Classical Evangelicalism has always affirmed that the power of the gospel lies in the proclamation that Christ died for the ungodly and made atonement for their sins. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 9:22; 10:12-14) The truth that underlies this proclamation is encapsulated in the phrase, “the penal substitutionary death of Christ.”
However, this glorious truth has been challenged by some modern theologians who deny that Christ’s death is a penal substitutionary sacrifice for sin. Similarly, the teaching of Christ’s atonement becomes distorted when some Charismatics claim that partaking the Lord’s Supper brings physical healing because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross.
You are invited to read the careful reading of Isaiah 53 (the locus classical of the doctrine of penal substitutionary death of Christ in the Old Testament) written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock. It will help you gain a better understanding and a grateful appreciation of the glory of Christ’s atonement. Continue reading “The Atonement in Isaiah 53”
“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
I. Biblical data that supports the premises of the two following arguments
Christ is the propitiation for our sins. He intercedes with the Father on the basis of his accomplished his work of atonement. He is the perfect advocate whose intercession with the Father is always successful (I John 2:1; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24-26; John 11:41-42,).
II. Argument 1 from Christ’s intercession
Premise: Christ’s intercession with the Father is always successful.
Outline of argument:
(1) If Jesus intercedes for all, all would actually be saved.
(2) But not all are saved.
(3) Therefore Jesus does not intercede for all.*
III. Argument 2 from “Propitiation”
Premise: Christ as “propitiation” has turned away God’s wrath (1John 2:2).
Outline of argument:
1) If Christ has really bore God’s wrath for everybody, nobody will go to hell, since their punishment has already been born by Christ.
2) But Scripture does testify that the wicked will experience punishment in hell.
3) Therefore Christ is not the propitiation for the sins of everybody
It is imperative that theological discourse goes beyond polemics and offers positive evidence and constructive arguments to establish the veracity of doctrine. This being the case, I would like to invite our readers to consider carefully several lines of biblical evidence and theological arguments for the doctrine of definite atonement given below:
The Particularistic Vocabulary of Scripture
The Scriptures themselves particularize who it is for whom Christ died. The beneficiaries of Christ’s cross work are denominated in the following ways: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah,” that is, the church or “true Israel” (Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15); his “people” (Matt. 1:21); his “friends” (John 15:13); his “sheep” (John 10:11, 15); his “body,” the “church” (Eph. 5:23–26; Acts 20:28); the “elect” (Rom. 8:32–34); the “many” (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Mark 10:45); “us” (Tit. 2:14); and “me” (Gal. 2:20).
Arminians charge Calvinists as guilty of diminishing the universal significance of Christ’s atonement by teaching definite (limited) atonement. However, Calvinists reject the charge as unwarranted since they affirm the atonement of Christ as “sufficient for all.” In truth, it is the Arminians who limit the effectiveness of Christ’s atonement by teaching that Christ’s atonement only offers potential salvation for all, since there remains a possibility that Christ’s atonement may not achieve its intended purpose. [Re: Why Arminians Limit the Atonement More than Calvinists] This uncertainty precludes believers from enjoying any assurance of salvation. In contrast, Calvinists teach that Christ’s atonement does not merely make salvation possible; it accomplishes a definite purpose. It makes salvation certain as Christ really saves to the uttermost every one of those for whom he died. Christ’s atonement is “effective for the elect.” Hence believers may enjoy the assurance of salvation.
Arminians also reject the Calvinists’ understanding of the phrase, “for all” to mean “all without distinction” as hermeneutical gymnastics that go against the plain reading of Scripture which for Arminians, would require understanding the phrase, Christ died “for all” to mean “all without exception.”
The term “Limited Atonement” has become a favorite fodder for Arminians in their criticism of Calvinism (or preferably, Reformed theology). However, their criticism is misplaced for the following reasons:
(1) Historically, the term, “TULIP” was not used when the five points of Calvinism were originally affirmed in the Synod of Dort (1618). It gained popularity only in the 20th century as a convenient mnemonic device to summarize five central teachings of Reformed theology.
(2) The criticism is misguided. It would be more fruitful to shift the debate from a fixation with the negative term, “Limited Atonement” (which suggests a spirit of defensiveness), to an engagement with the positive affirmation of the Reformed doctrine of “Definite Atonement,” “Effective Atonement” or “Particular Redemption.”
(3) Arminians should think twice before throwing stones at the Calvinists when they themselves could well be living in a glass house. In truth, Arminians also teach a “Limited Atonement”, perhaps more so than Reformed theology! [Tu quoque?] Continue reading “Why Arminians Limit the Atonement More than Calvinists”
In response to many requests, I am posting the print edition of an article written when I was much younger, “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ,” Transformation (1998), pp. 10-15. Ah, how time flies and I don’t seem to have grown wiser.
To download the pdf version of this print edition:
Throughout this paper, it is my assumption that Christianity promotes and practices social tolerance and affirms plurality. What I dispute is the contention that social tolerance is possible only if Christians embrace a prescriptive form of religious pluralism. I shall further address the issue of prescriptive pluralism, henceforth referred to as religious pluralism within the framework of Christian discourse, and analyze the logic under-girding religious pluralism. In particular, I shall argue that religious pluralism is not only internally incoherent but that in seeking the least common denominator, pluralism offers a religious faith that is too dilute to meet religious needs. Finally, religious pluralism entails the abandonment of the central beliefs that historically define Christian identity such as normative revelational truths and the historical particularity of the incarnation of God in Christ. As such religious pluralists represented by major thinkers like John Hick and Paul Knitter have no basis to speak on behalf of Christianity….
…But why should God need to intervene in the human predicament in the first place? How does the Christian teaching of the Incarnation of Christ fit in? Following White I would like to propose the “Criterion of Moral Authenticity” as a means to shed light on this issue. To begin with, estrangement between God and man is overcome not by special knowledge but by a demonstration of perfect love. Given the magnitude of the human predicament, surely such a revelation demands a costly love which does not compromise God’s holiness. It has to be costly love to win over human sin and rebelliousness. But as White asserts, “Unless and until God himself has experienced suffering, death, and the temptation to sin, and overcome them, as a human individual, he has no moral authority to overcome them in and with the rest of humanity.”[Vernon White, Atonement and Incarnation (CUP 1991), p. 38]Continue reading “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)”
If the heart of the cross is the atonement, the heart of the atonement is penal substitution.
Christ’s Death as Penal Substitutionary
The prima facie evidence from Scripture supports the case for Christ’s death as penal substitutionary. This is clear from the following verses.
Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6)
Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)
Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3)
he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21)
who gave himself for our sins (Gal. l :4)
who gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us
(Gal. 3: 13)
who gave himself as a ransom for all (I Tim. 2:6)
and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)
Christ suffered for you (I Pet. 2:21)
He himself bore our sins in his body ( 1 Pet. 2:24a)
By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24b)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Pet. 3: 18)
These verses confirm beyond dispute that Christ died for us. However, how Christ’s death brings reconciliation between the holy God and sinful man is hotly debate. Some scholars teach that Christ died as our representative who advocates or pleas for us as we are not personally present in the judgment court of God. However for evangelicals, these verses require an understanding of Christ’s death which goes further than Christ dying as our representative – Christ died as our substitute on the cross.
To sharpen the difference between the representative and the substitute – the substitute not only pleas for his client, he takes his place on the dock. He becomes the accused who is condemned as guilty. He takes the place of his client as he is executed on the cross. As he took punishment in our place, we are so to say present in him. The phrases “gave himself”, “bore our sin”, “to be sin”, “becoming a curse”, “as a ransom”, and the interchangeability of statements about Christ’s death “for our sins” and Christ’s death “for us” suggests that Christ suffered the penalty that was due to us. The inseparable link between substitution and penalty demands an understanding of Christ’s death as a penal substitution “for us” and “our sins”. Continue reading “Christ’s Death as Expiation-Propitiation (Hilasterion): Appeasing the Wrath of God”
“Is it not possible to accept that penal substitution is only one Pauline model of the atonement and that those of us who find it fails to communicate the Gospel in many cultural contexts prefer to use other models/metaphors (whether Pauline or non-Pauline)- without us all being denounced us “liberals”? Isn’t it also high time we moved away from such misleading and irrelevant theological labels as “liberal” or “evangelical” which are largely Anglo-American cultural imports?…there is no way Stott’s and Morris’s insistence that this [hilasterion] means “propitiation” can be defended in the light of both Jewish and recent Christian scholarship. In any case, you well know that words don’t derive their meanings from dictionaries but from usage in larger literary contexts.”
1) Regarding atonement models – Of course I agree with you that there are many valid models of the atonement. Notice I mentioned that the classical Confessions did not ‘canonize’ any one model? I further argued that because of PSA, I can believe in CV? But that doesn’t mean that I cannot argue that PSA is foundational for the other models. Whether one agrees with me or not is a matter of theological exegesis. Everyone is free to take a position on this matter. Continue reading “Going Beyond Evangelical-Liberal Debates on Models of Atonement?”
In this present climate of social and religious tolerance in the West, one would not have expected a major Christian denomination to ban books, much less delete a popular song from its hymnal. But in 2013, the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Songs for the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) decided to delete the song, “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal. It judged a line in the song to be problematic: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.”
Apparently, the committee considered the line to be offensive to modern sensibilities twice over – it not only refers to the “wrath” of God, but suggests that the cross is the place where divine wrath is “satisfied.” The committee overruled what has been for centuries the prevailing Christian understanding of Christ death. This incident confirms the prophetic insight of J.G, Machen who declared in 1923 that theological liberalism is not just another form of Christianity; it is “a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.” Continue reading “Erasing The Wrath of God from the Cross (in two parts)”
In this post, I shall compare Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA) and Christus Victor (CV).
Definitions: Christus Victor (CV): Gustav Aulén gives a summary of CV in his classic work, Christus Victor: “The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil…the victory of Christ creates a new situation, bringing their rule to an end, and setting men free from their dominion” [Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, (MacMillan, 1969), p. 20]
Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA): Martin Luther whose sympathies for CV is well known, offers a succinct description of PSA, “[Jesus Christ] became a substitute for us all, and took upon Himself our sins, that he might bear Gods terrible wrath against sin and expiate our guilt, he necessarily felt the sin of the whole world together with the entire wrath of God, and afterwards the agony of death on account of this sin” [Martin Luther, Sermons on the Passion of Christ (Rock Island, 1871), p. 29]. See related posts on PSA given below**
Following Luther’s example, Christians should welcome the diversity of models of atonement as they seek to understand the full significance of Christ’s death on the cross. This being said, I would still like to explain why Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA) is foundational for other models of the atonement. Continue reading “Christ’s Victory Through Penal Substitutionary Death”