Tag Archives: justice

Calvin on the Injustice of Oppression by Those in Power

But there is still more; that is, that the image of God is engraved in all people. Therefore not only do I despise my [own] flesh whenever I oppress anyone, but to my fullest capacity I violate the image of God. Therefore let us carefully  note that God willed in this passage to point out to those who are in authority and who receive esteem, who are richer than others and who enjoy some degree of honor, that they must not abuse those who are under their hand; they must not torment them beyond measure. They must always reflect on the fact that we are all descended from Adam’s race, that we possess a common nature and even that the image of God is engraved on us…

(John Calvin: Writings On Pastoral Piety, trans. Elsie Anne McKee, 260-1.)


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.

Atonement & Creation – Notes on Matthew Levering’s LATC15 Presentation

Here are some notes on the first plenary session of the Los Angeles Theology Conference….

Satisfaction theories can only be understood in the context of the doctrine of creation.

Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Critique of Satisfaction

  • In the sermon on the mount Jesus rejected the reciprocity code of justice – i.e. he rejects a retributive model of Justice
    • If someone does you a favor you owe them a favor
    • If someone does you evil you owe them “evil” in return
  • Jesus teaches us to return evil with good.
  • Wolterstorff argues that Anselm’s satisfaction theory reverts back to a reciprocity code of justice – Anselm assumes that the justice of God requires satisfaction.
  • How could Jesus teach against retributive justice yet participate in retributive justice on the cross?
  • Question for Wolterstorf – Where does the code of reciprocity come?
    • Levering – The reason for the enduring nature of the reciprocity code is that it is inscribed or grounded in the creative order.

Atonement & Creation & The Contribution of Thomas Aquinas

  • Aquinas makes a distinction b/w commutative justice & distributive justice. Commutative justice cannot apply to God. Distributive justice remains – this is what we are called to.
  • Can it really be said that God owes anything to humans? (i.e. distributive justice) Surely God has no obligations to us.
    • How can there be distributive justice in the creator?
    • Aquinas – God does owe creatures what is necessary for their flourishing.
    • Aquinas – the primary debt God owes is to himself…
      • In giving creatures what he owes for their flourishing God is essentially giving himself what he owes as a good and wise creator.
    • Creation is profoundly imbued with structures of justice – this is a gift of God.
      • Gift and Justice cannot be separated

Creaturely Justice & Retributive Punishment

  • Just as the creator owes a “debt” to his creatures – his creatures become debtors to one another but also to God. God holds first place for God is supremely excellent
    • This is both a debt of justice and a debt of love.
  • When humans turn away from divine love and fail to fulfill the debt of justice, we fail to live up to what we are created to. It is a rebellion against the order of justice between the rational creature and God.
  • Humans were created for a graced union with God – rebellion attacks this order. Thus we fall into disorder and slavery to Sin.
  • The order of creation is such that when we rebel against this order we lose the justice we were created for.
  • Sin carries its own punishment b/c of the disorder it brings.
    • The sinner can accept this punishment and make it satisfactory
      • He/she must accept this punishment freely
      • This brings healing and reconciliation
      • This is an acceptance of the order of justice – i.e. the created order of justice
    • Aquinas is not separating the stain or the guilt from punishment – the act of sin makes man him deserve punishment.
      • In justice the rational creature owes God a debt of love and service.
      • To restore justice in this situation means to restore justice within the creature and to heal the disorder
        • The punishment – heals the disorder…
      • If this is the case then there is nothing retributive about punishment…

Jesus Death as Satisfaction for Sin

  • In the case of atonement no satisfactory sacrifice was strictly necessary, God could have forgiven without satisfaction.
    • God didn’t have to fulfill the reciproticy code?
  • But why then does God send the son to die for sin?
    • God does so because it sets us free from the slavery of sin – and God shows more copious mercy than if he had forgiven sin without satisfaction.
      • It shows us how much he loves us and dignifies us.
    • How does Jesus death count for us?
      • Vicarious suffering & vicarious humanity – because Christ and his body are one mystic person.
      • His death was far more than was necessary to cover the sins of the whole human race.


  • Jesus came to bear our sin and restore order. It is because Jesus has fulfilled retributive justice that his followers no longer need to pursue it.
    • We don’t need to exercise the code of reciprocity here on earth.
  • Wolterstorff’s argument that retributive justice does not apply to God ignores scriptural data.
  • Although creation is pure gift – it can be said that God does owe his creature something
    • Gift and justice are related
    • Creatures must offer love, worship, and service to God
    • When we turn away from the creator the result is existential disorder and death
  • In self-giving love the Father sends the son to go through this retributive justice on our behalf – not because of a thirst for revenge – but as an act of pure love.

Penal Substitution? Two Objections and Responses

Penal substitution takes a lot of flack these days. Many of the objections that come up against PSA have focused on this theories assumptions about what justice is.  However, many of these objections are based upon what we tend to think justice is. But as Donald Macleod has said,

It would be certainly perilous to judge the cross by the wisdome of a prevailing culture. From the standpoint of divine revelation the logic must go in the exact opposite direction, allowing the cross to be itself the judge of the culture. This is what Luther meant when he declared, cruz probat omnia (the cross is the test of everything)…

Some object that PSA portrays God as bound to some abstract notion of justice. As if he were ruled by some universal law of justice…

But this gets God and justice all mixed up. God’s righteousness, his justice is not external to who he is. It is not something that exists outside of God. Righteousness is what God is. To say that God acts justly or that God requires penal subsitution (or satsifaction) is to say that God is simply acting out his nature. God acts justly, not because he is required to, God acts justly simply because God just is just….

Some object that PSA operates outside of a biblical understanding of justice. The classical idea of justice is that people get what they deserve – reward if they are good, punishment if they are bad. Biblical justice is about protection, salvation, and solidarity – its about God’s covenental commitment to his people’s well-being.

Again this is simply wrong. This objection is grounded in a modern aversion to justice as retribution (justice certainly is much bigger in scope than mere retribution, but retribution can certainly be a part of what justice is). This objection also splits God’s covenental commitment into two categories that are non-existent in scripture. God’s covenental commitment to his people is not only about God overseeing the well-being of his people  its also about his own righteousness. These two things cannot be separated. Because of God’s righteousness God is justified in punishing when the covenant with him is broken. There is no split between God’s righteousness and his covenant.

Now Penal Substitution has been objected for various reasons, justice only being one of them. As we can see, these two simple objections miss the mark when it comes to atonement and justice.

Enough is Enough – Thoughts on Justice, Compassion, and Eric Garner

I held off on blogging about Ferguson, it was a matter too weighty to deal with merely a blog post. Aside from shaking my head at the entire situation, I didn’t have any words to express my feelings, so I didn’t even try. But enough is enough, now that the Eric Garner case has made it to the forefront of America’s mind I can’t help but address the entire situation.

Protests in Manhattan after the Eric Garner case fails to go to trial.
Protests in Manhattan after the Eric Garner case fails to go to trial.

In case you don’t know what happened, here is the report by the New York Times:

On Wednesday [12/3/13] a Staten Island grand jury ended the criminal case against a New York police officer whose chokehold on an unarmed black man led to the man’s death… the fatal encounter in July was captured on videos and seen around the world. But after viewing the footage and hearing from witnesses, including the officer who used the chokehold, the jurors deliberated for less than a day before deciding that there was not enough evidence to go forward with charges against the officer.

The video is readily available online, and honestly when I saw the video I was enraged, sickened, and saddened. My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach as I watched the Eric Garner being choked out after having a civil conversation…

Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today… I’m minding m business officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. Please. Please, don’t touch me. Do not touch me. [garbled] I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. [Transcript of Garner’s words.]

Eric Garner Chokehold

In light of all of this I want to point all of us to two scriptures. One from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

Psalm 9:7-12

The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
12 For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

Luke 10:29-37

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

As you read the passage from Luke I want you to:

Imagine being that beaten Samaritan (a despised race) and left for dead. You see a priest and other religious folk walk right past you. That’s how those who feel emotionally trodden feel when Christians mentally walk past them, talking about what now seem to be trivial matters, not noticing that some of their black counterparts are breaking under the weight of these issues. – Issac Adams

Justice and Compassion. That is God’s heart. I pray that we as Christians we stay in tune with God’s heart and reflect it to the world.

The Benefits of Believing in Predestination

Yesterday in our mini-series on the Calvinist version of predestination we took a look at how Calvin responded to some objections to his doctrine of predestination. Today, as we conclude this mini-series, we will see how he not only took a defensive stance when it came to this doctrine but how he also argued vigorously in favor of it.

The Benefits  of Believing in Predestination

It is apparent that Calvin believes that predestination is not unjust. However he does not limit himself to arguing defensively for the doctrine, he also makes a positive argument for it. Calvin believes that one way that Satan assaults believers is to make them question their election (3.24.4). This doctrine has the positive effect of reassuring the believer that she is elect. In revealing this doctrine through scripture, God assures us of our election. By looking at Christ, the one in whom we find certainty of our election (3.24.5), our fears are soothed, our restlessness is calmed, and our fatigued senses are tranquilized, in our election we find rest (3.24.4). Calvin also argues for this doctrine by showing that because we can be sure of our election in Christ, we can be sure that God hears our prayers (3.24.5). Finally this doctrine also spurs us on towards obedience. In election His justice humbles us and teaches us to look up to his mercy, when see his justice and mercy we are aroused and stimulated to live a holy life (224).

Although this doctrine can be difficult to accept, Calvin is right in emphasizing that it is Scriptural and that God’s justice is inscrutable. He is also right in saying that this doctrine has tremendous benefits. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his version of predestination, because of the reasons mentioned in this post and the last few posts we must not be quick to dismiss this difficult and controversial doctrine.

(Note: All quotes come from the anthology, The Protestant Reformation edited by Hans Hildebrand.)

Four Reasons Why Calvinism is Just Plain Wrong

Yesterday in our mini-series on the Calvinist version of predestination we tackled the question – “According to John Calvin what is predestination?” Today we take a look at the question…

Is Predestination Unjust?

In Book Three chapter 23 Calvin responds to four objections regarding the injustice of the doctrine of predestination. Let us look at these four objections and his responses. By doing this we will see a common thread between each of these responses.

Calvinism twists the character of God.

The first objection to the doctrine of predestination, specifically reprobation, is that it twists the character of God. This objection is articulated in two ways the first which is found in 3.23.2 says that a God that “is offended by his creatures who have not provoked him without any previous offense… resembles more the caprice of a tyrant than the sentence of a judge” (232) The second articulation of this offense is found in 3.23.4, which says that by creating humans that are predestined condemnation God is unjust in “cruelly mocking his creatures.” (234) Both of these objections make the case that reprobation is cruel and unjust because the reprobate did not choose their fate. Calvin responds to this objection by saying that “the will of God is the supreme rule of righteousness so that everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of willing it” (232). To say that there is some law above God to which He must comply is impious. By leveling this objection against predestination, the objector is setting up a standard for justice above God. Calvin responds by saying that God is not lawless, rather God is a law to himself, thus he is not bound to give an account for why this is just. This type of response resembles Ockham’s voluntarism which says that God does not will something because it is good or just but that something is good or just because God wills it.

Calvinism violates the principle of alternate possibilities.

The second objection is that it is unjust for God to “blame individuals for things the necessity of which he has imposed by his own predestination” (236). This seems like an appeal to something like the principle of alternate possibilities. These people believe that humans should be judged solely according to the actions of their free will. However Calvin believes that this diminishes the omnipotence of God over all (238). He counters their argument by saying that the cause of their perdition is in God’s predestination but is also in themselves. Why God predestined it cannot be known, however what can be know is that it was just because it displays his glory (240). Thus Calvin’s response to this objection is that it in fact is “consistent with equity, an equity, indeed unknown to us, but most certain” (241).

Calvinism bears false witness against God.

The third objection says that the doctrine implies false things about God. The doctrine falsely implies, against the witness of scripture, that is God “an acceptor of persons” (241) because He does not do justice equally. If it is true, as Calvin argues that merit is not involved in election, then there must be some other cause for which humans are predestined. Calvin’s objectors argue that if God does not elect based off of merit he must elect based upon some other characteristic of the person, for instance wealth, power, rank, beauty, etc. If God were to do this He would be “an acceptor of persons,” this however is unscriptural. So according to Calvin’s opponents, predestination makes God an acceptor of persons, scripture says that God is not an acceptor of persons, thus predestination must be false. Calvin says that this is not so. God inflicts “due punishment on those whom he reprobates, and bestows unmerited favor on those whom he calls” (243). Election is unmerited, so God is not an “acceptor of persons.” In predestining humans, God would be just in punishing all, and he is merciful in choosing to show favor to some. To choose to show grace to some is not unjust, it is merciful.

Calvinism discourages holy living.

The final objection is that the doctrine of predestination encourages license and discourages zeal for holiness. Calvin says that this is not so because the mysterious doctrine humbles us and causes us to be in awe of God’s mercy and justice (244). Because we are humbled at God’s justice and mercy we are stimulated to aspire to the end for which we are elected, namely holiness in life (244). Thus the doctrine does not encourage license and sloth, rather it encourages a zeal for God’s holiness.


Having seen how he responds to these four objections it is clear that Calvin believes that the doctrine is not unjust. It is not unjust because God wills it. God’s will is the rule of righteousness, so whatever he wills is just. To say that predestination, a doctrine clearly taught in scripture, is unjust is to say that there is a rule of righteousness above God. To say that humans know that rule of righteousness which is above God better than God himself knows it is impious. Although according to human standards it might seem unjust, Calvin clearly believes that it is not. For “divine justice is too high to be scanned by human measure or comprehended by the feebleness of human intellect” (235). Thus predestination is not unjust because God willed it, any objection to its justice is an act of pride ignoring the mystery and inscrutableness of God’s will.

(Note: All quotes come from the anthology, The Protestant Reformation edited by Hans Hildebrand.)