Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Four Commands Concerning the Holy Spirit

Recently in the blogosphere, there has been some controversy over sanctification, centering on how the moral commands found in Scripture relate to the life of faith. I believe that one key to rightly understanding matters of sanctification may be found through a study of the New Testament commands concerning the Holy Spirit. As far as I know, there are four commands given to believers concerning our relationship to the Holy Spirit of God:

  • Walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25);
  • Be Filled By the Spirit (Eph 5:18);
  • Do Not Quench the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19);
  • Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Eph 4:30).

[If I have overlooked any direct commands concerning the Holy Spirit, I ask readers to please let me know.]

In a series of blogposts over the next few days, I hope to look carefully at each of these commands.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Explaining Original Sin to My Six-Year-Old

I've heard that a person does not really understand a subject until he can explain it to an elementary school child. Though I've been studying the doctrine of Original Sin for some time now (prompted partly by my own desire to understand the biblical teaching on this subject better and partly by controversies on this subject within the Southern Baptist Convention), I was a bit thrown when I needed to discuss the doctrine with my six-year-old son at lunch yesterday. Before we began eating, I prayed as usual. In my prayer, I asked God to save my children: Christian (6), Georgia (3), and Aurora (1).

"Rory doesn't need to be saved," Christian objected, "She's just a baby. She hasn't done anything wrong."

Abby and I initially said that we're pretty sure Aurora has done things that she knows are wrong. For example, when we tell her not to throw her cup of milk in the floor, and then we hand the cup back to her, sometimes she begins to immediately hold the cup over the edge of her tray. We say, "No," then she stares at us with a seemingly defiant look before throwing the milk once again. Repeated a few times, this process seems to indicate willful disobedience on the part of the child.

I also tried to explain that we all need Jesus as Savior because we are all dead in Adam. I employed the analogy of a tree. If the roots of a tree are poisoned, then the rest of the tree might look alive for awhile. But the dead roots begin to wither, and soon the rest of the tree looks dead as well, falling into pieces, because the tree was dead inside as soon as the roots were killed. Adam and Eve are the roots of the human race. When they sinned, they brought sin and death to all their children and children's children. Everyone is spiritually dead and everyone suffers death due to Adam's sin. We all need a Savior.

Christian looked somewhat thoughtful as we discussed these things. I felt, however, that I was not being as clear as I could be. I was concerned that my explanation did not really make sense to him.

After the Sunday evening service, rounding up the children and the baby, trying to get everyone home and ready for bed, my family usually does not have much time to visit with anyone at church. It is especially rare that we get to meaningfully converse with our pastors on Sunday nights, because so many others are needing their attention for various reasons. Therefore, I count it as an act of providence that-because children's choir had been brought into the sanctuary-I found Christian speaking to Pastor Keith Stell at the end of worship service last night. I mentioned the lunchtime conversation to Keith, saying that Christian did not think Aurora needs to be saved because, as a baby, she hasn't sinned.

Keith answered with more wisdom than I had displayed. He asked Christian, "Who 's going to teach Baby Rory to lie?"

"No one," said Christian.

"Who's going to teach her to disobey Mommy and Daddy?" Keith continued.

"No one," Christian responded.

"Who's going to teach her to hit you or Georgia?"

"No one's going to teach her that! No one wants her to do any of those things!" exclaimed Christian.

"That's right," said Keith, "No one taught you to do those things either, did they?"

"No," said Christian.

"But don't you do those things sometimes?"

Christian briefly hesitated, maybe worried he was going to get in trouble, but he admitted, "Yes."

"And Baby Rory will do those things as well, even though no one taught her to, just like we all do things we know are wrong. The problem is in our heart, and all we need Jesus to save us."

There was quite a hubbub going on in the sanctuary, and we weren't able to keep talking to Christian just then. However, the dialogue with Keith did seem to make him think. I am thankful for Keith being a model of how to communicate spiritual truth to my son.

I was reminded, too, of how Jonathan Edwards wrote of Original Sin. Near the beginning of The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended, Edwards-before he got into exegesis of specific texts or the federal headship of Adam-argued for Original Sin due to the universal reality of sin: easily observed, and contrary to the character traits we desire to teach our children. Rather intuitively (I think), based on wisdom gained through doing ministry, Keith had used a similar approach.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

John Calvin on Original Sin

[The following outline and notes are re-edited from blogposts originally published on 12/30/10 and 1/3/11.]

Institutes 2.1.4-11 [from the Beveridge translation] may be summarized as 


I. Initial Questions to Consider Concerning Original Sin:
A. How does Adam’s fall impact the entire human race?
B. To what extent does the “contagious influence of the fall” extend?
1. To all the creatures, though only Man offended God;
2. To the whole posterity of Adam.
II. Depravation Communicated is Communicated Not merely by Imitation, but by Propagation. Proofs:
A. The contrast drawn between Adam and Christ;
B. From the general declaration that we are the children of wrath.
         III. Original Sin Defined:
A. Original Sin is exposure to the wrath of God based upon our nature in Adam.
B. Original Sin is hereditary depravity extending to all the faculties of the soul.
         IV. Clarification:
                  A. God is not the author of sin;
                  B. The mortal wound of original sin was self-inflicted.

NOTES [from the sections outlined above]:

4. The first sin must have been heinous indeed. The first sin can not be identified with sensuality. Augustine spoke of the first sin as originating in pride. Calvin quotes Paul in concluding that the first sin is disobedience, and considers this disobedience rooted in a disregard for the Word of God. The first sin sought to annihilate the glory of God, not trusting Him and following His commands.

5. "Original Sin" is defined as "hereditary corruption." Original Sin is "innate from the very womb," and not due to mere imitation (Calvin quotes from Psalm 51:5 and Job 14:4).

6. Calvin examines the parallel between Adam and Christ found in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Scripture does not teach that we are saved by an imitation of Christ, but by a renewed nature brought about by the Holy Spirit. Calvin also quotes Ephesians 2:3 to demonstrate the doctrine of hereditary, natural corruption.

7. From a corrupt root, corrupt branches proceed. "Children come not by spiritual regeneration, but by carnal descent." There is a "primary and universal curse" over the whole human race. "Guilt is from nature, whereas sanctification is from supernatural grace."

8. Definition of Original Sin: "hereditary corruption and depravity of nature extending to all the parts of the soul." Original Sin makes us first subject to the wrath of God, then produces all sorts of fruits of unrighteousness. Calvin argues for a combination of two older definitions of Original Sin: a want of original righteousness" and "concupiscence."

9. Calvin expounds upon the idea that "concupiscence" must be acknowledged to extend to every faculty of Man. Calvin quotes from passages of Paul, especially Ephesians 4:17, 18 and Romans 3.

10. The blame for Original Sin is ours, not God's (Ecc 7:29).

11. By nature, we are the children of wrath (Eph 2:3). By "nature" Paul does not mean to indicate nature as originally authored by God, but nature as corrupted in Adam.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Doctrine of Total Depravity, Briefly Explained

Due to the fall of Adam, the totality of what constitutes human nature–heart, mind, soul, and body–has been tainted by sin. Each person’s will, thoughts, and emotions are in rebellion against God. Each person’s flesh is an enemy, rather than a friend, to godliness. R.C. Sproul notes, “Sin is radical in the sense that it touches the root (radix) of our lives.”[1] For this reason, some theologians prefer the term Radical depravity to Total depravity. Key Scriptures for this doctrine include: Jer 17:9; Rom 3:10-18; Eph 2:1-3.

[1]R.C. Sproul, Chosen By God (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986), 104.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Penal Substitutionary Atonement: Critique of a Critique

[The following blogpost is re-edited from a series of posts originally published on 9/15/09-10/17/09.]


When I first began thinking about coming to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my pastor at the time warned me that seminary education can often involve reading more attacks against Christian faith than edifying reflections on the Word of God, and thus time at seminary can, if one is not careful, leave one spiritually drained rather than enriched. Thankfully, my teachers here have seemed aware of this reality and the great majority of my textbooks have been enlightening and beneficial. For the sake of academic integrity and due to the desire to accurately represent various viewpoints, we do occasionally have to read material that attacks a core doctrine or doctrines of our faith. In this vein, one book I'm required to read this semester is Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts by Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker. Despite its promising title, this book is an extended attack on the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.

The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is the teaching that the Lord Jesus Christ died in our place to pay the penalty of our sin and bring us into a right relationship to God. J.I. Packer describes this doctrine as follows:

The notion which the phrase 'penal substitution' expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption, and glory.

In this post, I plan to look carefully at Green and Baker's critique of this doctrine and to offer a response. In my critique of Green and Baker's attack on penal substitutionary atonement, I will focus on their assessment of Charles Hodge's teaching on this subject.

Universal Moral Law and Blood Sacrifice

At the heart of Hodge's explanation of the atonement is a legal metaphor that would have been readily understood by people of his era. That may be less true today with the dissolution of an accepted framework of universal moral law. Hodge also, however, leans heavily on the biblical image of blood sacrifice, something very distant from his students in nineteenth-century New Jersey. His concern does not appear to be to develop a presentation that will connect with people's reality but to articulate a logical, intellectually sound, and biblically correct theory of the atonement. He cites many scriptural passages to support his explanations, thus at least giving his position the appearance of being biblical. Upon closer examination, however, we find that Hodge's model actually falls short in this regard. [Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 146.]

Green and Baker first criticize Hodge's "explanation of the atonement" (i.e., penal substitutionary atonement) by calling into question two concepts "at the heart" of a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement, namely: "universal moral law" and "blood sacrifice." Green and Baker are correct in identifying these concepts as fundamental to penal substitutionary atonement, for "penal" indicates the death penalty incurred by humanity for breaking God's "universal moral law" and "substitutionary" indicates that one life may be substituted for another in accordance with a system of "blood sacrifice."

Green and Baker are also correct to point out that the concept of universal moral law may be less readily understood by people today than in the past.

What Green and Baker fail to mention is that the concept of universal moral law is a thoroughly biblical idea (they give the impression that "universal moral law" was invented by 'modernists'). Psalm 119:160 declares, "All your words are true, all your righteous laws are eternal" (NIV 1984); in Matthew 5:18 Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (NIV 1984). This everlasting Law is not merely an artifact in a museum, but as Psalm 19 makes clear, it is vitally involved in "reviving the soul" "making wise the simple" as well as in warning against sins.

While Green and Baker (rightly) label blood sacrifice as "biblical," they apparently believe that the concept of blood sacrifice is dispensable and that other concepts may be used instead of blood sacrifice to communicate about the atonement in cultures that do not have experience with a sacrificial system. The idea that blood sacrifice may be dispensable only makes since after the idea of universal moral law has been rejected. If people do not stand under condemnation for breaking a universal moral law, then they do not need the God-ordained means (the biblical blood sacrifice) for re-establishing a right relationship with God in light of their law-breaking.

The concept of blood sacrifice is truly irreplaceable. When we lose the concept of blood sacrifice, as biblically developed, we lose vital knowledge about who Jesus is and what He has done for sinners. Without blood sacrifice we cannot understand John's declaration that Jesus is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Without blood sacrifice we cannot understand the presentation of Hebrews that Jesus is our great High Priest who offers his own blood for our redemption (Heb 9:11-14). Without blood sacrifice we cannot understand the vision in Revelation of Jesus as a "Lamb looking as if it had been slain" who is praised because with His blood He purchased men for God (Rev 5).

God’s Justice and Western Criminal Justice

Because Hodge read the Bible through the lens of the criminal justice system of his era, the Bible appeared to support his explanation. In other words, if readers come to the biblical text with the presuppositions Hodge has about justice, God's wrath and judgment, and the mechanics of biblical sacrifice, then indeed his model seems biblical. If, however, we attempt to allow the Bible itself to shape the way we think about those same terms, his model appears fundamentally flawed because it operates with an understanding of these terms that is foreign to the Bible. [Ibid.]

When Green and Baker see similarities in the traditional evangelical interpretation of God’s justice and the Western criminal justice system, they consistently attribute this similarity to an influence of the Western understanding of criminal justice upon biblical exegesis that is illegitimate, at least in our post-modern age.

Green and Baker may be guilty of committing the false-cause fallacy. Observing similarities between the Western criminal justice system and traditional evangelical explanations of God's justice, they consistently assert that the traditional evangelical explanations of God's justice are shaped (and distorted) by the Western criminal justice system.  But similarity does not necessarily indicate causation.

On the other hand, Green and Baker never seem to consider the following question: What if the traditional understanding of criminal justice in the West was actually influenced by the biblical presentation of God's justice? In other words: if there is a demonstrable causal relationship, might this relationship not flow in the other direction? And if the Western criminal justice system was actually shaped by a biblical understanding of justice, might the similarities between the criminal justice system and the traditional evangelical interpretation of God's justice be legitimate after all?

Penalty and Trinity

Green and Baker assert:

Rather than presenting a Father and Son who are one, Hodge has one member of the Trinity punishing another member of the Trinity. [Ibid.]

In this assertion, Green and Baker present their readers with a false dilemma: EITHER the Father and Son are one OR the Father punished the Son.

But Hodge's presentation of the Covenant of Redemption holds both of these ideas together, not setting them at odds. Of the Covenant of Redemption, Hodge writes:
There is only one God, one divine Being, to whom all the attributes of divinity belong. But in the Godhead there are three persons, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. It lies in the nature of personality, that one person is objective to another. If therefore, the Father and the Son are distinct persons the one be the object of the acts of the other. The one may love, address, and commune with the other. The Father may send the Son, may give Him a work to do, and promise Him a recompense. All this is indeed incomprehensible to us, but being clearly taught in Scripture, it must enter into the Christian’s faith.

The Father and the Son are one God AND the Father punished the Son (who willingly took the punishment that we deserved upon Himself): "the punishment that brought our peace was upon Him... it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer" (Isaiah 53:5, 10).

The Straw Man of God Subservient to Justice

Within a penal substitution model, God's ability to love and relate to humans is circumscribed by something outside of God- that is, an abstract concept of justice instructs God as to how God must behave.

With the above statement, Green and Baker present their readers with a straw man. If Charles Hodge and others who hold to penal substitutionary atonement actually argued that God is "circumscribed by something outside of God," then the "penal substitution model" would OBVIOUSLY be false for the Bible clearly teaches that NOTHING is greater than God.

In studying Charles Hodge's actual writings about the justice of God (from a section of his Systematic Theology titled "Satisfaction Rendered to Justice") it becomes clear that the justice that informs God's actions and with which sinners must deal is not an "abstract concept" but comes about due to God's own character. For God is a just God and has revealed His own intention to reward the righteous and punish the wicked: this is not something that is forced upon God from outside, but is in accordance with His own will.

In order to both fulfill the intention just mentioned above–to reward the righteous and punish the wicked–and to also fulfill His intention to save sinners, God provides a righteous substitute who takes the punishment due to the wicked and who covers the wicked in His own righteousness, thereby saving sinners. This act of salvation in Christ is, again, not something imposed on God, but which flows from His own purposes and character.

Penal Substitution and the Prodigal

In Green and Baker's fourth paragraph against Charles Hodge's presentation of penal substitutionary atonement, they argue against the idea that a substitute must pay the penalty for a sinner in order for that sinner to experience the benefits of atonement. To this end, Green and Baker utilize Robin Collins’ illustration of how Collins claims the story of the Prodigal Son must be changed if penal substitutionary atonement is true:

When the son returns and recognizes the error of his ways, Collins has the Father respond, “I cannot simply forgive you… it would be against the moral order of the entire universe… Such is the severity of my justice that reconciliation will not be made unless the penalty is utterly paid. My wrath–my avenging justice–must be placated.”

The above illustration assumes that no penalty is paid for the son’s sin in the parable, and that the Father in the parable “simply forgive[s]” the son. (As if true forgiveness for great offenses–like those committed by the son–is a ever a ‘simple’ matter.)

It is true that penal substitution (or any other particular model of the atonement) is not explicit in this parable. As John MacArthur notes in his great book on the parable, A Tale of Two Sons:
Notice that Jesus did not mention anything about the actual means of atonement in the parable of the prodigal son. That, after all, wasn’t the point of the story. But our Lord did nevertheless directly confront the heart of the Pharisees’ error, which was their insistence that all sinners need to perform certain works to atone for their own sin– and thus earn the forgiveness and favor of God. (123)

Through careful analysis of this parable, MacArthur also demonstrates that a kind of substitution was, in fact, made. The Father in this parable runs to the returning Prodigal, which would have been considered extremely undignified in his culture. The Father embraces and kisses the Prodigal, thus taking on himself the uncleanness (physical and ceremonial) that the Prodigal had from living with swine. The Father, in a culture that demanded a man seek restitution from those who had wronged him, freely forgave the Prodigal. In all of the actions just mentioned, the Father took shame upon himself–shame that the Prodigal alone deserved–while granting the Prodigal forgiveness. Also, remember, that the Father suffered loss from the Prodigal when the Father had to pay out the Prodigal’s inheritance before its time, but the Prodigal did not have to go on suffering the poverty he incurred due to wasting away his inheritance. Rather, he is restored into the family with full rights and privileges.

So the idea that the Father forgives the Prodigal without suffering on behalf of the Prodigal is ludicrous.  Robin Collins is no more accurate in his reading of Jesus’ parable than Green and Baker are in their reading of Hodges’ Theology.

The Resurrection Unnecessary? An Empty Accusation Rebutted

Green and Baker begin their fifth paragraph of their section assessing Charles Hodges' presentation of penal substitutionary atonement with the following accusation:

We could also mention that because of the singular focus on penal satisfaction, Jesus' resurrection is not really necessary according to this model.

After the sentence above, Green and Baker move on to other accusations. At this point Green and Baker fail to provide documentation by way of any kind of interaction with Hodges' writings (or the writings of any other person who has held to penal substitutionary atonement) that would serve to demonstrate a "singular focus on penal satisfaction" of such a nature that would exclude the necessity of the resurrection for atonement. I would like to counter their simple accusation with a simple denial. Charles Hodge (and others who take a similar view of the atonement) are not blinded to the necessity of the resurrection.

But unlike Green and Baker's accusation, the "simple denial" stated above can be supported by an argument from the relevant source material.

Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, includes fourteen chapters under the major heading "Soteriology;" these chapters cover a range of topics. Two chapters of "Soteriology" in Hodges' Systematic ("Intercession of Christ" and "The Exaltation of Christ") are specifically focused on Christ in His resurrection and post-resurrection existence. Several other chapters include consideration of the resurrection and Christ's work post-resurrection as well (for example, each of Hodges' three chapters on the offices of Christ include consideration of how these offices are still being performed by Christ in His exalted state). This resurrection and post-resurrection work of Christ is presented as "really necessary" for atonement).

In 1 Corinthians 2:2 the Apostle Paul writes, "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (NASB). The Apostle refers to his gospel preaching as "the word of the cross." Because of statements like these, an opponent of Paul could easily charge, 'Because of his singular focus on the cross, the resurrection is not really necessary according to this model.' But such an accusation would ignore the rest of Paul's teaching. Green and Baker have made a similar mistake in their accusation against penal substitution.

Penal Substitution Unintelligible? An Assertion Self-Refuted

Again, from Green and Baker's fifth paragraph against Charles Hodge's presentation of penal substitutionary atonement:

...the reality is that in may societies- at the time Hodge lived, and even more so today- people have different concepts of justice, so that for them penal substitution is simply unintelligible.

The above statement is in keeping with a criticism that Green and Baker make throughout their book: that the concept of penal substitutionary atonement is missiologically deficient because it is not understandable by people in other cultures.

This criticism is contradicted, however, by the experience of one of the authors recorded on page 140 of Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. The author recounts a situation in which he spoke to "a group of indigenous pastors in Panama." In response to the question of "why Jesus died on the cross," these pastors responded with an answer that (as the author himself claims), "communicate[d] the heart of the penal substitution model of the atonement." The author then comments, "the basic ideas of this model can be communicated even to children."

If the author's anecdote and comment are true, then how can he claim an objection to penal substitution on the basis that it is "simply unintelligible"to people of other cultures? Obviously, they can be led to understand the idea that Jesus died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins.

Also, though the idea that "people have different concepts of justice" is certainly true, should gospel ministers not seek to teach people the biblical concept of justice and then to explain the atonement in light of that concept, rather than to formulate a "model" of the atonement based on [mis]understandings of justice that have not been influenced by biblical teaching?

Penal Substitution and Christus Victor

In their fifth paragraph against Charles Hodge's presentation of penal substitutionary atonement, Green and Baker also criticize Hodge for linking the Christus Victor model of the atonement to penal substitution. (Christus Victor refers to the teaching that Christ by His death and resurrection gained victory over Satan and the power of sin.) Green and Baker write:

The weakness of forcing all atonement thinking into the mold of one image became especially apparent when Hodge attempted to explain victory over Satan and the power of sin in terms of penal substitution. In contrast with the tight logical arguments of other sections, in these it appeared he was trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Hodge explains victory over Satan and the power of sin in a section titled "Doctrine of some of the Fathers." In this section, Hodge writes:

1. That man by sin became subject to the penalty of the divine law.
2. That Satan has the office of inflicting that penalty in so far as he is allowed to torment and degrade the children of men.
3. That Christ by his death, having satisfied the penalty of the law, of course has delivered us from the power of Satan.

This appears to be neither a 'loose argument' or an attempt "to force a square peg into a round hole." But, since Green and Baker's attack of Hodge's presentation at this point consists simply of assertions with no arguments offered, they do not open the way for dialogue about any specific points to which they may object.

When Green and Baker criticize Hodge “for forcing all atonement thinking into the mold of one image,” the reader cannot help but feel that they are being disingenuous. Green and Baker had already made it clear that they believe penal substitution to be an invalid model of the atonement. One suspects that Green and Baker would not accuse a writer for “forcing all atonement thinking into the mold of one image” if that writer demonstrated inter-connectedness between other models of the atonement: say, for example, the Christus Victor and recapitulation models.


Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Gal 3:13a NASB)

In Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, Green and Baker deny the true scandal of the Cross. The offensive message of the Cross is that we have all broken God’s universal moral law (summarized in terms of loving God heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbors as ourselves, Matt 22:37-40), that violation of this Law deserves death, that we in ourselves could do nothing to escape this penalty, and that God Himself has provided a blood sacrifice in place of sinners: sending His own Son–true God and true Man–to die upon the Cross in our place, taking on our condemnation. Christ rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and He is now seated at the right hand of the Father, offering free forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who trusts in Him. Forgiveness and eternal life are only given to those who acknowledge that they need forgiveness: that there is a penalty we rightly deserve. Forgiveness and eternal life are only given to those who trust in Christ as their substitute, and not in their own works. In denying the true scandal of the Cross–intimately tied to the message of penal substitutionary atonement–Green and Baker risk becoming guilty of denying the power of the Cross for salvation.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Athanasius on Recapitulation and Penal Substitutionary Atonement

[The following post was originally published on 11/13/09.]

Theologians who deny that Jesus on His Cross effected Penal Substitutionary Atonement for sinners [more on that HERE] often argue against Penal Substitution by: 1. Claiming that a Penal Substitutionary model of the Atonement was unknown in the ancient Church, and was only conceived during the Reformation period; 2. Setting other models of the Atonement against Penal Substitution.

In this post, it is my intention to offer some quotes from ATHANASIUS [taken from my “Doctrine of the Work of Christ” class notes, which were given by Dr. Stephen Wellum] in order to demonstrate that: 1. Penal Substitutionary Atonement WAS taught in the ancient Church; 2. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is ENTIRELY CONSISTENT with the Recapitulation model of the Atonement (one of the primary models often set as a rival against Penal Substitution by today’s scholars).

First, it must be noted that formulations of the doctrine of Penal Substitution do take on greater clarity over time: so that when desiring to learn the nuances of Penal Substitution, the Christian student may find greater help in turning to Charles Hodge than to Athanasius. But this reality of ‘greater clarity over time’ is true of writings concerning other fundamental Christian doctrines as well– for example, the Christian student may find greater help in turning to Athanasius rather than to some earlier theologians in order to learn about the doctrine of the Trinity. The main reason that teachings on fundamental doctrines tend to become clearer over time is that as heretics [such as Arius or the Gnostics, for example] attack these doctrines, the Church must respond with great precision to define the limits of the Faith.

“Recapitulation” (mentioned in the second paragraph above) concerns the idea of Jesus as the new Adam, taking humanity into Himself in order to bring incorruptibility, immortality, and even a kind of divinity to His people. In his book Against Heresies Irenaeus defines recapitulation as “having passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God.” Irenaeus writes:
The Son of God “when he became incarnate, and was made man… commenced afresh [i.e. summed up in himself) the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam—namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus” (3.18.1). “But what he did appear, that he also was: God recapitulated in himself the ancient formulation of man, that he might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man; and therefore his works are true” (3.18.7). “So did he who was the Word, recapitulating Adam in himself, rightly receive a birth, enabling him to gather up Adam [into himself]… making a recapitulation in himself… that the very same formation should be summed up [recapitulated] in Christ” (3.21.10). [From class notes by Dr. Wellum.]
Athanasius held a similar “Recapitulation” view as that described above, but instead of concluding that such a view results in the Incarnation rendering Penal Substitution unnecessary (as some scholars seem to do today), Athanasius taught Recapitulation as the basis for Substitution. In his De incarnatione Dei Athanasius writes:
Jesus “surrendered his body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This he did out of sheer love for us, so that in his death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in his body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men” (2.8). In this way did he become “in dying a sufficient exchange for all” (2.9). “For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all” (2.9). Christ, the incarnate Word, himself offered “the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering his own temple [body] to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression” (4.20). If then, “any honest Christian wants to know why he suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that was on us; and how could he ‘become a curse’ otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree’” (4.25). [Emphases added.]
Similarly, in his Orations Against the Arians Athanasius writes:
“Christ endured death for us, inasmuch as he offered himself for the purpose to God” (1.41). He “takes our sufferings upon himself, and presents them to the Father, entreating for us that they be satisfied in him” (4.6). “Laden with guilt the world was condemned of law, but the Logos assumed the condemnation, and suffering in the flesh gave salvation to all” (1.60). [Emphases added.]
The bold-faced portions above– speaking of Christ dying “instead of,” in “exchange for,” and “on behalf of” all of us– clearly employ Substitutionary language. That this is a kind of PENAL Substitution is obvious as Athanasius writes that Christ died “to settle man’s account with death,” “to bear the curse that was on us,” and that He “assumed the condemnation” that we deserved. Again, the ideas of Penal Substitution are not presented in such a systematic fashion as they occur in later church history, but they ARE there.

Recapitulation is not seen as a rival to Penal Substitution, but as the basis for Penal Substitution– Christ can die for us because He IS us; the Incarnate Word is the true and ultimate humanity, passing through the stages of human life, restoring all to communion with God by His perfect life, His obedience to the point of death on behalf of sinners, and by His resurrection.


Friday, May 09, 2014

Anselm on Original Sin

[Anselm-c. 1033-21 April 1109-is one of the most influential theologians/philosophers in the history of the Church.]

Anselm’s definition of key terms

  1. Original [or Natural] Sin: A state of injustice contracted in one’s origin due to the corruption of human nature.
  2. Personal Sin: Injustice committed by an individual subsequent to his or her origin.
  3. Justice: “The rectitude of the will preserved for its own sake.”

Discussion of above definitions

An understanding of “rectitude” is obviously foundational to Anselm’s definition of justice. Alister McGrath, in Iustitia Dei, examines Anselm’s meaning of “rectitude” and concludes that this term refers to “the basic God-given ordering of the universe.” Taking this meaning of “rectitude,” “justice” is understood as “a state in which the will is in accordance with the basic God-given ordering of the universe for the sake of maintaining this order.” Anselm writes “for its own sake,” which I have translated, “for the sake of maintaining this order,” to make the point that choosing the right thing for the sake of something else– for example, due to legal compulsion or due to a desire for the admiration of others– is not in accord with a proper definition of “justice.” When Anselm writes “preserved for its own sake”– the sake of the rectitude– I believe he would agree that ultimately “the rectitude of the will” is to be preserved for the glory of God.

In accordance with the above discussion, Original [or Natural] Sin as defined by Anselm may be understood as “a state contracted in one’s origin due to the corruption of human nature in which the will is in discord with the basic God-given ordering of the universe.” Personal Sin may then be understood as “an act of the will contrary to the basic God-given ordering of the universe committed by an individual subsequent to his or her origin.”

Anselm understands Original Sin as a debt against God. This debt must be paid, and the payment of this debt applied to the account of an individual, if the individual is to be saved.

A question addressed by Anselm: Are the sins of ancestors subsequent to our original parents also passed on to their offspring ‘to the third and fourth generation’?

Anselm argues that the sins of ancestors are not added to the debt of Original Sin and are not passed on to ancestors after the manner of Original Sin. Adam is seen as unique as being able to pass on his justice or injustice (as defined above) to his offspring. Just as subsequent ancestors cannot pass on their righteousness to their offspring, they cannot pass on their sin to their offspring. Due to the Fall, humans originate in a state of injustice. Subsequent acts of sin on the part of ancestors, springing from this state of injustice earn condemnation for those ancestors alone and cannot add to this original deprived state.

My question: Does Adam's sin nature, inherited by each individual from the moment of conception (Psalm 51:5) necessitate that every individual [Christ excepting] is under God's condemnation for Adam's sin from the moment of conception?

Anselm’s answer to this question is surprising. Anselm teaches that Adam’s sin nature inherited by each individual [Christ excepting] necessitates that each individual is under God’s condemnation from his or her origin. Unusually, Anselm does not believe that the origin of an individual person is found at the moment of conception. Anselm writes:

It is against the common human conviction, however, that an infant has a rational soul right from the moment of its conception. For it would follow that every time a human seed that has been conceived perishes before it attains to a human figure– even right after the instant of conception– a human soul is lost with it, because it is not reconciled through Christ. But that is simply absurd. This alternative, therefore, ought to be relinquished entirely.

Apparently, from what he writes subsequent to the above paragraph, Anselm holds to an idea of “quickening”– that the infant becomes an individual human life at some point after conception but prior to birth. If I am reading Anselm correctly, then this idea of “quickening” does not truly address Anselm’s concern because individuals could still die in the womb and thus be eternally lost (again, taking Anselm’s perspective), as they would have had no chance to be baptized (Anselm, like Augustine, believes that baptism washes away Original Sin). As it stands, Anselm’s ideas concerning individual human origin would be more consistent if it was argued that an individual human soul originates after one is born; then, taking Anselm’s understanding of baptism, his concern about infant salvation would be better addressed. One problem with Anselm’s idea of “quickening” is that it provides the basis for an argument for abortion (if the argument is adapted according to my suggestion, in order to make it more consistent, then an even more serious problem is raised in that infanticide would not be considered murder), though I suspect Anselm would argue that abortion was somehow contrary to the natural order established by God.

An even more serious problem with Anselm’s idea of “quickening” (and the basis for why I think abortion is such a serious issue) is that the Bible presents individual human life as beginning at the moment of conception. Anselm acknowledges that this appears to be the case in passages such as Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (KJV). While this verse would make it appear that one was “in sin” from conception, Anselm asserts that the Bible often speaks of things that will surely happen as if they had already come to pass. In this regard, he refers to Genesis 2:17b, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (KJV), and notes that Adam did not die on the day he ate of the forbidden fruit. I would counter this by noting that Adam did die spiritually at that time, that all his descendants are described as being naturally dead in trespasses and sins (see Eph 2:1), that verses such as Psalm 51:5 lead to the conclusion that this spiritual death takes place at conception, and that there is no reason to assume that Psalm 51:5 teaches otherwise unless one takes the presupposition that individual personhood cannot begin at conception. Anselm takes this presupposition, but in no way proves it from Scripture.


Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Bedtime Prayers With My Children

The Rationale for Teaching My Children to Pray

There is a definite sense in which non-Christians-people who have not been "born again" (John 3:3), who do not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16)-cannot pray. At least, they cannot pray in a way that pleases God, as they are by nature alienated from and hostile toward God (Col 1:21) and are constantly objects of His anger (Psa 7:11). And yet-just as faith is commanded (Isa 45:22) though no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them (John 6:44), making them spiritually alive (Eph 2:5), and granting them the gift of faith (Eph 2:8)-so also prayer is indiscriminately commanded. Prayer is a duty enjoined upon all people everywhere at all times by virtue of their having been given life from their Creator. If a non-Christian does not pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (Matt 6:9; John 14:13), then that person is simply adding sin to sin (Isa 43:22).

Due to these considerations, and because I am commanded to train up my children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4), I teach my children to pray even though I do not think that they have yet come to genuine saving faith as evidenced by "fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt 3:8).

And so my children observe regular times of prayer throughout the day.

The Rationale for Bedtime Prayers

One of the times that I regularly lead my children in prayer each day is at their bedtime. I believe that there is biblical precedent for bedtime prayers: David prayed morning, noon, and night (Psa 55:17), and he remembered and meditated upon the LORD while he was in bed (Psa 63:6). It is appropriate to begin and end each day with prayer.

"Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep"?

Thinking about how to guide my children in prayer at bedtime has required a great deal of thought. It did seem wise to provide my children with some simple model of how to call out to God. But I'm not thrilled with the traditional "now I lay me down to sleep" prayer. Though that traditional prayer does remind children of eternity and the need to be safe in the Lord (both excellent features), it is not concluded in Jesus' name, and it is extremely limited in scope. In fact, I am not even sure that it is a prayer. By saying, "I pray the Lord my soul to keep," it seems more like it is describing a prayer than actually praying to God.  (I suppose it could be edited to "I pray You, Lord, my soul to keep," although that sounds like awkward phrasing.)

Bedtime Prayer: First Model

After much experimentation-always endeavoring to keep genuine, heartfelt calling out to God paramount when praying with my children-I arrived at this model bedtime prayer:

Thank You, Lord, for this day.
Help us get the sleep we need.
Keep us safe through the night.
Fill our hearts with love for Jesus.
Help us be kind to one another.
In Jesus' name,

Added to this basic formula, we pray for various occasional needs (ailing or hospitalized friends or family, etc.).

ACTS Model

In the past few months, however, when I pray at bedtime with Christian (6 years old), I have been transitioning to a different form of coaching him in prayer. (Georgia Grace, my 3 year old, cannot quite think in the terms outlined below at this stage, so when I pray with her, I still use the model prayer mentioned above.) My bedtime prayers with Christian now follow the ACTS model. ACTS stands for:
I've heard this model suggested by many Christian leaders I respect: from Kevin Pounds to R.C. Sproul. It is based on the principles found in the Lord's Prayer (and other prayers in Scripture) as well as the specific verses mentioned above.

Putting the ACTS Model into Practice for Bedtime Prayers

I now put the ACTS model into practice almost every night with Christian. After reading him a bedtime story and singing a spiritual song with him, I usually ask him a series of questions, drawing out responses in accordance with the ACTS model. These questions are:

1. What is one thing that you know about God that you should love Him for? [This is also a good opportunity to review some of his Baptist catechism questions concerning who God is.]

2. What sin or sins have you done today that you need to confess and ask God forgiveness for?

3. Who is one person you have seen or what is one thing you have done today that you can thank God for?

4. What is one thing that you or someone else needs that you can ask God for? [At this point I often remind Christian of specific needs his friends or family has.]

Lately, I have been reading from biographies of U.S. presidents (versions written for children) to Christian each day. (Yes, I am a former Political Science teacher!) In conjunction with this, and due to 1 Timothy 2:1-2, I also have Christian pray for President Obama each evening.

After Christian answers all of the questions listed above (so that he has thought through what he is about to say to God), I have him pray.

Bedtime Prayers as a Tool for Evaluating My Child's Spiritual State

One benefit of using the ACTS model for praying, along with the questions I've mentioned, is that the conversation that takes place before prayer allows me a window into Christian's spiritual condition. For example: I have learned that when the Apostle Paul mentioned people whose "god is their belly" (Phil 3:19), he must have had a prophetic vision of my son in his mind. Seriously, though the boy eats roughly his own body weight in food each day, his mind is still constantly focused on eating. (Once, when we were reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Christian told me that he wants to be Augustus Gloop!) If I do not direct him away from this tendency, our bedtime conversation will invariably take the following form:

1. Me: What is one thing that you know about God that you should love Him for? Christian: He makes food for us.

2. Me: What sin or sins have you done today that you need to confess and ask God forgiveness for? Christian: I don't know.

3. Me: Who is one person you have seen or what is one thing you have done today that you can thank God for?
Christian: I ate food.

4. Me: What is one thing that you or someone else needs that you can ask God for? Christian: More food!

[I now often have to include, "Besides food..." in the questions.]

Sometimes, however, the conversation can turn in a more profitable direction. Recently, when I asked, "What is one thing that you know about God that you should love Him for?" Christian thought for a minute, then answered, "I only love God because I'm supposed to, not because I want to." We talked about this for awhile, but-as it was bedtime-Christian was sleepy and lost focus on what we were discussing. However, the conversation was certainly informative, allowing me to pray for my son more consistently and to be mindful of future opportunities to discuss love for God with him.


I'm posting this here-and on my family blog- in hopes that someone might find it helpful. Please note that I don't believe the forms of praying that I mention above are the only way to pray; these methods have just proved useful in my family. Also, I will freely admit that the quality of nightly prayer in our home is not necessarily the same each evening; depending on how tired my children are, if they are in a complaining mood, or if I am in a bad mood due to different stresses during the day, the process of praying with them can feel like pulling teeth. But, overall, the prayers each night have been a blessing to our household, and I hope that readers will be blessed through focused family prayers as well.


Friday, May 02, 2014

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: John Owen, Key Quotes

[The following quotes are from John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 7.]

"[B]y death [Christ] did deliver us from death, and that actually, so far as that the elect are said to die
and rise with him."

"He underwent death, that we might be delivered from death."

"[The satisfaction made by Christ on the Cross] was a full, valuable compensation, made to the justice of God, for all the sins of all those for whom he made satisfaction, by undergoing that same punishment which, by reason of the obligation that was upon them [due to sin], they themselves were bound to undergo."

"[T]he full and due debt of all those for whom Jesus Christ was responsible was fully paid in to God,
 according to the utmost extent of the obligation."

"[A] second payment of a debt once paid, or a requiring of it, is not answerable to the justice which God demonstrated in setting forth Christ to be a propitiation for our sins" (Rom 3:25).


Thursday, May 01, 2014

Diotrephes Revisited

As noted yesterday, Keith Stell taught from 3 John in the PM worship service this past Lord's Day at New Georgia Baptist Church. One of the features about Keith's sermon that I found most interesting was when he pointed out that the Greek verb prōteuō ("preeminent") is used only twice in the New Testament. It is used of Christ in Colossians 1:18 and it is used of Diotrephes in 3 John 9. Clearly, Diotrephes is presented as one who sought a position that is properly held by Christ alone. Christ is the Head of the Church and the One who is preeminent over everything in general. Diotrepehes loved preeminence in general and sought to act as a head over his church.

When reviewing 3 John after Keith's sermon, I was especially interested in the specific ways that Diotrephes sought to usurp Christ's authority in the local church. (Lately, for various reasons, I have been giving a great deal of thought to matters of church government.) One way in which Diotrephes exalted himself above Christ was through taking it upon himself to excommunicate believers. John directly implies that Diotrephes excommunicated people whom he felt threatened his own assumed authority. So Diotrephes was excommunicating people for a bogus reason. But notice: the very practice of excommunication by an individual is, in itself, unwarranted.

Church discipline (possibly to include excommunication, if the person under discipline remains impenitent) is to be conducted according to the commands of Christ recorded in Matthew 18:15-17 and the commands of the Apostle written in passages such as 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 1 Timothy 5:19-20, and Titus 3:10-11. An examination of these passages will abundantly demonstrate church discipline is certainly to be done according to a congregational principle. "By the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact must be established," then-if a person under church discipline refuses to listen to two or three fellow believers-the matter is to be brought before the congregation as a whole, with the congregation making a decision (under prayer and guidance from Scripture) about what action should or should not be taken. Instead, Diotrephes was acting as a kind of pope, effectively issuing "bulls" against people who might question his arrogance.

This is something to consider in our own day as well: church leaders only have authority over God's people insofar as the leaders themselves are submitted to God's Word.