Penal Substitution AND Christus Victor?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Dave sent me an email with some challenging questions regarding my article “ Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor” that I thought it might be interesting to answer in a blog. So here we go. I'll put Dave's questions in bold.

I read your article "Penal Substitution V Christus Victor" with interest. It is a very stimulating document. However -can I challenge you to engage more with what those advocating Penal Substitution are and are not arguing. There are a few things worth considering.

First the literature around -worth considering the old classic The Cross of Christ -John Stott and of course more recently Sach Ovey and Jeffry, Pierced for our transgression. Also Tom Wright's support for Penal Subsitution. Certainly the line would be not CV v PSA but rather PSA and CV togethr helping to give a full picture.

I have read Stott's book many times. It is certainly a classic as far as PS goes. I have also read “Pierced for Our Transgressions” and thought that was in contrast very poorly researched. I think they completely misrepresent for example the positions of people like Augustine and Athanasius. NT Wright has had some pretty negative things to say about this book. For what its worth, I have also spoken with NT Wright personally about PS, and he actually rejects it while embracing substitutionary atonement understood within the context of CV.

Let me mention a few other books on the side of PS that I found quite good. “The Glory of Penal Substitution” has quite a few good papers in it worth reading. I particularly liked the one by Van Hoozer. Packer's article “The Logic of Penal Substitution” is brilliant (and available online). Leon Morris “Apostolic Preaching” has some phenomenal research in it. Then there are people like PT Forsyth and James Denney who have some great stuff too.

One thing here that crystallizes with reading Forsyth, Denney, Van Hoozer, and Packer is that a great deal of the criticisms that are made of PS have also been made by people advocating PS too. So it is possible to embrace PS and at the same time be critical of its more legalistic and “crude” expressions. The question then becomes: what would a sophisticated and grace centered version of PS look like as opposed to a legalistic one?

This is perhaps best captured by Packer's now famous quote
“…Jesus Christ our Lord moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined and so won us forgiveness adoption and glory.”


Great quote. Do you recall where Packer said this?

It may surprise you to hear that, as it stands, I would agree with the above quote. I would want to refine and clarify a few points I am sure, but I will say that I do think that substitutionary atonement (which is a broader term than PS) is the linchpin of the entire atonement – the means of our redemption.


Where I would want to tweak the above statement is the phrase “endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement”. I do not think that the God needed to “get his anger out of his system” by punishing someone, even if that someone was himself. I would say instead that wrath is averted through our purification, or in technical terms that propitiation happens through expiation. Remove the sin (expiation) and you remove the cause of judgement (propitiation). Expiation is the key concept here in the atonement – our transformation and purification through Christ's blood.


So with that in mind can we say that Christ endured the judgement and death that humanity was due? Absolutely. The question is why? For what reason? That's where I think PS gets it wrong. The reason is expiation.


Key things there

1. Moved by a love... -this is language of love. It is an uncharitable nonsense to suggest that "In Satisfaction-Doctrine love is not central, but viewed with suspicion." I appreciate my language is strong there -but we have got to be right when we talk about what people believe.


Yes, love does need to be seen as the motivating factor. Some (for example Emil Brunner) have instead stressed that the need to fulfill the demands of justice or moral law was the key factor. I disagree, and so do people like Packer and Denney.


I's say that most Evangelicals who embrace PS do so because they see the love and grace of God in that he would endure suffering out of love for us. This is something I certainly would embrace as well. The problem is that many other people hearing the stress on God demanding punishment have gotten the opposite impression which has lead them to a hurtful image of God that damages their trust and can keep them from grace. Beyond any theological issues, I think this is the key issue: how can we present the Gospel and atonement so that people hear the message of a loving and just God they can trust? At least on a popular level (and often on an academic level as well) this has been quite problematic with PS because people are often more concerned with defending doctrine than they are with communicating grace (and here I will resist naming names, but I can unfortunately think of quite a few). I do want to stress also that I do not mean to imply that you are doing this at all. On the contrary, I greatly appreciated the generous and irenic tone in your post.


If it is as Aulen would say about reconciliation between God and man -then it is our relationship to him. Is sin simply the thing that oppresses us? What about the sense in which we identify with those who killed Jesus -those who are hostile to God.


I think you may be misunderstanding Aulen here (which may be my fault). He would say that the cross is primarily about our redemption (deliverance) by God from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil not of reconciliation (forgivness) between God and humanity. In that context he speaks of a “doublesidedness” where we are at the same time the victim of sin – its captive – and are guilty and culpable because it is our sin that has led us into this bondage. So we have humans as being both victims and perpetrators, needing to be liberated/ransomed/redeemed and reconciled/forgiven.

Christus Victor in opposition to Penal Substitution places us in a difficult position because -we are the ones who should be defeated by his victory.


I agree and disagree here.

I disagree in that I'd say our “defeat” is a necessary part of the atonement in that our sin and we are overcome and in that our identity is transformed from being a “son of perdition” to a son or daughter of God. Our enmity is defeated.


I would agree that a full view would need to see the themes of substitution and ransom rather together rather than as opposed, but would say that because PS and CV are essentially incompatible this merger, this would need to be in the form of CV together with an incarnational understanding of substitutionary atonement.


We need of course to bring other elements to bear -especially the idea of faith union.


Yes! I would argue here that the way to understand substitutionary atonement is not in terms of satisfaction of punishment or propitiation of wrath, but as recapitulation – God enters into our wretchedness, lostness, suffering, sickness, and sin and as us representationally overcomes death and hell in rising from the dead. In dying and rising as us (representationally, incarnation ally) Christ makes it possible for us to die and rise in Christ as well so that we are made holy through our union with him, us in Christ and Christ in us transforming us through an indwelling personal relationship with God.


Thanks for the challenging questions, and I hope you find some edification here in my response as well.


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10 Comments:

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Eric, I am a pastor at an Evangelical church. I have only read the first two parts of this paper (I intend to finish reading later), but I felt I should comment.

I agree with "Dave" that we should be thinking of combining theories of atonement instead of picking one over another. In one of my systematic theology classes at seminary, the professor urged us to consider that the various theories of the atonement are metaphors and that no one metaphor fully depicts the work of the atonement. As such, I wrote a paper suggesting that the penal substitution theory is good, but should be strengthened by adding onto it the theory of Christus Victor.

I feel that your depiction of the Satisfaction Doctrine is inaccurate. First of all, I do not agree that the Satisfaction Doctrine is the same as the Penal Substitution Doctrine. In fact, your Christus Victor view so far sounds more like Socinus' Example Theory, which is a response to Calvin's Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Second, I must wholeheartedly disagree that Jesus' death did not appease God. How else could Hebrews 9:14 be understood? Jesus' death was offered to God so that we could serve God. I agree that OT sacrifices could not appease God, but the whole point of Hebrews is that Jesus' sacrifice was greater and was able to appease God once for all. Third, I disagree with you when you say that Jesus did not identify with a legal system. In Matt. 5:20, Jesus speaks of righteousness in such a way that we know we will be held up to a standard. Fortunately, that standard can be met in us to whom righteousness is credited (Rom. 4:24) by faith in Christ. Christ upholds the law - both the OT law (as a forerunner, see Matt. 5:17) and the new law of the spirit of life (Rom. 8:2).

I do not think you are doing anybody a service by rejecting Penal Substitution. It is not just that we "broke a law," it is that we offended God. Yes, penal substitution can sound gruesome. But we can show that God is not only the judge, but also the one who mercifully provided the way out of sin.

I think your voice would be more helpful if you tried to add Christus Victor to other theories of the atonement.

 
At 5:33 AM, Anonymous dave williams said...

Hi Eric,

Do you still have a copy of that paper? It would be good to see it somtime.

Derek and I had a more detailed further exchange of emails which maybe he will be willing to share some of the results of here. I am happy for him to do this.

One thing I think we need to do is move away from talking about "theories/models" of the Atonement. I would probably say that it is stronger than metaphor as well. Rather -we have in the Bible the full narrative of what Christ did on the cross. It is as you suggest, not pick and choose -but rather on the Cross Christ was our subsitute, taking our penalty, paying the ransom, winning the victory, demonstrating God's love, providing a wonderful example.

Blessings in Christ

Dave

 
At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Eric again. I do still have that paper. I'd be glad to share it. How would you like me to get it to you?

 
At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Eric again. I just read part 3 about Christus Victor.

I agree with you that the Satisfaction Doctrine does not focus enough on the resurrection. I believe that is the inherent weakness of the doctrine and that is why I advocate strengthening the Penal Substitution Doctrine with Christus Victor.

However, I have one question for you after reading Part 3. Why does the Bible say that we were God's enemies (Rom. 5:10), that we deserved God's wrath (Eph. 2:3), and that we needed to be reconciled to God (II Cor. 5:19) if it is merely the powers of evil and death (and not our own sin) that held us in bondage?

 
At 12:40 AM, Anonymous dave williams said...

Eric,

You can email me. My email address is xiaowei105@hotmail.com

 
At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Eric,

Several things I wanted to respond to in your post


I agree with "Dave" that we should be thinking of combining theories of atonement instead of picking one over another.

This I agree on, but would argue that penal substitution is incompatible with Christus Victor and so we would need to find another way to understand the substitutionary nature of the cross. More on that later...

In one of my systematic theology classes at seminary, the professor urged us to consider that the various theories of the atonement are metaphors and that no one metaphor fully depicts the work of the atonement.

This is a common statement among theologians. As a artist I have so say I think that theologians who say this do not properly understand metaphor. As Dave says, I think the way we really need to understand these metaphors is not as a bunch of random imaged tossed together, but as interwoven parts of a narrative.

As such, I wrote a paper suggesting that the penal substitution theory is good, but should be strengthened by adding onto it the theory of Christus Victor.

I am interested in doing this too, but have come to the conclusion that they operate on mutually contradictory paradigms and that instead substitution should be understood as recapitulation.

I feel that your depiction of the Satisfaction Doctrine is inaccurate. First of all, I do not agree that the Satisfaction Doctrine is the same as the Penal Substitution Doctrine.

That's right, it is not the same. Related of course, but not the same. Sorry if I gave the impression they were.

In fact, your Christus Victor view so far sounds more like Socinus' Example Theory, which is a response to Calvin's Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

There are a few factual errors in here I wanted to sort out. Example Theory belongs to Abelard who was responding to Anselm not Socinus. I have read Socinus, and his argument against penal substitution is based on a rejection of the Trinity (Socinus was one of the founders of Universalism which was called so because of its anti-Trinitarian stance).

My perspective is that what God did for us should deeply move us and that it is focused on love. I'm pretty sure that people like Dave (who advocate penal substitution) would agree with me here. However I reject example theory as a stand alone theory. It only makes sense as an element of other theories, for example we might say that we can be moved by the sacrifice involved in penal substitution.

Second, I must wholeheartedly disagree that Jesus' death did not appease God. How else could Hebrews 9:14 be understood?

Heb 9:14-- "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God"

The key term here is that the "blood of Christ" offered to God "cleanses" us from sin and death. So I would say that this is about expiation (cleaning, purifying, sanctifying of sin). I don't see anything about appeasing in here.

Jesus' death was offered to God so that we could serve God. I agree that OT sacrifices could not appease God, but the whole point of Hebrews is that Jesus' sacrifice was greater and was able to appease God once for all.

I think if you read Hebrews carefully you will see that it actually says that that OT sacrifices could not cleanse us of sin, and that the whole point of Hebrews is that Jesus' sacrifice was greater and was able to cleanse us of sin once for all.

I would argue that the purpose of the substitutionary death of Christ was this cleansing and expiation of sin making us a new creation.

Why does the Bible say that we were God's enemies (Rom. 5:10), that we deserved God's wrath (Eph. 2:3), and that we needed to be reconciled to God (II Cor. 5:19) if it is merely the powers of evil and death (and not our own sin) that held us in bondage?

Christus Victor would agree that we are God's enemies and say that we are at the same time belong to the devil because of our sin, and that our sin holds us in bondage. So it acknowledges both our owning up to our own evil, and that this evil is over our head and that we need help to escape it.

 
At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Derek,

This is quite simply the most helpful document I have ever read (and I've read a lot) about the atonement. I hope you find a publisher.

peace and God speed

 
At 9:14 PM, Blogger Benjamin Wolaver said...

Derek,

Thanks so much for being a proponent of something I feel very strongly should be in the vocabulary and understanding of every Christian.

One thing that I would like to zero in on. From my own reading of Aulen's book and Christus Victor in general, it seems to me that the "substitution" idea and the "recapitulation" or "incarnational" idea are mutually exclusive. For Substitution, the fundamental idea is that Christ died, not us. For Recapitulation, the fundamental idea is that Christ died with us. The whole paradigm of the NT could be characterized as a participatory Atonement. We die with Christ and rise with Him. So for me, if Substitution, strictly understood, is correct then we don't actually die with Christ.

If we take Substitution as the paradigm, then the question will inevitably be asked, "Well, why do people who believe in God still die?" to which many theologians respond by spiritualizing death or looking to the Great Day. But if we take the NT at its word and see us as dying in Christ, we will obviously desire to follow in his footsteps by actually dying as he did. So the fundamental dynamic of Substitution is a separation. Christus Victor preaches a unification.

Thus, if I am right, there can be little to no real agreement between a substitution (except in the most vague terms) and a recapitulatory model of Atonement.

 
At 9:13 PM, Blogger Geoff Arnold said...

Heya,
I'm sorry I didn't get to read the whole thing, but from what I've seen I think I agree with you. I've actually just written a short paper on understanding Christus Victor as the means of making Recapitulation possible (it accomplishes restoration and redemption, but makes salvation [i.e., theosis] possible)and Ransom a part of that victory. The Victory being over the powers of sin and death (and Satan)so expiation can happen and redeeming "slaves" that have become "sons of Satan" as Irenaeus cites from Isaiah.

You may have said it, but the question I generally ask in the face of Penal Substitution or Anselm's Satisfaction theory is "Does something have to be changed/fixed in God or us?" Another question that answers why God has wrath is, "What's the purpose of his wrath or judgment of death?" The point (as we see in Genesis after the fall) of separation and thus death is to put a stop to the effect of sin. Death is the only way to kill sin, but it unfortunately kills us too. Jesus takes that penalty to overcome that power and expiate sin.

Therefore, the only reason God's "wrath" is "satisfied" is because sin is destroyed, not because his law has been put to rights.

That's the most Scriptural and (historically supportable by Church Fathers) I believe. The purpose of OT sacrificial system was solely expiation not propitiation and expiation (scapegoat and blood sacrifice were both symbols and actualization of sin being cast out and then "covered" by blood so that the sin was gone, not so that the law was satisfied and not angry anymore)

Key point, the sacrifice is not to satisfy anger. The anger or punishment is meant to destroy the thing that is destroying what God loves and the sacrifice is the means of destroying that sin (and overcoming it).

I think you're right on with using Recapitulation, Ransom, Christus Victor, and (not sure if you talked about it, but) Athanasius' healing motif. The largest issue I take with Anselm's Satisfaction and Calvin's Penal Substitution is that it suggests there is something in God that needs to be addressed. While there are bits that lead to these ideas in Augustine, I find it slightly problematic that they are based on Latin justice system (PS) (instead of Jewish) and Medieval kingship (Satisfaction). Again, it's even more interesting that so many hold to these so strongly as Satisfaction didn't come about until 11th century and PS in 15th century, but then have no concept of any doctrine that was held for the first 1000 years and thereafter in the East.

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger Geoff Arnold said...

One thing (that you seemed to find problematic as well) I take issue with in Packer's statement is I believe it misses a lot of Trinitarian theology concerning the place of the Father and the Spirit in this event.

 

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