Thursday, July 28, 2005

Steve Chalke and the Atonement - Update and reply by Daniel Strange

I wrote before on Steve Chalke and his position on the atonement. Well, he has continued to write and make very clear his poition against the biblical teaching of penal substiution in a recent article, titled (ironically) "Redeeming the Cross". Here, very clearly, are his own convictions:

In "The Lost Message of Jesus" I claim that penal substitution is tantamount to 'cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.' Thought the sheer bluntness of this imigary (not original to me [ed: more on that in a minute]) might shock some, in truth, it is only a stark 'unmasking' of the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind such a theology. And the simple truth is that if such a God does not relate to his only Son as a perfect father, neither can we relate to him as such.

A couple of initial things. First, the idea that God's chastisement of His Son in our place means we cannot relate to Him as perfect Father is simply ridiculous. And two points can be made. First, Jesus' relationship to God is never in any way precisely like ours (and missing this point is the reason for many a misguided fad, as Phil Johnson recently blogged about, such as WWJD - What Would Jesus Do is not the question we should ask, but what would he command, and how does Scripture guide us). Sure, Jesus is the Son of God, yet the relationship of Sonship can never be the same as ours, as He is also coequal with the Father in Godhood. Jesus is also the Servant of God, yet in a way we can never be, being also King of Kings and Lords of Lords. To argue we cannot relate to God as a perfect Father because God punished Christ in our place misses the simple point that "things that are different are not the same" (and oh that modern evangelicalism would heed this point more clearly). Second, the fact is that Christ was a willing substitute. The Father did not just say Christ had to go to Calvary, like it or lump it. Christ went to Calvary of His own volition. He hung there of His own volition. He bore in His body our sins on the cross of His own volition. He gave up His spirit died there of His own volition. This was not some "cosmic child abuse", with a mean father battering His defenceless child, but a plan of the Triune Godhead from eternity past, devised that God may draw out a people for Himself, show His victory over sin, and glorify Himself. The more one reads of Chalke, the more it seems completely apparent that he misunderstands what penal substitution is all about, and the true meaning of Calvary and Christ's triumph over death hell, sin and the grave.

Partly in response to Chalke, and partly as an exposition of the full-orbed meaning of the atonement, Daniel Strange has delivered an excellent address at the Evangelical Library in the UK: The Many-Splendoured Cross: Atonement, Controversy and Victory, which I thoroughly recommend. Explaining that it is vital we do not deemphasise the cross as victory over Satan, or a moral example, for instance, he conludes that it is imperative to keep the penal aspect of the cross always central, because the Scripture does. He writes:

Second, and with great sadness, we need to say one more thing because in our current situation [i.e. the emerging writings of peoople like Chalke] the issue is not just one of different perspectives but of substantive disagreement: the explicit rejection of penal substitution. In affirming any perspective of the cross, (and remember revelation must guide us as to what are legitimate perspectives on the cross and what are illegitimate perspectives) and deny vicarious punishment, we are guilty not only of exegetical blindness and gross theological incompetence, but also theological bankruptcy. At this point I would contend that given the analysis of the human predicament, without penal substitution we have no ‘good news’ to offer, but have a different gospel which is really no gospel at all. To continue willingly to teach, preach and lead others astray in an explicit denial of penal substitution is extremely serious and warrants censure and separation.

Those are powerful words, but sadly true. Chalke is leading many sincere searchers away after another gospel which is truly no gospel at all.

May God show Him the truth, and may he have ears to listen.

My final note, getting back to the term "cosmic child abuse." Where did it originate? I can't be certain, but I know one well known writer who uses language verymuch like it. Here's the quote:

Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrifices his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but it is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to us.

The writer - John Dominic Crossan, one of the most vocal liberal theological scholars currently living. Not the theological company we should be keeping...


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