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(Parts 1 and 2 can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/ybdkpexo and here: https://tinyurl.com/ydy299jm

Penal Substitution

"Penal substitution "is the key to understanding the cross" --- James I. Packer

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
August 12, 2018

Fleming Rutledge appears to consign the fact of penal substitution to a sub-theme in the New Testament that is just about detected or hinted at in a smattering of poorly understood apostolic statements. She presents an array of objections to the penal substitution model, namely:

It is "Crude". She remarks, "It is tempting to conclude (especially in the case of Anglicans) that the critics are objecting as much to form as to content. The crudity is especially prevalent in "a style of proclaiming the cross associated with appeals to less educated, more credulous groups of people gathered in backcountry churches". Maybe so in some instances. But this allegation is also a bit of a general smear (handed down from on high) on earnest rural believers, who are perhaps sincerely endeavoring to account for the real and stark crudity of the cross. Blood-shedding is never a polite topic, nor is human evil. Rutledge anticipates the crudity of the cross as it appears to the eyes of comfortable and cultivated people, just as the aristocracy of 18th century English society opined that the preaching of George Whitfield was crude. Taste is not always gratified in straight forward Biblical preaching (see the comments of Lord Bolingbroke - or was it Chesterfield who alleged that the notion of the atonement was barbaric? - and Samuel Johnson re GW). Tone and taste are important and desirable, but truth more so. Preaching is to be energetic and vivid. Etiquette is a bonus. It is a pity that Paul likened human righteousness to s**t. But perhaps he only whispered "excrement". Luther would not make it as a guest preacher in an Anglican cathedral, it seems.

It Keeps Bad Company. "Over the years, many penal-substitution adherents have appeared to relish the idea of the sufferings of the unredeemed. It can be argued that there is a certain 'Calvinist temperament' that is overly focused on the 'penal' aspect. This is a fair critique and should be taken seriously, though it does not by any means always apply." This is a bit of an unfriendly slap at Calvinism, albeit with "kid gloves" as the cautious mitigative last sentence evinces. In many years among Calvinists on three continents one has never encountered personally, or in public address, a Calvinist who has relished the idea of "the sufferings of the unredeemed". In personal piety and pastoral activity there has always been passionate concern for the lost in agreement with C.H. Spurgeon's sentiment, "O Lord, save your elect and then elect some more", or the admission of A. A. Hodge that a preacher cannot speak of hell without the shedding of tears.

This "bad company" must be very small or located on a desert island somewhere. What Calvinists truly honor is the justice of God that will banish all evil. If that prospect registers any impulsive comment about the just condemnation of sinners then that occurrence is simply in line with the Psalmist's oratory concerning any evidence of the dishonoring the Lord's holy Person with contempt for his Name. Such an utterance springs from the motive of sheer adoration of God - "Do not I hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them as enemies" (Psalm 139:21-22). This speech is expressive of fiery devotion to the Lord, and by no means savage glee at the fate of the wicked.

It is Culturally Conditioned. And so it may be alleged, after examination of Rutledge's position so suited to modern sensibilities. She writes: "A substantive argument against the motif of atonement and substitution is that people in other cultures around the world do not see themselves in the categories we have been discussing - guilt, incapacity, bondage, shame, failure, defeat. Yet the more one hears this the categories seem to pop up."

Well, of course individuals of non-Christian cultures do not sense saving contrition, helplessness, and total dependence before God until they hear the word of God which is countercultural everywhere:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgression. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inward parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide you face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me (Psalm 51: 1-12).

From its inclusion in Holy Scripture we know that David's comprehensive confession is a legacy to be taken up by all awakened sinners and it comprehends, if it is read carefully, guilt, incapacity, bondage, shame, failure, defeat. David expresses self-renunciation and absolute reliance upon the mercy of God to forgive, restore, renew, and motivate him, and to incline his will to righteousness and to maintain that resolve. Folk have to be carefully introduced to the meaning and mood of Scripture as the Holy Spirit enables.

It is interesting that both Jesus and Paul speak of the bondage of sin in terms of enslavement (John 8:34, Rom 6: 6,17-20).

It Views the Death as Detached from the Resurrection. Pure fiction, to be blunt. From a faith perspective, whatever defects may be discernible in Mel Gibson's flawed film The Passion of Christ, upholders of penal substitution do not ally themselves with film land culture or any other form of fantasy. All believers know that Good Friday and Easter Day are indissolubly linked in God's purpose and its ensuing narrative. In fact, it is quite possible that many believers allow Easter to prevent a profound appreciation of dark Friday and its infliction of death upon the Son of God.

It is Incoherent: An Innocent Person Cannot Take on the Guilt of Another. "Like so much of Scripture" avers Rutledge, "the idea in Isaiah 53 that 'the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all' is poetic truth, to be received in faith ; it is not a a statement we can rationally explain", and she continues in a note to the text, "Handel's setting of this line, in Messiah, most eloquently creates a confessional mood in which the mysterious saying strikes the heart not with its logical coherence, but with its kerygmatic truth." (Perhaps the kerygmatic truth is impactful because of its logical coherence. Should these be dissonant notes in the melody of the gospel?).

No one asserts that Christ takes the blame for our sin. What occurs in the atonement is the Saviour's bearing of the consequences of our guilt, the penalty that is the guilty offender's due. The substitute is treated as guilty not regarded as such. Personal guilt is perceived and experienced as a sentence of condemnation. Between our guilt and condemnation, the innocent Redeemer interposed himself thus averting our damnation and achieving our salvation. "Bearing our guilt" is the poetic term for Christ's identification with those whom he came to save in God's logical plan of salvation. It is observed that Christ came to receive the wages of sin on our behalf as the substitutionary recipient of what we had earned morally (Roman 6:23).

"We may infer", comments Leon Morris, "as does Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that sinlessness is a necessary qualification in One who is to bear the guilt of others. He says, 'As one who acts responsibly in the historical existence of men Jesus becomes guilty. It must be emphasized that it is solely his love which make him incur guilt. From his selfless love, for his freedom from sin, Jesus enters into the guilt of men and takes this guilt upon himself. Freedom from sin and the question of guilt are inseparable in him. It is as the one who is without sin that Jesus takes upon himself the guilt of his brothers, and is under the burden of this guilt that he shows himself to be without sin' (Ethics p. 210). Or Again, 'real innocence shows itself precisely in a man's entering into the fellowship of guilt for the sake of other men'(loc. cit.).

It Glorifies Suffering and Encourages Masochistic Behavior. Comment unnecessary even on the author's admission.

It Is Too "Theoretical"," Too Scholastic and Abstract. "It is argued that the language of logical necessity (as in Anselm) seems to rob grace of its unconditional character. Gustav Aulen objected to a view of the atonement deriving from, or related to, Anselm because ' it has a rationalizing character; in fact it gives a rational explanation of the atonement . . . . Satisfaction is treated as rational necessity; the only possible method by which Atonement can be effected' . . . The difficulty with 'necessity' in the context of the cross is the idea that God is subject to external logic rather than love for his fallen creation".

Is it not a marvel that the offended holiness of God (his inherent and characteristic pleasure in in the perfection of his own Being - self-approval) is able in sovereign freedom to ally with his determination to love his fallen creation all the way out of its predicament? All the way through Scripture it is man who must satisfy God, but he is lacking in that capacity, thus it is God who deigns to render satisfaction on man's behalf by commissioning his Son to make amends in our place. The logic of love.

In The Crucifixion there is decisive criticism of the Scholastic theologians who followed Calvin's generation and indulged in over-rationalistic theology. It needs to be explained that these scholars should not be discarded in the understanding of divine revelation. They sensed that their calling was to thoroughly counter the rationalism of Socinianism and other philosophical schools of thought that opposed the gospel. Such thinkers as Francis Turretin Herman Witsius (perhaps the most tender, spiritually minded and richly evangelical, as well as one of the most learned of Dutch divines of the old Dordrectian school: John Duncan) and their ilk have much to offer in firming up the doctrines of the Reformation and supplementing them with sound explication. There is much propositional material in Scripture capable of systematic order, a discipline much avoided in our time. As Lorraine Boettner, Barth's bete noir, has exclaimed, "How can there be too much logic?" Scholasticism was a well-intentioned defense of vital truth addressed to a specific foe and those who might be influenced by it.

It might be noted here that there is quite an industry in setting John Calvin against the Calvinists. It is not a worthwhile or successful enterprise even though Rutledge recommends overhauling traditional Reformed theology in favor of Barthian attempts at revision. Barth's overturning of Calvin (election and reprobation of all in Christ) is illogical and a failure in presenting the gospel accurately and faithfully to sinners in need of urgent conversion to Christ through repentance and not to be soothed simply by a recognition of an already existing state of salvation through Christ via the false theory of universalism, an assurance that even Barth admits as being unsure and unstable. In fact Barth overrules the teaching of Calvin at the expense of vital doctrines such as the necessity of regeneration, electing love in its Pauline sense, and justification by faith. Barth has his uses, great thoughts, and fine phrases but overall he is not a reliable guide to the foundational teaching of Scripture in fundamental soteriological and apologetical matters in any Reformational sense. He is sui generis and an oddity that fascinates and misleads. But its is a feather in the cap for evangelicals to tout the name of Karl Barth as proof of intellectual prowess.

It Depicts a Vindictive God. The concepts of law and justice in Holy Scripture vindicate a righteous God who acts in undeserved forbearance and compassion toward our stubborn disobedience and resistance to his pure mercy.

It is Essentially Violent. It is at this point that R.L Dabney is needlessly slighted for his supposed callousness and severe theology. In his essay entitled God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy, it is Dabney who upholds the sincerity of the gospel offer and who notes that "the blessed truth that Christ's mission is in its own nature only beneficent and a true disclosure of God's benevolence to every sinner on earth to whom it is published. Furthermore, Dabney avers that his theological motive in producing his paper is to enable the Christian to hold "the Bible declarations concerning God's providence towards our sinful race in their most natural sense" i.e. that it is an extreme exegesis to deny that, "the tender of Christ's sacrifice is in no sense a true manifestation of divine benevolence to that part of 'the world' which 'believeth not'" (consider John 3:17-18: The love of the world is inclusive of all and not simply the world of the elect).

One is increasingly convinced that this objection is (as are many of the others) needlessly advanced. But it helps to put penal substitution in a bad light by piling up the quantity of criticism. It can also be observed that often in pursuit of justice or instances of urgent rescue love operates in an apparently violent manner. Evil is violent toward God and has to be subdued by his strength - a prevalent theme in Holy Scripture.

A holy violence is apparent in the gospel. God drags us to himself (John 6:44). On this point G.C. Berkouwer remarks: The word draw which Christ uses here has always attracted much attention. Kittel says that when it refers to man it has the meaning of to compel, of irresistible superiority, as in James 2:6 where the rich drag the poor before the judge, and as Paul and Silas are dragged into the market place in Acts 16:19". Thus, "the room", the possibility, for man's activity had to be created [by God's drawing] . . . It is good to observe that Christ employs the word draw when human resistance seems at its strongest (John 6:41-42. In that situation Christ knew that "everyone that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me (John 6:45). Election, Eerdmans pp. 47-48. Violence in attaining salvation is also suggested in Matthew 11:12. "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force."

There is scholarly variation as to how this verse should be interpreted. Does it indicate opposition to the kingdom or firm resolve to enter it? Two men of deep spiritual apprehension explain the text as follows: 'Under the influence of this doctrine (the need for repentance) men strove with violence to enter the kingdom of heaven, and they carried it; let us so strive, instead of indolently seeking. It is true that grace hath come by Jesus Christ but still let us strive mightily according to this grace working in us mightily' (Thomas Chalmers, Sabbath Scripture Readings, Solid Ground Christian Books). 'Multitudes were wrought upon by the ministry of John, and became his disciples. And those strove for a place in this kingdom that one would think had no right or title to it, and so seemed to be intruders. It shows us what fervency and zeal are required of all (Matthew Henry).

For the sake of brevity further objections to penal substitution will simply be listed. A fair and intelligent acceptance of penal substitution as read naturally, grammatically, and logically in Scripture will obviate the necessity for further comment on trumped up quibbles (not necessarily subscribed to by Fleming Rutledge).

It is Morally Objectionable. It Does Not Develop Christian Character. It Is Too Individualistic. It Is Controlled By An Emphasis On Punishment. Final Objection: Forensic Imagery Excludes The New Testament Apocalyptic Viewpoint.

To be continued in Part Four

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