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):

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.

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.

11 thoughts on “PFOT: New Acronym FOPSA

  1. PamBG

    The position of FOPSA advocates seems reasonably clear. PSA is the most important thing that we have to believe …it is absolutely vital and central to everything that the gospel is.
    I think that PSA is the Gospel message to many people who are “Full On”. It’s conflated with “Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord”, I think.
    Where are women speaking as FOPSA advocates?
    If you are conflating FOPSA with “Muscular, Masculine Christianity”, the role of women in MMC isn’t to speak out publically about theology.
    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.
    Can I add here that the whole underlying issue as I see it is “power”. Does God want any category of human being to have power over another category of human being. Although they would use more nuanced language, I think MMC says God wants Christian men to have power over non-Christians and over Christian women and children.
    Whereas, I genuinely believe that power over other human beings is antithetical to everything Jesus taught. The last shall be first and the first shall be last.
    Not having power over others doesn’t mean not having moral and ethical standards, not talking about moral and ethical standards and not disciplining our children.
    I think that MMC seems to assume that “no power” means “no standards”. So “Without God’s people having power over others, there are no moral standards. Equality means no morality.” That’s my theory, anyway.
    On my blog, I wrote a short piece about conversations on Ship of Fools with PSA people. We did actually seem to agree that they believe that without punishment that wrongdoing does not exist. E.g., if you don’t punish someone for stealing, then it cannot be said that “stealing is wrong”. For both parties to agree that B stole from A and that A forgives B means that stealing is not wrong, apparently. It conflates telling right from wrong with punishment and/or discipline, I think.

    Reply
  2. thebluefish

    I do think having PSA central effects everything else… but does it draw your conclusions…
    1. “The question is not “Is Penal Substitution as traditionally understood and taught valid?” but “Is FOPSA valid?”"
    FOPSA was the issue when Cambridge CU split from the SCM in 1919… both believed PSA but only one centrally. I think history says that ‘centrality’ is the historic position.
    2. FOPSA and Christian Pacifism are incompatible.
    Not so. Actually knowing that God has removed wrath from me, and that for every other person on earth they either face God’s wrath or Jesus bears it for them, makes me more likely to be favourable towards others. That said, I think pacificism and just war theory is a somewhat broader and more complex issue.
    3. FOPSA and Masculine Christianity
    Not sure the logic works here. All the conclusions you draw stem from what I’d call taking scripture seriously… which I think is the same reason for holding the centrality of PSA. I’d also say I’m FOR men taking responsibility to lead. I’m FOR order within the church. I’m FOR a robust and compassionate church. I’m FOR marriage… rather than put all of the statements negatively.
    I’m also FOR Jesus bearing the wrath I deserve. I’m FOR the fact that God is therefore absolutely favourable to me. I’m FOR now being a Son of God in Christ. I’m FOR inheriting everything in Christ… and so on.

    Reply
  3. Dave Warnock

    DaveB,
    1. So now we go back in history to judge the dead, is it not even enough for FOPSA to judge the living?
    2. So find me some FOPSA pacifists to demonstrate the positions are not incompatible.
    3. a) Again you return to the tired mantra of “Only FOPSA advocates take scripture seriously” Forget it.
    b) I take scripture very seriously indeed, and that is why I stand For women as equals, equal in calling, equal in ministry. This is a scriptural position which like the position on slavery does not use a few selected verses out of context to overturn the big message (which in the case of slavery your recognise even though scripture says far more in favour of slavery than it does about male headship).
    c) As for the “I’d also say I’m FOR men taking responsibility to lead. I’m FOR order within the church. I’m FOR a robust and compassionate church. I’m FOR marriage… “ let us not again obfuscate the issue by implying that those who stand FOR women are not in favour of order within the Church or for a compassionate Church.
    I do not understand what a robust Church is. To me any Church built on a rock is going to be pretty robust. However, I tend to see that as meaning an aggressive Church which appears to be a contradiction in terms.
    c) If you want to disprove my assertion that FOPSA requires an acceptance of masculine Christianity then again find me some FOPSA advocates who do not support masculine Christianity.
    I totally believe in Jesus suffering and dying so that I can be forgiven for my sins and reconciled with God. For God demonstrating his love for me by giving his Son up to death on a cross. I am totally for being a child of God, for inheriting everything in Christ. None of that depends on FOPSA in fact other models of atonement make those facts much clearer for me.

    Reply
  4. thebluefish

    1. both of us made a claim about the history of the church, not just me.
    2. Oh, I dunno. Me? Though I can see there might be some exceptional circumstances where restraining evil might require military action, but ‘last resort’ only.
    3. a) Again, I’m responding to your assertion. You say you get your beliefs from scripture – all I’m saying is ‘ME TOO’ – yes we differ and we need to deal with that. But you seemed to be saying we were imposing stuff on scripture – I’m just saying I’m trying not to.
    b) every person is in God’s image – male or female. But, it seems to me that God sets things up with certain people in certain roles. Yesterday I was studying Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26 – Uzziah of Judah the King, Amaziah of Levi the priest. And Uzziah isn’t allowed to serve as a priest. Was that intolerant or unfair? No, it was just how God set it up…. I think God gives greater dignity to women than our culture does – the real ministry of the church isn’t ‘The Ministry’ it’s the daily service of living the Christian life – with it’s high callings of being a wife, mother (which I’m excluded from) along with many callings unrelated to gender like working, witnessing, etc etc.
    c) I’m not saying you aren’t for those things, only that I am too. You were the one who painted ‘us’ as anti-everything.
    final para: brilliant!
    though as you expect I do disagree with this: “None of that depends on FOPSA in fact other models of atonement make those facts much clearer for me.”
    c’est la vie.

    Reply
  5. Peter Head

    The Blue Fish said:
    “FOPSA was the issue when Cambridge CU split from the SCM in 1919… both believed PSA but only one centrally.”
    This is rubbish.
    CICCU split from SCM in 1910 not over a single issue but multiple issues including deity of Christ and doctrine (and use of) Scripture.
    1919 discussion concerned whether SCM and CICCU could collaborate. Final defining issue was whether ‘the atoning blood of Jesus Christ was central’. This can only be seen as FOPSA by advocates of FOPSA re-reading history in their own eyes.
    I would have thought that the question for evangelicals was whether PSA was central to the witness of Scripture.

    Reply
  6. thebluefish

    So, the final issue was:
    ‘the atoning blood of Jesus Christ was central’.
    So, as I said – that was the issue?? Granted there may have been other issues, but history would seem to record that that was the final issue.
    “I would have thought that the question for evangelicals was whether PSA was central to the witness of Scripture.”
    Indeed, which is what we’re seeking to do….
    There are two current issues I think.
    1. Showing scripture teaches PSA at all. (Not the issue in 1919)
    2. Showing that PSA is central. (as you said, the ‘final defining issue’ in 1919)

    Reply
  7. Peter Head

    Just two points for BlueFish:
    a) my view is that ‘the atoning blood of Jesus Christ’ is a fundamentally broader and more all-encompassing theological category than PSA. ‘The atoning blood of Jesus Christ’ takes in most things you might want to say about the cross: as a sacrifice, as a dealing with sin, as a vicarious and substitutionary offering, as redemption, reconciliation, propitiation etc. PSA deals with the legal (i.e. ‘penal’) elements.
    b) The issue cannot be “Showing that PSA is central” (since even you must admit that is pretty much prejudicing the investigation before it has been done), but must be asking whether PSA is in fact central to the biblical witness (this in fact is Tom Wright’s main substantial question about PFOT). PSA surely is central to systematic theological conceptions (because systematic theologians of a reformed and protestant type are often a lot like lawyers); but that is quite a different question from whether it is central to the biblical witness(es).
    c) Thus it is precisely evangelical biblical scholars, who affirm PSA, who have been vocal in questioning FOPSA (e.g. recently IH Marshall, Tom Wright, Steve Motyer).

    Reply
  8. thebluefish

    a) PSA is legal, but also effects other matters – such as leading to reconciliation being possible. history would suggest that from the CICCU/UCCF point of view it was penal substitution that was the issue in 1919, if not then the problem was broader and in which case even more troublesome.
    b) i agree if we were primarily seeking to show the centrality of PSA independently that might be prejudiced. BUT, when we already believe that and then it’s questioned and we seek to answer those criticisms we are showing afresh why we hold the conclusions we already hold – whilst seeking to listen to the critics, open to the possibility that they were right. The nature of ‘biblical witness’ vs. ‘systematic theology’ is a different debate. I’d argue that the best of the latter is the same as the former, but that really is off topic.
    c) i’m not denying that some evangelical biblical scholars have ‘questioned’ / ‘denied’ this, others though have not such as all the ones you choose not to mention.
    I’d suggest you engage with what we’re saying over at bibleandcoffee.blogspot.com

    Reply
  9. Peter Head

    Thanks at least for admitting (BlueFish) that you have simply been following an agreed CICCU/UCCF point of view on 1919. I advise, if it is important to you, that you take a look at the historical sources on this one for yourself.

    Reply
  10. Callan

    Augustine usually gets the blame for Just War theory because he sets out the parameters but I think it fair to say that the Church became reconciled to the notion of armed force around the time of the Battle of Milvium Bridge in 312AD.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>