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Further to the discussion here...

1. The early church taught a substitutionary, propitiatory, sacrificial death as the key to Christ's 'sweet exchange' with sinners.

e.g. For Irenaeus, Christ's filling out of Adam's distorted image necessitates a 'filling up of the times of his disobedience' (Ad. Her. III.21.1).  In taking on Adam’s substance, He took on Adam’s curse, satisfying it at the cross, ‘propitiating indeed for us the Father, against Whom we had sinned’ (V.17.1) and ‘redeeming us by His own blood' (V.14.3).

For Athanasius the curse of Genesis 2:17 is key.  The Word becomes incarnate in order to take a body capable of death “so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished." (De Incarn. 8)  Moreover this death is specifically a sacrifice (ch9; 10; 20) made under God’s curse (ch25).

2.  Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) cannot mean a disruption to the Father-Son love since God's wrath is an aspect of His love.  Perhaps if we thought that wrath was some other thing, divorced from love, then we might say that God's wrath poured out at the cross breaks the Father-Son union.  But no, if God is love and if this wrath is a reaction of love to the sin that Christ had become, then there is no danger of breaking the homoousios.

3. PSA means God saves us from God.  It says that the ultimate problem facing humanity is not death or corruption or sin or the devil but God Himself.  Sin is not our real problem - wrath is. We need to be saved from the Judge Himself.  And we can only be saved by the Judge Himself - the Judge judged no less.  Certainly Christ ransoms us from all those lesser powers (and therefore certainly there is a place for Christus Victor etc).  But that's not the ultimate meaning of salvation.  It's a divine curse, a divine judgement, divine wrath from which we must be delivered. PSA takes this with the seriousness it deserves.

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There are the cold and clinical 'latins' who are all about the 'law court' and 'satisfaction' and 'penal substitution'.

And there are the warm and generous eastern types who speak of 'trinity' and 'adoption' and 'theosis'.

Or if you're on the other side:

There are the faithful and biblical evangelicals who remember God's 'justice' and 'wrath' and 'propitiation'

And there are the wishy-washy liberals (i.e. everyone who's not an evangelical) who never face the problem of sin and judgement.

So which is it?

Matt Finn's post and Sam Allberry's comment show the way forward.  The penal self-substitution of Christ (which is very clearly taught in the Scriptures) only makes sense with a strong doctrine of the Trinity and of union with Christ.  Only if the Crucified One is God Himself intercepting His own judgement, and only if I am crucified with Him does it hang together.

It's just a real pity that those churches that are strong on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) are often weak on trinity and union with Christ.  And in that context PSA gets horribly twisted.  And so many who oppose it say to themselves "If it's PSA or the trinity, I'll stick with the trinity."

If that were really the choice then I don't think I could blame them.  But it's not the choice.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ...18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.   (Eph 2:13,18)

We've got to hold together the legal and the familial - PSA and trinity/union with Christ.

Perhaps we need to remember JI Packer's three word summary of the New Testament: "adoption through propitiation". And let's hold on equally tightly to both.

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What does it mean to be "theo-centric"? It's a fine aim - it's the only aim really for Christians. But here are some things to think about when someone urges us to be God-centred...

First we should ask: Which God are we talking about?

The person who cries 'God-centred' the loudest is not necessarily the most biblical.  (Nor is the person who cries 'biblical', but that's another story).  The absolutely key question is what kind of God is central to our thinking.  And that question is not resolved in the slightest by saying He's central.  In fact to say that 'God' is central to our theology is basically a tautology.

As Simone Weil says:

"No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol."

We're all God-centred.  The question is, which God?

I have little patience for theologians or bloggers who claim a superiority because they are 'God-centred'.  Often it's accompanied by the accusation that their opponent is 'Man-centred'.  (And one of these days I'll write a post about how they're both wrong - we should be 'God-Man (i.e. Christ)-centred').  But really, in Simone Weil's sense, we're all 'God'-centred.  What we really have to do is sort out who this God is who is central to our thinking.

But let's note well:  the fact that our theology should be (and, in a sense, always is!) utterly consumed by and radically focussed upon God, in no sense tells you whether God Himself is consumed by and focussed upon Himself.  Those are two entirely separate questions.

One is about our theological method, the other is about the 'theos' who, of necessity, stands at the centre of it.

Of course we should have our hearts and minds fixed on the living God, and of course if we fixed our ultimate affections elsewhere that would be idolatry.  Ok, great.  What bemuses me is the claim that God Himself must fix His affections on Himself lest He be an idolater too.  Do you see how theo-centrism as a theological method gets confused with theo-centrism as a doctrine of God? And that gets confused with theo-centrism as God's doctrine of God!

More dangerously, do you see how such a method is in fact anthropocentric? It's an argument that says 'We would be idolaters to set our affections on lesser beings, so God must be an idolater if He did that.'  It's a theology from below.  And yet I find it on the lips of the very people who want to accuse all around them of man-centredness.

So let's be clear - everyone is already God-centred in their theology.  The real issue is what kind of God we're talking about.  And the question of theo-centric method does not at all settle the question of God's own being.  While we must be theo-centric, we have to admit that God Himself is higher than the 'musts' that apply to us.  The theologian who says God "must" love Himself higher than the creature has actually followed a logic that is less than God-centred.

We do not by nature know the kind of being that God is.  And we cannot reason it out from the basis of how we find life as creatures.  To tell a person that 'God' must be at the centre of their thinking will not tell them anything really.  God cannot be assumed from the outset, He must be revealed.

The fact that all the gods of human religion are self-centred means nothing.  The fact that we are called to be 'God-centred' means nothing for God's own life and being.  It neither means that God should be centred on us, nor on Himself.  The question of His own being is the key question and it can only be resolved as God reveals Himself.

 

A friend and I were discussing the negative impact of a certain theologian on the evangelical landscape.  (No, not him.  Nor him.  I haven't blogged about this guy).

Anyway my friend brought up an aspect of his personal life that exemplified the problems in this theology.

I said, "Yeah, but when discussing this publicly, you can't raise that."  He said "Why not?"

Hm.  Good question.

I found myself falling back on a sporting analogy (which is a sure sign you've lost the theological argument).  I said "Well, you need to play the ball and not the man."  There was a pause on the other end of the phone line.  My friend's thick Welsh accent came back:  "You're not a rugby player then?"

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rugby tackle.

See, in  rugby you watch the ball and you take out the man in possession.  You take him down with a ball-and-all tackle and you pile on.  And if the ball goes to someone else, you take them down.

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51219904CS007_Eel_v_Pan.

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You don't play the man without the ball - but if he's got the ball, your orders are to 'terminate with extreme prejudice.'

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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9ONn6Cqhpo&feature=related]

My friend continued... "Just read the theological debates of the reformation.  They played the ball and the man.  You can't separate them.  Theology is personal."

Well, what could I say.  I'd been exposed.  I could only pray he wouldn't ask me what sports I did play.  You see my winter sport was hockey.  And not ice hockey - that would be a fine Lutheran pursuit wouldn't it?  You can just imagine a huge body check on Erasmus, face pressed into the plexiglass.

No, my winter sport was field hockey.  You know - the game where the referee blows foul every 30 seconds because of some kind of obstruction, stick check, foot violation.  It's the most clinical of sports.  You play the ball only.

And my summer sport?  Cricket.  This abstracts man from ball by a good 22 yards.  But actually it leads to a very passive-aggressive atmosphere.  You bowl the ball, and it doesn't matter who's at the other end.  But off the ball, in between deliveries, the fielding side take the opportunity to cast aspersions on the batsman's technique, girth and sexual orientation.

The lesson?  Never debate a cricketer.  They're all clinical and polite on the surface - dressed in white for goodness sakes.  But you just know they're dissing your momma behind your back.

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Anyway, what do you think?  Do we take the man out along with the ball?

And how do your sporting experiences shape the way you engage theology?

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I'm halfway through Mike Reeves' excellent lectures on a theology of revelation.  Go and listen now if you haven't done already.

Maybe I should put them somewhere prominently and permanently on the blog because they explain much better than I can the thinking behind 'Christ the Truth'. 

To be an evangelical theologian is to have your method entirely shaped by God's coming to us in Jesus.  Just as we are saved through God's grace alone by Christ alone, so we know God by God's grace alone and through Christ alone.  This being the case, we need to be saved from our 'wisdom' every bit as much as we need to be saved from our 'works.'

Anyway, all these sorts of thoughts were circling through my head when I came across this quote posted on Tony Reinke's blog.  It's all about how we should 'restore the bridge' from classical literature to Christ!

“What then shall we say if we would restore the medieval bridge from Homer, Plato and Virgil to Christ, the Bible and the church? Shall we say that Christianity is not the only truth? Certainly not! But let us also not say that Christianity is the only truth. Let us say instead that Christianity is the only complete truth. The distinction here is vital. By saying that Christianity is the only complete truth, we leave open the possibility that other philosophies, religions and cultures have hit on certain aspects of the truth. The Christian need not reject the poetry of Homer, the teachings of Plato, or the myths of the pagans as one hundred percent false, as an amalgamation of darkness and lies (as Luther strongly suggests), but may affirm those moments when Plato and Homer leap past their human limitations and catch a glimpse of the true glory of the triune God.

I reject the all-or-nothing, darkness-or-light dualism that Luther at times embraced. But I also reject the modern relativist position that truth is like a hill and there are many ways around it. Yes, truth is like a hill, but the truth that stands atop that hill is Christ and him crucified. To arrive at the truth of Christ, the people of the world have pursued many, many different routes. Some have only scaled the bottom rim of the hill; others have made it halfway. But many have reached the top and experienced the unspeakable joy that comes only when the truth they have sought all their lives is revealed to them. …

If we are to accept these verses [Romans 2:14-15] in a manner that is in any way literal, we must confess that unregenerate pagans have an inborn capacity for grasping light and truth that was not totally depraved by the Fall. Indeed, though the pagan poets and philosophers of Greece and Rome did not have all the answers (they couldn’t, as they lacked the special revelation found only in Jesus), they knew how to ask the right questions—questions that build within the readers of their works a desire to know the higher truths about themselves and their Creator.”

—Louis Markos, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (IVP Academic 2007), pp. 13-14

How do you think your mild-mannered correspondent reacted?

Well - go and see.  Here's a selection of my many comments!

I enjoy the blog. I hate this quote.

Christ and Him crucified does not sit atop a hill as though waiting for natural man to ascend! The Truth steps down to meet us in ignorance, just as the Life steps down to meet us in death. And besides, which natural mind has ever drawn near to the crucified God? Such truth has only ever appeared as folly to the world, yet this *is* the power and wisdom of God.

This quote is epistemological Pelagianism. Salvation and knowledge go together. We must oppose synergism in the one as strongly as we oppose it in the other. No wonder Luther shows the way. We’d do well to heed his cautions...

It is incontestably and trivially true that pagans can write meaningful novels, develop life-saving medicine, pursue world-enlightening science, make correct philosophical and moral observations. And it’s equally true that pagans can work for peace, give blood and generally be very, very nice people. No-one’s saying unbelievers can’t say true stuff, just as no-one’s saying unbelievers can’t do good stuff. The trouble comes when someone tries to co-ordinate nature and grace in either knowledge or salvation. Whenever the natural is seen as a stepping stone into grace alarm bells must go off. Whenever co-ordination, stepping-stones, bridges, spectrums, pilgrimmages, ascents up hills are discussed flags have to go up...

Truth is relative – relative to Christ, the Truth (good name for a blog I reckon). His subjectivity is the one objectivity. There are therefore whole worlds of understanding that make some kind of sense within their own terms of reference and which make some kind of sense of the world but are falsely related to the true Logos. Therefore in toto and at root they are utterly false. And there can be no bridge between these worlds and the world in which Christ crucified is central. There can only be redemption from these worlds. Such a redemption will require wholesale rethinking (metanoia – change of mind)...  2 Cor 10:5!...

I’m happy to call any number of pagan statements ‘true’ – just as I’m happy to call any number of pagan actions ‘good’. (For me this parallel between knowledge and salvation is key.)

It allows me to say:

1) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’ is of great benefit to the world.

2) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’ can be truly seen by the regenerate as evidences of common grace.

but,

3) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’, viewed from the pagan themselves, does not lead towards but away from Christ and Him crucified.

A pagan’s goodness leads them away from the grace of Christ, a pagan’s wisdom leads them away from the revelation of Christ...

I could tell you all sorts of propositions that surrounded my saving faith in Christ, but I’d be reflecting back on a miracle. I wouldn’t be telling you the natural steps that secured salvation any more than the servants at Cana would be telling you how *they* drew wine out of those stone jars.

Just as there are no discrete human deeds that add up to divine righteousness, so there are no discrete human understandings that add up to divine knowledge. All must be of grace, all must be of revelation.

 

So there.  I also discuss Acts 17 and Romans 2 a bit.  And there's even some good points made by other bloggers!  Common grace really is astounding  ;-)

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I was there eight years ago in Oak Hill chapel.  Graeme Goldsworthy and Paul Blackham debating the object of faith in the Old Testament (yes that was the issue - I know these things get muddled up, but that really was the issue).

If you haven't heard of these names, sorry - this post won't make a lot of sense to you...

A little background.  I had grown up and been converted in Sydney Anglican churches (my Canberra church, St Matthew's, was essentially a Sydney church plant and all its clergy have been Moore College educated).

On the other hand, I had been working at All Souls, Langham Place for the previous 9 months and, against all my background and initial protests, I had begun to lean towards Blackham's view on Christ in the OT.  Nonetheless, my mind was not completely made up and I was extremely interested to hear Goldsworthy.

I can pinpoint the moment when I swung decisively against the Goldsworthy position.  A young student I'd never heard of called Mike Reeves asked the first question from the floor:

"What exactly is faith? And what exactly is the proper object of faith? The importance of that is to do with whether it has changed or not."

Blackham answered:

"Faith is trusting, loving, knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is always the object of faith. From the beginning until the end. So Martin Luther, “All the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ of Genesis 3:15. The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus… The faith of the fathers was directed at Christ… Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit. There has always been and always will be one mind, one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come.” The object of faith is the person of Christ, explicitly so. A trusting knowledge of him."

Goldsworthy answered:

"How can I disagree? Faith is defined by its object. There are all kinds of faith that people have: the truckdriver has faith in his truck that it will get across the bridge; he has faith in the bridge that it will bear him up. A Christian has faith that God’s assurances in his word that what he has done in his Son Jesus is sufficient for his salvation. The point where we may disagree is that to me if God puts the person and work of Christ in the form of shadows and types and images in the OT and assures people that if they put their trust in that they are undoubtedly saved, then that is deemed to be faith in Christ. It is faith in Christ in the form in which he is given, and the work of the Spirit all through the Bible is with regard to Christ as he is presented."

It was hearing that question and those two answers that tipped me decisively towards Blackham on this question.

Goldsworthy rightly identifies the point of disagreement.  For him, God puts Christ in the form of shadows etc such that Israelites who trusted the shadows and had no knowledge of the Person were deemed to have trusted in the Person.

Now to me that's a bad reading of the OT, a bad reading of the NT and a bad reading of systematics - doctrine of God and soteriology for starters.

But here's the point of this post.  Eight years on it's very encouraging to hear more and more people who say that OT faith was in the Person of Christ.  Wonderful.  What intrigues me though is when they still identify themselves on the Goldsworthy side of the debate. 

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not into drawing lines for no reason.  And no-one wants to make it into some 'foul wide ditch' dividing evangelicalism.  It's nothing of the sort.  But there is a point of disagreement here.  And Goldsworthy himself has identified it.  He says God put Christ in the form of shadows, OT saints trusted the shadows only, God deemed it faith in Christ.  Blackham says God presented Christ explicitly in the OT (shadows being one consciously understood means) and the OT saints explicitly trusted Him.  That's the point of departure.

Now to me, a person who says 'OT saints hoped in the Messiah but were fuzzy on details' lies decisively on the Blackham side of this debate.  But often they are an anonymous Blackhamite.  And anonymous even to themselves.

Here's what tends to happen.  It is assumed that the debate is merely a disagreement over the degree of progress in revelation.  And so a person figures that they're with Goldsworthy because they acknowledge progress and Blackham doesn't so much. 

But really, the debate is not about progress.  It's about the object of faith.  If you say they hoped in the Messiah, Goldsworthy has told you which side of this debate you're on.  And it's not his.

We can still all be friends, brothers, sisters, co-workers in the gospel.  But let's at least acknowledge that there are distinctions and on what side we stand. 

Maybe you believe they trusted Christ, but still you identify as Goldsworthian.  That's ok.  I say you're speaking better than you know.  I deem you to have trusted Blackham anyway.

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A flurry of recent blogging on Christ in the OT.  A whole swathe of posts written in the past.  Why?

I write on this the same reason I write on pastoral theology, on doctrine of God, on evangelism, on preaching, on everything:

KNOWING JESUS IS CRUCIAL!

KNOWING JESUS IS EVERYTHING!

DON'T MESS WITH KNOWING JESUS!

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That's why.

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A flurry of recent blogging on Christ in the OT.  A whole swathe of posts written in the past.  Why?

I write on this the same reason I write on pastoral theology, on doctrine of God, on evangelism, on preaching, on everything:

KNOWING JESUS IS CRUCIAL!

KNOWING JESUS IS EVERYTHING!

DON'T MESS WITH KNOWING JESUS!

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That's why.

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I'm the sort of person who bangs a drum for Christ in the OT.  Specifically I think it's important to maintain that knowledge of God is always in Christ. 

In my experience there are three ways to do this:

1) From the OT forwards

Basically you point out where the OT reveals an Appearing LORD, the Angel of the LORD, the Commander of the LORD's army etc.  And you say 'Look - there He is.'

2) From the NT backwards

Basically you show how Jesus and the Apostles just assumed that the OT saints knew Christ.

3) Systematically

Here you point out how Christ is the Image, Word, Way, Truth and Life of God - and always has been.

Typically I encounter these kinds of resistance.

Against 1) I tend to find an underlying assumption something like:

The OT saints could not have even a proto-trinitarian understanding of deity in distinction among multiple Persons called 'LORD'.  They (therefore) could not have an understanding of the distinct Person of Christ. 

Of course there is no Scriptural warrant for this.  It is just an assumption.  But a very strong one.  Quite rarely will this assumption yield even when confronted with a barrage of OT texts.

If it is finally conceded that Christ in His distinct deity is present in the text, the interlocutor will typically say "Ah but nobody at the time realised it."

Again this is not a Scriptural assertion, but it has tremendous force on your interlocutor.  They may even argue as though "They spoke better than they knew" was in the bible.  It's not in the bible.  And it's an extremely poor assessment of the bible's teaching on OT faith and prophecy. 

 

Against 2) I find an underlying assumption something like:

Whenever Jesus and the NT speak of Christ-focused faith and experience in the OT, they are always re-reading the OT in a way that was neither intended nor grasped by the OT saints.

Here's a frustrating little quirk!  Bring up a barrage of NT texts that say something like "Seeing what was ahead David spoke of the resurrection of the Christ" (Acts 2:31) and you will receive a reply something like "Ah yes, Peter said that, but only with Pentecostal eyes of faith."

Um... [scratch head]... so David saw and spoke of Christ and His resurrection but... only once Pentecost happened?  ...?

 

Against 3) I reckon the underlying assumption is something like:

You don't really need to know Jesus to know God.  Obviously it's best.  But not essential.

To be honest I think this is the one that really throbs beneath much of these discussions. 

I don't mind if people have false assumptions 1) or 2).  I'm fairly optimistic that eventually the Scriptures will do their work here.  I find false assumption 3) to be the most intransigent and the most worrying.

Go here to read quotes from history firmly opposed to such an idea.

Go here to read a debate we're having on just this topic - we're up to 67 comments!

And keep reading the blog - because that's what 'Christ the Truth' is all about.

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Yet another conversation containing the names Goldsworthy and Blackham has collapsed under the weight of pointed comments that got out of hand. And I was the chief commenter.

[deep exhale]

And this is precisely why people hate the issue being brought up.

It aggravates old wounds.

Wrong response 1:  We should be able to discuss such things dispassionately.

No, actually.  If we're not emotionally engaged it's obviously not an issue close to the heart of the gospel.  Dispassionate disagreements are not worth having at all.  But I think this is an issue touching on the nature of faith, our doctrine of God, the supremacy of Christ.  If those things don't tug on heart strings there's something wrong.  Dispassionate engagement is not an option.  But Christian engagement is a necessity.  Dying to self.  Crucifying the flesh with its desires.  Giving our lives up for others.  Paul said he'd go veggie for life if it protected non-meat-eating brothers. (1 Cor 8:13)  That's not dispassionate engagement, it's a costly love for those with whom we disagree.  We should feel strongly and make the conscious effort to swallow pride, to abandon the need to be right, to look on people we feel are mistaken and love them (Mark 10:21).  Such disagreements among believers should be prime opportunities to give and receive grace.

Wrong response 2:  Given the aggro that attends it, it's always wrong to raise this issue.

Well - maybe on the Paul-going-veggie example, we should just go vegan!  And Paul says he'd do it for life.  There will be seasons when we just have to go veggie.  And this must not be with the thought of regrouping for our next assault.  It must be with the thought, "I will shut my mouth indefinitely on this issue if that is in their best interests."  But then of course Paul did actually side with the strong and taught accordingly.  There must be ways of raising the issue while at the same time making every effort to serve those with whom we disagree.  We have to find ways of doing that.

What we really need to do is go on mission together.  Like in the best buddy movies, we need to go into the front lines as a rag-tag bunch of awkward, mistrustful rejects.  But as the heat of the battle presses us together, as we start sticking up for each other, as we see each other's gifts serve the common good, then we'll have that common love and respect for each other that is the ground not the goal of such discussions.

But we're very sick at heart you know...

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