Penal Substitution as Anchor and Foundation of Other Dimensions of the Atonement

Supplementary Reading #1 on Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Related Posts:
Penal Substitution as the Heart of Christ’s Work on Atonement on the Cross
N.T. Wright’s Non-Traditional Theory of Substitutionary Atonement

The theory of penal substitution is the heart and soul of an evangelical view of the atonement. I am not claiming that it is the only truth about the atonement taught in the scriptures. Nor am I claiming that penal substitution is emphasized in every piece of literature, or that every author articulates clearly penal substitution. I am claiming that penal substitution functions as the anchor and foundation for all other dimensions of the atonement when the scriptures are considered as a canonical whole. I define penal substitution as follows: The Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his Son (who offered himself willingly and gladly) to satisfy his justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners. The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us, so that in the cross both God’s holiness and love are manifested.

The riches of what God has accomplished in Christ for his people are not exhausted by penal substitution. The multifaceted character of the atonement must be recognized to do justice the canonical witness. God’s people are impoverished if Christ’s triumph over evil powers at the cross is slighted, or Christ’s exemplary love is shoved to the side, or the healing bestowed on believers by Christ’s cross and resurrection is downplayed. While not denying the wide-ranging character of Christ’s atonement, I am arguing that penal substitution is foundational and the heart of the atonement. Continue reading ‘Penal Substitution as Anchor and Foundation of Other Dimensions of the Atonement’ »

Short Comment on N.T. Wright’s Narrative Model

Answers to questions on my earlier post on N.T. Wright’s Non-traditional Substitutionary Atonement from a reader:

Question 1: Should we abandon or improve on N.T. Wright narrative model?

I agree in principle with NTW that theology should be anchored in biblical history and history of salvation. Notice I deliberate go beyond using just a generic “narrative’ model to emphasize “biblical history” which is both a record of God’s mighty acts in history, and revealed interpretation through his prophets and apostles? Naturally, this salvation history is not a list of abstract theological propositions (which NTW loves to criticize), but a divine narrative fleshed out in the primeval history of Genesis, the history of Israel, the ministry of Jesus and the apostolic ministry in the early church.

My problem with NTW is his tendency to rule out the theological implication/interpretation that was first given in embryonic form by the apostles, and developed more fully later in creeds and confessions, etc. as NTW charges the latter for being abstract. Continue reading ‘Short Comment on N.T. Wright’s Narrative Model’ »

N.T. Wright’s Non-Traditional Theory of Substitutionary Atonement

N.T. Wright’s Sweet-Sour Cuisine
Reading N.T. Wright (NTW) is like eating delicious Sichuan cuisine – a unique blend of sweet and sour flavors enhanced by hot and spicy pepper that only a master chef could produce. We begin by savoring the sweet flavors.
First, NTW provides a skillfully crafted narrative of the history of God’s salvation from Adam, through the tragic history of Israel until the coming of the messiah. NTW suggests that Adam in Genesis and Israel in biblical history were entrusted with a “covenant of vocation” to be image bearers of God’s glory on earth. The failure of the first Adam brought the Fall. Israel was to resume this mission as the new Adam to reverse the consequences of the Fall by her obedience to the Torah. Instead, Israel’s apostasy resulted in the exile. NTW emphasizes that the mission of the messiah and the cross must be anchored in this tragic history. NTW’s vision of the “covenant of vocation” emphasizes that God’s redemption involves the restoration of creation is an important corrective of some forms of popular Christianity which narrowly view salvation as saving souls which NTW denigrates as a platonized, paganized version of escaping from fallen earth to go to heaven. Continue reading ‘N.T. Wright’s Non-Traditional Theory of Substitutionary Atonement’ »

Let’s Cultivate Simplicity and Solitude (A.W. Tozer)

Prologue: Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all…If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. [Tozer, The Pursuit of God]

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We Christians must simplify our lives or lose untold treasures on earth and in eternity. Continue reading ‘Let’s Cultivate Simplicity and Solitude (A.W. Tozer)’ »

Penal Substitution as the Heart of Christ’s Work on Atonement on the Cross

As an evangelical who has been actively involved with the VCF-IFES movement since my varsity days in the 1970s, I am conscious of standing in the spiritual tradition of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, J.I. Packer, Carl Henry and Leon Morris. The VCF (or CICCU as it was known during John Stott’s time) was formed when evangelical leaders felt disillusioned by the liberal tendencies of the major student movement at that time, the Student Christian Movement (SCM). The SCM was championing social justice while the VCF was focusing on  proclaiming and preaching the gospel based on the final and sufficient authority of the Bible. It was the CICCU-VCF’s insistence on the centrality of the atoning work of Christ on the cross that led to final separation between the two Christian movements.

John Stott narrates a fascinating account of the unsuccessful attempt to keep the two movements together. Continue reading ‘Penal Substitution as the Heart of Christ’s Work on Atonement on the Cross’ »

Experiencing God’s Sovereignty: A Meditation on Jeremiah 18:1-10

God Is Sovereign over Our Ministry
I have always felt strangely attracted to Jeremiah. The other prophets may share visions of God’s transcending majesty and deliver awe-inspiring oracles of God (Ezekiel and Isaiah) or triumph over hostile persecutors (Daniel), but they seldom disclose their inner selves. Not so with Jeremiah; he laid bare the emotional conflicts of a man who was chosen to bear the Word of God to a stubborn and rebellious generation even though he was personally least inclined to do so.

Jeremiah’s prophetic mission was characterised by immense sufferings. He was physically abused, locked in the stocks and even left to die in a cistern. He experienced the pain of total ostracism as his kinsfolk whom he loved dearly plotted against his very life. He was denied friendship and the joy of marital companionship. Seldom was the price of prophetic mission extracted so severely as from this sensitive soul. Continue reading ‘Experiencing God’s Sovereignty: A Meditation on Jeremiah 18:1-10’ »

The Federal Constitution, Islamisation and the Malaysian Legal Order

Related Post, Highly Recommended: Interfaith Council Urges MPs to Vote Against Hadi’s Upgrade Shariah Courts Bill

by Guest Writer Mr. Lim Heng Seng.

[The policy introduced by the Mahathir administration in the early 1980s, innocuously promoting Islamic universal values, became a platform for certain quarters to embark on a drive to change the fundamental character of the Malaysia polity and its legal order.

Will Malaysia end up as an Islamic or quasi-Islamic state by the gradual and subtle re-writing of her foundational document, the Federal Constitution?  Or will she retain her character as an essentially secular nation?

These developments in Islamisation threaten to subvert the very foundation on which we, the citizens, and the territorial components of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak have held together as one nation.]

Continue reading ‘The Federal Constitution, Islamisation and the Malaysian Legal Order’ »

Critiquing N.T. Wright’s Eschatology: Why the Huffs and Puffs?

N.T. Wright commends an eschatology that is supported by three fundamental structures of hope: 1) the goodness of creation, 2) the reality of evil in God’s permissive will and 3) God’s work of redemption as a re-creation. His vision of the future is comprehensively explored through six biblical images:

1. Seedtime and Harvest [1 Cor. 15]
2. The Victorious Battle [1 Cor. 15]
3. Citizens of Heaven, Colonizing Earth [Phil. 3:20-21]
4. God will be all in all [1 Co.r 15:28]
5. New birth [Rom. 8], and
6. The marriage of heaven and earth [Rev. 21-22]

[Source: N.T.Wright, Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection & the Mission of the Church (Harper Collins,  2008)

Wright’s eschatology marches towards an exciting grand finale when there will be a union of the new heavens and the new earth, “the final accomplishment of God’s great design, to defeat and abolish death forever—which can only mean the rescue of creation from its present plight of decay.” [p. 105] He emphasizes there will be both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new creation. Continue reading ‘Critiquing N.T. Wright’s Eschatology: Why the Huffs and Puffs?’ »

Second Thoughts on N.T. Wright’s Second Thoughts on Heaven

It is good that one of my readers points out that we need to appreciate N.T. Wright’s writings as a needed correction of popular Christian thinking where the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ is little mentioned. I agree with her concerns, although I think the weekly Lord’s Supper of the local Brethren churches often refers to Jesus Christ. In any case, I appreciate the reminder. Actually, I debated whether to include the beginning and the end of Horton’s review, where he writes of his appreciation of Wright’s needed correction for popular (a)theology. However, as the post needs to be brief, I left it to the reader to read the appreciative parts from the review itself.

Quote:
Anyone familiar with Wright knows he’s a master storyteller. In that regard, The Day the Revolution Began may be his best, especially for a popular audience. But more than a good narrator, Wright is steeped in the world of Jesus and Paul, bringing decades of scholarship to the task. Still more, the story he tells is vital for us to hear; he exposes the wider redemptive-historical canvas that challenges tendencies to domesticate the gospel to a platonized eschatology focused on the salvation of the individual believer from this world rather than the redemption of all believers with this world…

Even if its provocations strike one as reactionary at times, they should be allowed to strike home nonetheless. If they’re sometimes overcorrections, perhaps they may be allowed at least to correct our distortions, exaggerations, and reductions. Continue reading ‘Second Thoughts on N.T. Wright’s Second Thoughts on Heaven’ »

N. T. Wright Reconsiders the Meaning of Jesus’s Death: An Appreciative but Critical Review

It comes as no surprise to me when Scott McKnight adds a punch when he gives an unqualified recommendation of NT Wright latest book, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. McKnight writes,

One glaring weakness Wright observes with fierce clarity — that most atonement theories both build on one another in a kind of inner-dogmatic history discussion and at the same time ignore what Jesus said and did about atonement. Here are his important words:
Right away we meet something very peculiar. You might suppose that if Christian theologians were going to trace the meaning of Jesus’s death, they would begin with Jesus himself. Mostly, they do not. I possess many books on the “atonement.” Few give much attention to the gospels. None, as far as I recall, starts with Jesus himself. [Ahem, sir.] They may sooner or later highlight one famous saying, Mark 10:45 (“The son of man . . . came to be the servant, to give his life ‘as a ransom for many’”), but they do not normally go much beyond that. They seldom if ever link the meaning of Jesus’s death with Jesus’s announcement of God’s kingdom coming “on earth as in heaven.” They seldom highlight the fact that Jesus chose to go to Jerusalem and (so it seems) force some kind of a showdown with the authorities not on the Day of Atonement, not at the Festival of Tabernacles, the Festival of Dedication, or any other special day on the sacred calendar, laden with meaning as they were, but at Passover (170).

Once again seminary students are led to believe that the “Mc-‘Knight’ in W(b)right armor” has come to the rescue in ridding tradition of its theological distortions, in this case, the reductionist and crude theory of penal atonement.

However, students who are better informed about the depth and richness of the Reformation covenant tradition would take issues with the caricatures of the “Knight in W(b)right armor.” Continue reading ‘N. T. Wright Reconsiders the Meaning of Jesus’s Death: An Appreciative but Critical Review’ »