Skip to content

Atonement – keeping legal and familial together

There are the cold and clinical 'latins' who are all about the 'law court' and 'satisfaction' and 'penal substitution'.

And there are the warm and generous eastern types who speak of 'trinity' and 'adoption' and 'theosis'.

Or if you're on the other side:

There are the faithful and biblical evangelicals who remember God's 'justice' and 'wrath' and 'propitiation'

And there are the wishy-washy liberals (i.e. everyone who's not an evangelical) who never face the problem of sin and judgement.

So which is it?

Matt Finn's post and Sam Allberry's comment show the way forward.  The penal self-substitution of Christ (which is very clearly taught in the Scriptures) only makes sense with a strong doctrine of the Trinity and of union with Christ.  Only if the Crucified One is God Himself intercepting His own judgement, and only if I am crucified with Him does it hang together.

It's just a real pity that those churches that are strong on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) are often weak on trinity and union with Christ.  And in that context PSA gets horribly twisted.  And so many who oppose it say to themselves "If it's PSA or the trinity, I'll stick with the trinity."

If that were really the choice then I don't think I could blame them.  But it's not the choice.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ...18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.   (Eph 2:13,18)

We've got to hold together the legal and the familial - PSA and trinity/union with Christ.

Perhaps we need to remember JI Packer's three word summary of the New Testament: "adoption through propitiation". And let's hold on equally tightly to both.


0 thoughts on “Atonement – keeping legal and familial together

  1. Perry Robinson

    I suppose I am just going to balk here that there is a penal model or element indicated there.

    Secondly, we need to get clear on what terms like "legal" means. More often thant not that term is thrown around with an assumed meaning. There are many theories of law in the history of ideas.

    I'd argue that there is a good reason why those who advocate a penal model have problems in triadology and christology. Either the divine person is in truth condemned and then we have a substantial breach and hence an Arianizing tendency or he is condemned forensically qua man and then we get a Nestorianizing tendency.

    Moreover, ISTM that one could have a penal model with an entirely human Christ since the value of the atonement is determined by the divine will and not per se by the value of the person. A universal scope doesn't entail that the person that is the foundation for the moral credit is divine. Adam wasn't. It only requires that the person be in a position of federal head or be the ontological source for the race.

  2. Glen

    Hi Perry,

    Yes good point about 'law/legal'. "Lex" for instance raises very different conceptions to "Torah". But even as we deal in Torah we deal in blessings and curses - the curses must fall for disobedience and they did fall on Christ (Gal 3:13) that we might receive the blessings. To me that's PSA in a nutshell.

    The dangers of Arius on one hand and Nestorius on the other are real. But wouldn't you say they are real as soon as you say 'Jesus died (and then rose)'? Whatever 'solutions' you have for that conceptual difficulty should work for the truth 'Jesus bore God's wrath (and then was vindicated)' right?

    On the necessity for a *divine* Propitiator - I think Adam is only the head of fallen humanity as "a pattern of the One to come" (Rom 5:13). It's Christ's true Headship that allows Adam (His type) to take a responsibility of sorts for humanity. So I guess what I'm saying is that God does not invest humanity per se with the capacity for federal headship but that His intention is always to rule through His Son made Man. His reign from the tree includes this curse-bearing feature.

    If Christ were just a man propitiating the Father then he is either a third party and/or we simply have a creature proptitiating the Creator. Scripture says the fullness of deity dwelt in Christ as He reconciled the world (Col 1:20) which on a PSA model has the significant implication that this was a divine self-substitution rather than merely a creature buying off God.

    Tim - great lecture. Thanks for the link.

  3. Bobby Grow

    Hey Glen.

    Great post. I would just say, in line with you, and in response to Perry; that defining "legal" is indeed important. I think you're right in bringing up the Torah, that has to be the defining context of meaning that we understand both substitution and legal through . . . certainly at odds with "Federalism's" Covenant of Works/Grace bilateral stipulations.

  4. Perry Robinson


    I don’t doubt that in the Torah we deal with blessings or cursings, but that leaves my point untouched. One isn’t free to just assume a certain theory of justice or law simply because there are consequences to wrong actions. What counts as and constitutes a consequence will depend on the model we use to understand Torah. So an appeal to curses and blessings won’t by itself pick out a penal gloss of sacrafice.

    So non-penal models can make sense of the biblical language in say Gal 3 and so it doesn’t seem to me that that passage picks out a penal theory of the atonement. It may pick out a substitutionary model, but not all substitutionary models are penal models.
    I don’t think simply saying Jesus died by itself raises the problems of Arianism and Nestorianism. Those are attempts to cash that out.

    The emphasis on propitiation and the specific content that frames it from a penal model tends to put expiation in the back seat or throws it under the bus. If Torah is king here then expiation deserves a bigger seat at the table than the penal model can give it. Again, there is more than one conceptual gloss and semantic usage for propitiation. I don’t think that God punishes Jesus instead of me for this implies a separation between the Father and the Son. And I don’t see how reiterating the view addresses the worries I articulated about Arianism and Nestorianism.

    As for Adam as divine head, being the pattern for the one to come doesn’t imply that a creature can’t be the basis for universal scope or value. Moreover, it also turns on what constitutes “pattern” since in the history of theology, “pattern” can be understood in many ways. As for Christ’s headship allowing for Adam, doesn’t this beg the question just a bit? Arians, Socinians and Unitarians can say the same without implying the divinity or full divinity of Christ. The same goes for the Father’s rule through his Son. Here I am only playing devil’s advocate. It is not that I deny the divinity of Christ, but rather that I think the penal model really doesn’t need it. Nicene and Chalcedonian Christology was “built” for a different theory of the atonement. Also, if Adam doesn’t per se have the capacity for universal representation, however we wish to cash that out, I think this undermines the doctrine of the imago dei and the notion of human nature as a divine logos pre-existing in the eternal Son.

    It would be interesting to see how the more sophisticated advocates of Arianism such as Eunomius dealt with Col 1:20. They didn't ignore it. Admitting that Christ is deity though doesn’t show that it is necessary for the penal model in principle or that it is compatible with it. As I noted, this appeal leaves untouched the problem of Nestorianism. And the penal model implies more than a substiutionary model. The Christus Victor model is also substitution and so is quite compatible with Col 1:20. So even if it turns out that the earlier claim I made requires the divinity of Christ, it won’t rule out Nestorianism and the full divinity of Christ doesn’t entail a penal model.

  5. Glen

    Thanks for your response Perry. Let me just ask a clarificatory question:

    What kind of distinction are you making between 'penalty' and 'consequences for disobedience'? Especially given that the consequences are spelt out as 'curses' Even if we refused to use the language of 'penalty' wouldn't we still have to conclude that the consequences for disobedience are the curses. These curses are divine judgements (cf Deut 28-29) And that Jesus bears the curse (becomes it even!) that we might not bear it but instead inherit the blessing.

    Maybe (*maybe*) 'penal' is a concept too bound up in Roman jurisprudence etc, etc, but I don't see how we can stare Gal 3 in the face and avoid the scandal of the LORD our Righteousness becoming a Curse.

    You say: "I don’t think that God punishes Jesus instead of me for this implies a separation between the Father and the Son." But how do you make sense of Galatians 3 where Jesus takes on the curses - which are divine in origin. Deut 28-29 doesn't allow us to say that impersonal forces are unleashed in disobedience. "The LORD..." is the subject of just about every verse. "The LORD will strike... The LORD will cause...

  6. Si

    Perry, penal substitution alone might allow a messing up of Trinity and the person of Jesus, but that doesn't mean that it's not there. The doctrine of Creation could allow (if deficient, like any Arian or Nestorian view of PSA would be) for a monad 'god' - deism, Islam, etc all have the view that God created the world, but this doesn't mean that God didn't create the world.

    Yes, Arianism and Nestorian might be able to fit in with the legal side of the Atonement, however, it doesn't necessarily mean that you fall into these traps if you hold that the cross had a Penal Substitutionary effect. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Penal Substitution is throughout the Bible (Gen22, Ex12-13, Lev16, Is53...) and while not the whole of the Atonement, is a linchpin bit, needed for it to make sense. As Glen says, we need BOTH the legal and familiar bits.

    It's not either-or, it's both-and: you are making false dichotomies - it's not Christus Victor or PSA, but Christus Victor and PSA (even Christus Victor because PSA).

  7. Perry Robinson

    Hey Glen,

    Let me see if I can give you the idea I have in mind, even in rough form. By consequence I mean analogous to or the same as a causal consequence that doesn’t involve a direct activity of a causal agent. So if I tell my kid, don’t stick your finger in a light socket or else you’ll get shocked, and then they do and get what they deserved, this doesn’t imply that I distributed to them the punishment.

    Jeremiah for example talks this way about how the sins of Israel have caused the consequences to come upon them. So I don’t deny the biblical commitment of talking about the consequences as curses. What I deny is a vindictive or retributive theory of justice here in favor of an Issuant or Consequential one.

    As for Jesus bearing the curses, I think my model works better with the biblical material, particularly with expiation where Jesus tales up our corrupted humanity and purifies it rather than being extrinsically classed as cursed. (2 Cor 5:21)

    Penalty has a long history, but the penal model per se has its roots in late medieval scholasticism and then the Reformers. It is that model I am designating as the penal model.

    I don’t deny Gal 3 and would take it in the way I sketched above. Nor does an Issuant or Consequentialist account imply that we have to reject the material in Deut 28-29. Does God get angry? Do human actions move or change God’s temperament? Not on anyone’s doctrine of God is that strictly speaking so. I think God sets up and sustains the world in a certain way such that there are consequences for actions. So the question is no if the Lord “causes” but what does “cause” amount to here?

  8. Perry Robinson


    I think you confused my argument with another. My argument wasn’t that the Penal model isn’t specific enough on its own to rule out various problems, which would be true for lots of other views. My argument was that it implies those problems. Is the divine person of the Son condemned and separated from God qua sinner or no? If yes, then this implies that Jesus is a lesser deity if not, then it implies that there is another human Jesus to which it does apply. (Just look at WCF 8.2 for starters) And this was exactly the line of reasoning that the Post-Reformation Socinians took, and then later the Unitarians.

    To your assertion that the Bible teaches the penal model, I simply give as my response, no it doesn’t. And I don’t think those passages teach as much either. Not only that, not a few competent users of Greek in the history of theology agree with me, so this is hardly something of my own devising.

    I don’t see why I need the Penal model with the Christus Victor model. On the latter, I get the actual righteousness of the divine person of Christ and not a created substitute that acts as a created intermediary as with the PSA. With the CVM I can make sense of the biblical material just fine, that Christ triumphs over the forces of evil that try to undo the hypostatic union and thwart God’s redemption of recapitulating all things in Christ. In Christ God breaks the power of sin, death and the devil. And I can do that without all of the Christological problems that the Penal Model raises.

    You assert, but do not demonstrate that I am making a false dichotomy. You also assert that it is both. But apart from your assertions, I think there are good reasons to reject the Penal Model, not to mention its rather late appearance. The idea has a history and that history places it as a conceptual modification of Anselm’s Satisfaction model (which isn’t a penal model btw) and not as falling out of Saint Paul. Moreover, I think the Christus Victor model does a better job all by itself with the biblical material so I don’t see why I need the Penal model.

    You also imply that the Penal model implies the Christus Victor model, but I don’t think it does. Can you show how the penal model implies the Christus Victor model?

  9. Si Hollett

    Perry, I'm sorry I was fighting the straw man, rather than you. I thought more highly of you than I should - I thought that you rejected PSA because it allows for error if not mixed with other things. You actually reject it because you think it always leads to error, which suggests that you (like the Socinians and Unitarians, whose argument you use) don't understand the Trinity.

    I can't see how the Son taking the sins of the world, and thus the wrath of God (all three persons), and thus dying, makes him any less God - no more than his incarnation does, nor his role as Son in submission and obedience to the Father does - in fact these things mean that the Father bigs him up (Phil 2:6-11). The Socinians and Unitarians didn't/don't believe in PSA as they didn't like it. They threw out the Trinity as they didn't understand it (or like it, either) and used the verses that support PSA as proof texts for their view.

    If the Son wasn't separated from the Father and the Spirit on the Cross, why did he cry out "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?"?

    I can hardly see how Jesus dying and thus being separated from God, regardless of whether PSA was at play wouldn't lead to Nestorianism (the divine nature didn't die as it could be separated from the human nature) or Arianism (Jesus is less God because he has a separate role) by the reasoning you have given. That said, the reasoning isn't good.

    Romans 8:3-4 talks about condemning sin in the flesh - the Son, being sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, so it could be condemned in him:
    By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us

    I can't see how Isaiah 53 isn't all about a Penal view of the Atonement - here's verse 5:
    "But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed."

    Punishment upon him - it's pretty clearly suggesting bearing punishment - a penal thing. And what's it for? our transgressions, our sin.

    1 John 4:10 talks about love being the Father sending the Son (and straight away the Arians, Unitarians and Socinians go "told you Jesus isn't fully God") to be the propitation for our sins (ie to make God propitious towards us, because he isn't as our sins incur his wrath, separating us from them).

    As for Christus Victor because of PSA - answer me this - why would Christ reign from a cross, why is the cross so central, if it isn't the case that he won the victory there. What's the victory over? Death sounds a good one, lets look at 1Cor 15:55-57:
    "O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?"
    The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
    But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Death's defeated as the sting of sin is removed - how would it be removed? Well by his stripes we are healed, because he was pierced for our transgressions. How is the victory got? Because in Christ sin was condemned in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us.

    You seem to be viewing models of the atonement as mutually exclusive - saying that you don't need PSA (well, PSA straw man, with falsehoods - the skins God gave Adam and Eve were from animals that paid the penalty (death) instead of them - PSA is nearly as old as sin!) because you have Christus Victor.

  10. Perry Robinson

    Si Hollett,

    To argue that because I think the Penal model implies error implies that I don’t understand the Trinity is question begging. First because it assumes that the penal model is true and second because it assumes that the penal model entails the Trinity. And third it assumes that I don’t have a decent grasp of Trinitarian theology. As for the second, this would come as great news to the Christian theologians of the first thousand years or more since they didn’t adhere to the penal model and in some cases explicitly denied it. Augustine, Athanasius, Ireneaus or the Cappadocians didn’t adhere to the penal model. I seriously doubt the problem with people like Cyril of Alexandria was that they couldn’t read NT Greek. And Cyril and Co. weren’t Socinian in the slightest.

    The problem is not who put forth the argument, but whether the argument is a good one. Using the principle of the penal model that the value of the death of Christ is established not by virtue of the person who dies, but rather because God so willed it to be valuable, the Socinians argued that the penal model doesn’t entail or license the conclusion that the person dying was deity or infinite or universal value. That seems right. If the value of the act is forensic and established by an extrinsic relation of will, then an ordinary man could have atoned for the sins of the world had God so willed it. I don’t think this is possible in he context of NT and Chalcedonian theology which is why I reject that principle and the penal model with it.

    Now endorsing that argument doesn’t entail a rejection of the Trinity. One could reject the principle that acts as a premise or one could reject the divinity of Christ. The Socinians retained the principle from the penal model and rejected the deity of Christ. I affirm the divinity of Christ and reject the principle. I also reject the principle because I think the value and actual work accomplished by Christ could only be done by a divine person. The work requires an intrinsic operation and relation and not an extrinsic one. Earning moral credit is one thing, maintaining the hypostatic union is in a class all by itself.

    The question is not if the Son takes on the sins of the world, but what that amounts to. Various models affirm that but cash it out in different ways. Likewise, the subsidiary question is not if Son is in subjection to the Father, but whether he is subordinated to the Father. I think the penal model entails the latter.

    While I am no friend of Unitarianism they didn’t reject the penal model because “they didn’t like it.” It wasn’t a matter of taste. They rejected it because they thought it was wrong. They threw out the Trinity on the same basis. Now some of the reasons why they rejected the Trinity was because of the confusion regarding the distinction between person and nature which was entailed by the penal model as I sketched previously.

    On the one hand you write that you can’t see how the penal model implies a denial of the full divinity of Christ and then on the other you speak as if Jesus is pried off the divine essence on the Cross. However we are to take Christ’s words from the Cross, what they don’t imply is binitarianism or that Christ ceased being consubstantial with the Father. There never was a dyadic God, either logically or temporally. So your remarks illustrate exactly the way in which the penal model motivates the problems I gestured at.

    You write that you can’t see how being “separated” from God would motivate Arianism or Nestorianism but if Jesus is “separated” from the Father as a divine person, then Jesus is not fully divine and then we have Arianism. If Jesus as a divine person is not separated from the Father but a separation takes place, then there must be some other Jesus that is separated from the Father, a human person and then we have Nestorianism. But on the contrary, Jesus is never separated from the Father and the Spirit which is why Arianism and Nestorianism are wrong. Btw, Arianism wasn’t merely that Jesus had a different role than the Father, but that Jesus had such a role because there were properties true of him that could not be true of absolute deity where divinity as such was simple and so only capable of being or having one property, namely that of Fatherhood or source.

    I already alluded to the language of Romans 8 of God condemning or breaking the power of sin in the flesh of Christ. Christ has destroyed the destroyer and not merely pronounced and extrinsic legal declaration against it. I agree that Christ is made after the pattern of sinful flesh and that sin is condemned or broken in the death of Christ. Unfortunately, I can’t see in Rom 8 any reason to think it is the person of Christ that is being condemned by God. Secondly, the language is intrinsic rather than extrinsic as displayed by the benefit procured, so that the law might be fulfilled in us. So there is nothing there on the surface that implies the penal model.

    The question isn’t whether Is 53 speaks of Christ bearing our punishment or not, but what punishment amounts to here. Since there is more than one theory of what constitutes justice and hence punishment, I am not sure why you get to assume yours without argument. Why assume that vindictive or retributive theory of justice is at work here? Isn’t the point of Jesus that God’s justice is something quite different than that of the pagan deities and the world? The question is therefore, what “for” out sins amounts to?

    I agree that 1 John speaks of making propitiation. Does John mean to turn away God’s wrath because God like Zeus got angry? Does God’s justice then depend on whether there are objects external to him for that justice to be exemplified or no? I grant that the use of propitiation among the pagans meant a turning away of a retributive justice, but I don’t grant that John means this. What the language requires is that Jesus is the locus of God’s expiation for sin or means of reconciliation. So here again, I think you are committing the word-concept fallacy.

    I asked before and you left your claim undefended, how does the Penal model imply the Christus Victor model?

    You ask, why would Christ reign from the Cross if his victory wasn’t won there? The CVM doesn’t deny that Christ’s victory is won there, so the problem you pose for the CVM depends on a straw man. The victory over death is multi-faceted. Christ maintains the hypostatic union securing man’s eternal existence since all humans are now united to God at the level of nature. This is why the wicked are raised and persist eternally and why Christ is their redeemer and Lord even if they do not admit as much and deny him. (2 Pet 2:1) All men are granted the justification to life. Second, Christ undoes the power of death and removes its association with sin thereby making the weapon of the devil useless. Sin can’t bring about our annihilation and Christ takes the power of death captive, re-ordering towards the end of resurrection rather than annihilation. He recapitulates death in himself and by his death tramples down death. So the sting of death has been rendered powerless since God has overcome death in human nature.

    I quite agree that by his stripes we are healed but I fail to see how we get from that idea to the idea that the Father punishes the Son as if he were a sinful agent. You paraphrase the Pauline passage that the requirement of the law is fulfilled in us, but is your view that justification is fulfilled in us, as grounded in us or rather imputed to us forensically?

    I do view the two models as mutually exclusive. This is why I asked you to support your claim that the penal model entailed the Christus Victor model. If you accuse me of a straw man you need to show where I have created a caricature of it. Did the animals pay the penalty? Is the penalty for a crime extrinsic to its object so it doesn’t matter who pays, just as long as someone suffers? Perhaps God was being merciful in giving them clothes now that they were outside of paradise. If the animals paid the penalty then Adam and Eve should never have died since the animals already paid it. If they didn’t pay it or in full, then why kill the animals at all?

  11. Heather

    Having sat under "penal substitution"-leaning teaching my whole life, I would have to say that there is a lot of damage the view can do to a personal relationship with God.

    On one hand, people can say--"I've been SAVED! because of what Jesus did on the cross" and then go out and continue to do whatever comes naturally.

    On the other hand, we can say --"I've been SAVED! but need to be sure to do everything right so that I don't misstep and lose what Jesus has offered"...which sets up almost a grovelling slave mentality of obey, obey obey or else.

    I flip-flopped between these two perspectives for years until recently the Lord graciously brought into view the family relationship aspect of being adopted sons who are found to be "in" the eternally beloved Son.
    Being a "brother" with Christ in His inheritance sheds new light on why it is important to live obediently now.

    Going through a rough patch is now seen as training and discipline of a child by the Father rather than some sort of retribution for my having done something wrong. And, I'm learning to be thankful for it rather than cringe and cower.

    Holding to both perspectives has changed a lot. I can now say "I'm saved! so I can be trained as a child into a better likeness of my Savior"

  12. Glen

    Hi Perry and Si, I've posted Three small thoughts on PSA as a new post here:

    Heather - I think it's always a distortion to preach the gospel as though the end point is some legal verdict and you there with a nice framed 'not guilty' verdict. I mean really. So what!

    That's why I think Packer's summary "ADOPTION through propitiation" keeps us from licence and from legalism. I'm in the family now - that's the real good news. But the 'blood of Jesus' is the indispensible route in (Eph 2:13).

  13. Heather

    I really tried to follow the comments here.

    It kind of left me wondering whether we sometimes try too hard to wrap our minds around Christ's nature and develop a satisfactory understanding of something we really aren't capable of understanding.

    Seems like I recently read a post here entitled "Let Jesus be Jesus" and I loved that concept. I've seen Biblical instructions to believe in and trust Him--not so much to bisect and explain...

    Perhaps I've missed something?

  14. Glen

    Hi Heather,

    The question we're discussing is: Was Jesus punished by His Father on the cross in our place? (This is what penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) says). Is that a legitimate and Scriptural lens through which to view the cross? We all agree that there are other things going on at the cross - it is Christ's victory over the powers of evil, it's an example of self-giving sacrifice, it's an offering of total obedience from the Son to the Father. But is it also the Son bearing the wrath of God against humanity as our substitute? I say yes, Perry says no.

    There are significant things at stake in this question - Perry is concerned that we don't fall into errors regarding the Trinity and the Person of Christ. The problem, as he sees it, is that having the Father punish the Son might imply that either:

    a) Jesus is less than God (Arianism)


    b) that there's a split in Christ's Person (Nestorianism) and only the man 'bit' gets punished.

    I agree that if PSA forced us to say those things then we'd have to abandon it. But I don't think PSA does commits you to those errors.

    On the other hand, I'm concerned that Perry's position side-steps many Scriptures either about God's personal and active wrath against humanity in its sin and/or about Christ's substitution for us into our situation to bear that wrath.

    These things definitely matter. Unfortunately, as with anything that matters, there comes a whole raft of terms to learn in order to be able to talk about it effectively. (If your doctor ever says to you "We need to remove your whatsimycallit - it's messing with you whosimijig" - run! Specialized language doesn't mean that what's being talked about doesn't matter - it often means that these things matter very much). I'm still trying to learn all the vocabulary too. But don't let the strangeness of the words fool you - we're still talking about important stuff. And trying to understand it all is a part of worshipping God with our minds. (Mark 12:30)

  15. Glen

    Perry - sorry for splitting the discussion, but I guess now I've done that, this question belongs here:

    You argued above for a Consequential view of the divine curses. This sounds fine when not faced with the actual verses. But when we see the personal hostility of the LORD towards not only sin but sinners it's a pretty hard sell!

    "The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence His soul hates. On the wicked He will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur; a scorching wind will be their lot." (Ps 11:5-6)

    My question is this - Could there ever be a form of words in Scripture that would make you rethink your views of punishment? What would the bible have to say in order for you to think that God actively and personally punishes the wicked and any who would step forward as Substitute?

  16. Heather

    Thanks Glen, I didn't mean to interrupt or try to offer correction. I tend to agree with you that Jesus did indeed bear our punishment.

    Have you ever noticed that the breaking of the "Ten Commandments" occurred in the Garden? I don't think it was a random list God just tossed out on a whim. And the rest of the Law includes very specific details that not only illustrate man's depravity and inability to help himself, but also often parallel man's spiritual sin against God.

    The Law was the formalized indictment against all of Adam, and all his descendants who are guilty by default. We've inherited the "disease", like a genetic disorder. We are all counted as guilty and someone has to pay the penalty for us to have our accounts cleared.

    Jesus came and pointed out that our problem with sin is primarily a heart issue and said He is the fulfillment of the Law. My understanding of this is that He not only lived perfectly the requirements of the Law, but also took on Himself the punishment for having not followed it. If He had not fulfilled the entire Law, (but just the perfect obedience to it) then we all still have a debt that needs to be cleared before we can access God. That would make salvation a matter of human "works" rather than grace, I think.

    That's my uneducated observation. You all can have fun with the big words if you like.

    I think it's great any time God's people are digging in to try to better understand Him. My thought was just that I don't know that we will ever truly be able to grasp "how" Jesus did what He did. He said He fulfilled the Law. I can believe Him.

    I'll go play in my own room now. Carry on :)

  17. Perry Robinson


    I am not sure why you think Ps 11 is problematic for my view. Are you suggesting that God is moved or changed by our actions? That God is passive and then is moved to anger? Is God temporally circumscribed? That God has emotions as we have? If not, then you need to specify exactly what you think the verse means. Only from there could you mount an effective objection, since you too and the wider tradition rejects the straightforward surface grammar. If these terms are metaphorical and pick out some conceptual content that is true in some way of God, you need to specify and demonstrate what that conceptual content is. So I’d ask, why is it a “hard sell” when I propose that the surface grammar is not to be taken in a stragithforward way, but it isn’t when the wider tradition asserts the same? Let’s face some facts, the penal model is not the majority view in the history of Christianity and is something of a late comer.

    I’d ask you to consider 2 Thess 1:9. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” What does the verse imply about the “punishment?” Is it that the wicked are separated or sent out from the divine presence to get a cosmic whooppin’ or is it rather that the divine presence or glory is what causes their torment? If the latter, is the glory bad or is the glory the same but is received differently depending on the recipient? Is hell the absence of God or his presence?

    You ask if there are any passages that could convince me otherwise. This is like asking if there are any uninterpreted neutral facts that could convince an atheist that God exists. The answer is no and it is no because I don’t think that exegesis can demonstrate anything contrary to the presuppositions that found the context in which it is done. That is there is no theologically neutral exegetical method. Those presuppositions have to dislodged in other ways. So any fact you give an atheist will be interpreted according to his philosophical presuppositions. There may be common ground between theological and philosophical models, but there is no neutral ground.

    I don’t deny the substiutionary feature of the Atonement. Neither did say Anselm, but Anselm didn’t believe in a penal model either. The penal model has a history and has principles that were used to construct it. The reason why others didn’t advance it in periods prior to the Reformation is that their exegesis was guided by different principles, theological and philosophical. So it wasn’t a matter of people simply failing to read the Bible and pay attention to the surface grammar. Those principles are grounded in various philosophical commitments, which I’d argue are grounded in a specific Christology. That is to say, there is no Christological neutral exegetical method. What you need to point out is not only that these passages pick out a theory of vindictive or proportional justice, but that such justice is applied to the divine person of Christ in a nominalistic way. The penal model implies more than a substitutionary element.

  18. Glen

    Hi Perry, good to get your clarifications. I'll agree that there are no Christologically neutral hermeneutics. So let's take something like the double homoousios to be christological common ground between us. If Christ takes on our condition in full He comes into our situation and faces its fate. It seems to me that if we can agree to this, then all I need to do is show that God's wrath against humanity is penal in the same sense as I'm endorsing within a PSA motif.

    Of course there are other motifs than penal to describe humanity's judgement (e.g. 2 Thes 1), just as there are other motifs than PSA to describe the cross. But if I can establish a penal element at all then I'd say the double-homoousios demands a PSA element to the atonement.

    This was behind why I picked (almost at random) Psalm 11. But if every verse that describes God visiting wrath in personal and proportionate hostility is dismissed as anthropopathism then I don't know what to say. By what standard can we judge 'anthropopathism'? How might God ever tell us that He truly and personally visits punishment on the wicked?

    God's transcendence seems to be a big issue here. I suggest that the way in which God's emotions transcend ours is not that He is less passionate, but that He is One who truly can love even as He punishes. We find it difficult to comprehend this (hence a previous comment of yours when you ask "How exactly is condemning people to hell retributively forever an act of love exactly?"). But for me, that's where the transcendence lies. I find that a much better spot in the system to place the 'question mark' (so to speak) than to place it over the hundreds of verses (like Psalm 11) that speak of personal, vindictive wrath.

    But I sense there are big doctrine of God issues throbbing away here...

  19. Perry Robinson

    Hey Glenn,

    That is not all you’d need to show. You’d need to show how the penal model avoids the Christological problems I pointed out. And when you say that Christ shares our fate, that he either inherits death like any other through his conception from the Theotokos or is born with concupiscience?

    The entailment of a penal element is not the same as the penal model proposed by the Reformation traditions. But of course, I reject both, so if you could show that the Bible taught a penal element that would be a substantial advance for your position. I remain unpersuaded though from the accounts I’ve seen to date on both points.

    Let’s look at say the Article of Religion.

    I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
    There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    If you subscribe to this article or to any traditional gloss on divinity you already take every passage of Scripture as not teaching that God has emotions or passions, responds to human actions or is altered by them. So when Scripture says God repents, are you arguing that we should go with the Process Theologians or Open Theists and take that in a straightforward way? When God acts in time, are you suggesting that we should take that as indicating as the above views do, that God is temporally circumscribed? If not, then you already interpret the surface grammar in a metaphorical or analogical way. The difference between us is not if this is done, but where. In sum, you can’t advance your position here without negating your own or at least giving a principle to differentiate why in some passages we are to take them in a straightforward way, but in others we aren’t and that in a way that isn’t ad hoc.

    So, how might God ever tell us that he was temporally circumscribed or could repent? Or that he was ignorant?

    You write about God’s emotions, but historically, Christianity has denied that God has emotions so here you are either at odds with the major traditions (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) are you are using these terms in a highly qualified way as yet to be spelled out.

    Noting it is difficult for us to understand how it is such and so with God really leaves my question untouched. I think your view needs to explain how it is an act of retributive justice condemning and punishing people in hell with proportionate justice is an act of love. Just noting that we find it difficult to understand doesn’t explain or justify your view. Any position could survive objections if they just dealt with them as tensions and left them in place.

  20. Heather

    "historically, Christianity has denied that God has emotions so here you are either at odds with the major traditions (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) are you are using these terms in a highly qualified way as yet to be spelled out."

    Historically, visible Christianity has held to a lot of "traditions". Many of them have proven to be untrue when the Holy Spirit prompts us to examine them in light of Scripture.

    Man was carefully crafted "in God's image"--meant to have a two-way relationship with our Maker. I can't think of any other creature that can respond to stimuli in the emotional manner as can human beings.

    Of course, God's "emotions" are not subject to a state of depravity as are ours, but that does not give us license to flatly deny that He possesses this ability. Not only that, but I find it amazing that the Son willingly subjected Himself to "feeling" on our level, so that He not only is sitting up in heaven with sympathy for our sorry state, but has firsthand knowledge of what it is like to BE one of us.

    The Bible records that God-as-man certainly did experience emotions and he didn't just leave His humanity behind when He returned to the Father.

  21. Perry Robinson


    As for “visible Christianity” I don’t know of any other kind. Moreover, it may be true that some views have been shown to be mistaken, but I am at a loss how you get from that fact to the establishment that what I said was one of them.

    “In light of Scripture” means “in light of my judgment about Scripture.” I am not sure on that basis why I should be obligated to accept your interpretation if I disagree with it. Obviously either the Spirit is schizophrenic or he isn’t prompting one of us or either of us.

    I am also not clear on how we get from the imago dei to the idea that God has emotions and therefore can be caused to be a certain way by his creatures. Are you seriously suggesting the idea that God is not the first and ultimate cause but is himself caused by other things?

    The issue is not whether the emotions God could have are the result of defect or sin or not, but whether God has emotions or not. But of course if you take this line then I see no reason why you should not also say that God makes mistakes since he “repented” or was ignorant at times.

    Moreover, the incarnation is a special case. Christ doesn’t become a human person at the incarnation. Human nature is assumed into the divine person. Consequently, Jesus’ experience of humanity is not strictly speaking a passion in so far as he is a passive recipient as we are in terms of that accident. His suffering is not passive, but active. Consequently I can’t see how anything you wrote really touches what I have proposed.

  22. Heather


    My point was simply that God is completely "other" and we can't adequately explain all that He is.

    He relates His nature to us in terms that we can understand (anger, wrath, "repent" etc). But I'm not trying to say that I think God has emotions exactly like us or that He is not supremely sovereign.

    What I'm not understanding here is how we, with our limited understanding of God, can assume that He has no emotions because that would supposedly mean He could make mistakes, etc.

    In Jesus, we have God and man united and Jesus Christ is recorded as having an emotional response when interacting with His creation? You have stated that "Christ doesn't become a human person at the incarnation" but that "human nature is assumed into the divine person"
    How does that reconcile with "God has no emotions?"

    I'm not trying to argue. I really am lost here.

  23. Heather

    Never mind, Perry.

    I've been trying to follow this discussion and most of what you've said isn't making much sense to me.

    I latched onto the "God doesn't have emotions" statement because I thought I might be able to get at least that element cleared up.

    However, I apparently offended you and that was not my intention.

    I apologize.

    Just ignore my interjection.

  24. Glen

    Hi Perry,

    1) Regarding, 'without passions' (impassibilis)

    You're not going to be fooled by the 'surface grammar' of the articles are you?? ;-)

    Surely impassibilis does not mean unemotional but rather that God is always in possession of Himself and not 'carried away' by His emotions or 'determined' by His creatures. This is how every lecture and explanation of the articles that I've read takes it.

    And article 31 upholds 'propitiation' - so Cranmer certainly didn't see a contradiction between article 1 and 31.

    And Packer and Stott (both Anglican proponents of PSA) are careful in the way they speak about these 'passions':

    e.g. [Stott, The Letters of John]: "God’s wrath is not arbitrary or capricious. It bears no resemblance to the unpredictable passions and personal vengefulness of the pagan deities. Instead, it is his settled, controlled, holy antagonism to all evil."

    It was this that Jesus faced and He faced it out of a passionate love for us:

    e.g. [Packer, The Logic of Penal Substitution]: "Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined."

    Passionate anger *and* love are at the heart of PSA - the cross is where "wrath and mercy meet". I feel this is something that powerfully commends it rather than undermines it. Especially when one considers the way the passionate way in which salvation is described in Scripture.

    2) As an aside, the church's understanding of impassibility strikes me as something with a far more varied history that what you present. But I'm no historian and couldn't really comment.

    3) To make a point about the trinity: surely from eternity there have always been subject-object relations? If the Father anoints the Son, the Father is Actor and the Son is acted upon (i.e. passive). And this is far from compromising God's deity - these relations constitute God's deity! I see no problem with the Father therefore visiting a personal wrath upon the incarnate Son who has willingly become sin for us. Again, it's a case of the trinity helping to explain PSA rather than PSA threatening the trinity.

    4) I still don't see how PSA and CVM are mutually exclusive. How are the statements "Jesus endured the wrath of God in our place" and "Jesus defeated Satan" mutually exclusive? For now, let's not even discuss how those two statements might be related. But let's first admit that there is no inherent contradiction between them. Or am I missing something?

    5) Would it be unfair to describe you as trying to 'depersonalize' our conceptions of divine wrath? Or to put it from your perspective - that PSA illegitimately personalizes the wrath of God? If this characterization fits, I fear that you must by the same logic 'depersonalize' your notion of God's love. Why should 'wrath' as an impersonal consequence of disobedience not be parallel to 'love' as an impersonal consequence of salvation. I guess I'm asking, how far are you taking impassibilis here?

  25. Heather


    Your response strongly resembled one I recently received elsewhere when I made a statement with which "the other guy" strongly disagreed.

    My comment on the other site was not remotely intended as a personal attack but, after a bit more interaction, there was no question as to whether the man was offended. I have become wary of how I present my thoughts and am somewhat oversensitive about other people saying "I disagree".

    If there was no particular annoyance on your part, then I apologize for making a wrong assumption.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer