Sunday, November 11, 2007

A pet peeve

I have been reading The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views today. There are contributions and responses to the position papers from G.A. Boyd (Christus Victor view), Joel Green (kaleidoscopic view), B.R. Reichenbach (healing view), and Thomas Schreiner (penal substitution view). Thus far I have read Schriener's and Boyd's chapters, together with responses. The essay's are very well written, as are most of the responses - especially those by Green. It is a very enjoyable book and I recommend it most highly to those wishing to think through their doctrine of atonement.

To be honest, I am still working out my thoughts on the atonement and so remain open minded, but here is a line of reasoning that I occasionally come across and that really ticks me off. Schreiner writes:

'The wisdom of God displayed in the cross is rejected by the wise of this age. Penal substitution is an object of indignation and regularly pilloried by many of the educated class' (70)

Schreiner qualifies himself a page or two later, but I still cannot stand it when such reasoning is even hinted at. 'You think penal substitution is a problematic doctrine? The message of the cross always was a scandal'.

Nonsense! When Paul writes of the 'offense of the cross' in Gal 5:11, or of the foolishness of the message of the cross in 1 Cor 1:18, he does not say these things because people are disturbed by the proclamation of a penal substitutionary view of atonement. The skandalon of Gal 5:11 was probably simply the notion of a crucified messiah (cf. Dunn, Galatians, 281), not because people were offended that an angry God satisfies his wrath through a sacrifice (an idea known in the pagan world). The 'foolishness' in 1 Cor 1:18 also has nothing to do with a reaction to penal substitution. Rather, the 'Christian proclamation of a crucified malefactor was moronic to persons weaned on a love of learning, virtuousness and aesthetic pleasure … The message of the cross calls for a worldview shift of colossal proportions because it subverts conventional, taken-for-granted ways of thinking and knowing' (Green and Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, 14).

To all writers: if you want to defend a penal substitutionary view of the atonement, please stop relating modern consternation towards the doctrine with Paul's skandalon statements. It is exegetically unsound and an irresponsible use of rhetoric.


At 11/11/2007 9:08 PM, Anonymous Owen Weddle said...

Amen. Took the words right out of my mouth.

Some take what Paul is getting at, which is essentially to say that people were offended in order to show that the Gospel isn't always readily accepted and turn it around to say everything is to be rejected.

In logical propositions Paul states:
Some right teachings will be rejected
Therefore, not all right teachings will be accepted

However, in a logical form, it is ocmmonly argued
All right teachings will be rejected
Therefore, no right teachings will be accepted

It is a total perversion of what Paul is saying. But anything to justify doctrinal point, I guess.

At 11/11/2007 11:29 PM, Anonymous Patrick George McCullough said...

Double Amen from me. I too appreciated the book and I also thought that Green's perspective was the most helpful (although I am somewhat partial to Boyd as well).

Schreiner's essay... not so much.

At 11/11/2007 11:32 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

ou make a good point - the offense of the cross was a crucified messiah not a particular view of the atonement! It is suprising that a scholar such as Schriner would miss that point! Interesting. Very interesting.

At 11/12/2007 3:21 AM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...


Let me jump on the Amen train... AMEN again, a third time from me!

I like how simply Fee put it in stating that:

"At stake for Paul is his proclamation of Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον (a crucified Messiah), and inherent (deliberate) affront to both Jewish and Greek worldviews. To the one (the Jew who awaits displays of Messianic power), a crucified Messiah is the ultimate scandal; to the other (the Greek who pursues 'wisdom'), it is the height of folly." (Fee, Pauline Christology, 101)

This seems to be exactly what you are saying as well so my repeating Fee here is probably useless, but I just wanted to show you how nice that Unicode Greek looks :^D

I'm also wondering, was the governmental theory represented at all in this book? That's the model of atonement that I'm partial to because I see it as harmonizing God's justice and love better than other views.

He is just to accept a willing sacrifice in place of sinners and at the same time he does not pour out his wrath on the innocent sacrifice, rather he allows him to suffer (as opposed to being punished) in our stead. He maintains his divine love in that this sacrifice still requires a free response on the part of the recipient. (from my understanding of the penal payment model the logical conclusion is either universalism or a Calvinistic idea of election and limited atonement).

Perhaps I'm wrong (truth be told I'm still working out my views as well) but this model makes the best sense to me...

At 11/12/2007 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me of how reformed folks often dismiss their opponents objections as just further proof of 'total depravity'. It's really quite convenient.


At 11/12/2007 8:14 PM, Anonymous Ryan Jones said...

The problem with you thinking academic types is that you always want people's words to mean something and actually make sense. Sheesh. How can you set the standard so high and still expect people to smooth over their muddled ideas?

At 11/12/2007 9:49 PM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...


Touché... I was told the other day that my rejection of 'strict inerrancy' is proof of a hardened heart.

At 11/13/2007 1:42 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Blake,

Thanks for your comments.

You wrote: "And if Schreiner qualifies this later in the chapter what is the problem? (I would be interested to hear how he qualifies it also)"

As I mentioned in the post - if this type of thinking is even hinted at, it gets me all riled. His qualification, if I rememeber, was to say that if people find something offensive, this doesn't make it true.

Thanks for your charitable interpretation - I hope it was clear that I also think his essay was very well written, as I mentioned in the post. I think he made a good case - I'm still mulling on it.


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