Thursday, October 29, 2009

Discussion on Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Though I'd share another facebook discussion. This one is related to penal substitutionary atonement. Here was the phrase I posted that was in contention: The Gospel: Saved by God, From God, and For God.

Here's the Dialogue

Jeremiah: Actually, the "from God" is indicative of the penal substitution model of salvation developed in the middle ages by the Roman Catholic Church. As may seem counter-intuitive, this legal view of salvation as a transaction made its way into the doctrine of the reformers, and eventually modern evangelicaism. Hence doctrines such as Calvinism (which are also based on Roman Catholic views of Original Sin in conjunction with penal substitution )This model was never a part of the early church as a whole (I know there were a few who held to this). The Eastern Orthodox hold to a view that does not have such a view of God. THAT is good news.

Jake: Jeremiah. The development of doctrine is certainly important for consideration. Clearly the Eastern fathers had a far more sophisticated view of the triunity of God than someone like Clement of Rome, and even Scripture. But we affirm that such sophistication is grounded in Biblical exegesis (with a few exception). Similarly, I would contend that the penal substitionary "model" is thoroughly Biblical, especially Pauline, and therefore a part of the early church. The fact that there is development (e.g. Augustine articulates it more clearly than Polycarp) doesn't negate that it is rooted in Canon, affirmed by early church fathers, articulated more clearly by later thinkers, and revived in the reformation.

Sorry, didn't get that last point. "The Eastern orthodox hold to a view that does not have such a view of God. THAT is good news." So, its good news that the Eastern Orthodox Church doesn't hold to penal substitutionary atonement. Is it good news because you feel that God is misrepresented by the doctrine? If so, how so?

Jeremiah:I don't deny that some language of the Pauline Epistles lend themselves to a formulation of a penal substitutionary model, but that does not necessarily mean that is what is intended by Paul. If I am not mistaken, the earliest Church Fathers and the majority them, did not hold to the penal substitutionary model. I don't have the space here to fully articulate the Eastern Orthodox model of salvation. But I can say that what I meant by "THAT is good news" is that the Orthodox view does not view God as needing to be saved "from" in the sense meant by the penal understanding.
I believe God is misrepresented by the penal model, because His mercy is overshadowed by a kind of peranoid fear of punishment, or makes God look bi-polar to an unsaved world. The Orthodox understanding recognizes that while God is a consuming fire, He is love. The two are inseperable. While we experience His love as a refining fire (those being saved), the unsaved experience His love as a tormenting fire. While this doesn't answer every verse or refernce to a God who punishes, has vengeance, is full of wrath, etc (so don't quote a bunch to me), the Orthodox take God Mercy and Grace into consideration first. That is what I meant by good news.

Jake:I don't get what you mean when you say that the penal substitutionary atonement position (PSA) overshadows the mercy of God by a kind of paranoid fear of punishment or makes God look bi-polar... Please elaborate.

I'm not sure the distinction between refining fire and tormenting fire escapes the same dichotomy that you ascribe to the reformed position. You say "tormenting love," we say "wrath and vengeance." They both equate to hell being hot and long (unless you don't affirm that hell hurts and is eternal). I too, though reformed, believe that hell is probably the most loving thing God can do for someone who continues to be an enemy of the cross. I see no inconsistency between affirming this and PSA.

The good news, as Romans 3:19-26 describes it, is that God's loved moved him to propitiate our sins on the cross by Jesus (absorbing wrath deserved to us) so that God could simultaneous be "just" (maintain his holiness) and "the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus," that is, so that God can treat us as if we were righteous though we are not. (thus, expressing his love for a lost humanity). This is forensic and penal in nature.

Mercy and Grace are terms that are logically dependent on notions of justice and righteousness. Justice is when God maintains what is right. Mercy and Grace refers to how God treats us when we are not right. Considering Grace and Mercy first is a false move. Just as truancy (as in "your child was truant today") presupposes and depends on the idea of attendance, so grace presupposes and depends on justice. Propitiation "allows" God to treat us graciously without sacrificing justice in the process. That, my friend, is gospel.

Scott: It seems that there is clear language of a judicial nature in the doctrine of the atonement, but it doesn't seem to be the only language. If one seeks to negate the judicial language, I believe he would have to argue against the empirical evidence of Scripture. However, as John Stott would point out, there are other ways of describing the atonement, as well, which contribute to a fuller sense of the sacrifice that Christ made. J.I. Packer would even caution not to view the atonement solely on human models of retributive justice and suggests that it be seen not as a mechanical explanation (how it works) but rather kerygmatically (what it means to us). There is definitely a spiritually valuable application from the PSA model, one that should not be despised.

Jake:Good points Scott. The PSA model doesn't exclude other facets of the atonement (e.g. Christus Victor), but likewise those other facets don't exclude PSA. I would add that "substitution" grounds almost every way we view atonement. I would even argue that penal substitution actually grounds many of the other facets of the atonement, and so is foundational in understanding the rich language describing the atonement. So when we say Christus Victor, Jesus saves humanity from the powers of evil and sin, why are sin and the powers of evil a problem? The power of sin is in the law. The accusation of Satan is grounded in the law. And the law is just an extension of God's nature. So, the reason why sin and Satan are issues, is because God is at issue.

Scott: Agreed. If the law is perfect, reflecting the character and holiness of God, it shouldn't be seen as an offense when it's transgressed by humanity, nor, especially, should the satisfaction made for it by Jesus, our Advocate, Ransom-payer and Bearer of God's judgment on us.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Was it possible for Jesus to sin?

Was it possible for Jesus to sin?

by John Piper

It depends on how you define "possible."

If "possible" means, "Did he have the brain and the natural capacities to discern a temptation and choose it," then yes. He had a brain and he had a will. If he didn't, he would not have been a human being.

He's discerning, he's thinking, he's feeling. He knows what hunger is. He knows what sexual arousal is, and so on. He knows these things! He's a human being. If he didn't have those then he wouldn't be a human being.

But historically, the word "possible" has another meaning, a very important meaning—namely, a moral ability. There's a natural ability, which he must have in order to be accountable and human, and a moral ability, which he did not have.

A moral ability is when you are bad enough to choose sin. There's enough badness in you that you can choose sin. Jesus didn't have it. There was no badness in Jesus.

Therefore he did not ever, in his willing and feeling and in his perception of temptation, he didn't ever rise to the point of going there. Because that's evil in us!

Evil is not just acting. Evil is wanting to act in a certain way. Craving money is as bad as having money that you stole. "I want the praise of man, I want that money, I want that lustful object"—and those wants are evil.

Jesus never had any of those. He was perfect. And if you don't have those, you can't do it!

You can't choose to sin if there is no desire to sin. And Jesus never had any desire to sin. Therefore he couldn't sin.

And so, in those two ways, it was possible and it wasn't possible for Jesus to sin.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Christless Christianity

There are a dozen diagnoses for the decline of Christianity in America: church models, church polity, musical style, position on end times, use of technology, whether your minister wears boxers or briefs...

How about this one: Much of what passes for Christianity in the West is Christ-less. Michael Horton's book is a compelling expose on the topic. If you're going to read a book before then end of this year, read this one: Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Hardcover)

Dialogue on faith, rationality, and the exclusivity of Jesus

Interesting conversation I had on facebook with a very bright guy named Pawel. Thought I'd share it. It was incited by the following video - HERE.

Pawel: The existance of the creator is far more complex than our mere attempt of understanding this force through personification and our finite abilities of understanding it by attempting to make it humanlike. It is, the creating force we like to call God, a vibrational energy responsible as the prime mover of systems as simple as a molecular recombination to create what we render as the double helix - hence our ability to be the mere fabric of perception- to gravity and attraction of mass and objects at given distances creating systems which move in a whirlpool of expansion and contraction. It is this energy which is responsible for what we consider good. Lack of this creational energy is the void and absence of, what we call evil or vacuum- dark matter. Personification is dangerous - in our short history- the source of extremism, conviction, and world conflicts leading to void or absence of high vibrational energy - or what we like to call God. Just a thought.

Me: Pawel, Very thoughtful. I would go the other direction however. The true danger is impersonification. Scripture declares God not merely to be personal, but supra-personal, tri-personal; a communal being who marks mankind with these personal communal attributes which define what good and evil are in relational contexts. To depersonalize the prime-mover is to undermine the very ontological basis of things like ethics, love, etc, reducing them to meaningless by-products of an impersonal system. Consequently, extremism, conviction, world conflicts, evil... are relatives, ultimately meaningless and perhaps even distracting.

Pawel: Hence the circular argument of who wrote scripture and with what motive in mind. As recently as zoroastrian formulation into our renditions of monotheism Christianity has become one vehicle for control- hence Nietzsche's argument that we killed God. I see your point but it is so easy to put a face - personify in the meaning of the term regarding to theology- as an attempt to understand something omnipresent omnicient and omnibenevolant. This is something we cannot explain by writing a book a few thousand years ago claiming it was the hand of God responsible for it. The absurdity of the thought that the creator would use a tool such as the hand of man- one of it's manifestations- to write rules and conduct for the mere hand pressing the ink into the page initself is proof that personification leads away from God suggesting weaknes through sin and the inability for the moral man to strive for the good him self- that high vibration we call God. This is the pivotal error man makes - the belief in being controlled by a force which he cannot be a moral man without. The jester. The hypocracy lyes within the man who by trying to believe has lost all faith. Kierkegaard would side with this notion as well. Blessings to you.


1. Such an argument can be circular. But I suggested that without a metaphysical and personal foundation for categories like good and evil, those terms are devoid of significance. That is arguing transcendentally from phenomena to what must be true to make sense of that phenomena. What is the "good" man is to strive for when we've removed the metaphysical underpinnings?

2. Further, I don't see how depersonalizing the the creator (e.g. vibration, prime-mover, first cause...) is in better keeping with the infinite nature the creator. I guess I would have to hear why personality and the infinite are truly mutually exclusive.

3. Although I see the foolishness of man reaching out and explaining deity, but I see no absurdity in deity explaining his nature and attributes to us. God, stooping down and "lisping" (as parents do to toddlers). By use of analogy, communicating meaningful information about himself. Our notions of power, causation, intelligence, are shady at best, but certainly sufficient to think of things like omni-this and omni-that; infinity here and there. Scripture is God revealing himself to us by analogy.

4. I'm not sure what Kierkegaard would be agreeing with in your statement. As a Christian existentialist, he was quick to posit a personal God to make sense out of his existential quest.

Pawel: Kierkegaard did more than posit a personal God to make sense out of his existential quest- but this is a topic all on its own. Sure all may be devoid of significance as we need the metaphysical to even have this discussion. Our senses, the area of the brain mapped in having a spiritual experience in the front corner through sodium and potassium exchanges, the electricity generated in doing so, hence the vibrational energy in creating secretions of hormones responsible for our mere senses and emotions, sight smell touch love hunger fear. The metaphysical is the only vehicle for our human experience. Some of the best scientists will not deny the force which may be responsible for theses processes. As we try to explain science, mathematics, and all quantifiable experiences, we do so with God. We also try to explain, as you did, that God explains himself through us meaningful information. Without us God would have no vehicle to do this hence he would no longer exist- just like the color you see on this screen would not exist if you did not come equipped with cones and rods in the back of your eyes sensing refractions and lengths of both waves and particles transforming into electricity in your occipital lobe, neither would the notion of God as he exists only through yours and mine contemplation. Faith? let it be so strong as to have no wonder if this is true, by merely trying to explain this- we doubt. One cannot argue the faith of an old woman living on a farm believing all her 80 years of her life with full conviction that Jesus Christ is the holy son of her God, yet we do this every time we slap a bumper sticker on the back of our SUV, the trademarking of faith such as Not Of This World TM. Just a modern take on the killing of God and the faith which exists independent of any notion of itself. True faith needs no explanation nor quantity yet we try to out do ourselves through proof to others of our faith and preaching to others what we may thing is righteous. Analogy is the only way we can try to make sense out of the literal as literal has no meaning for us without comparison to analogous situations. This is our mistake, the fact that literal cannot be explained is just that. God cannot be explained and yet we try to describe that he is doing this through us further proving the point that the notion of his existence would seize the moment we all turn to ash. It is our ego which allows for Gods existence as well as it is our ego that simultaneously nullifies him. Once we are egoless, only then can we experience the creator through love and devotion. This is the only way we will experience unity- without there will exist a perpetual race toward whose God is the righteous one- Allah, God, Jashuah...all the oooo and aaa sounds generated as our throats vibrate the sound as we utter this wavelength of sound constant in all faiths on our tiny planet. As soon as we argue for or against- we argue against ourselves, and the 80 year old devoted Christian woman with blind faith not needing proof of anything. Keep the faith!

Me: I’m completely on board in positing the metaphysical as the basis of the physical. I don’t think it’s a reciprocal relationship as you suggested, as in “without us… he would no longer exist.” Although it sounded like you were being more poetic than making a claim about God’s ontological status, elsewhere you suggest otherwise. The illustration of light as applied to God would make sense only if you conflated the primary and secondary qualities of something like light. First of all, I think there are good reason to hold to metaphysical realism when it comes to qualities like color, sounds, etc..., the first being the solipsistic reductionism that we want to avoid, namely, that we must reduce all of the physical world to subjectivity, because we are unable to interact with the world apart from perception. Secondly, the perception of light presumes and depends on the presence wavecycles; there’s an objective grounding our peceptions. In a similar way, though I knowledge of God is mediated through x, y, and z, it is faulty to reduce God to x,y,z. In the Christian doctrine of Revelation, God selects those mediums that best communicate himself to creature (imago dei, incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, inspiration of Scripture). God is uber capable of communicating truths about himself to beings who are less than infinite.

Faith? Faith presumes both objective and subjective components. Faith is in x. Faith in faith is absurd, like an eye looking at it self. Faith in faith can often be a ruse for egoism: I have faith in self (sounds like a Whitney Houston song). Kierkegaard argued that faith is a living, vivacious, active trusting in the Word of God. He resisted cold, stale, and lifeless orthodoxy, but never jettisoned orthodoxy proper.

I can see how ego can lead to a reductionism of God to this or that (creating God in our image). I find it instructive, however, that Scripture posits the first and enduring sin as the refusal of people to submit to God’s revelation of himself to them. The issue in human nature isn’t so much the we like putting God in our little boxes, but rather we refuse to accept the particular revelation of God to people, a revelation that communicates truths about him, the world, and you and I. Sola Fide!

Pawel: In order for faith to work it cannot be both objective and subjective. Kierkegaard argued for the subjective Christian- Thus faith is not the belief that someday someone will be able to prove the objective existance of God, as you are hinting at by posting videos such as the one above, faith is rather a commitment of oneself, with infinate passion, to something that is not based on objective fact or needs proving or spreading. By its very nature faith involves risk- and I am hopeful that you can agree with this without a poetic accusation or a metaphysical hair splitting of the nature of photons and our tools to perceive it- maybe I miscommunicated through interjecting one of the three other languages I speak- merely using English as the platform for the sake of this discussion. so I'll give you the benefit of. plus it was late and I just got out of the recording studio after my session :) . The absurdity that eternal truth has entered time as in the creating of scriptures themselves initself did not stand with Kierkagaard- Many Christians will deny that faith requires that the individuals relationship to the eternal truth be a paradox, what is true for the individual may be objectively false- hence my example of the elderly woman who I met in Croatia last Septemer, and the absurdity of a friend of mine who was with me at the time, making the mistake of trying to argue her subjective faith- him being the symbolic objective truth that god does not exist.

In a nutshell - if God is an objective truth- for the sake of you arguing for his existance with another spin on circular arguing that it is god trying to communicate with us not us manifesting his existence- if roles would change and now that woman is an 80 your old atheist and you were to argue to her that her belief, or there lack of, is false and her subjectivity will result in hell and eteranal damnation, I would have to side with her as to the fact that you should not have reasons to uphold or justify you being a Christian. If you do really believe in god, for the sake of simplicity, then you would dismiss the absurd that eternal truth has enetered time- as is the problem with Christianity itself through the perpetual recycling of words at bible studies and sunday sermons. That god has entered existence, has been born, has taken up human characteristcs (personification)- quite indistinguishable from other humans. As our friend Kierk would have it- the absurd is precisely by objective repultion the measure of the inwardnes of faith- I hope I am remembering this correctly- its been 15 years since I read him. And maybe you will agree that the danger of subjectivity in its extreme is madness. I sure would not argue with a mad 80 year old woman though-

When, if I was to believe that god exists, I understand that what I belive cannot be rationally understood or justified- since it is objectively a paradox. Yet if, in spite of the lack of external support, I still believe, then it must be because I consciously decide, with all the passion of the infinate, to choose to bring this commitment into existence. If the professor believes there is cold and dark- there is cold and dark and the little child arguing proved absolutely nothing- add a little emptional music and cinematography and you have yourself a religious campaign as inaffective as standing and protesting in front of an abortion clinic, and why you might ask? In a multicultural society such as ours the opposition of the detail of other faiths is far too strong to make prayer at school plausible. Cute video though I must admit- and it will attrack all those who frequently mentally masturbate the area of their cortex most active during a religious experience devoid of reason and logic- but lets not forget the danger of madness as a result of subjectivity. Zycze Ci prawdziwej wiary bez potrzeby udowodnienia ze Gog istnieje- Hwala!!!

ME: Enjoying the discussion. I don’t quite get the point that for faith to be operation, it must be act of pure subjectivity. Your mention of perceiving color and waves and particles was meant to illustrate your point that God only exists in our contemplation, without which he ceases to exist. My point is that this illustration in fact demonstrates both an objective/subjective dimension of reality, not the collapse of the objective into the subjective. I see nothing absurd or counterintuitive about the same subjective/objective dimensions existing in faith. Rather, I think this distinction protects us from ontological and moral relativism, or solipsism.

Understand about the late night. I have kids screaming in my ears, so I may end up typing in tongues before this is over.;o). I also am fluent in many languages…

I don’t see absurdity in eternal anything entering time and space. Plato’s whole philosophical motif was that there are these things called universals (timeless, perfect, infinite) that are constantly occasioned in time and space. Take numbers for an example. One might argue that numbers are an infinity. But this fact doesn’t prevent us from saying 1 2 3… adding, subtracting, dividing, etc. Of course it would be foolish for us to think that since we’ve grasped multiplication, therefore we understand everything there is to know about numbers. Equally foolish is to say that we can’t know anything about numbers; or to posit them requires leaps of faith and the abandonment of rationality. For plato, numbers are just one of many things that are eternal and yet instance themselves in time and space (e.g., logic, relations, the good…). The notion of the divine being incarnated in flesh is no novelty of Christianity.

It might be good to define what we mean by “objective” and “subjective.” By “objective” I mean that God existence and attributes are independent of me, the relator. Given that definition, I don’t think its good to call someone who thinks something to be true when its not true a “paradox.” I call that error. A paradox in my mind is when there are two qualities that seem to be in opposition of each other, and yet we affirm they are both true about some thing. Now I say “seem,” because a paradox by definition comes short of a contradiction, as in “God exists and doesn’t exist.” There’s no way this statement could be true in the same way and relationship.

Now the admission that one may be wrong, and yet affirms that the item believed to be true, is true of almost all of human knowledge (maybe with exception to self-knowledge). But with this common experience, we also see that it is epistemically responsible to proportion the subjective level of faith to objective markers; otherwise we have to argue that positing electrons (no one has seen one) is no more grounded than positing unicorns.

It might also be good to define “justify,” as in “what I believe cannot be rationally understood or justified- since it is objectively a paradox.” Empirically, light exhibits paradoxal qualities. We are “justified” in believing that light has these qualities, though we can’t comprehend how these two things are true. This is a great example of how rationality works. Reason takes us so far, but by itself is insufficient for infallible and exhaustive certitude. But this doesn’t negate the very reason that pointed to its own limitation.

I’m not sure what you mean by circular argumentation. Not its not that I don’t know what circular arguments are, but I don’t see how this applies to this discussion (i.e., God’s existence). Please explain to me where there is circularity.

It’s clear you’re not fond of the video. That’s fine. But the notion of communicated has a rich heritage in western philosophy, be it Plato, Plotinus and “the way of negation,” Augustine, Aquinas. Evil as the absence of what is right is also at the very heart of Scriptures definition of evil (e.g. god-lessness, un righteousness). Let’s be careful not to through out the baby with the bathwater.

You say, “and it will attrack all those who frequently mentally masturbate the area of their cortex most active during a religious experience devoid of reason and logic.” Ironic, given you’re presentation up to this point – religious faith is an irrational leap, devoid of reason and logic.” Define for me what role reason and logic plays in discussing matters of religious faith? If it doesn’t, I don’t get the critique. If it does, how have the great thinkers of the faith abused these tools. Sola Dei Gloria!

Pawel: Thank you Solomon for clarifying my point of what I was trying to say. I too am enjoying this conversation even though I had no ideal I was talking with a preacher. I'm honored- and a philosophy majour at that-super-honored. I think Solomon hit it right on the head. Love and god are synonamous. And he experiences this first hand with two beautiful children. There is a godliness about having that experience and as I would not argue with his experience of divinity as with the 80 year old woman for I sense his faith is genuine and subjective in the sense that it is his own inwardness through love without the need for further justification. Jake - I'm enjoying the discourse and now since I know you have a love for knowledge - hence your majour- I suggest you revisit Kierkegaards fear and trembling. I think this is where you might be a bit confused as far as me throwing around the context pertaining to definitions of subjectivism objectivism time and his three movements to faith. Unscientific postscript is another. Like I said it's been years for me but de Beauvoir, Camus, nietzche, Heideger, Sartre, Dostoevsky, Ayn Rhand, pre socratics such as Amos Hosea Isaiah Micah. Zepheniah babakkuk jerremiah anaxogoras gorgias archelaus philalous melissus are probably worth have been on my list to go back to so maybe you should consider it yourself as well- could be fun. Especially Kierkegaard since there seems to be a bit of misunderstand of his definitions. As far as the video goes- maybe if it was in a different language it would be a bit more appealing and warming. Guess the sombre feeling and mood just puts the wrong face on god. We are so condition to fear god even if it's through subconscious psychology- just another history of our Christian faith resurfacing inapt to fit the times and our spiritual evolution. Speaking of evolution how about that new discovery of the fossil. So much for the Lucy theory huh? But I'm sure scriptures were already written so that's ok. If not here then somewhere in the universe. SatNam!

ME: Pawel, good speaking with you. I've read fear and trembling three times (as well as other works of his); took two classes on Capt. Keirk. I'm no expert, but I think I get a sense of his thinking. The tension is of course with God's promise of Isaac (God's prior Word), God's command (kill Isaac), and the existential crisis of obeying the former despite the later. But even in this account, we have the Vox Dei (the Word of God), Abraham's past experience with God, and the conviction that God could somehow reconcile the apparent paradox (Heb.). It was a leap, but a leap off of something.

Understand about the video. It might be likened to Sheryl Crow redoing GNR's "Sweet Child of Mine." Unnecessary and not nearly as good as the original.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Defining a Church

A church is a (1) group of baptized believers who join together under (2) qualified leadership (Jesus as senior pastor & qualified pastors under Him) (3) in regular gatherings for (4) the hearing and application of the Word of God preached (the gospel exposited from the 66 books of the Bible), (5) the administration of the sacraments (baptism and communion), (6) in deep community within and (7) serious mission without.