Dave Warnock Reads PFOT

…. Pierced for our Transgressions, that is.

Taking his own advice about reading books with a viewpoint opposed to his own, he is working his way through this book. I’ve read other materials on penal substitution (Justification by Faith Alone, for example, which maintains that the forensic nature of justification is critical to salvation by faith), and thus will not punish myself in this way, but Dave’s notes promise to be interesting.

Here are the entries thus far:

I’m quite in tune with Dave’s statement in his starting point post:

I value Penal Substitution as one theory of atonement within a range of theories that have been considered orthodox teaching within the Christian Church, while recognising that different groups within the Christian Church have different views on various theories of atonement and that there is not total agreement (and probably never has been). I do believe that there is potential for penal substitution to teach us something about the cross and about God.

But I struggle with certain theological aspects of Penal Substitution. Particularly the concept of God’s wrath being on Jesus and the potential for the need for justice and punishment being more powerful than God. Most importantly for me are concerns that Penal Substitution enshrines violence (that I do not see in Jesus, his incarnation, his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and his second coming) into the nature of God.

I too see some value in Penal Substitution as a metaphor for atonement, but as I’ve commented before any time you get the metaphor put in place of the reality the remainder of your theology will begin to get off balance. Recent PSA advocates appear to me to place their particular metaphor in place of the reality of the atonement, a reality that requires many metaphors, and cannot even be described adequately by all the metaphors we have available.

When I point this out, I am often told that yes, there are many metaphors, but penal substitution has to be there, or it’s more important. No, it doesn’t have to be there. All that has to be there is God’s love made manifest through the incarnation. No human explanation is essential. Helpful, yes; essential, no.

I do, however, sympathize with the “other” Warnock, Adrian, when he says of Dave:

I am often quite surprised that people who hold views like Dave’s want to self-identify as evangelical. In the past, I rather suspect they would have worn the label “liberal” and been quite content to do so.

I am willing to wear the label moderate or liberal without complaint. Some try to label me evangelical, for reasons passing understanding, but if I ever claimed that label for myself, I’d have to spend all my time trying to explain how some of my views are actually evangelical, while they manifestly are not. So go ahead and color me liberal. 🙂

And just so I’m not dodging the obligation to put my own views on the line, let me give links to two complementary essays I have written: A Fruitful Faith and Focusing the Atonement.

Update: It occurred to me after I posted this that those interested in this topic might be interested in my review of J. Louis Martyn’s commentary on Galatians and related links to material I wrote during my study of Galatians using that commentary.

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  1. Henry, as I think I have said before, your reluctance to call yourself evangelical, and Dave W’s and my lack of such reluctance, reflects the difference in definitions of “evangelical” between the USA and the UK. The UK Evangelical Alliance is happy to embrace people like Steve Chalke. As long as it does so, it can embrace me. But its broad scope has already been strained by the Chalke affair, and may be further stressed by current controversy.

  2. I’m not sure that’s absolutely correct. Normally those who suggest I’m evangelical are from this side of the pond, and I know of people whose positions are to the left of my own who do regard themselves as evangelical.

    I’m not doubting your point that the definitions are different on your side of the pond, but I don’t think that is the answer here. Also note that I don’t begrudge you or Dave Warnock the label. I just don’t seek it myself.

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