Category Archives: Pierced for our Transgressions

Pierced for our Transgressions: Review

For a while (3 months) I wrote a fair bit on Pierced for our Transgressions.

However, via the referral log for 42 I have found an absolutely excellent review of the book. So please go and read Notions Incognito: Pierced for our Transgressions: a critique – Part 1 and Notions Incognito: Pierced for our Transgressions: a critique – Part 2 for a vert clear and detailed review of the book and the arguments presented within it.

Oh and you might also enjoy Theo Geek: Pierced for our transgressions arrives unless you are easily offended.

Both blogs now added to my blogroll.

Hat tip to Peter for a comment that someone clicked that led me to these posts. Oh and he did write about the posts before in Speaker of Truth » Kiwis respond to “Pierced for Our Transgressions” but I must have missed that.

PFOT and Ephesians 2:11-22

I am preaching on Ephesians 2: 11-22 in a few hours. After I had prepared that service I was thinking of the sad difference between the Bible and the frenetic supporters of Penal Substitution (who uncritically love Pierced for our Transgressions).

In this passage we hear how Christ has broken down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. How Jesus has brought them both near to God and brought peace between them. How he set aside the law and put to death their hostility.

We hear how we are invited to be fellow citizens with God’s people and part of his household.  How we are being built together into a temple.

This is one of 1,000′s of wonderful passages from Scripture that demonstrate how God includes people and how Jesus broke down human made barriers (and still does).

Fantastic! Wow! What a wonderful God we worship and serve!!!!

But so often we are not satisfied. The wall that kept gentiles out of the temple may have been destroyed but we keep building new ones. PFOT is another attempt to build a wall to keep those who do not believe the "right" things out. Sadly the supporters go even further. Instead of seeing the revolutionary inclusion that Jesus taught, died and rose again for, they see the need for division and exclusion.

Of the conservative blogs that I can cope with reading (too many is just too depressing) Adrian Warnock has been a champion of this division and exclusion. His recent play with words that attempts to call a spade an apple to dodge the charge of cursing those who do not accept penal substitution as the centre of the gospel just continues to dig the hole.

As you build walls higher and higher you can see less and less. You can interact with people on the other side of the walls less and less. Your view of the sky becomes smaller and smaller. You become cut off from the world. As you will notice from the comments on Adrians posts and from many of the linked posts many are rejoicing in the building of walls and the harsher the language the happier they are.

I challenge this view of the gospel. I challenge the mindset that

  • fears others
  • builds walls rather than bridges
  • celebrates God’s wrath rather than his love
  • curses those that disagree rather than loves & forgives
  • ignores grace
  • believes in Salvation by correct thinking
  • ignores Christian history
  • denies the faith of the majority of Christians in the world
  • that will not read anything they do not agree with

these things are not worthy of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, our Saviour.

If we take that mindset how would we have written John 3:16? "For God so loved the world that …". One thing that we can be sure of is that it would not have read "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that
whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Jesus says believe in me and you will not perish but have eternal life. Believe in him! Follow him.

I am just wondering how different our lives would be if all these enthusiastic Christians started tearing down the walls and started being part of the same temple (the one in Ephesians 2:19-22). How differently the world would see Jesus if we focused on him as the bridge between us and God & each other rather than building walls between us and God & each other.

Please join me in praying for Christian unity. Not uniformity, not some bland blend but a unity built on Christ where the walls come tumbling down and where his Kingdom is revealed.

Oh and you can pray for a larger dose of grace in me so that I don’t get so wound up by people cursing me. It might help avoid ulcers in the future :-)

PFOT: Atonement in History

Two great posts

These should be required reading for anyone tempted to take at face value the claims in Pierced for our Transgressions (PFOT) that the Church Fathers taught Penal Substitution.

Note that I could not have written either of these being woefully ignorant of the writings of the Church Fathers. So many thanks to Andrew.

PFOT: New Acronym FOPSA

I have just invented an important new acronym. FOPSA. The meaning is obvious.

Full-On Penal Substitution Atonement.

To be a FOPSA you need to demonstrate a commitment to Penal Substitution as the central and vital heart of the Christian gospel. You may do this in a number of ways and we have seen many of them in posts (some of which I have linked to), in comments here and many other blogs and in books such as Pierced For Our Transgressions.

Ok, maybe the term FOPSA may not catch on. However, I am trying to make a serious point. It seems to me that we are seeing a rise in aggressive support for Penal Substitution as the critical way to understand atonement, and not just atonement but everything about the gospel.

I do not believe that the arguments raging about Penal Substitution are about traditional understandings of Penal Substitution such as are articulated in scholarly works on the subject from the past. Instead the arguments are with FOPSA.

The question is not "Is Penal Substitution as traditionally understood and taught valid?" but "Is FOPSA valid?"

I started thinking about this in 42: PFOT Being changed by Penal Substitution, since then I have been thinking more.

The position of FOPSA advocates seems reasonably clear. PSA is the most important thing that we have to believe (at least that is how I understand Adrian’s series and the Coffee and Bible Club blog) it is absolutely vital and central to everything that the gospel is.

In my post 42: PFOT Being changed by Penal Substitution I described a number of aspects of my faith which appear incompatible with FOPSA. You cannot believe both. Therefore, either all these beliefs are wrong or FOPSA is taking PSA too far.

FOPSA and Christian Pacifism are incompatible.

I am clearly not alone in finding this. I invite supporters of FOPSA (ideally who are also Christian Pacifists) to explain how these are not incompatible.

My understanding is that Christian Pacifism was universal until the time Augustine. If FOPSA is incompatible with the standard teaching and position of the whole Christian Church for the first few hundred years of it’s existence then how can it be correct?

There are many texts in the gospels and rest of  the new testament teaching non-violence. These make a strong case for pacifism. How can the Bible be demanding full and total commitment to FOPSA while demanding an incompatible pursuit of pacifism.

FOPSA and Masculine Christianity

I fully accept Pam’s comment that not all PSA supporters are against women in ministry and that PSA does not demand discrimination against women and others. However, I do see a very high correlation between FOPSA advocates and those who campaign

Do FOPSA advocates speak with one voice on these issues? Where are women speaking as FOPSA advocates? Where are women pastors of FOPSA Churches? …

Conclusion PSA is not why FOPSA struggle to recognise me as Evangelical.

I now do not think it is because of PSA that Adrian and other FOPSA advocates struggle with the idea that I consider myself an evangelical. After all I have said (in 42: PFOT: My starting position on Penal Substitution):

value Penal Substitution as one theory of atonement within a range of
theories that have been considered orthodox teaching within the
Christian Church, while recognising that different groups within the
Christian Church have different views on various theories of atonement
and that there is not total agreement (and probably never has been). I
do believe that there is potential for penal substitution to teach us
something about the cross and about God.

I suspect that a key problem for FOPSA advocates is that they cannot understand how you can be Evangelical and a pacifist. They do not believe you can be an Evangelical and not stand for their idea of masculine Christianity.

Whereas, I do not see how I can be anything but a Pacifist, Egalitarian, Evangelical in the Methodist tradition. If these things are incompatible with FOPSA then I cannot accept FOPSA.

In a comment on The Coffee Bible Club Blog: Mark my words I have pointed out the dangers of a world view that sees everyone polarised to the extremes. FOPSA is a polarising view that seeks an understanding based on extremist all or nothing, as such I reject it.

PFOT: Substitution or Penal Substitution?

It seems to me that a common feature of the vocal support for penal substitution (and it is seen a lot in Pierced For Our Transgressions) is to take Biblical texts that describe the atonement and interpret them as supporting only penal substitution. It is true that some support substitution. However, it seems to me that many of these do not require penal substitution (not even substitution) as a model of atonement.

Take this recent post by Adrian The Atonement – Romans 6-7 and Penal Substitutionary Atonement. I do not understand why Adrian believes this text requires penal substitution.

I do agree with him when he says:

note the link Paul makes between Jesus’ resurrection and our empowerment to bear fruit for God.

but these texts point to issues common to all theories of atonement eg

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body
of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be
enslaved to sin

says nothing about Jesus being punished for this to happen, it says nothing about a legal justice transaction. Also it seems strange that in

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ,

Paul is writing about Christians having died to the law. That seems an unlikely argument for a legal understanding of the cross.

PFOT Being changed by Penal Substitution

I could not sleep for a while when I went to bed after writing 42: PFOT: The Introduction and 42: PFOT: Reflections on God’s Wrath. Why? Well I was thinking about a comment I wrote on the Coffee Bible Club Blog a few days ago. I wrote:

"Of course if through my searching (eg reading PFOT) I discover the Bible does teach that PSA is decisive over all other models then I will accept that." Link: The Coffee Bible Club Blog: Mark my words.

You may remember that I first found and linked to the Coffee Bible Club blog in 42: Aarrgghhh!

So what about this was keeping me awake? Well I started to worry about whether I was being entirely honest. Am I really open to the possibility of a switch to full on Penal Substitution if PFOT convinces me?

So here I want to acknowledge that I may have been over optimistic in my assertion that I would accept PSA as decisive over all other models of atonement if I discover the Bible does teach that. Now that needs to be read in the light of 42: PFOT: My starting position on Penal Substitution. So it is not that I deny Penal Substitution now, just that I do not accept it full on as both essential and central to the gospel.

Why this concern? I sincerely place scripture as the highest authority for my Christian faith, so why would I struggle to accept PSA in a full on way. The answer lies in a series of questions.

  1. Would full on PSA be compatible with my ministry as a Methodist Minister?
  2. Would I still be able to support and encourage women as equals in ministry as in the rest of life? Are there any examples of full on PSA supporters who believe in equality by gender?
  3. Would I still be able to be (moving towards being) a pacifist? Scripture has convinced me of the centrality of non violence to the teaching of Jesus and the early Church. But I don’t know any full on PSA supporters who are pacifists?
  4. Would I have to change my attitudes to people who are LGBT?

I would be really interested to know of people who hold these positions and find them compatible with full on support of PSA. For me all these positions have come (at least to some extent as a change to what I once believed) from scripture and the teaching of other people. Abandoning them would be a huge issue for me and I honestly don’t think I could do it. But then there is the supremacy of scripture. It is just that so far I have not met anyone who holds to full on PSA and who a) is a British Methodist minister b) supports women as equals in ministry as elsewhere c) is a pacifist and d) shows love and acceptance to people who are LGBT. Anyone willing to stand up and be counted?

If not then can PSA really be so central and essential to the gospel if holding it fully means abandoning so much that scripture, tradition, reason, experience and community has taught me so far?

PFOT: Reflections on God’s Wrath

Just been thinking some more about my struggles with the emphasis on God’s wrath that are so obvious in the foreword to PFOT as well as in much of the PFOT text and blog posts on Penal Substitution.

In "The Nonviolent Atonement" J Denny Weaver writes (p78) of the Wrath and God and the Love of God as two stances from which we view the salvation drama.

Thinking more on this. I just wonder to what extent the Wrath of God is actually the absence of God caused by human rejection. If God is all I hope he is, if he offers life both in all it’s fullness and in it’s eternity then would I not perceive his absence as his wrath. When he is absent there is no hope, no future, no love. Yet his absence is not caused by anger but by love, his love that lets me choose evil.

This understanding of God’s wrath as his absence seems to me to fit all the passages I have checked it against so far.

Just throwing some straws in the wind. Am I completely off my head?

PFOT: The Introduction

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.

PFOT: The Foreword completed

I have completed my post that goes the the foreword of PFOT in detail: 42: PFOT: The Foreword part 2.


Moreover so far the foreword has done nothing to advance for me the
case of penal substitution nor encourage me to focus on God’s wrath
rather than his love.

It took me much longer than planned to complete that post. Work through the rest of the book will not be in so much detail.