Friday, October 12, 2007

Volf on why the cross was not "cosmic child abuse"

Steve Chalke infamously wrote that the penal substitutionary view of the atonement is tantamount to,

‘child abuse – a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.’ (The Lost Message of Jesus, 2003, Zondervan, p. 182).
I don't know if Miroslav Volf had Chalke's words in mind, but in his book Free of Charge, he gives this response to such sentiments,
"God loves us and wants to spare us the burden of our sin, but Christ suffers because of it!? Is this fair? By "putting forward" the Son, as the apostle Paul wrote [Romans 3:25], isn't the Father abusing the Son? Doesn't substitution constitute another wrongdoing, this time against the innocent Christ? How can one wrongdoing heal another? Doesn't Christ's death on our behalf compound sins rather than take them away?
The Father would be abusing the Son and committing divine wrongdoing - rather than taking away human wrongdoing in Christ were a third party, beyond God who was wronged and humanity who wronged God. But he isn't He stands firmly on the divine side of the forgiving God, not between the forgiving God and forgiven humanity. "In Christ," wrote the apostle Paul, "God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses unto them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Not: Christ was reconciling an angry God to a sinful world. Not: Christ was reconciling a sinful world to a loving God. Rather: God in Christ was "reconciling the world to himself".
What happened then when God "made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21)? The answer is simple: God placed human sin upon God! One God placed human sin upon another God? No, there are not two Gods. The God who is One beyond numbering and yet mysteriously Three reconciled us by shouldering our sin in the person of Christ who is one of the Three. That's the mystery of human redemption made possible by the mystery of God's Trinity: The One who was offended bears the burden of the offense."
From Free of Charge: giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace, Miroslav Volf, 2005, Zondervan, p. 144-145. I hope to post a review of this helpful and challenging book sometime next week.

12 comments:

Alex said...

I read Volf's E&E and enjoyed it.

I can't help but picture those images they always showed in Sunday school when I was a kid where they would show God on one side of the chasm and man on the other with the cross creating a bridge in between to cross the chasm.

Jesus sure did talk like he was a third party in that prayer at Gethsemane. That's my only hang up with Volf's statement. Paul also calls him a mediator which implies a between-ness. But that doesn't necessarily take away from his oneness with God which both Paul and Jesus also proclaim. Here I go stumbling over the concept of trinity again. Will we ever make a theological breakthrough on such a seemingly illogical doctrine? I sure hope so.

Key Pauline phrase for me: "In Christ, God" or Volf's "God in Christ". What does this mean? One other question: Do you think "mystery of God's trinity" is a theological cop-out? In other words if we can find a way to trace all our theological arguments back to the trinity then we can simply put our hands up and say "It's a mystery!" and escape so that our system never falls apart.

But I love his last sentence: "The one who was offended bears the burden of the offense." This is key.

Bryan L said...

That's a great quote and one I definitely agree with.

I wonder though if those who are advocates of Penal Substitution in the way that Chalk is criticizing would see it the same way that Volf does or if instead they would describe Jesus as an innocent 3rd party? I wonder if Chalk would in fact agree with Volf. I don't know his exact views on penal substitution but Volf seems to be arguing for something different than what Chalk is criticizing in the PS advocated by people like Hodge (I think it was Hodge) and his followers.

I know whenever I get into the theodicy discussion, those that argue that God uses evil for his own purposes and for good often appeal to the crucifixion as the greatest example of God using evil for good purposes. But in doing so they often make Jesus sound like the innocent 3rd party who had no say in the matter instead of "God placed human sin upon God!"

It's one thing to say I jumped in front of a bus to save someone else, it's a completely different thing to say someone pushed me into someone else to save that person.

And sometimes both the penal substitution advocates and divine determinists (concerning theodicy) issue sound like they are saying the later.

Sorry if I'm being a bit incoherent or not making much sense.

Anyway the book sounds good. I just got his Exclusion and Embrace for my birthday and am really looking forward to reading that.

Blessings,
Bryan L

Jon said...

You've actually misquoted Chalke. As I remember it it goes more along the lines of

‘NOT child abuse – a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.’ A view which he then goes on to condemn...

Exiled Preacher said...

Alex,

I don't think that thinking in terms of the "mystery of the Trinity" is a cop-out. In biblical terms "mystery" means truth that we can only know by divine revelation. God has revealed himself to us as Trinity. We can only know what God has chosen to reveal of himself. We cannot go beyond that.

I don't think that Volf is denying that Christ acted as the mediator between God and humanity. But he was the mediator between God and men as the God who was man. He did not become other than the Son God at the incarnation. In that sense, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.

Bryan,

Volf is not saying anything that responsible advocates of penal substitution have not said before. Consider this quote from John Stott,

"It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself in the person of his Son who died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it in his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us. Here is no crudity here to evoke our ridicule, only the profundity of love to evoke our worship."
(John Stott The Cross of Christ p.175)

Jon,

I am quoting Chalke in the light of an online article, where he clarified what he meant by those words, Redeeming the Cross:

http://www.oasistrust.org/temp/RedeemingspthespCross.pdf

In that piece, Chalke makes it clear that he had PSA in his sights with his talk of "cosmic child abuse". As the Volf quote shows, this is, of course nothing but a caricature. Read Chalke's article for yourself and I hope you will see that I was not misrepresenting his dislike of PSA.

Bryan L said...

Thank you for the quote. You are right, Stott does not seem to separate Jesus from God as unwilling 3rd party and I would imagine that he is probably a representative voice of PS advocates.

At the same time, on a related note, Volf doesn't seem to go so far as Stott does who speaks of God's anger and wrath needing to be appeased (propitiated). That is the view that Chalk seems to be criticizing when he says the following from the article you linked:
"a righteous God is angry with sinners and demands justice. His wrath can only be appeased through bringing about the violent death of his Son."

And again later "The theological problem with penal substitution is that it presents us with a God who is first and foremost concerned with retribution flowing from his wrath against sinners. The only way for his anger to be placated is in receiving recompense from those who have wronged him; and although his great love motivates him to send his Son, his wrath remains the driving force behind the need for the cross.”

And in summarizing the PS view of the Gospel he says ‘God is no longer angry with us because Jesus died in our place.’

As someone who is not well versed in all of the pro-PS literature and it’s nuances, what Chalk is criticizing is what Stott seems to be saying.

Now what I’m curious of is whether Volf would agree with what Stott is saying about God’s wrath and anger needing to be appeased. Do you have another quote from him where he appears to say something similar to Stott? I wonder this because if Volf would agree with someone like Sott I guess I could see him critiquing Chalk or those who hold similar views. Thanks.

Blessings,
Bryan L

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Brian,

Unlike Chalke, Volf does not have a problem with the idea of the wrath of God. He confesses,

"Though I used to complain against the indecency of the idea of God's wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn't wrathful at the sight of the world's evil. God isn't wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because he is love. (Free of Charge, p. 139)

It is in the context of Christ satisfying God's offended justice at the cross, that Volf wrote the words I quoted in the post.

Chalke presents a caricature of PSA that no responsible advocate of that view would accept. John Stott says very clearly that Christ's propitiatory sacrifice did not procure God's love,

"God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us. If it is God's wrath that needed to be propitiated, it is God's love that did the propitiating". (The Cross of Christ, p. 174).

Bryan L said...

Thanks for the extra quote from Volf.

You said, "Chalke presents a caricature of PSA that no responsible advocate of that view would accept."

Whether it is a caricature or not do you think that the majorit of people who adhear to PSA advocate it in the way that Stott does or the way Chalke criticizes? Since Chalke seems to be taking aim at how it is most commonly preached in the pulpits would you say that he is probably correct that his caricature is how PSA is most commonly preached and beleived?

If so then since you do not agree with the caricature it seems that you would want to join him in speaking out against that form of PSA and tearing it down (much in the same way Arminian should speak out against pelagianism and Calvinists against hyper Calvinism.) It who say they are on our side but seriously distort and pervert our views are worse enemies than those who completely disagree with our views. They seem to do more damage for us.

Just some thoughts.

Blessings,
Bryan L

Exiled Preacher said...

Brian,

You have got the wrong end of the stick if you think that I'm accusing Stott of misrepresenting PSA. I think that he (like Volf) has got it about right. No responsible advocate of PSA that I know of makes the cross seem like "cosmic child abuse" that perpetrates the "myth of redemptive violence" as Chalke suggests. Chalke is aiming his blows at a straw man.

But his misrepresentation of PSA does give us the opportunity of setting forth the doctrine with greater biblical clarity and accuracy.

Bryan L said...

I think I'm misunderstanding you. I thought you said the caricature that Chalke was arguing against was not an accurate representation of responsible PSA advocates like Stott believe. I understand you taking issue with him saying what he is criticizing as PSA amount to child abuse. But what about the other things I quoted earlier?

He said "a righteous God is angry with sinners and demands justice. His wrath can only be appeased through bringing about the violent death of his Son."

Is that an accurate representation of what Stott would say?

He also said concerning PSA that it "presents us with a God who is first and foremost concerned with retribution flowing from his wrath against sinners. The only way for his anger to be placated is in receiving recompense from those who have wronged him; and although his great love motivates him to send his Son, his wrath remains the driving force behind the need for the cross.”

Is that an accurate representation of what Stott would say?

And in summarizing the PSA view of the Gospel he says "God is no longer angry with us because Jesus died in our place."

Would you say that is an accurate representation of what Stott would say?

My point is that if you say no it isn't then it what Chalke arguing against must be a caricature right?

But then my next question is do you think more people who hold to PSA believe the caricature that Chalke is arguing against or the PSA that is advocated by Stott? Do you think most PSA advocates have a correct understanding of PSA or an incorrect understanding?

If most have an incorrect understanding along the line that Chalke is arguing against then it would seem wise to join him in speaking out against it or else people will think that it is an accurate representation of PSA. If most people who hold to PSA have an incorrect understanding of it then I don't think it's arguing against a straw man. It's arguing against a straw man if he specifically called out Stott and argued against something that Stott doesn't even hold to.

Now if you do believe that he is accurately describing what someone like Stotts beleives, but you just don't like him saying that it amounts to child abuse then that's a whole other issue. Maybe that is what you've been saying this whole time. That the implications he draws out are incorrect because the Son is not an innocent 3rd party having God just take out his anger on him like child abuse.

Sorry this has gotten so long but thanks for your patience.

Blessings,
Bryan L

Exiled Preacher said...

Hello again Brian,

Let me respond point by point to the Chalke quotes:

1) "a righteous God is angry with sinners and demands justice. His wrath can only be appeased through bringing about the violent death of his Son."

I am not entirely happy with this statement. I would put it like this: God is angry with sinners and demands justice. God appeases his own wrath through the propitiatory death of his Son. But it is not simply that the Father brought about the death of his Son, but that the Son willingly offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

2) PSA "presents us with a God who is first and foremost concerned with retribution flowing from his wrath against sinners. The only way for his anger to be placated is in receiving recompense from those who have wronged him; and although his great love motivates him to send his Son, his wrath remains the driving force behind the need for the cross.”

That is a caricature of Stott's (and my own) position. God is not "first and foremost" concerned about retribution. If this were the case, he could have satisfied his justice simply by damning all sinners to the hell they deserve. At the cross, God is first and foremost concerned to save sinners from the eternal punishment they deserve because he loves them. The substitutionary death of the Son was motivated by God's love and neccesitated by God's justice. (Compare Romans 3:25-26, 5:8, 1 John 4:10). If God had not loved the lost, then Christ would not have been sent to bear their sin, satisfy God's justice and placate his wrath. I repeat that as far as PSA is concerned, God's love, not his wrath is the "driving force" behind the the cross.

Chalke was not speaking out against misunderstandings of PSA. He makes it clear in his online article that he is against the substance of PSA because he does not believe in the idea of God's wrath against sinners.

I don't know of any responsible advocates of PSA who frame the doctrine as Chalke suggests. Volf and Stott certainly do not.

I hope that clears things up.

Bryan L said...

Thanks for your responses. I don't want to make you angry by continuing to question you so I'll leave it at that: ) Have a good one.

Blessings,
Bryan L

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Brian,

I recommend that you read Pierced for our Transgressions:

http://piercedforourtransgressions.com/

The authors interact with Chalke and deal with some of the issues that you have raised better than I could on in my blog's comments.