Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Introduction to Resurrection Justice Theory of the Atonement


This is the first guest post on SFoR. A friend sent me this article he wrote, and while I'm not convinced by the theory, it is an interesting perspective on the atonement. Feel free to comment below if you like or dislike.

Onto the fun. ;)

"An Introduction to Resurrection Justice Theory of the Atonement"

by Gabriel Renfro

The first significant problem with the theories of the atonement I have come across is that they all pick a different effect of sin for Jesus to take care of (God's wrath, the devil, brokenness in creation) but no theory that tells us how Jesus takes care of sin itself. You cannot take away a cause by taking away all of its effects. The central obstacle between Man and God is sin, and sin is ultimately a deficit of love for God. So I think the Biblical Model of the atonement is based on three things: the Restitution of Love, Participatory Sacrifice, and Resurrection Justice. In short, I call it the Resurrection Justice Theory. I will describe it in contrast to some problems I see with Penal Substitution.  I pick Penal Substitution because I believe it is very wrong, and will serve as a helpful frame of reference because it is extremely popular.

Penal Substitution mislocates the central obstacle between Man and God as God's wrath, and not man's sin. I think this is because Penal Substitution confuses Restitution with Retribution. If I damage a Rich Man's Mercedes, I don't call up the insurance company so they can provide me with a Mercedes of equal worth that the Rich Man can inflict equal damage upon. I don't need the insurance company to absorb the Rich Man's Retribution on me. The "Rich Man's wrath" (him sending me to prison) is a danger only insofar as I cannot make Restitution to fix the damaged vehicle. I need the insurance company to give me money to fix the Rich Man's car and make Restitution.

So the first step in this theory of the atonement is based on this idea of Restitution. What is it that has been damaged and where do I get the means to repair it?  When we sin, we are damaged. God's glory is damaged only insofar as we are meant to display His glory. How bad are we damaged? We are infinitely damaged, because sin is infinitely opposed to God's holiness. How can we cover the infinite damage of sin? We cannot, we need the infinite love of Christ to cover the infinite depravity of sin. Sin has completely incapacitated our ability to love God, and we therefore owe God an infinite debt to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are unable to pay this debt. We need the Restitution of Love for God in Jesus Christ incarnate. In sum, sin is our infinite deficit of love to God, which Jesus fully accounted for by His infinite love for the Father on the cross. This idea of Restitution is very similar to what the patristic fathers referred to as "Recapitulation," that Jesus has succeeded where man has failed. But the idea of Restitution emphasizes that Jesus has vicariously paid our debt on the cross by loving God according to the full measure we have sinned against God.  On the cross, all of man’s sin was poured out on Jesus, and Jesus willingly endured it out of love for the Father. In other words, he has "paid our debt." So I advocate a vicarious payment model of atonement rather than a vicarious punishment model, and the two are different things. For example, when Paul writes Philemon and says he will pay off Onesimus' debts, he is saying he will pay Philemon the money Onesimus owes, not that he will accept the lashings that Philemon may owe Onesimus. It is the love of Christ on the cross that atones for our sin. As Proverbs 16:6 says, "By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for."  God’s wrath does not atone for sin, as Penal Substitution would lead us to believe.  Sin is atoned for primarily by what Jesus did on the cross, not by what was done to him on the cross.  (See Attached Figure)

The second main problem with Penal Substitution is that it calls Jesus our "Substitute." The word substitute has its virtues, it emphasizes that Christ's salvation took place outside of us, without us, in spite of us, and he did not need our help in winning the meritorious cause of justification. But the problem with the word substitute is that it implies "someone does something instead of us so we don't have to." So we get phrases like "Jesus died so we wouldn't have to." And "Jesus went to the cross so I wouldn't have to." Both of these are incorrect. If they were correct, we would not have to die (which we do), and Jesus would not say "take up your cross and follow me" (which he does). The word "substitute" is therefore distracting from the fact that the atonement is something that happens to us, in us, changes us, and completely repurposes every activity of our lives. The idea of substitution too easily leads us into what Bonhoeffer famously called "cheap grace." Bonhoeffer also said, "when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

Jesus did not become a Man and love God on our behalf so we would not have to. Jesus loved God so that through the Holy Spirit the love of Jesus for God can take place in our lives. And Jesus died on the cross, not so we would avoid death, but so that we can die in Him through the Spirit uniting us to him. The word substitute is a denial of the saving work of the Holy Spirit, this is why Penal Substitution is often described as a two person transaction between the Son and the Father. The origin of Christ's saving work on the cross takes place outside of us, without us, and in spite of us, and Christ does not need our help. But if Christ's achievement on the cross is to succeed in saving us, then it must take place inside of us, with our cooperation, and by our participation through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us to the Participatory Sacrifice of Christ. Christ's crucifixion and resurrection takes place in our lives in many ways, but I will emphasize two: (1) through confession (crucifixion of the flesh in Christ) and repentance (resurrection to new behavior in Christ) and (2) through our literal, physical death and resurrection, by which our sinful flesh is finally destroyed and we can finally be made new. Therefore, Christ's death is only purely substitutionary for the damned. The damned are the only ones who "wont have to" live in Jesus, die in Jesus, and rise in Jesus and they will suffer for it. The Holy Spirit calls us to be crucified with Christ that we no longer live but Christ lives in us.  The idea of Participatory Sacrifice is very compatible with the Moral Influence (subjective) theory, but with complete reliance on the agency of the Holy Spirit to inspire us by the cross and transform us into Christ’s likeness.

The third main problem with Penal Substitution is that it claims God displays His justice through a process of vicarious punishment (punishing the innocent instead of the guilty). I agree that grace causes a problem for Justice. How can a just God pardon sinners?  The answer to the problem is that God makes guilty people innocent, that is, he justifies the ungodly. But the problem of pardoning the guilty is not solved by punishing the innocent, it makes the problem worse. Injustice cannot justify injustice. And we cannot say that Jesus became guilty of all the world's sin. That would make His death pointless. Why would guilty people need a guilty person to die for them? Christ "became sin" (2 Cor 5:21) in two senses: (1) he became the very image of sin when he bore the infliction of all the world's sin on the cross. (2) he experienced all the sin of those he saved when they died in him as a result of being united to him in his death by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the self-destruction of sin took place in Jesus' body on the cross and condemned sin in his flesh (Rom 8). But though all sin was inflicted against him, and the sin of all those united to himself was experienced by him, Jesus never became a sinner. He was never pierced for HIS transgressions. He was perfectly innocent, and loved God perfectly on our behalf, even in bearing the sin of the world unto death. But God had made a Law long ago, by which those faithful to the covenant were entitled to incredible blessing, and those who transgressed the covenant were entitled to terrible cursing. And though Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly, he willingly died as all those who transgressed the Law. Therefore the cross was the climax of all mankind's injustice: the crucifixion of their rightful king. So God displayed His justice in the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the restoration of his authority over all things in heaven and earth. All who confess and repent of their treason are then given the means to participate in the life, death, and resurrection of their king. Insofar as the Christian is a sinner, his death is just and succeeds in destroying his flesh, but insofar as the Christian is in Christ by the Holy Spirit, his death is unjust and God applies His Resurrection Justice to Him.  In contrast to Penal Substitution, I argue that God’s Justice demands the Resurrection of Jesus and the restoration of His rightful authority, and I think it makes no sense to say that Justice demands the crucifixion of Christ.  The idea of Resurrection Justice is very similar to the idea in the Christus Victor motif in which Satan loses His rights over Man because of Christ’s innocence, but instead of Satan we have the Law itself losing its power because of the innocent Christ’s condemnation, and then re-instating it’s rights in the Resurrection.

So again, the central obstacle between man and God is not God's wrath, but sin. Sin is an infinite deficit of love for God which is atoned for through the Restitution of Love in Christ, which calls us to Participate by the Holy Spirit in the Sacrificial life and death of Christ, and ultimately Christ will impute to us his Resurrection Justice from God the Father. The Resurrection Justice Theory of the atonement. 

22 comments:

  1. Thanks for drawing my attention to this, Nick. I'm still processing his argument, but at this point I can't say I can buy into it. For one thing, the idea of vicarious payment vs. vicarious punishment seems like more of a lateral move than a step forward. I can see how his argument works in terms of money. If my son damages the neighbor's window, I can make restitution on his behalf, and the neighbor will be fully satisfied even if the money comes from me rather than my son, b/c all he really cares about his getting his window fixed. But I'm not sure how this could possibly work for love. Think about it: If my son rejects me, no amount of love from anyone else could replace the love I desire from him. There's no way anyone could love me on his behalf and somehow take away the pain of his rejection. The only way things can be restored is if my son is reconciled to me. So I fail to see how Jesus can do this on our behalf, repaying our debt of love to God. Ultimately, God wants to be reconciled to each and every individual.

    The other thing this model suffers from is a debt/repayment paradigm. Again, this is a lateral move rather than a step beyond penal substitution. I think a much stronger case can be made for a bondage/freedom paradigm. But that'll have to wait for another day.

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  2. Kevin -

    Thank you so much for reading my article and giving your thoughtful response!

    First, the payment model does not necessitate that the person owed is ambivalent about where the money comes from. If I cannot pay off my credit card, I may borrow money from someone else, but that money still needs to be credited to my account. There is no chance that the credit card company will call me up before the due date and say "It's okay, we got the money from somewhere else." They need the money from my account. I agree with you that God wants to save individual sinners.

    Second, in the analogy with your son, I am not arguing that 'your need to be loved by a son' is what needs to be restored. Nor am I arguing that ‘God's need to be loved by man’ is what needs restoring. I am arguing that 'your son's love for you' needs to be restored, just as man’s love for God needs to be restored. Does your son not “owe you an apology” (I’d argue that ‘apology’ is our modern word for propitiation) and do you not accept your son’s remorse as a sort of restitution for his rejection? My argument is that the love that causes your son to apologize comes from Jesus, applied by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I did not get into this in the article, but because all of man’s sin was poured out on Jesus on the cross, and because Jesus willingly endured it out love for the Father in obedience to the mission of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has made all sin a display of the greater love that exists within the Trinity (and this is the love that we are invited to participate in through the power of the Holy Spirit). Similarly, when your son confesses his sin and apologizes, his sin is made into a display of his greater love for you, which is why you accept his remorse as restitution for his rejection.

    Third, do you think that such texts as Matthew 6:12 (the Lord's prayer: forgive us our debts) Matthew 18:21-35 (the King who forgives his slave's debt), and Colossians 2:14 (certificate of debt nailed to the cross) "suffer from a debt/repayment paradigm"?

    Fourth, I have no problems with a bondage/freedom paradigm or many other paradigms. I think Resurrection Justice Theory is completely compatible with it. I think the atonement in general is and should be described by many paradigms as appropriate to the situation (Kaleidoscopic!). And yet, we should be excluding of theories which are flat out incorrect, which is why this article is specifically framed to refute Penal Substitution.

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  3. Hey Gabe,

    Thanks for sending me your post. I get excited when I see other people taking a serious interest in these important topics. Very cool.

    Unfortunately, I don't think you've made a very strong case for your view –– or most importantly, represented the traditional Protestant understanding well at all. To be honest, one gets the feeling from reading this that you haven't really studied the penal substitution view carefully or comprehensively. In being unable to articulate it accurately or engage with any specific theologians or exegesis, your critiques of the view fall flat and your arguments (most/all of which are not new) aren't very compelling.

    I don't really have time to give you a detailed, thorough response but I'll try and give you my off-the-cuff reactions. Sorry it's rushed but hopefully it's coherent!

    I think your summation of the differing atonement theories "all picking a different effect of sin" is pretty inaccurate, especially the way you caricature the penal substation view as "making the central obstacle wrath, and not sin." You make a separation where there isn't one. God's wrath can't be divorced from sin or vice versa. No one who holds to PS is ever talking about wrath and downplaying sin. What is God's wrath all about? Sin. There is no wrath without sin. It doesn't even make sense to talk about wrath divorced from sin and no one does this. Sin is an "obstacle" for a number of reasons. It corrupts us, corrupts creation, destroys our relationship with God –– the only just response to sin is wrath because God is holy. Our obstacle is sin. Our obstacle is corruption. Our obstacle is death. Our obstacle is wrath. These are inseparable statements.

    In the penal substitutionary understanding, our "problem" is sin for many reasons and all of these reasons are accounted for. Your view is reductionistic where PS isn't. It accounts for sin AND wrath where as you divide these and don't deal with wrath at all. Wrath and judgement are huge threads in Scripture that your view just kind of ignores.

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  4. Hey Gabe,

    Thanks for sending me your post. I get excited when I see other people taking a serious interest in these important topics. Very cool.

    Unfortunately, I don't think you've made a very strong case for your view –– or most importantly, represented the traditional Protestant understanding well at all. To be honest, one gets the feeling from reading this that you haven't really studied the penal substitution view carefully or comprehensively. In being unable to articulate it accurately or engage with any specific theologians or exegesis, your critiques of the view fall flat and your arguments (most/all of which are not new) aren't very compelling.

    I don't really have time to give you a detailed, thorough response but I'll try and give you my off-the-cuff reactions. Sorry it's rushed but hopefully it's coherent!

    I think your summation of the differing atonement theories "all picking a different effect of sin" is pretty inaccurate, especially the way you caricature the penal substation view as "making the central obstacle wrath, and not sin." You make a separation where there isn't one. God's wrath can't be divorced from sin or vice versa. No one who holds to PS is ever talking about wrath and downplaying sin. What is God's wrath all about? Sin. There is no wrath without sin. It doesn't even make sense to talk about wrath divorced from sin and no one does this. Sin is an "obstacle" for a number of reasons. It corrupts us, corrupts creation, destroys our relationship with God –– the only just response to sin is wrath because God is holy. Our obstacle is sin. Our obstacle is corruption. Our obstacle is death. Our obstacle is wrath. These are inseparable statements.

    In the penal substitutionary understanding, our "problem" is sin for many reasons and all of these reasons are accounted for. Your view is reductionistic where PS isn't. It accounts for sin AND wrath where as you divide these and don't deal with wrath at all. Wrath and judgement are huge threads in Scripture that your view just kind of ignores.

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    1. Anthony,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and leave your response! Here are my comments:

      My argument in the intro is that the elimination of effects does not eliminate the cause of those effects. Wrath is an effect of which sin is the cause, as you have said, wrath is a “just response” to sin. So the question remains: how does the elimination of wrath, or the satisfaction of wrath, eliminate sin? How does the satisfaction of the “just response,” take away the thing which is being responded to? How does Jesus’ endurance of my punishment eliminate my crime?

      Usually PS advocates say something like, “Our sin is transferred out of us to Jesus, and his righteousness is transferred to us, in what Martin Luther called the Great Exchange.”. So they would say that our sin is eliminated by a process of imputation out from us to Jesus, and then neutralization by the wrath of God (I tried to capture this as part of my drawing of PS). This argument has its own problems, but you didn’t defend it, so I wont deal with it.

      However, if we have a model in which Jesus goes to the cross to eliminate sin itself (and restore that which sin has destroyed), then wrath will be averted as well, for it will have nothing else to respond to. In the essay I discussed mainly two ways that sin is eliminated. The first is if we affirm the Biblical language that sin is a debt of love, and that Jesus pays this debt for us on the cross and “credits to our account” by the application of the Holy Spirit. The second is the undoing of sin’s destruction in the Resurrection, which Justice requires because Jesus has unjustly suffered all of sin’s destruction on the cross. I’ll add a third, which is that the nature of sin is to self-destruct, and sin will self-destruct fully and finally for believers when we physically die with Christ, for He has paid our debt and merited the restoration of our destruction in His Resurrection.

      I agree with you that there is one sense in which no distinction between sin and wrath exists. I’d say that the wrath of God at its worst is when God gives man over to man’s own sin, completely unrestrained by grace (along with folks like Jonathan Edwards). So I think the only way we can say that Jesus was ‘under the wrath of God’ on the cross is if we affirm that being given over to the hands of sinful men is a type of God’s wrath. But the primary definition of such a circumstance is suffering man’s sin, and the secondary definition is suffering the wrath of God.

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  5. 1. Restitution

    For me, this section makes especially clear that you do not understand the penal substitutionary view –– or at least are reacting to some truncated, shallow view of it. This can be seen with your Mercedes illustration –– which fails as an example on many levels. First, PS doesn't posit a second new car for the "Rich Man" to destroy but actually does include what you describe: "needing money to fix the Rich Man's car and make Restitution." Also needing to be accounted for is that there is more than just "damage" being done but actual treason/hostility/aggression happening. We're not just dealing with debt here but malicious crime. It's not just restitution that needs to happen but actual punishment. You exclude the later and think the former is missing in penal substation … when in fact both are central to this view. There is no place for justice in your theory. Your illustration also includes a third party (the insurance company) which messes up the picture. It is the owner of the car who sacrifices something of himself, not an outside party who provides the possibility for equal damage to another external thing. Of course that wouldn't make sense. That's not how anyone actually sees the atonement.

    A more accurate (though also incomplete) illustration of PS would be the following: The owner of a Mercedes dealer leaves the company with his teenage son to run while out on a meeting. Instead of running the place responsibly, the son rebels and steals the most expensive car in the place. He takes it out for a reckless joyride as he destroys city monuments and runs over several old ladies. He finally drives it into a nearby river. He returns to meet his father at the end of the day –– his middle finger raised in defiance. His father tells him that he will not press charges. He will not send him to jail. He has even pre-paid for his hospital bills. Even more incredible, he has spent his entire retirement fund and has already bought a replacement Mercedes. In fact, he hands him the keys and says that the car is his.

    That's penal substitution. And even that doesn't express it fully. God's grace in the gospel is amazing like that.

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    1. The analogy is about the purpose of the means for atonement, whether the means are provided so the offended party can receive Restitution (the fixing of that which is broken) or exercise his right of Retribution (do commensurate damage to that which he has received). So the provider of the means is partly irrelevant. But you’re correct, it should be the Rich Man that provides a second of his own Mercedes so that he can damage it equally to the damage I’ve done to the first. This is even more absurd. Now both damaged Mercedes belong to the Rich Man. My argument stands, that providing means simply for offended parties to exercise Punishment is just silly, and does not accomplish atonement.

      The point here is that when we offend others, we do not burden them with the obligation to commit commensurate offenses to that which they have received. If I gouge out your eye, I may deserve to lose an eye, but you do not have the obligation under justice to gouge out an eye. This causes a problem for PS, because on that view the primary reason Jesus goes to the cross is to satisfy God’s obligation under justice to commit commensurate damage to that which He has received. Man has “gouged out God’s eye” and so God needs to “gouge out the eye of Man” and so Jesus goes to the cross to “get his eye gouged out” in our place. But I am arguing that on PS, Jesus goes to the cross to satisfy an obligation Justice does not require.

      What you have described in your own Mercedes illustration is substitutionary payment, not substitutionary punishment. In the post, I advocated that we think of the atonement in terms of payment rather than punishment, and I tried to distinguish these with my reference to Paul’s freeing Onesimus from Philemon. Paul pays off Onesimus’ debts (payment), he does not endure the number of lashes Philemon owes Onesimus (punishment). So you’re trying to refute me by advocating my own argument.

      John Stott, in The Cross of Christ, says that the two priorities of Penal Substitution are substitution and satisfaction (specifically satisfaction of wrath). There is a substitutionary aspect here, as the father pays for the son’s damage, but I don’t see the satisfaction of the father’s wrath. In your illustration, who is taking the son’s punishment? We wouldn’t say that the father is ‘satisfying his wrath’ on his retirement account, would we? Interestingly, John Stott also says that payment models, which you and I have advocated, fail as understandings of the atonement.

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  6. What you do in this section is focus on one aspect of Christ's necessary redemptive work (a debt we owe God) but wrongly categorize it in the atonement. And not only wrongly categorize it there but actually reduce the atonement to this one aspect. Yes, we do owe God an infinite debt of love and we can't pay it. That is what we were meant to do from creation. This is the original mandate that we can no longer fulfill. You are exactly right that Christ had to come and pay this infinite debt of love in our place. This is his work as the Second Adam and the True Israel. What Adam failed to do as our representative steward and servant (prophet, priest, and king of creation) –– Christ must come and do in his place. He must be the obedient son that we humanity failed to be. Christ must come and obey the law perfectly as Adam (and then Israel) failed to do. He is born under the original creation mandate and the Mosaic law (Old Covenant) to fully uphold and accomplish them both.

    This is what Protestant theologians have classically called the "active obedience" of Christ. This positive aspect is distinct (and inseparable from) the "negative", atoning aspect. i.e. Our sin not only needs to be forgiven and our just punishment of God's wrath averted (atonement) but our positive fulfilling of God's requirement must also be accomplished (active obedience). It is not just on the cross that Jesus accomplishes this but throughout his entire life. His life, death, and resurrection is all part of redemption –– not just Christ's atoning work on the cross. His obedient life is meritorious and is imputed to us. No longer 'in Adam' we become united 'in Christ'. In Christ we have been forgiven. In Christ we have also kept all of the law (love God, love neighbor) perfectly. This restitution aspect you are looking for has always been present in robust Protestant theology.

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    1. If the restitution aspect I am looking for has always been present in robust Protestant theology, then I am ecstatic.

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  7. 2. Substitution

    This section on substitution was frustrating and filled with distortion and caricature. There's not really any new arguments here –– mostly this is the same kind of thing that Catholics argued at the time of the Reformation and that liberal Protestant theologians have argued since. I think it's clear Paul faced those same kind of arguments from people in the early church. It's the same old "Shall we now sin that grace may abound?" It's the fear that the gospel of grace will lead to lawlessness and spiritual apathy. Of course "cheap grace" is a problem –– but the answer isn't less grace (gospel) and more law (imperatives). It's to uphold both together without separation and without distortion. Our obedience and godly living always must flow out of gratitude for what Christ has done. They are not a part of our salvation but a (necessary) response to it. Ironically, our salvation being accomplished outside of us is what motivates us to truly love. Like in any human relationship or especially marriage –– experiencing someone loving you unconditionally is what motivates you to love them freely. Not to earn something but out of gratitude and out of true love. I'm about to be married. I'd like to lose a few pounds. My fiancĂ© accepts me as I am. I'm not obligated to lose any weight. But out of love and in response to her free grace, I just want to.

    To cut off that source and collapse the objective atonement outside of us into a subjective "atonement" inside of us blurs law and gospel and will ironically not get you toward good works. We will be driven to despair out of our failure to live "victorious Christian lives" or we will foolishly and self-righteously think we are succeeding and will be puffed up with pride. Think of the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee acknowledges his complete reliance on God and that God is the source for his Godly living. To put the atonement "in us" doesn't give us deep grace it distorts the whole concept of grace. It begins to collapse sanctification into justification.

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    1. I am not afraid that ‘the gospel of grace will lead to lawlessness and spiritual apathy.’ I do think that a purely substitutionary understanding of the atonement (which is different from the gospel of grace) has led to lawlessness and spiritual apathy. Nominal American Protestantism, the idea of “Fire insurance salvation,” are both examples off the top of my head.

      But the main point is that a purely substitutionary understanding of the atonement is just plain inaccurate, apart from its harmful effects on Christian behavior. I think that the Bible includes in the gospel of grace the application of Christ’s saving work by the Holy Spirit to individuals, that is, “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:5).” Both the Objective and Subjective elements of the atonement are included in the gospel of grace. There is no reason we should think of the “Subjective” activity of the gospel, or that which takes place “in us,” as no longer grace based.

      So I am not advocating less grace and more imperatives, and certainly not advocating an earned salvation. The projection of the ‘grace vs. works’ dichotomy on to my argument is inappropriate, although I think it is interesting that your mind went there. I would never reduce the ministry of the Holy Spirit to works or imperatives. The Holy Spirit is a person with a purpose and His purpose reorients our entire lives. He reorients our minds, our hearts, our loves, and our actions. I am advocating that we have a much stronger view of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, continually sanctifying and transforming us into Christ-likeness. Specifically, the Holy Spirit leads us to die with Christ (at conversion and death), and rise with Christ (after conversion and death) as I mentioned in the essay. I think such an emphasis on the person and purpose of the Holy Spirit indwelling our lives will transcend the ‘grace vs. works’ bickering. Do you not believe that confession and repentance correspond to Christ’s death and resurrection?

      What led the tax collector to pray for mercy in the first place? The conviction of the Holy Spirit.

      We must go beyond substitutionary language to include such things as the application of the Holy Spirit, our participation in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and the transformation of our whole soul. Yet the inclusion of these things, I think, is a necessary part of our soteriology, and a necessary part of understanding of how we are reconciled to God, which is why our doctrine of the atonement must go beyond substitution.

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  8. You say that substitution "implies somebody else did something for us so we don't have to" –– and well, yes! That's the total essence of the gospel. That's why it's offensive to our moral default that wants (and was originally meant to earn) our own standing with God. It's really disturbing to see you write things like "Jesus did not become a Man and love God on our behalf so we would not have to." Of course he did. That's exactly it. That's the core of everything.

    Unable to "fulfill our debt of love" and do what we were meant to … Christ comes and does it so we can be saved! We are broken and under the curse of sin and death. We can't do this –– even with a boost from the Holy Spirit. Until we're glorified and salvation is complete we remain sinners in this life. He must do all of this. We only receive. To turn subjective things like crucifixion and resurrection into our own moral lives is a very serious error that distorts the work of Christ. Ironically, doing so will draw us into ourselves instead of out to Christ and the good news (not good advice!) of the gospel.

    In your theory ––– sin is still not dealt with. We are still not in right relation to a holy and just God who cannot look upon sin. Even with the Holy Spirit and even on our best of days we are still plagued with sin in this life. Our (Spirit-empowered) imperfect love for God doesn't take care of the problem. The problem is much worse than you seem to describe and the solution (necessarily) much more radical.

    Penal Substitution is not a two person transaction and if it's ever described that way (I can think of no example where it is) it is incorrect. Again, you seem to be very unfamiliar with Protestant theology on the Holy Spirit and his role in Jesus' life and obedience. Jesus lives in complete dependence on the Holy Spirit throughout his ministry to accomplish his salvific work. PS is thoroughly Trinitarian.

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    1. I began the paragraph in the blog by affirming the merits of the term ‘Substitution’ though I think my central problem with the term remains: Substitution excludes the application of the Holy Spirit. And I believe that whether or not a person accepts or rejects the application of the Holy Spirit is the determining factor of whether or not they are saved. It’s not enough for something to just happen “outside of us.” Something must happen “inside of us” and there is nothing in saying this that compromises grace.

      Again, the ‘core of everything’ is not that “Jesus loved God so we don’t have to.” You don’t think that we have to love God to be saved? I think the ‘core of everything’ is that Jesus became a Man and loved God so that we could become lovers of God. The central transition that takes place when someone becomes a Christian is from ‘does not love God’ to ‘loves God.’ Becoming a Christian is not primarily a change in legal status, but in love status. This does not mean that anything ‘depends on us’ but that salvation depends on whether or not ‘the love of God is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit that is given to us (Rom 5:5).’

      I think Jesus is very clear when he says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. If any” I am wary of language that dilutes that command. How do we go from Jesus’ words to the popular phrase, “Jesus died on the cross so I wouldn’t have to?” and the popular, “Jesus died the death I should have died?” The truth is that we do have to die, and Jesus died the death we are called to die.

      Example: I am a horrible basketball player. But let’s say I’m on the Lakers basketball team during the playoffs and never play a game. Kobe Bryant will play as my substitute until we win the playoffs, and the Lakers’ win will apply to me. This seems to me the way that Penal Substitution likes to describe the Christian life. We sit on the sidelines and reap the benefits of what Christ does as our substitute.

      In contrast, I think if there was some way for the Holy Spirit to assimilate Kobe’s game, the way he dribbles, passes, and shoots, and then for the Holy Spirit to apply Kobe’s game to me so that I can go out on the court and play Kobe’s game, thus participating in winning the playoffs, that would be a more accurate analogy. And I would say that the difference between damnation and salvation for me is not whether the Lakers win the playoffs (that is a given, although ironically they got kicked out of the playoffs this year) but whether or not I, by submission to the Holy Spirit, step out on to the court and participate in the win.

      Salvation may have an origin in substitution, so I am happy to affirm substitutionary language as far as that goes, but in order to save sinners our soteriology must go beyond substitution to the application by the Holy Spirit.

      The really important point in all this, though, is the Christ-likeness of Kobe Bryant, which I hope we can agree on.

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  9. 3. Resurrection Justice

    This section was the most vague and confusing for me. It again relies on misunderstanding or caricatures of the penal substitution view. You write "The problem of pardoning the guilty is not solved by punishing the innocent, it makes the problem worse." You argue that if Jesus is guilty of all our sin than his death is pointless. You write "Why would a guilty person need a guilty person to die for them?"

    But no one is actually arguing that. Jesus is not a guilty person. He is innocent. He's the spotless lamb that is slain. He experiences God's wrath in our place as "the great exchange". Sure, Christ's resurrection is part of God's justice and the restoration of his rightful authority. There's nothing there that's "in contrast to penal substitution". That's why the atonement works and that's why the incarnation had to happen. Only the god-man could have both bore our sin and also been raised up and vindicated. Only he could bear God's wrath for sin but also live the perfect life and be vindicated as the righteous one who God must raise and enthrone. Here, you've just removed the aspect of justice from the atonement and leave it only in the resurrection.

    That's what's frustrating to me about other atonement theories besides penal substitution. They are all reductionistic and often include things the substitution view does include. The resurrection of Christ is the final vindication as the blameless, perfect son of God and justice does demand it. So … ? Why is this in contradiction to penal substitution? It isn't.

    And remaining is still the lingering question … and what about sin? Doesn't sin provoke God's wrath? Where is the wrath? Where is judgement? How do Christians escape this exactly? It's still not clear to me ...

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    1. The typical account of Penal Substitution is that God demonstrates His justice by satisfying His wrath on Jesus on the cross. In other words, someone must suffer the penalty for sin in order for God to be just. I do not understand on the Penal Substitution view how justice demands the Resurrection. Can you explain it to me?

      Justice demands Restitution for damage done to innocent parties. Man is totally and severely damaged due to sin, and in a condition of perpetual self-destruction. God wants to restore Man, but Man is guilty of his damage. So how can a just God restore Man’s destruction due to sin? God becomes a man in the person of Jesus Christ, and endures all of Man’s sin on the cross. He, being perfectly innocent, therefore merits the Restitution of all of sin’s destruction in the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit then invites us to Participate in Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection therefore partake in the final destruction of sin in His death, and the restoration of all creation through His Resurrection. Clear enough?

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  10. Conclusion

    This only scratches the surface but I hope that can be interesting or helpful to you. A foundational thing I also want to point out here is that there is very little (well, basically zero) exegesis of Scripture in here. There's a random Proverb or a chapter reference here in there … but no actual working through the text. You fail to engage seriously any Scripture or any of the exegesis that undergirds penal substation. Even if you're abstract reasoning were compelling, you still have a very serious case to make from the text. You have entire biblical motifs to account for … Mosaic Covenant, Creation Mandate / Covenant of Works, wrath, judgement/hell, Mosaic Law, Passover Lamb, the sacrificial system, Israel Typology, prophet/priest/king, Davidic Covenant, Levtitical priesthood, and on and on it goes …

    From what I can see, your theory has major gaps in it and doesn't account for the many ideas, themes, and Scripture that Penal Substitution has deal with seriously and thoroughly. For some of the latest in that subject you may want to read through Michael Horton's dogmatics, especially Covenant and Salvation, or his systematic theology. Unless you're equipped to engage with all of these things rigorously your arguments just aren't going to be able to do much –– especially when they barely come in contact with any Scripture.

    In reading this my main thought was: man, Gabe really needs to understand penal substation. I think if you were to study it with more depth you would find it satisfying. I think it does justice to both reason and Scripture. At the very least, you need to be able to articulate it clearly and fairly if you want to critique it. Until then, I really am not sure how helpful any of this is.

    Anyway, sorry to be harsh but I'm not sure how else to say I think you're very wrong. Hope we can talk more in the future. ;)

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    1. The purpose of this blog is to provide an introductory summary of this atonement model, using some arguments against Penal Substitution as a point of reference, hence the level of citation. But I’m happy to provide you with the Biblical Analysis and Scholarly Interaction you desire. More to come.

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  11. Anthony,

    While I don't agree with Gabe's view entirely, I do like his account of Penal Substitution...

    I'd like to take issue with your specific comment about him not dealing with eough Scripture.

    The robust case for penal substitution, understood and expressed by legitimate scholars, is large and detailed--What Gabe's summary does is give us a tangible-size version of PENAL SUBSTITUTION AS ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD BY MILLIONS OF CHRISTIANS to look at and move around. Systematic theologians don't often make such hasty generalizations, but I certainly did (before seminary) and hundreds of friends did.

    For these people (the 97% who don't read the Bible daily), their view of PS is not formed by Scripture alone but by their pastor mediating his graduate school professors' views mediated by reformed theologians' views of Scripture.

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    1. Keith-

      I assure you it's just a short matter of time before you agree with my view entirely............

      I should also say that I think that even the robust case for penal substitution, understood and expressed by legitimate scholars, as large and detailed as it is, is still false.

      But I have to start somewhere. Thanks for reading my post.

      Best,
      Gabe

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  12. Gabriel said: How does Jesus’ endurance of my punishment eliminate my crime?

    My non-scholarly answer: it doesn't, and it doesn't have to. It justifies us by satisfying God's wrath. Jesus took the punishment we should've received. So in effect, our sin was still punished, and God's wrath was still satisfied.

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  13. I think your arguing semantics a bit when you say that the main obstacle between man and God is sin, and not his wrath. The argument is one which seems to emanate from an anthropological (man-centered) perspective. We could easily turn the tables and look at things from a theological perspective (God centered) and say it is not sin that is the primary problem, but rather God's holiness which produces wrath against sinful man. The simple (keep it simple lol) fact is that man has broken God's law, in fact we don't even know what sin is with out the law of God (Romans 3:19). That sin forces God into the position of Judge, because after all it's his law and forces us into the position of guilty defendant, because after all we broke the law. Thus it was necessary to provide a penal substitution if any redemptive act was to be justifiable on the part of God. So I would argue the most complete picture is that God's holiness produces a justified wrath against sinful man. To leave any of this out and say "it's just one and not the other" is to give an incomplete diagnosis of the problem, and unfortunately could lead to uncompleted solutions.

    Check us out at www.bibliocentric.com

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    1. Josh and Marius - Thanks for reading my post and leaving your responses! Apologies for my tardiness in replying.

      Is sin destructive because God hates it, or does God hate sin because it is destructive? In other words, is sin a problem because it obligates God to destroy sinners, or because sin itself destroys sinners whom God loves? Does God solve the problem of sin by destroying us, or by repairing what sin has destroyed?

      If the main problem with sin is that it obligates God to destroy sinners, then I suppose Penal Substitution is correct, and what we need for salvation is a substitute whom God can somehow justly destroy instead of us.

      But I think sin is its own worst problem, independent from God’s response to it, because sin is self-destructive. We are designed to love God. When we sin, we rebel against God, and therefore we rebel against our own design, necessarily resulting in self-destruction. No positive act of God is necessary to produce this destruction. It’s like punching a brick wall or forsaking the fountain of living waters (Jer 2:13). In the case of sin against God, the offense is to the detriment of the offender. So I do not think that the main problem with sin is that it warrants God’s wrath. God’s wrath is based on His gracious giving of the Law, and at worst, returns the sinner’s own sin upon his head. God is not obligated to destroy sinners. He could justly allow us to rot in self-destruction forever. The main problem with sin is that it is self-destructive, and does not warrant God’s restoration. As Josh said, something has to happen if a redemptive act is to be justifiable on the part of God.

      What we need as sinners is restitution, the undoing of sin’s destruction. Justice promises restitution for damages done to innocent parties. Though humanity is totally and severely damaged due to sin, and God wants to enact restitution for our sin, we are not innocent; we are guilty of this damage. So how can a just God enact restitution for guilty sinners? God becomes the innocent man in the person of Jesus Christ, and takes all of our sinful destruction upon Himself on the cross, thereby earning the right of restitution for all of sin’s destruction through the resurrection. By the power of the Holy Spirit, if we participate in His death, then we will also participate in His restitution of sin’s destruction.

      Punishing sin does not solve the problem of sin. If you murder my brother, and you are caught, taken to jail, and sentenced to death, that does nothing to bring my brother back from the dead. Retribution does not solve the problem. Restitution does.

      I think this restitution-based relationship between atonement and justice is far cleaner Biblically. It explains why the sinner himself always kills a sacrifice. In the Passover, the Israelites kill the sacrifice, not the angel of death. In a ritual sacrifice, it is always the offerer that kills the sacrifice, not the priest. In the crucifixion, it is very clearly sinners that are killing Jesus, not a manifestation of God's wrath. A vicarious punishment system would lead me to expect that the angel of death would kill the Passover lamb, that the priest kill the ritual sacrifice, and that God Himself would rain down fire and brimstone on Jesus. It seems far more plausible that the sacrificial vessel bears the sin of the sinner, than the sacrificial vessel bears the punishment for the sinner's sin. Restitution makes more sense of propitiation as well. In the scriptures, just as in real life, wrath is averted by providing the offended party with the sufficient means of restitution for sin's destruction, not by providing the offended party an alternate means for exercising their right of retribution (car analogy: if I damage your car, your wrath will be averted from sending me to prison if I provide you with the means to fix your car. Your wrath wont be averted if I provide you with a car of equal worth that you can damage equally to the damage I have done to your car)

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