John McArthur claims that Anselm's Cur deus Homo? (Why did God become Man?) is an articulation of PSA

John McArthur, in his essay, 'Open Theism's Attack on the Atonement' claims the following about Anselm:

'Until Anselm, no leading theologian really focused much energy on systematizing the biblical doctrine of the atonement. Anselm’s work on the subject,Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Man?), offered compelling biblical evidence that the atonement was not a ransom paid by God to the devil but rather a debt paid to God on behalf of sinners, a satisfaction of divine justice. Anselm’s work on the atonement established a foundation for the Protestant Reformation and became the very heart of evangelical theology. The doctrine Anselm articulated, known as the penal substitution theory of the atonement, has long been considered an essential aspect of all doctrine that is truly evangelical. Historically, all who have abandoned this view have led movements away from evangelicalism.'

Whilst I agree that Anselm refuted the idea that the ransom was paid to the devil and I agree that the ransom was paid to God instead, on behalf of sinners by Christ, is this really penal? Anselm borrowed from the idea of feudal lordship and wounded honour rather than the law courts and the judge exacting punishment, didn't he?

I've already dismissed much of McArthur's work regarding ministry and role of women, I think I have to reject his interpretation of Anselm too.

Here is Anselm from Cur deus Homo?

'If it be necessary, therefore, as it appears, that the heavenly kingdom be made up of men, and this cannot be effected unless the aforesaid satisfaction be made, which none but God can make and none but man ought to make, it is necessary for the God-man to make it.'

In McArthur's essay he is almost saying that a rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of substitutionary atonement - it isn't. McArthur and the Calvinists seem to be very anti the post-modern mind-set. I think the post-moderns succeed in holding things in tension, there are a few ways of viewing the atonement with each helping to reveal one of the facets of the gem. Calvinism and the reformed evangelical mindset seem to always have to prove it is the right and only mindset.

(Dear me, I'm going off in so many tangents in researching this essay)

Is it not anachronistic to attribute to Anselm the doctrine of PSA?


jody said...

also a good read is tom wright's essay on the fulcrum website, called 'the cross and the caricatures' and is an answer to the 'pierced for our transgressions' book (which was not the best work, imho) - tom still calls his own understanding of the atonement 'penal substitution' but whilst i ascribe to everything he says in that essay, i disagree with his label for what he is describing: substitutionary atonement, yes, but i don't think it's 'penal' substitutionary atonement.


Rachel said...

Thank you Jody - it's next on the list.

Lynne said...

Anselm's someone I wrote a paper about in Christology, and he definitely wasn't penal. His whole thing was tied in with Mediaeval concepts of honour -- we had offended God's honour infinitely, so Jesus was the infinite honour price that had to be paid to clear the debt, that's substitutionary, but not PSA. I guess the Calvinists want to claim him, because he provided a platform for them to launch from, but to read PSA back into Anselm is anachronism, to say the least.


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