So Much Anger Over the Wrath of God

Bosco Peters’ latest post on his Liturgy website is a great example of a liberal attack on the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA), not just for the substance but the manner in which the doctrine is attacked.

At our recent synod meeting, one of the songs was Stuart Townend and Keith Getty’s In Christ alone with the words:

“Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied”

Those words as understood by many (if not most) in that room are heresy. The understanding of those words by many (most) who enthusiastically sing this in services around the planet is heretical.

The understanding is that God (The Father) was angry at us in our sinfulness. And that God took out this rage on Christ instead of on us. And that this now enables God (The Father) to love us.

This understanding is heresy.

Now, at first sight one wants to agree with Bosco. The gross over-simplification that “God took out this rage [His anger at our sinfulness] on Christ instead of on us” is one of the most common of canards thrown at PSA. But as the conversation progresses it becomes clear that Bosco has no real intention of clarifying PSA and defending it against such misrepresentations – rather he gives every impression of being happy to have them repeated and propagated. You see this both in the comments that are left unchallenged and the comments he himself makes. Others describe it as “sadistic theology”, “Divine child abuse”, Bosco claims you need “theological mental gymnastics” to ” [allow] an orthodox interpretation” (i.e. no straightforward thought about those words would lead you to an orthodox reading).

Things get better when Bosco affirms another commentor who refers to those who hold to PSA as “Klingons” and “gory glory seekers” – for Bosco this is “encouragement”.

So it becomes clear where Bosco stands on all this. Rather than simply opening up discussion, he is content to allow commentor after commentor not only deny PSA, but also consistently misrepresent it – making no distinction between the apparent “misunderstanding” of PSA and it’s true position.

I, and a number of others, challenged him on this and the result was quite interesting. You can read the exchange here, following on here. Do note how the argument being made is absolutely clear, and not least at all to the “Melbourne College of Divinity 5 year theology degree after graduating a Bachelor with philosophy & logic, and teaching diploma etc.” Bosco himself.

The New Testament clearly refers to Jesus in specific penal substitutionary language and affirms text that speak in that manner. So, as the example I gave, Peter says this:

1Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Peter is quite obviously quoting this text:

Isa. 53:4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

and telling us that it refers to Jesus. Of course, that may not be the original referent (although I think it is fairly obvious to any Christian reader that it is) but Peter tells us that it is a “New Testament” way to understand the text. Even in this diluted way of reading Isaiah, the point is utterly obvious – Isaiah 53 is about Jesus. But Bosco, who must surely know the implications of this simple argument for his campaign to undermine PSA, starts wriggling – there is no other word for it:

The identity, David, as I’m sure you know, of the servant in the Servant Poems first isolated by Duhm, is disputed. Israel, Israel under the name of Jacob, the prophet and his disciples, as contemplated by other Israelites or foreigners, or by the foreigner Cyrus

to which I make the following response

except, of course, the NT clearly identifies that one not least as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

1Pet. 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

The Apostle Peter thinks it refers to Jesus. What say you, Bosco?

What does Bosco say? Well it’s really hard to tell….

Yes, David, I’m quite comfortable with the way that 1 Peter uses that text. Blessings.

When I point out to him that he’s plainly avoided answering the difficult question he gets a bit upset. Wrathful, even, one might say. I get accused of “ad hominems” and the rest of it – this, remember, from the man who is quite happy to see people who hold my position referred to as “klingons” and “gory glory seekers”. What’s good for the goose is, apparently, no good for the gander. Or, in more simple language, the double standards are breathtaking.

But this, my friends, is always the way. A liberal puts up an attack on orthodoxy in the form of a “discussion”. They encourage all and sundry to affirm the position they are trying to promote. Then when somebody comes along and very simply shows how the argument won’t stand they dig in and accuse them of all sorts of name-calling etc. without at any time stopping those who agree with them from doing far worse.

And I trust, dear reader, you are also not blind to the fact all of this is interspersed with little throw-away suffixes of “blessings” and “Christ is risen”  – again this is the liberal way: make some “Christian” affirmation as though it will persuade us all that there is nothing but truth being propagated here. But nothing could be further from the truth. The liberal, particularly those in the Anglican Communion we are by now very familiar with, revels in such things – they even provide a supposed authenticity as though their constant repetition is somehow a badge of orthodoxy. That and liturgy. The liberals in the Anglican Communion are big fans of liturgy – again it is seen as authenticating.

And that was where I thought all of this was ended until a late commentor did us all a favour by showing just what sort of genuine “mental gymnastics” are required to sustain a denial of PSA:

God no doubt has very good reasons to be annoyed with most of us – in the ways in which we cripple the Good News of the Gospel by over-emphasising God’s righteous indignation.

However, one of the reasons God sent His Son into the world was to show forth in a human being the possibilities of redemption through loving-kindness – as opposed to that obtainable by adherence to The Law. Saint Paul emphasised this importance aspect of soteriology.

The closing reference to Paul is almost comedic. Why? Well consider these words from Paul:

Eph. 2:3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Paul makes is abundantly clear that we were all deserving of the wrath of God. But why? According to Fr Ron Smith it is because we “cripple … the Gospel by overemphasising God’s righteous indignation”. But what does Paul say the reason is? Well, immediately prior to v3 we read this…

Eph. 2:1    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

We are objects of God’s wrath because of our trangressions and sins, says the Apostle Paul. In other words, quite simply, God is angry at us because of our trangressions and sins. This is no extraordinary statement – it is the single overwhelming crisis laid out in the Scriptures from first page to last. The very first sin ever, in the Garden, leads to God’s anger against the first man and woman – against their sin. And it leads to the punishment of death. Again, that this theme courses through the Scriptures is surely uncontrovertible. You would have thought.

The solution to all this, the Scriptures teach, is that one dies in our place. The entire OT sacrificial system models this and then Jesus Himself comes and does it. He is no “abused child” and there is no “lashing out by God”, rather He chooses Himself to lay down His life (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). Those last two verses are stunning how they tell of the unity of purpose between Father and Son:

John 10:17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Father and Son act together. The Father does not force the Son, He lays down his life of His own accord with the authority given to Him by the Father and the Father loves Him for it. The atonement is therefore categorically not the Father against the Son but, rather, the Father acting with the Son. The Spirit is also involved,

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 atonement is something that goes on within the Trinity, with it’s effects applied outside the Trinity to those who trust in the Son, by the power of the Spirit. Which makes the Cross the key to it all – no wonder that the Apostle Paul tells us he will speak of nothing else! But all this is laid aside by those like Peters who seek to undermine PSA. With that in mind, this last statement by Fr Ron Smith, as shocking as it is, should not surprise us:

However, one of the reasons God sent His Son into the world was to show forth in a human being the possibilities of redemption through loving-kindness – as opposed to that obtainable by adherence to The Law. Saint Paul emphasised this importance aspect of soteriology.

God the Father did not crucify Jesus. This horrendous task was attributable to sinful human beings – who mistook the redemptive mission of Jesus as being heretical, and contrary to what they perceived to be God’s Law.

It was the loving actions of Jesus towards known sinners that gave rise to his trial and death. He had rescued people from the due penalty of the Law, and for that he was crucified!

Now consider careful what is being argued here. Jesus rescued people from the due penalty of the Law by loving sinners. This love of sinners was seen in “redemption through loving-kindness”. And it was only because of this salvific action that He was crucified!

So, logically, the Cross (in the soteriology put forward by Fr Smith) does not save! Jesus saves people by loving them. And he is crucified for it. And then Smith has the gall to say that this is Pauline soteriology! Pauline! According to Paul it is the Cross that reconciles people to God (Eph. 2:16), reconciles all things by making peace through the blood of Jesus (Col. 1:20),  and cancels the charge of the Law (Col 2:14) – it is the Cross that saves! Something that Smith claims Jesus achieves purely by loving people. Smith’s soteriology is a mile away from Paul’s.

2 final thoughts.

First, to see Anglicans argue this way (especially Anglicans who are so keen to affirm their orthodoxy) is amazing. Here is the official Anglican position on the atonement set out in the Holy Communion prayer of consecration (also mirrored in Article XXXI):

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…

Again, it requires real “mental gymnastics” to read this other than as affirming PSA despite Peters’ protestations.

Second, it is very telling that Isaiah, in the great Servant Song of Isa. 52-53 that we have referred to, has this to say:

Is. 53:1    Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

Indeed, some people just don’t get it and refuse to believe it. Isaiah writes about the great saving work of the Servant and the New Testament affirms to us that Jesus is being spoken of. But some simply will not accept that this is the “arm of the LORD” at work.

Isa. 53:10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

There it is in black and white. It’s about Jesus, the New Testament reminds us. And yet there are men and women out there who fight hard to deny it. They are not by any means passive in their opposition – pastors of the church of God, they seek to deny the work of Christ on the Cross.

The Apostle Paul (he of the soteriology) picks up on the opening “wisdom” language of Isaiah’s song (Isa. 52:13) when he writes,

1Cor. 1:18    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

You want to know who is truly foolish or wise? Look at how they speak about the Cross and what they teach it does or does not achieve.

Or then again, just accept their simple affirmations that they are “creedal”. But we’ve been there before

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