Saving Easter – part two

Saving_EasterThis is continuation of my series about Easter and the atonement. If you haven’t done so already, please read part one first. It will provide a helpful context for our continued discussion here.

This post is almost supplemental or parenthetical to the main subject at hand, but would be good to talk about before we go further, so I will call it part two.

I would like to talk about our “pair of glasses.” What I mean is our paradigm. It’s the lens by which we interpret everything, including Scripture. I wrote about that here.

Another way of looking at interpretation would be like drinking water through a garden hose. While the water itself may be pure, it will still taste a little like the hose.

We’re all drinking through a garden hose, we all have our glasses on. It not only affects how we interpret Scripture, but how we interpret life and solve problems. For instance, a carpenter sees the solution to problems with a hammer and saw, a lawyer with writ of law, a scientist by conducting experiments.

How is this relevant to our discussion about the atonement? Well, because there are several theories of atonement, not just one. They are called theories because there is no way to conclusively prove which theory of atonement is correct. While they all have their strong points, they all have their problems.

This is why we must take care not to get too dogmatic or combative about opposing views. In the end, God is always right and we’re all in His family. 🙂

For instance, every single passage that supports  Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA), or the earlier Satisfaction theory, can be understood in at least two different ways. What you read into these verses all depend on which “glasses” you have on.  I will show this when we look at some of them in the future.

But what makes my job harder here is that PSA theory has dominated the Western church for 500 years. You would be hard pressed to find a Bible school or seminary in the United States that doesn’t teach PSA as THE doctrine of atonement.

These “satisfaction” assumptions that we bring into our reading of Scripture are so deeply embedded in our thinking that it’s tempting to just dismiss or, worse, treat any opposing view as heresy. (No change there in church history!)

While I fully understand the difficulty I’m facing, it’s still a very worthy task for the reasons I will discuss in this series.

I want to be very clear at this point that I’m not dogmatic in my particular view of the atonement. And I do NOT have a problem at all with someone holding to the PSA view.  I believe there is much to gain from all positions on the atonement.

The point of all of this is that we should be mindful of the fact that whenever we look at a doctrinal position, read commentaries, use lexicons and Bible dictionaries, even read various Bible translations, we are looking through the particular lens of those editors and translators, perhaps even looking through the paradigm of the culture they come from.

While the original Scripture text, in the original language, is the inspired and infallible Word of God, the translations aren’t necessarily inspired. Something does get lost in the translation. Even with the original text we still need inspired understanding. After all, Paul said our glasses are pretty dim (1 Cor.13:12).

This doesn’t mean we can’t know the truth, it means we need spiritual discernment, do our homework and, above all, have lots of love and grace for one another.

Furthermore, I believe truth has a flavor. It’s multifaceted and even relational. Like the garden hose, certain aspects of a truth may be emphasized during specific times that aren’t necessarily wrong, just better understood that way at that time.

Let’s briefly look at the PSA “paradigm” in this light.

In the 16th century, John Calvin took Anselm’s Satisfaction theory model and turned it into the more legalistic Penal Substitution view of the atonement that we all know very well today.

It should not be lost on us that Calvin was a trained lawyer, or that the religious culture he was immersed in was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and Roman jurisprudence.

I don’t mean this in derogatory way, only to show how he and his contemporaries might “see” Scripture more legalistically than someone without that discipline. We can simply look at the Eastern church to see this because they developed a very different view of atonement.

Through my glasses…

Of course, I also have a lens by which I view Scripture. Here’s my interpretative lens and why I don’t embrace doctrinal theories like PSA.

I see all Scripture through the interpretative lens of Love and the finished work of the Cross. Any doctrine that contradicts this needs adjustment in my view.

I reject any doctrine that makes the Father different than Jesus.  Scripture reveals Jesus Christ as the exact representation of God. Everything Jesus did perfectly expressed His Father’s heart for mankind. Whatever is not like Jesus, including how He interfaced with sinners, is not like the Father either.

PSA contradicts what I believe to be the biblical view of a loving Father. It makes Him more like the angry pagan gods who must be appeased or we will be punished.

PSA focuses on retributive justice instead of forgiveness. As I pointed out last time, these two concepts are mutually exclusive.

I do believe that God is just, but His justice is restorative rather than punitive.

PSA gives a ritualistic view of Christ’s sacrifice; I see it more as a heroic sacrifice. His sacrifice was not to appease an angry God, it was a rescue mission!

While PSA does pardon our sin, it doesn’t adequately deal with our sin nature. It makes us legally right with God but not transformed. We’re just a pardoned criminal, a saved sinner. Our sin nature is still very much intact when Scripture says it was crucified with Christ.

PSA does not deal with our identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Jesus not only died for us, He died as us. We died and our life is now hidden in Christ. This is the very center of Christianity in my view.

The incarnation of Christ is not emphasized in PSA because the main purpose is seen as an offering for sin with little or no emphasis on Jesus being the prototype or “first fruit” of a new creation. As Jesus is, so are we in this world.

PSA doesn’t emphasize how the incarnation, death and resurrection was the necessary means to bring us into the eternal fellowship between the Father, Son and Spirit. This purpose is practically unknown in Christianity today. I demonstrated this point here.

PSA places no emphasis on Jesus’ ministry of healing the sick and settings captives free from Satan’s bondage. His ministry not only defined salvation (rescue, healing, liberation, wholeness), but it’s inextricably linked to the purpose of the atonement.

Finally , NO one in church history taught PSA or a satisfaction theory for over 1,000 years! So, if I have to choose a theory of atonement, I choose to stand on the solid ground of the early church fathers closest to the Source.

But the primary reason I don’t embrace PSA is because it makes the Godhead conflicted and shows the Father in the wrong light. I did a whole series on the different ways we do this here.

Next time, I will take a look at a couple of Scriptures that seem to argue for PSA.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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13 Responses to Saving Easter – part two

  1. waltsamp says:

    Jesus is described as the Lamb of God about 30 times in the book of Revelation. This name means, in the biblical context, that He was a sacrifice. In the Old Testament sacrifices were offered to God for the forgiveness of sins. The sacrifices were accepted by God for that purpose because of God’s love and mercy, not that they were sufficient to cover the offense against God but that God chose to make it so. Everything changed when Jesus became the sacrifice. Now the offering was sufficient and exclusive. The sacrifice was sufficient for all humanity always but only available to those who had faith in the Lamb as the Son of God. Judgment comes upon people when they reject God’s kindness. It is then He becomes angry. It is not because they are flawed and unable to avoid sin or because they do not follow His rules.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate you bringing these points up. I would probably need several posts to answer all of them, but will be as brief as I can here.
      – Jesus was indeed described metaphorically as the Lamb of God, pointing back to the Old Covenant sacrifices. But there is where the similarity ends.
      – The purpose of the OT sacrifice was obedience and faith toward God (Psalm 51:17). OT sacrifices were to show how sinful sin is. They did NOT take away sins. Sins were overlooked until Jesus’ sacrifice (Rom.3:25).
      – If the sacrifices themselves would’ve forgiven sin like Jesus’ sacrifice, God would not be able to reject their sacrifice when they gave them with a disobedient heart (See Isa.1:11-13; 43:23; Jer.6:20). This, again, points to the purpose of OT sacrifices being obedience rather than the ritual itself.
      – The animal sacrifices never made anyone righteous, nor could they ever take away sins (Heb.9:9; 10:11). In fact, they only reminded us of our sin and heightened our sinfulness (Rom.7:5; Heb.10:3).

      Contrast this to Jesus’ sacrifice, who took our sin away in His body and buried it forever. As Romans 8:3 says, God condemned sin in the flesh, not man. It was sin itself that was condemned. Paul taught that sin is a foreign body (“body of sin”), like a disease that doesn’t belong to you, in Romans 6 through 8, and other places. Sin is the disease Adam contracted from his disobedience in the Garden. Jesus’ blood is the antidote!
      I will show in another post that it was man’s wrath and anger that Jesus suffered, not His Father’s. Man’s wrath was the cup of suffering that Jesus took, the same cup He said that James and John would also bear (Matt.20:20-23). They certainly did experience man’s wrath in their lifetime.

      People were never lost because they couldn’t follow the rules; the rules (Law) only proved that they were lost. They were ONLY saved by believing the promises of God by faith. And this was true, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul makes this point throughout his epistles.

  2. Lance says:

    Mel you are a rock star. Thanks for blazing the trail. Precious words of powerful revelation. USA today repost!!! Come on all things are possible…you know the rest.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Haha…thanks. More like trudging through mountainous snowdrifts in a blizzard, but I’m used to really bad weather where I come from so we will do it joyfully. Springtime is coming! 🙂

  3. paulfg says:

    “Another way of looking at interpretation would be like drinking water through a garden hose. While the water itself may be pure, it will still taste a little like the hose.”

    And if no one offers an alternative, then we will go to our grave espousing that taste as the only taste water can have. Being “told” to take the hose off the tap? Then the flavour of the pipes. Different by still “pipey”. So back to the source? And that flavour depends on where in the world the rocks and climate and seasons allow. Yet water is still water. So why do we fight about the “best flavour”?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen, Paul. They are all flavors. The best we can say about atonement theory is that we have a strong opinion about which “flavor” is right. Actually, the Eastern Orthodox would argue against using the word, “atonement” at all! They look at Christ’s work on the cross as redemptive (rescue, restoration, healing), whereas the word “atonement” technically means “Satisfaction for a wrong or an injury.” While I espouse the broader definition of atonement (any reason why Christ had to die in order to bring us back to God), I don’t agree if we go with the technical definition. So I would agree with the Eastern Orthodox view of redemption here, even though I’m not Eastern Orthodox myself.

      This is why true Christian unity in the body of Christ CANNOT be based on doctrinal agreement. It must be based on what Jesus based it on, being held in the Father’s love and our love for one another (John 13:35; 17:21-26). We all have something to learn from every part of His body. We’re not quibbling orphans competing for affection. We are beloved sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.

  4. bullroarin says:

    I really like how you have brought this altogether Mel. And of course you’re right, we quibble about every thing that can be quibbled like it really matters somehow…and I suppose with the Old Testament covenant “of sin and death” it did matter because we had our part to play in that covenant. If we broke our part we were on the hook for a few curses no less. The good news however, is that the New Covenant of grace is not made between the Father and just any man. Its made between the Father and the Son and sealed in the blood of Jesus and therefore can never be broken. They were working together to save man and all man has to do is believe! It kind of takes the pressure off because we are the beneficiaries of something wonderful that is already complete…no work is involved, and no one can boast.

    Keep the good word coming, Mel…I like your quibbles! 🙂

    ~ Dave

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Dave. Relationship in Christ trumps doctrinal agreement in the Kingdom. God was always primarily relational (Father and Son and Spirit) but, under the Old Covenant, this was totally unheard of. It was about the rules. In the Old Testament, God is mentioned as Israel’s father a couple of times, metaphorically speaking, but NEVER as OUR Father. Jesus said He was His Father, and our Father, over 250 times! Almost 200 times in John’s writings alone. That’s why the Pharisees wanted to stone Him. Yet, under the New Covenant, we can freely say that He’s our Father, because we’re not orphans anymore (John 14:18).

      Furthermore, we’re not known nor do we show we know God by being right but by whether we love (1 John 3:10, 14).. We’re not under “the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones” (2 Cor.3:7), but we’re His sons and daughters under His scandalous grace. It’s actually GOOD news. Imagine that! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Saving Easter – part three | In My Father's House

  6. “Scripture reveals Jesus Christ as the exact representation of God. Everything Jesus did perfectly expressed His Father’s heart for mankind.” Amen to this, Mel. Best apologetic statement ever!
    I’m just getting to this series today, and I’m so glad. Agree with you totally. My lens has never seen God as anything but Love. Thankful for this uplifting word from you.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Susan. As Bill Johnson says, “Jesus Christ is perfect theology.” Everything in theology must start there. Your encouraging comments are always appreciated. 🙂 Blessings.

      • Mel, this series today was the best Good Friday service I could ever have attended. Bless you.

      • Mel Wild says:

        🙂 And that’s about the most encouraging comment I could ever receive about this series! Thanks again, Susan. Have a very blessed Easter weekend.
        Btw, I just released part six. The final installment on Easter morning. 🙂

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