Tag Archives: penal substitution

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.

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.

Atonement is Penal and Substitutionary

Atonement is both penal and substitutionary – here is John Webster on what is happening on the cross:

He becomes, that is, the bearer of our sins. “Surely,” Isaiah tells us, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4); and again: “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6); and again: “he bore the sin of many” (53:12). It’s easy to misunderstand this. If we’re not careful, we can think that what’s happening in the passion is that God is simply punishing an innocent victim for our wrongdoings—as if God simply requires that the punishment for our crimes should be enacted, and it doesn’t matter who is punished. But Jesus is not just a mute sacrificial animal. If he is like a lamb led to the slaughter, it’s not because God is victimizing him; it is because he is God himself fulfilling his own purpose; it is because he is God the Son, freely and lovingly acting out the will of the Father. “It was the will of the Lord to crush him” (53:10). That does not mean that God just vented his anger at sin on Jesus. It means that he, Jesus, the Son of God, is God himself bearing the wounds of our wickedness. God does not save us by sacrificing someone other than himself. God sacrifices himself. In his Son, God himself bears our sins. He makes himself an offering for sin (Hebrews 7:27). Or as Colossians puts it “in him”—Jesus—“all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:19).

Webster, J. (2014). Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian.

Locating Atonement

[This is the final “Atonement Week” blog post.]

This past Thursday and Friday I attended The 3rd annual Los Angeles Theology Conference – the topic was “Locating Atonement.” I especially enjoyed Ben Myers’ Atonement & the Image of God and Michael Horton’s Atonement and Ascension. Ben’s lecture was really stimulating, especially in light of the research I’m doing on T.F. Torrance’s view on universals. Matthew Levering was a lot wittier Los Angeles Theology Conference - LATCthan I expected. Eleanore Stump’s lecture stumped me (how many times has that been said!), mainly because no body responded to her synergistic account of salvation. But Bruce McCormack’s lecture (by the way Bruce is gigantic, and not just compared to me…) elicited a concerned response from me. At one point in his lecture Bruce said that atonement is located in the crucifixion, and not in the resurrection. Initially that doesn’t seem so bothersome – of course atonement happens on the cross! Duh! But then I got to thinking (in a rather Torrencian fashion), “Doesn’t atonement happen over Christ’s the whole life lived? Isn’t the incarnation a part of atonement? Isn’t his life a part of atonement? Isn’t his resurrection and ascension a part of atonement?” I know I am making some rather Torrencian presuppositions (namely that atonement occurs involves union + recapitulation and can be cashed out in something like the vicarious humanity of Christ); but even for people who don’t follow T.F. Torrance’s logic it would seem to me that Atonement can’t be exclusively located on the cross!

Let me make my self clear – I’m not denying what P.T. Forsyth called the “cruciality of the cross” – I follow Paul in declaring that we are to preach Christ crucified. I too have chosen to know nothing but Christ crucified. But, that does not me that I believe atonement is located exclusively at the cross as Bruce McCormack wants to suggest.

Let me break this down….

Necessary and Sufficient Conditions

  • Necessary Condition: A necessary condition for some state of affairs S is a condition that must be satisfied in order for S to obtain.
  • Sufficient Condition: A sufficient condition for some state of affairs S is a condition that, if satisfied, guarantees that S obtains.

Here are a couple of examples.

  • Having gasoline in the gas tank is a necessary condition for me to drive to work.
  • Being 18 years old is a necessary condition for a person to serve in the military.


  • Being 18 years old is not a necessary and sufficient condition to serve in the military, one would need to meet certain health requirements too.
  • Having gasoline in the gas tank is not a necessary and sufficient condition to drive to work, one needs to have tires as well.

Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Atonement

Lets assume for a second that atonement literally means “at-one-ment.” It signifies something like the reconciliation between God and man. (I’m not going to explain the mechanism by which this happens, you can fill this out with your own mechanism/theory.) We might want to ask whether or not the crucifixion of Christ is a necessary condition for atonement to occur. I think the answer is a simple yes. I can’t think of a single (orthodox) atonement theory which would say that atonement can happen without the cross. Penal substitution, satisfaction, christus victor, moral exemplar, recapitulation, governmental theory, and vicarious humanity theories all make clear that the cross is crucial to atonement in some way. Alright, so we might now ask – is the crucifixion of Christ a sufficient condition for atonement? This is a crucial question, because if we answer in the negative, then we have to say that some other condition or event is necessary for atonement and then we can’t say that atonement is located solely on the cross. Well lets start with this question: If Christ was not tempted by Satan, and came out victorious would atonement have happened? Some theories would say no. Allright, now another question: If Christ had not undergone an unjust trial, would atonement have happened? Again, some theories would say no. If the ascension would not have happened would atonement have been made complete? Again, some theories want to say no! Now, one final important question: If Christ had been crucified and not resurrected would atonement have been made? Paul is clear in saying: No! If Christ is not raised then our faith is in vain. Why is it in vain? Because atonement has not been made! The resurrection is a necessary condition for atonement!

What does this all mean? It means that the crucifixion is not a necessary and sufficient condition for atonement (you at least need to add resurrection to it). Thus we can’t say that Atonement is strictly located on the cross. You cannot separate the cross from the resurrection when speaking of atonement. Sorry Bruce.

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.