Penal Substitution – if I didn’t know where I stand, I do now
Justin Brierley, thank you.
Your show may be too short to air all the things that need to be said, but I think on this occasion, I’ve heard enough to be able to process it all.
Your show on Penal Substitution was very helpful. I wasn’t sure where I stood on the issue, if I’m honest. I knew Christ died in my place, but I hadn’t fully thought through the implications of what happens in that place. I’ve now been given language to do so.
It may be my bias against Calvinists, but for me Steve Jeffrey said a few too many things which he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with. [Disclaimer: I didn’t necessarily agree with everything Alan said either, but I think as a less-experienced interviewee he was outweighed a little and could have had more of an opportunity to explain his position.]
Firstly, having heard Greg Boyd’s delightfully clearly, well-thought-through comments on penal substitution vs Christus Victor, it was a surprise to hear that Jeffrey thought that the first half of his comments were a shamble. ‘A confused mess’, he called them, or something like that.
[Greg Boyd positioned himself very clearly on the side of Christus Victor for some well-grounded reasons; everyone interested in this debate must consider the fact that penal substitutionary atonement – PSA hereafter – places the myth of redemptive violence at the centre of the gospel. That’s a corker. God is a rageaholic who needs to vent his wrath on someone? Really?]
Instead Steve went to the one thing that was not unique about what Greg said, but which was the general theme of the whole discussion: punishment. He went to the word ‘propitiation’, quoting 1 John 4:10, and defined it as ‘turning away wrath’. When I looked up the word, no dictionaries say that. They simply say that it has to do with atonement – ‘at-one-ment’. The process by which God and man are reconciled. No wrath necessarily there. I’d like to hear him respond more fully to Greg’s excellent observations; I realise the short amount of time in the studio precluded this a bit, but the time he did have and the response he did give was, I felt, a deflection.
Another thing. The adage was brought up “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” Steve said: “That’s not what the Bible says.” Without recoursing to whose-soundbite-is-correct, I must at least point out that Romans 5:8 says it in almost so many words.
This misrepresentation of Scripture got worse. When Alan said that the cross provides atonement for the whole world, or words enough to that effect, Steve the Calvinist did not rebut with “that’s not my view”, he had the audacity to state “that’s not true”! Hang on a minute! What about 1 John 2:2? Even if we’re only talking about potential, let’s not trample over Biblical statements and say they’re not true!
I have other gripes, but I don’t want to appear belligerent for the sake of it. I simply want to point out that Steve’s confidence of truth on his side was, I think, a little over-stretched. Having had the issues brought out in this way, providing good food for thought, I’ve definitely gained a better understanding of the Christus Victor position. As Greg Boyd pointed out, it makes sense in the context of the whole life of Jesus. It doesn’t negate the seriousness of sin, but it does preserve the character of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as revealed through Jesus. It’s a more Christocentric view rather than a homocentric view which is always a plus, in my books.
I’m not saying I’m completely sold. The Biblical statements about ‘wrath’ (Gr. orgē) need attention. But what I find usually is that while literalistic readings of Scripture produce one picture of God, a deeper work of theology that seeks to understand the character and nature of God throughout Scripture produces a much clearer picture. Not one that is self-contradictory all over the place, but one which guides our interpretation. This must always take place through Jesus, who said that “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”. Far from Steve’s one attempt to show the Father as an angry, vengeful character whose wrath the Son is trying to block, the swathe of the New Testament shows that the loving Father God is revealed through Jesus, that we need look no further than him to see what our God is like. It’s true that love often entails wrath, but if we can start the conversation there, that’s more helpful to me.
As I’ve opened up to the issues here, I have found Tom Wright’s article here very helpful. It reflects a helpful distinction that Alan Molineaux mentioned in the show, between systematic and narrative theology.
There is much more to be discussed here! Rant, for now, over.