Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 3

[1756 words = 7 minute read]

Last week, I ended my post with a plethora of biblical texts refuting Ericksen’s statement that penal substitutionary atonement is a lie. Ericksen’s diminutive perspective of God’s holiness demonstrates he doesn’t understand the depravity of man and the deserved wrath stored up for him because of sin.

I continue on.

He writes,

“The whole premise of penal substitutionary atonement is a lie. God didn’t respond to Adam and Eve by mimicking them. God didn’t turn from them. In fact, God went in search for them. “Where are you?” God asked Adam and Eve. That’s the truth of the Adam and Eve story, it’s the truth of the biblical story, and it’s our truth. When we abandon God, God doesn’t abandon us. God doesn’t respond with wrathful anger. Rather, God responds with grace and compassion that seeks to be in relationship with us.”

Ericksen is right on this point. Though Adam and Eve disobeyed God, incurring death for their sin, God came for them and extended grace to them in the shedding of the blood of another animal to cover their sin. We see before a theology of the atonement is fully developed an exchange being made. While God spared their lives at this moment, God told them that they would surely die if they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they most definitely will, returning to the dust that they came from (Genesis 3:19).

But he spared them.

After God made “garments of skin and clothed them” (3:21), “he drove out the man” (v.24), cleansing the temple-garden and closing it off from sin and death in placing the cherubim and a flaming sword as guards at the east end of it.

God did not respond with the wrathful anger they deserved; if he did, there would be no Christ, the one to come in whom God fully manifests his nature and character in—demonstrating wrath and love through. So, while we see God’s demonstration of grace, his wrath still has to come. A just judge cannot let lawlessness go unpunished. If God overlooked the sins of mankind, he would not be righteous; he would be unjust and a liar (Ps. 9:8).

Adam’s sin brought death into the world (Romans 5:12), and “the judgment following one trespass [Adam’s sin] brought condemnation” (5:16). So while Adam’s sin brought condemnation, Paul tells us that God in his divine forbearance “passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25). Beginning with Adam and Eve, his provision through sacrificial substitution allowed them to live for a while, along with God’s covenant people, Israel. But it did not remove man from his deserved condemnation, reconciling man and God. But in Christ, God put forward a propitiation that demonstrates his righteousness, so that he might be just and the justifier” (Romans 3:24, italics mine), by exacting justice for the sins of the world but also showing his love and mercy in reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18).

The Bible makes it clear—“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, italics mine). God’s wrath remains on those who have transgressed the law. Christ or no Christ, God’s wrath remains. Paul says to the Ephesians, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world . . . carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:1-3).

Just because the wicked are still living, it doesn’t mean their just condemnation through God’s wrath won’t be displayed. God will respond with wrathful anger; he already did for those who are his in Christ’s first coming and will do so for the children of Satan at Christ’s second coming.

Ericksen continues, quoting from a . . . Rabbi?

As the great 20th century Rabbi Abraham Heschel explained, the primary point is not our search for God, but rather God’s search for us.

“All of human history as described in the Bible,” wrote Heschel, “may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of [humans].” 

Now, I will have to give him credit here because Heschel shares a glorious truth of the Christian faith: God entering into his own creation coming to man through Christ to restore what was lost. However, I just find it ironic (and sad) that he is quoting a Rabbi who, while making this profound point, ultimately misses it.

Ericksen writes,

“For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s search for humanity. In this particular human being we see that atonement has nothing to do with God’s pent up wrath or violence, but everything to do with the truth of God’s grace and forgiveness. The Gospel of John tells us, “’The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth … From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.'”

Yes, Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s search for humanity, but Ericksen doesn’t demonstrate how what Christ did was not part of God’s wrath. The grace given is that Christ comes to bear our penalty taking the wrath of God for us. Galatians 3:13 says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law becoming a curse for us.”

What is grace? It is getting something we don’t deserve. Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many, paying the debt we could never repay.

I think Colossians 2:13-14 most succinctly captures this legal exchange:

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Why do you think we have the earthly example of the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system? (Read Hebrews 9-10)

Why is Christ referred to as the spotless Lamb (John 1:29)?

Peter speaks of “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19), which finds its origin in Exodus 12:5, in God’s instruction to Israel regarding Passover, “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old.”

Ericksen writes,

“In each Gospel we discover that God didn’t need the cross in order to forgive. The truth of God’s “grace upon grace” is that God forgives sinners, tax collectors, and cowardly disciples, in other words, everyone, before Jesus even went to the cross. God has never atoned for sins through wrathful violence. God doesn’t respond to us mimetically. When we abandon God, God doesn’t abandon us. Jesus is the particular revelation of what the Bible generally reveals — God makes atonement, God became at-one with us, not through wrathful violence, but through nonviolent love and forgiveness. It was human wrath that hung Jesus on a cross, not God’s. How does God respond to our wrath? As John wrote, with “grace upon grace.” Jesus revealed that grace as he hung on the cross and prayed, “’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

God did not need the cross to forgive? One needs to look at the statements in the Gospels Jesus makes regarding his purpose and reason for coming (Matthew 16:21; 20:18-19, 22, 28; Mark 8:31; 10:33-34, 45; Luke 11:42; 22:22, 37, 46; John 6:38; 10:17; 12:27) to see the cross was not just needed, it was planned to be used to show his glory. So, whatever God purposes is needed.

Another key element that Ericksen fails to see is what the cup represents that Christ is to drink. In the Old Testament, the cup normally signifies God’s judgment in the outpouring of his wrath (Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15, 16). This means intense suffering for those who drink of it. Christ demonstrated great fear in the moments prior to his crucifixion where he prayed to the Father, asking to not drink this cup (Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). He was fearful because it was one thing that the Son never experienced: the wrath and separation from his Father as only those under judgment experience.

In those six hours on the cross the Father abandoned the Son (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

His abandonment led to our adoption.

And then Ericksen uses wrath in a way I have never seen in theological discussion; he says, “It was human wrath that hung Jesus on a cross.” Where in the Bible do we see human wrath? What we do see is that our sin is what hung him up on the cross.

Ericksen concludes saying that we don’t need to feel guilty if we find ourselves abandoning God; God doesn’t respond to human sin with wrathful anger. Now, that is true for those in Christ, for nothing can separate them from his love (Romans 8:38-39). But God responds with wrath, judgment, and fury to those who are still enemies (Romans 2:8; cf. 5:10)

I am not sure if Ericksen assumed that the woman was a Christian who strayed from the faith. I wasn’t there but from what he said about her upbringing and experience in church, I assume that she is not a Christian; rather, she is one coming to the end of her life, feeling guilt wrought about by the Spirit, opening her eyes to the condemnation she is under. She should feel anxious and fearful. Christ says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Ericksen’s experience tells him that when he “channels God’s nonviolent and nonjudgmental love,” anxiety and fear go away. And that is what manifested in this lady’s demeanor.

Now, maybe he shared more than what he wrote about in his experience, which led to a further discussion about the gospel.

But, maybe his unbiblical understanding of God’s holiness, the atonement, wrath, and judgment only affirmed her in her sin.

There was no discussion here of repentance and faith in Christ for what he did on the cross to save sinners. If she truly saw how amazing it is that God saves wretches, then I would think her fear and anxiety would turn into weeping.

If Ericksen shifted the conversation toward the gospel of Jesus Christ, in which those elements were mentioned, which demonstrated the work of conversion by the Holy Spirit, then amen!

But if demonstrating “God’s nonviolent and nonjudgmental love” only made her feel justified in her own deeds, then that is a pity. Her blood is on his hands.

 

—Romans 11:36

 

Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 2

In this post I am continuing my response to pastor Adam Ericksen’s article on the ‘Nonviolent Atonement.’ If you just got here, click here for part 1.

In the end of last week’s post, it clear that Mr. Ericksen’s emotively prompted response to the woman who felt guilty for abandoning God is misplaced, according to Scripture. As I stated, he should have been expressing joy that a sinner who has abandoned God, feels guilty for doing so.

Ericksen says this turning away from God, which God reciprocates toward us, is a “pernicious theological claim . . . that’s a lie. Don’t believe it.” But what do the Scriptures teach about fallen man’s relationship with God?

Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear (italics mine).” So, while we see that God can save, man’s sin has separated him from God.

Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (italics mine).”

Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Romans 3:12, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (italics mine).”

Romans 5:10a, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (italics mine).”

Does it sound like there is a separation between God and man? The amazing thing is that for those who are his, there will never be separation or a time of God turning his back on us, as Paul writes:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

After saying that God turns his back on us is lie, Ericksen clarifies his point further:

Sure, the Bible can be interpreted in that way. People often point to the Adam and Eve story as evidence. Adam and Eve turned their back on God by eating the forbidden fruit, so God turned God’s back on them. Many claim that God has been angry at Adam, Eve, and their children (that’s everyone!) ever since. Strangely, these people continue, God had no other way of dealing with his pent up anger than to inflict violence upon God’s own son.

You’ve heard that story before. It’s called penal substitutionary atonement. Again, don’t believe. It’s a lie.

Wow! I think the most flabbergasting statement is Ericksen attributing God’s holiness and disgust of sin to be nothing but pent up anger. He doesn’t say it, but that is exactly what the implication is.

Has he read Leviticus?

Does he understand the sacrificial system is what made it possible for Israel to be God’s people?

If God did not make provision through the sacrificial system, which only cleaned the outside of the cup (Hebrews 9:1-10), Israel would have been further separated from God; Israel would have been (to use a New Testament expression) as a Gentile and a tax collector to God.

So, did God inflict violence on his Son? “It was his will to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10). He decreed from before the foundation of the world that the Lamb would be slain for the sins of the world. It was violence that God decreed, but it wasn’t the violence Ericksen presumes it to be; it was a righteous giving of oneself for the unrighteous . . . the most honorable of actions. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay his life down for his friends” (John 15:13). It was what Christ came to do (Matthew 20:28; John 10:15, 17; 12:27).

I won’t post the entire foretelling of the Lord as the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 53:1-12, but a few choice verses are needed to demonstrate Ericksen’s error.

Verses 4-5 – “Surely has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows; yet we esteem him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (italics mine).”

Verse 6b — “and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (italics mine).”

Verse 10 —“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him (italics mine).”

And all of this speaks in regards to Jesus, the Son of God, who was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [and was] crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

And what was the reason for this?

Because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). His own blood secured an eternal redemption (9:12b).

His death reconciled fallen man to a Holy God:

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself ” (2 Corinthians 5:18a)

I leave you with what Peter says regarding Christ’s death:

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

So, is penal substitutionary atonement a lie?

Did Christ not die for us, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God?

Well, I am not going to be able to finish responding to his article. My word count is getting up there; however, there is just too much that needs to be said regarding this truly precious doctrine, which our faith hinges on, so I don’t want to give it a light treatment.

I will pick up on where I left off next week.

 

—Romans 11:36

Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 1

In the beginning of December, one of my pastors took a detour from his normal feeding of expositional preaching to go through a systematic exposition on the cross. Though Christmas is generally focused on the sending of the Son, he wanted to spend some time on the giving of the Son. Ultimately, Christ came for a purpose, and that purpose was to give his life for his sheep (John 10:15).

What Christ did on the cross for his sheep is the crux (Latin for cross, which is where we get the term when speaking of the central issue of a situation—thanks pastor Mo!) of the New Testament. In fact, it is the pivotal moment in all of redemptive history, of which God purposed to come to pass before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20), with the cross itself, what it stands for, becoming the archetype of the Christian faith.

Christ’s giving up his life was The Great Exchange, which is really a reversal of which man originally exchanged—the glory of God for that of images resembling mortal man (Romans 1:23). Mankind exchanged the truth of God for the lie of man.

Paul makes man’s guilt quite clear:

“Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what not ought not be done” (Romans 1:28). “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (1:29-32).

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (2:6-11).

When reading this, the Christian should feel a deep sense of gratitude for what the Savior has done for us. Paul says, Christ was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Christ “died for the ungodly” (5:6), giving “himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). His life was “a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

God’s grace is truly amazing grace. However, there are those who want to diminish this grace by denying this great exchange. In theological terms, the great exchange is called the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Second Corinthians 5:21 most pointedly expresses this doctrine: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

I came across a blog article by pastor Adam Ericksen titled, “The Nonviolent Atonement: God’s Grace Upon Grace.” His understanding of grace was quite saddening because it diminishes the work of Christ on the cross.

He begins his article telling a story about an 85-year-old woman, who was nearing the end of her life. She was on her death bed and “felt the weight of guilt and anxiety of abandoning God.” She was raised a Catholic but fell away from it and never felt at home in a Protestant church. And because of her not going to church, she felt she had turned her back on God. She was “not in a state of grace,” she said.

She is using terminology of the Roman Catholic Church, which doesn’t teach that salvation is through grace alone, which the Bible clearly teaches (Ephesians 2:8-10).

His next paragraph is where I began to see that his theology of man, sin, and grace is quite flimsy. He writes,

That’s when my heart broke. She felt guilty because she believed she had abandoned God and so God had abandoned her. I began to think of all the damage many religious people have caused throughout the centuries by imposing guilt upon people. A religion that piles on the guilt isn’t worth following. A god who inflicts guilt upon us isn’t a god worthy of belief.

While there is some truth to his comments regarding the damage that other biblical religions and cults have done to their members, his statement regarding her guilt . . . broke his heart?  Now, since I do not know this woman, I do not want to speculate about her spiritual condition further than what I can pick up in the article. However, a sinner should feel guilty for abandoning God. Mr. Ericksen should be happy that she feels that way because it demonstrates she has an awareness of sin and idolatry in her heart. Did we not just go through a few verses from Paul, raking mankind over the coals for its transgression of God’s law? If she feels guilty for turning her back on God, then praise the Lord! Second Corinthians 7:10a says, “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation.”

The last sentence was perplexing. He writes, “A god who inflicts guilt upon us isn’t a god worthy of belief.” I must ask then, “What does the Holy Spirit do?” In John’s Gospel, Christ says that when he goes to the Father, he will send the Holy Spirit, who “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God of God, holy and righteous. If he brings conviction upon a person’s heart, making him see his guilt for turning from him, that makes him . . . unworthy of belief? The only way a person can believe is if the Spirit inflicts guilt upon him. The Spirit must open the sinners heart and mind, showing him his sin and transgression of his sin, causing him to go to the cross. Because without the Spirit, the sinner is unable to see and discern things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; cf. Romans 8:7-8). If a person does not feel guilty for turning from God, then the Spirit is not in him; one can only proclaim Christ as Lord in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Mr. Eriksen needs to remember that man in his depravity does not seek God (Romans 3:11); therefore, guilt brought on by God is needed if man is to see ‘Grace Upon Grace.’

Part 2 will be posted next week. God bless.

—Romans 11:36