October 31, 2017
Midnight, Wittenberg, Germany
6:00 p.m. (EST) Grand Rapids, Michigan, 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
DISSOLVING THE CHAINS OF PENAL SATISFACTION BY AN ALTERNATIVE CONCATENATION OF DIALECTICAL QUERIES—
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
oh alright—just some mind-altering brain-teasers for thinking outside the box for Heaven’s sake
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 (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chap. 14) 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)?:
“…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).
“…this Jesus whom you crucify!” (Acts 2:36).
“…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).
“Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, whom you crucify…this is the Stone that is being scorned by you builders…” (Acts 4:10, 11).
“…Jesus, on whom you lay hands, hanging him on a pole.” (Acts 5:30).
“…the Just One, of whom now you became the traitors and murderers…” (Acts 7:52).
“…whom they [the Jews] assassinate also, hanging him on a pole” (Acts 10:39).
“…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 ~~