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Punish my substitute? Sounds like a sweet deal to me

[The following is a section from the Gospel book where I’m trying to deal with the concept of “substitution” in the atonement. I’d love to hear what you think about how I’ve approached this one.]

Swap Jeans

How well do you think this would work as a threat: “If you don’t behave, I’m going to spank your brother?” I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure this would make me want to misbehave even more. Not only am I not going to be punished for this, but you’re going to punish him instead? Outstanding! Sign up me.

I actually use this threat with my high schools guys sometimes. If one of them is acting up, I’ll tell him that if he doesn’t start behaving, I’m going to beat up one of the other guys. They usually stop for a second and then laugh at how absurd that sounds. It’s such a stupid threat that it makes them pay attention just long enough for me to get them back on track. Punish someone else for what I’ve done? That’s just dumb. It doesn’t make any sense.

If you think about it, punishing another person for my actions isn’t just dumb; it’s unjust. Think about all the stories we’ve heard in the last few years of people who were on death row, about to be executed for some crime, and then it was discovered that they were actually innocent (of that crime at least). Every time that happens, the country is outraged. We were all set to kill these men for crimes someone else had committed. That’s not just. It’s not right.

But isn’t that exactly what God did with Jesus? According to Paul, Jesus “gave himself up for us” as a “sacrifice for God.”[i] In other places, he says that Jesus “died for our sins.”[ii] He even goes so far as to say that though Jesus himself “knew no sin,” God “made him to be sin” so that his people could be made righteous. Elsewhere, we find Peter talking about the “just” dying for the “unjust,”[iii] and in Isaiah we have a promise that someone would come and be “crushed or our iniquities.”[iv]

Unity Cross by Gwen Meharg

How can this make any sense? If we’re the ones who sinned, how does punishing Jesus accomplish anything? Isn’t that like getting angry at someone you work with, and then coming home and taking it out on your kids?

And yet we know something deeper must be going on here. The Bible makes it clear that God is a God of justice and righteousness: “His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”[v] God is so concerned about justice, that he routinely commands his people to live just and fair lives.[vi] So we must be missing something here. If it’s unjust, God wouldn’t do it. If God did it, then it’s not unjust. Those are our only options.

The problem is that we’re probably looking at Jesus’ death the wrong way. It’s not as if God suddenly reached the point where he was ready to fix the whole sin problem, so he looked down at Palestine and thought, “Hmmm, that carpenter looks nice. I think I’ll kill him.” And then, after killing some random person, he went on to forgive the rest of us. That would be unjust.

This is different. Jesus isn’t just some carpenter; he’s the second Adam.

In an earlier post, I argued that Adam and Eve’s sin impacted all of us because we were “all in it together”? Although it’s hard for us to understand, their actions in the Garden affected us all. Standing at the beginning of the story of humanity, their decision shaped the story for everyone who followed. Every human since then has been “in Adam.” That means that we are in the family that Adam began, part of the story he created. And, as we’ve emphasized throughout this book, being “in Adam” means being east of Eden, in the darkness of the fall.

So what we need is another Adam, someone who can start a new story—one with a much better ending.

And that’s exactly what we have with Jesus. He’s the “last Adam” who has come to include all of us in a new story, a new humanity.[vii] Jesus didn’t replace us when he died for us on the cross, as though God just picked some random victim to abuse, he included us in his death on the cross so that we might experience the new life of being “in Christ.” Everyone who belongs to Jesus died with him on the cross.[viii] But we died with him so that we might be raised with him into the new life of the people of God.[ix]

Our problem is with thinking that Jesus was just our “substitute” when he died on the cross. He didn’t just take our place, but he made a place for us within him so that we might all be included in his death and the blessings that flowed from that act of loving faithfulness.

That’s why the New Testament places such strong emphasis on the fact that God’s people are now “in Christ.” Jesus is the “last Adam” who has come to bring life and recreate humanity after God’s image.[x] Both “Adams” made decisions that affected everyone, but in very different ways. All of those who are “in Adam” experience sin, death, and condemnation; but those who are “in Christ” receive grace, righteousness, and forgiveness.[xi] Or, as Paul says elsewhere, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”[xii]

If you want to sink your teeth into this one, I strongly recommend spending some time reading Ephesians 1. Just notice all the times that Paul emphasizes that God’s people are “in Christ” or “in him,” and consider the tremendous blessings that come as a result of being a part of that new family, that new story.

The good news is that Jesus included all of God’s people “in him.”


[i] Ephesians 5:2

[ii] 1 Corinthians 15:3; cf. Galatians 1:4

[iii] 1 Peter 3:18

[iv] Isaiah 53:5

[v] Deuteronomy 32:4

[vi] e.g. Deuteronomy 16:20; Leviticus 19:36; 1 Kings 10:9

[vii] 1 Corinthians 15:45

[viii] Romans 6:8; Galatians 2:20

[ix] Ephesians 2:4-6

[x] 1Corinthians 15:45

[xi] Romans 5:12-21

[xii] 1 Corinthians 15:22

[This post is part of our series on the Gospel. Please feel free to check out the posts and let me know what you think.]

Life and Death: Twin Moons Circling the Same Planet.

[I wrote this as a guest post for Matt Mikalatos’ blog The Burning Hearts Revolution. Matt is running a series of guest posts to celebrate the release of his new book Night of the Living Dead Christian, a fabulous book that I’ll be reviewing soon. If you’d like to comment on the content of this post, please head over to Matt’s blog and join the conversation there. As usual, though, I’m open to comments about the writing and presentation in this piece. So, if you have thoughts along those lines, go ahead and leave them in the comments here. Thanks.]

Hungry.

It’s been too long. I feel weak. Dizzy. Can’t think.

There. Down there. A woman. She’ll do. She has to.

Drop behind her. Cloak flapping in the wind. Didn’t make too much noise. Perfect.

Grab her shoulder. Push her head to the side. Savor the smell.

It’s time. Bite. Pierce the tender skin. Let the hot blood flow. Taste life. Feel it.

My strength returns. My mind clears. For the first time in days, my cold flesh feels warm again. I’m still dead. Nothing can change that. But, now I get to be dead for another day. She took care of that with her unwilling gift.

Blood is life.

Everything was so good just a few seconds ago. The concert was amazing and I haven’t had a girls’ night out in so long. A quiet walk home under the full moon seemed like the perfect ending to a lovely, summer evening.

Now something has changed. I can’t pin it down, but it’s not right. I’ve got that tingling feeling on the back of my neck that you get when you think someone is staring at you. But, there’s no one here. I’m probably being irrational. Maybe I shouldn’t have walked home alone.

What’s that? It sounds like a flag flapping in a stiff breeze. That’s odd. There’s no wind.

Someone’s grabbed me! I have to struggle, fight, scream, get away, anything. But, I can’t. Something’s wrong. I’m getting weak, dizzy. I can’t think clearly. Everything’s fading. Where am I? What’s going on? What’s happening to me?

I’m on the ground. How did I get here? A few bright red drops hit the ground in front of my eyes. Blood? My blood? I must….

Blood is death.

——————————–

One substance, two very different results. Life and death. Twin moons circling the same planet.

That’s how the Bible views blood. On the one hand, blood is what keeps us alive and allows us to be what God intended. In Eden, God created blood, and it was good. But, sin and evil entered the world and shattered God’s good creation. And, blood came to mean something else. Still the source of life, it also became the symbol of death.

You can see this most clearly in the biblical sacrifices. If you stop and think about it for a moment, sacrifices are weird. Imagine that you’re an Israelite and you’ve just sinned. What should you do? Why, go lop the head off some poor, innocent lamb, of course. That’s a great system. At least it is for the human; I’m sure the lamb sees things differently.

The point of the sacrifice, though, wasn’t to take out Israel’s problems on some innocent animal. That would be weird. No, the sacrifices demonstrated the devastating connection between sin and death. With clocklike regularity, the Israelites brought their animals to the priests and shed blood as a reminder of the fact that they lived east of Eden, in the brokenness of sin, in bondage to death. As Paul says later, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23). And, every time the Israelites brought forward their sin sacrifices, they reminded themselves of this truth.

At the same time, though, the blood brought a promise of life. Israel always knew that somehow it was only by shedding blood that forgiveness and life would be restored to God’s people. God promised he would forgive and cleanse his people when they brought their sacrifices to him.

But why? What is the connection between blood and death on the one hand and the promise of forgiveness and life on the other? The Old Testament never says. The Israelites just take it on faith that God will be faithful and will do what he promises.

Then Jesus came.

And, we killed him, shedding his blood on the cross.

And the truth became clear.

We still see the dark side of blood. The betrayals, beatings, mockery, loneliness, pain, blood, and death. Could there be a clearer picture? The Messiah came, and we killed him.

But the blood of Christ means so much more. Jesus died so he could break the power of death. His death was not the pointless sacrifice of a tragic Shakespearean hero. It had purpose. Jesus died so that we might be reborn as those who have the gift of life.

Blood is death. Blood is life. On the cross, both are true.

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Come and drink. An invitation to vampires everywhere.

[This post is part of our series on the Gospel. Please feel free to check out the posts and let me know what you think.]

Flotsam and jetsam (1/20)

  • Peter Wallace comments on the future of preaching, as he observed it at the second annual National Festival of Young Preachers.

I have seen the future of preaching, and it’s a beautiful thing.

When Mark Noll declared that the scandal of the evangelical mind was that there was no mind, he meant to criticize the lack of cultural and theological engagement among evangelicals. I agree there is a scandal involving the evangelical mind, though I understand the problem in the exact opposite way. It is not that there is no mind, but rather that there is no evangelical.

The kingdom of God, then, is the good news that the right rule of God, and the right rule of man—a rule our ancestors Adam and Eve lost—have come together in the right rule of one right God-man: Jesus of Nazareth. In his sin-resisting life, his wisdom-saturated teaching, his demon-exorcising power, his substitutionary, conquering death, and his justifying, victorious resurrection, Christ is king.

As Wittgenstein demonstrated, we cannot live, even at the level of everyday life, without trusting. And yet trust is a theologically ambivalent starting point for a theory of knowledge because of the persistent untrustworthiness of human beings after the Fall. Not only have the noetic effects of sin crippled our perceptions, they have given us reason to doubt the motives of others.

From a grammatical point, it seems clear that this is the right interpretation of vs. 38 which simply says in the Greek “he said to them ‘Enough’!”  It does not read “Two swords are enough”. What we have here is an idiomatic expression used to close off a discussion.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/7)

  • Matthew Flanagan has begun posting a revised version of his argument regarding the genocide of the Canaanites. Today’s post argues that Joshua should be read as hagiography rather than literal history:

Thus Joshua itself appears to be full of ritualistic, stylised, formulaic language. It therefore looks like something other than a mere literal description of what occurred. In light of these facts Wolterstorff argues that Judges should be taken literally whereas Joshua is hagiographic history; a highly-stylised, exaggerated account of what occurred, designed to teach theological and moral points rather than to describe in detail what actually happened.

  • iMonk reflects on the significance of the Christian calendar after Epiphany.

But for now, in these days following Epiphany, it is time for one remarkable Jesus-prompted surprise and delight after another! Our minds boggle and heads shake at the insightful words Jesus speaks. Our jaws drop in amazed wonder to see him exercise power over nature, bring wholeness to broken lives, and restore vitality where death once reigned. Fear and dread knot our stomachs as cosmic conflict erupts. But Christ speaks with authority, and all is peace.

  • And, here’s a list of the Top 10 Bizarre Toys for Kids. I have to warn you, some of these are seriously twisted and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to need therapy now. The “God Almighty” toy at the top of this post comes from this list.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/4)

At stake in the fight between Frances and the APA is more than professional turf, more than careers and reputations, more than the $6.5 million in sales that the DSM averages each year. The book is the basis of psychiatrists’ authority to pronounce upon our mental health, to command health care dollars from insurance companies for treatment and from government agencies for research.

So how did Amazon do it? How did they compete with the Mighty Apple, when everyone was predicting they would be crushed by a more sophisticated machine? They used a four-prong strategy.

Luther’s great insight was that obedience to God which springs from faith exhibits itself in the course of our ordinary, daily vocations.

It seems then that this paradox is part of our moral experience. It is inevitable that we will sin. In an important sense we cannot but fail morally and yet we are responsible for our moral failure. On the face of it, there appears only two ways to address this. One is to deny we are responsible for our moral failures. The other is to claim that we can achieve moral perfection. But both claims seem to be obviously false and as such are implausible.

Flotsam and jetsam (11/24)

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

More than ever before the issue of gender has become bound up with one’s own personal identity. Since the zeitgeist emphasises the freedom of the individual to self-create, especially over against any prefabricated notion of ‘roles’, the discussion of ‘headship’ is always going to jar with our wider cultural sensibilities.

If marriage is a foretaste of the relationship between Christ and the church, and sex likewise a foretaste of our ultimate and intimate union with God, Ambrose deduced that devoted virginity simply dispenses with the appetizers and skips on to the main course.

  • Perspectives in translation is discussing how best to translate ‘hilasterion’ in Romans 3:25, with Mike Bird arguing that it refers to a sacrifice that appeases divine wrath (propitiation) and Darrell Bock arguing that it refers to the place in which th sacrifice takes place (mercy seat).

ETS roundup

Okay, I think I’ve said just about everything I’m going to say about the recently concluded ETS conference. I attended a couple of other papers that weren’t worth commenting on, but overall this was the best ETS I’ve attended in terms of the papers I attended. I either got lucky or I’m getting better at selecting papers, but there were only a couple that were real busts.

So, to wrap things up, here’s a roundup of my comments on ETS. If you’re looking for some more, Trevin Wax offers a nice roundup of his own.

Plenary Sessions

Papers

Other Random Thoughts

Aquinas on the victory view of the atonement (ETS paper)

Jonathan Morgan, a doctoral student at Marquette, presented a paper titled, “Christus Victor Motifs in the Soteriology of Thomas Aquinas.” The paper argued that people have wrongly associated Aquinas almost exclusively with Anselm’s satisfaction theory of the atonement, neglecting the many ways in which he affirmed victory as an important aspect of the atonement. Rather than neglecting this motif entirely as many do or seeing it as merely tangential to his true understanding of the atonement as Gustav Aulen does, Morgan argues that it is fundamental for understanding Aquinas’ soteriology.

Morgan offers three lines of evidence to support this conclusion:

  1. Aquinas’ interpretation of Scripture. The first part of the paper offered several examples of Aquinas interaction with Scripture, noting that he regularly identifies Christ’s victory over death and the demonic as fundamental for understanding the atonement.
  2. Aquinas’ dependence on the patristics. Morgan rightly points out that Aquinas interacts extensively with patristic writers. And, he also points out how odd it is that people routinely see the patristic thinkers as affirming a “classical” understanding of the atonement (victory), but seldom see the influence that this had on medieval thinkers like Aquinas who were so keen on interacting with and remaining faithful to earlier thinkers.
  3. The theological necessity of the victory motif. Finally, Morgan points out that Aquinas’ understanding of sin requires more than the satisfaction theory alone suggests. Aquinas sees sin as a condition of bondage that has enslaved all human persons to the demonic, and Morgan argues that the satisfaction theory really does not address this aspect of the sin problem. So, the victory motif is soteriologically necessary given the nature of Aquinas’ view of sin.

The paper was somewhat interesting in helping me recognize the importance of the victory motif in the medieval period as a whole. Many have critiqued Aulen over the years for an overly schematized understanding of the atonement through history, one that regularly forces people into simplistic categories that are simply inadequate for the complexity of their theology as a whole. Aquinas is definitely the kind of person who cannot be simply categorized as “classical”. And, this is true of most great thinkers.

Flotsam and jetsam (11/4)

The theology that is taught in almost all theological institutions around here is an ill-fitting version of Christianity that simply does not work here. The Christianity that results is not transforming lives or churches or communities or cultures or nations. In that sense, rather than reflecting what is happening theologically, these Western theologies may actually be erecting barriers preventing people here from experiencing the transforming power of the risen Christ.

“I cannot help thinking that the incarnational analogy may be more trouble than it is worth.  Chalcedon was designed to clarify the being of Jesus Christ, not Scripture.  Please do not misunderstand: there is nothing wrong with Chalcedon, just as there was nothing wrong with the paper clip I used so cleverly in my skateboard to replace a screw.  However, that improvisation ended with a broken arm.  I wonder, then, about the wisdom of using language formulated for one truth to express another.”

Here’s our context: they are bringing the ark to the house of Obed-edom, the future site of the Temple, and they are sacrificing. The context is cultic. The modern correlation to worship (i.e., singing) is false.

  • I forgot to mention earlier, but James McGrath has posted a link to what looks like a really useful set of resources from the Wabash Center for evaluating online resources. If you’re a teacher or student, check these out.

A prayer for Sunday…Gregory the Great

September 3 is the traditional day to remember Gregory the Great (540-604). We’re a couple of days late, but still close. So, today’s prayer comes from him.

O Lord, You received affronts
without number from Your blasphemers,
yet each day You free captive souls
from the grip of the ancient enemy.
.
You did not avert Your face
from the spittle of perfidy,
yet You wash souls in saving waters.
.
You accepted Your scourging without murmur,
yet through your meditation
You deliver us from endless chastisements.
.
You endured ill-treatment of all kinds,
yet You want to give us a share
in the choirs of angels in glory everlasting.
.
You did not refuse to be crowned with thorns,
yet You save us from the wounds of sin.
.
In your thirst You accepted the bitterness of gall,
yet You prepare Yourself to fill us with eternal delights.
.
You kept silence under the derisive homage
rendered You by Your executioners,
yet You petition the Father for us
although You are his equal in Divinity.
.
You came to taste death,
yet You were the Life
and had come to bring it to the dead.
.
Amen.

O Lord, You received affronts
without number from Your blasphemers,
yet each day You free captive souls
from the grip of the ancient enemy.
You did not avert Your face
from the spittle of perfidy,
yet You wash souls in saving waters.
You accepted Your scourging without murmur,
yet through your meditation
You deliver us from endless chastisements.
You endured ill-treatment of all kinds,
yet You want to give us a share
in the choirs of angels in glory everlasting.
You did not refuse to be crowned with thorns,
yet You save us from the wounds of sin.
In your thirst You accepted the bitterness of gall,
yet You prepare Yourself to fill us with eternal delights.
You kept silence under the derisive homage
rendered You by Your executioners,
yet You petition the Father for us
although You are his equal in Divinity.
You came to taste death,
yet You were the Life
and had come to bring it to the dead.
Amen.