Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Penal-Substitutionary Atonement -- it was once so Anglican!

When you get to my age, the initials PSA take on a new significance, but it seems the same is true theologically. Where once 'classical evangelicals' preached that Jesus bore the punishment for our sins on the cross, now it seems the evangelical constituency is not so sure.

As to the rest of the Protestant churches, they gave this one up a long while ago, didn't they? The presenting issue is the increasingly-notorious line in the song 'In Christ Alone', by Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty, 'Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied', but it has been under pressure for years even amongst evangelicals.

Recently I put my toe in the waters of a lengthy debate on the subject with a tutor at my old theological college, St John's Nottingham, who is convinced that not only is the concept of 'satisfaction' wrong but that there was no 'punishment' of Jesus, adding that the disputed phrase in the Townsend-Getty song is nowhere found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, to which Anglican clergy must assent.

And that is true, but it is in the Homilies, which the Thirty-Nine Articles commend as containing "godly and wholesome Doctrine". So here are some quotes from the Articles on the subject of Christ's death, God's wrath and the punishment for our sins.

My interlocutor replied that this only showed what some people once believed -- which is also the attitude to the Articles I find outside evangelical Anglican circles. But as I say to them on the latter subject, it happens to be what some of us still believe. The homilies quoted are principally Of the salvation of all mankind and Of the Passion: for Good-Friday, parts One and Two.
God sent his only son our Saviour Christ into this world ... and by shedding of his most precious blood, to make a sacrifice and satisfaction, or (as it may be called) amends to his Father for our sins, to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us ...

... whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy, without any our desert or deserving, to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ’s body and blood, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied.

[God] hath given his own natural Son ... to be incarnated, and to take our mortal nature upon him, with the infirmities of the same, and in the same nature to suffer most shameful and painful death for our offences, to the intent to justify us, and to restore us to life everlasting: so making us also his dear children ...

And yet, I say, did Christ put himself between GOD'S deserved wrath, and our sin, and rent that obligation wherein we were in danger to GOD, and paid our debt (Colossians 2.14).

Let us know for a certainty, that if the most dearly beloved Son of GOD was thus punished and stricken for the sin which he had not done himself: how much more ought we sore to be stricken for our daily and manifold sins which we commit against GOD,

For if GOD (saith Saint Paul) hath not spared his own Son from pain and punishment, but delivered him for us all unto the death: how should he not give us all other things with him (Romans 8.32)?

... even then did Christ the Son of God, by the appointment of his Father, come down from heaven, to be wounded for our sakes, to be reputed with the wicked, to be condemned unto death, to take upon him the reward of our sins, and to give his Body to be broken on the Crosse for our offences.

Was not this a manifest token of God's great wrath and displeasure towards sin, that he could be pacified by no other means, but only by the sweet and precious blood of his dear Son?

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  1. It would be interesting to know what current RC thinking is on PSA. The RC concept of the mass as a sacrifice depends upon the same understanding of the Cross as "a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world". Do Roman Catholics no longer see it as a satisfaction for sin?


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  2. I'm not a Roman Catholic, but the following is from the Baltimore catechism:

    "The Bible repeats over and over again that Christ offered His sacrifice "once" and "once for all." He "does not need daily to offer up sacrifices." Today "there is no longer an offering for sin." His purpose was achieved: by His once-for-all sacrifice, He "put away sin" and thus He "sanctified" and "perfected forever" His people. The ends for which the sacrifice of the Cross was offered were to honor and glorify God; to satisfy God's justice for the sins of men [sic]; and to obtain all graces and blessings."

    Andy Griffiths, Chelmsford

  3. Just stopping in to say that I love your blog, something I can say of few Anglican blogs.

  4. John, in your argument for Penal Substitution', it seems you believe that it was God who put His son on the Cross; whereas, as every Christian knows, it was his fellow human beings - who doubted his mission on God's behalf.

    1. Acts 2:22 clearly states that it was both.

      In fact, that's a common theme in the Scriptures - God working his purposes through (often unwitting) human agents. Eg Joseph's brothers, Cyrus.

    2. Rom 8:32 (ESV2011)
      He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

      John 3:14-17 (ESV2011)
      And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

      Rom 3:23-26 (ESV2011)
      for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

      1John 4:10 (ESV2011)
      In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

      Just a few of the texts that underline that the cross was God's initiative.

  5. "As to the rest of the Protestant churches, they gave this one up a long while ago, didn't they?" Not so fast, John - confessional Lutherans still hold to PSA; while the term is not scriptural, the doctrine is so much a part of the warp and woof of the two testaments that I find it difficult to comprehend how some can deny it and still want to be regarded as Biblical Christians. If I may also reply to Fr Ron: certainly human beings put Jesus on the Cross, but that fact is not incongruent with the belief that God the Father sent forth His Son to accomplish our redemption through His death - cf Galatians 4:4-5. If, as orthodox theology holds, God is omniscient and omnipotent, then it is possible to see how God could foresee what would happen to His Son and yet fore-ordain it to accomplish His purposes. We are given a preview in the story of Joseph of how God in His wisdom and providence brings good out of evil.

  6. Father Ron, Acts 2:23; 3:13 and 4:27-29 hold 2 truths in tension. 1. That men put Jesus on the cross. 2. That God predestined this to happen. So yes the death of Jesus is our responsibility, but of God the Father's making. SO I'm with Mark

    1. I don't think Acts 3:13 makes your case, as it could be referring only to God raising Christ. The other two references certainly do. Though I object to the use of the word "tension", as it suggests dual-determination is strange, whereas in the Scriptures it is almost common.

  7. Fr Ron, I've always taken my cue for this from John 18:11 'Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”' That and the words in Gethsamene, "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done." (Lk 22:42)

  8. David Od from the Low Countries had problems posting the following, so I'm posting it on his behalf:

    Cam Ma and Andy Griffiths refer to 'RC' teaching. One might also note the Council of Constantinople of 1156, which underlines the offer of the sacrifice upon the Cross, and the unbloody sacrifice of the altar, to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    The Low Countries

  9. So: doctrinally it's clear that believing that "on the cross as Jesus died the wrath (or at least justice) of God was satisfied" is official Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican teaching - even if many contemporary anglicans would either disagree, or phrase it differently.

    But practically (and I do realise I'm taking the conversation in a new direction, sorry John, but maybe this is a helpful one), when preaching evangelistically to people without much understanding of faith I find people don't engage when I start with substitution. To quote Zinzendorf from the eighteenth century (but I think this is much more true now): "First, preach Jesus - his perfect life, his agonising death, his resurrection. Only when Jesus has been found to be attractive will talk of ... heaven and hell and modes of salvation ... be effective".

    What do others experience?

    Andy Griffiths, Chelmsford

  10. Thanks John,

    If PSA is Anglican doctrine & central to historical, classical, Reformational Evangelicalism; then can someone who denies PSA be truly called an "Anglican Evangelical?" I realize that, in some sense, that we are all free to call ourselves whatever we want, but in the theological & historical sense, surely a belief in PSA is part of historic Evangelicalism. The claim that denial of PSA has an honoured place at the evangelical table seems to be at the heart of the discussion. What do others think? Ro Mody, Bournemouth.

    1. Ro,
      FWIW, I'd say no. Evangelicals have held a variety of beliefs on all sorts. But that's been a unifying feature. So people who say, "I'm evangelical but", are saying, "I'm evangelical, except the evangelical bits". The question is, why be called evangelical?

      I've used the e.g. before of me and waste side. I used to have a 32" waist, for my height (6') that's thin. This is no longer the case. I was thin... but something has changed. So it is with some people who were evangelical. Similarly, I started out as a Christian in an Anglican Church. I was nurtured there, even ordained there. I can even say I owe lots to the C of E and certain Anglicans. But it would be dishonest to try and really hold that claim, as I have "moved on" from some things that are distinctly Anglican (certain understanding of bishops, state-church relations etc). I haven't though moved on from anything distinctly evangelical. You and I would still agree on all that stuff.

      To be non-evangelical, doesn't mean "not Christian", or "have nothing to learn from". It would just be more honest if more people could say it. You can still tribally identify with a group you owe lots to. But you have to recognise when you no longer fit the description any more.

  11. To sort of answer Andy's question about experience;
    Many of the great evangelists of the past (e.g. Wesley & Whitfield) and some of the great theologians (e.g. Luther) would say in evangelism start with the law of God, start with the 10 commandments, then show their need from there. I find that often is effective, but in a post-Christian society, we sometimes have to go back further. Certainly talking about Jesus revealing God, so we're not talking about God in abstract terms is helpful. But both ways you end up talking about the cross/resurrection/ascension pretty quickly.

    Andy will also know about an event here in Chelmsford, before my time, when a church had the bright idea (I mean that in a good way), of an event everyone could get together on, with the less bright idea of thinking Steve Chalke would be a unifying figure. He wasn't and some churches wouldn't participate saying, "differences, fine - but PSA pretty much lies at the centre" - most out spoken was actually the Pentecostals, so I gather. They are VERY keen on PSA.

    So, it's a doctrine held by Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox (although not so emphasised - another story), Pentecostals, Baptists (of most stripes), historic/confessional Methodist/Weslians, Brethren, congregationalists & independents. Quite a good doctrine to seek unity around, you'd think

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    1. Stephen Bazlinton5 September 2013 at 20:43

      I agree, I find the white on black hard on my aging eyes!!! Perhaps it is something to do with theological perspectives!!

  13. I think we're all basically agreed (except possibly about the colour scheme). I'd probably be more sceptical than Darren (and J John!) that there are many non-Christians around who are willing to start from the ten commandments - for me, I think we now almost always need to start straight away with the person of Jesus. But the job will be incomplete if law and grace (including the cross) is not clearly delivered at some point.

    In terms of the event Darren mentions, I personally would have had no problem with an event that didn't explicitly mention substitution but did exalt Jesus, address those who do not yet have faith and make him attractive to guests. Unfortunately, however... O well, historical interest only at this stage.

    Andy Griffiths

  14. Andy...Id
    you can't end a comment like that, we're now all intrigued and filling the blanks in... another coffee looms for that one I suspect.

    I know what you mean, not mention PSA, but exalts Jesus. I'm not mentioning it this Sunday (I think). BUT, I'd be wary of "making Jesus attractive" to guests. The gospel is week to Jews, foolish to Greeks. But to others, he is attractive as he is. I'd be very wary of presenting Jesus "acceptable face", and in the end, not really present him. I think this is where the Holy Spirit comes in. He does the convicting. John Stott said, if you preach about sin, your hearer's conscience will be on your side. I'm sure that's right.

    Besides, why do we want to attract people to Jesus? Surely it's so that they can know him... and have their sins forgiven. If we attract them, then fill them in on sin, it doesn't seem like we've been quite honest. My experience also has been getting people who have been through other churches, who when we 1st meet them say, "I just don't need Jesus"... once we talk sin, cross etc... they get it - and they really do. I'm not sure I saw the point in Christianity until I understood my need for forgiveness (even though I didn't exactly get PSA, as such).

    Also there is the world of difference between not mentioning PSA and actively denying it and even calling it bad. Notice in the Bible we're warned that not only will evil be called good, but good evil. So people aren't just saying, "here, I'd like my view to be considered equal to yours", it starts that way. But, "I'd also like your view to be considered evil & therefore rejected".

  15. I'm probably not expressing what I mean with total clarity - when I say "make Jesus attractive" I don't mean "market Jesus as a better product", I mean "show Jesus as he really is - supreme in creation, perfectly forgiving, wonderfully welcoming, cosmic Saviour, scourge of hypocrisy, champion over evil, conqueror of death, promised-one of Israel, servant king, wonderful healer, challenging caller..." - or whatever the bible passage we happen to have in front of us this week majors on. (Actually this week it's the story of Abigail so some work is needed). Showing him as he is is a good in itself, for oldtimers and newcomers alike; and then there will be something within our hearers - some of our hearers anyway, that's the Spirit's business - which says "I want to know and follow this Jesus, how do I do that?" And hopefully before we sit down you or I have answered that question, it's by being a sinner and yet being forgiven, by receiving his lifegiving grace when the law has beaten us up and killed us.

    Yes, Jesus is God for us, but the message is first and foremost about Jesus, not about us. As I said this is a sidetrack to John's post - sorry again - and I certainly don't advocate denying substitution, but my fear is that making substitution too central could lead us to preach a message that's basically about our hearers' need for forgiveness (you're guilty, but you can be forgiven) more than about Him (He's fantastic, you should get to know him, here's how).

    Andy Griffiths

  16. Basically - I agree with where you're going there.
    There is a world of difference between denying something that's true and not mentioning it because at this precise moment it's not relevant.
    But on the more attractive, I have more trouble showing that he is promised-one of Israel relevantly (although I'm sure it is), than that he suffering servantly is my substitute.
    We teach what's in front of us, which is sometimes, that Jesus is my substitute.

  17. I see your point Andy, and I agree- we don't have to explain PSA in every sermon (the speeches in Acts would be a good example). What you are describing sounds very like what Christianity Explored or a gospel presentation based on 2 Ways to Live does- PSA is certainly central to both, but CE starts with the person of Christ. And I agree about not wanting to make the gospel about individual forgiveness. I'm preaching on Ephesians 1:3-14 on Sunday week (gulp...never felt more inadequate). Verses 7-9 are interesting in this respect. Paul starts here with the need for redemption and forgiveness. Then he says that in this very act of redemption God revealed his secret plan, which was to exalt Christ by unifying the whole created order under his headship. This was God's "pleasure" (eudokia)- what pleased him above all things. So yes, if we only preach personal forgiveness, we are neglecting the great end of the cross.

    Stephen Walton, Marbury

  18. That's right Steve. It's part of a package.

    The parts have to be seen in light of the whole. Ephesians certainly blows out the water the idea it's ONLY about personal salvation. I'm also plodding through Ephesians, this week 4:25-5:2. It's an ethical section (but tide into the big idea of God displaying his wisdom through the unity of the church). Having said I probably wouldn't mention PSA this Sunday, look at 5:2. 5:1-2 = the power and the example to do 4:25-32. But it doesn't get a mention in the morning, Genesis 12:1-9... but will do when we get to ch 15, for sure, where God Abraham lies passivly, while God makes a covenant, demonstrating he (God) will be killed if the covenant is broken... by either side, which means from the start the cross was necessary.

  19. Dominic Stockford30 August 2013 at 09:13

    I think that what we really need is a bit more discernment in defining who is, and who is not, an evangelical. If you do NOT hold to Penal Substitutionary Atonement then you are NOT an evangelical, you have merely stolen the name-tag.

  20. A god who demands human sacrifice... So Christianity is just sophisticated Bongo-Bongo religion with big words? Let's spread the Tarot Cards (or in this case individual scripture verses, which are often used in the same way by many a Christian) and see what they say...

    And here was me thinking Penal Atonement was some systematic theology that always laid the blame for everything on the queers... Usually the case with your flavor of Christianity - anything below the waist (particularly of other people) is usually a major preoccupation - penile obsession needs penal atonement!

    Well, bow low to your blood god if you must... Just keep your nose out of the rest of our lives and politics my sophisticated soothsayers!

  21. Yesterday morning in our Sunday Service we used the 'Statement of Faith' based on l Cor 15 verses 3 and 4. It struck me afresh how "the Scriptures" that Paul was (and we do) refer to, are those of the Old Testament. The argument that the N.T. theology differs from that of the O.T. simply cannot be! Yes! we have a fuller understanding of God, because He was revealed in Our Lord Jesus Christ, however it is a fact that Christ (and God) is the same, yesterday, today and for ever. PSA is revealed in the O.T. e.g. Isaiah 53 and fulfilled in Jesus.
    I sing "In Christ alone" (and other hymns of similar theology) with a grateful and thankful heart!

  22. Is it not the case that belief in the biblical doctrine of the atonement (or PSA if you want to make concessions to those who want to believe it is something different) has provoked great hymns for centuries before Townend and Getty, whereas the denial of that doctrine (either outright or by reducing it to a number of possible theories) has never spawned a single great hymn?
    In saying that, I have to admit to a massive prejudice; my whole thinking is influenced by an expression that stuck in my mind from, I think, Joseph Alleine's "Alarm to the Unconverted," in the peroration of one of his evangelistic sermons: "If Christ has not satisfied (the wrath of God) thou must – to eternity."
    The English translation of a hymn by Erdmann Neumeister uses "satisfied" to great effect:
    "Now my heart condemns me not
    Pure before the law I stand
    He who cleansed me from each spot
    Satisfied its last demand"
    and Toplady's glorious argument spells out the concept without using the word:
    "From whence this fear and unbelief?
    Has not the Father put to grief
    His spotless son for me?
    And will the righteous judge of men
    Condemn me for that load of sin
    Which, Lord, was laid on thee?

    Complete atonement thou hast made,
    And to the utmost thou hast paid
    Whate'er thy people owed.
    How then on me can wrath take place,
    If sheltered in thy righteousness,
    And sprinkled with thy blood?

    If thou hast my discharge procured,
    And freely in my room endured
    The whole of wrath divine,
    Payment God cannot twice demand,
    First at my bleeding surety's hand
    And then again at mine."

    Many years ago I left the Methodist Church (so called – my ecclesiology no longer has room for calling national bodies "churches") but long before that I noticed that, while its theological colleges taught its ordinands to reject substitutionary atonement, its hymn book was packed with hymns expressing that doctrine, not least by Charles Wesley.
    Townend and Getty are in good company among the great hymn writers of the past.
    The whole controversy is like something out of the fertile imagination of Lewis Carroll: that a hymn expressing a doctrine so hated by those who totally reject the authority of the bible should be accused of being unbiblical is utterly ludicrous.
    John, a question for you: I am mystified by your repeated assertion that anglican clergy are required to assent to the 39 Articles and BCP. I thought this requirement was dropped in 1975. I cannot imagine that clerical subscription could have been reintroduced in the theological climate that has prevailed since then. Am I wrong?
    Having said that, I can only applaud your robust defence of the biblical doctrine of the atonement; if it is possible to screw jelly to a ceiling, you have done it in your response to Ian Paul on the linked discussion and I am praying that his students will not be taken in by his subtle undermining of the heart of the gospel.
    Andrew Proud
    (I used the alias above to distinguish me from the Bishop of Reading who shares my full name. My contact details are not in Crockford's but in the RCVS Register.)

  23. The declaration of faith made by all clergy at their Induction or Licencing is :-
    "I, [name], do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon."

    I have always been happy to . . . "declare my belief in the faith . . . . . . to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness;".
    Abbreviated down like that it is unambiguous that the "historic formularies", which include the 39 Articles bear witness to the faith of Scripture.
    If you want to take that oath with your own interpretation of the "formularies" that is between you and the Lord!


    1. Thank you, Terry. That fills in a gap in my knowledge. So there is still a clerical declaration to be made but it no longer includes assent to the Articles and BCP.
      The post 1975 declaration is a far cry from its immediate predecessor which so tried the conscience of Herbert Carson:
      "I ..........do solemnly make the following declaration: I assent to the 39 Articles of Religion which I have now read before you, and to the Book of Common Prayer and of the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. I believe the doctrine of the Church of England as therein set forth to be ageeable to the Word of God; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use the form in the said Book prescribed and none other except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority."
      Still more extreme was the declaration that the ejected puritans of 1662 refused to make which demanded full and unfeigned assent and consent to the 39 Articles, Prayer Book and Ordinal as containing nothing contrary to the word of God.
      The original formula was designed to exclude evangelicals; the pre 1975 version made it a little easier for those who denied the infallibility of the Articles & BCP, while the post 1975 version is designed to exclude nobody who can assent to the catholic creeds, believes that the Anglican formularies bear witness to them, and is content with the rigid exclusion of any elements in public worship which have not been sanctioned by the Anglican hierarchy.
      Your abbreviation, Terry, does not clarify the meaning of the declaration but merely changes it.
      I have to conclude that John's defence of PSA is not strengthened by appealing to clerical subscription, but it doesn't need the support of the Anglican formularies because it is incontrovertible from scripture. One of the reasons why I am not an Anglican is that the C of E has no mechanism for excluding from office men and women who see no need for a substitutionary atonement.

  24. interesting you mention the Homilies. on holiday i read eamon Duffy's book Fires of Faith on Mary 1sts reign.he points out that 13 marian homilies were published including a new homily o"On the Redemption of Man" This homily ( in contrast to the Edwardian homily which presented the cross "to aswage Gods wrath and indignation conceived against us" this presented the cross as "a moost arfyt myrrour and glasse for us,therein to beholde the excydinge great love of God towards us" he comments ( p67) "This participatory and incarnational account of salvation(.... drawing on Greek patristic theology)has no parallel in any protestant formulary of the mid-Tudor period..and marks the more deliberate embrace of patristic scholarship.. of the Marian Homilists.
    Nice to know these debates go back to the beginnings of the reformed C of E's life
    Perry Butler, Canterbury

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