Tag Archives: Penal Substitution theory of 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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God’s Gracious Redemption of US Is the Model for OUR Gracious Ethic toward Others

The ransoming procedure by which God saved a stricken and captive humanity is an absolute marvel to behold—a wonder of inter-divine troth and graciousness. Jesus, the Son of God, gave/paid himself in surrender to the ‘tender mercies’ of Satan, in obedience to the suicide mission in God’s redemptive strategy. Satan cheerfully obliged by paying his strangely compliant Victim with a diabolical range of unjust torments and finally, death itself. God, not to be outdone reciprocated by repaying his devout Son by means of His own ransoming payment that rescued His ransoming Son! YES! GOD RANSOMED THE SAVIOR OUT OF DEATH’S FATAL GRIP…AFTER THE FACT! And with what? BY GOD, WITH NOTHING OTHER THAN HOLY SPIRIT RAISING HIM TO FRESH, GREATLY ENLARGED LIFE!

Speak of “role switching”! Every member of Deity got in on the Act and functioned from the IDENTICAL MOTIVE AS REVEALED FORTHWITH BY PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION ON THE ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE STAGE OF HISTORY. Accordingly, a remarkable amplifying circuit of graciousness and troth was closed and a MAGNIFIED POWER WAS GENERATED AND TRANSMITTED FROM HEAVEN FOR THE UTTERLY FREE SALVATION OF ALL HUMANITY.

The sequence is elemental (and wouldn’t be difficult to diagram):

  1. The Son descends downward in weakness

  2. and rises upward in the justice of the Father

  3. in the power of the Holy Spirit that freely overflows downward to all the Son’s adopted siblings.

This revealed procedure of divine ransoming now is likewise our own model for imitating, in full assurance of God’s FULL BACKING! This is THE NEW “ETHIC” FOR THE NEW HUMANITY.

This means there is yet a further element to the sequence (diagram)—that’s where we come in:  to become the next wave redounding to the greater glory of God! A multitude of mature sons emulating Jesus—“a vast host that no one can number lift up praise and glory and blessing and honor and on and on and on…. [7/27/09]

I have learned over the past three years, sadly, that strict Calvinists won’t give my explanations the time of day. No matter, I know what time it is—it’s the ELEVENTH HOUR and repentance for propagating penal satisfaction is long overdue! I therefore exhort all who teach and proclaim that doctrine and all its subsidiary ramifications to please switch their attention to God’s AWARDING JUSTICE and experience the supposed “necessity” for God’s penal justice (as an element of the Atonement) melt away and evaporate in the sunshine of God’s “unseasonable” GRACIOUSNESS! [7/27/09]

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AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Introduction

“My zeal gnaws at me, for my foes forget Your words.” — Psalm 119:139 (CVOT)

April 5, 2015, EASTER SUNDAY

Nine years ago, today, I “published” my first piece on the Atonement.  I encourage you to click on the link to “Resurrectionary Atonement,” at the top of this blog site, and take a few minutes to read it.  In fact, I might suggest that you scroll to the end of the piece and click on the link to the original blog site where it appeared–Prof. Scott McKnight’s “JESUS CREED.”  My submission was evidently the final one in the discussion, thus it appears conveniently at the top.  But if you want to get a feel for the reason that compelled me to burst forth with this volley of words, I encourage you to scroll through the prior discussion (starting at the bottom; you’ll have to click the “Load more comments” bar to get to the very start).  My original version was in ALL CAPS–not an easy read, as McKnight was instant (within four minutes!) to point out.  It was my very first blog, so my etiquette was a bit rough at the edges, I confess.  But the cause seemed worthy of the attempt.  As the adage goes, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong.”

Today, then, is the NINTH ANNIVERSARY of that blog post.  Woo hoo!!!

Now for the bad news.  What follows is a letter I received this morning from an elder of the church I have been attending since February 1st of this year–barely two months.  I even dressed up for the occasion in the nice black suit I wore at my daughter Marie’s wedding!  Plus the whimsical “Easter egg” tie that my sister Marilyn gave me for Christmas 2013!  It was shortly after I received it that one of her best friends, Tina Harrell, died after ten years of struggling with cancer.  An extended phone conversation with Marilyn after her return from Tina’s memorial service at Valley Baptist Church in Burbank, California (http://www.vbcburbank.org/, a Conservative Baptist congregation, http://www.usachurches.org/denomination/conservative-baptist-association-of-america.htm), which we all attended together in our youth, prompted me to respond to her charge (perhaps justified–you can judge) that I see the Atonement issue in too severely black-and-white, either/or terms.  The result was my most recent and arduously argued piece (save one), “Unscrambling the Easter Eggsplanation.”  If I may say so, that paper would also make a fine and edifying read in this Easter season…if you dare; it’s at the top, too.  Hence the Easter egg “tie” between the two occasions.

The approach I take to the Atonement that God accomplished through the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation is exceedingly controversial.  Christians of all traditions would probably acknowledge that.  Any reader of this blog site will have to struggle–as, indeed, I myself have–with the challenge posed by what I have termed “premial inclusion” as distinguished from “penal substitution.”  If, in fact, I do see the choice in too black-and-white terms, I have yet to see an adequate argument for blending the two strikingly contrasting positions.  As you would expect, I allege that the premial position is in best conformity with Scripture, when understood on its own terms.

And that’s what gets me in trouble with nice churches like the one that handed me the letter below.  New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, MI (http://www.opc.org/feature.html?feature_id=220) is a mission church of Harvest Church, Wyoming, MI (http://www.harvestopc.org/), where it’s pastor, Mika Edmondson, had been an intern, and later a church-planting pastor.  These are congregations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC — http://www.opc.org/).  NCF is just one year old as of last Sunday; when they celebrated their Anniversary with a beautiful big cake and a prayer of thanks.

I first heard of NCF one Sunday evening in January when I visited Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church (http://www.holytrinitypc.org/), likewise a recent church plant, located on the west side of downtown Grand Rapids, and walkable for me.  One of the elders from New City was attending that evening, too, and was in the lobby with one of his children when I arrived late.  We got into a conversation that came around to the fact that he attended an OPC church (Holy Trinity is Associate Reformed Presbyterian, a friendly sister denomination–the first Presbyterian denomination founded in America, 1782).  I didn’t know of any OPC churches in Grand Rapids!  I first learned about the OPC as a college student in the late 1960’s.  I had even once contemplated studying at their Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia (http://www.wts.edu/), especially with Robert D. Knudsen.  My wife and I attended the Christian Reformed Campus Forum (formerly, Geneva Forum) at the University of Minnesota during the early 1980’s, soon after we got married.  The pastor, Bob Drake, was a Westminster graduate, ordained with the OPC.  Since that was a campus ministry, you can imagine the stimulating conversations we enjoyed together during those years.  But the Atonement had not become a serious issue for me quite yet, so was never an occasion for controversy.

I started pursuing a Ph.D. in Ancient Studies at the Univ. of Minn. around that  time (1982-83).  However, after a year I transferred to the home campus of Bethel Theological Seminary (https://www.bethel.edu/seminary/, of the former Baptist General Conference [Swedish] denomination, now renamed Converge, http://www.convergeworldwide.org/about/facts-and-info/our-story) in nearby Arden Hills, 1983-85, before completing my doctorate, for reasons I may explain another time.  I graduated from Bethel College (now University, https://www.bethel.edu/) in 1970.  I studied at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO (http://www.covenantseminary.edu/), fall 1979, which the L’Abri Fellowship (http://www.labri.org/) ministry of Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer had been giving increased exposure.  It was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA — http://www.pcanet.org/).  The reason I chose Covenant Seminary at the time was largely on the recommendation of my previous pastor, Rev. Jack Buckley, a Covenant graduate, founder of Fellowship of His People in Berkeley, California (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152658241222219&set=a.40379212218.55671.648752218&type=1&theater)–a daughter church of Fellowship of the Lamb, one of the L’Abri-inspired churches that popped up around St. Louis in those days.  I visited Covenant in the summer of 1979 with my dad, while on a cross-country trip to visit my sister in Pittsburgh.  I learned of their two new degree programs in Historical Theology and Exegetical Theology.  I chose the latter.

It was while I was at Covenant that Randy Nabors visited Grace and Peace Fellowship (http://graceandpeacefellowship.org/), the very first of those L’Abri-inspired gatherings, where I was attending.  Randy was pastoring a very vibrant congregation in Chattanooga (where Covenant College, the undergraduate component of the Seminary had earlier located, http://www.covenant.edu/).  Randy’s church was–are you ready for this?–New City Fellowship, Chattanooga (http://www.newcityfellowship.com/).  Ta da!!!  Okay, so now you know one reason why I dragged you through the above circuitous route to get from there to here.  Many Covenant College students attended this inner-city church, which was a powerful witness for inter-racial fellowship.  Randy was a livewire, wherever he spoke.  This is the heritage of New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, whose pastor, Mika Edmondson, a very gifted young black Ph.D. student at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids (http://www.calvinseminary.edu/), is carrying on the legacy of Randy Nabors in sterling fashion.  In fact, Mika is from the Chattanooga, Tennessee area himself, although originally from a Baptist background.  He is preparing to defend his Ph.D. dissertation in a couple of months.  It’s on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sooo…  Back to Holy Trinity on a frigid February night.  Harold Schnyders (Assoc. Prof. of Physics, GVSU) was that visiting elder from NCF who informed me about New City Fellowship (though he must rue the night he ever told me).  It so happens that it meets in the former Hispanic Seventh-Day Adventist church on Burton near Eastern.  That was my old stomping grounds when we moved to Alger Heights in 1996 from Pella, Iowa.  And it’s right off the #4 bus route (I haven’t had a car for almost five years).  Voila!

But why, you may ask?  Why did this spark my interest?  Simple.  Take a look at the responses this present blog site has evoked over its three-year history.  ‘Bout a dozen.  It’s not as if I haven’t sent out e-mails (by the hundreds, which takes me two or three days to send because of Hotmail limits) and made personal contacts where I try to encourage folks with what I’ve been learning over the decades.  Even the hard copy papers at the top of this site I’ve distributed by the score, even hundreds, since I first went public nine years ago, today.  In fact, at one of the recent session meetings of NCF where I was grilled, the pastor asked me if I had done “this” before–i.e., passed out my documents to pastors in other churches.  That caught me up short.  I could think of a few occasions, right off, that might qualify.  And more came to mind.  But after going home and thinking about it, I started making a list (I’m an irrepressible list maker).  Two dozen churches later…!

But that’s not quite what Mika was fetching for, it seems to me on further reflection.  I’ve been “planning” (as I tell everyone) to write a book on the Atonement.  For years.  But in view of the few actual responses in terms of written or extended oral objections to my findings, I personally find it a bit difficult to polish up my arguments and shore up the evidence.  Then again, I’ve already posted nearly thirty years of earlier “Atonement Notes” already…although I am now roughly seven-and-a-half years in arrears in posting them.  In other words, except for my most recent series of 26 (so far) postings on the Governmental view of the Atonement, for the benefit of the powerful young open-air evangelist Jesse Morrell (http://www.openairoutreach.com/), almost everything else is well over seven years old.  My point?  I still haven’t been able to scare up much solid, informed critique that might correct blind spots, force me to examine Scripture passages I might not have considered in this connection, deal with weighty scholars I hadn’t known about already, etc.  So if my current methods aren’t culling much informed response…HOW DO I GET A REACTION?  At virtually all of those previous churches, I might slip a few papers, or maybe a whole folder full, to a pastor.  And if there was no response,  I would quietly slip away.  But this is really no behavior for an evangelist.  And at heart, that’s what I am.

That’s where NCF comes in.  The Orthodox Presbyterian denomination (we’re talkin’ a “sect” here, but, of course, from the inside they don’t see it that way) is concerned about “doctrine” in a very conscientious way.  That can be all for the good…if handled properly.  But what it means for the further development of my book is that if they disagree about a point of doctrine, they are not reticent to say so.  Aha!  So why not approach hard-core Calvinists with a position that they can, uh…”react” to?  Hmmm?  If I had known of an OPC church in Grand Rapids in earlier years, I might have had an earlier start on the process.

Therefore, I decided to pay them a visit and provide the pastor (initially) with the documents you see at the top of this site (except for the first one by my friend Donald McKay of St. Francis, Minnesota), and in normal page format (instead of the uniform narrow-column format I’m limited to within this WordPress “Pilcrow” theme) so that they are more readable.  This way he could mark up the hard copy with comments (my personal preference).  Sorry, I still don’t warm up to sophisticated marking methods that Microsoft Word facilitates.  (Only my brother and Prof. Peter Davids have ever even tried those on my stuff).  Later, I put them into the hands of another elder, and another.  The son of a Westminster Seminary professor whom I esteem, Richard B. Gaffin, also attends NCF, so, naturally, he became a doubtful recipient of my labors.  His father’s book, Resurrection and Redemption:  A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (1987), (http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Redemption-Study-Pauls-Soteriology/dp/0875522718),  has a significant role to play in what follows.

But nobody wanted to come out and play with me!  It’s not a matter of method so much as an issue of content that challenges deeply held assumptions.  (Okay, and also of not having time to read into a set of stapled papers, no matter what the content.  But I bracket that for now…)  It’s, frankly, just too scary to reconsider revising historic understandings of the most fundamental matters of our faith.  I quite understand how this goes.  If I had not been remaining in the Word of God as the Lord worked me free from a few “bedrock” presuppositions of my youth that turned out to be merely shifting sands of that much vaunted “historic Christianity” that traditionalists like to boast in, I too would surely never have been able to shoulder the psychological load of “error divestiture” that can be truly paralyzing.  To say it another way, folks naturally feel vertigo at the thought of “giving up” basic premises of their religious faith.  “Losing one’s faith” is not something to treat lightly.  “The faith once for all delivered to the saints” by Christ’s apostles is a LIFE or DEATH matter!  It’s not to be trifled with.  It has ultimate consequences, and many more immediate side-effects on ethics and practice.  But when the Word of God is going through the transition with you, there’s a different quality about the changes you undergo.

Ergo:  shouldn’t we try to become mighty sure that our denomination/sect–which may flaunt “antiquity,” size, respectability, devotion, “radical Christianity,” “orthodoxy,” fabulous worship, social conscience, global missions, vital evangelism, Christian schools, top-ranking universities, and a welter of other virtues–actually “has the goods” when it comes to an accurate grasp of “the givens,” or basic documentary data of apostolic origin?  Hmmm?  Well, I think so.

Problem is, Christian tribes that hold hard to old (it really doesn’t matter how old) “statements of faith” must somehow struggle with the problem of human fallibility (even “divines” are human, for heaven’s sake!) and obsolescence.  Things “under the sun” wear out, or in any case wear thin, unless renewed and recharged with the original fire.  And unless there is a way to revise or amend such statements (creeds, confessions, catechisms, etc.), they tend toward obscurity and harden up into shibboleths…and worse.

But we have to start somewhere, right?  My psychological comfort came with the territory of the kind of “concordant” hermeneutic (click my “About” link at the top of the site to read a thumbnail sketch) I have been pursuing since high school days.  As a young “fightin’ Fundamentalist,” the top of the list of my youthful beliefs was the authority of the Bible.  The “downside” of that belief (I thank my dear mother for doing things right!), was in how very seriously I took it.  The more and more I studied the Bible “with my concordance on,” as I like to say, the more and more the Lord blessed me with edifying (not merely speculative or highfallutin’) discoveries.  “Doggone it, this Book really does make sense!”  So after  a while I got bored just defending it and started using it.  You don’t defend a sword; you practice your swing and observe the effects.  There’s a feedback loop.

I say “downside” because the first casualty was Dispensationalism, I think,  This was something my mother adhered to with lifelong devotion and undiminished ardor.  So family ties were attenuated by learning the Bible just a bit too well.  Then simplistic evangelismism also fell before long.  Yet some positions didn’t fall.  Since the eighth grade, when Mom had the foresight to buy me a couple of books by Harry Rimmer on the Bible and science, and especially The Theory of Evolution and the Facts of Science, I was an ardent creationist.  But it did morph a little uncomfortably along the way and became much more nuanced, deepened, and supplemented.  Such books (I eventually procured most of Rimmer’s) early instructed me in the importance of argument–a virtue seldom applauded among church folk.  And this virtue is part of what got me in trouble with NCF.  They had done arguing over the faith some 350 years ago and only wanted to get everyone else (correction: the “elect,” i.e., the ones who happen to respond positively to the language of their “doctrinal standards”) to knuckle under without too much fuss and bind their consciences to understand holy Scripture “according to the Westminster Confession.”  Or do I have that reversed?  An NCF elder insisted it was the other way around:  they hold to the Confession “according to Scripture,”  But that doesn’t really work, as we shall explore below.

To summarize, I had been long and steadily familiarizing myself with the distinctives of Calvinistic Christianity even before moving to Grand Rapids in the summer of 1996 so Jan could teach at Calvin College.  It was then that I was introduced up close to the bondage of conscience that Calvinistic institutions could enforce.  In order to teach there, my wife had to sign a statement that she would not oppose the faith standards of the Christian Reformed Church, namely, the Belgic Confession (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/belgic-confession), the Canons of Dort (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/canons-dort), and the Heidelberg Catechism (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/heidelberg-catechism).  Since she taught Geography, Geology, and Environmental Studies, she was not expected to teach or expound them, of course.  Nevertheless, since I had been preparing to start a Vineyard-style (http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/) Reformational (http://kuyperian.blogspot.com/2004/08/introduction-to-kuypers-thought.html) hybrid on a cell-church model (http://www.touchusa.org/default.asp), I did feel the friction this could generate.  Feature a church planter whose worldview and vision for action must be trimmed by certain little silences imposed on a beloved spouse by her employer.  Don’t get me wrong; we came to Calvin with the red carpet treatment!  Jan was a celebrated scholar, greatly esteemed by the school and rightly so.  She held the Spoelhof Chair from the git go.  And there’s the rub.  With honor comes obligation.

I had already attempted to plant a hybrid Vineyard in Pella, Iowa–just a smaller version of Grand Rapids.  So I was gearing up for what it would take to do something bigger and better “right here in River City.”  Fact is, however, my Pella attempts were not particularly “successful.”  That was okay with me, so long as I was learning from all my mistakes (count ’em…).  In the meantime, we did join “a church in the Reformed tradition,” which was a requirement for virtually all Calvin faculty except for those whose spouses might happen to pastor a church outside of that tradition; that was still allowable.  We weren’t in that category yet.  And my wife never wanted to occupy that category.  She was a PK and had felt from the inside the sacrifice of quality family time that such a life could entail, not to mention expectations put on a pastor’s spouse.  But I’m getting too autobiographical.

The upshot is that we got involved with a very contemporary CRC congregation called Centre Pointe, pastored by a black pastor borrowed from the Reformed Church in America (RCA — https://www.rca.org/),  His co-pastor was a white Southerner.  They modeled reconciliation and mutual honor.  It was special.  We loved it.  Our daughters especially enjoyed the free-wheeling and laid back style of worship–all sitting around banquet tables at The Bluff in Grand Central Mall, able to draw or whatever.  Marie and Karis were baptized there.

But “doctrine” didn’t come up for review there.  I attempted to help them adopt a modified cell-church model, but just as it was about to be inaugurated, the co-pastor left for a congregation of his own (having just graduated from Calvin Seminary as an older student), and the new seminary intern had ideas of her own, so shelved what we had labored over so arduously.  (The up side is that the co-pastor took the plan with him to his next church, hoping to put it into practice.)

But that’s water over the dam.  My marriage suffered a divorce in late 1999, and the new millennium saw me in a wandering mode.  During the intervening years, the pain of that has worked hope and deepened insight, not to mention the mining of fresh comforts from the eternal Gospel.  Friends took me in at a decisive point and before long, I was back on track, wrestling with Scripture over the heart of the Gospel so as to teach it one day in a holistic setting designed to organize God’s people penetrate to the world with supreme effectiveness in the Spirit of Christ.

Then in the spring of 2006, I got terribly sick with influenza or undulant fever for about six weeks.  That’s the time, while staying in the extra bedroom of some dear friends, that the Lord chose to bring me more complete closure concerning the doctrine of the Atonement.  The rest is history.  But first a bit of recent history so you can see how my findings have so far played out in one “orthodox” setting.

Below you will find the letter I was handed by Doug Felch on Easter Sunday.  I will forbear commentary on it until the conclusion of these journal entries concerning NCF.

Bon voyage!

Dear Ron,

New City Fellowship provisional session has labored hard to do right by you.  We have given you a fair hearing, beyond your standing as one outside of the body.  We have presented you with the fullness of God’s word, and plead with you to merit the supreme abundance of Christ’s reward not through your own faltering obedience, but by the assumption of Christ’s righteousness through faith.  Ron, don’t underestimate just how righteous one has to be to stand in the judgment (Psalm 1), if indeed the Lord “will by no means pardon the guilty” (Exodus 34:7).

We have additionally patiently sought your willingness, even as a sojourner in the midst of the Lord’s people, to submit to the rule that God has appointed for His people, the elders, in the very place where his people assemble to hear the message of salvation.  You have shown yourself unable to comply, and persist in obstructing others on the path of salvation, which itself bears a grave penalty (Matthew 18:6).

In spite of this, out of our desire that you not miss this great salvation (Hebrews 2:3), we offer you the opportunity to continue to receive the counsel of the elders of the church through contact by email, by phone, or by arranged meeting, while at the same time stating that until you repent to the satisfaction of the elders, you have no place in the assembly, neither during worship services, fellowship meals, nor any other New City activities.  If you are found on the NCF property again, we will consider it trespassing.  With the Lord’s voice, we firmly admonish you to respect this unanimous decision by the shepherds of the Lord’s people at New City.

The NCF Provisional Session

Harold Schnyders

Doug Felch

Jim DeRuischer

Mika Edmondson


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“Yes, but is there a Resurrection?”

Back in the early 1970’s, when “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” made such an impact on the era of the counterculture, Christians used to query, “Yes, but is there a Resurrection?” at the end of the magnificent and fetching stage productions, then later, of the film versions. A similar question may usefully be asked of the penal substitutionary version of the ancient prophetic shadows of the Levitical sacrificial rituals. “Is there a foreshadowing, anywhere, of a mighty, life-making Resurrection?” For if only a miserable Death is prefigured, where is the riveting, compelling note of dazzling rescue and saving triumph that actually did erupt with Christ’s Resurrection? Was all this glorious, comforting truth somehow left out of the Script[ures]?! [5/09/09]

Christ Jesus BOUGHT us, RANSOMED us, from DEATH!  It would have devoured us whole at the end of our brief, sinful lives if he had not PAID something that could reclaim us from the total extinction that Adam’s sin had won for us.  His precious blood alone accomplished the feat, because by letting vicious men slay him he gave his Father the warrant to move in for the…RESURRECTION!  BECAUSE THE CROSS “RAISED” THE CAPITAL TO BUY US BACK FROM THE DEAD BY THE SIMPLE EXPEDIENT OF FURNISHING EVERLASTING LIFE! Therefore if we trust what God did both for and through Christ and then get immersed in Christ, consequently we thenceforth partake of his lifemaking Wholesome Spirit and are constituted God’s property, “capable of belonging to God.”* Thus did the slain Lamb buy us for God in his blood. In sum: the egregious sinfulness of humans at the Cross demanded the overcompensating righteousness of God in the Resurrection. The faithfulness of Christ’s just soul, crying out to God in his shed blood, triggered the covenantal response of the Faithful and Just Deity who, accordingly reciprocated with RESURRECTION!

*B. F. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (London:  Macmillan, 1905) p. 36.  [5/10/09]

The expression, “the blood of Christ” represents his whole life, death, and resurrection in their full character—his life/career (βιος) as perfectly faithful, obedient to God’s desire and sinless; his death as a voluntary act of obedient submission to God in surrender to his enemies, a crime of heinously murderous proportions on their part; and his resurrection as God’s own authentic response from His throne of judgment—unprecedentedly miraculous vindication for Jesus; utterly unheard of mercy for his Gentile executioners, who were not aware what they were doing; and, consummately, unprecedented graciousness for all who would repent and believe. All these are encompassed in the meaning of Christ’s “blood,” that is, his flawlessly just soul as “avenged (εκδικ-) by his resurrection SO AS TO CONCILIATE HIS ENEMIES AND HENCE SAVE THEM OUT OF THEIR SINS AND, THEREBY, FROM GOD’S INDIGNATION AGAINST THEIR ATTACHMENT TO THEIR SINS. [5/11/09; 1/29/17]

Who atoned for—made up for—the crime of the cross of Jesus Christ? FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, GOD HIMSELF DID! [5/12/09]

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Christ’s Resurrection: God’s Solomonic Judgment

The Protestant so-called “doctrine” of justification is a case of hermeneutical herniation. In effect, a perfectly good word was ballooned into a complex theory of “justification” that all but eclipsed the more central significance of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and the blood as representing that full reality. The proper proportionality of the Proclamation of God was radically skewed (not to say skewered!) by Luther’s explosive realization of only part of the full picture. His merely partial recovery bequeathed us an infirm gospel, lacking miraculous power to accomplish God’s fully revealed agenda for creational redemption. [5/05/09]

The Cross revealed the great seriousness of sin by magnifying what sin did to the sinless Savior, not by “demonstrating God’s wrath against sin,” inflicted on the sinless “substitute”! What sense would that make? Indeed, what possible proof for such a fancy can be adduced from Scripture fairly interpreted? [5/05/09] God never argues in Scripture from the “seriousness” of sin (as does Anselm, to the contrary) to end up justifying the infliction of savage abuse on an innocent substitute.

Moreover, if any would argue that such an infliction was “just” on account of the blameworthy sinners he was substituting or standing in for, how could they simultaneously argue that it was nevertheless sufficiently unjust directly to him, to merit the justice of getting raised from the dead? Thus their substitutionary argument SABOTAGES THE MEANING OF RESURRECTION. [5/05/09]

Sacrificial blood, in Scripture, represents the just soul of the Lamb of God, unjustly slain, crying out for BOTH JUSTICE FOR HIMSELF AND PARDON FOR HIS SLAYERS. THE SOLOMONIC JUDGMENT AMOUNTED TO HIS OWN RESURRECTION FROM THE DEATH THEY INFLICTED! [5/06/09]

“…God has no one above him, for he is himself the supreme and common good of the entire universe. If then he forgives sin, which is a crime in that it is committed against him, he violates no one’s rights. The man who waives satisfaction and forgives an offence done to himself acts mercifully, not unjustly. Thomas Aquinas, II Sent. 3a.46.2, cited in vol. xxvii (1969) of the New Blackfriars edition, ed. T. C. O’Brien (60 vols.; London: Eyre & Spottiswoode) p. 23, emphasis added.

For me to “pay the debt” of someone indebted to me is identical to my forgiving her! For to absorb the loss is the same as paying her to pay me back! This kind of accounting amounts to a mere trifling with words, a diversionary shell game…or worse.

By the same token, for Christ to “pay our debt to God” incurred by our sin, He need merely forgive it and absorb the loss! Such a deed would not have needed the fanfare of the Cross. Obviously there is something more and different going on there than the penal substitution theory can plumb. And in any case the Son taught us (from the Father!) to forgive others their debts (sins) against us. This could only mean that the Father likewise “pays” our debts to him by simply remitting them! He absorbed the cost. Bingo. (Okay, so…was it a gamble?) [5/06/09; 1/25/17]

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“Fire from Heaven” signified God’s ACCEPTANCE of a sacrifice, NOT HIS WRATH

The redemptive blood of the ancient Levitical animal sacrifices prophetically signified (in the full light of the “Crossurrection”) The cleansing, hallowing, and healing power of the violent unjust death of a perfectly sinless human being enormously magnified through resurrection to agelong life by God’s super-compensating justice. [5/04/09]

The “fire from God” that would occasionally fall on the ancient sacrifices signified the acceptance of the sacrificed soul (“which is in the blood”) as holy, flawless, “sinless.” It did not signify the fiery wrath or fierce indignation of God falling on an innocent substitute à la penal substitutionary theory. [5/04/09]

Not the shedding of the blood of the sacrifice but the repayment for the shedding (unto death) is atoning. And because God Himself justly repaid Christ Jesus for his faithfulness (“in his blood!) unto death by crucifixion, it can rightly be claimed that God Himself proposed him as a protective cover concerning sin. (Romans 3:24-26) that repayment at God’s just hand and bar of judgment was, of course, RESURRECTION PLUS ALL THAT FOLLOWED IN ITS TRAIN. [5/04/09]

The decisive character of the Philippians 3 passage in clarifying the crucial link between resurrection and God’s righteousness lies exactly in its brevity and conciseness as an epitome of the essential point of all the rest of Paul’s treatments of the subject of God’s righteousness and method of justification. Elsewhere, his elaboration is diverticular and, especially in Romans, quite diffuse and interlinked with other matters and metaphors. But in the third chapter of Philippians, it is crystal clear and compact. [5/04/09]

The “fire of God” descending from on high onto an animal sacrifice was the manifestation of the glory of God as proof that God accepted the victim as holy, not as a sign of God’s wrath on its sinfulness (wrongly understood as “transferred” or “imputed” to the victim by the laying on of [a] hand[s]). In other words, NOT ITS IMPUTED SINFULNESS BUT ITS IMPUTED SINLESSNESS WAS THEREBY ATTESTED.

Moreover, the sacrificed animal (“soul”) going up in smoke as a well-pleasing aroma in God’s nostrils bespeaks its holiness evoking His graciousness, not its sinfulness evoking His wrathfulness.

Yet further, the “souls under the altar” (in Revelation 6:9-11) signify exactly nothing whatever concerning “flames of torment” or “suffering in the wrath of God’s flaming judgment,” but much rather depict the blood of the witnesses of Jesus (martur“martyrs”) crying out from the place where the smoke of their well-pleasing self-sacrifices and prayers ascend to God (for “the soul is in the blood”). [5/04/09]

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“Grace” that is BOUGHT is NO GRACE AT ALL!

Grace” that must be bought with the “price of bloodIS NO GRACE AT ALL. For God to give such “grace” in return for the invaluable “price” of His Son’s own precious blood would only be to “pay what he owed,” because such a “payment” would make God a debtor! Much, much otherwise than such a crabbed commercial tallying is the stunning truth that the Father awarded His compliant Son a colossal gift and everlasting legacy for all his trouble. This mighty truth gives a whole new coloring to the vivid reality of divine graciousness. The relation of Father and Son is NOT A MUTUAL INDEBTEDNESS, but AN INTERPLAY OF LOVING EXCHANGES THAT SWELL AND BURST WITH BLESSINGS BACK AND FORTH: GRACIOUSNESS IN EXCHANGE (anti) FOR GRACIOUSNESS. What fun! [4/24/09]

The cross of Christ was decidedly not a place of payment. The resurrection of Christ, on the other hand, was! For GOD THERE COMMENCED HIS REPAYMENT FOR SUFFERING ABUSE AT THE BRUTAL HANDS OF SATAN AND HIS COHORTS! How could theologians have gotten this all so wrong…so switched around backwards even? [4/24/09]

The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ—the Son of God—suffered abuse was proof positive that God the Father likewise suffers abuse, for the Son was commissioned precisely to reveal the Father so that we could know Him, i.e., know also His emotions and experiences in relation to us. Strange, perhaps, but Gospel truth! [4/24/09]

Throughout his entire life Jesus destroyed sin in his flesh. Accordingly, he was immersed in the Holy Spirit of God for the final stretch. When, by the power of this agelong Spirit, he remained victorious to the bitter finale and was himself wrongly destroyed by the sin offering (i.e., the sin!hamartia) of the cross, God overcompensated the incomparable injustice by raising him from the dead, immortal and sovereign, THUS CONDEMNING AND NULLIFYING SIN ITSELF! [4/24/09]

It’s not sin that I’m not taking seriously, it’s a presumptuous, synthetic, overwrought and underbiblical “doctrine of sin,” which is distorted, disproportionate to the pattern of sound explanations bequeathed us in Scripture, and grossly disfigured. [4/24/09]

The substitutionary penal payment tradition is guilty of grossly debasing the full and gloriously appealing unveiling of the mutual exchanges of graciousness and faithful troth between God the Father and the Son. From their loving relationship, thus represented, we can easily and validly derive obvious ramifications for normative human behaviors, and that is surely the divine intention. But sadly, penal payment traditions sets this kind of graciousness at naught…at odds with itself, actually polarizing presumed antithetic traits of divine character. The result is little short of hideous, although theologians and preachers keep insisting it’s “beautiful.” They have systematized their self-deception and made a successful business of pawning it off on the unwary.   So beware!  [4/24/09]

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