Category Archives: Pierced for our Transgressions

PFOT: The Foreword part 2

In 42: PFOT: The Foreword by John Piper I grumbled somewhat about the technique of selecting small bits of scripture (less than a sentence each) together to form an argument. That, of course could be at least somewhat valid if all the fragments are used in ways consistent with their original context.

So now I intend reviewing the scripture references in the foreword one by one. To avoid favouritism I’ll link each Bible text to 4 versions on the Bible Gateway (TNIV, ESV, Message, CEV), I will provide a link to the specific text as well as to what seems to be the context (section titles from TNIV). I am going to quote the foreword a paragraph at a time and then review all the texts for that paragraph. So this will be a long post.

Out of the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day had risen teachers of the
law who did not know what the law meant. Jesus found himself saying
things like ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not
understand these things?’ (John 3:10 ESV). Some of the teachers had
lost all sense of biblical proportion, ‘straining out a gnat and
swallowing a camel!’ (Matt 23:24 ESV). And as they lost their bearings,
they came under Jesus’ most serious charge: ‘You have made void the
word of God’ (Matt 15:6 ESV).

Is it the law they don’t understand? I don’t think so. Nicodemus is not understanding the need to be born again of the spirit. What does that have to do with Penal Substitution? If anything this is a condemnation of those who apply scripture in a legalistic way and therefore miss the point.

So in verse 23 the passage condemns the teachers of the law because they "have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and
faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting
the former." To my reading this is completely the opposite of how John Piper has used verse 24. The teachers of the law are being told off for applying the law too strictly and thus not paying enough attention to justice, mercy and faithfulness. In my opinion in the debate over penal substitution these verses do not support John Piper’s case, in fact they diminish it.

Again as we look at the larger context I do not see how this partial verse supports the case for penal substitution. The teachers of the law who insist on exact observance of the law, following the rules completely and fully and so missing (or avoiding) the real message are the ones in trouble. Which side of the penal substitution debate does that sound like?

Emotionally, Jesus’ response was a sinless combination of grief and
anger. ‘He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness
of heart’ (Mark 3:5 ESV). Why both anger and grief?

So who is this aimed at and why? Again it is to those who are applying the law in a rigid way and ignoring the way of love and grace. Again how can this verse help those arguing for penal substitution (and particularly demanding an full assent to it in order to be considered an evangelical).

The anger was because people were being hurt – eternally. These
teachers were supposed to know what the word of God meant, but instead
Jesus said they were ‘like unmarked graves, and people walk over them
without knowing’ it (Luke 11:44 ESV). This made Jesus angry. Their job
was to teach what God had said. Instead, they were blind guides and
were leading others with them into the ditch. Jesus loved people.
Therefore, he was angry with professional teachers who imperilled
people with biblical blunders.

So what are these people doing to make Jesus angry, if it is bliblical blunders then what are they? Verses 39-42 make it clear <i>Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the
outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and
wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue
and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the
love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the
former undone.</i>. So again the problem is legalistic following of the law. Why does John Piper want to draw our attention to scriptures that condemn using law to enslave people, that condemn people who are not generous to the poor. Surely this does not point us to a view of penal substitution that must be believed in but to a life serving others.

But Jesus was not only angry; he was ‘grieved at their hardness of
heart’. These were his kinsmen. These were the leaders of his people.
These were the representatives of the Jerusalem he loved and wept over.
‘Would that you . . . had known . . . the things that make for peace!
But now they are hidden from your eyes’ (Luke 19:42). The condition of
their heart and the blindness of their eyes were a grief to Jesus.

A big jump in context at this point to the entry into Jerusalem. Is it valid to connect this to the previous teaching? Is this anything to do with penal substitution? This time Jesus is responding to those who stand against the disciples songs of praise. Nothing whatsoever to do with penal substitution.

This is how I feel today about teachers of Christ’s people who deny and
even belittle precious, life-saving, biblical truth.When a person says
that God’s ‘punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed’
would be as evil as child abuse, I am angered and grieved. For if God
did not punish his Son in my place, I am not saved from my greatest
peril, the wrath of God.

So now we get to the point. All that proceeded was an attempt to equate those who do not support John Piper’s to those the Jesus condemns. But it seems to me that this is flawed. The scriptures presented all condemn people who take the law (scripture) seriously but fail to notice the work of the spirit, who fail to respond to Jesus the son, who use the law as an excuse to avoid serving others. These are all people who took signing up to the truth of scripture so seriously that they miss the point.

So what on earth has this to do with Steve Chalke (who with his supporters is clearly the target of this paragraph)?  Here is this paragraph is a sudden logical leap, penal substitution and the wrath of God have had no mention to this point, none of the scripture texts have had anything to say about either of them.

There is absolutely nothing so far that connects those against penal substitution with people who deny or belittle biblical truth. In fact those who stand by the rules over the spirit and love in action are the ones condemned. It seems to me that the pointing finger has been reflected back.

In part, I write this foreword to defend my Father’s wrath against me
before I was adopted. He does not need my defence. But I believe he
would be honoured by it. On behalf of my Father, then, I would like to
bear witness to the truth that, before he adopted me, his terrible
wrath rested upon me. Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has
eternal life; whoever does not obey . . .
the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36; italics added). Wrath remains on us as long as there is no faith in Jesus.

So at last we find the first relevant text, but it has been used with a careful edit. To me the whole text has wrath as a minor part the key from the wider text which is about listening and believing in Jesus in order to have life. I struggle with building a great edifice on a small number of texts relating to wrath, especially as it needs to ignore so much else from scripture that indicates God’s love for his creation and his people. When I read this passage (and of course the earlier parts of John 3)  I am reminded of God’s great love so much more than I am of any wrath. It seems to me that if we ignore love at the heart of all that Jesus is and came to be then we have a huge problem. This idea of defending the Father’s wrath seems to go totally against all the earlier scriptures that John Piper has quoted so I am baffled as to why it suddenly appears and becomes so important.

Paul puts it like this: We ‘were by nature children of wrath, like the
rest of mankind’ (Eph. 2:3). My very nature made me worthy of wrath. My
destiny was to endure ‘flaming fire’ and ‘vengeance on those . . . who
do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . [and who] suffer the
punishment of eternal destruction’ (2 Thess. 1:8-9 ESV). I was not a
son of God. God was not my Father. He was my judge and executioner. I
was ‘dead in . . . trespasses and sins’, one of the ‘sons of
disobedience’ (Eph. 2:1-2 ESV). And the sentence of my Judge was clear
and terrifying: ‘because of these things the
wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience’ (Eph. 5:5 ESV; italics added).

My mind boggles every time I read this. To connect 4 texts which jump to and fro within one book and include some text from another, to do this without any context and to actually remove text from the middle are all things I am uncomfortable with.

I suspect that what is actually understood by "Children of Wrath" is part of the problem. I have just been checking John Stott’s commentary on Ephesians and it confirms for me that the presentation of wrath in this forward and the rest of PFOT is relying on a particular understanding of what the English word wrath means. Essentially I believe we approach these texts with a particular understanding of God and that is guiding the interpretation of wrath. I struggle with the idea that penal substitution depends on a very one particular understanding of God’s wrath, one that is absolutely not the only way to understand it and one which it seems to me is often overstated in the presentation of penal substitution. Just as it is here.

There was only one hope for me – that the infinite wisdom of God might
make a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God so that I
might become a son of God.

Again this depends somewhat on what exactly your understanding of what God’s wrath is. It is sadly the case that those in favour of Penal Substitution seem (at least in my opinion) to also feel the need to use gender specific language. Telling 50% of the population that they need to become "sons of God" is unhelpful. I understand that the son imagery in this case relates to the specific cultural understanding of the time (legal rights differed between boys and girls) which have not applied for many centuries.

This is exactly what happened, and I will sing of it forever. After
saying that I was by nature a child of wrath, Paul says, ‘But God,
being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with
Christ’ (Eph. 2:4-5 ESV). What a grievous blindness when a teacher in
the church writes that the term ‘children of wrath’ cannot mean ‘actual
objects of God’s wrath . . . [because] in the same breath they are
described as at the same time objects of God’s love’. On the contrary.
This is the very triumph of the love of God. This
is the love of God – the ‘great love with which he loved us’. It rescued me from his wrath and adopted me into sonship.

Ok, so nothing new her in terms of scripture or argument except that there is this continuing focus on God’s wrath as if it were equal to God’s love (just compare the number of scripture references to "God’s wrath" with "God’s love" as a very rough guide to why this is nonsense). My assertion (which I believe to be entirely orthodox) is that you do not need to accept this hard view of God’s wrath to appreciate his love in rescuing us.

‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son . . .
to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive
adoption as sons’ (Gal. 4:4 ESV). God sent his Son to rescue me from
his wrath and make me his child.

Wow, what a creative way to quote scripture. The ignoring of context, the cutting out of critical text and the addition of a comment that goes against the text are all, in my view, very misleading.

First, it looks as the missing text was chosen deliberately to avoid the appearance that Jesus was under God’s wrath as the phrase "born of woman, born under the law," implies (being of course fully human).

Second, the context makes it clear that this text has nothing whatsoever to do with wrath or penal substitution. Instead of being under God’s wrath "we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces".

Given these two points adding the phrase "rescue me from his wrath" based on zero evidence and zero justification in the text is very misleading. Here we have another text that does not justify penal substitution and in fact gives a very different view of life outside salvation where instead of being subject to God’s wrath we are slaves to "elemental spiritual forces".

How did he do it? He did it in the way one writer slanderously calls
‘cosmic child abuse’. God’s Son bore God’s curse in my place. ‘Christ
redeemed us from the curse of the law
by becoming a curse for us
– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’
(Gal. 3:13 ESV; italics added). If people in the twenty-first century
find this greatest act of love ‘morally dubious and a huge barrier to
faith’, it was not different in Paul’s day. ‘We preach Christ
crucified, a
stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (I Cor. 1:23 ESV; italics added).

I think John Piper is making an unwarranted assumption, he assumes that  that the curse for being crucified is from God. In fact it seems much more likely from the Corinthians reading that dying on a cross was always seen as a curse. The cross according to Corinthians is always a difficult thing for people to accept (as our experience validates). That does not justify seeing the cross as an exercise of God’s wrath. My understanding is that Steve Chalke etc do not call the cross ‘morally dubious and a huge barrier to
Instead it is the the caricature of penal substitution that they are referring to. Therefore to take a text that does not directly support penal substitution and apply Steve Chalkes comment to it seems a poor tactic.

Those who try to rescue the love of God by minimizing the wrath of God,
undermine not only the love of God, but also his demand that we love
our enemies. It is breathtaking to hear one of them say, ‘If the cross
is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but
borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to
love your enemies, and to refuse to repay evil with evil.’ Those are
deadly words, which, if they held sway, would take enemy love out of
the world.

I was not aware that the love of God needs rescuing, in fact the idea seems rather bizarre. When, like me, you have come to a (reluctant) pacifist view based on the life and teaching Jesus then the idea that challenging a view of the cross as violence by God could be "deadly words" that could "take enemy love out of the world" is absolutely horrific.

Why? Because Paul said that counting on the final wrath of God against
his enemies is one of the crucial warrants for why we may not return
evil for evil. It is precisely
because we may trust the
wisdom of God to apply his wrath justly that we must leave all
vengeance to him and return good for evil. ‘Never avenge yourselves,
but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is
mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is
hungry, feed him”’ (Rom. 12:19-20 ESV). If God does not show wrath,
sooner or later we shall take justice into our own hands. But God says,
‘Don’t. I will see to it.’

John Piper seems to have focused entirely on God’s wrath rather than penal substitution. Yet the two are quite separate issues. He is so focused on the wrath of God that when he chooses a passage dominated by God’s call on us to love he focuses on wrath again. This passage has nothing whatsoever that supports penal substitution, instead it focuses on how we should be living out love. Even the logic that says we should leave vengeance to God has alternative views within the same text (v20) where rather than leaving people to the wrath of God we are loving them to "In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head".

Every section of this book yields another reason to thank God for the
labours of the authors and for IVP in Britain. I pray that the Lord
will give the book success in the defence and honour of God, and that
Jesus Christ will be treasured all the more fully when he is seen more
clearly to be Pierced for our Transgressions.

The idea of defending the honour of God is quite alien to my culture and faith. When I hear this language it makes me worry about the view of God that is behind it. For all the talk of a wonderful powerful God, what does it actually say about that God to understand him as needing to be defended in this way. I do not wish this book ill and I am grateful for it’s arrival in this debate, however, that does not mean I agree with it at all.

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.

Various PFOT and PS links

A few links that have picked up my discussions and run with them or that seem related to me:

PFOT & Penal Substitution

More general on Evangelicalism

Spring Harvest vs UCCF

Meanwhile Adrian has linked to my series on Pierced for our Transgressions in Dave Warnock Shares an Alternative View of the Atonement, I am not sure what alternative view I have shared yet ;-) The comments include the start of a potentially interesting discussion:

Me: Methodism has a long evangelical tradition – one that I am pleased to
be part of. Being a Methodist Evangelical is a normal and good place to
be and has been so for over 250 years.

Adrian: Methodism practically invented evangelicalism. I guess folks today are
blurring the boundaries of evangelicalism – I am interested in what
should be the definition of an evangelical in the 21st century.

Me: I don’t get this. I don’t know in what way you are saying that
Evangelical Methodists have blurred the boundaries of evangelicalism.
In what ways is my evangelicalism blurred compared to John Wesley?

PFOT: The Foreword by John Piper

I don’t know about you but I don’t often read the foreword to a book in great detail. In the case of "Pierced For Our Transgressions" I decided to make an exception. Firstly, because John Piper is clearly a hero of Conservative Evangelicals and therefore what he has to say will be treated as important by them, secondly it seems to be a concise summary of many of the arguments so can hopefully provide a quick way in, thirdly it will of course also be interesting to see how consistent the picture is between John and the authors.

I’ll begin this with a confession. Parts of this foreword grate with me. The first paragraph is a good example:

Out of the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day had risen teachers of the
law who did not know what the law meant. Jesus found himself saying
things like ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not
understand these things?’ ( John 3:10 ESV). Some of the teachers had
lost all sense of biblical proportion, ‘straining out a gnat and
swallowing a camel!’ (Matt 23:24 ESV). And as they lost their bearings,
they came under Jesus’ most serious charge: ‘You have made void the
word of God’ (Matt 15:6 ESV).

Total 82 words, 30 of them taken from Bible. My perception (and what grates with me) is the lack of context and the way texts from different places are pieced together to construct sentences. These are not even whole sentences from the Bible. After all taking this technique just a little further I can create any sentence I like from words in the Bible. Clearly to suggest that John Piper is doing such a thing would be grossly unfair. It does however suggest an approach for me in working through the foreword.

That approach will start in my next post when I start reviewing the context of each snippet of Scripture that is used in the foreword, are they all clearly about Penal Substitution or are my misgivings about this approach justified?

PFOT: My starting position on Penal Substitution

I guess if I am going to write on Penal Substitution and Pierced For Our Transgressions I ought to make it clear where I stand on the issue.

You can decide that by either reading what I have said before or my reading this (or both I guess).

My current position is somewhat mixed.

I 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.

But I struggle with certain theological aspects of Penal Substitution. Particularly the concept of God’s wrath being on Jesus and the potential for the need for justice and punishment being more powerful than God. Most importantly for me are concerns that Penal Substitution enshrines violence (that I do not see in Jesus, his incarnation, his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and his second coming) into the nature of God.

However, my theological struggles are as nothing compared to the struggles I have with the way Penal Substitution is expressed by some "hard liners". We saw that in the debates around that awful conference with the name that did not reflect it’s purpose or constitution (Together For The Gospel), we have also seen it in bucket loads over the split between Spring Harvest and Word Alive. If being an Evangelical and a believer in Penal Substitution means that I am identified with the behaviour and attitudes that culture seems to, in my opinion, embrace then I want nothing to do with it.

I am always interested in learning more about Jesus and gaining a fuller understanding of the cross, so it seems natural to read a new book on the subject.

PFOT: Feeling Nervous

Having started writing a little about the book "Pierced For Our Transgressions" I confess to feeling slightly nervous.

My feelings are based on my perception of some groups within the Evangelical Christian community. That perception leads me to fear their reactions to anyone who challenges them on Penal Substitution. I believe it is clearly demonstrated by the way that Steve Chalke has been treated by many (self labelled) Evangelicals.

Sadly it seems that often these groups have other traditional targets for their behaviour. One of those targets is women and the other anyone associated with people who identify themselves as LGBT (as well as very obviously LGBT people themselves).

My nervousness is therefore tempered by the thought that any such reaction would place me among good company, the sort of company where Jesus is to be found.

My nervousness is also reduced by the fact that I am somewhat used to this. Approximately 25 years ago when visiting potential universities I spent a night at Manchester (where I ended up going). At a social event which I think must have been organised by the CU I was told by a member that I was not a Christian, that was because I did not know the "proper" language to speak of my faith. Now I am the first to admit that I was not very confident or outgoing about my faith and that came from growing up in what must have been slightly liberal Methodism. However, that faith has grown over the years and I have self identified as an evangelical for many years, that despite such a setback which caused a lot of hurt and resentment for many years (to be honest it still hurts a little).

But what about the potential impact today of arguing against the penal substitution militants. I suspect the cost is not that high.

For example it is not as if I was about to be invited to speak at Word Alive (or likely that I would have accepted if invited – for starters the ban on women speakers means I would not support such an event ).

I am more concerned about the effects on my own ministry here as a Methodist Minister in the Nene Valley Circuit. As such I minister to Churches and Christians within them who cover a wide range of theological viewpoints. There are members who have been to Word Alive conferences at Spring Harvest. There are members who believe in penal substitution and those who don’t. Anyone in ministry is somewhat vulnerable to accusations about "soundness" and so given what I perceive as a tendency to wild accusations by the militant supporters of penal substitution  my ministry I guess I have concerns about the potential for pain and misunderstanding.

However compared to what Christ has done for me, in dying on the cross for me it is not as if the price or the risk is that high. I believe it would be more damaging to my integrity as a ministry if I did not speak out due to fear or bullying.

So watch out, there will be more to come.

PFOT: Use of Language

As I started reading "Pierced for our Transgressions" one thing I noticed immediately was the use of language. Clearly from the full title you are in no doubt that this is going to be a full out presentation of one viewpoint. I have no problem with that, nobody is going to pick this up thinking that it will be a balanced presentation.

However, the language does instantly show up a huge raft of assumptions that I think need to be challenged. Just a few for the moment (got to go and do some work on the mother-in-laws front path).

Chapter 2. p33 line 1. "the doctrine of penal substitution" it seems to be that this is a noticeable ratcheting up of the status of penal substitution. I have always been taught that we have a "doctrine of atonement" and theories (or views, or perspectives or models depending on your viewpoint) of atonement such as "penal substitution", "Christus Victus" etc. I wonder how widely and for how long penal substitution has been known as a doctrine.

There is in my opinion a pretty consistent and sloppy use of English. This makes assumptions such as

  • all references to substitution really mean penal substitution
  • only people who believe in penal substitution are Christians or Believers (these words seem to be reserved only for supporters of penal substitution, others are called liberals, dissenting voices etc)
  • only those who believe in penal substitution also believe in the transforming  power of the  cross.

You can see examples if all 3 on page 21 (first page of the introduction). It would be very interesting to know the motivation behind this, including whether it is deliberate or accidental.

Just one one example (out of time for more):

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". Where is the evidence that those who do not accept penal substitution or who question it or who believe it to be one (but not the only) model of atonement do not believe in the transforming power of the cross.

Pierced for our Transgressions

Yesterday while in Cambridge I went into SPCK and picked up a copy of "Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution" by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey and Andrew Sach, forward by John Piper.

In the past I have criticised the likes of Adrian for not reading books with a different perspective to their own. So I am taking my own medicine and am reading "Pierced for our Transgressions", I challenge Adrian to make his series on atonement rather more rounded by reading books such as "Consuming Passion: Why the killing of Jesus really matters" (Ed Simon Barrow & Jonathan Bartley) and "The nonviolent atonement" by J Denny Weaver.

I am making no promises about how much I am going to blog about this book. However, I definitely have a post on the forward by John Piper in the works. I’ll include PFOT in the titles of the posts and have created a category for them.

See you later.