wink ;): December 2004 Archives

[Note from Jeremy (29 March 2006): I just noticed some of these links were dead and fixed them.]

[Note: the followup to this post, Penal Union, is now up.]

As I may have mentioned, I think that Penal Substitution is wrong. I've done the best I can to define what I mean by Penal Substitution in this post. I'd wait for more comments in that thread, but I just kinda want to get this written, and I don't feel like waiting forever.

Most of the critics of Penal Substitution (that I'm aware of) primarily attack the Penal part of the model. They also attack the Substitution aspect, but largely because they feel that seeing Atonement in a substitutionary light biases you into thinking about the Atonement in Penal terms.

This is one way that I differ from the average critics of Penal Substitution--I believe that the Penal aspects of PS are correct. I just feel that Substitution language is not called for to describe it.

Going back to my definitional post, that means that I agree with J1-J5. I also agree with S1-S3. After that things get shaky. I outright disagree with S4-S5, and would want to rephrase R1-R5 as a result. (As a by the way, I do believe C1.)

Adrian has asked the critics of Penal Substitution to give biblical arguments for why PS is wrong. I'm happy to oblige. I'll dispense with the logical and rational arguments against PS, as those were not called for and they are not nearly as authoritative as biblical arguments. As I noted above, I don't question the Penal part of PS, just the Substitution part of it. Biblically, I question Substitution from two fronts. 1) I don't see biblical language that demands Penal Substitution. What language that does suggest substitution actually lends itself more readily to language of union/identification. (more on union/identification in my next post.) 2) Penal Substitution, as I see it, does not require the Resurrection.

I first want to lay out what I believe Penal Substitution to be. This is what I've been taught growing up and is what is currently being taught at my (evangelical) seminary. As far as I can tell, this is the standard version of Penal Substitution. [However, I've heard that some in the Reformed camp see it significantly differently. I have yet to confirm this.] Once we have established what Penal Substitution is, I'll write a post on why I think it is wrong. Then I'll write a post on what I think the biblical alternative is.

The following is a list of the basic tenets of Penal Substitution (as I see them). Please let me know if anything is 1) missing, 2) incorrect, or 3) unnecessary. [I will update this post as appropriate comments come in.]

Not a Neo-Liberal

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Adrian has clarified what he means by the term "Neo-Liberal". He says:

The concise Oxford Dictionary states theological liberalism is "regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change". Since neo-liberalism indeed does just that but with post-modern thought and does indeed dispense with classical evangelical beliefs then surely this is a good word to coin?

He goes on to say:

Liberal theology is defined on one website as "The intentional adaptation of Christianity to modernity using insights from the new social sciences to redefine religious authority." I would define neo-liberalism as the intentional adaptation of Christianity to post-modernity.

That seems to me a pretty good definition as it makes very clear why he has chosen those terms. It seems to me that the term as defined is quite appropriate.

That being said, it looks like I am not a Neo-Liberal after all. My intentions have never been to adapt Christianity at all, to post-modernism nor to any other paradigm. My intentions have ever been to take a hard look at the doctrines that I have inherited and test them against Scripture. Many of those doctrines have passed the test with flying colors (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity), but with others, the doctrines have required considerable modification (e.g. the doctrine of Penal Substitution). If those modifications happen to be more in the spirit of post-modernism than the traditional doctrine, that is purely by happenstance.

What worries me about Adrian's position is that there seems to be no recognition of people like me in his classification scheme. He says that "Neo-liberals need to realize that there are evangelicals who will [reexamine] their beliefs and practices in the light of current culture, then examine these in the light of the bible and conclude that the "old old story" need not be changed." That's true enough, but Adrian's statement leaves little room for the idea that the "old old story" might actually be incorrect (by "old old story" I am here referring to our inherited doctrines, not the Scriptures themselves). What Adrian and others like him (paleo-conservatives?) need to realize is that there are evangelicals who will reexamine their beliefs and practices in the light of Scripture and conclude that our beliefs and practices are wrong and do need to be changed. Church tradition is not always correct; surely any member of the Protestant church must acknowledge that.

Does Adrian have a name for people like me? Does he have a way of distinguishing us from the Neo-Liberals and the [whatever-he-wants-to-call-his-own-group]?


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Adrian Warnock has taken to calling a certain movement within the church "Neo-Liberals". I might possibly be a part of this group. He considers the movement's primary purpose to be to "make the church somehow more acceptable to today's culture", and it has attempted to do so by jettisoning various objectionable doctrines and replacing them with more acceptable ones, e.g. "disposing of a sovereign all-knowing God replacing it with so-called 'open theism', replacing the atonement with what I am still not sure or replacing punishment in hell with annihilationism".

As far as I can tell, Adrian has fixed upon the term "Neo-Liberal" in order to draw a parallel between the "Neo-Liberals" and the liberal church. The two features of the liberal church that he is focused on is 1) the liberal church's focus on acceptance by the rest of the world, and 2) a low regard for the Bible. The first is made evident by his claim that the goal of Neo-Liberals is to "make the church somehow more acceptable to today's culture". The second is made clear when he says "I don't have the luxury of chucking out portions of the bible like [Neo-Liberals do] as I do believe it is the word of God".

A logic puzzle

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A couple of years ago I was taking an OT survey class. We were discussing Enoch and the fact that he didn't die. I asked if it might be possible to inferr that Enoch was sinless. The rest of the class looked at me like I was an alien. I explained that if the penalty of sin was death, and Enoch didn't die...then maybe he didn't sin. One classmate looked at me like I was a moron and quoted "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." I said "No exceptions?" His response: "None." Before I could open my mouth again, the prof moved us on to other subjects.

I was bummed because I had a lot more I wanted to discuss there. I'm certainly familiar with Rom 3:23. But I'm also aware that the Bible is not shy when it comes to hyperbole and was wondering if it might be possible that this might be a case of it. Perhaps there are one or two or three exceptions? Like perhaps Christ?

So there are three statements that Evangelicals tend to believe without question. But taken together they are mutually contradictory:

1) All humans have sinned. No Exceptions.
2) Jesus was fully human.
3) Jesus did not sin.

To really affirm (1), you have to deny either the humanity of Christ or the sinlessness of Christ. I'd rather say that (1) has some element of hyperbole involved. But to do so raises the possibility that others were sinless as well, like perhaps Enoch.

How do you guys solve this logic puzzle?


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I took a break from the internet from a few days (and should, in theory still be on said break), and when I surfed the liberal blogs this evening they were awash with invective regarding John Stott. Clearly I missed something because I have no idea what brought that on. What did I miss?



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