R.C. Sproul: In an age wherein the ground of theology has been saturated by the torrential downpour of existential thinking, it seems almost suicidal, like facing the open floodgates riding a raft made of balsa wood, to appeal to a seventeenth-century theologian to address a pressing theological issue. Nothing evokes more snorts from the snouts of anti-rational zealots than appeals to sages from the era of Protestant Scholasticism. “Scholasticism” is the pejorative term applied by so-called “Neo-Orthodox” (better spelled without the “e” in Neo), or “progressive” Reformed thinkers who embrace the “Spirit” of the Reformation while eschewing its “letter” to the seventeenth-century Reformed thinkers who codified the insights of their sixteenth-century magisterial forebears. To the scoffers of this present age, Protestant Scholasticism is seen as a reification or calcification of the dynamic and liquid forms of earlier Reformed insight. It is viewed as a deformation from the lively, sanguine rediscovery of biblical thought to a deadly capitulation to the “Age of
Brian Rosner: Why did Jesus die? Historically, from a human perspective, the answer is straightforward enough. The Jewish leaders plotted against him, Judas betrayed him, Herod and Pilate tried him, and the Roman soldiers executed him. A number of individuals and groups were responsible for his death. As Luke puts it, “Wicked men put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). But there’s another angle to consider. As Acts 2:23 also says, Jesus was “handed over by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.” To get to the heart of the question of why Jesus died, we have to think from God’s point of view. Theologically, from God’s perspective, we may mention two main reasons. 1. Jesus Died to Bring Us Near to God Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Pet. 3:18) The purpose of bringing us to God implies that, prior to Jesus dying, we were far
By Michael Lawrence: For centuries, the church has affirmed that penal substitutionary atonement stood at the heart of the gospel. Yes, the cross also demonstrates the love of God, his hatred of sin, and his commitment to ransom his people. But behind all of these ideas stands the logic of the cross, in which an innocent substitute is offered in place of the guilty, bearing both their guilt and shame, suffering their punishment and rejection, and so securing their forgiveness and acceptance by God. But lately, penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) has fallen on hard times. It’s come under fire as a cold, dry theological construct, inspired more by Western legal concepts than the biblical God of love. It’s been rejected as a monstrous distortion of the Father as a cosmic child abuser. And it’s been crowded out by more appealing stories of the cross as our ransom or our model of sacrificial love. These critiques have a lot of emotional power.
By Stephen J. Wellum: The doctrine of penal substitution is under attack today—and that’s an understatement. From voices outside of evangelical theology to those within, the historic Reformation view of the cross is claimed to be a “modern” invention from the cultural West. Others criticize the doctrine as sanctioning violence, privileging divine retributive justice over God’s love, condoning a form of divine child abuse, reducing Scripture’s polychrome presentation of the cross to a lifeless monochrome, being too “legal” in orientation, and so on. All of these charges are not new. All of them have been argued since the end of the 16th century, and all of them are false. Yet such charges reflect the corrosive effects of false ideas on theology and a failure to account for how the Bible, on its own terms, interprets the cross. Given the limitations of this article, I cannot fully respond to these charges. Instead, I will briefly state four truths that unpack the
Stephen Wellum: The doctrine of penal substitution is under attack today — and that’s an understatement. From voices outside of evangelical theology to those within, the historic Reformation view of the cross is claimed to be a “modern” invention from the cultural West. Others criticize the doctrine as sanctioning violence, privileging divine retributive justice over God’s love, condoning a form of divine child abuse, reducing Scripture’s polychrome presentation of the cross to a lifeless monochrome, being too “legal” in orientation, and so on. All of these charges are not new. All of them have been argued since the end of the 16th century, and all of them are false. Yet such charges reflect the corrosive effects of false ideas on theology and a failure to account for how the Bible, on its own terms, interprets the cross. Given the limitations of this article, I cannot fully respond to these charges. Instead, I will briefly state four truths that unpack the
Jonathan Griffiths: It is one thing to accept that a doctrine is true; it is quite another for it to shape the life and ministry of the church. The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) is a controversial doctrine in some circles. But those of us who affirm that it is a truly biblical doctrine need to grapple carefully with how it should shape and inform our ministry. The purpose of this brief article is to argue that PSA should be at the heart of our proclamation of the gospel—at the heart of our regular preaching of the word of God. There are important reasons for this both at the level of theological integrity and at the level of pastoral practicality. Theological reasons for the centrality of PSA in preaching Preaching that is biblical in the truest sense must be sensitive to the wider storyline of Scripture and properly contextualized within biblical theology, consciously shaped by certain key biblical-theological truths.
Nicolas T. Batzig: The Scriptures give us a robust revelation about all that Jesus accomplished on the cross. As we go about seeking to categorize all of the various dimensions of the cross, we discover that there are both vertical and horizontal dimensions to Jesus’ work. The vertical dimensions are foundational; the horizontal are consequential. The vertical dimensions include Jesus’ defeat of Satan (Gen. 3:15; John 12:31; Col. 2:15), His propitiating the wrath of God (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:7; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), His atoning for our sin (Heb. 1:3; Rom. 4:7–8), His breaking the power of sin (Rom. 6:9–14), His securing the new heavens and new earth (Heb. 2:5–11), and His overcoming the world (John 12:31; 16:33). The horizontal dimensions include His becoming the example of self-sacrificial living (Rom. 15:2–3; 1 Peter 2:21) and His reconciling men to one another, thereby making peace for those who formerly lived in hostility with one another (Eph. 2:14). When men pervert or deny the biblical teaching concerning the vertical nature of the
Michael Morales: Atonement—that is, reconciliation between God the Creator and sinful humanity—is at the heart of the Pentateuch’s theology. Indeed, the Day of Atonement is found at the literary center of the Pentateuch’s central book, Leviticus 16. Simply called “the Day” by ancient Jews, the Day of Atonement is dubbed a “Sabbath of Sabbaths” in Scripture (Lev. 16:31), a day of solemn convocation where all members of Israel were called to participate both by ceasing from labor and by “afflicting [their] souls” (Lev. 16:29)—understood as the one annual day of fasting mandated by the LORD. Failure to observe this Day would result in being “cut off” from among God’s people and being “destroyed” by the LORD, a sobering threat meant to underscore the gravity of the liturgy (Lev. 23:26-32). The ritual drama performed by the high priest, along with the severe warnings against neglecting this convocation, served to catechize Israel about the dire need for cleansing and the forgiveness of sins.
Sam Storms: Heresy abounds. It always has and always will, until such time as Jesus returns and exposes the misguided theological fabrications of men and women and vindicates the truth of his Word. In our day, there are many heretical and deviant notions circulating within the professing evangelical church. But I am persuaded that the most serious and severe departure from biblical faith in our day is the repudiation of the truth of penal substitutionary atonement (together with the wicked, childish, inexcusable, or as J. I. Packer has put it, “the smarty-pants” caricature of penal substitution as “cosmic child abuse”). There is much that could be said about this, but today I restrict my comments to the declaration of Revelation 1:5b where John predicates of Jesus Christ “glory and dominion forever and ever.” And what is the ground for this doxology? Why is Jesus deserving of such praise? It is because, among other things, he “loves us and has freed
By Jonathan Gibson, coeditor of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. 1. Definite atonement is a way of speaking about the intent and nature of Christ’s death. The doctrine of definite atonement states that, in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. In a nutshell: the death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone; and not only was it intended to do that but it effectively achieved it as well. Jesus will be true to his name: he will save his people from their sins. In this regard, the adjective ‘definite’ does double duty: Christ’s death was definite in its intent—he died to save a particular people; and it was definite
God displays his righteousness by judging sin as sin deserves, but the judgment is diverted from the guilty and put on to the shoulders of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God acting as wrath absorber. The atonement had to be costly because it was necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin. A marvelous wisdom of God consists in his establishing the Lord Jesus as our representative and our substitute because only he could bear and absorb the judgment due to us. Being our representative makes him our substitute, and so he suffers and we go free. — J. I. Packer “The Necessity of the Atonement” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 15-16 (HT: Of First Importance)
This is an excerpt from Donald MacLeod’s new book Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP Academic) We need a doctrine of the cross that faces up realistically to the enormity of the Father’s involvement at Calvary. Why did God do this—have to do this—to his Son? And what of the more specific claim that the cross is an example of “child abuse” (the adjective “cosmic” is quite redundant here, since it was not the cosmos, but God the Father, who was allegedly guilty of abuse). The charge is completely inept, because it isolates the story of the crucifixion from the total New Testament witness to Jesus. It ignores, for example, the fact that for most of his life Jesus enjoyed the love, protection, and encouragement of his heavenly Father. This is why he was able to live a life free from anxiety, confident that he was never alone (John 8:16) but that God was always within earshot; and this is why, too, he could say it was
Matthew Barrett: Looking back upon the first half of the twentieth century, H. Richard Niebuhr famously described liberal Christianity’s understanding of the gospel like this: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Sadly, such a view is alive and well today in the twenty-first century. The reason we cannot begin to fathom a God who is holy and just, and the reason we are so hostile to a God who executives his wrath and judgment is because we do not truly understand two things: (1) Just how holy God is, and (2) just how sinful we are. Bad news Because we do not understand how desperately wicked and depraved we are, nor how offensive and hideous our sin is to a righteous Judge, a God who pours out his wrath through a cross is offensive, foolish, detestable, and sour to our taste buds. Unfortunately, many
Trevin Wax: The atonement is like a multi-faceted diamond. What Christ accomplished on the cross is so massive, and the window into the heart of God is so big that no one explanation or description of the atonement can tell the whole story. Because the atonement is at the heart of who God is and what he has done for us, we can never fully exhaust the riches that flow from this event. But recognizing our inability to mine all the theological treasures represented in the cross of Christ should not keep us from pondering the beautiful truth of this event. In recent weeks, guest contributors have written about the different aspects of Christ’s atoning work. Here is a summary of their posts, with links for you to dig deeper into the significance of each truth. On the cross, Christ slays the Dragon and wins our victory: In the cross and resurrection, Christ the warrior king is the new and
Is healing in the atonement? Well, yes and no! Sam Storms: Here in 1 Peter 2:24-25 the apostle is very clearly alluding to Isaiah 53:4-5. There the prophet declared: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” In order to understand what Peter had in mind in quoting this OT passage, I need to address a very controversial question: Is there healing in the atonement? Some believe that just as God the Father made Jesus to be “sin” for us on the cross he also made him to be “sick” for us on the cross. Word of Faith advocate Gloria Copeland once wrote: “Jesus bore your sicknesses and carried your diseases at the same time and in the same
George Smeaton: The design or final cause which God had in view in the whole matter of the atonement is next subjoined: that He might be just, and the justifier (Rom. 3:26). The allusion is to the concurrence or harmony of these two perfections of God. The word JUST, applied to God, means that He asserts just claims and inflicts just punishment. It is a perversion of language to interpret the term as if it could mean anything else than justice in the ordinary acceptation of the word among men made in the image of God. The contrast in which it is placed to divine forbearance, and the allusion to the propitiatory, allow no doubt as to its import Justice seemed to slumber during that period of forbearance; now it is displayed. But this determines the character of the atonement Such language would be unmeaning, if it were not admitted that the atonement is in the proper sense of the word a
All Christian blessings and resources are grounded in the blood of the Lamb. Do you find yourself accepted before this holy God? If so, it is because of the blood of the Lamb. Have you received the blessed Holy Spirit? He has been poured out because of the blood of the Lamb. Do you have the prospect of consummated eternal life in glory? It was secured by the blood of the Lamb. Are you in the fellowship of saints, brothers and sisters who love Christ, the church of the living God, a new body, the body of Christ on earth? This is bought, secured, and constituted by the blood of the Lamb. Are you grateful for the spiritual armaments that Paul tells us to deploy (Ephesians 6)? The entire arsenal is at our disposal because of the blood of the Lamb. May we go to God in prayer? It is because of the blood of the Lamb. Do we find our wills
Jonathan Leeman: The “penal” in the doctrine of penal substitution, being tied to God’s wrath, has long been a source of controversy inside the church and out. It’s criticized as overly “legal” or “forensic.” People want to look to the cross and talk about Christ’s love, not his enduring the divine penalty. But it’s worth stopping for a moment and meditating on what is behind a penalty. What is behind wrath? The answer is God’s worthiness or God’s worth. God’s wrath is equal to God’s worth, and that the “penal” in penal substitution therefore reveals this very worth. Wrath and worth are perfectly matched together. The former takes the measure of the latter and expresses itself accordingly. One is as precious as the other. So drop the “penal” from penal substitution and you diminish God dramatically. Despise his wrath and you despise his worth. To see this, it’s worth meditating for a moment on what the purpose of law is. The Reformers talked about the
Denny Burk: “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.” –Isaiah 53:10 “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation in His blood through faith, in order to demonstrate His righteousness.” –Romans 3:25 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” –Galatians 3:13 “It is those who cannot come to terms with any concept of the wrath of God who repudiate any concept of propitiation… It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God
John Piper: I want believers in Christ to enjoy being loved by God to the greatest degree possible. And I want God to be magnified to the greatest degree possible for loving us the way he does. This is why it matters to me what Jesus really accomplished for us when he died. There is a common way of thinking about Christ’s death that diminishes our experience of his love. It involves thinking that the death of Christ expressed no more love for me than for anyone else in the human race. If that’s the way you think about God’s love for you in the death of Jesus, you will not enjoy being loved by God as greatly as you really are. Feeling Specially Loved by God I wonder if you have ever felt especially loved by God because of Ephesians 2:4–5? “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead