Carson on Wright on Evil and God's Justice

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D.A. Carson has reviewed N.T. Wright's new book on evil and God's justice. You can read the review here. Carson has authored what is hands-down my favorite book on evil from a biblical (as opposed to philosophical) perspective. I'm currently reading through the second edition of that book, but you can read my review of the first edition here. I have read his review of Wright, and it's definitely worth reading whether you've looked at Wright on this issue or not. Beware that it's ten pages long, so reserve some time for it.

For more discussion of Wright, who has been getting some play in the Christian blogosphere lately, see

  • Jollyblogger's post on the penal substitution discussion in the UK (where it's clear that Wright affirms penal substitution and denounces some who are denying it, from Wright's quotes in this article).
  • Adrian Warnock's discussion of Wright's critique of both sides in the UK debate
  • Justin Taylor's post on the Carson review
  • Jollyblogger's followup on Wright and penal substitution
  • Justin Taylor's discussion of Wright's defense of Steve Chalke, whom he amazingly doesn't think denies penal substitution
  • But perhaps the best thing to do is to read what Wright has to say about the penal substitution debate and then to examine the other posts in the light of Wright's own carefully prepared thoughts.
  • Update: Justin Taylor has some choice quotes from Wright very clearly defending something that most people would count as penal substitution (and that Wright himself clearly does count as penal substitution, given some of his above-mentioned quotes against those he does believe to deny it). Perhaps Wink would quibble here on whether Wright's view is truly substitutionary. I suspect Wright would accept substitution and union on that issue. But it's very clearly penal, and that's the main issue under debate here.
  • Update 2: Alastair Roberts has some helpful distinctions between different models of the atonement. One position worth considering is that none of them is wrong, but what would be wrong would be denying any of them. (Or perhaps most of them are correct, and it would be wrong to deny any of those number.) Heresy, of course, is another matter. Being wrong does not always line up with being heretical, and I'm not sure I've thought about this long enough to have a sure view on that.

2 Comments

Jeremy, since you amazed that Wright doesn't think Chalke denies penal substitution, I will repeat for you a comment which I made on Adrian's blog, in response to doubts about the genuineness of him signing the Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith:

I would also like to see an explanation direct from Steve Chalke. But he has clearly satisfied the EA and Spring Harvest that he genuinely accepts their joint Basis of Faith. He has also clarified his position to Bishop Wright, who wrote: "it is [Steve's] experience that the word ‘penal’ has put off so many people, with its image of a violent, angry and malevolent God, that he has decided not to use it. But the reality that I and others refer to when we use the phrase ‘penal substitution’ is not in doubt, for Steve any more than for me." In other words, Chalke accepts the reality of penal substitution (at least as defined by Wright), but finds the terminology unhelpful. In the absence for now of any better clarification, I think we should accept this.

See also my own discussion of the issues, written before Wright's intervention.

Then why does he insist on saying that the classic penal substitution view amounts to cosmic child abuse? Wright denies that that's what Chalke thinks, but Chalke has very plainly said it. See the Chalke quotes here. If he also endorses penal substitution, then it seems he endorses a view that he himself thinks is cosmic child abuse. I just don't know how anyone can interpret the following as an endorsement of penal substitution:

‘In The Lost Message of Jesus I claim that penal substitution is tantamount to “child abuse - a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.” Though the sheer bluntness of this imagery (not original to me of course) might shock some, in truth, it is only a stark “unmasking” of the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind such a theology.’

It's possible for all I know that the view Chalke does accept really is penal substitution, as Wright claims it is. But I know little about the positive views of Chalke. What I know is that he explicitly says about penal substitution under that name, and he says it in a way that implies that anyone holding to any view rightly called penal substitution believes in divine child abuse. That's the kind of behavior that people are calling him on, and Wright defends him by acting as if Chalke has not made such a sweeping claim. But he has. He very clearly does not think he believes in penal substitution, as Wright thinks he does, and he very clearly made a criticism against penal substitution that, unless he were to qualify it significantly, applies to a lot more people than Wright seems to take it to apply to. That's why Wright's comment amazes me. It just seems at odds with what Chalke actually said.

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