Tag Archives: atonement

Dying with Christ & Justification

In recent years a number of scholars have increasingly pointed out the relationship between participating in Christ’s death and changing sinners’ status before God. Two passages that are especially relevant to this conversation are Galatians 2:15-21 and Romans 6-7. What’s unique about both of these passages is their use of the term, “systauroo” or “co-crucify.” Gorman explains, “the restoration to right covenant relations is therefore an experience of death and resurrection, or resurrection via death.” (Inhabiting, 63) According to Gorman we are co-crucified and co-resurrected with Christ. In Romans 6, one gets “into Christ” by baptism. Justification requires death to the law, there is co-crucifixion, and resurrection to new life. All of this is participatory. And it results in our justification.

Cranfield makes a similar point. In writing of Romans 6:1-14, He argues that there are four different senses in which we may speak of dying with Christ and being raised with him. These four senses are: juridicial, baptismal, moral, eschatological. Regarding the first point Cranfield says that “God willed to see them as having died in Christ’s death and having been raised in his resurrection.” Constantine Campbell explains,

By speaking of dying and rising with Christ, Paul appears to be delving into the mechanics of how the gift of God in Jesus Christ has overturned the juridical implications of sin and death. The logic appears as follows. The consequence of sin is death, judgement, and condemnation. By dying a representative death for sinful humanity, Christ fulfilled the legal requirement for sin. Once this legal requirement had been satisfied by death, the new life of Chris is no longer bound by sin or the juridical consequences it entail. The way in which the benefits of Christ’s representative death are apprehended is by identification with him in his death. This is where participation and representation come together: Believers spiritually partake in the death and resurrection of Christ, who has represented them in these acts…. The reason that believes have been set free from the condemnation of the law and death is that the righteous requirements of the law have been met through their dying and rising with Christ. (Campbell, 337)

Tannehill, however, makes a stronger point. He says that the death and resurrection of Christ are events in which the believer herself participates. New life “is based upon personal participation in these saving events.” (Tannehill, 1) The person is actually included in Christ. This is no mere legal representation. Believers somehow actually die with Christ and are raised with Christ.

That sounds right to me…

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Not Penal Substitution But Vicarious Punishment

The following is a summary/notes of Mark Murphy’s article, “Not Penal Substitution but Vicarious Punishment.” (Faith and Philosophy, 26.3, 2009)

Summary: PSA fails for conceptual reasons. Punishment is an expressive action so it is not transferable. A relative of PSA, VP, is conceptually coherent. Under VP, the guilty person’s punishment consists in the suffering of an innocent to whom he or she bears a special relationship. Sinful humanity is punished through the death of Jesus.

Section 1

Human beings on account of their sins deserve to be punished, but that JC was punished in our place so that we no longer bear ill-desert. (253-4)

Ill desert is removed by punishment. Christ is punished for our sins, and thus a necessary condition for unity with God is realized.

There is a conceptual problem w/PSA

Punishment = an authoritative imposition of hard treatment upon one for the failure to adhere to some binding standard.

This definition is not sufficient for punishment. A fourth condition is necessary, namely that punishment expresses condemnation of the wrongdoer.

If this is right then punishment will be non-transferable. Then PSA doesn’t work.

Section 2

What happens in PSA: A deserves to be punished; but B is punished in A’s place; so A no longer deserves to be punished. A’s ill-desert is removed by B’s personally substituting for A.

What happens in VP: A deserves to be punished; B undergoes hard treatment, which constitutes A’s being punished; and so A no longer deserves to be punished. (260)

Example: A criminal has his spouse killed. This deprives him of a significant good, namely having a wife. The hard treatment condition is met, except it is not in propria persona.

Section 3

Is VP morally objectionable? After all it has an innocent party suffering.

Reason why it is not morally objectionable: The suffering is willing.

Obj: It is still cruel to do this.

Resp: Yes, cruel, but not unjust.

Obj: There is injustice b/w the wrongdoer and the innocent sufferer.

Resp: This isn’t a criticism of the view itself, rather, the fact that the wrongdoer committed a bad action.

Retribution= depriving the wrongdoer of a significant human good.

This also deters further wrongdoing.

Section 4

Summary: “We human beings have sinned, having violated the divine law, in egregious ways. We thus merit punishment; and until this ill-desert is requited, there is an obstacle to proper union with God. In order to exact retribution and requite this ill desert, God chose to punish vicariously. Because Christ accepted this scheme freely, and with awareness that he would indeed be called upon to undergo the suffering constitutive of the punishment, it does Jesus neither injustice nor cruelty that he was to suffer in the carrying out the punishment of sinful humanity. So on this view the way that each of us is punished for our transgressions of divine law is that his or her Lord is killed. Each of us, for his or her sins, is subjected to hard treatment of having his or her Lord made to suffer and die. What makes this hard treatment imposed on us sinners is that the relationship of being Lord of is a special relationship that makes the misfortunes of the Lord constitutive of bad for the subject. This is a very hard treatment indeed. (265)

Section 5

It makes sense of biblical language & addresses other puzzles.

Section 6

Is punishment compatible with forgiveness? Yes.

One might compensate for one’s failures but still be at odds with the wronged. Forgiveness brings unity.

A Penal Substitutionary Doctrine of Atonement (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Pt. 1)

I just picked up the 2nd edition of William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (PFCW) – I immediately flipped over to the chapters dealing with philosophical theology – and in some cases what I would call 5187Analytic Theology. The chapter I gravitated towards first was the chapter on Atonement. I’m currently in a seminar on contemporary theories of atonement and I know Craig has recently been busy working on the topic. So, I wanted to see what they had to say.

Unsurprisingly the chapter on the doctrine of atonement is primarily a defense of penal substitution (PSA). They define PSA as:

The Doctrine that God inflicted on Christ the suffering we deserved as the punishment for our sins, as a result of which we no longer deserve punishment. (613)

They helpfully nuance this position saying that this definition leaves open the question whether or not Christ was punished for our sins. They say that one option is that Christ was indeed punished on our behalf and another option is that the suffering Christ experienced, had it been experienced by us, would have been a punishment.

In other words, Christ was a not punished, but he endured the suffering that would have been our punishment had it been inflicted upon us.

With this definition in mind they treat two objections:

1)The Incoherence Objection

This objection states that given an expressivist theory of punishment, it is conceptually impossible for God to punish Christ for our sins.

There are several options one could take in light of this objection. First one could deny the expressivist account. Second, one could say that God does not condemn Christ himself, but that God condemns sin. Finally, one could say that God in fact censures Christ, propose that our guilt is imputed onto Christ. The contemporary analogy to this doctrine of imputation would be cases in civil law which involve vicarious liability. For example, a case in which an employer incurs liability for acts committed by her employee.

Craig and Moreland conclude that the advocate of PSA can agree Christ was not punished, deny an expressivist account, or argue for the compatibility between PSA and expressivist accounts.

2) The Injustice Objection

“It is always unjust to punish an innocent person. Christ was an innocent person. God is always just. Therefore, God could not have punished Christ.” Thus goes a standard critique of PSA.

Again, the defender of PSA has several options. First they could adopt a consequentialist account of justice. If so, the act of punishing one innocent person, is justified because it prevents the guaranteed damnation of the human race. Second, they might argue that issues of justice are determined by God himself. Third, they could argue that, given divine command theory, God does not issue commands to himself, so he ha not moral duties to fulfill. Finally one might want to argue that Christ in fact had our guilt imputed onto him, so it actually is just to punish Christ.

Review of the Chapter

I really appreciated the clarity that Craig and Moreland brought to the issues involving PSA. This includes their definition of PSA which allows for a version of PSA to obtain even if Christ is not strictly punished for our sins. However, one critique I have of this chapter is that for some reason (their conservative evangelical background) they decided to focus solely on PSA. Not only that, they state (not argue) that essential, and indeed central to any biblically adequate theory of atonement is PSA. They offer no argument for that claim. While I am inclined to believe in some doctrine of PSA, they offer no reasons for why we should think PSA is the essential or central model of atonement. There may be reasons for why this is true, but they don’t say why.

Finally, I am left wondering, what we should do with biblical passages which mention that we have died with Christ. If punishment for sin is death (2 Cor 5 & Gal. 2), then it seems like in our “dying” with Christ we have experienced some sort of punishment. Are these passages figurative? Or should we take them in some sort of realist fashion? I’m inclined to say that it is the latter. And if in fact, we have died with Christ, experiencing the punishment for sin, would we still be able to call such an account PSA? I’m not sure… That’s just some food for thought.

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.

(Review) Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature

Christ has a fallen human nature. That is the claim that Daniel Cameron, adjunct instructor at Trinity Christian College wants to defend in his short book titled: Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature.

According to many Christians, that statement is not only wrong, but it seems to be heretical. Why is that? Well, supposedly, affirming the fallen nature of Christ would sacrifice the sinlessness of Jesus, and thus undermine the gospel itself. However Cameron is not unique in making this claim, far from it! He takes his cue from T.F. Torrance himself. The logic that undergirds Torrance’s position is the non-assumptus principle, i.e. the unassumed is unhealed. According to Torrance, if Christ does not assume our fallen human nature, then Christ cannot heal and sanctify it. This position is obviously contentious. In fact in recent years Kevin Chiarot, Oliver Crisp, and Luke Stamps have attempted to show that it is impossible to say that Christ did in fact assumePrint a human nature and maintain the integrity of the gospel. Its in the midst of these discussions that Daniel Cameron attempts to articulate a defense of the Fallen Nature view, the result of which is five really short chapters on the topic.

Chapter one is a brief introduction to the topic. The second chapter looks into what exactly it means to say that the Divine Son assumed a fallen human nature. Chapter three looks at the pros of the unfallen human nature view, drawing from the work of Oliver Crisp, Kevin Chiarot, and Luke Stamps. Chapter four proposes a way to retain what is helpful from the fallen and unfallen views while avoiding the potentially harmful consequences of the fallen view. Chapter five closes by noting what role the Holy Spirit may play in the fallen nature view.

Cameron’s conclusion is that there is in fact a way to affirm the fallen nature view while avoiding the harmful consequences of it. He believes that we can affirm the fact that Christ had a fallen human nature and that Christ was both impeccable and not corrupt and not loathsome in the sight of God. Thus according to Cameron, we can say that Christ had a fallen human nature, and that Christ “truly and really atoned for our sins as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (71)

Despite Cameron’s interesting and well thought out defense I remain unconvinced of his position. There are several reasons why. 1) The Fallenness view is a hard deviation from the tradition of the church. While this may not in and of itself be a problem, I believe it represents a rather large obstacle. The church tradition might be wrong…. but a lot more needs to be shown why we should abandon tradition. 2) As Luke Stamps has put it, the fallenness seems “to ignore the fact that we can affirm what might be called the fallen experience of Jesus without positing a fallen nature to him.” (You Asked, Gospel Coalition) I still remain unconvinced by Cameron that this is not the case. 3) Cameron works with an anemic view of sin. Cameron says that Christ can have a fallen nature and not be loathsome in the sight of God, but I remain unconvinced. I think Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen is right when he says that “only the revisionist modernist view of sin makes it possible to attribute a sinful and fallen human nature to Christ and at the same time consider him sinless because of lack of sinful acts.” (Christ and Reconciliation, 174) Our sinful state, is an ontological reality prior to, but inseparable from our sinful acts. Our fallen nature, and not just our sinful acts, makes us “loathsome” to God and in need of reconciliation. If this is actually the case, which I believe it is, then the fallen nature view suffers from a major problem of making Christ “loathsome” to God.

Despite these three issues I have with the fallen nature view, I can certainly say that this is a fantastic introduction to the Torranceian idea of Christ having a fallen nature. If you want to get a clear picture of what Torrance’s view is, and what some of the major objections are to his view, as well as a cogent defense of this view, then this is the place to start. If you want a summary of Torrance’s view and a critique of the view then I would recommend Kevin Chiarot’s The Unassumed is the Unhealed. Nevertheless, Flesh and Blood is a fine place to start.

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.

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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.

He’s Risen!

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They cannot go to the tomb in the darkness, partly because they shrink from handling a dad body in pitch blackness, and partly because it would be difficult to carry out the anointing without light. But as soon as the sun rises off they go. And then they remember the stone. Who will roll it away? They have no idea, but they press on regardless. Something will turn up. When they get there the stone has already been rolled away, but as they enter the tomb the see a terrifying sight: a figure in white seated. He tries to calm their fears, pointing to the place where the body of Jesus had lain. There is nothing there. “He’s not here! He’s risen!” They flee, terror-struck; and with that word Mark ends his Gospel.

It is, surely, the most remarkable ending in the history of literature: ephobounto gar, “for they were afraid”. Enigmatic though it is, it strikes a keynote. In the resurrection we are in the presence of the uncanny; of the irreducibly holy; of that for which we can offer no explanation.

-Donald Macleod (Christ Crucified, 68)