Continuing my series on the book "Pierced For Our Transgressions" after 9 previous posts I have reached the Introduction. Wow.
I have already commented in 42: PFOT: Use of Language on the way the introduction attempts to marginalise those who do not accept Penal Substitution (PS) and the way many other views are presented as supporting PS.
There is captivating beauty in the sacrificial love of a God who gave himself for his people.
Sure there is. But at least to me sacrificial love is not penal substitution. Sacrifice is not the same as substitution nor sacrificial love the same as punishment for sin.
That the Lord Jesus Christ died for us – a shameful death, bearing our curse, enduring our pain, suffering the wrath of his own Father in our place – has been the wellspring of the hope of countless Christians throughout the ages.
But what about all he Christians for whom the cross has been a wellspring of hope without the need for PS or the wrath of God? Now with a small edit notice how much more powerful and inclusive it becomes
That the Lord Jesus Christ died for us and was raised from the dead by God has been the wellspring of the hope of all Christians
throughout the ages.
It seems to me that would be (with some little work) a statement that just about all Christians would be able to adopt. As a statement it does not deny PS, it should be acceptable (even recognising it does not take in everything they believe, but they believe all of it) to even the most ardent PS supporter. It also brings in the resurrection which I believe to be pretty important (typical English understatement there).
As I reflect on this view of the well spring of hope, I am reminded of how the cross acts most powerfully in my life. It is something that I learnt in theory by reading Johann Moltmann "The Crucified God" and in practice through the death of my Mum and the care of my Dad until he died nearly 4 months later. The theory and the practice happened at the same time.
After that reminder I wondered how PFOT responds to Moltmann’s understanding of the cross, so I looked him up in the names index. Nothing there.
Now you know me, I am no great systematic theologian. But I can speak of how Moltmann’s understanding of the cross provided me with the insights I needed to get through that time and the time since. Talk of God punishing his son gives me nothing when I am suffering, it gives me nothing to say to someone going through the pain of bereavement, the suffering of cancer, the desperation of marriage breakdown, the hurt and despair of abuse, … But the message of an
"event of divine suffering in which Jesus suffers dying in abandonment by his Father and the Father suffers in grief the death of his Son. As such it is the act of divine solidarity with the godforsaken world, in which the Son willingly surrenders himself in love for the world and the Father willingly surrenders his Son in love for the world. Because at the point of their deepest separation, the Father and the Son are united in their love for the world, the event which separates them overcomes the godforsakenness of the world."
from "The Theology of Jurgen Moltmann" by Richard Bauckham (T&T Clark, 1996) p12
Where does that leave suffering?
"In Moltmann’s understanding, the cross does not solve the problem of suffering, but meets it with the voluntary fellow suffering of love. Solidarity in suffering – in the first place, the crucified God’s solidarity with all who suffer, and, in consequence, also his followers’ identification with the suffering – does not abolish suffering, but it does overcome what Moltmann calls ‘the suffering in suffering’: the lack of love, the abandonment in suffering. Moreover, such solidarity, so far from promoting fatalistic submission to suffering, necessarily includes love’s protest against the infliction of suffering on those it loves. It leads believers through their solidarity with the suffering into liberating praxis"
from "The Theology of Jurgen Moltmann" by Richard Bauckham (T&T Clark, 1996) p12,13
This speaks directly to my experience during suffering and allows me to minister to those who are suffering today. As I wrote that I was concerned that by writing about how critical I find the cross when encountering suffering that I was writing about the chapter on pastoral care too soon. So I checked and there is nothing in chapter 4 on Pastoral Care about suffering. In fact suffering is not even in the index.
Now even under PS surely we encounter a God who suffers when we encounter Jesus on the cross. Surely that has some relevance to pastoral care, if we are not caring for those who suffer then what on earth are we doing?
I am seriously struggling at this point with the point of this. Why go on with PFOT when I know that at the lowest point in my life, when I had withdrawn from everything, when I was completely broken, at that point a cross on which my saviour was punished by God had nothing whatsoever to say to me. Yet at that same point, the same cross (on which my Lord, my Saviour suffered out of love for me and which my Father grieved and suffered over his son) gave me comfort, strength and hope.
For me only one view of the cross led to life at the worst time of my life and it was not PS.
I do not deny that for some people the description of God punishing Jesus for our sins may give them hope. But it did not for me. So when PFOT says:
p21 "that believers will be robbed of their assurance and preachers
will be robbed of their confidence in ‘the old, old story’ of the
transforming power of the cross".
I need the supporters of PS to hear me say that denying PS and embracing the Christ who suffered out of love for me is what gave (and gives) me assurance and confidence in ‘the old, old story’ of the
transforming power of the cross. This view of the cross (and I treasure other views too) has not robbed Christ of his glory but made that glory real, relevant and larger than ever for me.
I guess that in Methodist terms this makes for Orthopathy (see "The New Creation: John Wesley’s theology today" by Theodore Runyon where Orthopathy is defined as right feeling or experience which is needed with orthodoxy [right thinking] and orthopraxy [right action]).
H’mm, I think that is enough about the first page of the introduction.