Theology: 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]?

Pinnock on Inerrancy

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In the last post, Wink refers to the inerrancy trial at the Evangelical Theological Society for Clark Pinnock. See my comment there and the link to their final report dropping the charges for the context for this post. What I want to look at now is whether Pinnock really does accept inerrancy, based on his actual statements. I'm going to look at some very specific statements about inerrancy from him, collected by Norman Geisler. Geisler frames these under headings that don't all seem to me to be derived from Pinnock's statements, and he adds words in brackets to some of the quotes that he believes the context makes clear, but we don't have the context, so I can't evaluate those. I'm going only by what words of Pinnock I can see in his quotations and without their context. Even with that limitation, it does seem to me that some of the quotations, not nearly as many as Geisler seems to think, raise questions about whether Pinnock holds to inerrancy.

Neo-Liberals?

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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 nother logic puzzle

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Wink just posted his puzzle about Enoch's death (or lack thereof) and the biblical statements that all have sinned and that all who sin die. I've got a similar puzzle that I've been thinking about for over ten years now without coming to a sure conclusion about what I think the best solution is. This one is about hell as separation from God and God's omnipresence.

For the philosophers reading this, I'll register my uncertainty in calling these logic puzzles. They're sets of inconsistent (or perhaps paradoxical) triads, and logic shows that they can't all be held simultaneously without modifying one of them from its pure logical form, so it uses logic both to show the problem and to get out of it. When I think of a logical puzzle, I think of something involving the mere form and not the content, but I'll use his term just to continue in the same spirit with a similar title (and because it refers to an inside joke that Wink will get). Some philosophers may not approve, but momentum is hard to resist.

This puzzle is as follows:

1. God is omnipresent and is therefore everywhere.
2. Hell is complete, eternal separation from God.
3. If God is somewhere, then anyone there is not completely separated from God.

I'll admit first off that these are philosophical and theological definitions and not derived from biblical formulations, so some might just question the definitions. If so, how and why?

Now universalists deny that anyone will ever be in hell as I've defined it in 2. But presumably even universalists don't think it's in principle impossible for someone to be in hell, and that's what follows from accepting these three propositions. I haven't arranged it as a true inconsistent triad, but the consequence of accepting all three is, as far as I can tell, unacceptable to virtually all theists. I have a sense of a few possible solutions, but I want to see what others think first.

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?

One of the most common questions I've heard from Christian undergraduates is whether people who have not heard the gospel could be saved and whether people who are genuine followers of the truth within another religion might be saved. There are two separate questions in here, and I want to separate them out and then look at how Romans 10 gives an answer to both questions that's really hard to resist without simply denying what Paul is saying.

First I want to distinquish between the two views. Universalism is the view that everyone will be saved. Universalists may think everyone will be saved on the basis of their religion's own merits. This is the position of many Unitarian Universalists. Some call it pluralism, and others call it inclusivism, though both words have also been used to describe other views. I'll henceforth call it inclusivism. Those who call themselves Christian universalists generally think everyone will be saved on the basis of Christ's death. That's what's Christian about it. The inclusivist view considers each religion's own basis for salvation as the basis for its members' salvation. Such a view is really unworkable without a radical relativism about religious truth, which is itself philosophically unworkable, for reasons I'm not going to bother dealing with in this post. I just consider that to be the assumption behind any reasonable discussion about religion. On those grounds alone I think the view is a dead end. Still, the passage I'm about to consider resists this view quite plainly, so I'll resist the urge to explain philosophically why inclusivism makes no sense. My main concern in this post is with how Paul's line of thought in Romans 10 resists both inclusivism and Christian universalism, which is generally exclusivist on that issue. I think most non-universalists have never encountered an exclusivist unviersalist, so I'm going to spend a little time explaining what the view is and why most passages used to argue against universalism don't really say anything about universalism at all but just conflict with inclusivism. Then I'll move into Romans 10 to show why both inclusivism and exclusivist universalism are at odds with what Paul says there.

In my Ignorance and Democracy post and in Pseudo-Polymath's responses here and here, it's come to my attention that I need to make clear my views on rights and responsibilities and how they relate to God. Most of this comes right out of the comments on Pseudo-Polymath's second post. He's been saying that because I have a responsibility to raise my children well I must therefore have a right to raise them in the way I choose. I initially responded that I don't have a right to raise them however I want, because I have an obligation to do it well. He seems to have clarified his position to say that he doesn't have a right to raise them however he wants, but he has a right to raise them in a godly way. I'm not quite sure if this is what he means, but that's what he seems to me to be saying. My response is just that it sounds funny to say that I have a right to love my neighbor or to pay my debts. I have a responsibility and obligation to do those things. A right is usually something I'm owed by others, derived from my own status and not theirs.

I think many people see rights as fundamental and responsibilities as derivative. I have a right to life, and therefore the government has a responsibility to protect me. I think the biblical view is the reverse, at least with many things we in the United States will end up calling rights. I think I have philosophical reasons for this, too, but I don't have the time today with all the grading I have to finish by Monday to give those reasons. I more just want to state what my view is to make sure we're not talking past each other.

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