyone who holds the penal satisfaction position will suffer the natural tendency to slip into conformity with several of the points of Calvinism, to varying degrees. Sound exegesis on one or more of those topics will always inveigh against full consistency and will work a moderating influence. But this moderating factor is not equally dispersed among denominations or individuals. Only a visibly more just alternative to penal satisfaction is capable of totally vanquishing all five (and more) errors of the Augustinian/Calvinian line of development.

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God makes vessels for honor and for dishonor, but it’s up to you which you become!

God does, indeed, make out of “the same kneading” “one vessel, indeed, for HONOR, yet one for DISHONOR” (Romans 9:21), but the end product depends decisively upon the volition and behavior of the vessel He is molding! That is why Paul says elsewhere, “Howbeit, the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knew those who are His’, and ‘Let everyone who is naming the name of the Lord withdraw from injustice. Now in a great house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but wooden and earthenware also, and some indeed for HONOR, yet some for DISHONOR. If, then, anyone should ever be purging himself from these, he will be a vessel for HONOR, having gotten wholesome and useful to the Owner, having gotten ready for every good act” (2 Timothy 2:19-21). [8/17/09]

Sin is undefinable except in relation to beings that possess sovereignty, authority, and control, and who can and must govern and be governed in terms of law and directives that can be obeyed and disobeyed. It is precisely because human beings were made in God’s own image and created after His likeness that they possess the divine-like capacity for sovereignty, authority (including “self-authorization”—αυτεξουσιοτης) and control. Sin is transgression of God’s directives for life, the penalty for which is death. This all means that to compromise the face, nature, or potency of human “self-authorization” (αυτεξουσιοτης) or so-called “free-will” is also to compromise the actuality and seriousness of sin as well as human responsibility and accountability for it. Moreover, as a host of critics of Calvinism have validly seen, without a strong “doctrine” of “free-will,” the causality of responsibility for sinning devolves upon the “sovereignty” of God. This is totally unacceptable, which implies that in order for God to escape culpability for sin, He must have truly made space for the genuine sovereignty and authority, and lordship of other beings—all of them His creatures. (And, by easy inference, they must then also have to suffer a just penalty for the evils they wrongfully inflict, unless they repent.) Thus human “free-will” is a mirror image of divine “sovereignty.” [8/17/09]

For God to be “King” (N.B.: the word ‘sovereign’ is never predicated of the term ‘God’, in the Bible, at least not prior to the late 20th century!) over the universe means that because He created all things, He also governs them by law—statutes, ordinances, decrees, precepts, etc. Many of these are “natural” or invariable and irresistibly hold for whatever is subject to them. But with respect to human beings, He has established normative laws as well (see the careful analysis by Christian philosophers Herman Dooyeweerd, D. H. T. Vollenhoven, Hendrik G. Stoker, and their colleagues) which are not irresistible or inviolable. Such a state of affairs exists because God created human beings in His own image and likeness with sovereignty (αρχη) and overlordship (κατεκυρ-) (Genesis 1:26-28). Mankind also possesses self-authorization (αυτεξουσιοτης), commonly (but misleadingly) translated ‘free-will’ or some variant thereof in English translations of patristic literature. To violate God’s normative law, which only humans can do, is sin.

Accordingly, God prepared well ahead for every contingency of a created order teeming with others like Himself who were constitutionally capable of generating self-authorized (αυτεξουσιος/ως) acts that could and often weould violate His own always right desire for them. This anticipated state of affairs would necessarily include a great many harmful, painful, shocking, and lethal evils. But clearly God was alright with that, although He was not personally responsible for the sins of such ‘sovereign’ and ‘self-authorizing’ creatures, He evidently was ‘responsible’ for the existence of such a universe. And, sure enough, He “took responsibilityfor it at the Cross, yet by that horrible exhibition of what sinners thought of uprightness and wholesomeness, God was enabled to demonstrate His overcompensating redemption and premial justice, thus providing just the ‘theodicy’ that mankind needed so they could understand that the Creator ultimately loves us and is fully up to the task of turning the most terrifying, gruesome, and unjust evils into ULTRA-COMPENSATING GOODS OF OVERWHELMING SPLENDOR!

Thus God actually ADJUSTS HIS OWN ROYAL AUTHORITY, LORDSHIP, CONTROL, etc. TO ACCOMMODATE HUMAN BEINGS AND ALL THE TROUBLE THEY CAN CAUSE AND ALL THE MESSES THEY CAN MAKE. IT’S ALRIGHT! EVERYTHINGS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT…IN THE END. [8/17/09]

Arminius, unlike Calvin, was not such an uncritical apologist for Augustine, but submitted supremely to Scripture alone and let the chips fall where they may. Therefore, not at all surprisingly, Arminius took issue with Calvin on key points where Calvin had compromised Scripture in favor of Augustine, who was, accordingly, getting his come-uppance twelve centuries late. [8/17/09]

Arminius was the first great anti-Augustinian that God raised up to start to redress the theological errors and socio-political-cultural calamities that Augustine had ushered in during the millennium before his fateful revival, first under Luther, in part (who later turned away, in part) but especially under the more uncritical, more penal, more consistent, more tyrannical, less repentant regime of Calvin. [8/17/09]

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Calvin’s “Predestination” flows from his “Limited Atonement” and both, in turn, from his “Penal Satisfaction”

For Calvinists to run down the Scofield Reference Bible for “imposing” Dispensationalism on its unsuspecting readers (which it most certainly does!) is the pot calling the kettle black, since Calvinists were the very first Protestants to perpetrate such a mind-twisting imposture in the Geneva Bible. [8/15/09]

Those who posit an eternal degree in God by which He has ordained some to life and the rest to death make of Him a tyrant, and in fact an idol, as the pagans made of Jupiter.” — Jerome Bolsec, M.D. “Arrested and banished from Geneva with the warning that if he ever returned he would be flogged” for declaring the above words. Dave Hunt, What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God (Sisters, OR: Loyal Publishing, 2002), p. 85. [8/15/09]

The actual logic of the matter (which Arminius, alas, did not yet quite see) is that the erroneous “predestination” of Calvin followed from limited atonement,” not the other way around. This fact was not clearly visible due to the powerful, invisible undercurrent of penal satisfaction upon which all sides unquestionably, uncritically agreed. But it was only this penal “payment that placed a “limit” on the graciousness released by the Atonement. For all sides concurred with the notion that Jesus’ suffering on the cross was the soteric commodity needing to be “economized” for its “exchange value” in ransoming/redeeming sinners by “paying for their sins.” If it was not to be improvidently “wasted” on ungrateful reprobates, it would have to be calculated, parceled out, and rationed with a thrifty eye to a productive investment and profitable payoff in dividends for the “Sovereign” Investor.

IT WAS TO INSURE THIS POSTULATED INVESTMENT THAT AUGUSTINE’S WAYWARD BRAINCHILD OF ‘ABSOLUTE DOUBLE PREDESTINATION’ WAS, AT LAST, COMPLETELY EXHUMED AND PLACED ON PUBLIC DISPLAY IN CALVIN’S INSTITUTES, etc. Thus did Augustine’s toxic dogmas come to re-infect the world and more thoroughly overturn the apostle Paul, arguably, than perhaps any other single factor in history. [8/15/09]

A gospel that does not exult and boast in the restorative, rewarding, i.e., premial justice or righteousness of God is a grossly deficientgospel”—Paul would not recognize it as good news at all! A gospel that dares to boast and pride itself in merely penal justice—no matter what the proposed mechanism (e.g., “substitution” and “imputation”) he would anathematize as “a different gospel, which is NOT [truly] ANOTHER” but rather a distortion that disturbs the saints! (Galatians 1:6-9)

THE SUBSTITUTION OF THE CROSS FOR THE RESURRECTION at the most decisive point—the turning point—of the divine plot utterly sabotages the climactic denouement into an insipid ANTICLIMAX AND “EFFECTUALLY” SAPS THE STORY OF ITS POWER PUNCH BY DENATURING ITS RESURRECTIONARY RESCUE FROM A NECESSARY ADVENT OF GOD’S OWN JUSTICE TO A BUREAUCRATIC RUBBER STAMP ON WHATEVER “SAVING” VIRTUE CAN BE SQUEEZED OUT OF THE DEADLY CROSS DUE TO ITS EXHIBITION OF PUNITIVE JUSTICE AGAINST THE INNOCENT, SINLESS, JUST, AND HOLY ONE.

Therefore, is it any wonder that SUCH PALTRYGRACE can be conceived as FLOWING FROM SUCH PENAL “SATISFACTION” AND BLOWING OFF OF INFINITE WRATH BY AN INFINITELYJUST” JUDGE TO CAUSE INFINITE SUFFERING TO HIS “INFINITELY” DIVINE AND “INFINITELY” INNOCENT SON, THAT IT CANNOT BE CONCEIVED OR IMAGINED BY CALVINISTS AS ITSELF BEING INFINITE. Believe it or not! In ‘Reformed’ mathematics ALL THOSE “INFINITES” ONLY ADD UP TO A PATHETICALLY FINITE ATONEMENT. Strange, but true…very sadly true. And this is yet another compelling evidence that penal satisfaction is a travesty of the Truth.

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From “Prevenient” to “Irresistible”: Two Falls from Grace

The proper role and priority of the Gospel about God’s graciousness to Christ Jesus was displaced in both Roman Catholic theology (Council of Trent—the decree on justification, 1547) and Protestant (even as far as John Wesley), by a teaching about “prevenient grace coming unmerited in order to move and stir the will to believe, yet is resistible. But this well-meant innovation leads to confusion and to the overreaction of Calvinism into a dogma of “irresistible grace,” which then loses its very character as graciousness altogether. We already have a word for coercive graciousnessmanipulation.” [8/13/09]

If John Calvin was so radically wrong at so fundamental a point as to argue for a penal satisfaction, it seems hardly credible that he can be correct in those many other doctrines that are dependent on the view of God dictated by a penal atonement.  [8/13/09]

So lemme make sure I have this right.  The elect don’t have the power to resist the grace of God, but the reprobate do have the power to resist the grace of God.  Do I have that right?  Okay.  Then that means the reprobate have more power than the elect do.  Am I missing something?  Moreover, they have more power without the power of the Holy Spirit than the elect have even with the power of the Holy Spirit.  My head is spinning.  [8/13/09; 8/24/09; 5/05/17]

If God honestly does not “intend that any should perish, but all to make room for repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), then why doesn’t He use some of that “irresistible grace” on them, pray tell? Here is something seriously amiss in Calvinism. The bottom line is, on the grounds of penal satisfaction, there simply is not enough grace to spare! Now Arminians don’t seem to get this. But Calvinists are generally smarter here. They see that if penal substitution is correct, salvation must be limited! Yet, sadly, Calvinists are not smart enough to notice that their atonement premise is drastically wrong. And Arminius died prematurely under harassment by his bitter, vicious enemies, or he might have come to the solution himself. Indeed, Hugo Grotius, his young contemporary supporter, caught the drift of his thought and actually attempted the first basic alteration of the doctrine of the Atonement proper since Calvin originally spelled out penal satisfaction. However, Grotius was not successful in his bid because he had no adequate alternative to an atoning necessity of a penal sort. His “governmental” or “rectoral” theory more appealed to prevailing cultural metaphors. [8/13/09]

Within the system of Calvinism, the full role of the Holy Spirit has become sidelined, marginalized as more of an “add-on” than as a fully integral component of New Covenant salvation. This may not have happened (regardless of traditional Roman Catholic suppression of the Holy Spirit by cessationism, a hold-over of Augustinianism) but for the development of forensic justification, (and particularly the doctrines of forensic imputation), incipiently by Luther and Melanchthon, more full blown by Johannes Piscator and William Ames. For these doctrines cut an alternative furrow for part of salvation to affect believers apart from the Holy Spirit. [8/14/09]

For sure, the world of unbelievers and “reprobates” can and will respond positively to this mighty Gospel. The question remains, “will Calvinists”? I need not remind my Reformed sisters and brothers that the “elect” Jews of Jesus’ day largely reprobated this Gospel as “too inclusive.” A word to the wise is sufficient. [8/14/09]

Yes, I dare to entreat my Reformed sisters and brothers to change their minds regarding the Atonement and let its truth effervesce through every other received doctrine at its own pace. I have taken many years to come around, and I’m not finished yet. But I am a fellow traveler in this restoration. Can the full Reformation be far behind? [8/14/09]

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