Tag Archives: atonement

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.

fbb6216c29788fadbfc444a4a4ca3a0a
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!

heisrisenbanner-960x350

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)

Good Friday (Thomas Aquinas)

Aquinas on the Death of Christ:

1. To make our redemption complete. For, although any suffering of Christ had an infinite value, because of its union with His divinity, it was not by no matter which of His sufferings that the redemption of mankind was made complete, but only by His death. So the Holy Spirit declared speaking through the mouth of Caiaphas, It is expedient for you that one man shall die for the people (John xi. 50). Whence St. Augustine says, “Let us stand in wonder, rejoice, be glad, love, praise, and adore since it is by the death of our Redeemer, that we have been called from death to life, from exile to our own land, from mourning to joy.”

the-apotheosis-of-saint-thomas-aquinas-francisco-de-zurbaran
The Apotheosis of Thomas Aquinas (1631)

2. To increase our faith, our hope and our charity. With regard to faith the Psalm says (Ps. cxl. 10), I am alone until I pass from this world, that is, to the Father. When I shall have passed to the Father, then shall I be multiplied. Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die itself remaineth alone (John xii. 24).

As to the increase of hope St, Paul writes, He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things? (Rom. viii. 32). God cannot deny us this, for to give us all things is less than to give His own Son to death for us. St. Bernard says, “Who is not carried away to hope and confidence in prayer, when he looks on the crucifix and sees how Our Lord hangs there, the head bent as though to kiss, the arms outstretched in an embrace, the hands pierced to give, the side opened to love, the feet nailed to remain with us.”

Come, my dove, in the clefts of the rock (Cant. ii. 14). It is in the wounds of Christ the Church builds its nest and waits, for it is in the Passion of Our Lord that she places her hope of salvation, and thereby trusts to be protected from the craft of the falcon, that is, of the devil.

With regard to the increase of charity, Holy Scripture says, At noon he burneth the earth (Ecclus. xliii. 3), that is to say, in the fervour of His Passion He burns up all mankind with His love. So St. Bernard says, “The chalice thou didst drink, O good Jesus, maketh thee lovable above all things.” The work of our redemption easily, brushing aside all hindrances, calls out in return the whole of our love. This it is which more gently draws out our devotion, builds it up more straightly, guards it more closely, and fires it with greater ardour.

JETS Volume 58, No. 3

The latest volume of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society is now out and in it you can find my first published article! (Yay for me!)

Here are the contents:

COUNTING STARS WITH ABRAHAM AND THE PROPHETS: NEW COVENANT ECCLESIOLOGY IN OT PERSPECTIVE . . . Jason S. Derouchie

DAVID V. GOLIATH (1 SAMUEL 17): WHAT IS THE AUTHOR DOING WITH WHAT HE IS SAYING? . . . Abraham Kuruvilla

A MESSIANIC READING OF PSALM 89: A CANONICAL AND INTERTEXTUAL STUDY . . . William C. Pohl IV

THE DESTRUCTION OF BABYLON IN ISAIAH 46–47 . . . Gary V. Smith

JESUS’ INTERVENTION IN THE TEMPLE: ONCE OR TWICE? . . . Allan Chapple

HAS THE CHURCH PUT ISRAEL ON THE SHELF? THE EVIDENCE FROM ROMANS 11:15 . . . Jim R. Sibley

THE SON IN THE HANDS OF A VIOLENT GOD? ASSESSING VIOLENCE IN JONATHAN EDWARDS’S COVENANT OF REDEMPTION . . . Christopher Woznicki

IS THERE A DEMON IN THIS STRUCTURE? LESSLIE NEWBIGIN AND ALBERT WOLTERS ON CREATION, “POWERS,” AND CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT . . . Christopher J.Pappalardo

BOOK REVIEWS

INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS

OFFICERS OF THE EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY

If you are interested in reading this paper you can email me at christopherwoznicki@fuller.edu or…

Current members and subscribers can access current issues of JETS online.

Individual articles can be purchased, and copies of individual issues can be purchased while supplies last.

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.