Category : Atonement
This gospel is one of the most notable that a man can find in the New Testament, and worthy to be commended with all kinds of commendation. But as it is not possible that a man should sufficiently express this sermon of Christ by words ; first let us call unto God, that he will expound these words more plainly in our hearts, than we can by our words and interpretation, and that he will enkindle them, and make them so plain, that our conscience may receive comfort and peace thereby. Amen.
The pith of this excellent sermon is, that God so greatly loved the world, that he delivered his only begotten Son for it, that we men should not die, but have everlasting life. And first let us see who is the giver. He is the Giver, in respect of whom all princes and kings, with all their gifts, are nothing in comparison. And our hearts might worthily be lifted up and exalted with a godly pride, since we have such a giver, so that all who should come unto us by any other liberality, might be counted of no price in comparison of this. For what can be set before us that is more magnificent and excellent than God almighty. Here God, who is infinite and unspeakable, gives after such a manner as passes also all things. For that which he gives, he gives not as wages of desert, or for a recompense, but, as the words sound, of mere love. Wherefore this gift wholly proceeds of God’s exceeding and divine benevolence and goodness, as he saith, God loved the world. There is no greater virtue than love, as it may hereby be well understood, that when we love anything, we will not hesitate to put our life in danger for it. Verily, great virtues are patience, chastity, sobriety, &c., but yet they are nothing to be compared with this virtue, which comprises and includes within itself all other virtues. A good man does no man wrong, he gives every man his own ; but by love, men give their own selves to others, and are ready with all their heart to do all that they can for them. So Christ saith here also, that God gives to us, not by right or merit, but by this great virtue, that is by love.
This ought to encourage our hearts, and to abolish all sorrow, when this exceeding love of God comes in mind, that we might trust thereto and believe steadfastly, that God is that bountiful and great Giver, and that this gift of his, proceeds of that great virtue of love. This sort of giving, which has its spring of love, makes this gift more excellent and precious. And the words of Christ are plain, that God loveth us. Wherefore for this love’s sake ought we greatly to esteem all things that he gives us.
—Writings of the Rev. Thomas Becon (London, J. Nisbet), pp. 494-495
Why is Thew Forrester’s teaching troubling to me? Because it flies in the face of what I take to be the conviction at the heart of our faith tradition, namely, that we are in bondage to sin and cannot get free without the rescue God has offered us in Jesus, who shouldered our sins on the cross. Our tradition certainly declares God’s closeness to us and God’s love for us, but insists that this is solely due to God’s gracious initiative, made known to us in Jesus. In other words, Jesus in his singular closeness to God is as much a reminder of our alienation from God and from God’s ways as he is God’s word to us that we are loved despite our collective wrongdoings.
I would not worry about this so much if Thew Forrester were merely speculating about alternative ways of understanding the Christian faith. I would not even worry so much if it were simply a matter of the content of a number of sermons (although I think we should expect to be accountable for what we preach). But, as his revision of the Baptismal rite makes clear, he appears to be settled in his conviction that our relation to Christ is not about salvation from a condition of objective alienation from God, but about a more realized union with God.
What is encouraging here is not only does the Bishop vote the right way, but he does so for the right reasons. This is about a lot of things, but primarily it is about Christology, the Trinity, salvation and atonement. Read it all–KSH.
Lent & Easter may be over, but some of the controversy stirred up by some prominent CoE leader’s remarks on the Atonement back in April continues:
Jeffrey John’s Lent Talk
Giles Fraser’s Guardian article Cross Purposes (April 2007)
Related Google Search http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=turns+Christianity+into+cosmic+child+abuse&btnG=Google+Search
Turns up responses from
This Crosswalk article
apparently this debate has spilled over into the Emerging Church movement…
Adrian Warnock’s blog (UK Evangelical)
Atonement category: http://adrianwarnock.com/labels/Atonement.htm
Christianity Today: Cross Purposes
Biggest Christian conference splits amid growing atonement debate.
Three of Great Britain’s most prominent Christian groups have ended their 14-year conference partnership, scuttling the annual Word Alive youth event. At issue was disagreement over a speaker, the Rev. Steve Chalke.
Related articles and links
But below the surface simmers a theological controversy that threatens to split the country’s evangelicals.
From Old T19:
Tom Wright: The Cross and the Caricatures (April 2007)
Related link: How Jesus bore our sins on the cross (also Tom Wright)
Anne Atkins: A God who Takes Evil and Injustice Seriously (April 2007)
Coming Liturgical Revision at All Saints Pasadena? (May 2007)
A Movement from Above to Below (April 2007)
Albert Mohler: Two Strands of Faith? No, Two Different Religions (Feb 2007)
A USA Today Article on the Episcopal Church and the New Presiding Bishop
Rob Eaton Recalls a Resolution at the General Convention of 2006
Leander Harding: Finding the True Church?
Row over ”˜wrath’ at Chelmsford Clergy Synod
Nothing But the Blood (Mark Dever in CT)
Bob Libby: Lift High the Cross”¦the movie
TESM: The Biblical Doctrine of the Atonement
Ed Bacon Preaches at CDSP’s Graduation
Dana Wilson: “What Does It Mean To Be a Christian?”
Michael Ingham’s Easter Sermon ???
Newest issue of Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
JI Packer: Penal Substitution revisited
John Piper: Why Christ Died
For those wanting an antidote of the classic Gospel and a defense of subsitutionary atonement after reading Ed Bacon’s denial of the same earlier today. Here you go. Matt Kennedy has his discussion of Article III posted on Stand Firm, and the section on God’s character and the atonement flashed out at us like a neon sign after we’d been reading so much of the reappraisers’ mush (or worse) on the topic recently as we’ve been working to pull together many of the recent articles which have been raising this question.
And it is true that God is the very origin and measure of love. God is not simply “loving” as if love were some external quality that might be used to describe him, but as John says, “God is Love.” (1st John 4:8)
And yet love is not all that God is. As Dr. RC Sproul points out in his book, “The Holiness of God,” the one attribute of God revealed in the superlative sense is not “love” but “holiness.” In Isaiah 6, for example, God is not just described as “Holy” but as: “Holy, Holy, Holy”. The thrice-repetition of an adjective is the Hebrew equivalent to our superlative: “most”. God is “most” Holy. This is not to say that God is anything less than the perfectly superlative measure of love. It is to say, not to labor the point, that alongside his perfect love, God is also Holy. And elsewhere in the scriptures we learn that he is “just” and “righteous” and that sin provokes his “wrath”. God’s character, then, certainly includes love but love is not his sole attribute.
As we discussed in last week’s article, all of God’s attributes; love, wrath, justice, righteousness, come together perfectly on the cross where God’s just and holy wrath against human wickedness is exhausted or “propitiated” on himself in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. And, in his perfect love, God in Christ willingly bears it.
Through this, his own substitutionary sacrifice to propitiate his own just wrath at human sin, God has made a way for human beings to escape the wrath we all naturally choose and justly deserve. In him, in Christ, those who come to faith do not face the eternal and infinite consequences sin because Christ bears those consequences for us. There is no more wrath for those in Christ Jesus.
But while this eternal blessing and benefit of the cross is commonly acknowledged, what is often forgotten is that the cross stands as a stark and fearful warning that God, in his justice, does not leave sin unpunished. The infinite cup of God’s wrath that the infinite God in Christ willingly drained to the dregs on the cross remains full, it is brimming with judgment, for those who are unwilling to repent, cry out, and seek refuge and salvation in the Son.
Thus, throughout the New Testament, the promise and proclamation salvation in Christ Jesus is accompanied by a warning for those who refuse and reject it.
Kennedy v. Bacon. Looks indeed like we have two very different “gospels” being preached. Only one of them can be true.
There is no gulf between God’s creation and God that has to be spanned. We are not in the need of that kind of salvation — salvation from the wrath and punishment of God. We do not need that kind of salvation or savior. What we need is someone to embody revealingly God’s compassion to us whose life says, “This really is NOT too good to be true.” And lest we calcify God as a father — even a compassionate, forgiving, love and grace-based father — Carroll challenges us to understand God as Meaning. It is meaning — to live a life of meaning — that saves us from hell on earth. Heaven after death is already taken care of in the love and forgiveness and compassion of God.
We must put an end to any portrayal of God that says that without Jesus and the crucifixion we are left standing condemned. And that God’s way is to crucify Jesus and us. That is not what it means to claim that the way of the cross is the way of life. The way of the cross is the way of life means that when we offer ourselves in love for the sake of the life of another — like loving parents do and loving friends do and compassionate neighbors like Good Samaritans do. That is the way of life.
Continuing a series of several posts this week on the Atonement… In a Living Church Reader’s View article, Betty Streett, a Mississippi laywoman writes about the power in Christ’s blood.
The image of Christ’s blood has surrounded me lately. My daughter gave me a Charlie Daniels’ gospel music CD. Throughout it are images of blood: “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” and “There’s power in the blood, power in the blood.”
Not long ago, I attended a Southern Baptist church and sang such songs, reminding me of my childhood at church in the Tennessee hills. Many Christians, and I must include myself in this, find the words describing salvation through Jesus’ blood old-fashioned, unsophisticated, a little embarrassing, even somewhat offensive. There are at least two reasons for this.
In the first place, we don’t accept the concept of sin, so we find the concept of redemption unnecessary. We see the sacrifice of animals in the Old Testament as a quaint practice, acts done by primitive people, and we really don’t know why God seemed to have required it. We don’t want to consider anything or anyone paying for our transgressions because we don’t think we have any ”” at least not any that are serious. We are, for the most part, kind and generous, honest and faithful. We are for the most part pretty nice people. What more could anyone want? We certainly don’t want or need any blood atonement, any sacrificial death.
In the second place, the human soul can’t conceive of God stepping into history, into creation, and allowing himself to be tortured and killed, to bleed and die. The whole concept of a true, real God is that of power. And no being with power would assume a position of powerlessness to be abused and beaten, tortured and killed.
A suffering, bleeding Christ defies what we think power is and what it’s for. Political power, military power, corporate power, even personal power is all about getting its own way, by force if necessary. Power doesn’t suffer. Power causes suffering whenever and wherever it’s seriously questioned. Power doesn’t bleed. It draws blood if it’s severely challenged. What else could power be for? What good would it be if not to shape the unwilling into willingness?
The idea of the suffering, bleeding God being offensive is not new. It is not a 21st-century invention. Jesus himself saw it clearly. He said he was a stumbling block, an offense. He saw that people would be ashamed of his blood, offended by his death on a cross, and would misunderstand both sin and power.
In a post that starts out as a review of the book “Pierced for Our Transgressions,” Peter Ould provides a summary of and includes some of his own commentary on the Penal Substitution debate that has been going on in various parts of the Anglican world (especially the CoE) and the Anglican blogosphere in recent months:
Penal Substitution is the name give to the explanation of what Jesus did on the cross that is favoured by Evangelicals and mainstream Anglo-Catholics. The doctrine, drawing chiefly but not exclusively on passages in Isaiah, John, Romans and Hebrews states that Jesus’ death on the cross pays the penalty that would otherwise go to us for our sin. When you accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour it’s as though your “bad slate in front of God” is transferred onto Jesus. You are left perfect in the eyes of God while Jesus takes the full penalty for your sins – hence “Penal Substitution”.
In the past few years the doctrine has been attacked publicly twice, with attendant media attention, first in the church press and then in the national papers. The first recent criticism was by Steve Chalke in his book, “The Lost Message of Jesus”. In the book Chalke criticised the doctrine as “a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.” More recently, Jeffery John (of St Albans Cathedral) used a BBC Lent talk to say that the doctrine made “God sound like a psychopath” and the doctrine “worse than illogical .. insane”.
Yes, some people have a problem with penal substitution, but often their problem comes from not getting the proper picture of penal substitution. For example, Chalke criticises the idea of a father punishing a son for things he hasn’t done. But such a criticism fails to remember that the labels “Father” and “Son” in the god-head are not biological descriptions but rather limited human language God has used to help us understand who he is. In penal substition God takes upon himself the punishment for our sin – the fact that the Father places it upon the Son is not the point here – human understanding of those words should not limit us in accepting what the Bible says is true.
This elf has been trying to follow some of the various blog articles and discussions on the Atonement recently. Over the past few days, I’ve pulled together several posts on this topic. Stay tuned for more on the theme of the Atonement today and tomorrow.