Has Steve Chalke got a point?

Steve Chalke talks about how in the parable of the prodigal son, 'the father is not presented as angry or vengeful or as seeking justice and retribution - instead he simply runs to greet his wayward child, showers him with gifts and welcomes him home. The father in the parable is wronged, but chooses to forgive in order to restore a broken relationship - there is no theme of retribution. Instead, the story is one of outstanding grace, of scandalous love and mercy - how different it would read if penal substitution was the model of atonement.'

Is God's punishment of Jesus really a form of cosmic child abuse?

But Jesus went to the cross voluntarily 'of my own accord' (John 10:17). God forgives us through this substitution. We gain. In abuse, only the abuser gains. Only a someone who was fully man and who was also fully God could nail our sins sufficiently to the cross and then raise us up to partake in the community of the trinity. For Barth Jesus in his humanity deals with God's No and turns it into the yes in his deity. Jesus is both the cast away and the elect. We are the prodigal, are we not? We receive the grace of the father, his love and his mercy because the father looks at us and we are perfect in his eyes, clothed in Christ's righteousness because he has washed our sins away by his blood.

Have I constructed some kind of dodgy theory of the atonement (I've not really started the reading yet, so this is where i am before I educate myself) in which yes, Jesus is put to death in the most terrible way for us but had to and yet did this not to pacify the anger or wrath of the father but simply so that we could enter into the presence of God and be acceptable to him.

Feel free to put me right - just thinking out loud as I read some extracts about the atonement in prep for tomorrow's lectures.

Interesting and short http://www.todaysprophecy.com/Loraine Boettner The Atonement.pdf

In contrast to the Calvinistic thinking of the pdf, Steve Chalke talks of Christ atonement in terms of a 'ransom' paid (Mark 10:45) to the devil not to God (Irenaeus, Greg.of Nyssa, Origen). The devil is tricked - he thinks he has killed God on the cross but what actually is killed on the cross is death and sin. Christ lives, he is resurrected three days later and the devil is defeated. This is the Christus Victor (Gustav Aulen).

I don't think I 'get' Steve Chalke. I don't understand the 'abuse' bit. To put it very simply, if I stood in front of the bus that was about to knock down my children to save their lives, I would have given my life for theirs voluntarily. It wouldn't have simply been taken violently from me. Whether I have to imagine that it is God driving the bus, I don't know. If I do then if I have ensured my children eternal life, by stepping in front of that bus, and I had been born with the purpose of stepping in front of it, and then I got to go and live eternally in the best bus depo forever with my father: God the bus-driver and everyone who ever knew me would get to live forever and come to live in the bus depo too, and I got to live again three days later so that I could tell everyone that they were going to live forever so live now with this knowledge, then the whole 'getting run over by a bus' thing would be good news - wouldn't it? (Now there's a long and silly sentence).


DaveW said...


Problems with the bus:

1. How can a loving Father demand that his only son (whom he loves) steps out in front of a bus because the Father is determined that he is going to hit someone with the bus. To say the father will only be satisfied when he hits someone with the bus is problematical.

2. If Jesus is divine and if we accept the Trinity then God is killing himself in order to satisfy his own anger. Seems to me to be nonsensical.

Rachel said...

So how does the cross/bus happen? The cross happened - why?

Is it not that my sin was transferred onto Christ and he gave me his righteousness (imputation). Isn't God's love also his justice? Can he leave sin unpunished? Did he punish the sins of the world represented by his son and then raise him to life as asign of forgiveness?

Just trying to get to grips with all this? It's heavy :)

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

AS a Christian who has at times in my life thought penal substitution was absilutely all there was to say, and is still basically OK about the model, but as one of many ways of picturing a mystery, I think it would help us in mission to be aware of how some of our preahing of Penal substitution comes over to outsiders; see, for example, Some Grey Bloke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2bpc7LSRZc .

This is emphatically not to rubbish the model; just to say that for some people it raises more questions than it solves, whils for others it's the only hard-headed way to read the cross — theological marmite (love it/ hate it)?

DaveW said...

Just trying to get to grips with all this? It's heavy :)

You are right. I am still working my may through how I understand it. I think J Denny Weaver "The Nonviolent Atonement" should be required reading. However I do struggle with the lack of a clear and succinct summary of Narrative Christus Victor.

Is God's punishment of Jesus really a form of cosmic child abuse?

Did God punish Jesus on the cross? Isaiah 53:4 does not say God punished the suffering servant but that we considered him punished by God.

The violence inside God that is needed to say God would punish his own son who was innocent is not something that sits well with the life of Jesus or his descriptions of the Father (as in prodigal son as you point out).

Sin transferred onto Jesus is all Penal Substitution language. To try to explore atonement more generally we have to drop the penal substitution specific language or our heads explode (in other words you cannot evaluate other models using penal substitution).

I find it helpful to separate Atonement as doctrine (Jesus conquered sin on the cross. Through the death of Jesus on the cross we are reconciled with God) from models of atonement (which say: this is how Jesus achieved atonement).

I believe 100% in atonement, I do not believe any of the models that we have at present (or that we are likely to develop) can fully explain it. They can give us useful insights into God and the work of salvation but not explain it (in a scientific way).

There is an extent to which it is a glorious mystery.

But if we are going to use models to try to see past the mystery (and I think we should) then we need to recognise the limits of those models, we need to be honest about their flaws. Key flaws with penal substitution are that it leaves us with a violent God who kills his own son in a macabre way.

Anonymous said...

Here's a pointer, Rachel. You're a parent. Could one of your children do something so terrible to YOU that you would HAVE to punish them? Or, is it possible that you could forgive and forgive, even seventy times seven? If you would HAVE to punish, then you believe in penal substitution. If you would forgive without punishment, then you don't believe it. It's a simple as that. God is not a more punishing, less forgiving parent than you are.

Rachel said...

Anonymous - I couldn't punish my child horribly no and yet this doesn't seem to help me to draw a line under things in the way you suggest but as Dave implies perhaps substitutionary atonement is just one model to sit alongside others. I still feel as though I would like to hang my hat upon one theory and champion it perhaps above others - reading around the subject will hopefully help me to make some progress.

Bishop Alan
Thank you for your contribution - it is helpful and necessary to think about the pastoral and social implications of any theory that we adopt. It is difficult to preach PSA because it is so offensive to our culture. It is also perhaps a little individualistic in that it is about Christ dying for me, to transfer his righteousness to me and we can lose the sense of a cosmic reconciliation. I have explored today theories about reconciliation without the sense of the retribution and this has been helpful.

Interesting to see, however frustratingly, that there is no right answer; that Christians have to meditate on these things for their whole lives. I think I felt that PSA was the more orthodox position to hold but this is probably just that I have been more exposed to this theory than any other so I need to shake off a lot of presuppositions before I can see the cross truly afresh.

Anonymous said...

your last para in your comment there is how I'm feeling I think -
Bp Alan's points are very helpful too. Lots to think about! I want to be terribly anglican and hold a bit of every idea together ;-)

Charles Read said...

Just seen this discussion after teaching on atonement models last weekend at the residential weekend for Eastern region Mi nistry Course and Norwich Theology Centre.

Like +Alan I don't have a problem with PSA as such annd still find it a helpful model - as one among many - and I do find substitution a necessary element (as it is in eg the ransom model too) - contrary to my more radical feminuist friends who find substitutionary views per se anathema.

However, PSA is often presented in preaching and hymnody in a cack-handed way that leads straight to the cosmic child abuse error. After all my careful teaching on Saturday, on Sunday we sang about God crushing Jesus on the cross....

David Rudel said...

The problem [in my mind] with this whole conversation is trying to read the "gospel of grace" into a parable that has nothing to do with justification/judgment/salvation.

The parables of the "Lost things" (lost coin, lost sheep, lost son) are not about showing how or why God saves humans. They are a presaging of the unification of Israel with Judah [and "Israel" here tends to symbolize all Gentiles, for they had more or less completely intermixed at this point.]

The focus on the Prodigal Son parable is not on the son that went away and came back. The focus is on the older son who is asked to understand the father's joy at his son who was "dead" and is now alive to him again.

These verses are not individuals who repent and come back to God. The coin did nothing to be found, and nor did the sheep. Furthermore, anyone who claims this is about individual's repenting has to explain what meaning the "100 righteous who have no need to repent" refers to.
However, when you allow these parables to be about Israel and Judah (as is Lazarus), these descriptions make sense. The angry older brother who has worked all this time and feels he deserves more or better treatment than his younger brother who went off and frittered his inheritance is an exact match with how the Jews of 1st century AD saw themselves, they had kept the Law throughout the centuries when the Northern Kingdom had gone off and wasted their special status as Abraham's children.

I have posted a long write-up of this, as well as the parable of Lazarus. That writeup has a good deal more evidence for why these parables refer to Israel/Jewish issues rather than individual redemption.

Rachel said...

Theological college is interesting, fibre-fairy and very unsettling in some profound ways. I am always wondering whether the scales are falling off or being reapplied to my eyes but I'm quite happy to be shaken by all this, robust enough in God, who seems plenty used to the questioning nature of his creatures, as the psalmists prove, to love me despite my potential heresies.

I am beginning to realise that much of our modern worship music dwells also on a very penal substitutionary atonement so that when singing something more akin to Christus Victor theory, it feels really rather uplifting. I would have liked to have been at your weekend.

Your ideas about inclusion of the Gentiles is very much explored at the Paul pages - a fabulous website, which I would like to take a couple of years off from life as I know it to trawl through. You might find some very interesting views there and maybe a way to contribute to the dialogue. Tom Wright is very much at the centre of the work there. You will also find that there is a web-site dedicated to Tom Wright's work.


However, sitting having lunch with the Bishop of Maidenhead at theological college the other week, a man in Archbishop Rowan's inner circle, has still done very little to secure me direct access to these theological giants of our time. Perhaps you could ask Bishop Alan, who has contributed to this blog, if he can help. Aside from this, you could always just post it directly off to his abode. Good luck.

As regards your reading of the parable, I agree with what you say. However, Christian history and pastoral obligations in our churches reveals that individual salvation is also something that human beings are very much meditating upon.

Barth talks of a very corporate and cosmic redemption and many accuse the reformation of advancing what would seem like a very individualistic preoccupation with salvation but really these reflections of mine are very much open to debate.

Anonymous said...

Penal Sub is rooted in the false belief that we have to understand how the redemption works to be able to persuade others of its value. That's like studying electronics engineering to persuade a friend to buy a flat-screen TV! Well, almost (except that flat-screen TVs are understandable by humans!). One of the problems with Penal sub is just that it is so limited; it is limited to a mental, legal idea and it is constructed in the world of law even though Paul clearly explained that Christians 'are not under law'. Our logic, our strategical ability, was intended to be used for tending the garden, organising church life, not for trying to fathom eternity or to put the workings of the Cross into a book. To understand and explain the Cross, we need a Story - a true Story - but a Story, nonetheless. Only then will we deal with sin more comprehensively than the breaking of sundry laws: the doubt of God's goodness, the emptiness, the loneliness, the anxiety, the need, the alienation from God. It's the difference between status and state. Only then will we have the strength to know that Christ is always for the poor, always against evil wherever it manifests. Penal Sub originated to make people shut-up-and-behave, to cow-tow with the state-church (which fusion is not supported by the New Testament; once again, Augustine was wrong). None of this is to deny that our sins need to be forgiven, but it is to question the wisdom of trying to frame the 'how' in limited rational terms. 'Repent and put your faith in Christ': repent of what, exactly? Why do we try and lead people to Christ by way of a guilt trip? Far better to uphold Christ as the Victor over sin, death and the devil and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance for each person as an individual in need of God's grace.

Rachel said...

I think you raise some very interesting points cndo, shame I don't know your proper name. You are prompting me again in my thoughts that the academic study of theology is very far apart from the day-to-day job of mission.

Thanks for the contribution.

David Rudel said...

Not that I want to defend Penal Substitution, but I don't agree with your original criticism.

While it is true that a lot of people talk about having "faith in Christ's sacrifice" or "faith in the sufficiency of Christ's blood," etc. I think that is mostly the sort of unofficial urban-legend type stuff that people say and pastors [who know better] don't feel much need to suppress.

It's sorta like when you hear about how Jesus preached "The Gospel" in Mark 1:14 and other places. A lot of people think that refers to the "gospel" the church teaches today, but I would hope most professional pastors would know better [after all, Jesus didn't even tell His own disciples about His death until much later, and they didn't have a clue what He meant! And then He told them not to tell anyone He was the Christ, etc. etc.]

Getting back to my point... Even very Reformed pastors would not say you actually have to BELIEVE in Penal substitution to be saved by it. As John Piper puts it "Doctrine does not save."

Piper, who is about as much a proponent of P.S. as you are liable to find, would say "Yes, all you have to believe is that Jesus is the Risen Lord...but that is hardly "good news" if you don't know what that has to do with your personal situation."

So, I don't think proponents of P.S. in general require that people believe in P.S. to get the benefits of it.

Penal Substitution has many biblical problems, but I don't think this is one of them. [Though the fact that no major father prior to Augustine saw P.S. in scripture, and the church rapidly went back to Semi-Pelagianism afterward, should give some clue as to how many problems there are...]

David Rudel said...

If I might add another point here.
There are tons of both philosophical and biblical problems with penal atonement, but one that I don't think gets mentioned much is the simple lack of anything in the Bible pointing to viewing Christ's sacrifice in that way.

Christ can be a sacrifice without the Penal Atonement model holding any water. The scapegoat sacrifice is the one most resembling penal atonement, but I don't think Christ is every referred to as a scapegoat. [Indeed, it would be odd if He were given that it was very important that the scapegoat not die in the camp because then the sins would just recontaminate the camp... so it would seem odd for Jesus to most reflect the one type of sacrifice where the animal was not killed...]

If you look at the 3 kinds of sacrifice that Jesus is portrayed as, you see another story altogether.

1) He is portrayed as a passover sacrifice. The passover points to freedom from slavery, not freedom from divine wrath...and certainly not a focus on INDIVIDUAL wrath.
I believe you can see the Passover as a propitiation for generational sin.

Look at Egypt: The Israelites had fallen into idolatry and the Egyptians had oppressed them. Is that not exactly the situation 1500 years later? Israel/Judah had fallen away from God and been enslaved, and the Prophets prophecy wrath against Judah for her unfaithfulness and the other nations for their oppression. This is global, national wrath. And God says "I will remove the guilt of _that land_ in a single day." [the "that" is in the Hebrew.]

So, I see Jesus as two kinds of a Passover sacrifice, one as a symbol to our spiritual liberation [see Romans 6:6] and secondly as God's commuting the global, physical wrath on creation.

I see this in Romans 3:25, where Paul does not use the word "propitiation" to describe Christ but refers to "the hilast─ôrion" --- the "place where sacrificial blood is placed." This was generally the mercy seat, but it also was used to refer to the lintels where the passover blood was put.
Also in Romans 3:25, Paul actually uses the term for "Pass over"! rather than more common terms like "forgive" to refer to... "The sins done previously". Previously to what? Previously to Christ's coming, during the time of Judah's fall. [Note the time markers of Romans 3:25 and 3:26 suggest Paul is putting a division between God's action in Christ back then and God's work through Christ in the present, so the "done previously" was "done previously to the time Christ died" not "done previously to now."

2. Christ as a Day of atonement Temple Purification sacrifice. Hebrews 9 talks about this a lot...here there is no expiation OR propitiation, but rather a notion of cleansing of the stain. Christ blood consecrates the heavenly temple of the New Covenant [which he is the cornerstone of] so that the Holy Spirit can dwell within it.

Certainly there is no indication of transfer or individual's guilt here.

3. Guilt Offering. This is an interesting one. Note that this is exactly the type of offering mentioned in the Isaiah passage [Isaiah 53:10]. Two important things about the Guilt offering:
i) There was never any TRANSFER of guilt, it was a repayment for offense. The sacrifice repaid for the offence, it did not get transferred to it.

ii) Guilt offerings were often used to _make someone ritually clean_ so they could enter the temple. In particular this was done when someone had _leprosy_ [See Leviticus 14:14], and the language in the Isaiah verse is all about someone being sick due to sin, etc. It sounds very much like someone afflicted with leprosy and thought to be afflicted with leprosy due to God's wrath upon him.
Furthermore, when someone was cleansed of leprosy, the priest put blood on their earlobe... perhaps linked to how a person would become a permanent slave to someone [see Exodus 21:6]

Why is this leprosy/unclean notion so important? Because it relates to the OTHER big thing Jesus did: he brought the Gentiles into God's temple. He made them "ritually clean" to enter God's House. That is how God describes it when speaking to Peter in Acts 11:9 "What God has made ritually clean, you must not make ritually unclean."

Note that ritually cleanliness was not about sin. You could be ritually unclean without having sinned [say, by accidentally touching a carcass or a woman having her cycle.]

So, we have 3 major things done by Christ linked to 3 major sacrifices...none of which involve transfer of sins, none of which deal primarily with individual accountability, but all dealing with the New Covenant exclusively [rather than the Final Judgment] which Jesus blood was shed to mediate.

Passover Sacrifice: Spiritual freedom from slavery to sin, Creation saved from global destruction due to generational sin.

Day of atonement temple sacrifice: Temple of the New Covenant consecrated to allow believers to receive the Holy Spirit

Guilt Offering for uncleanliness: to make all people clean to enter the Temple.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions