Failure to appreciate the paradoxical (and unapologetically so) nature of Scripture and the all-too-human-tendency to band-wagon and carry things to their “necessary” logical conclusions (let’s call this “rationalization”) lead to unbalanced doctrinal and theological systems. Perhaps nowhere is this sort of thing more apparent than the setting of Christus Victor (that in Jesus’ death God destroys the power of evil, sin, and death over humans and the creation) against Penal Substitution (where God in Christ suffers the punishment for sin and rebellion); or as some tend to put it a “loving” and a “forgiving” God vis-à-vis a God “who needs to punish in order to forgive.”
Now, the rejection of Penal Substitution (in whatever form) is usually accompanied by the claim that it is a late articulation by Anslem who basically articulated the crucifixion within the conceptual framework of the feudal lord system and therefore should be rejected (though such a claim is open to a the charge of genetic fallacy). Now this true as it goes, but it doesn’t therefore mean we should reject all forms of this doctrine. There is plenty of divine punishment throughout Scripture, not least Romans 2:6-11, that to simply use Anselm’s particular model to reject any idea that Jesus suffers the wrath of God as punishment for our sins deeply problematic and unsustainable exegetically.
However, there is a correlate anthropological issue that is integrated with these two views of the atonement that mirror the discussion. The under playing of human guilt in favor of the very Scriptural notion that we are also victims of forces—Sin, Satan, death, etc.—greater than us; perhaps, and this is just a hunch, many of us grew tired of the over-emphasis of our guilt before an “angry God” that we wildly swung the pendulum in the opposite direction entirely in favor of the line of atonement that stressed our needing rescue and God’s accomplishment of that rescue in his own the death on the cross?
But should we not rather hold the two together paradoxically?
Namely, that we are both the victims of a force more powerful than us and yet we nevertheless are the responsible and willing participants in sin and evil. And that Calvary astonishingly deals with both sides of this human predicament: our helplessness and our guilt. Graham A. Cole said it well in his God the Peacemaker when he concluded:
We human beings are paradoxes: capable of both greatness and unspeakable evil. This is unsurprising if the biblical story is believed. We remain images of God (the glory) structurally and functionally—albeit damaged though we are. Yet we are sinners (the garbage). Any account that does not reckon with the paradox is flawed. We are not devils, even though we can act like them. Christians ought not to be misanthropes. But we are not moral innocents either…
The choice between these theologies, let alone their antithesis, then, is a false one. Penal and what we might call divine conquest themes are, in fact, often interwoven in Scripture (e.g. Col. 2:9-15; Rom. 5:6-11; Rom. 8:1-4) and address two angels of the human condition before God. On Colossians 2 N.T. Wright adds:
In particular, the ‘handwriting that stood over against us’ has nothing more to say. This refers to the Jewish law, the law of Moses, which prevented Gentiles from getting in to God’s people, and condemned Jews for breaking its commands. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, Paul declares, this written code was nailed there with him. Now it has nothing more to say to those who belong to Jesus. ‘There is therefore no condemnation’, as Paul says in Romans 8, ‘for those who belong to King Jesus.’ He’s forgiven you all the sins and offences that might have counted against you. In dying with him you have come out from under them all, and from all the condemnation they might have pulled down on your head.
Ironically, then, it precisely the legal or forensic guilt humans bear that the powers (both Caiaphas and Satan and Caesar) use to place God in a quasi-divine-predicament; think here of Zechariah 3:1-5 where the Accuser stands before God condemning Joshua the high priest before the heavenly court. Thus, if we are to have anything like a full orbed account of the human problem (and its divine answer) we must hold together the fact(s) that humanity is propelled and dominated by a force greater than itself, that we are also willing accomplices in our actions great and small despite our weakness, and that the same forces, including God’s own judgment, are there to hold us all in the doc worthy and helpless before the divine judgment seat.
Enter the cross of Jesus of Nazareth…
The atoning cross, you see, deals with all of these integrated and paradoxical human issues. God had always intended to come in the person of Christ (this makes God act prior to the cross and thus makes the God not the object of atonement but its own satisfier) to both gain victory over the forces of sin and death in his own person and at the same time undergo his own verdict and judgment against guilty sinners; thus, disarming any legal/forensic claims made by God’s enemies. The bloody and awful death of Jesus—God with us—is God’s unexpected and yet foretold answer to all that ails us helpless-rebels and we should not take it upon ourselves to lessen the scope of the cross one jot or tittle, but rather do our best to not separate what God has himself joined together in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
 Graham A. Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), pg. 66.
 N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,2004), pg. 171.
by Columbia Lutherans on Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 11:55am •
“I am enchanted by the Sermon on the Mount. Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have received so far. Perhaps we will get another idea that good by and by-and then we will have two good ideas. What might that second good idea be? I don’t know. How could I know? I will make a wild guess that it will come from music somehow. I have often wondered what music is and why we love it so. It may be that music is that second good idea’s being born.
“I choose as my text the first eight verses of John twelve, which deal not with Palm Sunday but with the night before-with Palm Sunday Eve, with what we might call ‘Spikenard Saturday.’ I hope that will be close enough to Palm Sunday to leave you more or less satisfied. I asked an Episcopalian priest the other day what I should say to you about PalmSunday itself. She told me to say that it was a brilliant satire on pomp and circumstance …
Share this with A year ago
Donald Trump produced the biggest political upset in modern-day America, but
were there historical clues that pointed to his unexpected victory? Flying into
Los Angeles, a descent that takes you from the desert, over the mountains, to
the outer suburbs dotted with swimming pools shaped like kidneys, always brings
on a near narcotic surge of nostalgia. This was the
flight path I followed more than 30 years ago, as I fulfilled a boyhood dream
to make my first trip to the United States. America had always fired my
imagination, both as a place and as an idea. So as I entered the immigration
hall, under the winsome smile of America's movie star president, it was hardly
a case of love at first sight. My
infatuation had started long before, with Westerns, cop shows, superhero comic
strips, and m…
http://mediarostra.com/2012/09/11/idolatry-of-the-family/ September 11, 2012 By Ben Ponder, Editor-at-LargeLeave a Comment Jesus
didn’t die on a God-forsaken cross to preserve your horn-rimmed vision
of 1950s Americana. He did not go through hell and back to secure the
keys to an exclusive gated community. And he didn’t suffer lacerations
so that your nuclear family could be photographed beside the tulips in
matching shiny egg-white shoes.
Jesus had a family. They were his scraggly followers. Yes, he had
flesh-and-blood siblings, but they thought big brother was a fake and
that mom must have been crazy for buying into all of his religious
ranting. They told him to shut up, so Jesus ignored and disregarded
them. As he was gurgling his last bloody breath at Golgotha, he wheezed
to John—“the disciple whom Jesus loved”—that Mary was to be his mother
and he, her son.
Jesus never married. He liked weddings, though, and he even tended
bar at a reception once. But getting hitched …