Sunday, October 10, 2004

The fallacy of the satisfaction theory of Atonement

Introduction

It is incredible that the church maintains a belief that is as clearly unbiblical as the satisfaction theory of the atonement. Having described the classical ‘Christus Victor’ idea held by the church for the first 1000 years in my last post, I thought it fitting to outline why the satisfactory models of the atonement are a significantly warped view of the atonement. This warping is to such an extent that I would suggest satisfactory theories are misleading, unbiblical, untrue, and illogical, as will here endeavour to outline.

A typical version of the satisfaction theory is given in the popular ‘penal substitution’ model, summarised by C.S. Evans as:

Human beings have sinned against God and thereby incurred a debt that demands everlasting punishment. God is both just and merciful. In his mercy he wishes to forgive human beings and not punish them, but his justice does not allow this. God resolves this problem by becoming a human being himself, and suffering the pain and death of crucifixion, as a substitute for the punishment we humans deserve. Since God is infinitely good, his death is an adequate payment for the infinite debt sinful humans owe. Since the debt has now been paid, a just God can offer forgiveness. When we humans respond in faith to Jesus, then God accepts the sufferings of Jesus as a payment for our sin.

Now, let us get past the theology and put this in plain language to reveal the true nature of this theory:

You have broken the law because it is impossible to keep it, and so you must have broken it. And because you cannot keep this impossible-to-keep law you will be punished forever because "the penalty for sin is death" and those are just the rules. God must have blood because ‘the Law’ requires it; there must be a penalty paid. The only payment that would have been enough is sacrificing someone who was the "perfect law-keeper", someone who could live a perfect life without sin. So God decided to kill his own Son on the cross to appease his legal need for blood. Now that Jesus has been sacrificed God is no longer mad at us for not doing what we can't do anyway, so we can now come and live with him forever - as long as we are grateful to him for his "mercy" to us.

Adapted from Derek Flood

And let me give you another illustration of the satisfactory model:

There was a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the estate." So the father divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son went off to a distant country, squandered all he had in wild living, and ended up feeding pigs in order to survive. Eventually he returned to his father, saying, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants." But his father responded: "I cannot simply forgive you for what you have done, not even so much as to make you one of my hired men. You have insulted my honor by your wild living. Simply to forgive you would be to trivialize sin; it would be against the moral order of the entire universe. For “nothing is less tolerable in the order of things than for a son to take away the honor due to his father and not make recompense for what he takes away.” Such is the severity of my justice that reconciliation will not be made unless the penalty is utterly paid. My wrath--my avenging justice--must be placated.'"

"But father, please..." the son began to plead.

"No," the father said, "either you must be punished or you must pay back, through hard labor for as long as you shall live, the honor you stole from me."

Then the elder brother spoke up. "Father, I will pay the debt that he owes and endure your just punishment for him. Let me work extra in the field on his behalf and thereby placate your wrath." And it came to pass that the elder brother took on the garb of a servant and labored hard year after year, often long into the night, on behalf of his younger brother. And finally, when the elder brother died of exhaustion, the father's wrath was placated against his younger son and they lived happily for the remainder of their days.

R Collins

You’ll recognise this as a perverted story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father, and rightly so, for the satisfactory model perverts the character of God and His dealings with us.

So, allow me to discuss why I reject the satisfactory model…

It is historically unsound

1. It is not what the church believed for the first 1000 years.

Arguably, this is a rather convincing reason in itself. The theory of ‘satisfaction’ was based on ideas from the Latin legal system, which had little – if anything – in common with the views of the early Fathers

2. It was criticised almost immediately when it was suggested

Abelard, among others, condemned the theory when it was first suggested. There have been a long string of Christians who have rejected the doctrine throughout its history. While the alternative theories suggested were typically also flawed because they were not the classical view of the early church either, the point was the recognised the fallacy of the satisfaction view.

3. Given their writings, it is inconceivable that the early church Fathers believed it – or indeed would have. Thus it is not likely the apostles believed it, and if they did not believe it, it is unlikely Jesus Himself taught it.

The early Fathers did not consider the atonement being a legal matter, but a victory. God is not viewed as making a legal transaction or being ‘appeased’, but rather He is the one doing the atonement – choosing to descend in Christ to reveal His love to us, that sin and death might be overcome. Where the satisfaction theories use terms shared by the Fathers, the meaning behind the words is significantly different.

4. The idea of a physical sacrifice appeasing God is a pagan concept

There is considerable literature on the use of human sacrifice in pagan rituals, from ancient times even until modern times. Rather than appeasing God or indeed influencing His treatment of people in any way, Biblical sacrifices were to bring people to repentance. Because of this repentance, and in keeping with His nature, God forgives their sin and accepts them as they return in their hearts to Him.

Certainly, God is not concerned with the physical nature of sacrifices (Isa 1:11,13,16-17, Hosea 6:6, Mat 9:13), and it defies logic that the mere shedding of blood would appease any form of righteous anger. Rather, God looks at the heart, and it is not the physical fruit, meat, or blood that He values, but the ‘broken and contrite heart’ (Psa 51:16-17). Furthermore, there are numerous Scriptural instances of God not accepting sacrifices because of the heart it was offered it – again exemplifying that He values the heart, not the physical.

Because of its shockingly physical nature, sacrifice had a profound emotional and spiritual impact on the one making it. In the words of Jewish Rabbi Nachum Braverman;

"You rest your hands on its head and you confess the mistake you made. Then you slaughter the cow. It's butchered in front of you. The blood is poured on the altar. The fat is put on the altar to burn. How do you feel? (Don't say disgusted.) I'll tell you how you feel. You feel overwhelmed with emotion, jarred by the confrontation you've just had with death, and grateful to be alive. You've had a catharsis. The cow on the altar was a vicarious offering of yourself"

Furthermore, as will be later explained (#14), the concept of God's attitude toward sin being 'appeased' is contradictory with the nature of God's love and sin itself.

It contradicts the nature of God’s grace

5. The necessity for ‘satisfaction’ is unbiblical

There is no teaching that a satisfaction is necessary in the Bible. Certainly, the work of Christ is described as an ‘atoning sacrifice’ in a general sense. However, to the early church this phrase did not carry a connotation of satisfaction, but of liberation through death. This word for ‘atonement’ is literally an ‘exchange’. In the Greco-Roman culture of the time, this phrase was used of someone who would forego their own life so that their family, city or people would be saved. Thus, the emphasis is on saving and liberation – not in satisfaction.

There is no Biblical justification as to why God Himself would require payment for sins. Indeed, God often forgoes punishment in several instances – and instead is merciful to whom He pleases. Any discipline God may give is purely for the benefit of people – not to ‘satisfy His need for justice’. What is more, satisfaction theory tends to be used to support a disturbingly legalistic view of the ‘justice’ of God. God is not portrayed as loving, but as an unreasonable tyrant.

6. It portrays a God who does not forgive, but merely administers legal ‘justice’

Satisfaction models rely on God needing to ‘uphold moral justice’, and implies it is ‘unjust’ to forgive and therefore not possible for God. Thus, under a satisfaction model, our sins are not actually forgiven at all – for God merely balances them with ‘appropriate’ and ‘just’ punishment. To suggest that this ‘balancing the accounts’ is the essence of grace and kindness would be to undermine the nature of grace and kindness in the Bible, and in the light of common sense.

Thus if sin is ‘satisfied’ – it is not truly forgive at all. Yet, this idea completely contradicts Scripture! To give some of the many possible examples:

- We are not to count man's wrongs against us and God does not count our wrongs against Him (1 Corinthians 13:5)

- Scriptures declare that God "does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (Psa. 103:10, NIV)

- The thief next to Jesus at Calvary (Luk 23:43)

- God’s grace to Nineveh

Clearly, then, the satisfaction model is entirely at odds with the true grace of God. Yet, as Paul so clearly writes, God has commanded His love toward us (Rom 5:8), and we are not under law, but grace (Rom 6:14).

7. Satisfaction theory attempts to preserve God’s legal sense of ‘justice’ and ‘honour’ – and yet in Christ He showed forgiveness is not about ‘justice’, but about grace, and honour is not about keeping the law, but about love.

Christ Himself taught of how ‘unjust’ God’s mercy is in the parable of the hired labourers (Mat 20:1-16). Likewise, God’s honour is considered to be upheld by a satisfaction-based atonement, and in Jesus, God was humiliated, unjustly treated, and mocked.

It is logically unsound

8. It’s senseless

Imagine that you went to visit a friend who owned a park and it cost 5 dollars to gain admittance. The friend tells you that you don't have to pay that, he the owner of the park will pay for you. So he takes 5 dollars out of his pocket and then puts it in his other pocket.

This is largely what the ‘satisfaction’ model leads to – God satisfying Himself. It is meaningless, for the point of the whole atonement is God laying aside our sin and ‘drawing near’ (that’s the Hebrew phrase for ‘sacrifice’, incidentally) to us.

More than meaningless, it is senseless, for it implies that God essentially punishes Himself instead of giving us punishment we ‘deserve’ for our sin. This is equivalent to suggesting the following story:

“The President (representing God) is walking down a street and suddenly is brutally mugged by several attackers (representing sin against Him). Fortunately, the police (representing God’s ‘justice’) apprehend the criminals. The police give the mugged President two options, either they imprison the offenders, or they will let them go if they are allowed to mug the President a second time. In His kindness to the offenders, the President agrees to be mugged a second time so that the offenders would not be punished.

Clearly, this is incredibly senseless, for many reasons. Primarily, the President (God) has authority over the police (His ‘justice’) and if He wanted to pardon the offenders, He could have simply granted them pardon. There is no need for Him to endure punishment for the offenders to be pardoned. There is no need for God to ‘beat himself up about it’!

9. Problems with Christ’s ‘punishment’

The early satisfaction view did not have the element of ‘punishment of our sins’, which developed largely in the 17th and 18th centuries. Rather, the sacrifice of Christ was seen as a perfect sacrifice because of Christ’s divinity and perfect nature – not because He endured ‘punishment equivalent to what we deserved’.

There are obvious difficulties with suggesting Christ’s punishment was in any way ‘equivalent’ to the punishment we deserve. If anything, any punishment inflicted on the Divine at all would carry far more weight than the punishment the world deserved – for it would be punishing the innocent. This in itself is completely unjust – and contradicts the attempts of the satisfactory model to have God maintaining ‘divine justice’.

Furthermore, the concept of a God who ‘must punish sin’ is arguably not in line with how God reveals Himself in the history of Scripture. Certainly, sometimes He disciples, but He plainly advocates forgiveness rather than ‘justice’ in the satisfactory sense of the word. One must also ask, “Why would God find satisfaction in the punishment of the innocent while the guilty are acquitted?”

However, even if one holds that Christ took our punishment in a literal and quantitative sense there are still difficulties. To seek to equate a certain quantitative punishment for sin is dubious, but then to suggest that Christ contained and endured the sum total of all such quantitative punishments earned by the human race is bordering on preposterous.

Rather, it makes more sense – if one chooses to hold a satisfactory idea – to think along Anselm’s original ideas of the imputation of merit. In this concept, Christ’s suffering was so meritorious, that there was surplus ‘merit’ (innocence, etc) that could be given to us. But this is unreasonable for the reason discussed in the following point…

10. Guilt or Innocence cannot be transferred

It is logically impossible to defend that guilt or innocence to be transferred from one person to another, maintaining the true meaning of guilt and innocence. Paying someone’s civil debt is one thing, but being imprisoned for someone else’s crime is quite another – it is travesty of justice. Sin should be considered in a criminal sense, not in the sense of merely financial debt.

Furthermore, the fact that someone else may do or be something particular does not change the fact that you did something. Nothing can change that, history cannot erase it, and God cannot pretend you did not do it. The guilt is firmly and unshakably connected to the guilty person. It is inconceivable that God would deceive Himself to consider a guilty person innocent.

In the sacrificial system, God clearly states that after making a sacrifice, ‘it will be forgiven’ of the person. The guilt remains firmly on the person sinning, but God states that He will ‘lay that guilt aside’. There is no suggestion that the guilt is transferred from the person to the sacrifice.

Scripture supports a common-sense view of justice, “Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty” (Exodus 23:7). "Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
(Deut 24:16). How could God Himself do something we, even as sinners, would see as blatantly unjust?

Theological Reasons

11. It is contradicted by Scripture

It would take far too much time to discuss all the verses. But, suffice to say, the satisfactory view does not account for all the passages – and indeed it is contradicted by several. Furthermore, the underlying truths presented in the Bible are at odds with the concepts of satisfaction.

12. It portrays God as sadistic

Satisfaction theory portrays God as being ‘satisfied by the spilling of blood and punishment’, as if it appeases his anger. It gives the impression that God is sadistic, and is pleased by inflicting suffering. Not only this, but it directly contrasts with a clearly stated characteristic of God, “God is Love”. Furthermore, God demonstrates this love in the person of Christ greater than ever before.

13. Satisfactory atonement is primarily achieved by the sacrifice of a ‘man’, and not purely from the heart of the Father

The satisfactory view intrinsically holds that atonement is what is done by a perfect man, the man of Jesus, governs how God treats people. The idea of Jesus being divine has secondary importance to the fact that he was a man – for the sacrifice of a man was required.

However, early church believed that God the Father choose of His own doing to be gracious to people – and He Himself was in the divine Christ to reveal His grace. His grace conquers sin and death because instead of people getting what they deserve, as the devil would want, God chooses to be gracious to us. Thus, the Father needs nothing to facilitate this grace, for in very nature it is unwarranted, and therefore the concept of requiring the work of Jesus to ‘warrant’ that grace contradicts its true nature.

The early Christians viewed God as the one drawing near to sinful people from His own initiative and of His own will, out of His grace. The concept that anything ‘man’ or even the man of Christ does could ‘bring people to God’ – or rather, bring God to people - is completely at odds with the early ideas. Rather, God ‘lowered Himself’ to people – and it is not because of anything apart from His grace that He does so. The idea that God’s grace must be ‘earned/obtained/justified’ by the work of Christ, the perfect man and therefore ‘sacrifice’, is in opposition with the Biblical concept held by the early church.

14. It misses the true gravity of sin and God's gracious love

While trying to give full weight to sin, the satisfaction theory fails to deal with its true gravity. This lack is because the satisfaction theory views the essence of the atonement as a change in God’s attitude toward sin, rather than our liberation from it. So, instead of being our problem, sin is made out to be God’s problem. Satisfaction theory makes God’s attitude to sin central, instead of sin being our problem that we are freed from.

As a consequence of the satisfaction view, sin is something that can be ‘paid for’ – like a financial debt. Essentially, God can be ‘bought’, to deem our sin as ‘OK’ because the ‘price has been paid’. Satisfaction theory therefore suggests no change in the direct influence of sin upon us, and simply holds up ‘eternal life’ as being the prime objective of atonement.

By contrast, in the classical view, we are damaged and harmed by personal and intra-personal sin, because sin is inherently destructive and enslaving. Sin is our problem, not God’s, and He does not hate it in and of itself, but He hates it because it damages us. Thus, the mere notion of God ‘changing His attitude to our sin’ is preposterous to the classical view, because His hate of sin flows naturally from His love for us. By being victorious over sin, God has freed us from it. Furthermore, God reveals in Christ that He will accept us, broken and damaged from sin, in spite of our faults and sinfulness. In the classical view, God lays aside (the literal meaning of ‘forgive’) our imperfect condition and accepts us anyway if our hearts are devoted to Him. God’s attitude toward sin does not change, it is not ‘appeased’, but rather His grace to us is revealed. Thus, in the classical idea, both the gravity of sin and God’s love and grace are given far more weight.

15. Satisfaction holds that God must maintain ‘justice’ – and cannot truly be gracious. Thus, He is ‘ruled’ by the need for cosmic justice.

Such a statement, which places God under the authority of some higher legal ‘justice’ is clearly at odds with the very nature of God. In the same way as that of the story of the President above, it is well within God’s power to truly forgive. If He wants to forgive, He needn’t find any way to make it judicially ‘just’ – He can simply forgive.

In fact, Biblical, Godly ‘justice’ does not have a judicial sense, but a relational one. Biblical justice embodies the state or the restoration of a right relationship, and has little to do with legal or judicial ideas.

16. The perfect and innocent Christ did not deserved ‘punishing’ – and therefore God would in fact be doing evil to punish Him in any sense of the word

In seeking to ensure legal ‘justice’ is done, the satisfaction model blatantly breaks justice in the worst way. It is one thing for sinful people to wrongly punish an innocent person, but quite another for a righteous God to punish a perfect and innocent Christ! Clearly, it is wrong to punish an innocent person, so why should we make exception with Christ?

17. By insisting that there must be payment for sin, the satisfaction theory implies that God demands ‘a tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye’

The satisfaction theory depicts God as demanding an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exod.21:24). Exact repayment for the damaged one appears to be dearest to God. Yet Jesus completely contradicts such a view, telling us to be gracious and forgiving (see Matt. 5:38-48). Surely God does not deal with us according to a different standard than the one He teaches Himself!

In 1 Corinthians 13:5 Paul declares that love "keeps no record of wrongs" yet the satisfaction model has God carefully keep the score and require exact compensation. The theory of atonement based on law and explained by law too closely resembles a commercial transaction in which the scales of debt and repayment must exactly balance. It tends to transform God's love into coldly-calculating cosmic accounting.

18. It separates the Father and the Son

In contrast to the ideas of the early church Fathers, the satisfactory model presents God as somehow separate to the Son. They did not picture Jesus as doing anything to change the Father’s mind or relation with people – rather Jesus was of the same mind as the Father – being His logos and image. The Father and Son were therefore unified in purpose and thoughts throughout the whole Incarnation – and indeed it was God in His entirety that not only initiated, but also made the atonement. Needless to say, the concept of the Son changing the Father’s mind is senseless – for to the church Fathers, this would have been equivalent to saying God persuaded Himself to change His own mind.

19. It’s scope is limited to the death of Christ, and the Incarnation and resurrection of Christ have little place

The satisfaction model gives no place to the life and resurrection of Christ. These are, as it were, incidental to the major atoning work. While it is true the early church saw great significance on Christ’s death – the death of the Messiah – they always placed great emphasis on His resurrection. Furthermore, they also viewed His life, example, and teachings as greatly valuable.

What is more, is the Incarnation of God in the man of Christ is seen primarily as a means to make the perfect ‘atoning sacrifice’. The argument tends that no man is perfect, and therefore God had to become ‘in carne’ so that there would be a perfect man to make the perfect sacrifice. The significance of the incarnation therefore is predominantly centred on Christ’s death for our ‘atonement’, but even then is almost incidental to the actual atoning work.

In the Christus Victor idea, however, the Incarnation is inseparable to the atonement. Indeed, the Fathers viewed as central that it was God Himself who in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself. Thus, Christ’s Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection are all an intrinsic part of God’s victory to liberate us from sin, death, and the devil – which constitutes the church Fathers’ primary understanding of the atonement.

It lessens the power of the Good News

20. It makes the ‘Good News’ the ‘not-so-Good-News’:

Robin Collins laid out this argument:

Consider starving children in Africa. What is the Gospel message of the Penal and Satisfaction theory to them? "Even though most of your life you have been starving, and your brain barely functions, and you have been abused by others who have killed your parents, raped you, and deprived you of food, you are guilty before God and deserving of eternal punishment and torment in Hell. In fact, the torment you have endured all your life is infinitely less than you actually deserve. But I have good news for you! God has paid the penalty for your sins! He has endured the infinite punishment...."

Does this message sound like it brings life? Hardly! It brings condemnation and the idea that we should consider ourselves fortunate for escaping the punishment we actually still deserve. What’s more, is instead of portraying a loving God who is gracious and merciful – a God who inspires love by loving – it portrays an unfair, sadistic, mentally deranged cosmic lunatic. I know which one I would rather love.

21. It undermines the real sense of the goodness of God by making God simply following the law

In the satisfactory model, the ‘goodness’ of God is no longer clear. Far from being a gracious God who pardons of His own free-will, He is simply an objective, impartial law-keeper, with little emotion toward people and certainly no room for compassion. This Judge merely gives us what has been ‘earned’ for us – as if God now owes a debt to us by granting eternal life.

Scripture teaches that love is not illustrated by giving someone what is earned, but in giving someone what is not earned. What is ‘good’ about maintaining a system of accounts, and doing away with the real sense of grace?

Adherents to the satisfaction model would point to God’s ‘grace’ at sending the Son to ‘earn’ our acceptance by God. But I would again point to the story of the President, who needn’t do anything except pardon – for it is his authority to do so. Suggesting God must ‘pull cosmic strings’ to grant us forgiveness is to dull His love for us, and makes God’s grace seem less good, and more like we just slip in through the gate opened to us by Christ. Satisfaction theory makes it seem God has not really forgiven us, but has just stretched the rules of the cosmos and lowered His standards to let sinners into heaven.

22. Instead of the atonement being victorious Good News, it takes on a negative connotation

So, satisfactory theory suggests that instead of being punished by God, we are ‘let off the hook’. Emphasis is always placed on the infinite punishment that we deserve, and the entirety of Christ’s work is portrayed as removing that punishment. Far from being an intrinsic part of the atonement, the hope of eternal life is simply an added bonus because we aren’t punished.

Thus, the satisfactory view has a very negative aspect to it – far form the victorious element of Christ’s work that clearly dominated the minds of the early church. Far from our salvation coming from Good News, it is through a Narrow Escape from a sentence we actually aren’t rightly freed from.

23. It reduces the atonement to a formula – a rationalised theory – and in doing so it destroys the power of the Gospel and does not prompt people to follow God

There is arguably far more power in the raw, passionate story of Christ’s Victory (Christus Victor) than in the dry, legal transaction of the satisfactory model. The confusing satisfactory model quite rightly leaves non-believers with more questions than answers, and does not posses the same power on the heart as the classical idea. In many cases, the nonsensically legal satisfactory model merely gives more reasons for the non-Christian to reject the faith. Therefore, it is questionable that it is a healthy concept to portray to non-Christians, especially in light of the more sensible, powerful, and biblical idea of Christus Victor.

24. It is a finished event in the past, and thus omits the place of the Holy Spirit and the on-going atonement of people to God

The satisfactory theory completely omits the part of the Holy Spirit and indeed the church in the on-going atonement of people to God. According to the satisfactory view, the atonement is finished and complete – and we have no further part in ‘the atonement’. The church Fathers, in contrast, would have viewed Christ as beginning the victory over sin and death and the devil that we are commissioned to continue. Thus, Christ empowers us to quite literally continue to do His work on earth. This important element is missing from the satisfactory model.

Summary

In contrast to the satisfaction theory, Christus Victor unites all aspects of the Incarnation, Christ’s work, death, resurrection, and the roles of the Holy Spirit and the church. Furthermore, the victorious power of the Christus Victor idea is lacking in the negative satisfactory theory. In light of all these problems with satisfaction-based atonement, it is difficult to understand why one would not believe the Christus Victor idea that is historical, logical, in harmony with Scripture and the nature of God, and gives the Gospel a far greater meaning, significance, and value.

Edited 11/10/04 – completely re-typed
Edited 13/10/04 - re-wrote #14 according to the paradigm shift in the nature of sin and God's attitude to it revealed in Andrew's comment.

18 comments:

Andrew said...

Yah for rants. ;)
Um, I'm seeing really annoying meta-tags in the above post. I suggest you have a look at it in Internet Explorer, and fix it. Could you number your objections too? Might be useful.

Interestingly I estimated recently there were 20 problems with Penal Substitution. Given you list 22 and are doubtless missing a few, it looks like I underestimated!

Jim said...

I think the theory is questionable, but that most of your arguments seem even more like bollocks... especially when you contradict yourself.

On very quick study break so can't say much,

But

Some quotes from your arguments

"Satisfactory atonement is made entirely by ‘man’
In contrast to the ideas of the early church fathers, God the Father is not truly the one making the atonement."
"According to the satisfactory atonement, the atonement is finished and complete – requiring no work on our part, and indeed we have no part in it at all." You say it's wrong because it has the atonement made entirely by "man" and it's wrong because it has us having "no part in it at all."

So if God's not doing it, and we're not doing it, who is?

Anyway, I should be studying
See ya

incognito said...

Andrew, have seen tag problem - will fix.

Jim. Furthermore, your completely unjustified rejection of my points is, I think, somewhat hastily made - and to me indicates that in your 'short study break' you haven't had enough time to actually understand much of what I've said. Perhaps you need to read more carefully - these two quotes you have stuck side-by-side are refering to completely different matters...

The first refers to the satisfactory atonement being the work of a MAN - Christ - rather that God the Father in entirety. The second refers to the fact that it requires no FURTHER work on our part - i.e. we are essentially completely irrelevant to atoning the world. Both of these ideas stand against the view of the early church. Just for you, though, I'll add the word 'FURTHER' in... =)

Andrew said...

My comments on your arguments, using numbers equivalent to the order you've listed them in:
1) Good.
2) Good.
3) A wee bit dubiously phrased, but the point is sound.
4) Same as above.
5) I think this point approaches logical unsoundness. It seems to need to assume what it is trying to prove. Maybe it can be rephrased in such a way as to save the point.
6) Well, it's a bit emotionally phrased, but the point is sound.
7) Well yes, but that's pretty vague and probably not likely to convince anyone who is convinced that Penal Substitution is THE biblical view.
8) I'm not convinced this is a valid point as it stands: Yes it portrays a God who can't really forgive in the normal sense, but the holder of PS will just say "yes, so what?". To get a point you need to engage in further argument about WHY such a view is invalid.
9) Hmm, hmm, hmm, I have serious reservations about this point.
10) I know what you're trying to say (or at least should be trying to say) here and it's a really good point, but the way you've said it really doesn't do it justice.
11) Incorrect logic, the PS holder will reply that Christ, being infinite God, can bear an infinite sin/pain/suffering/guilt/whatever in a finite time. A better argument would just be to observe that the PS holder's use of infinities is dubious.
12) This seems to be multiple arguments not just one. Referring to those verses that note that sacrifices don't appease God merely in virtue of being sacrifices is a good argument. I would hesistate to endorse your other argument about sacrifices taking away wrath as being a pagan concept, but that is mainly because I don't think I understand Israel's sacrificial system properly (I'm not sure what the sacrifices were for/doing, so I'm hesistant to go ruling out ideas arbitrarily).
13) Yes, but isn't this argument the same as the "It portrays that God cannot simply forgive" one???
14) Good.
15) Hmmm, hmm, hmm....
16) Good.
17) Idea is good, maybe further elaboration would be useful.
18) Good.
19) Good.
20) Your point is valid, your argument in support of it isn't so good: God's is revealed as having compassion because he HAS endevoured to circumvent justice by providing the legal loophole of Christ.
21) Yes, I was reflecting last night that a purely rationalistic theory of the atonement like PS has little direct application to people's lives. But your supporting arguments are actually different to your main point here.
22) LOL, I like that analogy. Good point.

incognito said...

Thanks Andrew, I realised this morning point 13 was a repetition...

Now as to my 'poor arguments/reasoning' it is no doubt that I never intended my sub-points to proove my point - but rather to elaborate on my points. However, in light of most people wanting an argument for each point perhaps I'll have to re-word them. Allow me to comment on a few in response:


5) My idea here is to contrast - not provide a logical argument. The Satisfactory View (SV) certainly portrays the Father as being 'just' - yet the Son is unjustly merciful to people who do not deserve it - which illustrates 'injustice'. My point is that God is not at all concerned about being 'just' and 'honourable' as He is concerned about being Love, good, and praiseworthy. The SV puts the emphasis in the wrong place, accenting a 'Just Judge' rather than a 'Loving Father'.

7) Perhaps I'll give some verses then...

8) The point is that forgiveness in the sense of SV is not true forgiveness at all - it is merely keeping the 'cosmic moral law' of God. I see such a view as plainly contradicted by Scripture. I'll have to expand this I guess.

9) This point is explained and supported in 'Christus Victor' by Gustaf Aulen - but to 'proove it' here would require lots more writing that I can currently care to write.

10) Yes, I'll have to reword.

11) Yes, my point was that PS infinities are stupid - I'll have to explain it clearer.

12) There is a good chapter I have read on sacrifices around the time of Jesus, they were very commonly used in a pagan sense. However, I need to research this more also.

13) Yes

15) This is a concept explained well in Aulen's book. I'll explain more...

20) This ties in with (15) so perhaps I'll re-write this...

21) My points were not arguments, but elaboration - perhaps I'll add some more explaination.

Andrew said...

And please, please, please, please, please fix those metatags...

Luuk said...

Or you could just get a decent browser... You have to be some kind of masochist to still be using IE... I demand satisfaction! On second thoughts I'll stop being so elitist and just forgive you - providing that you repent...

Katherine said...

Some thoughts (not necessarily reflecting my own views but, I think, requiring consideration):

10. Your citation of Ex. 23:7 makes me wonder how this verse and others like it look under the CV interpretation?

12. The OT gives some fairly graphic indications that God takes pleasure in blood sacrifice - references to the 'pleasing aroma' of burnt offerings etc. have always been hard to swallow, not to mention the sheer volume of instructions He gives and the interest He seems to take in sacrifices. While it's fairly obvious that it's the heart of the person that's the 'pleasing' part, still the language is there, so the transferal of this concept onto Jesus is natural enough.

13. et al, re. grace not being grace if it was 'earned' through Christ's death: I always interpreted this from the perspective that God's acceptance of us was unmerited by us; hence Christ was His grace, the unmerited gift of a way out for us. There may be other problems, but to me this is not one.

16. I don't think anyone sees it as God actively punishing Jesus; well, maybe some do for all I know, but my understanding was rather that Jesus willingly submitted to the evil world for our sakes. Hence it is a matter of God displaying passivity, rather than aggression. It's not that we 'make an exception with Christ'; we simply accept that He has chosen to act in this way.

17. Does PS really see God as a score-keeper? Seems to me that, what with the doctrine of original sin, it rather sees sin as all lumped together and dealt with in one sweep through the cross.

23. Of course the PS model prompts people to follow God. It prompted me; I suspect it prompted you; it inspires people toward love and gratitude and humility, and to act rightly in response to the great gift of the Son. Though this is not to say it is the most effective prompter of course.

Finally, there's one possible objection to PS that I was surprised that you didn't mention, and that is that it gives high status to Satan's claims upon us, by implying that his demand for ransom is binding upon God. Why should God pay for what is His? In sending Jesus to fulfil the demand for blood, which is really Satan's demand as he is the accuser as well as the instigator of our rebellion (I think...?), He seems to be conferring legitimacy upon the demands of a rebel, instead of simply going in and taking what's His through the sheer superiority of His love over any other entity. The concept of His unhidered mercy, as portrayed in your previous post, makes more sense of the idea that God has triumphed over Satan, for He simply ignores Him instead of placating Him.

[hm, it's hard to avoid talking as though one is making God's battle plans for Him; as though what one concludes, about what would have been the most logical strategy if God were smart enough, actually has some effect on the way things are. But I suppose there's no other way.]

Andrew said...

Comments on the new improved version:
2) I'm not sure that Abelard did actually critise Anselm's theory.

14) I disagree with your argument. "the classical idea would hold that nothing can ‘pay for’ sin – for it is that abhorrent in the sight of God." strikes me as wrong. The Fathers lay a lot less stress than the protestants would on the abhorrance of sin to God. Your thesis statement is correct, but here is what your back up argument should be:

"While trying to give full weight to sin, the satisfaction theory fails to deal with its true gravity. This lack is because it considers the problem of sin to be in fact a problem of God. The problem is with God's attitude toward sin - his anger etc, and not with the sin itself.

By contrast the classical view holds that sin itself is the danger and the threat to us, due to its inherently destructive and enslaving effects. Thus satisfaction theory ignores the idea that sin might be harmful in and of itself and concentrates purely on God's problem with sin, thus ignoring the true gravity of sin."

You might want to proof-read your post too.

incognito said...

Katherine:

10) There are some other verses I may add to this - such as Deut 24:16 and Ex 32:30-33.

12) Yes, the phrase 'sweet savor/smell' is used both of things and of persons. One of my commentaries writes:

A sweet savor - Like the smell of pleasant incense, or of grateful aromatics, such as were burned in the triumphal processions of returning conquerors. The meaning is, that their labors were acceptable to God; he was pleased with them, and would bestow on them the smiles and proofs of his approbation. The word rendered here as “sweet savor” (εὐωδία euōdia) occurs only in this place, and in Eph_5:2; Phi_4:18; and is applied to persons or things well-pleasing to God. It properly means good odor, or fragrance, and in the Septuagint it is frequently applied to the incense that was burnt in the public worship of God and to sacrifices in general; Gen_8:21; Exo_29:18, Exo_29:25, Exo_29:41; Lev_1:9, Lev_1:13, Lev_1:17; Lev_2:2, Lev_2:9,Lev_2:12; Lev_3:5, Lev_3:16; Lev_4:31, etc. Here it means that the services of Paul and the other ministers of religion were as grateful to God as sweet incense, or acceptable sacrifices.

It is seems whatever is pleasing to God may be described as a 'sweet smell'.

13) I have evidently not made my point well. The point is that under Satisfaction theory Christ 'earns' God's approval for us. Yes, Christ was to some extent God's 'grace' to us - but that's not the core, underlying mechanism of atonement. Thus, it removes the idea that the Father is directly graceful to us.

16) Many people do see God as actively punishing God. It seems your view is more in line with Christus Victor than PS.

17) Original sin is plagued by many problems also - so many that I plainly reject it. On this grounds, God is necessarily a score-keeper. If you go along with Original Sin you get into a horde of other difficulties.

23) To be honest, PS didn't inspire me at all - the concept of God accepting me even though I sin was what prompted me. Personally I've always thought PS is silly.

Andrew:

2) It seems to me Abelard's theory was used to criticise Anselm's theory by plenty of people, and indeed the two theories naturally are in opposition. While I'm not familar with much of Abelard's actual writing, it seems fairly clear he stood in marked opposition to Anselm.

14) Perhaps I should have phrased that better. You are correct I seem to have introduced some Satisfactory-type ideas here. The emphasis wasn't on God's 'abhorrence', but the fact that He can never be persuaded to treat it as 'OK' or 'acceptable' or 'paid for'... It is always something He is opposed to - and nothing changes that... His acceptance of sinful people cannot be 'bought' - in that it changes His estimation of the person's sin. Your argument is a very good one though, and I shall add it in.

incognito said...

Andrew, sorry, I'm stupid and missed your point. Your point is profound... Sin is our problem, not God's, and He doesn't hate it in and of itself, but He hates it because it damages us.

This has massive implications against the satisfaction theory.

I will add something like this to my post on CV, and this one also.

incognito said...

Have now changed #14 accordingly.

incognito said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
incognito said...

Andrew, I did some research. While Abelard studied under Anselm in northern France, he was quite a fiery debater. He frequently got into arguments with his peers and superiors. He most definately did disagree with Anselm's atonement model:

"Indeed, how cruel and wicked it seems that anyone should demand the blood of an innocent person as the price for anything, or that it should in any way please him that an innocent man should be slain--still less that God should consider the death of his Son so agreeable that by it he should be reconciled to the whole world!" (Eugene R. Fairweather, editor, Library of Christian Classics, vol. 10, A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham, p. 283.)

Abelard apparently also rejected the ideas of Original sin and predestination. His commentary on Romans is probably the best source for his views on atonement and these matters.

Scott said...

Dear Reuben,

I trust you’ve had a good Christmas break and are enjoying your holidays.

I’ve appreciated reading your thoughts this year and can see that you have a serious commitment to thinking deeply about various theological issues. In particular I was interested to read your opposition of the ‘satisfaction theory of the atonement’, which included the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death. I’ve recently been reading John Stott’s treatment of the atonement The Cross of Christ and have been really compelled to reply to you about these things. The main reason I felt compelled is because I fear that you may have reacted against a distortion and a caricature of the substitutionary view, and the idea of ‘satisfaction’. I agreed with a lot of your points, but I think that is because you were not representing the view correctly and in many cases attacking a ‘straw-man’.

So I ask you to bear with me, a lot of this is quite new for me. But I really have a desire that as followers of Christ we would be able to savor God’s mercy and grace shown in the cross more and more, and respond with loving service for his names sake. I hope that I am clear and that no misunderstandings arise between us.

There are a number of objections you raise which I totally agree with. These things have sometimes been taught in conjunction with a ‘satisfaction-substitution’ view, but that doesn’t mean that those errors must be accepted along with it. It seems like these can be summarised into two categories.

Firstly, that the necessity of satisfaction is required by some principle or law outside God himself, (your point 15, and partly 6, 8, and 21). Anselm held that it was God’s honour that needed to be satisfied, and others that it was the ‘moral order’ of the universe. The Reformers taught that is was God’s justice, and his law that needed to be satisfied. In a sense this is accurate, because as Stott says,
“Paul quotes from Deuteronomy with approval to the effect that every law-breaker is ‘cursed’, and then goes on to affirm that ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us’ (Gal. 3:10 , 13)”

“The limitation they share is that, unless they are very carefully stated, they represent God as being subordinate to something outside and above himself which controls his actions, to which he is accountable, and from which he cannot free himself. ‘Satisfaction’ is an appropriate word, providing we realise that it is he himself in his inner being who needs to be satisfied, and not something external to himself’.
You’re correct. There is not some external principle which restrains how God acts towards sinners. God’s actions are completely determined by who he is, not any external forces at all. And coming from this understanding alone we can understand why God’s displeasure against sin must be satisfied. He is not irrational in his actions, but acts out of his very own character. And Stott points out several ways scripture speaks of God’s self consistency in his obligation to judge sinners.
Firstly, Yahweh is described as ‘provoked’ by Israel’s sinfulness to anger or jealousy or both. (Dt 32:16 ‘They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols.’) This language is throughout the prophets, and expresses God’s natural reaction to evil, because he is a holy God. If he wasn’t provoked or angered in this way, surely he would cease to be the holy God that he is?
Secondly, Yahweh ‘burns with anger’, and his anger can be described as a fire. There’s about a billion verses listed for this but here’s one from Joshua 7:1, “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things …. So the LORD's anger burned against Israel.” Once this fire was kindled, it was impossible to put out, and it is a fire that consumes, and is only quenched when judgement was complete. (Josh 7:26)
Thirdly, more explicit expressions of satisfaction for example Ezekiel 6:12 ‘…So will I spend (or satisfy) my wrath upon them.’ Or Lamentations 4:11 ‘The LORD has given full vent to his wrath; he has poured out his fierce anger.’
Stott points out that all of this comes directly from his holy character, and in expressing his anger against sin he is acting ‘according to his name’, e.g. Ezekiel 36:22 ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.’
You mention Matthew 5:38-48, (point 17) and the fact that we are told not to keep a record of wrongs or to judge others, and then ask ‘Surely God does not deal with us according to a different standard that the one He teaches himself’. Well actually he does deal with us differently, because he is God and we are not. He is the righteous judge and we are not. He is holy, we are not. He is the one who judges justly.
So God is perfectly consistent with his own character. And that character cannot be summed up in the one word ‘love’, because his love is not a love that ignores evil, but is a holy love. ‘Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.’ (Hab 1:13.)
You also quote Psalm 103:10, but it is interesting that in that verse God’s love is set over-against his wrath and anger…
“PS 103:8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
PS 103:9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
PS 103:10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.”
In God not treating us as our sins deserve, it is despite his anger, not completely detached from it.
Another verse you mentioned was Romans 5:8, saying that God just forgives, and commanded his love towards us without needing to do anything about our sin. But this is to completely ignore the context of the passage. Ironically it is talking directly about how “Christ died for us” and we are “justified by his blood” and “saved from God’s wrath through him”. God’s love comes to us through the sacrificial death of Christ. This then leads on to your point number 4 about the Old Testament sacrificial system.

You are right to point out that pagan sacrificial systems do not directly correspond to the OT system. The Levitical sacrifices were not made by people trying to appease an angry and spiteful God, but were actually provisions by God himself to atone for the people’s sin, and to recognise the people’s dependence on their Creator. Through the sacrificial system God is revealed as a Creator on whom we depend and as a Judge who demands, and also as a Saviour who provides atonement. This is portrayed by God’s provision of a ram to Abraham in the place of his son Isaac on Mt Moriah. And we learn from that event, and also Leviticus, that the sacrifices were essentially substitutionary. It was life for life. Consider Leviticus 17:11…
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, "None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood."”
The blood is a symbol of a life ended, and the idea is that one life is ended to make atonement for another’s life. Also, it was clearly given by God (v11 ‘I have given it to you’), and not a human appeasement of a stubborn Deity, as is was with the pagans.
Hebrews 9:22 teaches that “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”. But of course, it also says “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”(10:4). This is why the OT sacrifices were only the shadow, and that Christ was the substance. Christ’s death was able to deal with sins in a way that bulls and goats could not.

If we also consider the Passover, which was a foreshadowing of Christ’s death (Jn 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7-8) God is revealed as the Judge, and as Redeemer, and as Israel’s covenant God all rolled into one. He was both the one who demanded the sacrifice, but also the one who provided it.

You are right that God is not concerned only with the physical sacrifice, because if it is not offered with a sense of trust and humility before God then it is rejected. But to say that the physical is completely irrelevant begs the questions of why God would even institute the sacrificial system at all. Indeed, it was a foreshadowing to the true covenant in Christ which Hebrew 9-10 discusses.

Also if Christ’s death did not actually achieve something objective but was merely to bring us to a state of repentance when we look at the cross, it is meaningless to talk about Christ himself “bearing our sins in his body on the tree’ (1 Pet 2:24) and that he ‘was once offered to bear the sins of many’ (Heb 9:28). Bearing sin implies bearing the penalty for sin, to deny this just creates confusion. Isaiah 53, (the OT passage applied to Jesus more that any other) says this so many times…
ISA 53:4 “Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

for the transgression of my people he was stricken.n

and though the LORD makesn his life a guilt offering,

and he will bear their iniquities.

For he bore the sin of many,”

Also we read Mark 10:45 “45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (also 1 Tim 2:6)
“God made him who had no sin to be sinn for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 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 hung on a tree.”” Gal 3:13

It would render all of these verses meaningless to deny the substitutionary nature of them. And the need for a substitute implies that some punishment needed to be ‘satisfied’ or completed.

You said in point 5 that the phrase ‘atoning sacrifice’ did not ‘carry a connotation of satisfaction but of liberation through death’. But I don’t see how these concepts are at odds with each other, because through Christ’s death we are liberated from the wrath that needed to be satisfied.
You also say:
“there is no Biblical justification as to why God Himself would require payment for sins. God often forgoes punishment … Any discipline God may give is purely for the benefit of his people”.
But God is not motivated purely by good-will towards people, but by his character, which includes holiness and a hate for sin. God’s grace isn’t about God saying, ‘oh no worries, it really doesn’t bother me that much!’ Grace is about God’s generous provision, not his just overlooking sin and ignoring it. You said (in point 14) that ‘the satisfaction theory views the essence of the atonement as a change in God’s attitude toward sin, rather than our liberation from it’.
But that is exactly what the satisfaction ‘theory’ does not do. God does not just change his attitude towards sin in that view, he fiercely opposes it, and that is what is revealed in the cross. But it is your view in which God changes his attitude to sin, because he merely overlooks it as if it isn’t important to warrant extreme action. To turn around your point number 20 this is what rejecting God’s requirement for punishment says…
Consider starving children in Africa. You are saying to them, “Even though you have grown up under an oppressive regieme which has meant poverty from birth, and even though violent men have killed your parents and raped you, God isn’t really that angry at them. In fact, if they just say sorry, his wrath evaporates into nothing, and there is no need for punishment, or the cross or anything like that because God is love. The fact that they are penitent makes up for all their evil, and God is happy again.”
You see what it does? God is no longer a God who must express his righteous anger against sin. But no, Christ (or God in Christ) is the one who graciously took upon himself the punishment and wrath that was not his. He took the ‘curse’ that was rightly ours. Consider the ‘cup’ that Christ sweated over in the garden before his death. The Lord’s ‘cup’ is a regular symbol of God’s wrath and righteous judgement (Job 21:20) and Ezekiel 23:32-34… “"You will drink your sister's cup, a cup large and deep; it will bring scorn and derision, for it holds so much. You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, the cup of ruin and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria.34 You will drink it and drain it dry…”
As Stott says,
‘He [Jesus] must have recognised the cup he was being offered as containing the wine of God’s wrath, given to the wicked, and causing a complete disorientation of body (staggering) and mind (confusion) like drunkenness. Was he to become so identified with sinners as to bear their judgment? From this contact with human sin his sinless soul recoiled.”

Any view of the atonement which rejects any need for satisfaction (through substitution) has not taken into account the immense gravity of sin, and the holiness of God.

I also don’t see how this view excludes God’s grace. In fact it enhances it, because it shows the lengths to which God went to save us from death. If God was merely following some moral code, this may seem un-graceful, but as I’ve been saying, satisfaction is not about God satisfying something external to himself, but his very own character. This does not at all eliminate or diminish God’s grace in forgiveness. His grace is still an active forgiving grace, which we do not earn at all. It is not earned, by us or by God, because it arises out of God himself.

This leads on to the second main mis-understanding which sometimes arises in explanations of ‘satisfaction’ and ‘substitution’. It is a distorted Christology (your point 18, and 9, 13, 16, 19, partly 3).
It arises from the question, ‘Who was the substitute?’ If the atonement is ‘satisfaction through substitution’ then who was the substitute on the cross.
The first option is that it was the man Jesus. You point out both of the problems that occur when we think of the atonement this way. The first is that it portrays an unwilling, ungracious, be-grudging God being somehow persuaded by the sacrifice of Jesus into forgiving us. Essentially the pagan view of sacrifice, that God was somehow appeased by the willing Christ (point 4,13). The opposite of this, as you also point out, is that Christ was unwilling, and that God was inflicting punishment on the innocent Jesus as a separate party (point 16). Each of these portray the Father and the Son as essentially separate, and either one is an unwilling party. But this is clearly not the case, because just as Jesus was willingly obedient to the Father, and unto death, so God also ‘sent his only begotten Son’ and was completely active and willing in the atonement as your point out. They did not act independantly of one-another.
So the second point of view is that it was God alone on the cross. But even though this eliminates the distortions above, of course it leads to Christological heresy, and the suffering of the Father on the cross. It was God on the cross, but we have to be careful how we state this because the Trinity could be distorted.
Therefore the biblical view is that the One who suffered on the cross was neither Christ alone (as a third party), or God alone (which would undermine the incarnation), but God in Christ. Immanuel. The Father taking action through the Son. God is both the satisfied, and the satisfier. The idea is ‘divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution’ which is something quite different from what you were arguing against.
So the incarnation is not ‘incidental to the major atoning work’ if we have a proper Christology. It is just unfortunate that sometimes ‘substitution’ is expressed in misleading terms. You’re right, it was ‘God in Christ reconciling the world to himself’.

Lastly, this view does not at all exclude the main thrust of Christus Victor. The main criticism of Aulen’s work is that is sets Christ’s victory over-against a substitutionary view. But this need not be the case. Indeed, Anselm was a little morbid and calculating, and did not express the triumphant nature of the atonement, but Augustine, Luther and others have all held both views together. Stott quotes a commentator John Eadie:
“Our redemption is a work at once of price and of power – of expiation and of conquest. On the cross was the purchase made, and on the cross was the victory gained. The blood which wipes out the sentence against us was there shed, and the death which was the death-blow of Satan’s kingdom was there endured.”
So in no way are these views contradictory. It deeply enriches our understanding of the atonement if we understand it as ‘satisfationary’, ‘regenerative’ and ‘triumphant’ (including also the moral influence aspect).

So I conclude that the majority of your objection to the ideas of ‘satisfaction’ and ‘substitution’ in the atonement evaporate when understood with God himself being the one satisfied, and also within an orthodox Christology. It is not the story of a ‘dry, legal transaction’ but of a passionate God of holy love, providing the very atonement that we ourselves could not make.

One other thing that concerns me is that you seem to have come to very strong conclusions on this matter, but pay very little attention to scripture. The few scriptures that you mention are not directly related to the atonement, and your arguments seem to be based more on what sounds right, is logical, and what is convincing to unbelievers. God’s grace is not some obvious concept that can be taken for granted, but can only be understood from God’s own self-revelation.

I can assure you that my only aim is to be faithful to God’s word, and not to further my own point of view. I hope that through this we will be able to grasp further the depths of God’s undeserved love in his Son. May he be praised above all else!

Love in Christ
Scott Mackay

Andrew said...

Scott,

Bearing sin implies bearing the penalty for sin, to deny this just creates confusion.

Not at all, bearing sin is not obviously the same thing as bearing guilt or bearing a penalty for sin. Bearing a book is not remotely the same as bearing the penalty for stealing a book. It is an assumption on your/the reformer's part to assume the two to be identical, and it is an equation that doesn't seem to me to be justified in the least. Rather than "to deny this just creates confusion", how about "to assume this without serious consideration of the options just creates closed mindedness"?

It would render all of these verses meaningless to deny the substitutionary nature of them.

A lack of knowledge of viable alternatives seems to me to just indicate a lack of knowledge rather than actually rendering verses meaningless. I am aware of lots of interpretations of the verses you list, I'm not sure which ones are right, but certainly they don't become meaningless if you discard the substitutionary interpretations.

Any view of the atonement which rejects any need for satisfaction (through substitution) has not taken into account the immense gravity of sin, and the holiness of God.

Lol. Reuben doesn't for a second deny the immense gravity of sin, he just puts it in the right place - he understands the damage sin does to people and people's lives. The penal theory in its desire to put immense weight on sin turns sin into something where the actual damage the sins themselves do to people don't matter and what really matters is the offense it causes to God's justice and holiness. It fails to understand the damage done by sin while trying to emphasise that very thing.

incognito said...

Thanks for the comments Scott. They are muchly appreciated. I disagree with most of your arguments, as I will explain. But I do so only to explain my ideas more, not to 'proove who's right and wrong'. If there is anything I have learned - it is that we must believe what seems right to us, but sometimes what seems to us right is not right. Thus, I don't try to be 'right', I just try to be sensible, and I think you are also. It is my goal also for us to understand God's grace toward us more. So...

"There is not some external principle which restrains how God acts towards sinners. God’s actions are completely determined by who he is, not any external forces at all. And coming from this understanding alone we can understand why God’s displeasure against sin must be satisfied." and then... "So God is perfectly consistent with his own character. And that character cannot be summed up in the one word ‘love’, because his love is not a love that ignores evil, but is a holy love." : Your view is interesting here... and here is what it looks like to me. It seems your view is one where you take a whole bunch of God's known attributes, throw them in a box together, and say "that's what God is like". To me, that really doesn't answer how they fit together or describe his true character at all. I believe His character CAN be summed up by 'love' - because love should never ignore evil. God loves us so much He cannot ignore our evil... You should read my Christus Victor post if you haven't already.

"In God not treating us as our sins deserve, it is despite his anger, not completely detached from it. " : Yes, precisely the nature of grace. The 'detachment' you refer to is like the typical idea that you throw 'Justice' and 'Mercy' into the God-box and the two somehow interact in holy manner. Such descriptions are, in my view, completely useless and fail to understand the principle of grace.

Re: your criticism of Rom 5:8 - I fear you are taking my use of that verse out of my context. My context is one of Christus Victor, where the phrases you mention are to be understood in that context, not one of satesfaction.

"The Levitical sacrifices were not made by people trying to appease an angry and spiteful God... " yes, I agree... "but were actually provisions by God himself to atone for the people’s sin, and to recognise the people’s dependence on their Creator. Through the sacrificial system God is revealed as a Creator on whom we depend and as a Judge who demands, and also as a Saviour who provides atonement." That is one view. Another is that proposed by Andrew on his blog, where sacrifices are in fact renewing the covenant between the person and God. This seems the best idea to me. "This is portrayed by God’s provision of a ram to Abraham in the place of his son Isaac on Mt Moriah. " No, I believe you have completely misused this story, and God's intentions here. 1) It was completely different to a sin offering. 2) It was a person, not an animal. 3) It seems to me that God wanted to test Abraham, so that he knew God had the highest place in Abrahams heart - above his treasured son. That is the point IMHO.

Furthermore, you seem to have ignored Isa 1:11,13,16-17, Hosea 6:6, Mat 9:13, and my comments on them.

Regarding the rest of your comments on sacrifice, I have my own views which would take far too long here to justify - and my views are probably so different to yours you would simply reject them. Needless to say, this makes me disinclined to concur with your train of thought on atonement, but nevertheless, here are some comments.

But of course, it also says “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”(10:4). This is why the OT sacrifices were only the shadow, and that Christ was the substance. Christ’s death was able to deal with sins in a way that bulls and goats could not. Hmmm... that's a very poor argument, perhaps it gains more support by being widely believed instead of the verse you have used here.

Incedentally, you seem to interpret the word 'judge' in a very legal sense, which I would seriously question. The connotations of this word, in my opinion, are more of a relational sense.

"But to say that the physical is completely irrelevant begs the questions of why God would even institute the sacrificial system at all." I have not got full answers here, but I think Andrews covenental ideas fit in well here. There are many other ideas why He may have instituted sacrifices. Incedentally - when the OT says things like, the sacrifice will be made like this, "and it [the sin] will be forgiven him", most people assume God is the one satisfied and thus able to now forgive... but what if it's a command for others to forgive that person? What if sacrifices were in fact for the benefit of bringing people back into right-standing (righteousness) rather than simply a legal requirement?

"Also if Christ’s death did not actually achieve something objective..." It is objective, it is just not satesfactory. "it is meaningless to talk about Christ himself “bearing our sins in his body on the tree’. No, it's not meaningless - it just takes on a DIFFERENT meaning. In my opinion, it is a much more powerful meaning at that. Again, see my Christus Victor post.

Bearing sin implies bearing the penalty for sin, to deny this just creates confusion. No no no... If you bear being beaten and mugged, you are not responsible for that sin... indeed it would be ludicrous to suggest you were responsible for that sin. Again, see my CV post.

RE Isiah 53... it all depends on your paradigm of interpretation. Mine is CV, yours is satesfactory. I understand your paradigm because I held it for many years, but I have now rejected it, and I'm not sure you are seeing things from a CV paradigm.

"It would render all of these verses meaningless to deny the substitutionary nature of them." No. What Andrew said.

"And the need for a substitute..." Again, there's the legal paradigm sneeking in. The satesfactory paradigm thinks in this way, and CV operates in a whole different paradigm.

"You said in point 5 that the phrase ‘atoning sacrifice’ did not ‘carry a connotation of satisfaction but of liberation through death’. But I don’t see how these concepts are at odds with each other, because through Christ’s death we are liberated from the wrath that needed to be satisfied. You're missing my point. I am not suggesting both satisfaction and liberation - I am suggesting the satisfactory paradigm is riddled with problems and in light of a sensible alternative hardly seems a good one to adopt. The satisfactory-based ideas require theory upon theory upon theory to explain - and you wind up with something that I am conviced is a mere man-made shell around the grace and love of God. People did not need multitudes of interwoven theories to understand what Christ did - and neither should we.

"But God is not motivated purely by good-will towards people, but by his character, which includes holiness and a hate for sin." Again, different paradigm. Here you've lumped "good-will", "holiness", and "hate for sin" into the box labelled 'God', and then as all good satesfactory-adherent theologians do you have constructed excellent theories to explain how they fit together. I got sick of trying to do this, because I found it just didn't work, and I ended up with more of more of my own ideas about God rather than what God's told me about Himself. What good are these satisfactory theories if their basis is wrong? What good is it to invent different bits for God's character and then justify how they can exist. Why not start with Biblical ideas like the way Jesus represented God - as a loving father, and not read Scripture with 11th century predispositions about his various attributes?

Sorry about that rant... just had to vent.

"Grace is about God’s generous provision, not his just overlooking sin and ignoring it. " Really? That's what I used to think. Now I feel like I didn't really understand it before.

RE you turn-around of point 20 - it seems I am not the only one with a straw-man... you've made a perfectly fine one here. Needless to say, you are still thinking in a satesfactory paradigm, and CV will never make sense from that perspective.

"God is no longer a God who must express his righteous anger against sin." So God needs self-expression? Perhaps He just needs someone to talk to about it? :-P. What if God was more interested in saving people from sin than carefully weighing and measuring out punishment for sin. Have you ever had much experience with children? If you have, you'll know punishment is not nearly as powerful as love. SOMETIMES, it's best to discipline a child, but it has nothing to do with law, and all to do with love. This, I think, is God's perspective... and I don't think He deals with us as though He need abide by 'laws' of our court-rooms.

"But no, Christ (or God in Christ) is the one who graciously took upon himself the punishment and wrath that was not his. He took the ‘curse’ that was rightly ours." Really? Is that really what those verses mean? Have a read of my CV post.

"Any view of the atonement which rejects any need for satisfaction (through substitution) has not taken into account the immense gravity of sin, and the holiness of God." lol. Yup, with all due respect that statement is tripe. =)

"I also don’t see how this view excludes God’s grace. Of course you don't, not from a satesfactory paradigm. "Grace" is another thing thrown into the God-box, that marvellous theories are constructed around... but I believe this "grace" is not grace at all - it is a human concoction wholly different in nature to real grace. I'm not denying that the satesfactory theories don't make sense given their assumptions about God's character - I'm saying those assumptions are wrong, and thus the theories to explain them are irrelevant.

RE your comments on "Who was the substitute?"... I must laugh... for I find your argument is so very preposterous. You say the subsitute could not have been Christ, nor could it have been God... and then you pull out the most amazing conclusion: because it could have been neither Christ nor God - it must have been "God in Christ"! That is akin to saying: "This apple is not bannana. This orange is not a bannana either. But look! If we put both into a blender then we get a bannana! =)

"It was God on the cross, but we have to be careful how we state this because the Trinity could be distorted." Of course you have to be careful how you state it, because if you state it in a way that accurately reflects the idea behind it then it's blatantly wrong =). This is yet another illustration of theories being concocted to explain stupid assumptions. (IMHO, of course - sorry if I sound arrogant... I tend to write this way when I feel strongly about things. But of course I don't mean to offend, and the fact that I don't agree with your idea of atonement is probably quite minor on the whole because you sound like a man after God's own heart, to use the phrase used of David.)


"God is both the satisfied, and the satisfier." Think about this statement. It is stupid. You can 'justify and explain' it with as many well-formed theories as you like... but ultimately the theories are also stupid because the foundation they are seeking to explain is paradoxical.

"Lastly, this view does not at all exclude the main thrust of Christus Victor. The main criticism of Aulen’s work is that is sets Christ’s victory over-against a substitutionary view. But this need not be the case. " That's true, you can add in "Christ's Victory on the Cross" to your God-box and call everything included and accounted for... but this misses the point of CV entirely because it is by comparison a token gesture. You could say you hold them both, but you'd be confused. Why hold satesfactory models AND CV when CV makes sense and satesfactory models are so riddled with problems? I don't see why you'd want to. Incidentally, Aulen paints quite a stong argument that Luther held CV. Your quote from John Eadie is primarily CV in gist - which has elements of satesfaction thrown in there to confuse the matter.

"So I conclude that the majority of your objection to the ideas of ‘satisfaction’ and ‘substitution’ in the atonement evaporate when understood with God himself being the one satisfied, and also within an orthodox Christology." Ahh yes, the age old "orthodox Christology" line. What if I labelled my ideas "orthodox" as well? In contrast to your statement, I understand all your arguments and yet all the objections I pointed out still appear quite true and obvious to me.

"One other thing that concerns me is that you seem to have come to very strong conclusions on this matter, but pay very little attention to scripture." You judge me unjustly... Jesus said something about jugding others. What you don't see here are the months of reading the Bible, commentaries, and opinions. You don't see the many hours I have spent going through most verses you'd care to throw at me, considering how each fits into both satesfactory and CV ideas. I do not have all the answers, there are still verses I am unsure about. But this I know - Christus Victor seems a great deal more Biblical, sensible and powerful. Indeed, I think CV is far more powerful to unbelievers, and far more powerful for me. That is why I have strong conclusions.

"God’s grace is not some obvious concept that can be taken for granted, but can only be understood from God’s own self-revelation." Yes, the revelation of Jesus - not the confounding man-invented paradoxes of theological theory.

Well. There you are. Feel free to comment again. I won't have time to respond with another long comment like this, though.

Scott said...

Thanks for responding. I'm becoming a bit clearer now on the central differences, and I still maintain that some of your objections don't apply to a 'non-Anselmic' view of satisfaction.
In a way, Stott's view is not strictly 'satisfaction' in the sense that Anselm and others viewed it.

"It seems your view is one where you take a whole bunch of God's known attributes, throw them in a box together, and say "that's what God is like".

I thought it was more like looking at how he is revealed in scripture and saying 'that's what God is like'.
I think you could easily say of our Christian subculture "there is no fear of God before their eyes." We are very unlikely to declare, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." We don't believe anymore in a God from whose wrath we need to be saved. (Rom 5:9)

Another is that .. where sacrifices are in fact renewing the covenant between the person and God.

Indeed, the covanent is renewed by our sins being atoned for.

No, I believe you have completely misused this story,(Abrahams sacrifice) and God's intentions here. 1) It was completely different to a sin offering. 2) It was a person, not an animal. 3) It seems to me that God wanted to test Abraham, so that he knew God had the highest place in Abrahams heart - above his treasured son.

Yep, I agree you can't prove substitutionary atonement from this story, but it does hint at the possibility of a sacrifice being made in the place of another's life.

Furthermore, you seem to have ignored Isa 1:11,13,16-17, Hosea 6:6, Mat 9:13, and my comments on them.

These sacrifices were in vain, and therefore meaningless to God. Perhaps we could draw a parrellel to Christians who pray a prayer of salvation, and ask forgiveness in Jesus' name, but lack any sense of true faith/repentance/devotion/love towards God. I've seen plenty of evangelistic presentations where Jesus' death seemed to be merely a superfluous fact which needed to be briefly explained before they can get to the real part, the altar-call.

“it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”(10:4). This is why the OT sacrifices were only the shadow, and that Christ was the substance. Christ’s death was able to deal with sins in a way that bulls and goats could not

Hmmm... that's a very poor argument
,

Isn't it the gist of Hebrews 9-10? That Christ was the true sin-offering, that "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
"

What if sacrifices were in fact for the benefit of bringing people back into right-standing (righteousness) rather than simply a legal requirement?Yes, for the purpose of bringing them into right-standing before God. There were sacrifices made for the whole nation of Israel, so it is obviously about people's position with respect to God, not each other. (That fact also indicates it isn't just about the individual being brought to a position of penitence, if it is done vicariously for the whole nation.)

'Bearing sin implies bearing the penalty for sin, to deny this just creates confusion.'
No no no... If you bear being beaten and mugged, you are not responsible for that sin... indeed it would be ludicrous to suggest you were responsible for that sin
.

It's not saying that Christ is responsible for our sins if he bears the punishment for it. If he was, it wouldn't be substitutionary.

'it is meaningless to talk about Christ himself “bearing our sins in his body on the tree"'
No, it's not meaningless - it just takes on a DIFFERENT meaning. In my opinion, it is a much more powerful meaning at that. Again, see my Christus Victor post
.

Thanks, I have read it.
Unless I have misread your view, it is that he underwent the torture and death that we inflicted on him. He bore the wrath of man, or the wrath of the Jewish and Roman leaders representing us all. In other words he was persecuted on account of human sinfulness.

Although it is true Jesus suffered at the hands of sinful men, it is also stated in Isaiah that "it was the LORD's will (or pleasure) to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days".(Isaiah 53:10)
Also, I don't understand how 2 Corinthians 5:21 ("God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,") fits with the understanding that Jesus didn't bear the penalty of sin, but only the particular sin done against him while he was on earth. Also, Paul surely had the Isaiah 53 passage in mind when writing 2 Cor 5:21.
"the LORD makes his life a guilt offering"
"God made him who had no sin to be sin"

What good is it to invent different bits for God's character and then justify how they can exist. Why not start with Biblical ideas like the way Jesus represented God - as a loving father, and not read Scripture with 11th century predispositions about his various attributes?

Again, it's not inventing attributes, but acknowledging God how he revealed himself. And Jesus did not reveal God as just a loving Father, but as a holy one, and one jealous for our worship and allegience above all else (Matt 10:34-39) and many many other things. This is why to use love as a blanket 'attribute' is a dangerous thing.

RE your comments on "Who was the substitute?"... I must laugh... for I find your argument is so very preposterous.

Well it would be if I was actually trying to prove the Trinity, but I wasn't. It was just a discussion. just to show why sometimes substitution is portrayed with the Father and the Son as somehow seperate, and it shouldn't be. I was trying to correct misinterpretations of that view.

"God is both the satisfied, and the satisfier." Think about this statement. It is stupid.

Some say stupid, some say it is incredibly loving.

Why hold satesfactory models AND CV when CV makes sense and satesfactory models are so riddled with problems?

Well, yes, but if you believe in substitutionary atonement, that doesn't disqualify you from the essence of CV. (although Anselm did unfortunately neglect it.) It is true that many great theologians have held the two together.

Ahh yes, the age old "orthodox Christology" line.
Again, I was only trying to shown that some versions of substitutionary atonement do have a distorted view of Christ, not that CV does.

What you don't see here are the months of reading the Bible, commentaries, and opinions.

Of course I can't know about your study of the scriptures if you don't present those in your argument. I was only speaking on what I saw in your post.

I think one of the reasons substitution could seem less powerful towards unbelievers is because it is not the whole story, and also because it's often presented very badly.

cheers for your time. sorry it got so long again.