Tag Archives: atonement theories

Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement (Review)

It is well known that some of Edward’s followers, sometimes known as the New Divinity, advocated for a view of atonement known as the “governmental theory” or according to Oliver Crisp, penal non-substitution.  This view (in its orthodox form) was first proposed by Hugo Grotius. He suggested that Christ acted as a penal example, demonstrating God’s aversion to sin and paying respect to God’s law. One Edwardsean, Amasa Park picked up this governmental theory and ran full speed with it, even outlining the theory in nine propositions.

Even though its commonly accepted that the New Divinity saw themselves as developing jonathanedwardsontheatonement__76739-1490203753-315-315their governmental theory in light of Edwards’s doctrine, academic debates rage as to whether Edwards’s followers were actually following Edwards’s trajectory in this area or whether they significantly departed from his thought.  For example, B.B. Warfield argued that the Edwardseans forsook Edwards’s teachings. John Gerstner argued that they though they followed Edwards but had no justification in saying so. Finally, and more recently, Oliver Crisp has argued that Edwards knew and approved of these Edwardsean ideas. Brandon Crawford, author of Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement, enters into this debate by offering an in depth account of Edwards’s theory of atonement. His hope is that by focusing on Edwards we will be in a better position to evaluate how his legacy was received.

In order to carry out his aims Crawford begins by setting the historical context of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He does this by surveying early and medieval accounts (ch. 1), Reformation and Puritan accounts (ch. 2), and alternative perspectives in the Reformation and Puritan eras (ch. 3). A few questions arose in my mind as I read this section. Did he try to survey too many perspectives? Probably. What makes “alternative perspectives” to be “alternative?” I’m not sure. I also had a few critiques of these sections. One major one is that I think he reads penal substitution too heavily into his early sources. Yes, PSA is there in some form, but not in the full blown sense Crawford wants it to be. I think his overemphasis on the presence of PSA is an important move for Crawford. He needs PSA to be the standard atonement theory in order to say that in downplaying or ignoring PSA the Edwardseans were being unfaithful to orthodoxy.

After three chapters of historical context Crawford finally gets to the heart of the matter: Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He begins with a chapter addressing Edwards’s theology of God’s glory. Although it is an accurate overview of the topic he hardly engages with any scholarship on the topic, he also doesn’t do a great job of connecting the topic of this chapter to the main topic of the book: atonement. The connection is there but it is not very explicit. The next two chapters present Edwards’s account of salvation history and his definition of sin (ch.5) and the Penal Substitutionary nature of Edwards’s doctrine (Ch. 6). This latter chapter was the most interesting. Here he shows that Edwards conceived of atonement mainly as 1) Penal Substitution and 2) Penal Example. Crawford says, “Edwards believed that Christ’s death also served as a penal example, publicly vindicating God’s honor and law, which God also required before sin’s penalty could be fully satisfied.” (119) Crawford concludes:

Edwards’s doctrine of atonement, then, included two prominent concepts: Christ as penal substitute and Christ as penal example. As the two concepts are placed side by side it becomes apparent that these ideas were not contradictory in Edwards’s mind, but complementary.

Crawford follows up on this chapter with a chapter addressing other themes in Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. However, chapter 6 sticks out as the most significant, at least in my mind, for addressing the debate about Edwards’s legacy.

Crawford’s conclusion about Edwards’s legacy is that Edwards was classically Reformed and that his followers deviated from Edwards’s reformed orthodoxy. According to Crawford, Edwards bears some responsibility for this, as he “may not have sufficiently guarded against the separation of the substitution and governmental components of his system… Yet Edwards does not bear all of the responsibility. He is not responsible for how his words may have been misunderstood by his successors after they took possessions of his manuscripts.” (140). This is a fair and even-keeled conclusion, which I think is argued for persuasively in chapter 6. However, I think it could have been argued for in a journal article rather than in a whole book.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

Sacrifice and Atonement

The atonement is the subject of intense interest among not only theologians, but Christians in general. This may be due to the fact that for most of Christianity atonement stands at the center. In some stands of Christianity, atonement itself is the9781506401966 gospel. However some people want to argue that the atonement is not only not the gospel, but atonement itself is not good news at all. Atonement theories, according to this group of people, perpetuate fear and anxiety which dominate ancient outdated religion. This is the position that Stephen Finlan takes in his new book Sacrifice and Atonement: Psychological Motives and Biblical Patterns.  In it he argues that in Christianity we find a mix of this ancient fear/anxiety legacy of religion along with real revelation from God. But this is not a new claim, others have argued similarly. The new contribution that he makes to discussions about atonement is that Finlan purports to show how atonement doctrines correspond closely with strategies for handling emotional trauma and managing family dynamics. Finlan says:

The idea of God as a punishing presence reflects dynamics learned in childhood. We tend to think about God in the ways we learned to think about our parents. A major thesis of this book is that atonement theology is largely based on childhood strategies for satisfying moody and explosive parents by “paying for” infractions (or have someone else pay for them). (xvi)

Finlan believes that this model accurately represents the source of our atonement theories, and that the problem is that this allows a mixture of anxiety, while embodying some form of love, but love that is conditional. This in turn presents a picture of a God who is both violent and loving. This is a picture of a dysfunctional home. What we need is a theory of atonement that reflects the psychology of a healthy family.

Finlan begins to uncover the psychological dynamics of atonement with two chapters on atonement in Scripture. These chapters unpack the concept of atonement in terms of purification and compensation towards God. He sees both of these biblical concepts as embodying false notions about how to relate to God. The Old Testament, emphasizes disgust and seeks purity through exclusion. The New Testament, specifically the teachings of Jesus, essentially do away with purity laws in favor of inclusion. The Old Testament view of atonement is based on propitiation or appeasement, Jesus however teaches that love characterizes our relationship with God, it is available for free.

Stephen Finlan is an adjunct professor of theology at Providence College, Rhode Island. He has previously taught at Fordham, Drew, and Durham universities, and has served as a pastor.

In chapter 3 Finlan begins to explain what lies behind the false understandings of atonement that we explored in the first two chapters. He says that the source of these false, misguided, and ultimately harmful theories of atonement are “the product of uncertainty about parental love.” (60) Finlan goes on to explore Paul’s theology of atonement and concludes that Paul experienced ambivalent attachment as a child, and that it persisted into adulthood. He also explores the author of Hebrews theology of atonement, and concludes that his views of God probably reveal an avoidant attachment pattern as a child.  He even goes on to say that “it seems likely that Hebrews had a strict religious upbringing with hypercritical parents, contributing to a nervous perfectionism.” (142)

So what is the solution to this mixed theology of atonement, in which we see hints of God’s free love and harmful human view for the need for atonement? The solution is to abandon atonement concepts, for atonement, despite the best intentions of thoughtful theologians  will always carry problems. According to Finlan “salvation needs to be detached from the crucifixion.” (189)

Finlan concludes by saying,

We need to be saved from cruel doctrine. God saves us in spite of the crucifixion, not because of it.

Some Thoughts About the Book….

As you can probably guess, I am not on board whatsoever with the view that Finlan presents in this book. I have a lot to say in terms of critique, but first let me say what I appreciate about his work.

First, I appreciate his willingness not to cover or sugarcoat what the Bible actually says. Where as some people want to cover or hide the fact that propitiation is a concept within Scripture, Finlan gladly admits that it is there. While some want to deny that substitution, or even penal substitution, doesn’t exist in New Testament theology, Finlan says that it certainly is there and that the seeds of penal substitution can even be found.

Second I appreciate Finlan’s pastoral heart which rightly exposes that so many of our views about God are highly influenced by views about our parents and other authority figures. Finlan, quite pastorally wants to free Christians from harmful views about God rooted in our own dysfunctional relationships. More pastors need to be attentive to this pattern of projection upon God.

However there are some places in Finlan’s work where I simply cannot go. While he does acknowledge propitiation and substitutionary atonement can indeed be found in scripture, he sees these parts of scripture as being false, speaking untruthfully about God. Rather he decides that the only “true” revelation is found in the works and words of Jesus. The rest of scripture seems to be human beings grasping for an understanding of God. As someone rooted in the historic teachings of the church, I affirm that all of scripture is revelation. Some parts aren’t less of revelation that other parts.

Second, I can’t follow Finlan in the type of psychological biography writing he engages in. He attempts to psychoanalyze Paul and Hebrews. He pins them both down with suffering from psychological problems, with the author of Hebrews being especially disturbed. I honestly don’t think you can engage in this sort of project, getting at the psychology of authors from such little material.

Finally, I can’t follow Finlan in his comments about removing the cross from the center of the gospel. Throughout the New Testament the cross seems to be central. Even the gospel stories seem to be passion stories with extended introductions! Now I know that Finlan would agree that the cross is at the center of New Testament teachings, however he would respond by saying that those teachings are the tainted portions, and do not constitute revelation. I guess we presupposed different things, and thus end up in a different place. However the burden is on Finlan to show that over the last 2000 years the Church has misunderstood the centrality of the cross to the gospel.

Exploring Christology and Atonement with CMT

In Exploring Christology and Atonement: Conversations with John McLeod Campbell, H.R. Mackintosh and T.F. Torrance Andrew Purves unites two often divided aspects of Christology – the person and work of Christ. Through engagement with the work of Campbell, Mackintosh, and Torrance Purves shows how this Scottish “school” of theology can help shape the practice of our faith. Although Purves is clear that he doesn’t want to separate the person and work of Christ he finds it necessary to divide the book into two sections: Christology and Atonement. Under the rubric of Christology he covers the basic questions of Christology, the hypostatic union, and union with Christ all from the perspective of these three Scottish theologians (CMT). He follows the work of CMT and argues for an a posteriori account of Christology, one which beings with the revelation of God in Christ as opposed to a form of theology which attempts to do Christology by following the logic of already-held-to beliefs about God.

Purves devotes one chapter to each of CMT’s theology of atonement. For each of the three theologians he emphasizes the centrality of filial rather than forensic language in atonement, the character of God, God’s opposition to Sin, the importance of including the life of Jesus into ay atonement theory, the bi-directionality of Christ’s work, and that God is not the object of atonement but rather the subject of atonement.

Rather than focus on Purves’s account of McLeod Campbell or Mackintosh, I will focus the majority of my critique on his account of T.F. Torrance. Purves gets Torrance mostly right. He accurately covers his understanding of the atonement as a “mystery,” he notes Torrance’s hesitations about penal substitution, he emphasizes the bidirectionality of Christ’s work, he makes the hypostatic union a key part of his explanation of Torrance’s atonement theory, he even notes the Torrance’s views on the extent of atonement. All of this is great. But there is a major piece left out of Purves’ account – the role of recapitulation in Torrance’s theory of atonement. While Purves does not that “the whole life of Jesus, including his death, consistutes reconciliation” (227) – He fails to devote any significant discussion to the role that Patristic theology has on his theory of atonement. Torrance says that by “living all of life through the whole course of our human existence (enhypostasis), Jesus Christ achieved within our creaturely being that union between God and man that constitutes the heart of atonement. He explains that his whole life was a redemptive operation because throughout his whole life, the forces of evil waged war against him and against the union between God and man. These forces sought to “divide the human life of the Son on earth from the life of the Father above, to divide the divine and human natures in Christ himself.” In order to be “victorious” against these forces, Christ would need to live the whole human life out (enhypostasis) all the way through death and resurrection maintaining the union between human nature and God. Thus we clearly see Patristic influences upon his theology.

In addition to this major gap in Purves’ coverage of Torrance there are two more general critiques that need to be noted. First it is that Purves overemphasizes the filial-relational aspects of atonement to the complete detriment of any forensic elements that are clearly there. Second, Purves fails to critically engage with any of these theologians in a substantive way. Towards the end of each chapter he brings up a few small issues he has with each theologian, but his critiques seem to be more of an afterthought. In summary – his coverage of each theologian is just a summary. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but its not what you would expect from a book that claims to be a “conversation” with CMT.

Despite these flaws – the readers of this book will certainly come away with a deeper understanding of CMT’s position. That is something which I applaud, not only because it means that Purves represented them faithfully, but because CMT’s theology is a theology which refuses to separate academic theology from piety. Thus the reader will be thrown in to the beauty of the gospel and will (if they take Purves’s words seriously) come away with a deeper appreciation of who Christ is and what he has done for us.

The Journal of Analyitic Theology (Vol. 3)

Just a few weeks ago, the third volume of the Journal of Analytic Theology was released…

We are very pleased to bring you the third volume of the Journal of Analytic Theology. As with the previous issues, this volume continues to engage in three tasks core to the development of analytic theology (not in any particular order). First, there is the task of bringing analytic thinking—clarity of definition and argumentative rigor as much as the subject matter allows—to matters of theology with ever more “thick” content and historical interaction, yet with an eye to the ever-expanding circle of theological understanding. This issue does this well in a number of contributions. Senior editor Oliver Crisp’s annual Analytic Theology Lecture “Is Ransom Enough” and Josh Thurow’s “Communal Substitutionary Atonement” (which originated as a Logos conference presentation at Notre Dame) do this excellently with respect the doctrine of the atonement. This objective is also met in a set of three essays on free will by Kittle, Mullins, and Byerly. These three essays are exercises in holding philosophical reflection on Scripture accountable to Tradition (Kittle and Mullins) and to not giving it a pass on the hard issues (Byerly). A third set of essays achieve this objective with respect to epistemology. Brandon Dahm’s “The Certainty of Faith: A Problem for Christian Fallibilisits” investigates the traditional notion of religious certitude, especially to be found in Newman, and more modern fallibilisms. Finally, few issues in epistemology have proved more intractable than the Gettier Problem, yet Ian Church urges us to see in it some possible lessons and new directions for religious epistemology. – Trent Dougherty and Kevin Diller

Here are a few articles that caught my eye:

So go ahead take a look at the journal and feel free to download your favorite articles – they are all free!

Does Karl Barth Hold to a Version of Penal Substitution?

It’s a sort of tricky question. How does Barth understand Penal Substitution? I was once told that Barth definitely saw PSA in Isaiah, but that he believed that it is not taught in the New Testament. The debate sort of rages on – does Barth have some version of Penal Substitution? And if he does how does it differ from typical evangelical versions of PSA? And if he doesn’t – can Barth be a resource for formulating a version of PSA? These are all important questions.

In his recent book Faith, Freedom, and the Sprit, Paul Molnar addresses a passage which I believe hints at some sort of version of PSA in Barth. But I will let you decide for yourself:

Barth always stresses that Jesus acts both divinely and humanly so that we never have simply a human or divine being in Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us “is of course, a human action –but in and with the human action it is also a divine action, in which… the true and effective sacrifice is made” (IV/1, p.280)

Up until this point there is nothing that would hint at PSA. All that is being explicated is that atonement happens in both directions – it comes from God and Man. Molnar goes on to say:

In Jesus we see the true meaning of suffering and death. While there was suffering and death in Israel, in Jesus these become “the work of God himself” (IV, p.175)

At this point there is nothing surprising here. Atonement is being explained as the death of death. Sin and guilt and death themselves are put to death on the cross. Nothing (yet) about Jesus being punished. All that we know at this point is that the Son exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel in its suffering.

Now here stuff gets tricky:

“The Son of God in his unity with man exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel suffering under the mighty hand of God” (IV/1, p.175)

Molnar says that “As such he suffers Israel’s suffering as “children chastised by their Father”; in him God entered the vicious circle of human suffering allowing the divine sentence to fall on himself… “He, the electing eternal God, willed himself to be rejected and therefore perishing man” (IV/1, p.177).

Molnar seems to think that the suffering of Christ is in solidarity (some form of substitution) with humanity under the hand of God. This constitutes the act of sacrifice. If Molnar is right (which I think he might be), then we have an interesting take on Barth’s PSA.

Jonathan Edwards Week – Edwards and Atonement (Pt. 2)

Yesterday we took a brief look at a quote from Edwards that has been spun into a rather interesting theory of atonement (namely one that Edwards would never had agreed to). Today, I felt like we should look at what Edwards really believed about atonement. Here is Edwards in his own words:

If it be allowed that it is requisite that great crimes should be punished with punishment in some measure answerable to the heinousness of the crime because of their great demerit and the great abhorrence and indignation they justly excite: it will follow that it is a requisite that God should punish all sin with infinite punishment, because all sin, as it is against God, is infinitely hateful to him and so stirs up infinite abhorrence and indignation in him. (Works, 2:565)

We take it that it is required that crimes should be punished with a punishment equal to the heinousness of the crime. Thus it follows that sin against God (an infinite being) merits infinite punishment. Not that Edwards does not mention “justice” in this passage – rather Edwards main argument that sin deserves to be punished hangs on the fact sin is hateful to God and that it stirs up abhorrence and indignation to him. Sin is punished not out of a pure act of justice, rather it is punished because it is offensive to God’s holiness. Sin is not an abstract violation of justice rather it is an affront to a personal and holy God.

This punishment must be meted out upon the one guilty of the sin – no one can take the punishment for someone else, not even God for that would be unjust. Thank goodness for substitutionary atonement! The punishment can be meted out against one person if that one person somehow really is a substitute for the guilty. Mind you, this needs to be more than just a legal substitution, it needs to be a metaphysical substitution for the substitution to be real and not a legal fiction.

In Original Sin Edwards says,

Some things, existing in different times and places, are treated by their Creator as one in one respect, and others in another; some are united for this communication, and others for that; but all according to the sovereign pleasure of the Fountain of all being and operation. (OS 405)

In other words God regards John Doe at T1 and T2 as one being, even though materially they are not, thus metaphysically it is true that John Doe at T1 is the same person as John Doe at T2. Edwards applies this same logic to penal substitution. Edwards believes that God regards the believers as one with Christ and so, ontologically, the believer is one with Christ.

Jonathan Edwards Week – Edwards and Atonement

What does Jonathan Edwards believe when it comes to atonement? Well, its nothing terribly interesting – he takes the traditional reformed line when it comes to this doctrine. However – in one of his miscellanies he says something that has been used by other theologians (John McLeod Campbell initially) to argue that he might have theoretically been open to a different theory of atonement. Lets take a look at that miscellany real quick:

oo. Satisfaction. Now some may say why could not God, of his mercy, pardon the injury only upon repentance without other satisfaction, without doing himself any hurt? I also ask, why could he not of his mercy pardon without repentance? For the same reason he could not pardon without repentance without satisfaction. For all repentance man is capable of is no repentance at all; or which is the same thing, it is as little as none in comparison of the greatness of the injury, for it cannot bear any proportion to it. Now I am sure, it would be as dishonorable for God to pardon the injury upon repentance that did not bear the least proportion to the injury, as for him to pardon without any repentance at all. Wherefore, we are not forgiven now because our repentance makes any satisfaction, but because therby we reject the sin and receive the satisfaction already made.

Here he starts with the same sort of question Abelard asks in his commentary to the Romans – why could God just not forgive without satisfaction being made? It seems obvious to me that the his answer to the question is basically – “because that makes no sense whatsoever.” You see this in his second question – why could God not forgive without repentance? The answer is supposed to be obvious – he can’t – just like God cannot pardon when there is repentance without satisfaction. Why can’t God pardon without repentance without satisfaction? Because our repentance is not enough. Our repentance is too small in comparison to the offense we have committed at all. Therefore satisfaction needs to be made.

This is where other theologians come in – McLeod specifically. McLeod picks up on this supposed insight – that our repentance is not enough to merit forgiveness – and he says that if there were a sort of repentance that was equal or greater to the offense committed against God then that would merit satisfaction. McLeod goes on to argue that Christ – our substitute – makes exactly this sort of repentance. Christ repents perfectly on our behalf.

There are a few problems with this though…

1)How can Christ repent for someone else? Repentance can only happen at the hands of the perpetrator. This however is not actually as big of a problem as one might think. If Christ and the elect actually have an organic – real – and not merely legal union – then Christ’s repentance really is his peoples repentance and Christ can really repent for them because they are one metaphysical entity.

However there is a bigger problem…

2)At what point does Christ actually repent? Where do we see Christ’s vicarious repentance in scripture at any point? We don’t. Aside from the fact that vicarious repentance would have been an impossibility in Edwards’ mind, I think the lack of a scriptural basis for this is this particular theory’s fatal flaw.