So much anger over the Wrath of God.

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Bosco Peters’ latest post on his Liturgy website is a great example of a liberal attack on the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA), not just for the substance but the manner in which the doctrine is attacked.

At our recent synod meeting, one of the songs was Stuart Townend and Keith Getty’s In Christ alone with the words:

“Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied”

Those words as understood by many (if not most) in that room are heresy. The understanding of those words by many (most) who enthusiastically sing this in services around the planet is heretical.

The understanding is that God (The Father) was angry at us in our sinfulness. And that God took out this rage on Christ instead of on us. And that this now enables God (The Father) to love us.

This understanding is heresy.

Now, at first sight one wants to agree with Bosco. The gross over-simplification that “God took out this rage [His anger at our sinfulness] on Christ instead of on us” is one of the most common of canards thrown at PSA. But as the conversation progresses it becomes clear that Bosco has no real intention of clarifying PSA and defending it against such misrepresentations – rather he gives every impression of being happy to have them repeated and propagated. You see this both in the comments that are left unchallenged and the comments he himself makes. Others describe it as “sadistic theology“, “Divine child abuse“, Bosco claims you need “theological mental gymnastics” to ” [allow] an orthodox interpretation” (i.e. no straightforward thought about those words would lead you to an orthodox reading).

Things get better when Bosco affirms another commentor who refers to those who hold to PSA as “Klingons” and “gory glory seekers” – for Bosco this is “encouragement“.

So it becomes clear where Bosco stands on all this. Rather than simply opening up discussion, he is content to allow commentor after commentor not only deny PSA, but also consistently misrepresent it – making no distinction between the apparent “misunderstanding” of PSA and it’s true position.

I, and a number of others, challenged him on this and the result was quite interesting. You can read the exchange here, following on here. Do note how the argument being made is absolutely clear, and not least at all to the “Melbourne College of Divinity 5 year theology degree after graduating a Bachelor with philosophy & logic, and teaching diploma etc.” Bosco himself.

The New Testament clearly refers to Jesus in specific penal substitutionary language and affirms text that speak in that manner. So, as the example I gave, Peter says this:

1Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Peter is quite obviously quoting this text:

Isa. 53:4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

and telling us that it refers to Jesus. Of course, that may not be the original referent (although I think it is fairly obvious to any Christian reader that it is) but Peter tells us that it is a “New Testament” way to understand the text. Even in this diluted way of reading Isaiah, the point is utterly obvious – Isaiah 53 is about Jesus. But Bosco, who must surely know the implications of this simple argument for his campaign to undermine PSA, starts wriggling – there is no other word for it:

The identity, David, as I’m sure you know, of the servant in the Servant Poems first isolated by Duhm, is disputed. Israel, Israel under the name of Jacob, the prophet and his disciples, as contemplated by other Israelites or foreigners, or by the foreigner Cyrus

to which I make the following response

except, of course, the NT clearly identifies that one not least as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

1Pet. 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

The Apostle Peter thinks it refers to Jesus. What say you, Bosco?

What does Bosco say? Well it’s really hard to tell….

Yes, David, I’m quite comfortable with the way that 1 Peter uses that text. Blessings.

When I point out to him that he’s plainly avoided answering the difficult question he gets a bit upset. Wrathful, even, one might say. I get accused of “ad hominems” and the rest of it – this, remember, from the man who is quite happy to see people who hold my position referred to as “klingons” and “gory glory seekers”. What’s good for the goose is, apparently, no good for the gander. Or, in more simple language, the double standards are breathtaking.

But this, my friends, is always the way. A liberal puts up an attack on orthodoxy in the form of a “discussion”. They encourage all and sundry to affirm the position they are trying to promote. Then when somebody comes along and very simply shows how the argument won’t stand they dig in and accuse them of all sorts of name-calling etc. without at any time stopping those who agree with them from doing far worse.

And I trust, dear reader, you are also not blind to the fact all of this is interspersed with little throw-away suffixes of “blessings” and “Christ is risen”  – again this is the liberal way: make some “Christian” affirmation as though it will persuade us all that there is nothing but truth being propagated here. But nothing could be further from the truth. The liberal, particularly those in the Anglican Communion we are by now very familiar with, revels in such things – they even provide a supposed authenticity as though their constant repetition is somehow a badge of orthodoxy. That and liturgy. The liberals in the Anglican Communion are big fans of liturgy – again it is seen as authenticating.

And that was where I thought all of this was ended until a late commentor did us all a favour by showing just what sort of genuine “mental gymnastics” are required to sustain a denial of PSA:

God no doubt has very good reasons to be annoyed with most of us – in the ways in which we cripple the Good News of the Gospel by over-emphasising God’s righteous indignation.

However, one of the reasons God sent His Son into the world was to show forth in a human being the possibilities of redemption through loving-kindness – as opposed to that obtainable by adherence to The Law. Saint Paul emphasised this importance aspect of soteriology.

The closing reference to Paul is almost comedic. Why? Well consider these words from Paul:

Eph. 2:3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Paul makes is abundantly clear that we were all deserving of the wrath of God. But why? According to Fr Ron Smith it is because we “cripple … the Gospel by overemphasising God’s righteous indignation”. But what does Paul say the reason is? Well, immediately prior to v3 we read this…

Eph. 2:1    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

We are objects of God’s wrath because of our trangressions and sins, says the Apostle Paul. In other words, quite simply, God is angry at us because of our trangressions and sins. This is no extraordinary statement – it is the single overwhelming crisis laid out in the Scriptures from first page to last. The very first sin ever, in the Garden, leads to God’s anger against the first man and woman – against their sin. And it leads to the punishment of death. Again, that this theme courses through the Scriptures is surely uncontrovertible. You would have thought.

The solution to all this, the Scriptures teach, is that one dies in our place. The entire OT sacrificial system models this and then Jesus Himself comes and does it. He is no “abused child” and there is no “lashing out by God”, rather He chooses Himself to lay down His life (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). Those last two verses are stunning how they tell of the unity of purpose between Father and Son:

John 10:17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Father and Son act together. The Father does not force the Son, He lays down his life of His own accord with the authority given to Him by the Father and the Father loves Him for it. The atonement is therefore categorically not the Father against the Son but, rather, the Father acting with the Son. The Spirit is also involved,

Heb. 9:14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

The atonement is something that goes on within the Trinity, with it’s effects applied outside the Trinity to those who trust in the Son, by the power of the Spirit. Which makes the Cross the key to it all – no wonder that the Apostle Paul tells us he will speak of nothing else! But all this is laid aside by those like Peters who seek to undermine PSA. With that in mind, this last statement by Fr Ron Smith, as shocking as it is, should not surprise us:

However, one of the reasons God sent His Son into the world was to show forth in a human being the possibilities of redemption through loving-kindness – as opposed to that obtainable by adherence to The Law. Saint Paul emphasised this importance aspect of soteriology.

God the Father did not crucify Jesus. This horrendous task was attributable to sinful human beings – who mistook the redemptive mission of Jesus as being heretical, and contrary to what they perceived to be God’s Law.

It was the loving actions of Jesus towards known sinners that gave rise to his trial and death. He had rescued people from the due penalty of the Law, and for that he was crucified!

Now consider careful what is being argued here. Jesus rescued people from the due penalty of the Law by loving sinners. This love of sinners was seen in “redemption through loving-kindness”. And it was only because of this salvific action that He was crucified!

So, logically, the Cross (in the soteriology put forward by Fr Smith) does not save! Jesus saves people by loving them. And he is crucified for it. And then Smith has the gall to say that this is Pauline soteriology! Pauline! According to Paul it is the Cross that reconciles people to God (Eph. 2:16), reconciles all things by making peace through the blood of Jesus (Col. 1:20),  and cancels the charge of the Law (Col 2:14) – it is the Cross that saves! Something that Smith claims Jesus achieves purely by loving people. Smith’s soteriology is a mile away from Paul’s.

2 final thoughts.

First, to see Anglicans argue this way (especially Anglicans who are so keen to affirm their orthodoxy) is amazing. Here is the official Anglican position on the atonement set out in the Holy Communion prayer of consecration (also mirrored in Article XXXI):

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…

Again, it requires real “mental gymnastics” to read this other than as affirming PSA despite Peters’ protestations.

Second, it is very telling that Isaiah, in the great Servant Song of Isa. 52-53 that we have referred to, has this to say:

Is. 53:1    Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

Indeed, some people just don’t get it and refuse to believe it. Isaiah writes about the great saving work of the Servant and the New Testament affirms to us that Jesus is being spoken of. But some simply will not accept that this is the “arm of the LORD” at work.

Isa. 53:10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

There it is in black and white. It’s about Jesus, the New Testament reminds us. And yet there are men and women out there who fight hard to deny it. They are not by any means passive in their opposition – pastors of the church of God, they seek to deny the work of Christ on the Cross.

The Apostle Paul (he of the soteriology) picks up on the opening “wisdom” language of Isaiah’s song (Isa. 52:13) when he writes,

1Cor. 1:18    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

You want to know who is truly foolish or wise? Look at how they speak about the Cross and what they teach it does or does not achieve.

Or then again, just accept their simple affirmations that they are “creedal”. But we’ve been there before

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This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Neil Atwood

    Nice summary David! Will be praying for your ongoing discussion with Bosco and co.

  2. David Ould

    sadly, Neil, Bosco is no longer allowing my comments through moderation. It was to be expected. I can’t blame him for wanting to avoid the difficult arguments

  3. Non Anglican

    I have no interest whatsoever in siding with Bosco. I agree with your exegetical critiques of his argument. I do, however, think that there is something deficient with your own account of God’s wrath in relation to God’s love. The deficiency lies in your account of God’s unity. You speak of the Father and the Son as two different agents who act with a unity of purpose. You say the atonement happens *within* the Trinity. I know you don’t mean to say what follows, but it follows nonetheless: “reconciliation happens within the Trinity”. If atonement/reconciliation is something that occurs inside of God’s life, then (a) God’s life is composed of multiple agents and (b) these agents somehow have some distance between them that must be overcome through a united purpose. So despite your disavowal, your language of atonement happening inside of God’s life and then being appropriated outward does seem to bring us to the point of a “Father against Son”. If it does not bring us to a Father against Son, it at least brings us to a place where God’s anger comes into conflict with God’s wrath and the members of the Trinity have to work out God’s own inner-conflict.

    I do not think you are wholly on the wrong track, here. However, I would propose two amendments to your conception of the atonement that would, I believe, preserve what’s correct emphasis on penal substitutionary atonement, but avoid pitting God against God. Both amendments are applications of a stronger, more classically orthodox conception of divine unity: not a unity of purpose, but divine *simplicity*.

    Divine simplicity means that there can be no composition in God. There are no parts. So while the biblical story of salvation requires us to speak of three “persons”, these are not three separate agents that somehow add up to God. The term “person” has never meant what modern psychology means by it. There are three in God, but these three are ontologically one–not just one in unity of purpose. No father or the church (ancient or Reformed) has argued that there are multiple wills in God. There is one will in God. I fear you, like most in the last century, may have fallen into thinking of God along social Trinitarian lines.

    If the Father, Son, and Spirit are ontologically one and so God has only one will. God cannot be divided in his will toward humanity. Further, if divine simplicity means that God is not composed of parts, then God just is God’s love. And–yes, God just is God’s wrath. We have to think of some way to say that God, who does not change, and who does not have parts, and who cannot be divided against himself–can be present in the world to some as love and to some as wrath. The best way is with a robust, Christologically centred supralapsarian conception of election that links up with the atonement. In the fall *all* of humanity falls under the rejection of God–becomes something which God does not will, and therefore experiences existence and God even as destruction. But the amazing thing is that the Triune God has not changed his one will of love toward humanity and therefore his love–which would be there even if there were no sin–takes the form of a self-emptying. God takes rejection and reprobation upon himself when God becomes man. God fully enters into what it means to be rejected and dies a sinner’s death. God so fully enters Godforsakenness that it is no longer Godforsakenness–the way light enters and vanquishes darkness. And so Jesus Christ rises from the dead.

    Jesus Christ is the one elected to be rejected on our behalf. Through being united to Him by the Holy Spirit, we are raised up with him and participate in the vanquishing light that has come into the world.

    1. David Ould

      Thanks for the detailed reply. I see that (in follow-up to your earlier comment on another thread!) there’s a clear Barthian strand in your thinking. Appreciate you setting it all out so clearly.
      I think we disagree on the issue of wills. I’d say that there is no need to conflate the wills of the Father and Son (and, of course, the Spirit). So we acknowledge and affirm together that they are of one will and yet the Son does speak clearly in Gethsemane of His own will and His desire to conform it to the Father’s will. So I think we need to maintain that tension.

      As for atonement happening “within” the Trinity I fear you may have over-read what I’m saying. Nevertheless, it remains that the Father’s wrath requires satisfaction (if we are going to use the language of the song that’s the initial point of debate) and yet the Godhead achieve this just and gracious satisfaction within their own internal life.

      Please don’t read too much into exactly which pronouns I used – just trying to express it.

      Really appreciate you taking the time to engage in this way.

      1. Non Anglican

        Thanks, David. I came across your blog just yesterday and enjoyed looking around. Pardon my anonymity!

        1. David Ould

          glad to have you here! I have no real issue with anonymity, unless it’s used to anonymise hostility in which case it won’t get past moderation.

          Interesting to hear from you how a slightly different perspective on intra-Trinitarian relationships (in this case with a Barthian flavour) effect these discussions.

  4. Non Anglican

    *God’s anger comes into conflict with God’s love [first paragraph]

  5. Phillip West

    ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.’ Rom 3:23-26

    thanks for this post I really enjoyed it

  6. Melissa

    I used to belong to a Christian Forums online. Being sick and at home a lot I wanted some encouragement. Well I found you ended up arguing and debating a lot of the time. Not saying I wasn’t encuraged or had prayer support. There are always mature Christians who will come beside you when they see you are having a hard time and I really appreciate those with whom I have had such Godly and Edifying conversations both on the forum and in private.

    Recently I realised how my time and energy was taken up by debates often started by those on our forums who where more Liberal in their Biblical interpretations or they were obviously Not Christian. One common technique they would use is to join and ask a few supposedly “I’m new to this Christian stuff what is meant by…?” Kind of questions and they would alway be on controversial topics and these people who started the thread will disappear while Christians argued amongst themselves and if the Moderators were quick to respond they would NIP it in the Bud but unfortunately on some forums these debates would go on and on the same ground would be covered. Agree to disagree and walk away is unfortunately not what some hardened posters will do and you will find until the thread is closed it will continue.

    What has this got to do with Bosco Peter’s? You can spend a lot of time and energy and in the end not achieved a witness for the Lord but instead to those reading your exchanges it could look to the immature Believer or the Non-Believer that you are just two people having a full on theological debate and you may think buried in your academic theological answers is some sort of Gospel message. I know as a TAFE teacher (in the past) KISS is the best method because it makes sure all understand what you are trying to teach them or the message you are trying to convey.

    My Bible Study Leader has an excellent saying.

    A man convinced against His Will is of the same opinion Still.

    I have left the Forums and kept the personal email addresses of a few people with whom I continue to fellowship. I’ve learned to not give away my valuable time arguing the same topic over and over again and seeing the same results.

    I have prayed and asked God to give me daily opportunities to witness to the Lost and being Bed Ridden with Chronic sicknesses you would think that would be a challenge. Not with the Lord.

    I love to sing, have done so since I was a child and joined my school choir that took me through to a Professional Singing career (cut short by lots of ear nose and throat problems). However after years of illness my voice has been restored and I once again have been able to sing well, re-training my voice at the moment and using ONLY Hymns (I want to wroship the Lord and witness to Him). I have had a passer by (I was watering my front garden & singing) ask me what I am singing as Hymns are not well known today outside of Christian Circles. Gospel presenting opportunity.

    I even let those pesky Sales callers to give me their sales pitch BUT on the priviso I get to share something with them first. I have a two minute gospel down pat these days. I pay for it by listening to their sales pitch. I pray for them that they might come to know Jesus.

    I don’t waste my time with theological debating any longer. It will suck all your energy and distract you from what is more important and that is to get the gospel to those who will listen and that is the best we can do. Leave the Heretics to themselves. If they don’t come into your Church or on your forum or on your Blog let them be. The Book of Jude clearly states what is waiting for them.

    You can’t unfortunately stop the actively open heretics, Jesus told us there would be many. Just try and not let them sit at your dinner table. Even that is hard to do as the Bible also sheds light on tares having been sown amongst the wheat and the Master told the servants don’t pull them up but leave them until the harvest and they will be separated out from the wheat and burnt.

    Besides who will follow those with wrong teaching? Those who desire what these men and women preach. The Lord’s sheep know His voice and will not follow another.

    I see these people as time wasters. I pray for the Lord to open their spiritual eyes to His Truth and leave them with Him. If you are in Ministry then tend to God’s flock given to you and don’t waste too much of your precious time elsewhere because Satan is happy to distract you from your main service to the Lord. Satan is happy for us to engage in endless debates because we then don’t have time to concentrate on the Gospel Opportunities that God can bring by your way. If you are glued to the computer you don’t get out to the garden and sing Hymns. That is what I have found. This piece of wonderful technology gets turned off regularly so I can be avialable to serve God in the capacity He has given me.

    I fell into the trap of being too glued to my computer. I hope this helps others who might be in the same trap. Do neglect other things you can be doing by being too long on your computers. Choose what you think you need to attend to and ignore the rest. Pray about it, God’s Spirit will guide you.

    God Bless

  7. Theodore A Jones

    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13 He is not referencing the OT written code nor does he endorse or support the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

    1. David Ould

      hi Theodore,

      I’m afraid I don’t quite understand what point you’re trying to make. Perhaps you could flesh out your argument a little more?

  8. Lucy

    Thank you for this post David, and for your posts on Bosco’s blog. You argue well and you don’t cross the line into nastiness. Someone needed to say it! I know I’m just an anonymous person on the internet and my opinions don’t matter much, but you have my respect. (And when I saw you were a Sydney Anglican, my respect for them only increased too. Maybe I’ll have to move to Australia.)

    1. David Ould

      thanks for the kind words, Lucy. This is quite an old post! How did you stumble across it?

      1. Lucy

        Well actually I stumbled across Bosco’s blog post when I was looking for something else related to Anglican church affairs in New Zealand, and then I saw you posting in the discussion and thought that you were making good points and that he was wrong to accuse you of wilfully offending him instead of responding to your arguments. I hadn’t heard of you before then but I’ve read some more of your blog today and I like what I see 🙂

        1. David Ould

          thanks Lucy. Glad you can be here.

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