November 28, 2014

Rob Grayson: The Powers Exposed

cross iconNote from CM: Today we welcome Rob Grayson, one of our readers from across the pond. Rob is a freelance translator living in the middle of England. He finally pulled his finger out and began blogging last year, and since then he’s barely looked back. He writes on theology and faith in an attempt to strip away layers of Christian culture and find the truth embodied in Jesus. Other than writing, his hobbies include playing the piano and guitar and buying more theological books than he can possibly read.

I’m looking forward to a good discussion on Rob’s post today — in which he sets forth some interesting and challenging ideas about the Cross, which of course is a central theme in this Lenten season.

* * *

Sacrificial religion and violent power have been close allies since time immemorial.

By sacrificial religion, I mean the belief that God must be appeased through blood sacrifices. And by violent power, I mean the enforcement of one’s will through coercive means. Each of these on its own is problematic; put them together and place them in the hands not only of individuals but of nations and empires, and they wreak havoc.

In the Bible, we first see them come together when Cain kills Abel. The same old story is then re-enacted in myriad ways and forms down the centuries: violent power is used to impose the will of a people group, a nation or an empire on others, and sacrifices are offered to various Gods – including Israel’s God Yahweh – to keep them happy.

Fast-forward to first century Palestine. The ingredients are in place: a religious machine geared towards maintaining an almost unending flow of blood to keep God happy, and a mighty occupying force determined to keep the people under its heel. And notice how the occupying power is quite happy to collude with the religious system, and vice versa, if it is expedient for both of them to do so.

And so we have it: sacrificial religion sentences Jesus to death, and violent power supplies the apparatus of execution and supervises the gruesome proceedings. It’s the perfect marriage: Caiaphas and Pilate working together to murder the Son of God. No doubt they congratulated themselves on the neatness of their solution: for Caiaphas, it was expedient that one man should die for the people, and for Pilate, the life of one wandering Galilean was an inconsequential price to pay to keep those troublesome Jews from rising up and making trouble. Job done, everyone happy, the world rolls on.

But watch now: what neither Caiaphas nor Pilate realise is that their own lust for power and control will be their undoing; one might say they are hoist by their own petard. They think that, by violently taking Jesus’ life, they are protecting their interests and keeping the well-oiled machine working. But God is ahead of the game; He gets inside their plans and uses their own evil schemes and deeds to expose and rip apart the very system they are bent on protecting.

In short, God makes a brilliant, subversive and game-changing move. Neither Caiaphas nor Pilate took Jesus’ life; the blameless Lamb of God laid it down in the supreme act of self-giving sacrifice. And three days later came the crowning move, the pièce de résistance in God’s master plan. In rising from the grave, Jesus made a public spectacle of the principalities and powers: he exposed the sham of sacrificial religion and showed up violent power for what it was – the broad road that always and without fail leads to destruction.

Jesus did not die because God had an anger problem and needed to be appeased. God does not change; as He is about reconciliation now, so He always has been about reconciliation. No, Jesus died to take on the effects of our malice, rivalry and self-centredness and reflect them back at us in all their undisguised ugliness. He died because it was the only way to expose the inescapable fact that the wages of sin is death.

In short, God did not have an anger problem; we had a violence problem.

Sacrificial religion and violent power might look impressive and keep society’s winners and losers in place for a time, but they are both ultimately antichrist and lead to death. Those who live by the sword die by the sword, and those who swear by sacrificial religion might just end up being the ones lying dead on the altar one day.

God did not kill Jesus; Jesus’ death was the result of our sins sinned into him at Calvary. Let us not make the mistake of thinking that, had we been in Jerusalem that fateful day, we would have clung to the foot of the cross like the beloved John, faithful to the end. Much more likely, you and I would have been in the crowd baying for blood and shouting Crucify him!

What Jesus did was to show and make possible a new way in which the only sacrifice is self-sacrifice and the only power is the weak power that chooses to lay down its life. Of course, to those entrenched in sacrificial religion and violent power, this new way makes about as much sense as a quiet picnic in the forest does to a warring street gang. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Comments

  1. Nice work by Mr. Grayson.

    • Thank you, Steve :)

    • umm God does not have an anger problem but Isaiah 53:10 And Jehovah hath delighted to bruise him, He hath made him sick, If his soul doth make an offering for guilt, He seeth seed — he prolongeth days, And the pleasure of Jehovah in his hand doth prosper. We see according to John 1:3 Romans 11:36 Colossians 1:16 not one thing was created apart from Him and they are all according to His purpose. Because he is all knowing as demonstrated here -Revelation 13:8 and 1 Peter 1:20 which brings us to the sober reality of romans 9 wether vechiles of pleasure or vechiles of wrath it’s Gods choice in demonstrating His creative ability control and foreknowledge. that is scripture …….

      • Scott, as Michael Hardin pointed out in an earlier comment, Isaiah 53 has its own internal hermeneutic in which *we* are the ones who (mistakenly) consider Jesus stricken by God.

        As to the rest of the scriptures you quote, well, there’s more than one way to read them. If you want to use them to support a belief that God does have an anger problem after all, be my guest.

  2. Richard Kopczewski says:

    Rob has the gift and abilities to articulate and inform us of the essence of God message to the world that His love for us is all that there is and needs to be, If we would only embrace this how different would our world become.
    His kingdom come His will be done on earth as it is in heaven amen.

  3. Although the gospels describe several trials, Jesus was condemned to death by the Romans, not the temple authorities.

    The temple cult was in place centuries before Roman rule. There is no particular reason to be offended by the practice of animal sacrifice (unless you are a die-hard vegan) which, aside from some metaphoric imagery in the New Testament, has no relevance to the execution of criminals like Jesus. To call second-temple Judaism a “sham” is tedentious, to say the least, and carries unfortunate anti-Semitic overtones.

    While any charismatic leader raising a crowd would likely have met the same fate, Jesus is recorded in the gospels as physically attacking the money-changers, and so cannot be described as innocent of rebellion (as seems to have been the charge against him).

    Missing from this blogpost is any acknowledgement that Christianity is entangled in violence and coercion. Its creeds are the products of earthly authoritarianism, while the rhetoric of hell and damnation makes Yahweh into a Moloch.

    • Thanks for your comments, Wexel.

      As a general remark, please bear in mind that this post is not intended as a comprehensive theological statement. It is intended to help us look at the events surrounding Jesus’ death from a particular angle. That being the case, there is much that it doesn’t say or even acknowledge.

      That said… I think you can make a case that the only real reason the Temple authorities didn’t put Jesus to death was that they couldn’t. As to animal sacrifice, my point is not whether or not it was offensive, but whether or not it was really ever necessary from God’s perspective (I mean necessary for the removal of sin).

      As to the charge of being tendentious, I guess I’ll take that on the chin.

      • This magic combination of religious intolerance and political expediency is very common in history. When the two are united in one system (my sixth-grade daughter’s favorite word was “Caesaropapism”), then the same authority could try and execute the troublemakers (think: Inquisition). When they are separate (as in the first century Roman Empire, or the case of Joan of Arc, or many others), then the religious folks do the condemning but they convince the minions of the state to do the executing. (Confirming Rob’s response that the only real reason the Temple authorities didn’t put Jesus to death was that they couldn’t).”So did they [your ancestors] to all the prophets before you.”

    • Can’t say I found Grayson anywhere calling second Temple Judaism a “sham.” Second, Jesus would never have appeared before the Gentile authorities had he not been arrested by the Jewish ones, leaders of the Temple! Third, there are many reasons to object to an animal sacrificial system, not only Jesus but also many of Israel’s prophets and singers were anti-sacrificial. E.P. Sanders begins his important work with the Shutting Down of the Temple, as does R. Hamerton-Kelly in his commentary on Mark. Scholarship is on Grayson’s side here not Wexel’s.

      Fourth “Jesus is recorded in the gospels as physically attacking the money-changers, and so cannot be described as innocent of rebellion (as seems to have been the charge against him).” is patently false historically and exegetically. Jesus never attacks a human person. No text (even GJ) suggests this in the Greek. He braids a whip, anyone with half a brain could see him weaving a cord. He is citing anti-sacrificial texts like Jeremiah 7 while doing so. He is hardly violent inasmuch as his lament is that the Temple has turned into a haven for zealous nationalism and terrorism (lystes).

      However I can understand Mr. Wexel when he says “Its creeds are the products of earthly authoritarianism, while the rhetoric of hell and damnation makes Yahweh into a Moloch.” The statement about the creeds is a bit tendentious, inasmuch as it is not a statement of historical fact but of personal perspective; the latter concerning violent eschatological language, is of course a very real problem currently being deconstructed in Christendom (Pope Francis for the RC, a movie like Hellbound? or a book like Love Wins for the Protestants).

    • Its creeds are the products of earthly authoritarianism

      …so the meta-narrative of the liberal elite goes. But it ignores actual history: the fact that substance of the creeds were paid for by the blood of martyrs, not the power of tyrants. The Council of Nicaea did not introduce a single new idea.

      Yes, Christianity is entangled with violence and coercion. But this idea that our dogma is the result of that is a silly modern myth.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        The “liberal elite” part is unnecessary, as well as inaccurate. The narrative you describe is common among non-Christian persons with just a smattering of church history. “Non-Christian” maps very poorly with “liberal.” Indeed, it is as poor as map as equating “Christian” with “conservative.” I have no idea what “elite” means here.

        • I may not have pointed the finger with precision, but the accusation remains valid. It is a silly, modern myth. I hear it most from media commentators on religion and progressive theological institutions. Hence “liberal elite,” but the view has certainly filtered down and become pervasive throughout popular culture. Basically anybody with an agenda for which Christian dogma is an impediment will resort to this imaginary reconstruction of the facts.

  4. I have often heard the atonement misinterpreted as God having an anger issue. You wonderfully clarify this. Thank you.

    • Thank you, dumb ox. Indeed, this is the default way that the atonement has been presented/explained to me for many, many years. Learning that there are thoroughly orthodox ways to understand the atonement outside of the penal satisfaction theory has been immensely freeing for me.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The only problem is, Penal Substitutionary Atonement has such a foothold among Evangelicals it’s become the One True Way. And those under it wonder if God has any other function than Punish Punish Punish and God becomes just another weapon for violent power to wield.

        • HUG, that’x exactly where I was for a long, long time. Of course, I didn’t realise that I thought God was an angry, punishing God just waiting to catch me out, but that’s what was going on for me subconsciously. Learning that there are other thoroughly biblical ways to think about the atonement is really what knocked the foundations out of that false view of God.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Well, Penal Substitutionary Atonement gives the Bloody Sacrificial Religion, and Christian Reconstructionism/Theonomy gives the Violent Power of the State, and you hear the combination from a lot of pulpits. And a Cruel God has Cruel Worshippers/Followers.

      • me too, Rob! Thanks

      • Saint Anselm’s concept of “satisfaction” needs to be re-evaluated. I think this is were many misunderstandings and errors originate.

  5. Mr. Grayson, I would urge you to reconsider your argument. Scripture is abundantly clear that the greatest threat to us is not our own propensity toward violence, but the threat of the coming wrath of God. This begins in Genesis 3, when God curses creation and sentences humanity to exile from his presence, resulting in certain death.

    The whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament is a testimony to the threat of God’s wrath against Israel. On the one hand, he dwells in their presence by his gracious condescension. But on the other hand, he holds them at a distance, restricting them from entering the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle, except for their mediator, the high priest, on one occasion a year, when he brings a blood sacrifice to make atonement for the holy place. Those who violate God’s restrictions by entering his presence unauthorized are consumed by his wrath (see Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah).

    Of course, the history of the kingdom of Israel ends with the covenant curse of exile, mirroring the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden. It is a climactic expression of the wrath of God. Furthermore, the prophetic books warn repeatedly of God’s coming wrath, not only against Israel, but against all nations, which will come when God sets the world to rights at the final judgment.

    It is only against the background of this Old Testament storyline of the threat of divine wrath against a rebellious world that we can understand the cross as the final judgment brought forward into time. Christ suffered the wrath of God in the place of those who would be united to him by faith. By his resurrection, he experienced the end-time verdict of justification, through which those who believe are also justified. Believers need not fear the coming judgment, because our sentence has already been carried out. We have passed through the final judgment with Christ. Having passed over former sins, God has demonstrated his righteousness by setting forth Christ as a propitiation (Romans 3:25, 26; see also 1 John 2:1-2).

    The argument that all we need for salvation is for God to expose something to us (e.g., the emptiness of the cycle of violence) is sub-biblical. It does not deal adequately with the pervasive biblical teaching on the wrath of God as the greatest danger to us. We are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), which, of course, means we are by nature destined to inherit the wrath of God….except for the fact that God loved us (Eph. 2:4ff)! As Calvin put it, “He loved us even as he hated us.” I submit that understanding how those two things go together is essential to understanding the gospel.

    • I tend to see the wrath of God somewhat differently. I see it more as God consenting to allow us to reap the destruction brought by our own sin. So while sometimes the Bible portrays the wrath of God as an active literal wrath, I would say this is a human way of conceptualising God simply handing people over to their own destruction. For example, in Romans 1, Paul talks about “the wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness”, but later in the chapter he describes this “wrath” as God simply “giving people over” to their sinful ways, resulting in death.

      • God handing people over to their sin is his way of allowing them to go their own way so that they might store up more wrath for the day of wrath that is to come, the day of his judgment: “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). God’s wrath is not divorced from his personal response to sin. It IS his personal response to sin. It represents his utter abhorrence of all that is evil, and is, thus, ultimately an expression of his love. It is the only hope we have for an ultimate answer to the problem of evil.

        I would like to ask you this, if you don’t mind: can you demonstrate that your understanding of God’s wrath and of the significance of the cross is rooted in the Bible’s own categories? In other words, have you sought to understand these biblical ideas in the context of the storyline of the Bible and in the categories that the Bible itself provides by which we are to interpret them? If so, I would invite you to make a strong biblical case for your view. Otherwise, all we are left with at the end of the day is the subjective theological ruminations of a single 21st century western individual. That hardly constitutes a basis on which to overturn centuries of established theological tradition rooted in biblical teaching.

        • Aaron, I’m not really interested in constructing a chain of logic based on scripture verses or biblical categories to prove this or that argument. When it comes to the question of what God is like, the answer has already been clearly stated once for all: He is like Jesus. End of story. Jesus only did what he saw the Father do. Jesus freely forgave and instructed his followers to do likewise; why then would the Father require an innocent blood sacrifice in order to be able to forgive us? Jesus was already asking the Father to forgive his executioners even before they had finished their job.

          As to “overturning centuries of established theological tradition”, I can only point to the comment by Mule Chewing Briars in which he quotes from Orthodox priest Father Stephen Freeman. In my understanding, the penal satisfaction theory of the atonement is a relative latecomer. Certainly there isn’t much evidence of it among the church Fathers.

          • the penal satisfaction theory of the atonement is a relative latecomer

            Ha, ha! I love the fact that we cal St. Symeon of Constantinople who died in 1022 the New Theologian.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            He may have first proposed the concept in 1022 (with a lot of Greek technical terms), but when did it hit ciritical mass among Evangelical Protestants (which didn’t exist in 1022) take off and become The One True Way/Scripture Scripture Scripture?

          • Dana Ames says:

            HUG,

            I think Mule is commenting on Rob’s statement “the penal satisfaction theory of the atonement is a relative latecomer” in terms of the time it appeared, not in terms of who formulated it. What we have of St Symeon’s teaching doesn’t really even mention “atonement theory” at all. His teaching is in line with other Orthodox sources, all the way back to the Greek Fathers.

            My understanding is that Penal Satisfaction was first set out by Anselm of Canterbury (who actually came from the part of Italy my family came from…), formulated at about the same time period as when St Symeon lived, but riffing off Augustine and Anselm’s own feudal society/culture, rather than the Greek Fathers.

            Dana

        • Mr Grayson may not be able to answer this question but I can. I have five books, a website, a slew of videos, DVD’s, essays, articles and podcasts where I lay out the paradigm change that is happening. Feel free to read them. Be prepared to be converted to Jesus!

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Mr. O’Kelley, I know that what I am about to write will not change the views you have expressed in your comments. That said, I have never been able to understand the theological position that sees mankind in general and me in particular as the focus of God’s, “utter abhorrence”. What else would He expect from fallen mankind, that we would somehow come to our senses, get up, brush ourselves off and be good? Is that what the story of the scriptures tells us? I have always thought that the good news is that while we were dead in our fallenness, unable to save ourselves, He came to rescue us. And that He did this, not out of disgust, but in the purest love of a father for his children. All the rest, at least to my ears, sounds like bootstrapping moralism. As someone has already commented to the effect, God in Christ has put an end to scorekeeping.

          • Well said, Clay.

          • Mr. Grayson, if penal satisfaction is a “late comer,” then what do we call your quasi-Girardian theory? It has only appeared in the last few decades and doesn’t have an iota of the same theological pedigree.

            Penal satisfaction goes back at least to Anselm, which is a good thousand years. But there are also numerous antecedents in the church fathers, documented in the book “Pierced for Our Transgressions” by Jefferey, Ovey, and Sach.

            But all of that is beside the point if you are not willing to seek to understand Jesus and his work in the Bible’s own categories. Jesus can become anything you want him to become if he is untethered from Scripture. It is Jesus himself who affirmed that he came not to abolish, but to fulfill the Scriptures (Matt 5:17-18).

            Clay, there is much of what you said in your comment with which I agree. Yes, God did save us out of amazing love. But we can only understand his love when we understand what we truly deserve. The fact that we don’t get what we deserved (because God graciously substituted himself in our place in the person of his Son) is what reveals to us the depths of God’s love.

            We have to hold the love and holiness of God together, or else we lose the gospel. In love, God condescends to us to become our God and dwell with us forever through the work of his Son. But as a holy God, he does all of this while remaining ever true to himself. He does not compromise his character. He does not condescend by becoming what we are. Instead, he condescends by making us, ultimately, like him, wiping away our sins and transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

          • Dana Ames says:

            Well, just like the bible, the church fathers can be quoted out of context. Here is one very thorough response to the book “Pierced For Our Transgressions”:

            therebelgod.com/AtonementFathersEQ.pdf?

            Dana

          • Clay Crouch says:

            Dana, thanks for the link.

    • Michael Z says:

      Aaron: It’s an unfortunate fact that when each of us reads the Bible, we’re often more influenced by our religious traditions, personal experiences, and secular culture than by the words of Scripture themselves. Especially with teachings that are core to our tradition (as the theology of penal substitutionary atonement is in Protestantism) we’re often so sure we know what the Bible says that we can’t actually hear what it’s saying.

      I used to view the Gospel in basically the exact terms you are using. But gradually as I was exposed to other theologies of salvation, and also as I began to hear preachers stretching that penal theology to disturbing extra-Biblical extremes (e.g. attributing salvific power to the pain Jesus suffered instead of to his death, claiming that Jesus had “infinite capacity for suffering, etc.) I began to wonder whether that theology of salvation truly was the Biblical one.

      So I read through the book of Acts, reasoning that since it is the story of how the apostles preached the Gospel to people who had never heard it before, their sermons would show me what the “core” of the Gospel is. I was rather surprised to discover that the cross was only mentioned in a handful of their 30 or so sermons, and that none of them ever attributed salvific power to the cross; to them, the “core” of the Gospel was clearly the resurrection, not the crucifixion.

      Then I decided to read carefully through the whole New Testament, trying to view it with fresh eyes and to categorize every verse that seemed to answer the question: what has God accomplished for us through Jesus? I had a separate notebook page for each category of answers to that question, and ended up with dozens of them: creation of a new sort of humanity; adoption into God’s family; God being “with” us; healing; cured blindness; revelation; being given a perfect example; bringing the kingdom of God; liberation from slavery; ransom; showing the futility and ugliness of human violence; forgiveness of sins; death of our sinful nature; defeat of sin, death, and the Devil; eternal life; transformation; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; participation in the nature of God; the future renewal of the whole physical world.

      Each of those things is one facet of salvation, one aspect of what Jesus accomplished for us. Many of them, the Bible puts far more emphasis on than the idea of forgiveness of sins. And, I also found that the idea that on the cross God was actively inflicting punishment on Jesus in our place, is never spelled out in the New Testament. If that were the core of the Gospel, I would expect to see it mentioned over and over. Instead, it is a theology you can arrive at only by inference, by stringing multiple verses together.

      You might find it helpful to do that same exercise: read through the New Testament, trying to listen to what it is actually saying, without trying to force it into the framework you are accustomed to. Notice what statements Jesus makes about himself and his purpose. Notice how the apostles summarize the Gospel. Read the epistles as letters to a congregation rather than expecting them to be systematic theology. (The whole letter of Romans, for example, is clearly about the question of Gentile vs. Jewish believers, yet we often try to treat it as if it’s Paul’s definitive statement of his soteriology!) You might find some interesting things, and if nothing else you’ll end up with a broader and richer understanding of Scripture.

      • Excellent answer, Michael.

      • I’m taking Aaron’s side on this issue (no surprises there). What I don’t hear much from the “God did not kill Jesus” folks is good scholarship based on Scripture but rather mostly injecting feelings of repulsion of the doctrine of penal substitution into the argument.

        By the way, Michael, I agree that Romans and other epistles should be read as letters to congregations. But I can’t count how many times I’ve had to defend the Reformed perspective on Romans 9 with those who insist that “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” means something other than what it actually says (i..e., that God is addressing Israel, not the salvation of individuals, which is a very weak argument). I would argue that the epistles should be read as letters to congregations AND also studied to discern the doctrines espoused therein. Let us neither miss the forest for the trees nor the trees for the forest.

        One last thing. It is true that the doctrine of penal substitution as we know it today arose during the Reformation. But the reason for that, in part, at least, is that Luther, Calvin, Zwingly, et al., had to throw out a lot of theological crap as they set about to clean up the Church and return it to it’s Biblical roots. They did not completely neglect the writings of the Church Fathers, Augustine and Anselm were particularly instrumental to this effect.

        • There is good scholarship based on scripture. Perhaps you just haven’t read it.

        • What I don’t hear much from the “God did not kill Jesus” folks is good scholarship based on Scripture but rather mostly injecting feelings of repulsion of the doctrine of penal substitution into the argument.

          That’s probably fair. But there’s a lot to be repulsed by, quite frankly, by some of PSA’s more extreme proponents. The Calvin quote from above, “He loved us even as he hated us,” for example. That’s such an ugly thought, I’m not sure how to construct an argument against it–isn’t it obvious? And there has been some truly wretched Trinitarian theology that has come out of PSA.

          • We live in an age of euphemisms; Calvin lived in an age when folks expressed their thoughts with greater rawness (for lack of a better word). I agree with what Calvin said (no surprises there), and I get tired of having to rephrase everything I say in order to avoid offending post modernist sensibilities.

            Look, God hates sin, we are sinful by nature, Jesus became sin for us, etc., etc., etc. So yes, He hates us because of our sins and simultaneously loves us because of Jesus who became sin for us. I’m OK with Calvin’s paradox.

            Perhaps I’m old and cranky–wait, I am old and cranky!

          • I have no problem with old and cranky. I’ve got the latter down already. :-P

            I’m totally okay with He loved us even as He hated our sin, or our condition, or something like that. But the actual formulation–“He loved us even as he hated us”–is, I think, despicable and anathema. Calvin’s quote certainly makes for a better wordplay, and there is such a thing as exaggerating for emphasis or effect. But if he meant that literally, then no.

          • As I stated, Calvin often spoke paradoxically (e.g., the elect are predestined to eternal life and those who are not elect are responsible for their own sins). I’m OK with that. If either side of the paradox is proved false then it’s a contradiction. So far no one has proved this to be a contradiction.

          • Calvin lived in an age where hatred was sanctioned by both church and state -cf. intense anti-semitism, hatred for those oif differing doctrinal persuasions, the legacy of the Crusades and Inquisitions (the one in Spain was not the first). Expresding hatred of others wasd accerptable.

            And Calvin had his own serious prejudices. That doesn’t mean he was right, at least, not in my book, it doesn’t.

          • Calvin, i onder about “proof” when talking about belief rasther than, say, science. We can prove Newton’s work on gravity, orbits of the planets and much more, but we cannot and never will be able to prove anything re. his arcane work (alchemy, Bible codes and more). The same is true of dictrine.

        • Uh, Calvin, most of us Lutherans do not believe in PSA in the way you define it.

          See, there are big differences between how we tend to believe and practice and how many of you Reformed folks think we believe and practice, mainly (afaik) based on your interpretations of both Luther and the history of the Reformation. It’s all more complex and nuanced than most of us (very much including myself) realize. But i think we humans all tend to oversimplify at times, and this is one area in which oversimplification has caused some serious problems.

          Fwiw, i believe that the second Person of the trinity willingly became incarnate (“of the Father’s love begotten,” as the old German hymn says), suffered and died for us out of his love for us, *not” to appease or fulfill a debt to Jonathan Edwards’ nightmarish angry god (lowercase g is deliberate here). I think our emphasis on the whys and wherefores is a lot different than what i see in Reformed circles and in much of evangelicalism, but it also seems like it’s difficult for folks who’ve been raised on PSA to be able to connect to the differences in approach.

          Hope that makes sense!

          • What you say makes sense, Numo, and I don’t consider any of it to be outside the pale of orthodoxy. I do, however, have a different perspective, one which is paradoxical in nature (e.g., God loves, God hates, God saves, God condemns, God is angry, God delights) and which makes the most sense to me.

            I guess that’s why we will always have Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and a rainbow of Protestants. Let us be thankful that the worst of prejudices is behind us.

          • I meant “pail,” as in “bucket,” not “pale,” as in “color.”

            I wish this thing would let you fix typos after the fact!

          • pail as in bucket versus pale as in color is simple.

            The real problem on this thread is PSA.

            I just figured out it was Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

            And up till now I thought they were talking about Prostate Specific Antigens.

          • Yes, I fear we will one day soon run out of acronyms. What then?

          • Michael Z says:

            Whether or not PSA is Biblical, my main issue with its proponents is that they almost invariably tend to think that PSA is “The Gospel,” and they ignore the other 98% of the Biblical teachings on the nature of salvation and what Jesus has accomplished for us. This is problematic because PSA connects very well with certain types of people – recovering addicts, for example, and teenagers who are ashamed of their sexual impulses – but it does not speak at all to others. If you were to sometimes preach instead about salvation as freedom from bondage, or transformation into Christ’s likeness, or victory over death, you might be able to reach those people. Preaching 2% of the Gospel is certainly better than preaching 0% of the Gospel, but not by much.

            And incidentally, Calvin, you had it right the first time: it’s “pale of orthodoxy,” not “pail.” (Archaic English; pale = “a jurisdiction under a given authority.”) God cannot simply wave his hands and forgive bad grammar; someone must die for it. But thankfully we have Jesus!

          • So it is “pale,” not “pail.” Well thank you for that; I’ve heard it used backwards all this time, I guess.

            As for PSA and the gospel, I don’y know of anyone who thinks that PSA is the the gospel; I certainly don’t. Now, atonement is the central focus of the gospel, but a particular doctrine of atonement is not the gospel.

            And I don’t know anything about ignoring the other 98%. I assume that this is just a hyperbole you are using for purposes of emphasis.

          • Calvin, i’m with you on many things, but definitely not on the “God hated us” part of that quote. It is very far off from “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” though for many years i considered it a logical interpretation of Paul’s statement.

          • @MichaelZ:

            “Whether or not PSA is Biblical, my main issue with its proponents is that they almost invariably tend to think that PSA is “The Gospel,” and they ignore the other 98% of the Biblical teachings on the nature of salvation and what Jesus has accomplished for us.”

            Exactly.

          • I’m curious. CS Lewis had a quote about how as time goes on, good and evil get further and further apart- harder to fail to distinguish between the two. There becomes less and less of an excuse. With Jesus, the climax of history, it could be said that good and evil were shown for their truest, and offered as clearly opposed options. Many in Judaism at the time chose wrong.

            I believe in PSA not as a matter of clearly articulated doctrine in the Bible, but on the basis of story elements within the Gospel: Barabbas, for example, literally had Jesus die in his place. Others in Jesus’ presence are guilty of things that he is accused of, and he pays the price they ought to. My question is that, God having become human and all, is it possible that over time, with the the worlds of good and evil rapidly separating, that God does actually begin to “hate” certain people? Like any human being, who is constantly abused and rejected, eventually there will be a complete separation there. The victim may have loved them at one point, and may love their memory even, but for all intents and purposes despise them because their character and personhood have become so corrupt.

            This may be what is happening in the ever-escalating conflict we see between Jesus and his detractors in the Gospel stories. Of course, then he goes and prays “Father forgive them…” but think of it as a motif, not a final conviction, that is ultimately played out in history after the Spirit is given and the Message of Jesus goes forth, meeting with either acceptance or hatred…

    • “He loved us even as he hated us” is a very Calvin-ish way of putting it. How about “He loved who he created us to be, and hated what we had become?”

      • I think some of the confusion arises from the fact that we humans are both victims and perpetrators of sin. It is the “perfect” recursive function. Luke in his gospel, for example, heavily emphasizes that we are victims to sin. Other writers tend to emphasize the perp aspect. I think the Bible is clear that God hates “sin” as a condition; I also think God hates it when we act in sinful ways and hurt others and destroy his creation. It is bad; it needs to be eliminated. If we begin with a paradigm of a good God who opposes wickedness and evil because it is bad for everyone involved (as Peter Kreeft might say, if a sadist and masochist got married, they wouldn’t truly have a happy marriage), then I think we see the atonement differently, even as PSA theory. I think where PSA goes off the rails is the few times it makes God into a schizophrenic and pits the trinity against itself. These kinds of theories are so far beyond what the Bible actually teaches, however, that I am comfortable just ignoring them.

        • “I think where PSA goes off the rails is the few times it makes God into a schizophrenic and pits the trinity against itself.”

          How so, Dr.? I don’t follow your line of reasoning. How does the Father punishing the Son when He became sin for us make Him a schizophrenic or pit the Holy Trinity against each other? This appears to me to be a reductionist argument, is it not? There are other ways to explain PSA, many of which have already been mentioned here, without resorting to such simplistic conclusions.

          Perhaps you should just take your own advise and ignore PSA altogether and go with whatever you’re comfortable with.

          • I think you misunderstand my comment, Calvin, which might have something to do with lifting one sentence out of my paragraph. I am sure that if you are at all involved in theological discussion, then you have heard some very poor and probably downright heretical atonement ideas labeled PSA. I’m sure you didn’t mean to come across as flippant as you did, but I request that you rethink your last sentence, since it is not part of my comment or thinking process.

          • Dr., there are heretical and poorly expressed words about every theological idea, PSA being but one of them. But all that aside, the basic tenet of PSA is that the Son, who knew no sin, became sin for us and was punished by the Father for being sin. PSA is not a singularly focused doctrine; includes elements of substitution and ransom.

            Therefore, it is certainly not heretical nor does it necessitate any conflict within the Godhead. You and many others may find it repulsive, I understand that, especially when, as J.I. Packer cautions, it’s expressed purely in legal terms rather than the love the Christ had for His saints in laying down His life for us.

            My greater concern is that PSA is another one of things which gets singled out in this site as outright wrong, based mostly on feelings and impressions, and thereby confusing and obscuring teh issues at hand.

          • I am quite familiar with PSA, both from my Mdiv at SBTS and from the fact that I am a confessional LCMS lutheran. PSA is baked into the book of concord. I hold to PSA, and don’t find it repulsive; I do find some expressions of it in popular Christianity repulsive. Although, how you might infer that from what I wrote is confusing. Perhaps if we approached the conversation with less defensiveness we would be able to communicate more effectively.

        • “if a sadist and masochist got married, they wouldn’t truly have a happy marriage”

          I think Dr. Fundystan and/or Peter Kreeft might actually be wrong.

          Didn’t you hear about the sadist who went on a date with a masochist? The masochist said, “Hurt me, hurt me.” And the sadist said, “No.”

          Think about it.

          I rest my case.

  6. So I guess God didn’t actually command Israel in the Law to make all those sacrifices? It was just their best guess to keep God happy? The sacrificial system in the Law wasn’t about keeping God happy like some spoiled child, it was about justice, that sin must be atoned for, that sinners must be purified, and it pointed foward to the one sacrifice that would be able to do this.

    • Good questions. A couple of thoughts here.

      First, I would say that God met the Israelites where they were at. We’re talking about an ancient, tribal people living in a culture where angry, vengeful gods who required appeasement through sacrifice was the norm. As a result, that is where Israel’s journey towards a fuller understanding of Yahweh began. God met them where they were, and gradually led and coaxed them on towards a more complete understanding, which was finally and fully revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. For me, statements like “To obey is better than sacrifice” are clear indications that, while sacrifice was a step along the way towards a fuller understanding of God, it was never God’s intended destination.

      Second, we tend to think of justice in legal and punitive terms: if a wrong has been done, someone must pay. The Hebrew concept of justice was radically different to this. It wasn’t so much about meting out just desserts for wrongdoing; it was more about doing the right thing in the first place. As such, God’s desired justice is not that He would find a way of satisfying Himself so that He can tolerate our sin; His justice is that He frees us from individual and collective/systemic sin so that we are free to effect His justice in the world by doing the right thing (which includes caring for widows and orphans, feeding the hungry, etc.).

      • Yes, to obey is better than to sacrifice. God desires mercy and not sacrifice. And yet because we don’t obey the sacrifice is necessary. And in the crucifixion, God’s mercy is shown through sacrifice.
        Why was the crucifixion even necessary? Was it just to show us our sins? The Law already showed us our sins. We didn’t need to have our sins revealed, we needed to have them removed. And in the crucifixion he took our sins, he took the curse, he provided forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is no longer any need for a sin offering.
        And just out of curiosity, where did you learn the Hebrew concept of justice? I think you’ve set up a false dichotomy. The idea of justice in the Old Testament is both doing the right thing and meting out the right punishment for wrong doing. It is the Old Testament Law that teaches eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.

        • Mercy and justice in the same soul is like the man who worships God and idols in the same temple. We know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.

          St. Isaac the Syrian

          We have to let the balance sheet go. We have to die to it. God, in Christ, did.

          • Mule,
            I’m not sure exactly what you are responding to or the point you are making. Can you elaborate a little bit?

            I will say I would be careful before throwing justice out the window.
            Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

          • I am not a careful person. Since by the lights of classical Protestantism I am a Hell-bound apostate who formerly held to imputed righteousness but has reverted to a “works-oriented religious project”, I am more likely to err on the side of recklessness than caution.

            What I mean is that the idea that God is keeping meticulous accounts and will balance all the books at the Eschaton is a lust that we have, not a requirement God has to fulfill based upon His own nature. It is the resentment of the Prodigal’s brother wanting to write itself into the fabric of the Universe. It is the truculence of those who bore the heat of the day wanting to get more than those who instinctively feel they deserve more than those layabouts who staggered into the plaza at dusk.

            Somehow, despite the legal positivism of his language, I am certain that Micah’s encouragement for me to do mishpat’ entails more than the grudging compliance of someone who has recieved a court order. I’ll let St. Isaac finish his own thought:

            Mercy is opposed to justice. Justice is the equality of the even scale, for it gives to each as he deserves; and when it makes recompense, it does not incline to one side or show respect of persons. Mercy, on the other hand, is a sorrow and pity stirred up by goodness, and it compassionately inclines a man in the direction of all; [Justice] does not requite a man who is deserving of evil, and to him who is deserving of good it gives a double portion. If, therefore, it is evident that mercy belongs to the portion of righteousness, then justice belongs to the portion of wickedness. As grass and fire cannot co-exist in one place, so justice and mercy cannot abide in one soul. Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you

          • Mule,
            If St. Isaac doesn’t want to call God just I’ll leave that between him and God. As for me I know that God is just and does justice. Nor do I imply in the slightest that Micah 6:8 is to be accepted as a grudging compliance of a court order. Rather it shows that practicing justice (which is much more than punishing people for doing wrong) is part of being the people of God.

        • Yes, the crucifixion was necessary.

          In one sense it was “necessary” in that it was the inevitable outcome of God sending His son into a world of violence and coercion. From the moment God sent Jesus, this was always the way it was going to end.

          It was also necessary to expose what is the ultimate end of all our systems of rivalry and control: we murdered the Son of God. The most advanced religious system and the most sophisticated empire in history managed to kill God.

          It was necessary in order for us to be able to understand the depths of God’s love and forgiveness: “Even if you arrest me, mock me, spit on me, flog me, nail me to a tree and watch me die, I’m still going to go right on forgiving you.”

          And finally, it was necessary so that, in some mysterious way that we can’t yet fully understand, Jesus could, in his death, somehow swallow up all of our sin and defeat the final enemy, death itself.

          (I should add, of course, that the cross and the resurrection are a package deal. If Jesus was not raised on the third day, the cross is pretty meaningless after all. As Tom Wright puts it in How God Became King, “It is the resurrection that declares that the cross was a victory, not a defeat.”)

          • It wasn’t just the inevitable outcome, it was the very plan of God (Acts 2:23). It did show us the depth’s of God’s love and forgiveness. But it wasn’t just the forgivness he asked for those crucifiying him, it was also what he was doing on the cross in the first place, dying for sinners and through that death reconciling us to God, justifying us by his blood, even though at the time we were his enemies. (Romans 5:6-11).The cross was necessary for the forgiveness of our sins (Hebrews 9:22, Matthew 26:28). It was necessary to meet the justice of God (Romans 3:21-26).

          • You’re starting to thunder Rob. This is a great thing. What started off (for me at least) was a measured, and possibly anodine article, has grown in clarity and strength through your responses here. Go for it! C.

        • cermak_rd says:

          In most cases, those punishments were for the victim (and in a tribal society, the family of the victim). That is the perp lost an eye because he damaged the eye of a victim. Or he is killed because he violated the property relationship that another man has with his wife or because he has killed one of their servants, one of his should be killed. I would imagine these rules kept the tribes from being constantly consumed by blood feuds since the vengeance was extracted by a judicial process.

          Of course, that doesn’t cover judgements against blasphemy, but I tend to look at that as the priestly caste covering their interests (who most likely codified and retained the Law? The priestly class).

        • “…since by the lights of classical Protestantism…”

          Oh c’mon now, this is really an exaggeration and, s such, quite un-nuanced and even untrue of many of us Protestants. You know, a lot of us high church types.

          But then, there are probably many Protestants who think I’m “hell-bound” for being a Lutheran.

          The Orthodox are hardly alone in being misunderstood by many, y’know.

          • And… to be honest, I bet a lot of Protestants wouldn’t have any opinion on this at all. It’s just not on their radar.

    • Jon, I don’t find any of the scriptures you quoted below decisive for an exclusively penal substitution view of the atonement.

      • Rob,
        I’m not arguing that the atonement is exclusively penal substitution. I’m arguing that if you deny that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was done in part to justifiy us before God and make forgiveness of sin possible then you are denying a primary part of the atonement.

        • OK Jon, answer me this: how did God forgive sin before the cross, and when no animal sacrifice was offered?

          • I don’t think God is limitied to our view of time. I think all sin, past, present, and future, was dealt with on the cross, and OT saints were declared righteous on the basis of their faith.

  7. I know the PSA folks are going to attack this posts, but thanks for this:

    “God did not kill Jesus; Jesus’ death was the result of our sins sinned into him at Calvary”

    • Thank you, EZK.

    • “God did not kill Jesus”–Mr. Grayson

      “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him. He has put him to grief.”–The Prophet Isaiah (53:10)

      “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”–The Apostle Peter (Acts 2:23)

      “…whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”–The Apostle Paul (Rom. 3:25)

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        I’m not seeing the point your making here, Aaron. These verses don’t speak for themselves and, if anything, actually do more to support Rob’s post than reject it. Can you give further explanation?

      • Isaiah 53 has its own internal hermeneutic in the acknowledgment that it was “we” who “esteemed Jesus stricken by God.” We did, we were the ones with the sacrificial hermeneutic. As for Romans 3:25, unless you are a God-wrote-the-King-James-Bible kind of person, then know that hilasterion is best translated as place of atonement and that if you are going to use ‘propitiation’ you must also recognize, as does Hamerton-Kelly and Hultgren that the frame of sacrificial logic, sacred violence is being subverted in this text by the profane character of the ‘place’ of hilasmos. You are building on sand Mr. O’Kelley.

      • Aaron, I made the same argument you are making here, with which I very much agree, in a few comments in a previous post–and didn’t make much of a difference, at least not evidenced by those who responded to my comments. For this reason I find your thoughts refreshing.

        There are several other Scriptures besides the ones you mentioned which support the doctrine of penal substitution. Two of these include,

        “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5.21)

        “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” (Galatians 3.13)

        But listing them and providing other arguments, necessary though that be, will make little difference in shaping the opinion of many, only some. You see, and I don’t mean this in any way to be derisive, the facts are, as has been pointed out to me more than once, that this is a “post evangelical” site and, as such is not too agreeable of doctrines and perspectives which are Evangelical, Conservative and Reformed. That does not mean that we are not welcomed to post comments here, quite the contrary, only that folks are way more likely to disagree with you than to agree when you write from an Evangelical, Conservative and Reformed perspective.

        Keep up the good work.

        PS: Absolute statements are absolutely frowned on.

        • One other note… Miguel makes some very good observations in this respect.

        • I see plenty of agreement and reasoned argument on both sides of the debate here. I do not see wholesale dismissal of any of the angles being presented and argued for.

          • Actually, I do not totally dismiss everything you wrote for there is more than one perspectives here which, as Miguel stated, are not mutually exclusive. Obviously, I see things more from a PSA (not to be confused with what the urologist ordered) perspective than, say, propitiation or ransom or Christus Victor perspectives, but without disregarding those, either.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Calvin,

          It is probably true that most of those who comment here are not – or, probable better, are no longer – Evangelical, Conservative and Reformed. However, the regulars include only a very few “cradle Catholics;” the rest of us have come out of some version of Evangelical, Conservative and Reformed, and we left and became “post-” because that all ***failed*** us – and I believe most of us were active, invested and theologically aware. We didn’t leave because we misunderstood the Evangelical, Conservative and Reformed doctrines and perspectives, and I myself did not leave because of abuse or personal/personality issues. For me it was theologically driven, all the way.

          One of the strengths of this web site has always been that people treat one another pretty well here, and we agree to disagree on a lot without lobbing insults and ad hominems at one another (not saying you do). We all believe what we believe for reasons that make sense to us, and we respect that about one another. If we wanted to hang out on the Internet with people who agree in toto with us, those places are available. I think we come here to talk because we actually like one another, and that’s refreshing to me.

          Many times I write about what I found in the Orthodox Church because I want to throw the idea into the ring that there is another way that to view things – a different **interpretation** (and these disagreements are ALL about interpretation) that is historically Christian with a high view of scripture. ISTM that is what Rob has done today. I think where I landed is “right” or I wouldn’t be there, but I’m not willing to engage in verbal fisticuffs over it (again, not saying you do), mainly because I believe that God is kinder and more willing to meet anyone where he/she is than we can imagine. If God respects a person’s conscience, so will I.

          After our wanderings in the Evangelical wilderness, some of us ended up in the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. That makes us pre-Evangelical/Reformed, and actually pretty “conservative.” That doesn’t mean we are blind to the problems, but it does mean we have found something in the historic Church that is valuable to us. We may even believe God led us there…

          Finally, it was mainly the writings of N.T Wright that gave me a theological interpretation other than the Reformation/Evangelical one, that made sense to me because it accounted for all of scripture as we have it, simply didn’t have any holes, was based on what we know about C1 Jewish history/society/views of who God is and what God is up to, and most importantly, posited a Truly Good God who is out to ultimately unite himself with his creation. I read and digested Wright as a Protestant, and in doing so I could actually “breathe” theologically, had a place to stand, found my head above water – so many metaphors for the relief I felt at not having to hold to doctrine that was extremely problematic at a very deep level. This was years before I found that his interpretation overlies that of Orthodoxy in many important ways. With that warning ;) and realizing you still may not agree once you finish, if you really want some good theology that makes a different interpretive case, from someone with impeccable creds – including remaining Protestant and admiring at least some of Calvin – you could read the first 3 of Wright’s Christian Origins Series: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God. All the shorter books he’s written come from what he sets forth in those.

          Best regards-
          Dana

          • I accept your sentiments on this, Dana. For the most part I feel welcomed here and have no intention of stopping any time soon.

            I am a former Catholic but did not leave Rome to become an Evangelical Protestant but rather because I became disinterested in religion in general. Later my interest in religion resurfaced and I met Jesus in an Evangelical church. Some years after that I met John Calvin through his good friend Jonathan Edwards. Both these men re-introduced me to Jesus and His gospel in a way I had not considered before. And I have not looked back. Nor do I intend to.

            I came to this site because an Orthodox priest, Fr. Ernesto Obregon, informed me about it. I had initially written him to get some advice on my son who left Evangelicalism for Eastern Orthodoxy. He and his wife (a lifelong Catholic) now worship in Byzantine catholic Church (good compromise, BTW). I’m OK with my son not being a Protestant and we have a great relationship . We disagree on many things, of course, but we agree on the foundation doctrines of the Christian faith (creed stuff). And that’s good enough for me. He is, after all, my son.

            The reason I keep coming back here is that I am in a bit of a wilderness myself. I find that much of the criticism stated here towards Evangelicalism is warranted, but I hate the negativity I encounter more often than not, for I don’t find it very helpful; informative, yes, helpful, no. But my aim is not to leave Evangelicalism but to stay in it and, from my little cubby hole of Christianity, throw out the old wine skins one by one and replace them with new ones. I’ve only been partially successful at this but I have seen some progress, both in my church and association, and I have the desire and an obligation to continue to do so.

          • Excellent post, Dana!

            I’d like to add that some of us here ended up reverting to the churches here we grew up (in my case, ELCA Lutheran) while others have never left their high church background, even while moving from, say, the RCC to the Anglican/Episcopalian or Lutheran side of things.

            And some people here have converted to other religions altogether.

            Pretty diverse bunch with diverse perspectives, I’d say! (Not that you didn’t, just that I wanted to make sure that others were included as a tag to your post.)

          • Thank you, Dana. You have encapsulated very well what I was trying to do here.

            May I also say that Tom Wright is a theological hero of mine. His two books Surprised by Hope and Simply Jesus probably did more to revolutionise my faith (in a good way) than anything I’ve ever read outside the Bible. (I’m currently working my way through his PFG.)

          • Daniel Jepsen says:

            CalvinCuban, I very much appreciate your comments. I don’t have time to comment much myself, but ma very glad for your thoughts.

            “The reason I keep coming back here is that I am in a bit of a wilderness myself. I find that much of the criticism stated here towards Evangelicalism is warranted, but I hate the negativity I encounter more often than not, for I don’t find it very helpful; informative, yes, helpful, no.” Yea, that is where I am at, too. But we learn best from our critics.

          • I appreciate your comments as well, Daniel.

      • Saying that God sent forth Jesus, or “delivered him up,’ is a world different from saying “God killed Jesus.”

        Three soldiers are in a bunker, and one of them has to run out under enemy fire in order to toss a grenade into the enemy’s bunker. The commanding officer chooses the one most well-trained and qualified, knowing that it’s certain death, to save the mission by launching himself into enemy fire and dumping as many grenades as he can unload on the enemy’s position. He succeeds, but loses his life in the process. The mission succeeds.

        Did the commanding officer kill the soldier? Perhaps a distraught family member would think so, but I don’t think most people would say that. Assuming the mission was vital, and lives were saved. My ethical compass says the enemy killed him, not the officer.

        The metaphor might break down in some ways, but you get the point.

        PSA doesn’t seem to me to require saying “God killed Jesus.”

    • Calvary was the end of sinning our sins into him, but not necessarily the totality of it. You could say it began with Christ’s Baptism, and the cross was the coup de gràce.

      But that doesn’t necessarily conflict with PSA. The question of “who killed Jesus” is not so easily answered definitively. The Romans actually did the killing, you and I are symbolically guilty, the Jews handed him over, He volunteered for it, and the Father willed it (or at least Jesus thought so in Gethsemane). He was a victim of the system, a victim of close betrayal, a victim of evil, a victim of wicked intent, a victim of justice, a victim of mercy. Whoever truly “killed” Him, he is the true victim divine, whose death somehow brings us peace with God. PSA and Christus Victor are two biblically defensible ways of looking at the “how,” which ultimately still remains mysterious.

      • A very helpful comment, Miguel. What I was kicking against when I wrote this was a belief that there is only one way to understand the atonement, which is the only way that was constantly served up to me in nearly 30 years of church life. It is complex, and it is mysterious.

        • I come from a similar background. PSA is often abused by revivalists trying to manipulate through fear and guilt to produce an emotional response to the offer of forgiveness that yields quantifiable results (hands raised, personal decisions, etc…). It’s almost as if God’s Word was not trusted to do the work of cutting the heart and bring about repentance. This must be resisted because, after the emotional experience wears off and use of rational faculties are gradually restored, those kinds of teaching destroy the faith of many. This is why fundamentalism leaves such spiritual carnage in its wake, and those of us who have persisted in the faith spite of it are testaments to grace (we should have become atheists, but Jesus kept a hold on us). You are absolutely right in that we must not pit the Father and Son against each other in a cosmic game of good cop/bad cop. They are one and the same God, and Jesus is the visible image of the invisible Father. We must look at God primarily through Christ, because in Him we see that God is ultimately forgiving and compassionate, even at great (ultimate!) cost to Himself.

          • Right on, Miguel.

            (By the way, I’m just finishing up reading Gerhard Forde’s “On Being a Theologian of the Cross”. Seldom have I marked up a book so much. Excellent stuff, deep, rich and challenging.)

  8. Thank you, Mr Grayson, for participating here.

    You strike some very Orthodox notes here. You may wish to visit Fr. Stephen Freeman’s website where he says a lot of things that I am sure will resonate with you.

    From Fr. Stephen:

    Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what Spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached – we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.

    That having been said, I would like to know if you have any idea why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God whereas Cain’s was not. The standard classical Protestant answer is that a blood sacrifice is necessary as a picture lesson to awaken us to the awfulness of our sin. When I asked my priest, he said it was because Abel was praying for Cain, but Cain was praying for himself. Emotionally, that made much more sense to me than the other, but I would be the first to admit that it has no Biblical warrant whatsoever.

    True that the Church and the State colluded to put Jesus to death. What strikes me was that it was the purest Church and the strongest and most just State that existed at that time that put Jesus to death. That is to say, it was the best of us that killed Jesus, except that I don’t think He received due process from either the Jews or the Roman procurator.

    For better or for worse, we are stuck with the State, which by definition has a monopoly on violence within its territory. Here in the United States, our government allows citizens to “franchise” this violence, even up to the taking of life, but it is still state-sanctioned violence nonetheless.

    I don’t know if the State can exist apart form violence. Violence, or the threat of violence, is kind of like its sacrament. Violence may not change your heart, but at least it will change your behavior. Making the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the ultimate Power over all the other coercive Powers is NOT “spoiling the Powers”. It is making “the Almighty altogether such a one as yourself”.

    • Thank you, Mule, for your kind comments. Father Stephen’s website is one that I discovered fairly recently, and which I have found to be a fount of blessing and wisdom. I can only echo his words in the excerpt you posted above.

      As regards Cain and Abel, I don’t really have a thought-through answer to your question. I would tend to interpret the whole Cain and Abel narrative through a Girardian lens whereby what proceeds is a founding murder upon which Cain then goes on to found a city and a culture. Thus, violence and coercion are at the very foundation of human civilisation. As to why God accepts Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s… perhaps because God knew what was in Cain’s heart (jealousy, pride, etc.).

      • I always thought it was because Abel brought the first part of his flock, while Cain only brought some of his harvest. In other words, Abel placed God first and gave him the best portion of his flock out of love, while Cain performed his sacrifice out of obligation. (I make no claim to be a theologian, though!)

        • It couldn’t be because Able offered blood, while Cain offered his own fruit, now could it?

          • Who told Abel to offer blood?

          • It’s all over the text, if you know where to see it. It starts with “in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Yet they did not die, rather, God killed an animal in their place, from which he fashioned garments of skin to clothe the naked shame of Adam and Eve. Then he promised the one to come. The covering they wore was a constant reminder of a substitutionary death which not only preserved their life, but pointed forward to the one who would finally and for all time crush the head of the serpent (which is what Adam SHOULD have done: Christ was his substitute there as well). Christ also resisted the temptation of Satan on our behalf, succeeding yet again where Adam failed. In other words, substitution is about so much more than penal. :P

            You could just as easily ask who told Cain and Able to make any sacrifice whatsoever! Ultimately, Able’s sacrifice was one of trust in the promise, and Cain’s was one of appeasement. Ironically, it wasn’t the blood offered that was the true “sacrificial religion” in that scenario. It was the fruit, which is often symbolic of the work of our hands. Blood reconciles us to God, works do not. It is a perfect picture of grace vs. merit.

          • It’s really more about the sacramental undertones of the text than an explicitly prescribed PSA theological framework. If you can believe that Christ comes to us bringing forgiveness, life, and salvation through the means of grace, suddenly little enigmatic details of the text like these fall into place and make all kinds of sense.

        • Maybe, Bill. In some ways, your suggestion is quite similar to mine I think, just expressed in a different way.

    • we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ.

      Or, as Luther said, “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” But we have to remember, as meek as Christ was, he could have called 10,000 angels. He persisted to the end because he understood the necessity.

      The standard classical Protestant answer is that a blood sacrifice is necessary as a picture lesson to awaken us to the awfulness of our sin.

      …maybe the standard Protestant answer of those who reject the sacraments. Lutherans (whether or not we qualify as legit “Protest-ants”) would say that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament had a sacramental nature, in that they were an expression of faith (for which, according to Hebrews, the OT saints were declared righteous) in the words of Law (that condemned sin to death) and Gospel (which promised the ultimate redeemer, the final sacrifice, to come). Reducing the blood of animals to a pedagogical device is pretty extreme. But the same spirit would reduce the blood of Christ, either on the cross or in the sacrament, to much the same thing.

      • Miguel –

        “Picture lesson” was the wrong phrase to use. “Icon” is a much more Orthodox word, and truer. Blood, in an animal or a person, is iconic of its life. Blood is a mediatory medium. It exists to mediate the energies of the outside world [these energies originating, of course, in the energies of the Blessed Trinity] to the tissues of the body. This goes a long way for explaining to me all the prohibitions in the Levitical law against the eating of blood when the sacrifice is consumed by the sacrificors. It also explains the florid hymnography of the Orthodox church about the “life-giving” Cross. and why so very little is said in Orthodoxy about the Blood of Christ.

        In as much as Lutheranism refuses to separate the atonement from the sacraments it is much the healthier for it, inasmch as it is the blood we consume [reversing the Levitical edict] that effects the salvation of our souls, not the blood spilled onto the ground on Golgotha. In as much as Protestantism sees salvation primarily as the remission of sins I believe it is missing the mark, and that is where the Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory wreaks the most havoc. There is most definitely a substitution occurring on the Cross, and that substitution most definitely involves the typeable blood of Christ shed for sinners, but it is a substitution of life for life, not of death for death.

        • not the blood spilled onto the ground on Golgotha.

          Are you so certain we can separate the two? Is this really the position of Orthodoxy? That little detail in John 19:34 seems to suggest otherwise. 1 Corinthians 10:16 says that the cup is a participation in the blood of Christ. The two seem fairly inseparable, to drive a wedge between seems a bit…. I dunno… gnostic? No, that’s not the right word. It’ll come to me. Oh, also, Revelation 22:2 – the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. The cross is the tree of life, and it’s fruit is the blood of Christ. I dunno how far you can go down the road of separating the two before one becomes merely a symbol of the other.

          • Hmph. I loathe admitting it, but of course, you are right on this point. I remember some meditation on the physical blood of Christ and its career after leaving His body by some saint or another that drove home the identification of the Divine with the physical world in general and with humanity in particular. I’m certain that the absence in Orthodoxy of relics of the blood of Christ has some significance here.

            I was trying to express my discontent that the shedding of Christ’s blood placated something in God that allowed Him to be merciful to us. I am more certain that this is a teaching of Orthodoxy than my previous statement: We are not evil. We are dead. We do not need to become clean or good, even vicariously. We need to come back to life.

            You are correct in seeing that the Orthodox Church has a less radical Fall than the West.

            You overlooked the rest of the post and zeroed in on my weakest comment. That’s good debating, but there was other stuff there that I think is as good as anything I’ve ever posted here. Serves me right for thinking so.

          • Lol Mule, that is the most hilarious concession I’ve ever read. The points you score for style more than compensate for any holes in your rhetoric. :P

        • Mule, would you mind expanding on this part:

          “It is the blood we consume [reversing the Levitical edict] that effects the salvation of our souls, not the blood spilled onto the ground on Golgotha. In as much as Protestantism sees salvation primarily as the remission of sins I believe it is missing the mark, and that is where the Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory wreaks the most havoc. There is most definitely a substitution occurring on the Cross, and that substitution most definitely involves the typeable blood of Christ shed for sinners, but it is a substitution of life for life, not of death for death.”

          You’ve really got my attention with this. Can you explain further?

  9. David Cornwell says:

    Rob, thank you very much. Your writing is to the point and clear.

    Here in the USA we condone, commend, and participate in violence to resolve a variety of problems. Even Christians fall into this trap. We live with a baked-in mode of fear since the events of 9-11. We are afraid of the alien, those of other religions, other races, atheists, even other traditions of Christians.

    I am always amazed when I hear the same Christians who decry the violence of abortion, on another day call for the violence of capital punishment, defend “stand your ground” laws, and promote war against another country. We do not seem to get it that Jesus went to the cross to bear on himself all the killing the world has to offer.

    We call the death penalty “the supreme penalty” that one can pay for a crime. It can be defined and explained by terms such as “merited,” “retributory,” “vicarious,” “satisfaction,” “substitution,” and “expiatory.” Yet we still call for killing that we have thus defined against the accused.

    And we argue about which of these to apply to the death of Jesus. On the cross, God allowed Jesus to bear all our wrath, describe it how we will.

    • David, thanks for your wonderful and perceptive comment. The UK is not really so different.

      Herein lies one of the reasons I think we are wedded to a “legal transaction” view of Christ’s work on the cross: it enables to continue in our own black-and-white, them-and-us, judgemental thinking. War and literal violence are only the most extreme manifestations of this; in practice, it’s our default mode of seeing the world at just about every level. This, as much as anything else, is what Jesus came to set us free from.

      “We do not seem to get it that Jesus went to the cross to bear on himself all the killing the world has to offer.” That is just wonderful. Thank you.

  10. In the Bible, we first see them come together when Cain kills Abel.

    Yes, but before that, we see Able participating in sacrificial religion, which simultaneously pleased God and offended Cain. Blood atonement is an offensive doctrine because it shows us what our sin really is. Nobody wants to own up to personal responsibility for evil.

    sacrifices are offered to various Gods – including Israel’s God Yahweh – to keep them happy.

    I understand that PSA is often misrepresented, especially in fundamentalism, as appeasing a vindictive fun-nazi in the sky. But that is not how the sacrificial system is presented in the Old Testament. It is presented as a means of God giving us forgiveness, yet without being unjust. A good God must necessarily hate evil, not wink at it. Blood sacrifice meets the criteria, “for the wages of sin is death.” Penal sub is right there from the passover lamb, to the garments of skin that covered the naked shame of Adam and Eve. It is a consistent theme permeating all of scripture that you can’t explain away, even if you have to refute the tribal perversions of it.

    Jesus did not die because God had an anger problem and needed to be appeased.

    Amen to that! …and yet, if heinous evil does not anger you, I suggest therein lies an equal and opposite problem. God is angry at what merits righteous wrath, yet near to the lowly in heart. …and he is much better at telling the two apart than we.

    Much more likely, you and I would have been in the crowd baying for blood

    Spot on. And as we cry “let his blood be on us and our children,” we ironically plead his grace for us, unknowing. And as Jesus dies, he grants our request: “Father, forgive them.” Then the blood and water flow from his side and deliver exactly that.

    But let’s be clear: the death of Christ did more than send a message and give a good example. It accomplished something. “It is finished” means more than “the message has been sent.” The wrath of God was satisfied – but the wrath of his justice, not the wrath of his power-hungry bloodlust. If Christ’s death didn’t actually accomplish something, then it didn’t actually have to happen. A fictitious story could yield the same result.

    And the resurrection did more than show up Pilate and Ciaphas: It gives life. It wasn’t just a statement that power and violence don’t win: It accomplished something as well: Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

    • Miguel, I wholeheartedly agree that the cross didn’t merely provide an illustration or make a statement, that it accomplished something. As I said in response to an earlier comment, all I’m trying to do here is point up a different angle from which we can look at the cross that frees us from at least some versions of PSA that I consider incompatible with the character of God as revealed in Christ.

      • Amen. I’m a proponent of harmonizing multiple theories of atonement, but agree that some versions of PSA do need to be argued against because they do turn God into a monster. We just have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater on that one. I remain firmly convinced that the right use, and perhaps original intention, of PSA is for the comfort of troubled consciences. Those of us laboring underneath feelings of guilt can be reassured that Christ has indeed paid for that sin, too. See, the flip side of the character of God revealed in Christ is that not only did he meekly lay his life down, he also recognized its necessity. Anyone who can own their complicity with the evil that runs through the heart of us all can find much assurance there – the double cure does indeed save from wrath and make us pure.

        • I’m a proponent of harmonizing multiple theories of atonement, but agree that some versions of PSA do need to be argued against because they do turn God into a monster. We just have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater on that one.

          I think this is a fair assessment. If what we get out of PSA is that Jesus has paid the penalty due our sins, and now we are forgiven, good. If we get out of it that angry Old Testament God the Father was pissed and demanded blood and didn’t particularly care whose it was or where it came from, and that nice New Testament God the Son is great because he dove in front of the bullet coming at us, so angry Old Testament God the Father is now a happy New Testament God the Father because at least someone got shot, then you have missed the point.

    • Miguel, I find your comments very helpful. Thanks!

    • That just seems ridiculous. By what possible standard is justice created when we slaughter large numbers of innocent animals as payment for our personal sins? If I rape my sister, thus offending against both she and God, and then I go kill a goat, how does that possibly make God justified in forgiving me?

      If Oscar Pretorius is found guilty of the murder of his girlfriend, and then kills five bulls on the courthouse steps according to a court-prescribed method, how in the world would that make the judge justified in setting him free?

      Thomas Paine said that no religion could be truly divine which has in it any doctrine that offends the sensibilities of a little child. I think we’re there.

  11. Given the discussion of PSA, is there a good resource someone can point me to that explains and differentiates between the various atonement models?

  12. David Jenkins says:

    Awesome post Rob.
    I personally find nothing worthy of salvage from PSA. The view of God expressed therein is entirely incongruent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus freely forgives and teaches us to freely forgive. There is no payment required by God for our sin. God is not an accountant balancing the ‘sin scales’. This view of God is a mistake simply because it looks nothing like Jesus.

    I consider PSA to be a heresy. It does not hold to the early church creeds which outline that which constitutes Orthodox Christianity. This is foremost because PSA denies the divinity of Jesus. Either God forgives like Jesus forgives – freely and without payment or the Father is different to Jesus and therefore Jesus is not the fullness of God in human form.

    If Jesus is fully God then PSA is a satanic false doctrine.
    Throw it out. Baby, bath water, bath and bathroom.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. Now, duck!

    • hmm, I would be careful of statements like this – we do not know enough in this present life to be so dogmatic. There is a chance that you are calling something from God as from the devil.

    • “If Jesus is fully God then PSA is a satanic false doctrine.”

      Hmmm… I think I’ll use this one in my math class as an argument to further explain to my students why when the hypothesis, “If Jesus is fully God,” is true, as is the case here, the conclusion, “PSA is a satanic false doctrine,” must also be true in order for the entire conditional statement to be true.

      Problem is, establishing the veracity of the conclusion, namely, “PSA is a satanic false doctrine,” is problematic. You see, since there is no record anywhere of Satan saying or writing anything about PSA, we must assume he did not, and if he did not, then the conclusion cannot be assumed to be true, and therefore the entire statement is invalid.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Perhaps he should have used a euphemism? :)

        • Perhaps so, yes. Euphemisms are not meant to be logical but simply intended to put fresh paint on a rusty car or a rotting fence. So I suppose that it is better to be euphemistic about a subject than outright illogical.

          • David Jenkins says:

            The logic goes like this Calvin:

            Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. Fully God.
            Jesus forgives freely, without repentance, without payment.
            Therefore God forgives freely without payment.

            In this passage Jesus, representing the Father, freely forgives without payment and even without repentance. Interestingly it is linked with healing here and is given as freely as healing.

            “Jesus Heals a Paralytic
            …22But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23?Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk ‘? 24?But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”– He said to the paralytic– “I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.”…” Luke 5

            From my understanding of PSA, this ‘logic’ which seems logical to me, would imply that PSA is false.

          • David, you are using a syllogism which works in part except for the part about “without repentance,” but doesn’t prove anything about PSA. I believe you will find numerous places in Scripture where believing and repenting go hand-in-hand (e.g., Mark 1.15, Acts 19.4), and I would add that these are components of faith, and I would also add that we are justified by faith. And whereas it does not say that the paralytic repented or believed, this does not mean much since 1) neither does it say that he refused to repent, and 2) as I mentioned already, there are other Scriptures which equate repentance with believing, in other words, Scripture interprets Scripture.

            I could be wrong, but I think you may be espousing universalism here, and if so, you should come right out and say it. But besides that, your argument against PSA based on what you argue here is a non sequitur.

          • Clay Crouch says:

            I’m glad you have joined the conversations on this site.

          • David Jenkins says:

            Ok would you at least concede Calvin that Jesus forgives sinners freely without payment. He does is over and over again. I’m not questioning faith or repentance but I am saying that forgiveness comes first.
            Then we repent or ‘metanoia’ (have a radical change of mind or perspective) to believe by faith (which is a gift) that we are forgiven.
            Forgiveness is freely given by Jesus before he died on the cross. I just don’t understand how you can read the gospel accounts and deny that. At least could you concede this one point rather than arguing the peripherals.
            Jesus forgives sinners before he dies on the cross. Yes or no?

          • Clay Crouch says:

            Calvin, I would never have pegged you as someone with post modern sensibilities.

          • David, yes, of course, “Jesus forgives sinners freely without payment” for we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, and all for the glory of God alone! And for all intents and purposes He did so even “before he died on the cross” because it was the will of God from eternity past that He would bear our sins and die on the cross.

            You see, God loved us long before we loved Him, repented or believed (Ephesians 2.4). He chose us before the foundation of the world, predestined us for adoption as sons through His Son, according to the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1.4-5). Why, He even wrote our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13.8) for good measure.

            Finally, we agree on something!

          • Clay, thank you for the kind words. As for my “post modern sensibilities,” they constitute some of the heaviest parts of the cross I bear. You see, I am both a professor and administrator at a public university. Let me tell you, for a Calvinist, conservative, ornery, impulsive, loud-mouth, Cuban male to keep his mouth shut in an environment which is mostly non-theist (especially the Biology Dept.) and far to the left (especially the Sociology Dept.) when everything inside you says “talk,” “refute,” is definitive proof that 1) God exists, and 2) Calvin was right.

            OK, so that’s a non sequitur. But, what the hell, everybody else does it; thought I’d see how it feels.

            And since we’re on the subject, my urologist says that my last PSA came back good. Oh wait, we’re discussing a different PSA here…

          • David Jenkins says:

            I’m not sure whether we agree or not Calvin as to understand exactly what you mean by your statements would probably take a fair amount of decoding.

            I can say that I have happily journeyed away from PSA after being brought up in a tradition that taught it as ‘the Gospel’. I still am unclear as to any merits it possesses as a theory of atonement. It is not an early church Orthodox view as far as I can see from my study. Christus Victor is and I find it to be much more adherent to the God we see revealed in Jesus and to the teachings of the apostles. It seems at times as though we are arguing to keep alive some old rabid dog when really we’d be better off just putting him out of his misery.

            I’ll leave you with a few quotes that have inspired me recently in my journey to understand the cross and the true God revealed there in Jesus. I hope you will at least honestly question your own beliefs and what they infer about our Father.

            “When the crucified Jesus is called ‘the image of the invisible God,’
            the meaning is that this is God and God is like this.”
            –Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

            “Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death,
            the Christform is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is.”
            –John R. Cihak, Love Alone Is Believable: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Apologetics

            “Jesus is the only perfect theology.”
            –Brad Jersak

            “God is like Jesus.
            God has always been like Jesus.
            There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
            We haven’t always known this.
            But now we do.”
            –Brian Zahnd

            http://brianzahnd.com/2014/03/crucified-god/

          • David, I don’t disagree with any of those quotes. Good stuff, actually. However none of them refute PSA, if that was your point.

            I’m also good with Christus Victor, Ransom Doctrine and Satisfaction Doctrine. What I don’t understand is why PSA, CV, RD or SD need to be in opposition to each other. Rather, I see them as complimentary and not in diametrical opposition, or put another way, as different facets of the same truth and not “one good the rest bad.”

            True, as Reformed I favor PSA, and you as Orthodox favor CV, but this is no reason to say that one is wrong another right.

          • David Jenkins says:

            I’m glad we have common ground Calvin.
            From the way I have been taught PSA my problem would be the following foremost:
            1. The Father pours out wrath on the Son
            2. The Father acts in a violent way (which contradicts the actions of Jesus which were non-violent)
            3. The Father in anyway requires blood or death of anyone to satisfy his sense of justice or in order to forgive.

            If you have a different version of PSA from this then it may be we’ve been arguing over nothing :)

          • I think your three points are fairly accurate description of PSA. The parenthetical portion of #2 should be omitted for two reasons. First, it adds nothing to the argument. Second, it makes an assumption which may not be true (e.g., Jesus whipped temple merchants for the sin of making His Father’s house a den of thieves).

            I would also add this. Some proponents of PSA, J.I. Packer in particular, caution that we PSA proponents should not speak nonchalantly of PSA as it were just a matter-of-fact thing or a purely legal transaction. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ was the pivotal event in history, the moment when the Father forsook the Son because the Son became sin. Although violent and punitive in nature, we should move beyond the letter of the doctrine into the doxology which it stirs up in our hearts in gratitude for what God has made us in Christ, namely saints who are as free from the bondage and guilt of sin.

          • David Jenkins says:

            Yeah so we do disagree.
            I do agree that God has freed us from the bondage of guilt and sin (amongst others) through Jesus. So that’s good to agree on.
            Anyway thanks for the open conversation Calvin.
            I now regret my overly forceful beginning statement so I apologise for that.
            Peace bro :)

        • Rick Ro. says:

          LOL!

          • David Jenkins says:

            I’m not sure whether we agree or not Calvin as to understand exactly what you mean by your statements would probably take a fair amount of decoding.

            I can say that I have happily journeyed away from PSA after being brought up in a tradition that taught it as ‘the Gospel’. I still am unclear as to any merits it possesses as a theory of atonement. It is not an early church Orthodox view as far as I can see from my study. Christus Victor is and I find it to be much more adherent to the God we see revealed in Jesus and to the teachings of the apostles. It seems at times as though we are arguing to keep alive some old rabid dog when really we’d be better off just putting him out of his misery.

            I’ll leave you with a few quotes that have inspired me recently in my journey to understand the cross and the true God revealed there in Jesus. I hope you will at least honestly question your own beliefs and what they infer about our Father.

            “When the crucified Jesus is called ‘the image of the invisible God,’
            the meaning is that this is God and God is like this.”
            –Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

            “Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death,
            the Christform is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is.”
            –John R. Cihak, Love Alone Is Believable: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Apologetics

            “Jesus is the only perfect theology.”
            –Brad Jersak

            “God is like Jesus.
            God has always been like Jesus.
            There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
            We haven’t always known this.
            But now we do.”
            –Brian Zahnd

            http://brianzahnd.com/2014/03/crucified-god/

      • David Jenkins says:

        You can take ‘satanic’ out if you like. ‘False’ will do nicely.
        I guess I felt like using strong wording because I feel strongly that is so very very wrong.

  13. The view of God expressed therein is entirely incongruent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

    Then read what Jesus said: “This is my body, which is given for you. This is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

    • Dana Ames says:

      Miguel,

      ya gotta know what Jesus’ hearers understood him to be saying when he used the phrase “forgiveness of sins.”

      N.T. Wright….

      Dana

  14. I have read many theories as to how Jesus’ death was not literally atonement for sinful man but they strike me as being lacking. I think we cannot do away with the idea of a sin bearer, it’s all over Scripture. The thing that comforts me is that God himself is ultimately the sin bearer, all the animal sacrifices did was point to the great sacrifice that God himself would do to save us. Sin and ruin can only be fixed at a great cost, and God paid that cost himself.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Not only is God sin-bearer, He is the sin-washer. He’s the Great High Priest and perfect Lamb that the Great High Priest needed to sacrifice, all rolled into one! Amazing! Mysterious! Scandalous! Praise-worthy!!!! Thank you, Lord Jesus!

  15. David Jenkins says:

    I have no problem with that Miguel. My problem is PSA has translated “This is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” as “this is my blood which God requires in order for him to be able to forgive which isn’t actually forgiveness really because I’m paying for it with my blood and so there will be nothing to forgive in actual fact.”

    PSA puts words in Jesus’ mouth that he didn’t say and disregards his actions of forgiveness on earth toward sinners.

    “Jesus Heals a Paralytic
    …22But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23″Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk ‘? 24″But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”– He said to the paralytic– “I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.”…” Luke 5

    • Much to think about there David J. I’ll be musing on this as I reflect on the topic.

      You might say that if Christ “earned off our debt,” then there is no forgiveness. If the debt is paid, we don’t owe one anymore. At least, between us and the Father. Between us and Christ, it comes as a free gift. But who loved the world that he gave His Son?

      It’s not that our sins are forgiven as if they never happened. We shall all certainly die. Yet we have reconciliation through death because we are united with Christ in His resurrection. So to a certain extent, I like to hinge my atonement theory on the water more than on the blood: being united with Christ’s death and resurrection through Baptism. If God the Father has justly decreed our death resulting from our sin, the only way for us to survive this sentence is through an ark (of His design) which carries us across the waters of death. So the curse, or consequence, of sin is the flood, or death, and Christ atones for us by providing the means through which we are carried safely to the other side.

      I believe that sounds more like PSA than CV. The death of Christ here is an instrumental means delivering us from the consequence, result, or even punishment, of our sin.

    • Yup, that is my biggest issue with PSA, at least in the version of it that’s been presented to me:

      ‘My problem is PSA has translated “This is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” as “this is my blood which God requires in order for him to be able to forgive which isn’t actually forgiveness really because I’m paying for it with my blood and so there will be nothing to forgive in actual fact.”’

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’m on Finasterase for a badly enlarged prostate which biopsied negative. You have no idea how much unintentional hilarity I get out of this thread’s use of “PSA’, “PSA”, “PSA”.

        P.S. I’m old enough to remember PSA the airline, with its smiling 727s.

  16. My problem is PSA has translated “This is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” as “this is my blood which God requires in order for him to be able to forgive which isn’t actually forgiveness really because I’m paying for it with my blood and so there will be nothing to forgive in actual fact.”

    Yup. Pretty much this.

  17. Rick Ro. says:

    Wow, lots of great discussion here. I love the back and forth on some beliefs. I commend Rob Grayson for his active participation and his handling of some of the push-back.

    • Thank you, Rick. I find this quite challenging, as I actually didn’t want to unleash a huge argument with this post. It seems to me that theological discussion on the internet often reveals just how judgmental and defensive we are, which is ironic, given that these are exactly the kinds of attitudes Jesus came to free us from :)

      • David Cornwell says:

        Amen!

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Having just done a year-long in-depth study on Hebrews, I would agree…any man-made theology is exactly what Jesus came to free us from. In Christ alone, baby!

  18. David Cornwell says:

    Sometimes a discussion about grace sounds like a court of law.

  19. To Aaron O’Kelley:

    (I couldn’t reply directly to your comment as there were already so many nested replies that no more replies were allowed!)

    I don’t hold to a quasi-Girardian theory of the atonement. I hold to a theory of the atonement in which God did not punish Jesus for my sin in order to satisfy his own innate sense of justice. Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry and scapegoating is simply one line of thinking that I personally have found helpful as a possible (at least partial) explanation of how and why Jesus ended up nailed to a tree.

  20. Of course, there’s also a distinction between a penalty that is a sentence from God, and the penalty of man’s justice (or unjust) system. Jesus was very clearly a “penal sub” within the human system. He definitely suffered the wrath of man, as Rob has noted.

    It’s just that Jews tended to tie Israel’s political subservience to the will of God for the purpose of disciplining them. So in Babylon, Israel was suffering a “penalty for sins” decreed by God. If we think of Jesus according to this historic rubric then he, as Israel’s Messiah, was suffering Rome’s penalty for insurrectionists, of which Judaism contained many. Rome being the “Babylon” of its day might be seen as the hand of God punishing the would-be Messiah in place of his people, who were the ones truly guilty of what Jesus was actually punished for.

    Yet I’ve always had a hard time knowing how to understand Israel’s concept of God’s hand being behind certain nations’ rise or fall, or other historical events. I lean away from the idea that God is simply manipulating politics and powers like a puppeteer. But I do think God’s purpose is actively accomplished through these events, so I do think it was his will to discipline Israel through captivity. I have the same problem with the early stories of Israel’s “genocides.” Bad? Yes…does that mean God wasn’t accomplishing something there? No…

    If there’s a spectrum with Babylon as “just a metaphor” for God’s will on one end and “Nebuchadnezzar himself as tag-team member with God” on the other…where on that spectrum do we place the Jews’ understanding of God as guide for historical events? That might be a key to understanding PSA, imho. It’s just that I haven’t been able to precisely locate myself on that spectrum yet. Probably not at either extreme…

    • Nate, thanks for your wonderfully perceptive comment. You raise many pertinent questions.

      While I don’t have any firm answers at this point, I would say I’m leaning towards the view that much of the activity explicitly assigned to God by biblical authors (especially in the OT) was at most permitted by God. In some cases, I might even venture to say that God had nothing to do with it. But these are ancient writings from a culture in which just about every action and event was seen as emanating from God or the devil. (The origins of the “satan” in Hebrew culture is a major study in itself.)

      A book to look out for on this subject is Greg Boyd’s forthcoming The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. AFAIK there isn’t a definite publication date yet, but last I heard it was slated for autumn 2014. Boyd sets out to reconcile troubling OT pictures of God with the full revelation of God given in Christ. This will be high on my reading list.