Monday, 14 March 2011

Is Penal Substitution an act of 'Cosmic Child-Abuse'?

No other understanding of what happened at Calvary seems to get people as worked-up as that of Penal Substitution (that Jesus died in our place taking the punishment we deserve).  This may be because it pictures God as being a character of wrath.  Yet the wrath of God is a consistent Biblical theme (Leon Morris estimates that more than 630 passages of the Old and New Testament are concerned with this issue).

But what about the claim that this understanding looks like 'cosmic child-abuse'?  Roger Nicole writes:
It should be emphasized that the biblical and evangelical view of reconciliation is far removed from the grotesque caricature too frequently made of God the Father: full of vengeful fury against the poor helpless sinner, he desists from his insatiable hatred only because of the interposition and vicarious suffering of a third party, Jesus Christ.  Needless to say, it is easy to resent such a God and to call him a 'dirty bully'.  The fact is, however, that informed evangelicals have never advocated such a view; it represents, rather, a misrepresentation of the evangelical position by uninformed liberals.  Conservatives have always stressed the love of the Triune God as basic to reconciliation: this love is the moving cause rather than the effect or product of Christ's atoning work.  This reconciliation, however, is not accomplished in defiance of the eternal perfections of God - his justice, holiness, immutability, sovereignty; rather the fact that these, as well as divine love, are seen in their most challenging expression at the Cross is what constitutes the triumph of the resourcefulness of grace.  Furthermore, we must recognize that in Christ we face not a 'third party' who has come to effect peace between warring factions, but God himself, who bears the full burden of man's sin and provides the full cost of the reconciliation he wishes to ensure.  To introduce a disjunction between the Father and the Son in this matter is to do violence to the work of Christ and to undermine the significance of the unity of the Godhead in the Trinity.

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