24.3.09

Reading Brow and McArthur

I don't think I could have chosen to look at anything more controversial. Well, ideas about who are the elect (Calvin/Barth) would have been interesting or justification and sanctification (Piper/Wright) would have been stimulating too. But this is fascinating. According to McArthur and Brow there was a megashift occurring in evangelicalism about 20 years ago to which I was oblivious, having only been 14 years old at the time, but understanding this is helping me to make sense of some of the divisions I have encountered in churches and through the internet between open and conservative evangelicals. It would seem that the difference is often referred to as one between 'old-model' and 'new-model' theology ('open theism' described by John McArthur). There was a shift in emphasis from a wrathful God to a fatherly God and with it an exchange was made in the theories of the atonement from the law-court model of Jesus being inflicted with punishment for sin to Jesus 'absorbing' sin on the cross. I remember once being in a bible study that was being led by someone who declared that she had to remember that God was also a loving God and I remember being quite shocked at this and realising that for me I suffered the opposite problem - that I needed to remind myself that a loving God could also be an angry God and I think I realised at that point that there were two quite different theological stances in that room and this was going to cause me some dis-ease. I'll keep blogging my thoughts along the way.

This is certainly no modern debate, it goes all the way back to the differences between Anselm (PSA) and Abelard (moral theory) or so I am being led to believe, Actually, I have reservations about this - are there really Christians who deny the atoning value of the cross? There surely aren't many Christians, who like Abelard, simply believe that Christ provided us with the supreme moral example to imitate so that we might secure salvation - this would be a kind of works-righteousness, wouldn't it? I'll keep copying you in on my thinking.

Okay so it isn't an either/or. One can hold to substitutionary atonement, against Abelard without holding fully to Anselm's penal substitutionary atonement? Substitutionary atonement doesn't have to be 'penal' for many Christians. There is a difference in people's minds between Christ suffering 'for us' and Christ being 'punished instead of us'.

5 comments:

David Ould said...

I don't think the debate is so much about whether the cross atones but how the cross atones.
If you're going to address it then "Pierced for our Transgressions" is a must read and, of course, Green and Baker and Steve Chalke as the counter argument that is being responded to. Green and Baker is a fascinating read as a revision of classical atonement theology. Unconvincing but, nevertheless, fascinating.

jody said...

hi rach

interesting, i don't really think of anselm's theory as a fully fledged PSA theory.

for anselm, within the feudal context, it was about honouring the 'lord' - thus we, as sinners, we're not able to fulfil our duty to bring honour to our feudal lord, God. in anselm's theory, christ on the cross was doing what we could not do, ie we were unable to bring the gifts to the lord that were rightfully his, because of our sin and brokenness - jesus alone could bring that.

this is different, significantly i think, from the PSA theory which is about jesus paying for something that we did do.

anselm - jesus doing what we could not do
PSA - jesus paying a price for what we have done

in PSA the question that i have is who is the price to be paid to? even the fathers had problems with that - satan? (see the lion the witch and the wardrobe!), God?

problems with both those answers - God needs to exact a punitive violence? satan has power over God?

aah, atonement theory - enjoy!

Rachel said...

Thank you for the clarification. And, yes, postman has just delivered Green and Baker.

Rachel said...

Interesting, Jody and clarifying. I was wondering if McArthur was presenting Anselm in the correct light. This is what McArthur says about Anselm in his essay OPEN THEISM’S ATTACK ON THE ATONEMENT

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 beha lf 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.'

Going back to my college notes, I read:

We are in debt because of sin and so we need to pay this back – we have come into the debt of God – this is enormous – it has offended God's immeasurable honour. Anselm is drawing on concepts of feudalism. God is not the author of sin – he gave the devil free will and us.

In order to pay God back, we owe everything. We owe a human life of obedience. We have incurred an enormous debt – we can't pay a debt like this with another debt – we can not pay it.

Justice is about restoration – it's about the good order of things – it's justice in the sense of God preserving and restoring order to the universe. God has to be consistent. Sense of order – the sense of God who is justice.

How did Christ save us – he is the perfect sacrifice – he hasn't sinned – – he is the logos

A death that was voluntary – no one took it from him – he voluntarily gave it up – Christ gave up his life – it is substitutionary but not penal – Not a punishment. Positive offering of himself to make up for the enormity of the debt. Anselm discusses the necessity of Jesus death in his work Cur deus Homos.

If God wants to settle the debt justly, this is the way it has to happen.

God doesn't put Jesus to death – there is no violence here – Christ gave his life willingly?

Emm interesting - misled by McArthur but not for long.

Thanks Jody

Tim Goodbody said...

Hi Rachel as you may have read I am not a fan of an exclusive PSA approach, but have recently seen in "The Shack" p31 bottom of the page, a good answer to the Steve Chalke style objections
enjoy

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