Thursday, April 26, 2007

Was Jesus condemned on the cross?



Continuing our look at the cross, we now drill down to the heart of the controversy: did it please the Father to crush the Son the cross, condemning him to die? Was the Father furious and mad at sin and sinners, and since all that sin was piled up onto Jesus on the cross, did the Father delight in the smashed up body and death of Jesus, knowing that his wrath was satisfied?

As I have discovered in the past few days, there are many models of substitutionary atonement, and indeed many models of penal substitution. I think I understand enough to outline the various different positions I have come across.

  1. pagan propitiation model: In this understanding, the Father was mad because the wonderful people he had made in his image were all running around, committing sin, and therefore hurting each other and alienating themselves from God. "Someone has to pay!" is the Father's somewhat annoyed response. Looking around, the Father sees perfect Jesus down on earth and decides he will do. In fact, no-one else will do, as the Father requires a pure sacrifice and only Jesus is 100% pure and without sin. So Jesus dies so that the sin can be taken out of the sinners. This act appeases the wrath of God, and he is no longer mad at the sinners, because their sin has been taken away. To me, this model is based on a pagan understanding of propitiation and is therefore sub-biblical.

    I think some Christians with a poor understanding of the scriptures can sometimes espouse this model. I've certainly heard someone share a "vision" they had of heaven which pretty much summed up this model: in the vision the Father was mad at some "sinner", but Jesus stepped in front of the Father's wrathful gaze, put his arms around the sinner, and said "Mine!" or some such. Clearly nonsense, as the Father and Son and not in some eternal battle over the atonement!

  2. "hard" penal substitution. In this traditional, reformed viewpoint, the Father and the Son worked together in love to rid the world of sin and to avert the Wrath of God. Although God (inc the Father and the Son) loved the world, he was angry because of the all of the harm and hurt that existed within the world. His solution involved sending himself, the Son, to become human and live among his people. He would take upon himself the sins of the world, and respond in grace, not anger. Ultimately, he would die on a Roman cross, and somehow as the Last Adam our sin was transferred to him. God then crushed Jesus on the cross, and condemned him, as Jesus in that moment became a sinner became infused with the sins of the entire world -- he became sin -- even though he was sinless man. Then the Father turned his back on Jesus, as the scripture says that God cannot look upon sin. As a sinner As a sin-filled sinless person, he then died, but since the sin wasn't really his, Death couldn't hold him, and he rose again.

    Is this the Calvinistic point of view? It certainly sounds like it. I believe new-reformed-charismatics such as Mark Driscoll hold to this particular model. Adrian Warnock has also defined his view of the atonement in a similar way, and he notes that John Stott has also explained the atonement in a similar fashion. I also believe that it is this kind of model (and certainly the previous!) that Steve Chalke has rejected. I also used to believe in this model, but I'm now thinking, thanks to Wright, that this might not be the best model (see next paragraph!)

  3. "soft" penal substitution. Starts off the same as above, but note what Wright says: "Paul says explicitly that God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ ... he does not say that God condemned Jesus; rather, that he condemned sin; but the place where sin was condemned was precisely in the flesh of Jesus, and of Jesus precisely as the Son sent from the Father. And this, we remind ourselves, is the heart of the reason why there is now 'no condemnation' for those who are in Christ Jesus." (N T Wright, The Cross and the Caricatures). We should also note that in this viewpoint, we have something which is more akin to penal union than anything else: this model remembers the biblical truth that in some real way, we died in Christ as he died, and we will rise as he rose (from death), if we trust in him as our Lord. Also, I am not sure if Wright had said this, but I believe that those that believe in this model would say that the Father DID NOT turn his back on Jesus during his darkest hours.

    Regarding this model of atonement, apparently J I Packer says something similar, as does John Stott (although he has appeared to affirm the "hard" model as well -- see above), so perhaps Steve Chalke isn't so crazy after all. (Although Peter Kirk has proposed an alternative model (see below), he has emphasised in the comments section of this post that he has no problem with model.)

  4. non-penal substitutionary atonement. Peter Kirk has proposed this tentative model: "We humans sin and as a result our fellowship with God is broken. Nothing that we can do can restore this fellowship. God could punish us for our sin. But he chooses not to punish those who repent and believe, but to forgive them. However, this does not fix the problem of our broken fellowship with God. We cannot fix this problem. But in some way which we cannot understand, the eternal Son of God was able to fix it, and when the Father asked him he voluntarily agreed to do what was necessary. By becoming a man, dying on the cross, and rising again, he was able to restore the fellowship between God and humans."

    This model seems to be saying that basically Jesus died, but it had nothing to do with the wrath of God, and he certainly didn't die instead of us. (He did die for our sins, however.) Jesus' death somehow manifests God's forgiveness for all humanity, which is offered without anyone "paying the price" per se. It seems God is simply willing to forgive and forget, now that Jesus had died. Some people would find philosophical problems with this viewpoint: if you have a spare hour, read Why can't God just forgive sin, instead of demanding justice?, by Glenn M. Miller, a defense of the penal nature of the atonement.


Some of my readers may be wondering, "what the hell does this have to do with anything?". Well, I think its important for many reasons. If we are sharing the gospel, and we end up turning people away for the wrong reasons, we have failed. Also, if we get the wrong view of the atonement, we will probably have an incorrect view of God in general. Which is never a good thing. I also think that if we get the atonement wrong, we can end up believing strange things, such as hell doesn't exist any more, or that everyone will end up in heaven (because the atonement is simply that God is love), things I have personally heard Christians start to say.

BTW, its not easy to summarise all this stuff, so if I have misquoted anyone, or misrepresented anyone's position, please add a comment and let me know!

Other folks discussing this: see Peter Kirk's blog posting on "What is Penal Substitutionary Atonement?".

11 comments:

Peter Kirk said...

Alastair, thank you for your very helpful post. I attempted to clarify the varieties of PSA my post which you link to, but you have done it more clearly.

But I should point out that what you have described as my position on the atonement is taken from a post of mine which was intended to be provisional and exploratory. It is not a definitive statement of my position, but an alternative model (see also here) which might be more helpful than PSA but to be held alongside it. And I wrote there that I am sure that it is oversimplified.

So, I would like to clarify, I am quite happy to accept "soft" penal substitution as you define it. I think you will find that Wright, Packer, probably Stott, and Chalke can all agree with me on that. The problem has come when people insist that only your "hard" version is proper PSA and selectively condemn those who prefer the "soft" variety.

But ultimately my quarrel is not mainly with your "hard" PSA. I think this goes a little too far in teaching that God condemned Jesus and turned his back on him. And I am not sure how much this, rather than the "soft" version, really is the traditional reformed position.

But my main target, also yours I think and clearly Steve Chalke's, is the pagan propitiation model, which is sadly so commonly taught with such negative consequences. And I find it especially upsetting when I read, e.g. here and here, fans of well known speakers enthusing in their blogs about their heroes' use of language which seems to express this position. Maybe speakers like Mahaney and Cunningham do not intend to teach the pagan model, but this seems to be what their audiences are hearing.

By the way, I am glad to see that despite your small misunderstanding of my position I have not been awarded a star in your blogroll!

Alastair said...

Thanks Peter for your post. I am honoured to have you post here, and I would never for a minute consider "awarding" you a star! :-)

You are right, I did lift your position somewhat out of context, and I will amend my post to clarify that.

I really hope that some sort of consensus and definition of PSA can be reached within blogdom, and I do think its sad that disunity is happening as a result of, I think, misunderstanding of what folks mean. And the more we can thrash this out, and improve upon, and critique, received ideas of PSA, the better!

Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for the update. It is worth pointing out that I am not being inconsistent in accepting two (or more) different views of the atonement, because I understand both of them as models of the truth rather than as absolute truth in itself. This is I think another point of disagreement over PSA: some of its supporters (but definitely not Packer) seem to understand their view of PSA not as a model but as a full and accurate description of the truth. Of course we can never hope to know more than a small glimpse of the infinitely profound truth of God.

Alastair said...

Yes, I've noticed that as well. I've always seen PSA as a model, not the absolute truth. I would even say its a very important model, perhaps even central is some ways. But still a model, and if we can't find room for others models (especially Christus Victor), then that is really sad, as when it comes to the atonement, scripture seems to say so much more than merely PSA.

paul said...

Thanks Alastair for your post, very helpful. One thing it raised in my mind was how triune is our understanding of God - if God is 1 in 3 or 3 in 1 how can God seperate from God - or to put it another way God died on the cross - it does remove for me the tensions of divine cosmic abuse on the on hand and on the other that this was something done for me that doesn't affect me - God is for the other and part of the work of the cross was just that both for the trinity and humanity...

Alastair said...

Thanks for your comment, Paul. Can you explain further what you mean by "part of the work of the cross was just that both for the trinity and humanity...". I don't really follow!

Peter Kirk said...

I skimmed through Glenn Miller's discussion of why God can't simply forgive. But I haven't seen an answer to a question I raised on my blog. If God can't simply forgive, how can he expect us to simply forgive. If we are to forgive one another as he forgave us (Ephesians 4:32), does this mean that we too are expected to punish our innocent children for the wrongs other people do to us? Surely not! But why don't the same arguments imply that we mustn't forgive?

Alastair said...

Peter - some good questions! I have a few ideas about this but its too late to post right now...will comment/blog on this some time soon...

Anonymous said...

What utter nonsense! How can anyone with half a brain belive such drivel? Ignorant crap! Get a brain. Reject 2000 year old fairytalse and embrace science and Charles Darwin. Wanna buy the Brooklyn bridge? What a dope!

Alastair said...

Peter, are you asking why God had to send Jesus before he could offer forgiveness?

Here are some random thoughts (I am sure you have thought through this yourself though!)

1 - the NT affirms that forgiveness is linked to redemption and spilt blood:

Eph 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

Heb 9:22 Indeed according to the law almost everything was purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

2 - the allusions to the OT sacrificial system seem to me to bring in the idea of
a) remorse
b) offering of sacrifice
c) repentance?

3 - its clear that the cross/atonement did more than simply forgive sinners. Surely that's just the tip of the iceberg.

4 - As to philosophically why forgiveness can't be given freely, perhaps there is always a cost associated with forgiveness that someone has to bear? Like if someone trashes your car and then asks for forgiveness, who is going to repair the car? And isn't God's forgiveness different from ours, in that his grace empowers us to change, rather than simply letting us off the hook?

Just random thoughts I'm afraid, perhaps you have some further insight here?

The other thing is that perhaps we should be reading "forgiveness of sins" more in a N T Wright way (national/corporate sin of Israel) rather than our personalised Lutheran notion?

Anonymous said...

I am convinced that whenever the blind try and lead the blind they stumble right past the evidence they are seeking. If the position is PSA or SA or hard PSA or soft SA or marshmellow pagan or any other variation that puts the crucifixion of Jesus in the catagory of a 'sacrifice for forgiveness' instead of understanding that his crucifixion was for perfecting the way a sinner could become for forgiven of all sins...the lot of you bat these theories around as if the batting will perfect them. Have any of you ever had the remote thought that these theories collectively and the bag they are in are as close to being the absloute truth as fire is to being the same as ice? I think I understand now why the dead in Christ rise first and then the rest of the blokes you nuts have preached to have to hear directly from God the true reason Jesus has been crucified! Why I bet you that you all stand in front of the pot and twiddle it around not knowing anything else to do. No wonder the scripture says "wake up sluggard."
The crucifixion of Jesus is purposely the sin of murder caused by bloodshed. So that law of God by the addition to the law of the word Repent has made it mandatory that each person must by faith repent of the one sin of Jesus' murder to be forgiven of ALL sins. This is the only Way he has perfected to be saved from eternal death.
Jn. 16:8, Rom. 5:20, Heb. 7:12, Gen. 9:5a&b NIV.
Theodore A. Jones