Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The cross is the means by which .... what?

'[A]lthough many Christians think of the cross as the means by which human beings get right with God, Paul thinks of the cross as the means by which God deals with the alienation of human from human, from the world in which humans live, and from God'

This delightful sentence comes from Marianne Meye Thompson's brilliant contribution to 'The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary' series (Marianne Meye Thompson, Colossians and Philemon [Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2005], 121)

For a recent and spunky review of a book opposing the concept of penal substitution, do have a read of Phil Groom's superb offering here.

For me, the inner jury is still out on the whole 'penal' issue. If you were to recommend any book on the penal substitution issue, what would it be?


At 6/11/2008 1:32 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

Well, I have I.Howard Marshall's Aspects of the Atonement: Cross and Resurrection in the Reconciling of God and Humanity (Paternoster 2008). He is decidedly evangelical and for penal substitutionary atonement but does well to explain why penal is important (better to think of it in terms of God's judgement and wrath over punishment).

Another possibility to consider would be P.T. Forsyth's Cruciality of the Cross or The Work of Christ. Several publishers have it (Wipf and Stock for example).

Those are suggestions I have.

At 6/11/2008 6:56 AM, Anonymous Geoff said...

Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross by Han Boersma. Tis brilliant.

For another excellent treatment of atonement that includes the penal aspect I'd get "Community Called Atonement" by Scot McKnight.

Then of course there are :The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross" by Leon Morris and "The Cross of Christ" by John Stott (a more popular level treatment)

At 6/11/2008 7:37 AM, Anonymous jordan said...

"The Glory of the Atonement" (edited by Hill and James) provides biblical, historical and theological essays that generally assume the penal character and do so from different angles.

At 6/11/2008 9:54 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Superb! Thanks, chaps. I'll head off to the library today or tomorrow to get a few of these.

At 6/11/2008 10:21 AM, Anonymous Terry said...

Steve Holmes's The Wondrous Cross is worth reading, too, and not just because it's the most balanced book on the issue I've read.

At 6/11/2008 8:24 PM, Anonymous Kenny said...

I'll say at the outset that I haven't read the reviewed book and I'm highly Reformed.

But to the extent that Groom accurately represents McIlwain, it seems like his argument against penal substitution is based on some weak proof texting and a lack of understanding of the ideas of penal substitution.

'(McIlwain) takes Proverbs 17:26 as its starting point: "It is not good to punish an innocent man" (NIV). McIlwain asks, "Could God have done that which is not good?" '

Is this really the way Proverbs should be used?

The perspective presented by Groom/McIlwain, to me, seems to desire to be one that is enlightened compared to a barbaric penal perspective, when really it just fails to appreciate the depth, comprehensiveness, and majesty of Christian paradoxes such as that God is the "just and the justifier" of those who believe.

At 6/11/2008 11:24 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Kenny. I hear what you are saying there, yes. But I too have not read the book Phil mentions, so I cannot comment.

At 6/12/2008 2:59 PM, Anonymous Michael F. Bird said...

I think any of these books would be good (esp. Marshall, Carson's essay in Hill, Holmes, Boersma, and Gathercole's SBET article from a few years ago). Marshall is good because he avoids the excesses of some evangelical types (e.g. Grudem) that God gets revenge on Jesus! Wright's Romans commentary on Rom. 3.22-24 and 8.1-2 is also good.

At 6/12/2008 4:18 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

Great quote from Thompson--I'm glad to see that she said it! (I'm a fan of her work in The God of the Gospel of John and somewhere in my to-read stack is The Humanity of Jesus in the Gospel of John.)


At 6/12/2008 10:47 PM, Anonymous ordinand said...

I know that you are familiar with it but 'Jesus and the Victory of God' by N.T. Wright stes out a good case for a narrative understanding of penal subtiutuion. This is taken up in a more systematic way by Hans Boersma 'Violence, Hospitality and the Cross'

At 6/13/2008 11:06 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Mike, and Ordinand thanks. I'll certainly dig these out. Monday visit to the library will extend my reading pile.

At 6/14/2008 9:06 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

It's a guy on a cross.

You can add whatever significance you what to it, or ignore it.

Personally, I could think of tons of ways to get people's attention besides a guy on a cross. And I don't think some guy dying 2000 years ago really does it any more. There's so many other things getting people's attention these days.

I think lessons in basic practical ethics beat going on about a guy on a cross and trying to make the whole cosmos revolve around that.

And I don't get how any of the so-called theological explanations really work. Some sort of mystical magic is passed along by one means or another. Or Jesus is our example. Take your pick.

The mystical magical version makes little sense. Like some guy had to die on a cross because little Billy refused to clean his room 2000 years later, thus disobeying his parents and breaking a commandment which would have sent him to a place of eternal torment.

Or there's Jesus the "example," yet there's a wealth of good moral examples in all the world's religions including religious and secular humanisms. Including Jesus among them really doesn't make Crhistianity appear all that special.

At 6/14/2008 9:09 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...


Reporter: What will we do in heaven for eternity? Won’t we get bored?

Rev. Spurgeon: Nonsense. We will joyously sing and meditate on the sufferings of Christ that made the miracle of our salvation possible. As for myself, I could sing and meditate on the wounds round Jesus’s head for a billion years. Then focus on the wounds on his scourged back for the next billion. Then the wound in his right hand for a billion more, the wound in his left hand for a billion, the wound in his side for a billion. Then the wounds in his feet, each foot for a billion years.

Reporter: So, you’re saying there’s nothing worthy of a Christian’s time and devotion, nothing worth looking at, or singing about, for all eternity, except Jesus and his wounds?

Rev. Spurgeon: That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Reporter: So, ah...What’s hell going to be like?

E.T.B. (based on actual replies of Rev. Spurgeon)

When Robert Ingersoll heard how Rev. Spurgeon planned to spend billions of years in heaven just staring at Jesus’s wounds, Ingersoll said, “I bet he even takes great delight in reading the genealogies of the Old Testament.”

The Best of Robert Ingersoll, Robert E. Greeley, Ed.

At 6/14/2008 2:53 PM, Anonymous bobbyt said...

Oh dear, Edward T Babinski - I believe that this is at least the third theological blog site to which you have posted exactly the same set of 'objections' to the Christian faith. To (mis)quote Shakespeare: "Methinks you protest too much". If the Christian faith is really so much bunkum, why not give it a really wide berth and ignore it completely? Or is there perhaps just something about the faith you claim to have left behind that strikes a chord in you that is too deep to eradicate? Maybe you imagine that by repeating your mantras you will expunge the last vestiges of what you once believed to be true.

At 6/17/2008 3:29 AM, Anonymous Norman McIlwain said...

The book Phil Groom reviewed: 'The Biblical Revelation of the Cross' is now fully available free online @



At 6/17/2008 1:26 PM, Anonymous Pilgrim said...

Hey Chris - thanks for this.

Replying to Kenny: "But to the extent that Groom accurately represents McIlwain, it seems like his argument against penal substitution is based on some weak proof texting and a lack of understanding of the ideas of penal substitution."

You admit that you haven't read the book, I take that on board, so what can I say other than, yes it's obvious that you haven't read the book?

Please do go read it: you'll see that this isn't a case of so-called 'proof texting' — it's a detailed, wide ranging and careful study of the relevant biblical material. In a review all I can offer is a snapshot to whet your appetite... and now that Norman has kindly made the whole book freely available online, you've got no excuse not to follow through.

As for not understanding or appreciating paradox: I'm your Christian Atheist, OK? I live in paradox.

Replying to ETB: Thanks mate. Lovin' it, especially the Chipmunk story. But do us a favour, OK: if you have already posted all this stuff elsewhere as bobbyt says, quit the spamming please; just post a link to one of your previous posts. Gets kinda tedious scrolling through it all otherwise...

Happy daze, y'all!

At 6/17/2008 10:53 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Norman, THANKS for the link! I'll have to link to this on the main page. Thanks again for making this public like that - a real service.

At 6/18/2008 1:06 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...


You're right, I ought to add such titbits to my own blog and simply leave a link here.

As for why I do it? Why do I post? You all think outside the box here at Chrisendom. You're all condemned by religious believers to your right. Yet you all continue onward with your own views of what lay behind the metaphysical curtain -- a kinder gentler god perhaps, almost universalistic, even questioning penal substitution and other ideas, taking neither the Bible's beginning nor ending very literally. This is all very nice tea time religious conversation, and I see nothing wrong with that.

But when someone appears to the left of your own view, who does not see all the poetry you do in the word of God (but who none the less does sees some poetry in parts of it, but which could be reduced to a much smaller bible, and one that ought to include soul stirring poetry from all the world's books, holy or otherwise), then some of you begin guessing at my ulterior motives, my protesting too much, or rather my laughing too much at the fineries of "atonement hypotheses," or at the near limitlness number of other things that Christians cannot agree upon, yet which each side seems incredibly certain about. To me religion appears like a gigantic carnival, a zoo of metaphysicians, all damning the rest in more than purely rhetorical, even a metaphysical fashion, except of course for the universalists. Yet you are near to them as well, at least Chris appears to be.

At any rate I enjoy tweaking people to my right (orthodox moderate Christians) as much as they enjoy tweaking theologians to their right (conservatives). Ah, the tweaking of the gods.

At 6/18/2008 3:04 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...


When the majority of your multiple-spam cut-n-paste post elements involve derision (especially instead of actual conversation with the original post author and/or the subsequent thread posters), then you have only yourself to blame if people complain in various ways and degrees about your posting. (Moreover, there are people who merely troll for complaints using very similar flamebait tactics. So when you yourself use such tactics, it is inductively reasonable for some respondents to infer you're only trying to do the same thing.)

In any case, you have made it clear that you have no intention of respecting our very nice tea time religious conversation--if you really thought there was nothing wrong with it, you wouldn't stand on the fringe expounding your various derisions in our general direction. You would either quietly listen, or go away and do something else, or else try to join in the actual conversation with the persons here.

I may not agree with most atonement theories, and I may even strenuously disagree with most atonement theories; but I wouldn't call the attempts by various parties to talk about them (even favorably) as "a gigantic carnival, a zoo of metaphysicians". At the very least, I would have enough sense not to call them that and then expect these same people to believe I see nothing wrong with their very nice tea time religious conversation where they all try to damn the rest in more than a merely rhetorical fashion.

True, I write some extensive comments myself, on a not-uncommon basis. But I do so in conversation with the people involved; and I have something positive to bring to the field; and I make a point of respecting my opposition enough to get down on the field and risk myself with them, for the sake of hopefully accomplishing something worth doing, rather than trying to stand on the sidelines chunking fog grenades at the players on the field. Moreover, I don't do it for my own amused self-aggrandizement of 'tweaking the gods', ah.

I do it out of respect for truth, over-above (and occasionally against) myself; and because I positively love other people than myself, including ones I may not like very much. (But especially I do it for the one whom I love the most, whom I would never try to enmesh in a hopeless fog. I would be totally betraying her if I did that.)


At 6/22/2008 3:23 PM, Anonymous bobbyt said...

Dear ETB

Having begun a criticism of the way you appear to add multiple comments to your posts, I am feeling a more than a little guilty and would like to offer an apology. Having moved from a position of strict Calvinistic interpretation of the cross and other theological matters, what is of real value in re-examining all aspects of belief, is to have real personal views to sift and sort through. It really helps someone like me (and I'm sure others) to get involved in debate that requires careful thought before making a reply. Most Christians carry a great deal of spiritual baggage which really has not been thought through. To genuinely debate with someone like yourself, in your 'natural guise' as opposed to you quoting others would be of value in producing much self-examination and perhaps the discarding of something (much?) that is really not true.
Yours in Christ


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