Atonement Wars, Part 3

Republished with permission. Originally appeared in Think on These Things, (Dec.-Jan 2010-2011). Read Part 1 and Part 2.

New Testament Support for Penal Substitutionary Atonement

As Our Substitute

We will begin by surveying some of the New Testament references that speak of Christ dying as our substitute. 2 Corinthians 5:21 heads the list: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Some have termed this “The Great Exchange” as the Sinless One took our sin upon Himself and gave us the righteousness of God. The implication is that this spiritual transaction is made possible only through the sacrifice of Christ. I Peter 2:24 adds detail, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Christ then became sin on our behalf (i.e. in our place) at the Cross, for it is there that He bore our sin in His body. He did so to free us from sin and bring us righteousness, but our healing was made possible only because of His wounds. I Peter 3:18 reiterates the same thought by saying, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God…” In Roman 5:8 Paul writes, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ death was “for us.” His death accomplished what nothing else could. Jesus Himself speaks of penal substitution when He states that He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And John the Baptist declared Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

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Atonement Wars, Part 2

Republished with permission. Originally appeared in Think on These Things, (Dec.-Jan 2010-2011)

In Part one of “The Atonement Wars” a number of atonement theories having found favor at various points in church history were explained. These included the moral influence theory, Christus Victor and the Ransom to Satan theory. While I reject the last of these theories, the other two have biblical backing and thus fill out our understanding of why Christ went to the cross. However, I believe the central teaching of Scripture in regard to Christ’s cross-work is best defined as the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). It is PSA that is facing resistance from many who would be happy to embrace the cross as a moral example of love or a victory over the forces of evil. Yet the Bible teaches that while Christ’s death was a great example and resulted in the defeat of evil forces, more importantly His death was necessary in order that our sins might be forgiven and we be reconciled to God.

Definitions and Challenges:

Wayne Grudem provides this helpful definition,

Christ’s death was ‘penal’ in that he bore a penalty when he died. His death was also a “substitution” in that he was a substitute for us when he died. This has been the orthodox understanding of the atonement held by evangelical theologians, in contrast to other views that attempt to explain the atonement apart from the idea of the wrath of God or payment for the penalty for sin.1

Millard Erickson says it plainly, “The idea that Christ’s death is a sacrifice offered in payment of the penalty for our sins sic. It is accepted by the Father as satisfaction in place of the penalty due to us.”2 Erickson further refines the doctrine, “By offering himself as a sacrifice, by substituting himself for us, actually bearing the punishment that should have been ours, Jesus appeased the Father and effected a reconciliation between God and Man.”3

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Society of Evangelical Arminians: What is Arminianism?

The following is by Dan Chapa of the Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA). Since theologically serious alternatives to Calvinism seem to be in short supply these days, SharperIron contacted SEA recently about the possibility of representing classical Arminianism for the SI audience. To learn more about the SEA, see their About Us page.

Arminianism is a summary of our understanding of the Scripture’s teaching on salvation. The name comes from Jacob Arminius, who led 17th century opposition to Calvinism, but the idea stems from Scripture and has deep roots in the early church fathers. Many non-Arminians have mistaken notions about Arminianism—as do many Arminians. This post will define and defend the essential aspects of Arminianism (total depravity, resistible grace, unlimited atonement and conditional election), without critiquing Calvinism.

Total Depravity

Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in total depravity—the idea that fallen man requires God’s grace through the beginning, middle and end of the salvation process. Adam’s fall left us unable, of our own strength, to repent and believe or live a life pleasing to God. But total depravity is not utter depravity; the lost don’t commit the worst sins possible on every occasion. Still without God’s grace, sin impacts every aspect of life and we cannot seek God on our own. Rather, He seeks us and enables us to believe.

Resistible Grace

Arminians may vary on exactly how God’s grace works; but all Arminians hold to the necessity of prevenient grace (grace that comes before conversion that enables us to believe). When God’s grace starts drawing us to conversion, we can choose to say no and reject Christ. God hasn’t predetermined repentance and faith; nothing causes these such that rejection is impossible and we cannot choose otherwise. But believing does not earn or cause salvation; God chooses to have mercy on believers.

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Atonement Wars, Part 1

Republished with permission. Originally appeared in Think on These Things, (Oct/Nov, 2010).

When Steve Chalk and Brian McLaren accused evangelicals who believed in the substitutionary death of Christ of embracing a form of Divine child abuse,1 Christians everywhere did a double-take. Having sung with gusto for years that great line penned by Charles Wesley, “Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me” Christians could not believe that they were being accused of promoting child abuse by men who claimed to be at least on the fringes of the evangelical community. What McLaren and Chalk had done was bring to the surface for all to see the long-standing debate by theologians about the meaning of the cross. Almost no one in Christian circles doubts the historicity of the crucifixion, but why Christ died has long been contested. Of late, due to the rising popularity of everything from the Emergent Church to the Ancient-Future Faith movement to the New Perspective on Paul, the significance of Christ’s cross-work, often called the atonement, has regained traction. In particular what has often been called “penal substitution,” that the Son, “suffer[ed] instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin” has come under intense attack.2 It is the purpose of this study to identify the various views held by Christians on the atonement, analyze briefly the three major theories, and then develop a biblical defense for penal substitution as the central meaning and purpose behind the cross.

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Wanted: More Arminians

quote boxIt has become a bit routine:

  • Email arrives from someone assuming I am (or everybody at SharperIron is) a Calvinist.
  • Email poses question believed to be incriminating of Calvinists or unanswerable by them.
  • Response from me offers biblical answer that is not especially calvinistic.
  • Questioner ignores most of the particulars, broadly condemns “Calvinism.”
  • Discussion becomes repetitive, overly heated or both, ends.

A recent example appears below, with details removed to avoid identifying the sender. I’m including the exchange because, this time around, a reality hit home to me that hadn’t before: apparently, many fundamentalists think that anti-Calvinism is a complete doctrine of salvation.

But anti-Calvinism is, at best, a thoughtful rejection of one particular doctrine of salvation. More commonly, it’s nothing more than a feeling of hostility toward doctrines only partially understood. As a result, many anti-Calvinists have no coherent doctrine of salvation at all. They have rejected lasagna from the menu but have walked away without ordering any alternative.

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The Resurrection Body of Christ the Lord, Part 2

Read Part 1.

In the early years of church history, there were men who denied the true humanity of Jesus. They were the Docetists, a significant branch of Gnosticism. They considered it blasphemous to imagine an infinite, holy, transcendent God contaminating Himself by assuming human flesh. This attitude reflected Greek philosophy, which held that matter is evil and that only the mind and spirit are good.

This was a deadly heresy that was confronted head-on by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament Scriptures, especially in the writings of John. Note, for example, this statement: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2). And, “many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 7).

The creation account in Genesis assures us that every physical, material thing God ever created, including the human body, was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Moral, ethical evil is found in man’s heart (the center of rational thought, moral choices and self consciousness), not his body: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries…” (Matt. 15:19; cf. 12:34).

The Apostle Paul echoes this thought with regard to those who follow demonic doctrines, such as “commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused” (1 Tim. 4:3, 4).

Doctor Luke, “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14), Paul’s frequent travel companion and medical helper, was especially fascinated by the physical body that Jesus manifested after His resurrection from the dead. Luke assures us that it was “Jesus Himself [who] stood in the midst of them” having passed through the locked door into their hiding place (Luke 24:36). It was not “a spirit” that looked like Jesus (Luke 24:37-39).

To demonstrate the genuineness of His physical body, the now-glorified Christ said to them: “‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence” (Luke 24:41-43). The way He partook of this food immediately reminded them of the many times they had shared meals with Him during the previous three years.

Similarly, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus “knew Him” when “as He sat at the table with them…He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30, 31). Something about His gestures and mannerisms at meal times in His public ministry fully confirmed His identity to them.

There were no fast food restaurants in ancient Israel. Meal times were special occasions to get acquainted with people. It is significant, therefore, that our Lord “presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them [the apostles] during forty days” (Acts 1:3). It is often overlooked that one of these “infallible proofs” of His true identity was the way He “assembled together with them” (Acts 1:4), literally, “shared salt [i.e., ate] with them.” 

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The Resurrection Body of Christ the Lord, Part 1

The Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the triune God, who became the God-man by virtue of His virgin conception and incarnation, is the only human being in the universe who possesses a glorified body.

Consider for a moment the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This was one of the most spectacular sign miracles that the Lord Jesus performed at His first coming. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews were astounded by what Jesus did that day in Bethany near Jerusalem.

John tells us that “many of the Jews who…had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him” (NKJV, John 11:45). In fact, “a great many of the Jews knew that He was there [in Bethany]; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead” (John 12:9).

But the leaders of Israel were terrified: “Then the chief priests [i.e., the Sadducees] and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation’ ” (John 11:47, 48). So they not only “plotted to put Him to death” (John 11:53), but as well, “The chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus” (John 12:10, 11).

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