Thursday, February 08, 2007

Divine Child Abuse?

What did Christ accomplish on the cross? To demonstrate His love. To triumph over principalities and powers. (Christus Victor). To set a moral example of obedience. To pay a ransom for our souls.

These are important facets of the cross, but we can't stop there.

II Corinthians 5:22: “He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf that we could become the righteousness of God in Him.”

At the heart of the cross, Christ bore our sins and took upon Himself the just wrath of God that we deserved. He took the punishment as our substitute so that we may be forgiven and rescued.

Unless the cross actually saves us, it would be an empty show of love just like the silly lovesick boy who says, "Darling, I will prove my love for you by jumping off Niagara Falls".

It is only meaningful act of love if the beloved is in real danger such that diving in would be an attempt to rescue her.

And a humiliating and painful death by crucifixion is hardly victorious if not because by setting us free from the power of sin and death, Christ has disarmed the weapons of the enemy. Satan is defeated on the cross as he no longer has any claim on us. Christ has paid the ransom, and triumphantly snatched us from his hands.

And yes, we can learn about obedience of the Son even unto death and denying one's will to do the Father's by looking at the cross. But it is because Christ has died and rescued us from our moral condemnation that we have the most powerful, motivating influence for obedience in life.

So we can make much sense of the other motifs through the lens of Christ's substitutionary death. But in and of themselves, these motifs are emptied of their power. Sadly, this notion of penal substitutionary atonement has sometimes been described as 'cosmic child abuse'.

Greg Koukl wrote some helpful responses here
"Why is it an act of love for God the Father to punish His Son? How is it the Father’s love? I could see it being an act of love for Jesus if he chose to do it, but how is it an act of love by the Father that Jesus would lay down His life? How is it loving that the Father would punish a third party?

If you did something bad to me, and I grabbed Joe Blow over there and said to you that I was going to forgive you because I’m going to punch this guy out, you would wonder how it’s an act of love for me to forgive you by punching him out? It might be his love if he said to punch him out on your behalf, but hardly an act of my love. Unless - in the case of God the Father, and the Son, Jesus, that the Son is also God. That is, it is not just another man that the Father is punishing for our sins, but God who became a man Himself and took upon Himself His own just punishment.

This is why it’s so important to approach this challenge with an understanding of the Trinity, and understanding of the nature of God Jesus is God; He isn’t just an innocent third party. He is the Judge Himself suffering, the One who determines the punishment takes it, the One who passes judgment receives it. It is Jesus, the incarnate God. That is how it’s an example of the love of God.

It is precisely because God is love that He has made a way for sinful men to be forgiven and His holy quality of justice to be upheld at the same time so that, as Paul writes, He can be both the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

Read on for Greg's full story. Also check out Mark Dever's Nothing But The Blood and Gary William's Punished In Our Place (with an important discussion on pre-Anselm theologians)


Edwin Tay said...

Recent attempts by some evangelicals to call the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement into question could have been curbed more readily if Owen was more widely read. Some of the criticisms leveled against the doctrine were in fact found in a far more sophisticated form along with a plethora of other related criticisms in the works of 17th century Socinians. In fact, recent critics of the penal doctrine would have advanced a more viable case if they had brought in Socinus as an ally. The history of criticism with respect to the penal doctrine is, interestingly, a history of the degeneration of criticism. This ought to encourage us to mine the resources of history for answers to modern resurgence of past censures to evangelical doctrines. How does Owen help to address recent critics? First, familiarity with Owen’s formulation of the penal doctrine would have cautioned critics and proponents alike against the conflation of popular and degenerate forms of the doctrine with carefully constructed formulations like that of Owen’s. Second, familiarity with Owen’s writings against the Socinians and Hugo Grotius, as well as with his intramural debates with fellow Puritans like Richard Baxter, William Twisse, and Samuel Rutherford, on atonement and its related issues, would have more than adequately prepared the evangelical fraternity for the less sophisticated, and certainly less tradition-informed arguments of recent critics. For a primer into these matters, I highly recommend Gary Williams’ paper.

BK said...

This is a strong and emotive issue which is certainly on or near the
top of the agenda for British evangelicalism. This shouldn't be
surprising to anyone, given we are discussing the heart of the faith
itself, the atonement, and thus, should be important for everyone, and not just British evangelicals.

I agree that we need to listen and clarify before making any
statements, and recognise that because the discussion involves talking about punishment, sin, the nature of God's love/holiness etc., it is a very explosive issue and cannot remain on the level of abstract debate, and I think we need to acknowledge that sometimes some of us struggle with this, especially if we have suffered in the past in some way. (OK, that was very vague!)

Personally, I guess what helped was that the very first book I read on
the cross was Cross-Examined by Mark Meynell, a book which I still
recommend as the best introductory book on the cross. Meynell was very
careful and thorough in discussing God's justice, our sin, and
especially, in looking at the variety of images and metaphors that
were used in discussing the cross, be it justification, propitiation,
reconciliation and cleansing. He affirmed penal substitution without
neglecting the multifaceted ways in which the Bible talks about the
cross. Which I guess is the reason why I always am surprised whenever
those who are anti-penal substitution always accused conservative
evangelicals of downplaying other aspects. It might true of some
pulpits that they preach it in a very crude way, but it's certainly
not true of (in my experience anyway) of a lot of other churches.

It seems (to me anyway, and I probably still have much to learn),
penal substitution must be affirmed to take in the full range of
biblical data, including God's wrath and his holiness. Still, this
debate will at the very least, be helpful in clarifying this doctrine
while also remembering other metaphors.

No discussion should preclude John Stott's very careful work The Cross
of Christ, however, and it seems to me strange that it gets mentioned
so little. Although it's 20 years old now, having just struggled
through it over the summer, I was amazed by how much it still spoke to
contemporary debates.

I think Ekklesia were unfair, though, in using the word "attack"of the
EA, which I think totally misrepresents the tone of the debate, and
the fact that EA wanted to help clarify things. (Also see Conrad Gempf
here -

Other helpful stuff includes Howard Marshall's paper here

Ben Cooper has written defending penal substitution on both popular
and academic levels and it might be worth trying to find these
Just Love -
Must God Punish Sin? (Latimer Trust booklet) - http://

Another book Pierced for Our Transgressions, by Michael Ovey, might be
out from IVP this Spring and that might be helpful too.

Learning to listen,

Anonymous said...

The theory related to the term substitutionary atonement is the assumption that the sacrifice of a human will appease God. This assumption is entirely false. The crucifixion of Jesus is actually the sin of murder caused by bloodshed and is a fully accountable sin. One of the facts the proponents of this doctrine either ignore or are unaware of is that Jesus says guilt relative to sin remains the outstanding issue with God AFTER Jesus' crucifixion. For the theory of substitutionary atonement to retain any merit of not being a false assumption the man that you propose to have perfected this idea should not have had even a remote thought of you being guilty relative to sin AFTER his resurrection. Another fact that the proponents of substitutionary atonement ignore or are ignorant of is that God whenever a male human's life is taken by bloodshed requires a direct accounting to him for taking a man's life by bloodshed. You can read these direct quotes by God in Jn. 16:8 and Gen. 9:5 and I feel certain that God knows more of what he is talking about than somebody named Owen.
The actual truth for the reason of Jesus' crucifixion since it is the sin of murder caused by bloodshed was for establishing the reasonable reason for God to demand an accounting from each man in regard to only one sin. Therefore relative only to the sin of Jesus' crucifixion, Jesus made a change of the law of God by the addition of one word to the law in that God loves obedience rather than sacrifice.
But you need to understand that with God the sin comes first and then the law is added to make the sin accountable. If it had been remotely possible to discover the real reason for Jesus' crucifixion he would have never been crucified 1 Cor.2:7-9. For the narrow gate into the kingdom of God could not be perfected if the crucifixion of Jesus was not the sin of murder caused by bloodshed. Regarding that God loves obedience rather than sacrifice and the fact the Jesus' crucifixion is the sin of murder caused by bloodshed, for which God demands an accounting, the one word added to the law of God makes it mandatory for each person to obey God's son in regard to only one sin in order to enter the kingdom of God. The only Way the command in Acts 2:38 can be obeyed is by the faith to Repent directly to God for the one sin of Jesus' murder. Just willing confess to God that you are sorry Jesus was crucified and be baptized to show that you have accepted this Way.
The theory of substitutionary atonement, however, reverses all truth and actually keeps everyone who believes any of this concepts various systems from being saved from any sin. It should be obvious that salvation systems which have substitutionary atonement for a base offer many gates into God's kingdom whereas God says there is only one small narrow gate to use for escaping death. Make every effort to use that gate for it is a commanded.
Theodore A. Jones