Penal Substitution, Christus Victor and Anabaptist theology

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by JonC δοῦλος, Feb 17, 2016.

  1. JonC

    JonC
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    This is an old topic….but they are all old topics, and I still find this one intriguing...exploring the depth of the Atonement and these issues are hopefully something that will never grow old. Anyway, I've had a few VA appointments lately and carried with me (digitally) several journal articles to pass the time. A few expressed a move towards or to Anabaptist atonement theology.

    In one article the author (Stoltzfus) notes that Penal Substitution Theory is a model whereas Christus Victor is a motif. The reason being Penal Substitution is a rational theory while Christus Victor is more of a collection of general themes ( a point made by Gustaf Aulen decades ago). Here I agree ( Christus Victor is overarching as evidenced by the diversity expressed through the writings of the Early Church Fathers. I do not believe that this diversity exists to the same degree within Penal Substitution Theory as it is a much more refined and narrow). While I disagree with the premise of the article (the validity of a theory or doctrine based on or contrasted with its implications within a specific field of practice), the author makes some good points.

    Stoltzfus identifies concerns that led him to the Mennonite church and to Anabaptist theology. I share some of his concerns, but by no means all (please don't assume his argument to be my own). How would you address the following issues (keep in mind that he is writing from an Anabaptist and not a Baptist perspective)?

    1. “The Penal Substitutionary telling of the story emphasized Jesus’ death as the key moment when sins were forgiven and the possibility of a relationship with God was restored. In light of this, Easter seemed like a bit of an afterthought.” How does the Resurrection fit into Penal Substitution Atonement?

    2. “The Penal Substitutionary understanding of the story seemed to emphasize a God whose defining characteristic was wrath and judgment. Although the Penal substitution model does emphasize that God’s love, grace, and mercy led him to search out a way for humans to avoid the punishment they deserve for their sin, the Penal Substitution story suggests that because God will not (or cannot) forgive sins without punishment taking place, he punishes Jesus Christ in the place of humanity. Thus, in the final accounting, it seemed that God was primarily concerned that someone be punished.” Does divine justice trump divine love and forgiveness? If God has to collect a debt in full before forgiving that debt, then how does this translate to the believer forgiving the debts of others as they have been forgiven? Is this a true definition of forgiveness?

    3.“The Penal Substitution claim that Christ’s death is necessary for the forgiveness of sins also leads to a second problem, as Christ clearly claimed to have the authority to forgive sins prior to his death…Christ’s claim to have the authority to forgive sins prior to his death calls into question the Penal Substitution claim that sins cannot be forgiven without the prior occurrence of punishment.” (Here, I am not confident of the author’s claim that PST actually claims sins cannot be forgiven without the prior occurrence of punishment). On what basis did Christ forgive sins?

    4. “It seems to me that Penal Substitution may decontextualize sin, making all such behavior the responsibility of the individual.” How does Penal Substitution Theory address sin in terms of humanity and reconciliation apart from it's focus on the individual? Or does the Fall even have an impact beyond individual sins (i.e., does it have a sociological impact)?




    (Kenneth Stoltzfus, Ph.D., is Chair, Department of Social Science, LLC International University. The article I referenced is “Penal Substitution, Christus Victor, and the Implications of Atonement Theology for Integration of Christian Faith and Social Work Practice”, Social Work & Christianity, Vol. 38, No. 3, 2012).
     
  2. preachinjesus

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    There are a number of atonement models presented in Scripture and taught by Patristic writers which we can draw from to better understand the nature of salvation. I appreciate Dr Stolzfus' points here, though he seems to falter into some common misunderstandings of penal substitutionary atonement that someone with a PhD in theology might have moved beyond. Both penal substitutionary and Christus Victor are models of the atonement.

    That being said, it is important to note that most theologians aren't beholden to one model over any others. It could well be that through varying models of the atonement (Christus Victor, satisfaction, recapitulation, etc) that we get a broader view of the actual atonement itself.

    I appreciate various satisfaction models of the atonement. I am not, however, too keen on penal substitutionary atonement and favor something more along the lines of simple satisfaction as opposed to more extreme understandings. One can not, it seems, get too far from the Old Testament teaching of sacrifice for forgiveness of sin. With an satisfaction model, you have that in place.

    After reading this blurb from Dr Stolzfus, it seems he is unaware of quality arguments made for penal atonement by writers like Athanasius and Augustine. Several of his points are immediately replied to in these writings. Anyways, perhaps this moves things along. Thanks for the post.
     
  3. Van

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    I see lots of boiler-plate, little scripture. Christ died for all mankind, and everyone believing into Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Christ did not die for the specific sins of supposedly previously chosen individuals. Therefore "penal substitution" is simply a Trojan horse for Limited Atonement. Whoever is individually placed in Christ undergoes the circumcision of Christ where his or her sin burden is removed. Therefore the "atonement" or reconciliation occurs when a person is placed spiritually in Christ, where they are united with Christ, and made alive together with Christ.

    No need to turn something simple and easily understandable into a philosophy subject worth of months of study.
     
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  4. JonC

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    Reading the article, I think he is aware as he acknowledges Christus Victor theory as incorporating aspects of penal substitution. I can understand why some view Augustine and Athanasius as teaching a Penal Substitution theory bleeding through, but I believe this to be aspects of substitution rather than PST in its infancy (certainly for Augustine). But ultimately I believe his error is evaluating either theory based on their implications to a profession (others, IMHO, have sometimes done the same based on an effect on evangelism).
     
  5. JonC

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    Stoltzfus would, it seems, agree with you.

    I personally believe that both have their strengths and weaknesses. IMHO, the Atonement is worth not only months of study but a lifetime of study and reflection.

    Here I was wondering how people (holding PST) would address Stoltzfus' concerns. I know how I'd address many (and there are a couple of concerns that I share...at least in terms of priority of doctrine).
     
  6. Martin Marprelate

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    I feel as if I have already expressed myself on PST and anything else I write on the subject will be repetition. Also, it is my church's 50th anniversary celebrations this week, :) so I'm somewhat busy, but I'll have a look when time permits.
     
  7. JonC

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    Hey Brother. Congratulants to your church on this milestone! Enjoy the festivities, just don’t go all Pentecostal on us. Biggrin

    On this board (and pretty much in general) I've found that we often defend our beliefs and views and seek the victory over an opponent instead of actually dealing with objections and concerns that face our position. I can adequately address some of the concerns I listed here (they were not mine, but objections from an Anabaptist perspective). At the same time, I do see some of the authors concerns to be valid (and I have a few of my own).

    So, if you find the time and want to participate that would be great. I know your position here and respect your opinion. We have both covered ground and planted our stances on another thread, but here I was looking for how people who hold PST would answer some of those objections (some I share but many I do not).
     
  8. Aaron

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    Rom 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

    What is death? It is the wages of sin.

    But Christ is not our substitute in death only, but also in service, For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices . . . Heb 8:3.

    So, Christ is our substitute in all things. He is not only the sacrifice, but He is also the priest, the altar and the temple. In the article I see one who does not realize the extent of his own corruption, the reach of the commandment, and his complete and utter dependence upon Christ, hence the faithless question: Does divine justice trump divine love and forgiveness? IOW, does every sin need to be paid for?

    "Oh, this is just a little sin, Jesus. It's a slip up. My heart was good. No need to receive a stripe for this one. I'm good. I'm good."
     
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  9. JonC

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    I understand what you are saying, Aaron, but I disagree to the extent. Looking at the Anabaptist position, it seems that they are aware of their own corruption and dependence upon Christ. Another way of asking the question would be: Can God forgive sin without collecting payment for the offense in full, and if so, can forgiveness of a debt only after a debt has been fully paid be considered "forgiveness"?

    Perhaps the answer is simply in the fact that God satisfies the payment (although I am not sure that this comes through with many explanations that almost pits Father against Son).
     
  10. Aaron

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    Can the law be offended in part?
     
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  11. Aaron

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    Did the High Priest have a gem for Egypt on his breastplate?
     
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  12. JonC

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    Death and sin existed apart from the Law. Instead of looking at sin as a legal offense to the Law perhaps it is better to view it as an unholy offence to God. If that is accurate then maybe sin extends beyond a forensic theory of divine justice. And if sin does extend beyond this law court system then perhaps grace can be viewed more ontologically as reflective of the Divine Nature. If so, then maybe divine forgiveness can be moved from beneath the Law.

    Anyway, these are just some thoughts, Aaron, things I'm pondering.....or as Thousand Hills used to say, noodling.
    Sent from my TARDIS
     
    #12 JonC, Feb 19, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  13. Aaron

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    The answer is no. The law cannot be offended in part. Therefore, the atonement cannot be in part. There is no sin for which Christ was not striped.

    I would suggest that Paul's confession that he knows nothing but Christ and Him crucified, answers the concern that the Resurrection might be getting short shrift in the consideration of Christ's substitution for us.
     
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  14. JonC

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    I admit that I don't see your connections here. The fact that one transgression is transgressing the Law as a whole is founded in the covenantal nature of the Law. The "therefore" seems to me out of place (a fallacy as the first sentence does not necessarily relate to the conclusion). More importantly, I do not believe anyone here has claimed a partial atonement.

    Also, no one is denying Christ's death as a substitution for us. The question regarding the the placement of the Resurrection in PST is not one of acknowledgement (Paul's emphasis in Scripture is apparent), but one of placement within the theory itself (see 1 Cor. 15).

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    #14 JonC, Feb 19, 2016
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  15. Martin Marprelate

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    I have a quick half-hour, so here goes.
    Did they? There was no death and no sin before the law was transgressed (Romans 5:12ff). Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).
    Surely it is both those things?
    I offer you two verses from the Psalms.
    Psalm 7:11. 'God is a just judge. And God is angry with the wicked every day.' So not only does God have an abiding anger against sinners, but He is right to have it and it is just and fair that He has it.

    Psalm 9:8. '[God] shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgement for the peoples in uprightness.' God's anger against sin will result in righteous judgement against sinners.

    So God cannot wink at sin or pass it over. '......By no means clearing the guilty....' (Exodus 34:7). So how can God be 'Just and the justifier......' (Romans 3:26)? How can He overlook sin and pardon guilty sinners and yet still 'judge the world in righteousness'? Only by the Lord Jesus Christ taking on our sins- every one of them- and paying the full penalty for them that satisfies the justice of the Father.
    '[Christ] was delivered up for our sins, and was raised for our justification' {Rom. 4:25). Without the resurrection our sins cannot be forgiven. Without it Christ's death would have no more significance than that of the countless sheep, goats and bulls under the Old Covenant. It is the sign that God is propitiated towards sinful men and women; that His justice has been satisfied and that 'There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 8:1).
     
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  16. JonC

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    Hello brother,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. My answer remains “yes,” sin and death existed apart from the Law (I think that this is the very distinction Paul is using in his argument). That said, I am not sure if we are speaking of the same thing here. But here is my understanding:

    Romans 5:12-14 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come

    In Romans 5:12 Paul is speaking of sin and the Law (the Mosaic Law) by stating that sin existed and death spread apart from the Law. What Paul is saying is that sin is not a covenantal violation (a violation of the Law) nor is it a violation of a specific command issued by God (it is not like the sin of Adam). 1 John 3:4 is dealing with sin in the present tense (sin is lawlessness). Sin was, even apart from the Law, lawlessness but not as a transgression but a sin against the generally revealed will of God and not a violation of the Law.

    Sin entered the world through the transgression of Adam, and death spread because all sinned. Sin was in the world before the Law was given and apart from the Law sin is not a transgression (sin is not a covenantal violation).

    Here are a few commentaries I referenced in reviewing my interpretation:
    F.F. Bruce, Romans, TNTC pg. 134; John Stott, The Message of Romans, 151; Douglas Moo, Romans, 106; Thomas Schreiner, Romans, ECNT, 380.
    I agree that sin is a violation of God’s revealed law and it is rebellion against God. So yes, it is both. (I don’t mean to appear to deny that men are guilty of sinning against God’s revealed law and nature). But even the use of the law here is not such as a law court (it is illustrative of God’s nature, not something would prevent God from forgiving men).
    This is one concern that I do share with the author. Perhaps this is not an inherent issue with PST, but there seems to be an issue here with how we hold to our theories. For centuries the Church agreed with the Atonement as Christ offering himself (and the Father offering his Son) as a sacrificial atonement for the sins of mankind. But their theology went much further and into that long awaited victory over sin and death in the Resurrection.

    When we speak of the Atonement, I am concerned that we sometimes look to the Cross and the payment at the expense of the Kingdom and the empty tomb. And you are absolutely right, brother. The Atonement culminates with the fact that if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. And I admit that this may not be an issue of PST as doctrine, but it seems often to be an issue of PST in practice.

    My concern here is illustrated with Aaron’s suggestion “Paul’s confession that he knows nothing but Christ and Him crucified, answers the concern that the Resurrection might be getting short shrift in the consideration of Christ's substitution for us.”

    I believe that the Penal Substitution explanation of the Father collecting payment from his Son (and his Son willingly paying that debt), when placed within an extreme narrow forensic model, culminates with God forgiving those being saved based on a payment being made with the death of Christ. The logical conclusion is that there really is nothing but Christ and Him crucified (as that satisfied our debt). The resurrection becomes nothing but an afterthought, perhaps a justification from the Father. But in reality and in Scripture the Resurrection and not the Cross is the capstone of the Atonement (as it includes Christ’s death). The Resurrection is the point where humanity is reconciled to God in Christ and Jesus is the firstborn of many brethren (which would be us).

    Thank you again for replying. I appreciate the passages you posted and do not find much where I would disagree with you. As I told you before, we agree on much regarding the nature of Christ's death, to include Jesus bearing our sins as our representative. My concern is that we be careful to go beyond any one theory of Atonement to Scripture as a whole.
     
  17. Aaron

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    Founded in a Person, rather. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill.
    Of course they're not using those words. Wasn't the implication made that the cost of disobedience need not be exacted in every case?

    If God has to collect a debt in full before forgiving that debt, then how does this translate to the believer forgiving the debts of others as they have been forgiven? Is this a true definition of forgiveness?
    Yes, indeed. That is the implication being made. Therefore, blood was shed for only some transgressions.
     
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  18. JonC

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    That would be sin, brother, not “transgression.” Sin and death existed from Adam to Moses. Adam transgressed God’s command, and from Moses on Israel transgressed the Law, but apart from the Law there is no transgression. Transgressions are sins but they are related to God’s specific command, not the general revelation of His nature. (Romans 5:12-14).
    Aaron, I understand that within your theory for God to forgive a debt without first demanding and collecting payment in full would mean a partial atonement. What I mean here is that this is only because you are taking the statement out of its context and placing it within your own presuppositions to show it flawed. The implication of a partial atonement is far from being made. It’s a different understanding of the atonement.

    To help, let’s look at a few issues from a different view from your own. Let’s suppose that the Atonement was God reconciling the world to himself through Christ. Going a bit further, let’s say that Jesus became man…became “flesh”….and being made in the likeness of man, that is, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, Jesus condemned sin in the flesh so that righteousness (the righteous requirement of the law) might be fulfilled in us. Foreshadowing a greater atonement, the Old Testament sacrifices only covered sins (individual sins were forgiven but this was temporary as mankind remains estranged from God). Going forward to the Cross we see the Atonement of which the OT sacrifices foretold. The atonement here is not merely for individual sins but for that inherited sin nature of which sins are but manifestations. From the Incarnation to the Cross we see God reconciling the world to himself, and this culminates in the Resurrection as Jesus becomes the firstborn of many brethren.

    Following this train of thought, we put our faith in God who we can legitimately call “Father,” but also who judges impartially according to our works. We should not sin, but when we do sin we have an Advocate in Jesus Christ who intercedes on our behalf with the Father. In this view, this intercession is more than an illustration of a past work.

    I’ll stop here, not because it is complete but because it is enough to serve as an illustration. Within that context - and within Christus Victor, Ransom theory, Recapitulation theory,…even Satisfaction theory – the notion that God simply forgives individual sins is not a “partial atonement.” Only by taking aspects of those theories and misplacing them in your own can you come up with such a conclusion.

    We obviously will not agree with all (I suppose most) theories and theologies that populate Church history. But I believe that we can learn from the insights, and even errors, of those who have gone before us and others who stand along side us. We owe it to ourselves and our brethern to examine these understanding and interpretations carefully and within their context or not at all.
     
  19. Aaron

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    I prefer the Apostles' ideas, thanks.

    "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."

    If you want to be technical, there are sin offerings and trespass offerings, but where is the transgression offering? There is no distinction to be made between sin and transgression, but there is a distinction between sin and trespass.

    It was asked in the article about the forgiveness of trespasses. The prayer is not "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us." Who could be saved? God is addressed as Father, so we are already His children. The prayer is, "forgive us our trespasses." Trespass is the damage caused by sin. If one stole from me, only God can forgive the sin of stealing, but I can forgive the debt owed to me. Each sin offering had its trespass offering, and the trespass offering was often accompanied by the payment of damages.

    Anyway, you go ahead and discuss thequestions posed in the article. I'm done. To me they reveal a small view of God, our debt to Him, and thusly, the work of Atonement.
     
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  20. JonC

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    Personally, I do not hold Anabaptist theology here (although I do believe that the Atonement extends beyond one theory and none are completely sufficient in and of themselves).

    That said, I think that you (and those who agreed with your comments here) should be more careful about what you dismiss. Those were Paul's words (that sin existed apart from being a transgression of the Law) in Romans....not mine. Paul was just as much an Apostle as was John and his writings were just as much "God breathed."

    Rather than dismissing one passage to hold to another, perhaps it would be better to explore both. When you do I think that you will see that they do not contradict each other. As Christians, our sins are transgressions (when we sin, we sin as Adam sinned because we have the commandments of Christ and the Holy Spirit...we are reborn). When those under the Law sinned, they transgressed the Law and were transgressors. In Romans, Paul is presenting Christ as the "New Adam" and presenting the nature of sin and death. People sinned before the Law existed, and their sins were not "accounted against them" in terms of transgressions....but they were still sinners and they still died. There is a reason Paul said what he did, and it wasn't to contradict 1 John.

    Also, the example I walked you through was just several passages (from Romans and 1 Peter). My point being that you have dismissed as unbiblical a simple string of passages. The difference between several theories of Atonement is not as simple as one being taught in the Bible and the others man-made nonsense. The difference is our reasoning, theology, and how we put those things together.






    Sent from my TARDIS
     
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