reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Penal substitution and forgiveness

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 1 comments
This is a harder question philosophically I think. It's one that appears in the Lost Message of Jesus, and crops up again and again when debating with non-evangelicals online.

It goes something like this: Jesus taught that we should forgive our enemies without asking for anything back. Yet the heart of penal substitution says that God demands payment for sin - he won't forgive without it being made up to him! What's that about?

Well a number of answers:
First, I think it would be a mistake to say that we should expect God to give us commands which also apply to himself. In fact, there are plenty of things that God requires of us as creatures which do not apply to him as creator: not to worship ourselves, for example. When I demand payment or recognition or vindication for being wronged, that is inherently sinful, because, as a creature, I don't deserve or merit vindication. God, being God, does; the ultimate end of the universe is the vindication (or glory) of God.
But that's not satisfactory by itself, because this is, in some sense a moral issue, and we don't want to say that God expects us to be morally superior to him. However, I think penal substitution does, if we view God as Trinity, model forgiveness better for us than any other atonement model. If all three members of the Trinity are equally God (which they are, I believe) then God as a whole is, in punishing Jesus in our place, taking upon himself the hurt and pain and alienation caused by our rebellion. Isn't that exactly what God asks us to do in forgiving others? I think that's significant, because other models without penal substitution don't in any real sense model God's self giving, self substituting love. Christus Victor says that the atonement is all about God defeating his enemies. Moral influence is about God winning our hearts, moving us to repentance. But only penal substitution (or those other models with penal substitution as their centre) show us how to forgive - take the consequences of the sin of others on yourself. It, as a model of the atonement, shows us exactly what Jesus meant by forgiveness more than any other model.
Third, the whole argument is based on a false premise. It would undermine God's forgiving nature if he was demanding reparation from us, but the point is that the reparation is paid within the Godhead so that the Godhead's attitude towards us is one of forgiveness. In that sense, to set retribution and forgiveness up against each other is to set up the very problem the cross solves.
So what about forgiveness then? Should I only forgive because Jesus has taken the punishment for the sin that someone has committed against me? (Or that God will punish it in the future?) Well, no, I should forgive because Jesus tells me to, and I know what it is to be forgiven. But the great thing about penal substitution is that it does two things for me when I am trying to forgive.
It stops me ever later coming back and thinking that the sin committed against me should be paid for. It the safety net against bitterness, because that sin IS paid for. No more coming back to it. I have no right to dig up something that Jesus took away and buried with him in his tomb.
It also helps me with the "right" sense of "wrong" we have when someone sins against us: that sin was wrong and deserved punishment, and should be pronounced as wrong. The cross as the ultimate act of self revelation tells my troubled soul "God knew that was wrong and has publically, cosmically, wholeheartedly, at great cost to himself pronounced it to be so. You need not seek out a way to prove that sin is sin, for God, in simultaneously pronouncing his own glory AND saving you, has pronounced that it was wrong. Be calm and let it go, for God has already passed that verdict and served the sentence."

Friday, April 27, 2007

Questions about penal substitution...

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 0 comments
...the topic likely to make you scream and run away from the computer if you are following church politics in Britain at the moment.

I'm not going to say any more about Word Alive. I'm sick of "who said what to whom" discussions really, and sick of people writing books and then acting all surprised and "who, me?" when they say horrible things about other Christians and said Christians get upset.

Nevertheless, much as I hate all that is going on, I am committed enough to PSA to think it is worth it. In fact, the truth that Jesus died to take God's just punishment for my sins is one of the ones I'd die for. Gun to the head I couldn't (I hope) deny that one.

Adrian Warnock is blogging through an excellent series on the doctrine and I won't be able to say much better than him. More interesting still because his theological standpoint on other issues shows that this whole thing is miles away from being a conservative/charismatic battle.

But people have some real questions I have come across, and so I am going to post my answers.

Is the victimised Son placating an angry Father? Easy one to start. No. All members of the Trinity are acting together to save us from the wrath of God: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.

Harder one next: Why can't God just forgive us? Now there's a standard evangelical answer to this, that I think is partially right. Because God is just, and hence can't just stick sin under the carpet. The (perfectly reasonable) reply, is "how is it just for him to find a totally random person and put all the punishment on him?" I think that's an excellent question, which we have been too slow to answer.
Several answers:
1) Depends what you mean by justice. Is justice just people getting what they deserve? It's more than that in God's terms, it's a cosmic proclamation that sin is sin, that wrong is wrong, that in a universe where the holy God reigns it is not right to rebel against him. Justice is defined by the crime - which is God being pushed out of his rightful place: God declares that is wrong in the horror of the cross. If God is God, God must declare (or rather act to declare, as God always revelas himself through actions) in the most graphic terms that wrong is wrong.
2) Jesus isn't just our substitute, he is our representative, to quote one of my favuorite pieces of literature, the UCCF doctrinal basis. Jesus just doesn't stand in our place as a substitute randomly chosen out of nowhere, but as the one able to represent humanity to God. Why? Well, union with Christ and the incarnation. No time for all that at the moment. Nevertheless the Bible teaches it: in the same way Ireland's rugby team represent me in rugby, so I can truly say "we won" when they won, Jesus represents me before God because, in the Gospel I am united to him.
Brain about to explode yet? We've hardly started.

To be continued....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The drama continues to unfold....

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 0 comments
Here's the text of the UCCF statement on why the Word Alive - Spring Harvest partnership has ended, and Spring Harvest's response saying the UCCF statement is lies. Nice. In the interests of fairness I'm blogging them both in case my readers haven't seen them. My only comment is that it isn't possible to see from reading the 2 statements where the accounts are incompatible, and that the Spring Harvest statement doesn't say whether there being "no room in the mix" for Word Alive was anything to do with Steve Chalke.

Response from UCCF to the SPRING HARVEST decision to end the World Alive Bible teaching week after 14 years

FOR the past 14 years, the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship and Keswick Ministries have been delighted to partner Spring Harvest in organising Word Alive, one of Europe's top Bible Study weeks with a vibrant student track aimed at young people. Widely recognised, orthodox Bible teaching has been the hallmark of the event.

In 2003, the Revd Steve Chalke, one of the Spring Harvest Event Leadership Team, and a member of their Council of Management (trustees), wrote The Lost Message of Jesus. In it, he promoted unorthodox views over the nature of the Atonement, and hit national media headlines over his controversial and graphic description of Penal Substitution.

The Word Alive committee, of which UCCF is a part, believed such views to be contrary to orthodox Biblical teaching and as such, decided that the Revd Steve Chalke could not teach from a Word Alive platform.

The Evangelical Alliance (EA) held a Theological Forum at which various theologians debated with the Revd Steve Chalke. As a result, that organisation decided to change its constitution to clarify where the EA Council of Management stood on the issue. In May 2006 Spring Harvest advised the leadership of Word Alive that the Revd Steve Chalke was able to sign up to the new and revised EA constitution and therefore requested he be allowed to preach from the Word Alive platform in 2007. This request was refused as Mr Chalke had publicly confirmed he had not changed his personal theological views.

In September 2007 the Word Alive Committee were called to a meeting by Spring Harvest and told that as they would not include the Revd Steve Chalke, the 14-year partnership was at an end. Spring Harvest said they regretted they were putting a personality ahead of partnership. Spring Harvest announced it would be promoting its own student-based week at Minehead in 'week one', resourced by Fusion, of which the Revd Steve Chalke is on the Council of Reference.

Our decision to allow only orthodox Christian teaching from Word Alive platforms, and Spring Harvest's subsequent decision has caused enormous pain and regret. However, UCCF believes it can no longer work with those whose understanding of the nature of the gospel and the distinctive of the atonement is so different to theirs, and mainstream evangelicals in the UK and across the world.

There comes a point when loyalty to the gospel, as we believe it to be clearly set out
in Scripture, and the drive for unity with others can come into conflict, and we have reached that point.

Meanwhile, a new 'Word Alive' event, organised jointly by Keswick Ministries and UCCF has been planned for 7-11 April 2008 at Pwllheli, where speakers already confirmed include John Piper, Terry Virgo and Don Carson. There will be an increased capacity and further details will be released shortly.

Rumours circulating that the break-up of the partnership was down to Word Alive's refusal to accept women speakers is totally refuted. UCCF regularly has women speakers on its platforms, and it is a matter of public fact that Keswick does too. The key issue is Spring Harvest's corporate support for one of its own trustees, the Revd Steve Chalke, over Biblical orthodoxy on such a central issue as Atonement.

And the reply:
Peter Broadbent’s Statement

Spring Harvest, Keswick, and UCCF (the three partners in Word Alive) agreed to go their separate ways. The statement we produced at the time reads as follows:

“2007 will be the last year of Spring Harvest Word Alive. The constituent organisations — Keswick Ministries, UCCF, and Spring Harvest — will be ending a partnership that has lasted 14 years, and have agreed to go their separate ways.

Word Alive was originally conceived as a distinctive event within Spring Harvest, drawing Christians from a more theologically conservative church background to Butlins for a week with a strong emphasis on expository Bible teaching and a major input for students. The partnership has been a fruitful one and we thank God for the way He has worked through this event over the years.

Of late it has been difficult to accommodate Word Alive as a separate week within the total mix, and after much discussion, the Spring Harvest Council of Management gave notice that Spring Harvest Word Alive could not continue beyond this year. “We’re looking to end on a high note,” said Pete Broadbent, Chair of the Spring Harvest Leadership Team. “Our theme for 2007 is One People — and we’ll be teaching and celebrating that reality throughout our programme.”

Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and Chair of the Word Alive Committee, said the Word Alive brand would continue independently of Spring Harvest after this year’s event. Keswick Ministries and UCCF will continue their partnership and will announce very soon news of future venues and dates. Word Alive will continue its emphasis on lively, cross-centred Bible teaching, a full student programme, and fun and fellowship for all the family.

Spring Harvest wish the Word Alive partners well and we separate thanking God for the part the other plays in the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in the UK today.”

Various people have since attempted to "spin" the reasons why we decided to go our separate ways for their own purposes. That's their decision. It's not where I am, or where Spring Harvest are. Wallace Benn and I stood on a public platform at Spring Harvest Word Alive, wished our respective events well, prayed for each other, and departed on the best of terms.

This blog has already linked to the statement made jointly by Wallace Benn and myself (Pete Broadbent) on behalf of Spring Harvest Word Alive criticising Jeffrey John's inflammatory stuff on the atonement. So there is no way that anyone can represent Spring Harvest as being anywhere other than the orthodox biblical stance on the atonement. You comment on the style of my statement. Actually it reads the way it does because it's a verbatim transcript from a seminar I was giving on the continuity of OT and NT theology, during which I made the aside about Jeffrey John. So it isn’t necessarily theologically honed and polished — our Press Officer put it out as a press release reporting what had been said.

It’s terribly sad that UCCF are now coming out with an official statement that simply isn’t true to what actually took place. I don’t want to get into a public row with UCCF, whose ministry among students I support. But this is just simply to say that I dispute most of what is contained in the statement as being either misunderstanding (willful or otherwise) or total fabrication. I could hope that they would withdraw their statement and hold their peace. They seem to want to define themselves over against Spring Harvest, which I regret. We stand for the same faith and the same gospel.

Pete Broadbent Spring Harvest Leadership Team

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New word - Lottish!

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 1 comments
Definition: like Lot. As in the Bible Character.
Etymology: Invented by Steve Palframan in a sermon on Genesis.
Meaning: to put your trust in God's promises, but not so much that it effects everything you do, and hence to end up in a mess.

I have been LOVING a series of great sermons by my good friends Steve and Jeremy on the chapters of Genesis following Abraham and his family after God makes his covenant with him.

And the person who has really struck me is Lot, not someone I had ever thought much of before.

Lot crops up basically twice in the story. First, he chooses to live in the land God hasn't promised, and ends up in the middle of a very complicated war. You see, while he is a believer (the New Testament tells us so) he doesn't really live that out by settling in God's land, and so, comes a mess.

Later on, we see him settled in Sodom. Bad idea. He puts up two angels (which is fair enough, I'd be kind to an angel if I met one) but when the people of Sodom threaten some pretty nasty things to the angels, he offers his daughters as bait instead.

Er..exsqueeze me? Baking powder? Your daughters!? You see, Lot is trying to do the right thing, but living in the evil city, influenced by its ways, he's become more like them than someone who really believes God's promises. He wants to protect the angels (er..yes) but tries to do it in the way of a Sodom-dweller ( He is a believer (saved from the destruction) but is not letting God's promises really change his life (unlike Abraham). And hence. A mess. Lot's wife being judged by turning into a pillar of salt shows just how dangerous that is: she, unlike her husband, was just on the wrong side of trusting God's promises.

And me? Well, the challenge is to let God's promises shape the way I live: not just living in the world around me with a small nod to God's promises, but, unlike Lot, letting God's promises change the way I live - WHERE I live, how I react to my family and my surroundings. If I'm not doing that, if I'm being Lottish, then I am indeed playing a very dangerous game.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The drama...

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 0 comments
...of the sad (but Chalkeishly inevitable) Spring Harvest/Word Alive split has begun. It's so sad to see such influential people put an old friendship before the heart of the Gospel.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Here I am...

posted by Little Mo | Permalink | 6 comments
...blogging on my mum's (I kid you not) new MacBook! Now I come home in the evenings and instead of finding my parents chatting about the day's events over cups of tea I find them sitting at separate laptops IMing each other and planning holidays in Alaska. The art of conversation is dying.

Well, blogland has been down the list of priorities for the last few weeks as I sank into a deep well of Word Alive preparation. The High School Musical themed Bible Overview went down well, as did the summing up the message with song titles. I particularly liked "Walk like an Egyptian" for the Exodus, "Oops I did it again" for Judges and "The Final Countdown" for the New Heavens and the New Earth. It totally reminded me of how great the Bible is: remember when you first saw how the Bible all points to Jesus - it was great to get some of that feeling again.

Word Alive was also great for freezing walks on the beach with Anna, waking up every morning with the lovely Pod, great talks on Hebrews from all the student speakers, but a special mention goes out to lovely Roger Carswell who did a great job on the last morning: let's keep running the race by fixing our eyes on Jesus. I also got my first taste of cyber-bullying, as the Relay workers, unprovoked, gave me the bumps: 30 is 2 to many for my current age by the way: and then posted the evidence on the internet: search on youtube for "Mo gets the bumps". They are very very bad boys, and Andy Shudall says I need to insist that I get more respect from them.

Now I am back in the province, seeing friends, watching rubbish TV and drinking tea with my mum. The ideal holiday. Excited about the Apprentice tonight, and Anna arriving tomorrow...

Big Up.