no free lunch

It is popular today to say that God didn’t need Jesus to die in order to forgive us.  If God loved us so much why didn’t he merely wave his hand and say all was forgiven?  What kind of vengeful Father would demand the blood of his innocent Son in order to forgive sinners?

I respond to this in DSB: “forgiveness requires satisfaction.  While a legal or financial debt may not be satisfied by the person who is forgiven, it will be borne by someone.  Someone always pays, whether it is the crime victim who absorbs injustice or the bank’s shareholders who write off the bad loan.  There is no free lunch, either in economics or salvation” (p. 92).

“Sin must receive its due, and its payment is death.  We know that God believes this, for when Jesus asked the Father if there was any other way to save us than the cross, he received a resounding no” (p. 91).

Jesus’ death on the cross was either absolutely necessary for our salvation or he and the Father are well-meaning fools.  They’re not stupid, so we may safely assume that Jesus had to die to save us, which implies that our sin goes all the way to the bone (if we are merely victims of a bad environment then Jesus could have found a less intrusive way to save us).

On this holiest of holy days, we thank God for paying the ultimate price—our ultimate price—to save us.  This is the day that Jesus went to hell.  As his bewildered cries bounced off his Father’s back, it was only the straining grip of the Holy Spirit which kept the Trinity from flying apart.  We will never comprehend the agony and betrayal in that eternal moment, but we know enough to realize that we are the recipients of history’s most lopsided trade:  God sacrificed himself for us.

We can never pay that back, and we shouldn’t even try, but it’s probably not asking too much for us to return the favor.  There is no free lunch.  Our salvation cost Jesus his life, and if we accept his gift, it will cost ours.


Add yours →

  1. Mike,

    You have hit on a very, very important point, one that is ignored or trashed by the “emergents,” and that point is sin itself. McLaren and others have said that since God is all-powerful, he could deal with our sin any way that he wanted, and he, being God, did not have to be bound by any blood sacrifices. Indeed, he simply could announce that our “sin” was forgive, and that would be that.

    One problem I see is that “emergents,” like the mainline liberals, really don’t believe in sin, or at least sin as described in the Scriptures and in our various creeds and statements. To them, humanity really is not all that bad, except, perhaps, the capitalists. By re-defining sin as something social, which can be “redeemed” by an edict from the state that seizes the property of some and gives it to others, they can “solve” the problem of sin pretty easily.

    The other problem, as I see it, comes from McLaren’s “universalism.” In that view, God is a pretty nice guy who wouldn’t send anyone to Hell, except, perhaps capitalists and Republicans. God knows that we are good at heart (at least the ones who are not capitalists and Republicans) and thinks we merit salvation simply by being the good people that we are.

    In 1993, a mainline-sponsored conference in Minneapolis called “Reimagining God” put things like the Incarnation into vile, sexual terms (the “Holy Spirit mounting Mary”), and openly declared that “we don’t need crosses and blood dripping,” etc.). At the end, they conducted a pagan ceremony in the place of communion.

    Sojourners soon afterward ran a very sympathetic piece and declared that anyone who would disagree with what happened was on a “witch hunt.” Now we see McLaren and other “evangelicals” basically saying the same thing, although they do avoid using vile sexual terms, but they still are saying the same thing.

    Unfortunately, most people don’t recognize what is happening, and many more don’t care. By the way, these “evangelicals” also believe that the state can rectify about any injustice there is, and that the orthodox doctrines about sin and justification really promote violence and injustice. Do not be surprised when in the future, they use the apparatus of the state (which implies violence, since that ultimately is how the state does business) to try to force us to change Christian Doctrine to something more suitable to their tastes.

    That day is coming. The question is whether or not Christians are going to be willing to pay the severe price for not going along.

  2. That chapter of DSB has had more impact on my theology and ministry than any of the others. I have often used the analogy of someone “writing off a debt” and how it is still PAID FOR–someone “eats the cost.” And since the wages of sin is death, for our debt to be forgiven, someone (and only the Lamb is Worthy) had to pay that price.

    I often bump into people doing natural theology along these lines: “I have children and, no matter what they did to me, I could NEVER send them to a place of eternal conscious torment. Therefore, God, who is infinitely more righteous than I am, would never send any of his ‘children’ to such a place.” How backwards they’re getting it. If I was God (or if any of us was), we would never pay the price to redeem rebellious, wicked people who spit in our face at every opportunity. Thank God that Christ is revealed, not in my own whims or imagination, but in Jesus Christ!

  3. hey mike,
    i’ve got an honest question here about forgiveness that i’d love your take on. You say that forgiveness requires someone takes the hit. But when two friends hurt each other, forgiveness can be exchanged without any repayment, propitiation of guilt, or even without apologies. In this sense, each person merely absorbs the pain and resolves to move on. This absorbing, suffering, and identifying shapes much of my soteriology.

    But for god to forgive via PSA, guilt is literally transfered to Jesus for punishment and that forgiveness generally has to be asked for. So, what is the difference that allows me to absorb pain and forgive, but requires god to transfer guilt to another for punishment?

    Again, not trying to stir a big atonement debate. i just haven’t heard the PSA perspective on this, and so i’m interested to learn

  4. One of the problems with the anti-Atonement people is that they assume that God having Jesus take punishment is an unrighteous act by God. It is “unfair,” so it is wrong and would be against a God who is wholly righteous.

    The entire point is that the crucifixion of Jesus was unfair; it is the ultimate act of rebellion by the “crown” of God’s creation: people. (Sorry, “Creation Care” environmentalists; God really did create man in his own image.) Yet, the very act of our rebellion also gives us the mechanism for us to have Eternal Life through the sacrifice of Christ.

    Throughout the Old Testament and through Jesus’ teachings, we see the image of the Sacrificial Lamb. As Isaiah tells us, by his stripes, we are healed. It is ironic and utterly beyond our comprehension how God could do this for us, but here it is.

    Unfortunately, we now are having to deal with “evangelicals” who want us to believe that within ourselves, we are good enough to gain God’s Salvation. All we have to do is vote for the right people, abolish private property, have a cradle-to-grave welfare state, stop eating meat, and accept all religions as leading to God, and we shall be saved.

  5. To taddelay, one thing to remember is that real forgiveness is possible in this situation precisely because Jesus already paid the penalty. However, let me give another example.

    Suppose someone murdered a person you loved, and you later forgave that person. Does that mean there is no penalty to be paid for the murder? Indeed, there is a penalty to be paid.

    As for us, human beings are sinful and have violated God’s law and his precepts, yet we can have forgiveness precisely because God through Jesus has paid the penalty. What we are seeing, however, is a view that God is “letting us off the hook,” and that whatever we have done (unless we are meat-eating capitalists and — horrors — a Republican) is just fine with God, as he pretends whatever we did never happened.

    Unfortunately, the emergents want us to believe that if God actually does punish anyone for sinning (except for being a meat-eating, Creation-despoiling owner of private property), the somehow that makes God unrighteous. That is the emergents’ theology in a nutshell. Therefore, in order for God to be righteous, he has to accept our sin and say it does not matter. That is not the theology of a just God; it is the theology of a weak and pathetic God.

  6. Tad:

    I answer your questions in that chapter. I will say for now that you have an undeveloped sense of forgiveness if you think that it can be extended without even an apology. That’s sounds more like enabling than forgiving. I believe that we must forgive everyone in our heart for whatever they have done, but we can’t have reconciliation without forgiveness. Chris Brauns explains this well in his book, “Unpacking Forgiveness.”

  7. Strong post, Dr. Wittmer.

    If you’re interested, I’d enjoy seeing a post from you where you expound upon your last sentence: accepting Jesus’ gift costs us our life.

  8. Tad,

    Have you read Don’t Stop Believing? IF not, here’s where you get Mike to turn the grinding wheels of publishing and get you a free copy. It is an absolute must-read and his chapter on the atonement does NOT go the way you might expect from a conservative evangelical (i.e. defend Penal Substitution and dismiss all other theories). But he does show that without Penal Substitution, the others are useless.

    I also did a short teaching on this two years ago at a PC-USA church, in which I dealt with your question. It’s only twenty-two minutes long and has a corresponding PowerPoint. If you are interested, here is the URL:

  9. Along with this chapter of DSB, Chris Brauns book “Unpacking Forgiveness is a great read on this subject as well and is very moving.

  10. Rev z, yeah I actually read a copy of don’t stop believing just before it cane out and I really like it. But it doesn’t answer this question.

    I’d really love to hear your reasoning if you have any more thoughts on that question. Telling me I have an undeveloped sense of forgiveness just becuase I can forgive without getting an apology (and then proceeding to affirm we actually can do this after mocking me for it) doesn’t cut it. Why cannot god forgive without punishing if we certainly can. And isn’t it immature to without forgiveness until it is requested? (putting aside reconciliation- different subject)

  11. As I read the previous post, I realize that what he is saying is that God does not measure up to the personal standards of the one who is commenting. God, then, is worthy of worship only when he meets those standards.

    In other words, if our standards of justice are sloppy, then God must adopt such standards or be unrighteous. If the Scriptures don’t conform, then we re-interpret the Scriptures until they meet our own standards, which are higher than the standards of God.

    I think this is the “Emergent Church” doctrine in a couple of sentences.

  12. Nope. And avoiding the question isn’t getting us anywhere. This is what emergents find so troubling about conversations with fundamentalist; the moment a question is asked that you don’t want to consider, the ad hominems roll. If you’ve got a good answer, then please share instead of playing like I think god needs to “adopt my standards”. Nobody thinks that, and you know this, so why use that to avoid the answer. This is honestly just a question I haven’t seen answered by PSA

  13. Tad,

    You wrote “[W]hat is the difference that allows me to absorb pain and forgive, but requires god to transfer guilt to another for punishment?”

    Here’s some of the differences:

    1) God and humanity are not “two friends.” Ontologically, there is the largest possible difference between the creature and creator. A “why can’t God be like me” premise is almost always problematic.

    2) Our “hurt” of God is not a single occurrence, but an unchanging, radical, distrustful, slanderous rebellion against Him.

    3) Romans 3:25 says Christ came to die “to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” So, in 2 Sam. 12:13, when Nathan tells David that his sin has been “put away,” God has a problem. Uriah’s brother can shake his fist in the air and yell “That’s not fair!” and be right. Paul argues that the cross justified God’s righteous reputation.

  14. Furthermore, I am not a fundamentalist, so don’t call me one. The “emergents” want us to adopt a gospel that they believe suddenly has appeared, as though theologians from Paul throughout history were a bunch of idiots.

    This “Greco-Roman” “Theos” creation is just that; a convenient creation. Furthermore, I have not thrown any ad hominems at you. What you said was that you can forgive a friend without there being any payment, so why can’t God do the same thing, which I read as your saying that your conduct is more righteous than that of God if he does not simply “let us off the hook.”

    Salvation is not God “letting us off the hook.” God paid dearly for our salvation. It is not a trivial thing, and it certainly is not a “Greco-Roman” fabrication. For that matter, when McLaren says that the early church created God to be modeled after Zeus or Apollo, he is demonstrating that he knows nothing about the Greco-Roman religions. Now, he can get away with that among people who think that books by Anne Lamott are full of “deep spirituality,” but for those people who actually know something about those religions, they can see through this sham.

  15. Still not answering the question I raise. Your tried answer is premised on the idea that PSA is already legit, and so whatever I can do which PSA god can’t must be a problem with my ability to forgive. I don’t think my ability to forgive is better than god’s, but it does seem better than PSA god’s. That’s the issue I’m asking to be resolved, and so far I haven’t heard anything but faux syllogisms and ad hominems. I really honestly would *love* to here a coherent explaination for this conundrum

  16. Tad,

    Here’s something you’ll call an ad hominem and really isn’t: you don’t seem to be listening, just waiting for your turn to speak. You insist that everyone’s afraid of your question and, therefore, avoiding it. But Matthew Westerholm gave a three-fold answer on April 3, 2010 at 2:19 pm (see above).

    As he demonstrated, your relationship with your buds is not the equivolent of your relationship with your Creator, the Righteous Judge of all mankind. Furthermore, as both I (in my first comment) and Matt (whose blog I think I will now be following, as he clearly has a gift for proclaiming truth clearly and concisely) pointed out, if you start with you and try to think your way from there up to God, you’re in dangerous–even idolatrous–territory. This is Natural Theology. If you really don’t know what’s wrong with it, pick up Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Vol IV and start reading pretty much anywhere. Natural Theology (“why can’t God be more like me, rather than a transcendent Ruler whose wrath upon sin must be appeased?”—your question, not mine) is a fast-track to self-worship.

    And if you read this and think I’m still “avoiding the question,” well then you’ve just illustrated what confessional orthodox Christians find frustrating about conversations with emergents.

  17. You know something (I assume that PSA is Plan of Salvation). If the Plan of Salvation as given in the Scriptures is not “legit,” then we have nothing of which to speak.

    You are asking us to lay out something that fits the “pluralistic” outlooks of post-modern, Politically-Correct America. As for the “faux” syllogisms, you are the one saying they are “faux.” My guess is that unless we come up with something that exactly matches A New Kind of Christianity, you are not going to accept it, anyway.

    As for the ad hominems, I don’t think anyone has abused you in any way on this blog. However, from what I can see, you are not interested in dealing seriously with the Scriptures. If Brian McLaren’s “we accept what we like and then re-interpret what we don’t like” approach works for you, then I doubt you are interested in any orthodox or historical approach.

    I, for one, do not believe that Paul, Augustine, Amselm, Calvin, Luther, Aquinas, and others were idiots or simply lacked the utter brilliance that McLaren, Wallis, and Lamott bring to the faith. But, if they are your shining lights, then run to them.

  18. PSA= Penal Substitutionary Atonement

  19. Btw ranting against mclaren or lamott does about as much to addressing my question as my ranting against jerry Falwell or mark driscoll would do to address you… Doesn’t really gave anything to do with what we are discussing, does it? The chip on your shoulder is showing there. I’d still love to here from dr wittmer, but it doesn’t seem like anyone else is even understanding my question, much less providing any answer. It’s entirely immature to dodge and dog like this, and it’s really just not that big a deal. It’s just a decent question for a decent, popular atonement theory. No emergent attack, lol, I promise

  20. Perhaps I missed something here, but the rhetoric being thrown at Tad seems quite unjust.

    Before the accusations fly, I affirm with Professor Wittmer that PSA (Penal Subsitutionary Atonement, not plan of salvation) is a vital component of our understanding of what the cross and resurrection entails. I have read DSB, and wrote a very favorable review of it actually.

    So back to Tad. Unless I missed it, nowhere above do I see him say McClaren is any influence to him, that he is endorsing some new kind of Christianity, that he is saying God was sinful or has to play by our rules, or many of the other things he has been accused of above.

    I’m not saying that means he is correct, as I said I see PSA in the Scriptures, but to attack a brother in Christ for asking a question and to throw him under the bus and assosiate him with all sorts of things he never said is very saddening to behold.

    Argue the issue if you must, but maybe keeping it on topic, and acting charitably would be the better witness here…

  21. First, I don’t know if this person is a “brother in Christ.” If he is trying to say that the Atonement is unjust, or that God should be able to forgive because he just feels like it is not Christianity. It is another religion.

    Second, the “emergents” are attacking the very core of Christianity and trying to replace it with something that is no better than Unitarianism. Third, taddelay (or what is his real name) is trying to goad Dr. Wittmer, and Dr. Wittmer is not taking the bait.

    Like it or not, there is a price to pay for sin. Now, no matter what I or anyone puts up, Mr. Delay will attack it and claim that we have a “chip on our shoulder” or are engaging in sophistry. As for speaking about McLaren and Lamott, these are two important people in the “emergent” movement, and they are telling young people interested in the Gospel that sin really doesn’t matter, and that sin is defined, anyway, by having Politically-Incorrect views. If one believes pretty much in modern secular PC doctrines, and wants to be nice to other people (except those who are not PC or who might be fundamentalists — that is excused, since they are not people, anyway), then that person is “saved.”

    I have watched the “emergents” like McLaren try to reduce the Gospel of Jesus Christ to absurdities, and then pat themselves on the back for “winning arguments.” If I seem ungracious here, then so be it.

    Furthermore, I am not “ranting” against McLaren. He has put a number of views out there that contradict almost all historical Christian doctrines and then says that if one has a problem with what he is saying, then that person is being “oppressive.” This is nonsense.

  22. William Anderson, I’m curious, what was the debt that Paul paid for all of the people that he murdered? What was the debt that Moses paid for his murder?

    Being snarky at a guy when you don’t even understand the terms is just silly and uncalled for. You might want to apologize for that to begin with by showing you actually mean what you’re writing about.

    I’m curious how you know what Tad’s motives are? How do you know he’s trying to goad anyone and not just asking an honest question?

  23. Tad (if you’re still listening, I wouldn’t be by now),

    I am going to try to help you answer this question. So far, I think Matt has done the best job, and his comment may be worth a re-read.

    In addition to Matt’s point regarding the ontological distinction between God and humanity, a point that helps me think through PSA is the moral distinction between God and humanity.

    When my brother and I have gotten into fights, whether physically or verbally, we have almost never apologized for it. We get over it, and are very good, if not “best”, friends. Why? Because we realize we were both at fault, and even if one of us wasn’t in a particular case (unlikely) we know that we’ve probably done something similar to somebody else before (in other words, we are of the same [im]moral fabric). Sometimes I wonder if this is why David never punished Amnon (his son) for raping Tamar (his daughter) (in 2 Sam 13). Perhaps he felt disqualified to pass judgment for the same crime he had committed with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11).

    Our sin (a collective noun of many specifics) against God has no analogy. The parties involved are of entirely different categories, both ontologically and morally.

    Your suggestion is more analogous (not perfectly) to a criminal on trial asking the judge to let you off, based on the argument that he forgave his son for lying earlier in the day. As the “criminal”, we are not exactly in a position to question the sentence to be levied.

    Now, I suspect you may still consider this model to violate your understanding of justice. Recall again the moral divide between God and humanity. We will never fully grasp the justice(or righteousness) of God.

    Finally, I think why most who hold PSA do so (including myself) is that we cannot escape reading the Scriptures’ apparent teaching on the subject. I currently do not think (though I am open to reformation) that PSA makes perfect logical sense. However, as one in need of salvation, I rest only in the Christ who saves, thinking of that salvation only in the manner by which it has been revealed. I cannot escape (and were I to fully understand, I doubt I would ever try) the biblical language that Jesus Christ was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1.29) given as a sacrifice for our sins (Hb 9.26).

  24. William Anderson, I’m curious, what was the debt that Paul paid for all of the people that he murdered? What was the debt that Moses paid for his murder?

    What is the point you are trying to make here? Are you saying that because God did not strike down Paul, then God is not righteous?

    And, no, I am not being “snarky.” When a poster claims that he is more righteous than God, or that his moral standards exceed those of God, then I am not going to take such a person seriously. As another critic of Brian McLaren noted, the “emergents” “love Jesus but hate God.”

  25. Mr. Anderson,

    Do you claim to be a believer? I’m not accusing, I am asking. Now isn’t that snarky of me?

    But it really isn’t all that different than saying, “First, I don’t know if this person is a ‘brother in Christ.'” which is a direct cut and paste of what you wrote.

    You misquote Tad, in fact he said “I don’t think my ability to forgive is better than god’s.”
    You seem to me to have an inability to be nice or admit you were wrong. Plan of Salvation would be POS not PSA.
    You jumped into a conversation where you didn’t even understand the terms and you were mean and snarky.

    Believe it or not, there are good, God loving people who don’t believe in PSA. Not everyone who doesn’t believe in it is emergent.

    Your method of dealing with Tad reminds me of Proverbs 26:1.
    I NEVER said that God wasn’t righteous. The fact that you went there immediately is mind boggling.

    And just so we’re clear, I believe in PSA. I believe in the historic orthodox faith and Dr. Wittmer who knows me personally will back that up.

    If you don’t see how you are being snarky with Tad, then I see little point in going back and forth with you.

    I will also answer your question. You asked Tad to Suppose someone murdered a person you loved, and you later forgave that person. Does that mean there is no penalty to be paid for the murder? Indeed, there is a penalty to be paid.

    My question (and I’d really like for you to answer it) is what was the price that these men paid?

    I’ll let you have the last word.

  26. And before we go there, I’m not a Mclaren fan. Even a little bit.

  27. My question (and I’d really like for you to answer it) is what was the price that these men paid?

    What is your point? That Moses and Saul were not struck down or taken to court or something else? David was not directly punished for killing Uriah, either.

    But, what is the point you are trying to make here?

    The larger issue I am addressing has been the fact that the “emergents” have been attacking God and the Scriptures, not to mention the historical faith, and then saying they are evangelicals and that all they are trying to do is make Christianity better.

    As for being “snarky,” give me a break. You have been pretty nasty to me, and I am not complaining. People argue and they get heated; that is the way it is.

    I have read other nasty emails on this board by “emergents” who then complain that other people are not being nice to them. Well, when we have people literally attacking the Scriptures or trying to claim that Paul really was creating a false god in the image of “Greco-Roman” thought, then I pretty much lose my patience.

    But, tell me, why do you keep throwing up the Moses and Saul question? What is the answer to it? You tell me, since you already seem to know.

  28. I’m sorry if you think I’ve been mean to you. I’ve only used your own words that were directed to Tad and redirected them to you.

    You don’t seem to be someone who actually cares about discussing anything to me. I realize I could be wrong about this but I just don’t think we’re going to do anything edifying from here on out, which is what I meant when I said you could have the last word.

    I’m not emergent. Not even close. Maybe, we’ll meet some day and share a cup of hot coffee and have a good conversation face to face. Until then…

    Have a great Easter.

  29. Yeah, you definitely are wrong about from where I am coming, and I take you at your word regarding your beliefs.

    I have followed the “emergents” and their social theology for nearly 40 years, beginning with Post American, which later became Sojourners. When it began, the highest-order society in the view of Wallis and his followers was Mao’s China, and that is China of the murderous Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

    Because they believed that a welfare state combined with socialism created the greatest societies, they ignored the mass murder and genocide. When Pol Pot was liquidating more than a quarter of Cambodia, Sojourners was completely silent. (I know, because I have checked all of the back issues of that time.)

    Now, I don’t think that Tad is part of a movement that seeks to whitewash genocide, but my larger point is that I have seen what this movement supports and it is ugly. Furthermore, they use the Gospel as a tool to justify state oppression, and even state oppression against Christians. Their theology is hand-in-glove with their politics.

    On the other side, we have the “conservatives” also worshiping the authoritarian state. The biggest supporters of the “War on Terror” have been conservative evangelicals, and as one who has written a large number of articles on the courts and “law enforcement,” I have found it almost impossible for Christian conservatives even to begin to understand the outright corruption that they have been supporting.

    (When we give people in certain positions not only near-unlimited authority but also shield them from their actions by legal immunity, then we should not be surprised when the abuses they commit are horrific, and that they always get away with it.)

    Now, all this might seem like a non sequitur regarding questions about “emergents” and whether or not God should require a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. The larger point to me is that the post-modern “theology” that “emergents” are pushing is going to have much larger and terrible consequences than just trashing the Atonement or leading young people into a false religion masquerading as “authentic” Christianity.

    No, it is going to have a much worse effect on our lives and the lives of others because the natural direction of this kind of “theology” is statism, and statism of the worst kind. Yes, many Christian conservatives have been glorifying the U.S. Armed Forces and the “proper” authorities, but at least they also have a vague understanding of what happens when we give the state too much power.

    The “emergents,” on the other hand, have a history of supporting totalitarianism, as long as that totalitarianism promises a wonderful welfare state, which in their “theology” is the Ultimate End of Religion. Like the Bolsheviks and their followers who told the world that “to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs,” they will have no problem watching the eggs representing individual citizens be crushed. I have seen this many times before in the near-four decades I have followed these people.

    So, yes, I tend to be pretty passionate about this subject. I’m very, very pessimistic about the future of the USA, although I do believe God will use it to build his Church, just as he used Mao, who unwittingly made the Chinese Church grow through his brutality.

    I really believe that this “emergent” so-called theology is absolutely destructive not only to historical Christian beliefs, but also to the greater society at large. So, if I come on strong, I have a reason.

    Yes, Happy Easter. Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen, Indeed.

  30. seth, thanks for your thoughts. I hadn’t thought of it quite in that way. But doesn’t what your suggesting assume a type of mutuality that may not always exist between people? For instance, what would your opinion be on this: a wife (who has never remotely considered infidelity) forgives her cheating husband who desires to reconcile. She can theoretically do this regardless of the husbands request for forgiveness or even his desire to reconcile. Even though this doesn’t fit perfectly as an an analogy for a god-human relationship, i think it still semi-adequately works off the same idea of incomprehensible offense by one party against another party who is incapable of the same offense. If you accept this as a legit analogy (which you may not, and i’ll understand that), what then?

    I certainly affirm the biblical language of Christ being the lamb that takes away our sins, but of course verses like these don’t explicitly (or even implicitly) affirm PSA. I definitly see how that imagery fits, but PSA has to be assumed first, and then read back into the text. And that’s why i have this question about it in the first place- since the scriptures have been unclear enough on this matter for the Church to arrive at something like 50 different atonement theories (at least as far as i know… could be more), i assume we have to judge theories by philosophical abstraction and experience first (since we will have no difficulty finding scripture to support any view). What the bible has to say about it is very important, for sure, but we can’t pretend it has a simple, clear, unified theory on atonement

  31. I have had that very conversation with an Urantia reader years ago and with a Sikh recently. I told them something like this “If I bump against you and cause you to spill your coffee – I would probably say Dude I’m sorry and you would let it go – nice person that you are. But if I raped and murdered your sister – I doubt Dude I’m sorry would cut it.
    I think you need to take sin and evil more seriously. I say that as an evil man – let alone what the Holy Lord of all says.
    What drove Barth and many others out of liberal land was a small taste of WWI.
    Why would we judge theories by philosophical abstraction and experience? There are plenty of verses which talk about Jesus dying for our sins and plenty of verses which address the wrath of God. Mclaren does some serious idol making with the denial of both. And why would we want to read the Bible through the badly understood Hegelian dialectic of Moltmann? And don’t even get me started on bizarro Hegel…

  32. Tad,

    In response to your second point, I have two thoughts. First, as you can see in DSB, those of us who hold to PSA (hopefully) do not reject the other models of the atonement. The cross did defeat Satan. The cross did defeat death. The cross was a picture of non-violent pacifism. The cross was the work of violent humans. The cross was a diversion from the old sacrificial system. The cross was a portrayal of self-giving love. And the cross can even be considered Christ’s death in our place prior to considering any penal aspect.

    The reason the cross is considered a penalty to be paid is that Jesus is described as a sacrificial lamb. Especially considering the Heb 9 text, a serious question must be asked? To whom or what could any perfect sacrifice be paid other than YHWH? I don’t know any theologian who suggests Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to another entity. Even if we would prefer to think of Christ’s sacrifice in expiatory language (and we should) without propitiatory language, we are left with the question of why are sin would need to be expiated, namely, we were still in danger of punishment if our sin was not covered. This leads to the conclusion that without Christ’s suffering on our behalf we would face the wrath of God (i.e. Penal Substitutionary Atonement).

    Regarding your first point, I think you are right and my analogy only goes so far. However, the wife still cannot claim to have never done anything wrong (While God either is perfectly just, or is not).

    Thanks for helping me articulate my theology.

  33. Haven’t been here for a while, but reading the comments of this post… would lead me to believe that penal substitutionary atonement was ‘god’. Ironically, those words are never used in the biblical text.

    It’s ironic how we’ve come to worship words and ideas that the Scripture suggests but doesn’t make entirely clear.

    Yet, we forego the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s understanding of love in I Cor. 13, as well as throwing water on the fruits of the Spirit all to preserve our particular position within the world of understanding God (aka theology).

    The Spirit must grieve when we treat one another with such disrespect regardless if it’s Brian McLaren or the Dali Lama. Frankly, this kind of conversation does nothing to inspire me to follow Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

    Holding particular theology isn’t what God intended for his followers if we can’t even treat one another with any sort of dignity. The Apostle Paul makes this point abundantly clear in I Corinthians as does John in I John 4.

  34. I don’t know if anyone on this board has “substituted” the Doctrine of the Atonement for God. I do know that when Jesus died, as recorded in Luke, the Greek word for “finished” that he said is the same word used to denote “paid” on a bill of sale at that particular time.

    What emergents refuse to say is that sin leaves a debt that, according to the justice of God, requires payment. God does not magically make a debt disappear, nor does he just let us off the hook.

    Furthermore, the Incarnation is not a post-modern view of “bonding with humanity,” but rather God humbling himself to be with us, to live among sinful people, and to be the blood sacrifice for us. Unfortunately, too many people want a Christian “story” that will appeal to the editorial board of the New York Times, not one that reflects the truth.

    I went to Mr. Buist’s website and basically found it to be one in which good works are all that matter in Christianity. I don’t know his beliefs, but I do know that many emergents truly hate missionaries and others who evangelize to people of other religions or who are secular in their viewpoints.

    By the way, my wife and I adopted two African orphans, as well as an orphan from Guatemala, but that hardly qualifies us for salvation. All of us are sinners in need of salvation by the grace of God. Anyone who attacks that view and says that all we need are good works, and that God holds all religions as a path to him is preaching another gospel.

    It is more than just attacking the Atonement. I have been reading the works of the emergents and their followers for several decades, and basically they attack the rest of us, but when we defend the doctrine, we are accused of being “hateful.” Much of the spirituality I have found among emergents, frankly, is quite shallow, and basically is political in nature, as though we are saved by left-wing politics. (No, I am not a religious conservative and I have spoken out against the flag worship and worship of war and police power for a long time, so don’t put me in that category.)

    When I read Anne Lamott declaring in an article that “God hates Sarah Palin” and that emergents should make donations to Planned Parenthood in the name of Palin, then I must admit to being a bit suspicious of the emergents, given that Lamott is one of their highest spiritual heroes. When I read Sojourners praising the “Reimagining God” conference in which the Virgin Birth was described as “the Holy Spirit mounting Mary,” I do find myself skeptical about the commitment that some of those people have toward the Scriptures, toward God, and toward Christ.

    All of us hold “particular theology.” By declaring that the Bible is a post-modern “library” full of myths and fables, and that Christ held that all religions lead to God, Brian McLaren is declaring a “particular theology.”

    It is one thing to treat others with “dignity,” but it is another thing to engage in sophistry, or to say that no matter what, the Atonement is wrong and that all of us by ourselves are good enough to be saved because God is a nice guy who lets us off the hook by magically doing away with our debt to him. By telling a Hindu that his faith in Vishnu will save him, we are not treating him with “dignity.” We are lying to him.

    Yes, I tend to come on strong on this blog (and elsewhere) and that has offended some people, including Mr. Buist. So be it. When someone declares that by ourselves we are good enough for salvation, that person is preaching a false gospel. I’m sure that Tad Delay and Mr. Buist are fine people, and I would go further and say that Mr. Buist is a compassionate person whose personal example is worthy of emulation.

    But, I will not compromise on the Scriptures and on the work that Christ did by coming to earth, living among us, and dying a criminal’s death in my place and the place of others whose sin had condemned them. Yes, I hold to that theology and I make no apology for it.

  35. taddelay, quoting your questions:
    “Why cannot God forgive without punishing if we certainly can? And isn’t it immature to [go on] without forgiveness until it is requested? (putting aside reconciliation- different subject)”

    My thoughts:
    I don’t know what justice requires. I don’t know if grace trumps justice, or vice versa, or if they trade positions on the totem pole. But it does seem to me that God is gracious in extending forgiveness to me. I can’t honestly say I warrant what I’ve already been given by Him.

    I am told that my forgiveness was achieved through God’s suffering and death. I try to believe that, but it is baffling stuff. The God who [maybe] demanded a substitution for us was also the God who suffered and died as that subsitution? Strange stuff.

    I wish you good in your grappling.

  36. Adam,
    In reagard to grace trumping justice, the reformed positions suggests that justice and grace work together rather than in opposition. The prophet Micah stated that we are to do justice and love mercy. Perhaps our everyday idea of justice is not as complete as the biblical writers understood it to be.

    To answer your question directly, James 2:12-13 read: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!”

    It seems that when we choose judgement without showing mercy, we leave grace for roadkill. We end up with some sort of faith that isn’t close to what the Spirit intends for us.


    I hear your concern of works based righteousness. I fully agree that faith is partly about what we believe in our minds, but it is also the result of our lives. It is not one or the other.

    For us to believe we can have faith without our lives reflecting our faith, we forget Matthew 25’s call to live among the marginalized. We forget Paul’s command to love well as described in I Cor. 13. We forgo I John 4 where John writes, “He who does not love his brother, does not love God. He who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God.”

    We also forgo James entirely. While we often prefer Paul for our definitions of faith, James writes in his second chapter:

    “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

    But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

    You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

    You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”

    ~ I don’t believe in works based faith, but I do believe that we should work without ceasing for the marginalized, for those without a voice, and our lives should increasingly conform to the biblical text as we desire to live sanctified lives.

    Grace & Peace.

  37. I cannot argue with your use of the text in James. My one concern about people who seem to use their faith in a political context is that the “marginalized people” often are not seen as people at all, but rather political symbols.

    I’m not saying you are doing this, but I think you know what I mean. For example, Jerry Brown, before he ran for governor of California many years ago, had a stint at the place in Calcutta run by Mother Teresa. However, I always got the sense from him (hearing his speeches) that he was “punching a ticket,” getting some requisite “experience” that would make his political resume look better.

    We have to watch out for that problem. Given that we have adopted Ethiopian boys and a girl from Guatemala, it is easy to think we have done a “righteous” thing, when, in fact, what we did was adopt children. If I were to think of my children in political terms instead of as children who need a family and who need the Lord, then the “filthy rags” of my self-righteousness would show forth.

    I fully agree that our faith must be borne out in what we do, not just what we say or is in our heads. But the one thing I will not do is to live out a politicized “gospel,” period. And I think all of us can agree on that point.

  38. I think it’s interesting how much debate about atonement can take place without referencing the context of God’s covenant with Israel, which seems to be the New Testament’s (and particularly Paul’s) context for discussing Christ’s work. In other words, the Torah’s list of blessings and curses seems to be the specific frame of reference, rather than some abstract notion of forgiveness, punishment, penalty, or debt. Would taking the Old Testament more seriously help this debate at all? Often, I feel as though defenders and critics of PSA alike lack the covenantal context within which Christ’s suffering makes sense to Paul and other NT authors.

  39. It is interesting that you bring it up, for I definitely believe in Covenant Theology. (C.I. Scofield of the “Scofield Bible” declared Covenant Theology to be a huge heresy, which is one more reason why I don’t read Scofield notes.)

    Indeed, Jesus being the “Lamb of God,” is rooted in the Old Testament covenants. Furthermore, those who believe in Covenant Theology hold that God’s covenant with Abraham ultimately is manifest in the Church, which is the New Israel.

    I remember looking at a Tim LaHaye Bible at a bookstore and calling my father, who was a minister and taught Bible at a Reformed college. I told him about how LaHaye says that the sacrifices will be reinstituted during the Millenium. His reply to me was, “It kind of trivializes the Cross, does it not?”

    Those of us who hold to PSA (yes, I got it right this time), see Christ as being the atoning lamb who dies for the sins of the people, just as the lambs in the OT were sacrificed for the sins of Israel. So, yes, there is a continuation of thought here.

  40. Tad,

    You ask an excellent question. However, I think we have to look at God as a person and not just as some concept (not saying you are, but it’s quite easy to fall into this trap).

    God as a person has an absolute sense of justice. As humans, our sense of justice is fallen. When someone offends me, but doesn’t ask for forgiveness, and I simply get on with it, this could indicate a myriad of issues. It could be that I have no self-respect, it could be that the offense wasn’t that big, or it could be that I have an underdeveloped sense of justice.

    One thing to consider is that while all sins are ultimately against God, many sins are also committed against fellow humans. Since God is a loving God and a just God, some form of payment is required for such harms. How would a daughter feel if her dad remained best friends with a man after that man molested her and her dad was aware of this? What if he say, “Well, he said sorry, so you need to forgive and move on.” The daughter would feel betrayed and rightfully so; as humans we have an innate sense of justice.

    Finally, and probably most importantly, the cross wasn’t just about forgiveness. Forgiveness is an explanation of what occurred on the cross, but does not explain the motive. Christ died out of love for us. True love is manifested in sacrifice; a husband sacrifices for his wife, a mother for her children, a friend for his friend, etc. Love is best realized in sacrifice, with the ultimate sacrifice being the giving of one’s life. As Christ was upon the cross, experiencing both physical and spiritual pain, He was displaying His love for us.

    Ransom theory does a good job explaining that He took on our sufferings and ransomed us from the ravages of sin, but if forgiveness is simply given with the “waive of a hand,” then why be ransomed? PSA seeks to answer this question to show there is a real pain to our sins and, even when forgiven, justice must be found. Out of love, however, Christ chose to become the satisfaction for His own justice.

    So if you buy nothing else in what I said, let’s at least look to your analogy. Say your wife cheated on you and on the car ride home from her lover’s house was in a wreck and now requires a kidney (I know, extreme example, but I’m a philosopher first, so what do you expect?). Now, without her even coming to you for forgiveness (at this point), you choose to engage in the self-sacrifice of giving your kidney away. In this way, even though she was unfaithful to you, you are still saying “I love you.”

    Likewise, we were unfaithful to God. Such unfaithfulness requires penance (I would contend that the modern American idea of just “waiving our hand in forgiveness” is wrong). Rather than forcing us to come up with that penance, Christ displayed His love for us by becoming the sacrifice.

    Does that help to answer your question?

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